Archive for the “In A World” Category
Every month Ken Lowery and I look at a selection of trailers for upcoming releases, for, you know, reasons.
Now that awards season is over, it’s time for Hollywood to get back to business as usual: big, loud and dumb, not necessarily in that order.
Jack the Giant Slayer
DW: I generally like most of Bryan Singer’s films, so I want to be cautiously optimistic. But I burnt out on the whole “updated fairy tale” thing fast and this doesn’t appear to be doing anything clever or original with the notion of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Instead it’s a big Hollywood fantasy epic by the numbers, with eye-ache inducing levels of CGI and a bunch of white people with English accents, because that’s apparently the only way you’re allowed to do fantasy in American film, I guess. (Merlin was campy as all get out and I can’t stand Once Upon A Time at all, but they both found a way to avoid the “everyone in fantasy land is white” nonsense. Why is television ahead of film on this?)
KL: This is the kind of trailer you see in movies about how ridiculous the movie industry is. Maybe Singer can make a movie that’s Great Fun For Kids™, but it’s hard to look at this and not see the mainstream movie industry’s slow decline into “greater spending for lower yields” blinking in bright neon every time I start to look in this movie’s direction. Straight up, if you’re spending north of $200 million to make Great Fun For Kids™, and Great Fun For Kids™ that will likely be forgotten in six months’ time, you should have your budgets and your VFX houses (bills pending!) taken away from you.
KL: Solid reviews! Park Chan-wook! Nicole Kidman as a crazy person! A grimly monochromatic color scheme! Looks like a solid performer that I’d enjoy a lot (well, “enjoy” is probably not the right word) but for whatever reason, early to mid-spring is a particularly emotionally vulnerable time in my yearly movie-watching cycle. I think I get worn out by all the Serious Shit that comes out during Oscar season and basically, I need time to prepare, OK? I am guessing this is a Netflix rental. Another feature of getting old: Weighing the pros and cons of putting myself through an emotional ringer via movie. Do I want to do this? And, furthermore, why? Is this a worthy usage of my psychic landscape?
I am so old, Dorian. So old.
DW: I’m pretty much with you on this one. All the ingredients of a film that I should want to see are there. Good cast, solid premise, sharp cinematography. But the tonality just feels so leaden and heavy to me that I’m a little pre-weary. If they were pitching this as more of a thriller, or even a horror film, and not so much heavy psycho-drama, I’d be all over it. But, no, you’ve got to push the drama angle to be taken seriously as a film, I guess. So, probably an eventual rental, yeah.
Oz the Great and Powerful
DW: I’m starting to feel the same way about reimaginings of Oz as I am about fairy tales, especially this weird compulsion for Oz prequels we seem to be stuck in. The cynical part of me suspects we’re getting this because Disney couldn’t get the film rights to Wicked sewn up. But then I actually look at the thing, and it feels sort of like a slightly less nakedly cynical version of that atrocious live-action Alice in Wonderland Burton did for Disney.
I suspect my opinion about it will be rendered effectively moot, though, as this is right up the husband’s alley.
KL: Nice cast, and I’m a Raimi fan since I was a kid, but it is kind of grim that we’re throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into stories that can be told quite effectively with some paper and nice typesetting, don’t you think? Dorian, is this what it is to be old?
The ABCs of Death
KL: Here’s how I know I have not given in to inescapable cynicism: I will always, always, always give horror anthologies – of any medium – a shot. By definition the final product will average out to mediocre – if we’re lucky – and for every generally scary, surprising, hilarious or clever entry we’ll get three or four that are just no damn good at all. But that’s OK. That’s the movie-going (and just plain art-going) experience in microcosm: Dig and dig until you find the surprise that hooks you, the gem you gush about to your friends, the exciting new talent whose next project you can’t wait to see.
DW: The novelty alone will probably get this a look, eventually. Although I’m slightly pessimistic; looking at the list of directors I see mostly people whose work I either am not interested in or that I actively dislike. Even given the varying degrees of quality you can expect from an anthology film, those aren’t good odds to have going in.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
KL: Steve Carell is officially letting this magic thing get away from him. The 40 Year Old Virgin, The Office, and now this – OK, Steve, we get it.
Anyway, it’s spring, so it’s time for our mandated “oddball comedy” that’s very much the controlled burn of actual goofball comedies. I generally have nothing but fondness for the talent here (even Carrey, whom I will probably always have a soft spot for) but oh, good lord, we could probably script this thing out right now if we wanted to order a pizza and maybe grab a six pack.
DW: I’m just sort of amazed that this isn’t a Will Ferrell vehicle. I thought crisis of identity comedies based on silly careers was his thing, but I guess we’re transitioning Carell into that realm as well? All right then.
Yeah, this looks pretty safe and predictable. Nothing to be excited about, and nothing to be annoyed by, other than, y’know, the whole predictable thing. It looks like a lazy Sunday on Watch Instantly sort of movie when there literally isn’t any better option.
DW: Look, I like Paul Rudd as much as the next red-blooded homosexual male, but he can pretty much sleepwalk through these amiable man-child roles. And, oddly, I like Tina Fey more when she isn’t playing the career woman frustrated by her inability to have it all and jesus grow the fuck up already life is hard, lady, and you can’t always have it your way all the time.
Which I guess is a way of saying I’d like to see them embrace more diversity in their role choices.
KL: What’s fun is seeing the chameleon effect that’s spreading out across this movie’s trailers – watch the most recent ones and you’d think it was a straight-up romantic comedy, and the whole “hey Tina Fey I think we found your son, and he’s grown up now!” angle so prevalent in previous trailers is nowhere to be found. That’s kind of weird, don’t you think? Either they’ve done some re-chopping to the movie or it’s busier than the trailer indicates. There’s a certain inevitable pull that both of these actors have on me (and my wife), so much as you will inevitably see Oz, Dorian, I’m going to find out how this movie holds up one way or another.
DW: My interest in this begins and ends with Chris Sanders. He made the only watchable Dreamworks cartoon, well, ever, and Lilo and Stitch is still one of the best films to come from Disney’s animation department. So I’ll go and see this and put up with the bits that were obviously shoe-horned in to give it that smarmy “Dreamworks edge” and call it a day.
KL: This thing feels like some kind of stunt. It literally renders the established Animated Feature formula into a primitive state, and is absolutely about “a daughter wants to be free! The dad is afraid for her!” and not one scrap of plot more. It’s subtext as text. I admire its purity (much as Ash admired the xenomorph in Alien) but I need a little more art to my art.
The Place Beyond the Pines
KL: Knockout cast, prestigious writer-director, but please, Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper: save some tortured-soul male lead roles for the rest of the class, huh?
I did not see Blue Valentine. All the descriptions of that movie’s achingly rendered depiction of an imploding relationship were equal parts intriguing and off-putting (see Stoker, above) and hey, look at this, an achingly rendered depiction of two basically OK guys on a collision course for tragedy. Hooray. It’s good to see Cooper getting to stretch those drama legs, though.
DW: This is like the handsomest movie ever.
Again, this hits a lot of the right notes and promises to be very, very good. The question really becomes “am I going to have the patience to sit through the heavy drama for the inevitably tragic and easily foreseeable ending?” And the answer to that is…maybe?
Every month Ken Lowery and I so on and so on cue trailer comments…
DW: Steven Soderbergh is just bound and determined to make us think Channing Tatum is a real actor, isn’t he?
It’s Soderbergh, so I’m cutting it a lot of slack, but this just feels like too much of a jumble.* Is it a corrupt doctor story, a corrupt pharmaceutical company story, a husband driving his wife crazy story? I’d be interested in seeing Soderbergh take on either of those, honestly. I’d plunk down for that in a heartbeat. But, c’mon guy, pick one to sell me on.
*Yes, the irony of saying that a film by the guy who made Schizopolis has an incoherent plot is not lost on me.
KL: It’s a thriller! I guess.
It seems impossible to discuss this movie without also discussing The Meaning of Soderbergh and blah blah blah since this is apparently his last film (Believe It When I See It, Party of One, right here) but I confess the same slight puzzlement many others have: Why’s he going out on something so seemingly… rote? Perhaps it’s not, I don’t know. Despite quite liking a number of his films, I’ve never loved any of them, and this doesn’t look like the one to make the rest of them make more sense to me.
KL: This looks just brutal. We’ve got the guy who directed Horrible Bosses — the most JV of raunchy comedies to feature any of its leads – and the guy who wrote not just The Hangover II but also Scary Movies 3 and 4, and Superhero Movie, which is apparently a movie that can claim to have been “written.”
At least the posters fall squarely in line with the dopey portrait series exemplified with diminishing returns by The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, all but screaming “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS CRAAAAZY PERSON BLOOPTY BLOO?” And note the bonus “use a Big Gulp to denote trashiness” visual cue for Melissa McCarthy as pioneered by Amy Poehler on the Baby Mama promotional art. This way, we know going in not to expect anything that may startle the easily surprised.
DW: I usually have slightly more tolerance for Jason Bateman, though in aggregate his career has been far more “miss” than “hit.” But, man, this just looks like all kinds of waste.
And then I think about something like Butter, which was as slight as a film could be, but an actually pretty decent and well made comedy. And that sort of middle-of-the road film is now something you only get in indies, while mainstream comedies are…this sort of thing.
A Good Day to Die Hard
KL: Oh, goodness gracious. If you can find one person on this earth who genuinely loves the last Die Hard (and – important caveat – isn’t carrying at least three things diagnosable in the DSM-IV) then I’ll eat every hat in my house. And I like hats!
So here we are with another one, no doubt mandated entirely by the last one’s pleasing cost-to-revenue ratio and not at all by burning desire in the audience. It’s depressingly ironic that a franchise that made its bones on brisk, economical action should become so bloated and ungainly.
The three things I feel worth talking about lay out thusly:
1) At least this one’s R rated?
2) My Bruce Willis love is apparently bulletproof. He basically takes whatever work comes his way, I guess, but he also doesn’t limit himself, and I appreciate his eagerness to do projects that might be considered too unconventional for traditional action stars. So what I’m saying is: he can do as many of these movies as he wants and I’ll never think lesser of him.
3) That said, man, he looks so old when he smiles in the trailer, and that bums me out.
DW: I seem to be the odd man out amongst my circles of friends in neither particularly liking nor disliking the original Die Hard. Yeah, as far as 80s action films go, it’s pretty good, but that’s a depressingly low bar to set. Being of better quality than Cyborg or Tequila Sunrise isn’t much to be proud of. I don’t think I’ve ever even bothered to watch any of them past the second, so it’s unlikely I’ll bother with this one anyway. I will say that this feels awfully like an attempt to pass the torch to a reasonable stand in for Willis, who yeah, is starting to look pretty old, and keep the franchise going for whatever life it may yet have in it.
I kinda want to see Willis in a remake of The Detective now…
DW: I have absolutely no idea if this series of Young Adult novels are any good or not. I see that “Paranormal Teen Romance” section in the book store and I am perfectly content to say “not for me” and move on. I’ll leave the condemnations and the defenses to the genre for others, other than to note that a) they all seem kinda samey to me and b) I have a vague memory of all this Paranormal Teen Romance stuff going on with teen and preteen girls of my acquaintance in the late 80s. Heck, Dark Shadows was the same sort of thing.
It ain’t nothing new and so all the reactions, pro and con, seem silly to me, in other words.
Which is a long and roundabout way of saying that this really looks like it wants a piece of that sweet, sweet Twilight cash and so “not for me” is all I’m gonna say.
KL: I wonder if our heroine will defy the forces trying to pigeonhole her life and find her own way?
KL: Normally I wouldn’t care, but this Rock-heavy actioner is from Participant Media. Participant Media, if you’re not aware, is a production company that puts out what you might call “socially conscious” (that is, “lefty”) movies and documentaries about current events and the Crises of Our Times and so on. That they’re going the action movie route (or at least that’s how Snitch is being positioned) says they’re either getting savvier about sugaring the pill, or they’re going the Christian Rock route (no pun intended) and it’s not going to work well for anyone.
I want so desperately for The Rock to hit the leading man stride he’s meant to be, but I’m not convinced this will be the thing that does it. The February release date doesn’t speak well for its chances, either.
DW: Knowing that Participant Media is involved has me looking for lefty subtext, which is a pretty clever way to get me to pay attention to what otherwise looks like a pretty standard action film.
DW: If I was feeling generous I might say that casting an alien abduction movie as a haunted house movie is actually a pretty clever twist on the conventions of both genres. Except, of course, that the cleverness there comes from the joy of finding something unexpected, and the trailer pretty much ruins that. I’m not sure why, either; it’s not as if the audiences for haunted house movies and alien abduction films are so disparate that taking one approach in the marketing is going to scare the other group away.
What actually turns me off, and pretty spectacularly too, is that “from the makers of Insidious” tag. Insidious was something I didn’t have high hopes for, saw a few positive reviews for, watched it, and was actually angered by how awful it ended up being. It’s an anti-recommendation for me at this point, that no even JK Simmons can counter.
KL: Well it’s all there, isn’t it? The ominous signs and symbols, startling moments of the surreal nested in the commonplace, the child who’s seen more than the adults but can only articulate it in childlike terms, the disassociation from normal life and normal solutions, the oddball expert brought in, blah blah blah. 31 years on and we’re still living under Poltergeist’s shadow.
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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.
Bad Kids Go To Hell
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.
Hyde Park on Hudson
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.
Zero Dark Thirty
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.
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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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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Every month Ken Lowery and I look at a selection of trailers for upcoming films to identify the good (like The Outlaw Josey Wales), the bad (like Two Mules for Sister Sara) and the ugly (like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot).
August is when the films that wanted to get out of the way of the big summer blockbusters and the fall Award-baiters get unleashed on the public, so we’re probably looking at mostly the mediocre here (like the Callahan series post Dirty Harry…you know it’s true!).
KL: Len Wiseman is possibly the most boring genre writer/director going today. It takes a certain kind of banality to promise us “vampires vs. werewolves in a modern setting” and give us “The Matrix, but in blue tones and way stupider.” And then turn that disappointment into a franchise. And direct a Die Hard sequel whose existence I had forgotten—me, who has seen every other Die Hard movie north of three dozen times apiece—up until a few minutes ago because it was so unnecessary, so tepid, so devoid of a central driving purpose other than “let’s keep the rights!”
So that’s what I think of Len Wiseman. I’m real glad this trailer offers us absolutely no surprises: you get that little “beeeeoooooo” right before Colin Farrell turns into Every Action Hero From The Last 10 Years Of Movies, some quippiness about “giving good wife” (meta!) and… oh, I was wrong, there is one surprise: Wiseman has apparently discovered colors other than blue.
I like Colin Farrell, but you may have picked up how I feel about the rest of this.
DW: Farrell’s prettiness still mostly works on me (I sat through the Fright Night remake pretty much soley for him, which…wasn’t one of the smarter uses of my time). And while I’m under no illusions that this will be any truer to the Dick story than the previous film, I don’t have any particularly fond memories of that previous film either, so I’m actually sort of…okay? with this. It’s a big, dumb, loud action movie with a hint of style, no substance, and a lead who is nice to look at. It’s not much, but sometimes it’s enough.
The Bourne Legacy
KL: Has there ever been a more insecure trailer? I lost count, but I think someone emphasizes that the new guy (Jeremy Renner) is more dangerous than Jason Bourne like three thousand times.
I kid. Jeremy Renner is the bee’s knees and from what I hear this takes place during the second and third Bourne movies, which themselves overlap quite a bit. Also: Tony Gilroy.
DW: The strange anxiety over recasting the lead strikes me as well. “It’s not the same guy! It’s a different guy! And he’s even more of a badass than the other guy! Oooooh!” I suppose it’s necessary because, as we all know, just going ahead and randomly casting a new lead actor in your action movie series would never work.
I think I’ll stick this one out. I find Renner to be such a cypher I can’t really enjoy his performances, and while the films had a certain appealing slickness and style under Paul Greengrass, Gilroy instead appears to be just broadly copying the first film. Granted, he wrote that one too, but that just makes the similarities feel even more galling.
DW: I can’t quite wrap my head around this one. Honestly, both Ferrell and Gallifianakis are actors I’m growing a little weary of, particularly their tendency to play the same types of characters in the same types of movies. And at first glance, this feels like much more of the same. And having Jay Roach behind it all doesn’t help matters, given his history as a director.
The one sort of “well maybe” that this does give is Game Change. Roach doing a political comedy, about political corruption, with Ferrell doing a broad George W. Bush impersonation, in an election year? Is there a remote chance that this thing might actually have some teeth behind it? Or is it just going to Yiddish jokes and punching babies?
KL: I would normally be on board with this but there is a little bit that gives me pause: the August release date, the relative lack of publicity then suddenly turned into a tidal wave of publicity… I suppose they were just waiting for the tentpoles to be done with their time at the mic, but nonetheless: Hmm.
I have sincere doubts this one will have any teeth to it. I do hope it manages to be about something other than shtick.
KL: This looks GREAT. I’m kind of a sucker for strategic use of “Season of the Witch” and yeah I know, zombies, but there’s a Young Ken inside of me that’s jumping up and down with glee at the idea of a big animated movie about a weird kid inundated with the supernatural. Strange, because as a child I did not overly “identify” with movies or characters; they were more aspirational to me. I guess this one qualifies as nostalgia, then. I hope it’s any good at all.
DW: I really, really hope this is good, because it looks fantastic, and it’s already been pretty broadly hinted to me that no matter what we will be seeing it. And while, yes, zombies don’t exactly thrill me, I’m hopeful that this strikes the right balance between earnest and silly. I can’t quite pin it down as leaning one way or the other in the trailers, in which the only sour notes that get hit are the inevitable bodily function jokes that kids movies seem to feel duty bound to insert nowadays (and thus ends my “olde fogey” rant for the day).
DW: It’s a mini horror-month, I guess, with this, The Possession and The Tall Man all hitting. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m partial to haunted house and ghost movies, and I like my “high concept” horror films as well. In theory, this should be right up my alley, what with the whole “ghosts are only real because we believe in them, and that’s the problem” plot. Where the film-makers start to lose me, though, is right there at the beginning of the trailer, when the Dark Castle logo flashes on the screen. While the company has released some genuinely good films (even if I’m in the minority on liking The Losers) and some entertaining, if not quote “good” efforts (Ghost Ship is at least watchable), the rest of their output is suspect enough that the logo makes me leery. That everything else about the film screams out derivative, unoriginal, by the numbers and copies every single effect shot and set-up from the last decade of horror films…I’ve not got my hopes up, basically.
KL: 99% chance this is another one for the “PG-13 horror” pile, to be forgotten by October 1 and again the day after it comes out on DVD/Blu Ray. It’s an intriguing concept, to be sure, but not one that I’m sure holds up all that well to 90 minutes of scrutiny. This here is likely a prime candidate for right-minded movie fans’ “remake bad movies, not masterpieces” movement.
Hit & Run
DW: That’s a whole bunch of people I like, and Tom Arnold, in a film that doesn’t look like it quite deserves to have quite so many very good and very funny actors in it. It doesn’t look bad by any means, not at all. An action-comedy car chase movie hasn’t been done well since 1981, so we’re surely due for one, right? I think what’s holding me back is that, if you’re going to give me a bunch of people I really like in a film that doesn’t look to be either ambitious or novel, you’ve got to give me more to look forward to then just an “okay” comedy, and all I’m really getting from this is that it could be an “okay” comedy.
KL: Well I liked Tom Arnold in True Lies, anyway.
As one of seven people in the entire world who saw and liked Let’s Go To Prison a whole lot, and who also found Dax Shepard to be one of the funniest parts of Baby Mama, I’m actually pretty excited for a joint written, co-directed and starring him. I assume the better-than-average cast is due to Shepard and Kristen Bell knowing people who know people who wouldn’t mind helping Shepard out on a personal project. And that’s fine. I would like to see this movie.
DW: I have a suspicion that this might be the film that tests the patience of all the recent Joseph Gordon-Levitt fans. There’s a lot of silliness to contend with here. A bike messenger themed action film with lots of bike stunts feels more than a little Gleaming the Cube than I suspect most people are going to be comfortable with. So the question becomes, are they going to take all the potential silliness of a bike parkour movie seriously, or are they going to treat the subject matter as earnestly as it deserves? Since there are some hints in the trailers of some interesting visual style elements at play, we might even be lucky enough to see someone taking some inspiration from Crank for a new-wave action flick.
Or, you know, JGL just wanted to buy a new car and took the next project offered.
KL: Oh snap, Michael Shannon as the villain! That alone is pretty solid; after Take Shelter I will watch that dude in absolutely anything.
This does look kind of goofy, and I admire that it seems to want to break down the actual life of a bike courier (or anyway, an exciting movie version of same) with split-second decisions and dangers, viewing the city as a map more intimately than your average driver would, and so on. Also it’s fun to get a lot of badass action-movie music going and there’s JGL in his shorts and shirt and helmet riding a bike out of some fog, or whatever. Forgettable! Fun! A future Redbox rental!
DW: You know, I sort of like Shia LaBeouf. But if you’re going to put him in a film with Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce and Tom Hardy…I wouldn’t be setting up Shia as your lead. He’s perfectly fine, but nothing he’s done before has left me with the impression that he’s anything other than a lightweight in comparison to the rest of the cast.
As for the film itself…crime drama that romanticizes violent criminals is a pretty standard story, and apart from the cast, nothing here stands out to me as being special. It will all come down to the reviews, I imagine. If it doesn’t get spectacular reviews and I do feel the urge to watch a crime drama, The Killer Inside Me is on Watch Instantly last I checked.
KL: It is a little bit like someone got sick and their understudy is subbing in for them, huh? Everything else about this line-up is great, including and especially John Hillcoat re-teaming with Nick Cave to give us a sorta-Western.
But Shia is such a… it’s not that I don’t like him, even, it’s that he really does seem like a child playing dress-up, as Leonardo DiCaprio did for so many years before Scorsese took him under his wing. This ambivalence is so strong that it threatens to overwhelm Hillcoat, Cave, Hardy, Oldman, and Guy Pearce, who is one of my favorite current actors… to the point where my default here is “No.” I have discovered something about myself today, Dorian.
KL: OH FOR—look, I’m quite familiar with the birthrate of suckers vis-à-vis minutes in the day, but can we please can it with the “based on a true story” nonsense? That is like going found-footage without actually going found-footage. Tell me the story or don’t, man.
Anyway. I like a good possession movie, and I’m glad we’re breaking the iron lock the Roman Catholic Church has over exorcism movies. Um. I like Jeffrey Dean Morgan?
DW: Let’s chalk up the “true story” angle here to the fact that the eBay listing that they’ve based the film on really did exist at one point.
Possession films are relatively low on my personal hierarchy of horror films (if you set up your problem as “because the Devil” your solution is going to be “because God” and that drains a lot of the suspense right there), and yeah, it not being focused on a Catholic solution to the problem is nice. On the other hand, the last time I saw a film focusing on Jewish supernatural evil myths it didn’t go well.
For A Good Time, Call…
KL: The arc of this thing looks pretty straightforward, and I have a feeling we’ll all learn something about friendship before the movie’s running time is up.
Happy and welcoming of Raunchy Lady Comedies, though I do wonder if they have to track so closely to Raunchy Dude Comedies: the protagonist, the sidekick/best friend who’s SUPER over-the-top crass, the protagonist becomes a bit more liberated, bodily fluids are splashed on someone, et cetera. I suppose we’ll see if this fragile little baby duck grows up into more ambitious work down the line.
DW: Yep, pretty much. As sorta happy as I am that we can now have raunchy, gross-out comedies aimed at women, at the end of the day what all of us are getting are…more raunchy, gross-out comedies. There’s not a lot of new ground being broken outside of the gender switch. So while a not-quite-as-dirty distaff Night Shift is progress of a sort, I’m just not finding myself terribly interested.
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Every month, Ken Lowery and I look at the trailers for a selection of upcoming releases, trying to spot the entertaining, the enlightening and the clues that studio executives are conducting elaborate experiments on the American public.
It’s a short month, as everyone appears to be trying to get out of the way of either The Amazing Spider-Man or that bat guy. Which means interesting little films pop up as counter-programming, but the usual summer glut of big loud and dumb is in short supply.
KL: In glancing back through Oliver Stone’s filmography, I realize I like him much more in theory than I do in practice. To find a movie I’d willingly rewatch – and have rewatched, many times – you have to go all the way back to Talk Radio. There was a time when I consumed Natural Born Killers on something like a monthly basis, but that time has passed. I think there’s something potent in that movie, but I don’t think Stone got to it.
I suspect Savages will be a lot more NBK than Talk Radio, frustratingly half-realized commentaries and all. I suspect a fizzle.
DW: I like the idea of Stone doing a straight-forward crime film, but, similarly to how you feel, I think he’s one of those directors you’re supposed to like more than his actual work justifies. There’s a certain enjoyment to crime dramas, but you usually need some sort of viewpoint character that the audience can identify with. To make a film like this, where everyone just feels slimy and unpleasant, even the supposed protagonists, and actually have it work is a very tricky thing. On paper, Stone is the kind of director who should be able to pull it off. In practice, though…maybe not so much.
If the film underperforms (and given the ubiquity of billboards for it in the Southern California area, they certainly expect it to perform) we may be spared any further attempts to turn Taylor Kitsch into a leading man. So some good may come of this after all.
DW: I like my haunted house and ghost movies. I’m always looking for someone who is doing something new or interesting with the subject, or at least taking the old stand-bys and doing them well. We’ve gotten some pretty good one in the last couple of years but far more of the bad ones. (Seriously, I still want to punch whoever it was who told me that Insidious was worth my time…)
I’m putting this in my Netflix queue now, because at some point I am going to want to see it, despite looking like this is going to be a very by-the-numbers and rote look at the idea of a haunted house. (Really, dysfunctional family and old secrets in a story revolving around women?) I’m mostly getting a “let’s make a cheap horror movie, those are usually profitable” vibe off of this one and a sense that I’m supposed to be frightened by people jerking around spastically instead of the atmosphere or the situation.
KL: I guess this is based on a short film by the same writer/director, and presumably somebody liked it enough to give it the feature film treatment, with Sundance selection status and all.
I like that things get obviously weird in the trailer; one assumes all the crazy stuff happens pretty early on and that, at least, may give us some wildness we haven’t seen in other horror movies. But…
I would just once like a horror movie that goes fully phantasmagoric; haunted house stories have a way of getting abstract and intimate in a way few other horror genres can, so why not go full-on Guillermo Del Toro with it? Ah, well. Buzz will sink or swim this one for me.
Ice Age: Continental Drift
DW: I’ve never actually sat down and watched the original Ice Age. I’ve seen it, but only in disjointed, out of sequence form, as it seems to be the popular choice for electronic stores to show off their HD televisions. And each new entry in the series does nothing to persuade me that my initial, knee-jerk assumption about the films is correct: these only exist to shut kids up for 80 minutes.
I’d be offended by that gay-baiting bit from the sloth, I guess, at the end of the latest trailer if the entire enterprise didn’t look stupidly offensive from the start.
KL: When I was busy working the freelance movie critic beat, I read of another critic’s retirement, and how the thing he was looking forward to most was not going to the movies. I didn’t understand him at the time, but I understand him now; I look back at everything I wrote about and feel like I could have killed at least 80% of those experiences and be no less a person. While no doubt most of those movies started as a seed of excitement in some writer somewhere, the end product is ten times more Product than it is Art of even Statement.
Ice Age 3: The Ice Age Will Continue Until Morale Improves is precisely such a movie; a great big investment of time and money that’s meant to sell some Happy Meals and pass some hours for parents who need their kids out of their hair for a little while. Maybe I’m coming down hard on little old Ice Age, here, but I promise I do not speak with malice. Only with a clear-eyed assessment of what the movie is, and also what it isn’t: something that will ever see my ass in a seat in front of it.
DW: Oh, God, please don’t be a film where the skeptics discover that the supernatural exists and they are punished for their hubris…
Despite the heavy emphasis on the psychics in the trailer, everything else I’ve read suggests that this is more of a conventional thriller than they’re letting on, and that’s good. There’s a cast here that I really like, DeNiro’s scenery chewing feels appropriate, and if they do go with the “psychics are all crooks and charlatans and bad people” angle then that’s a pretty unique tack for a thriller to take. At least it’s a well that’s not as fully plumbed as the usual serial killer/CEO with a militia at his disposal routes.
KL: Indeed, skeptics do seem to exist in movies to be debunked by the end of act 1 or, if it’s a particularly twisty-turny movie, act 2. But there are a couple things working in this movie’s favor: a quietly stacked deck of talented actors and enough hints that this’ll be a is-he-or-isn’t-he thriller in the style of The Prestige, possibly up until the last minute.
Those kinds of stories can be risky – we’re dealing with fictional reality, so all we’re really seeing is a screenwriter holding out on what kind of world he’s built for as long as possible – but if other themes can be intertwined with the twists and turns competently, we could have something here. I intend to find out.
The Dark Knight Rises
KL: I had nothing but good things to say about The Dark Knight, and my appreciation for that movie only deepened over time. So I have no real reason to suspect this will be any less meaty or captivating than its predecessor, beyond a perpetual gnaw of doubt that lingers in the core of all “sure things” and something vaguely defined as the “trilogy curse.” So few people can stick a landing after coming so far; perhaps Chris Nolan is as mortal as the rest of us.
One of Nolan’s gifts is assembling large, talented casts; any third of this movie’s bench could headline a great movie. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman seems to be getting her Occupy on (which, see below), which is a delicious turn for the character and a great question to pose to Batman: what, above all, gives you the right? (It also calls to mind a deeply cynical “joke” from the Batman analog of the comic series Marshal Law: “Why does a billionaire become a vigilante? So he can keep all his money.”) Tom Hardy’s also a formidable presence, though I question the wisdom of obscuring an actor’s primary tools.
In short, I’ve pre-ordered my opening weekend ticket.
DW: Ending a series is a tricky thing. The number of franchises that have pulled it off successfully are dwarfed by those that have left audiences with that “really?” feeling. Nolan has been mostly reliable in the past, and the (from my perspective anyway) lack of any real hyperbolic hype over this should discourage any “omigod lifechanging” expectations from people. But I’m sure I’m going to hear lots of complaints about how the ending was “disappointing” because that’s just what people are like.
I’ll see it, I’ll probably enjoy it, but I’m not anticipating it as hotly as some of my friends. I’m sure it will be good, and the casting is, as usual, excellent. Maybe I’m just getting too old to be excited at the prospect of a super-hero movie.
KL: I vividly remember my experience watching Superbad, also written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. I went alone, there were perhaps three or four other people in the audience, and I laughed my fool head off for two hours. If nothing else, those two guys have a gift for authentic dialog.
The movie’s four leads present something of a conundrum, and an interesting spectrum of tolerance levels: Richard Ayoade, who I’m excited to see holding up a corner of the quadrangle. Jonah Hill, who’s peaking just past “maximum enjoyment” into “starting to deeply resent.” Vince Vaughn, who could probably do with staying off the screen for a few years. And finally Ben Stiller, who has cooled it off lately, and come out on the other side an interesting person to watch again. Sometimes.
The trailer’s got some strong moments, but the reviews will make or break this for me. I await patiently on the fence.
DW: As much as I like Richard Ayoade and would like to see him break out into film roles, I can’t help but feel disappointed that he’s playing third fiddle here to a bunch of guys who have mostly worn out their welcome. And it’s not that the film looks particularly bad. It’s just it doesn’t feel particularly notable. The beats and jokes I’ve seen so far all feel like things I’ve seen before.
I’ve seen it suggested that the producers were caught flat footed by real life events that could sour the public on the idea of a neighborhood watch themed movie, hence the sudden prominence of the alien angle in the ads, which might explain why everything just feels half-assed to me. But it probably doesn’t matter, ultimately. The one reason I’m even vaguely curious is Ayoade, and that’s simply not enough to get me to commit time or money to this.
Step Up: Revolution
DW: I think we all knew that it was only a matter of time before Hollywood attempted to cash in on reach out to the “Occupy” generation with a film that clumsily shoves the shallowest of shallow political awareness into a youth film. Of all the ways they could have done it, I’m pretty much relieved that it was in a dancing movie. The whole “hey gang, let’s put on a show and save the community center” vibe is both about as sophisticated as I was expecting the take to be, and about as blandly inoffensive as we’re liable to get (unless someone has a Death Wish remake replacing street gangs with Occupy protestors sitting in a desk drawer, and they probably do).
Or, as usual, I’m just over thinking things and it’s simply that the profit margin on these dancing movies is stupidly big.
KL: Stuff like this is, I feel, a harkening back to an earlier time in movie making; a compilation of very talented people doing what they do committed to film, because that’s easier to transport and showcase worldwide than a traveling company of same. I “get it,” even if it’s not particularly my thing. The Occupy and flash mob stuff is, I don’t know, a stab at relevance. Did we need one?
I suspect I’ll be hearing all about it opening weekend, though. My wife is crazy for dance movies.
KL: Save for The Dark Knight Rises, this is the last movie of the summer I’m truly excited for. The movie math of sleaze + cast + William Friedkin + NC-17 rating equals five or six exclamation points in Ken World. That Tracy Letts, the screenwriter adapting Killer Joe from her own play, also gave the same play-to-screen treatment for Bug (also directed by Friedkin!) is like a cinematic combo breaker.
Can I just say I’m glad to see Matthew McConaughey come out the other side of his People-Magazine’s-Sexiest-People/Also-Starring-Kate-Hudson phase to do the kind of work you always hoped he would do? Magic Mike, The Lincoln Lawyer, Tropic Thunder, and now this – this is the Matthew McConaughey glimpsed in Frailty, coming to full flower. Hooray.
DW: Yeah, this is what I want. Consistently good cast (even when they’re in a bad movie, Hirsch and McConaughey are entertaining), consistently good director, and a good writer telling an interesting story in a novel way. Yes, it’s a crime film where everyone is unpleasant and they’re doing unpleasant things, but unlike, say, Savages, you get the sense that these are people legitimately in over their heads because of the unforeseen consequences of bad decisions, and that’s pretty damn relatable.
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Every month, Ken Lowery and I look at trailers for upcoming films, trying to spot the good, the bad and the attempts to keep the mountain of blow in the studio executives washroom topped off.
In a startling change of pace, summer this year actually looks to be pretty good, with even the films that probably aren’t going to be worth your time at least pretending to offer up something beyond the usual big-loud-and-dumb summer trifecta.
Snow White and the Huntsman
DW: Setting aside the obvious, worn-out (and true) jokes about there being no possible way Kristin Stewart is “fairer” than Charlize Theron, there’s still some warning flags here. The biggest one is that “from the Producers of Alice in Wonderland” tag, because if you want me to see your movie, reminding me that you’re responsible for one of the ugliest, most bloated, completely unnecessary butcherings of a film in recent memory is not a good idea. And then there’s that whole Stewart/Theron thing, where every ad focuses on the villain and the title character barely shows up at all.
So, while this looks visually entertaining, and some of the early reviews suggest that this might not be entirely dreadful, I’m still going to need some serious word-of-mouth convincing that this isn’t just a pretty train-wreck.
KL: What irks me here is that genre creep – specifically the creep of action movie tropes into every other genre type being filmed – is getting more ubiquitous, and no one’s saying anything. Do we need Snow White to be an action war epic, complete with dudes doing crazy wire-fighting and two-fisting axe attacks? Do we need Snow White to have big epic battles set in color tones that remind one of a northern beachfront under an overcast sky?
We do not.
KL: Because, see, he gets the school… high.
Back when I was reviewing movies on the reg, I had to remind myself of a few things with every movie I wrote about. One of those key points was that every movie is the first of its kind for somebody. So, for instance, this may be the 10th by-the-numbers romantic comedy I’ve seen in the past year, but it may well be someone else’s first. I reminded myself of this point so I’d judge a movie by how well it fulfills its mandate, instead of just judging by originality every time.
So… stoner comedy for teenagers. Not usually my thing, but the Harold and Kumar franchise contains two of my three favorite comedies of all time, so who can even say?
Which is to say no, unless word of mouth is very strong.
DW: Adrien Brody’s and Colin Hanks’s presence here feels like someone is trying to trick me into giving the film a chance. Now, I can enjoy a good “dumb” comedy; they’re few and far between, but they do exist. But, I don’t know, there’s something about this that feels like someone, somewhere, is trying too hard to cash in on that Hangover-Harold & Kumar wave that already feels like it’s waning somewhat.
I’d be more inclined to be charitable if the trailer didn’t look to reveal every significant plot point and beat contained in the film. More than anything else, that’s one of the things I take as a sign that the film is best avoided.
KL: This is easily my most anticipated movie of the year. It’s only just recently that I’ve come to really appreciate Alien, and for that matter that whole era of Ridley Scott’s career. The movie math really adds up here: Scott of course, a deep bench taking up acting duties, and a diverse style of marketing (that mock TED talk, the “Happy Birthday, David” video, the Weyland Industries web page) that suggests a big ol’ action SF blockbuster that is, in a very crucial way, alive. I am actually going to see a midnight screening of this, which will be the first time I’ve done that in over ten years.
DW: Yeah, this is the film I’m most looking forward to this year as well. For pretty much all the same reasons that Ken cites; Scott (hell, I’m the guy who even likes Robin Hood), the casting, and the careful planning and creation of viral marketing material that suggests a deeper universe behind the film, elevating it above the usual summer sci-fi action films we tend to get. I’m even not bothered by the spoilers out there that suggest that two of my least favorite sci-fi cliches are central to the film (though at this point it’s probably safe to remove the “ancient astronauts” stuff from the “spoiler” territory).
About the only thing that bugs me is the coyness over whether or not this is related to the Alien films (“Is this a prequel to Alien?” “Well, you’ll have to see.” “So, that’s a ‘yes’ then.”).
Safety Not Guaranteed
KL: Based on a real classified ad!
My interest in this waned over the course of the trailer; while it’s trippy to see Pete from The League act like a slightly backwards schlub, I do not see the ad this whole thing is based on and think, “man, what would this be like as a sappy, bittersweet sorta-rom-com?” Give me crazy! Give me chases! Give me unhinged reality!
I guess I shouldn’t blame a movie for not being what I imagined it would be, but I’m disappointed that someone decided the thing to do with a premise this bonkers is to make a movie about how weirdos are maybe onto something?
DW: I’m in the same boat. You hear about the premise, and “manic pixie dream guy” whimsey-core film is not the least bit what you expect it to be about. It looks like it could be…okay? Maybe? If you like that sort of thing? But “could be okay” when you’ve set me up for something infinitely more clever and original is more than just a bit of a let-down.
Rock of Ages
I’m kinda baffled that a juke-box musical based on cock-rock bands is an actual thing, and yet, here it is. I might have been sold if there were any hints as to what the story and plot here actually are (it looks like “Fame Corrupts Young Love, Variation #3”), but I guess letting everyone know that you have, laughably, cast Tom Cruise as a knock-off Iggy Pop is more important.
KL: Ken-agnostic scientists slaved for years to build the perfect Anti-Ken movie, and I think we have it here: a musical, a musical about cock rock, a musical about cock rock starring Tom Cruise playing someone other than a murderous sociopath. I am all for the realization of Bryan Cranston’s plan to star in every single movie released going forward, glad Will Forte’s getting a paycheck, and uh, hey, Kevin Nash. But my opinion here is irrelevant. This movie could not be less targeted at me if it were a Doctor Who movie starring My Little Ponys.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
DW: Produced by Tim Burton? Directed by Timur Bekmambetov? Based on a nerd-pandering book that was part of that inane wave of monster/classic lit mash-ups?
There is simply no possible way that this is any good whatsoever, and I’m frankly appalled that anyone with any sense gave money to have it made.
KL: I just can’t get around the fact that this premise was a joke on Party Down, mentioned in brief as a big budget comic book adaptation that series protagonist Henry (Adam Scott) almost-but-not-quite attached to his fading star to. It worked as a mild throwaway joke because it was absurd in a way that didn’t draw too much attention to itself.
I’m just going to assume all of this is viral marketing for an eventual Party Down movie, because what’s the alternative? Madness.
DW: It’s very pretty, to be certain, and I’m genuinely curious as to how Pixar, who have generally done “boy cartoons” up to this point are going to handle something that is widely going to be perceived as yet another Disney Princess movie (Merida is already set up in the “Princess” area of Disneyland and fashion dolls are all over my local Target shelves). But one of my gripes with Pixar as a studio is that their films are often marketed around one arresting image or character, and then the rest of the film fails to live up to the promise of that initial marketing, usually because the actual story itself turns out to be pretty rote and by the numbers. That the writers and directors credited here have, in general, not been involved in any of the films that my frustrations with Pixar arise from gives me some confidence that, Princess dolls aside, this should be worthwhile.
KL: It’s Pixar so my attendance is basically a given (excepting Cars 2). The trailers have not grabbed me, but that’s actually par for the course for Pixar. With the exception of Wall-E’s trailer, most of the ones they cut leave a lot to be desired… which is odd, coming from a company that honed its craft in short films, and that has often brilliant shorts listed before their features.
Don’t tell any of my Scotch-Irish family that the accents in these trailers drive me bonkers. They sound so goofy.
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World
KL: In this one, Steve Carell plays a soulful, sweet sad sack!
I want to like Carell but he’s making it hard on me, as it seems he has but one of two modes: total goofball or self-deprecating loser. The latter worked OK in Little Miss Sunshine (a movie I otherwise don’t much care for) but it’s worked less and less in the string of similar roles he’s played since. Keira Knightley so rarely registers on my radar that I’m not really looking at her to lead this thing.
The big question for me is if this movie has the stones to follow through on its premise. I’m guessing not.
DW: I kind of like the premise. Of course, given the cast, I think I’d actually prefer something a little more on the dark comedy scale of things. This has every appearance of teasing a real blackness with some “oh that’s outrageous” antics, but ultimately going with the heart-warming, life-affirming pseudo-scmaltz that Carell seems to specialize in these days. And no, I don’t have any expectations that they will actually have the nerve to give us an ending in line with the set-up.
So this is a “Netflix it if the word of mouth is any good” for me, I think.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
KL: Heard a lot about this one when it came out of Sundance and subsequently Cannes, so its place of greatness seems preordained. I’m a fan of the setting, too; there’s something about the bayou and its ecology that fascinates (and repels) me. I don’t feel an emotional tug here as of yet, more an appreciation for its plaudits and the ability to get a kid to act convincingly as the lead of the movie. We’ll see.
DW: The high praise is a good sign, and the cinematography is beautiful, so I’m intrigued. But dramas about kids are extremely hit or miss with me, regardless of their praise. And praise sometimes reaches a point where I start wondering if the film is really just that good, or if this is a “critic film” that hits all the beats that people who watch films for a living want to see but doesn’t really resonate with those of us who can only afford one or two films a month and prize novelty or entertainment over soul-shattering catharsis and epiphany.
So cautiously optimistic, but waiting for someone whose taste I actually know to see it first.
DW: They keep trying to make Channing Tatum a star, and I just don’t think it’s going to take.
I have a lot of trust in Steven Soderbergh. Making a movie about Channing Tatum as a stripper, that is apparently loosely based on Tatum’s own life story, really stretches that trust. I’m sure it will be, despite itself, a good, or at least watchable, film. But, let’s be honest, the main selling point and appeal here is “male strippers who, inexplicably, never actually show very much” so any “good film” qualities are pretty much irrelevant.
And judging by Tatum’s “custom furniture” he should probably stick to stripping.
KL: There’s a hilariously intriguing cast here (Tatum? Matthew McConaughey? Wendi McLendon-Covey? Olivia Munn? Kevin Nash again?) and it pleases me that Soderbergh is just doing whatever the hell it is he wants to do. So um, sure, maybe. I’m not hooked, but I wouldn’t turn it down.
I am surprised to find out that Tatum was a stripper himself – or rather, I’m surprised that I didn’t know about that till now. I’m not really a gossip guy but I know a thing or two about a thing or two. I have this suspicion that if some equivalent actress had a similar background – a Mila Kunis, say – that “ex-stripper” would come up within a sentence of every mention of her name for all time. Interesting, that.
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It’s time once again for Ken Lowery and I to take a look at a selection of trailers for film’s coming up this month, and with the official start of the summer movie season, we’re in block-buster overload, and sound engineers competing to see who can deafen the most audience members with the sounds of exploding alien robots.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
DW: Well, that’s a whole bunch of actors whose collective work I enjoy a whole hell of a bunch making a movie that appears to be steeped in a whole mess of post-colonial privilege stew. I hope that it’s just a case of really bad marketing, and this isn’t another film about a bunch of white people who travel to another country and learn Important Life Lessons from the natives, whose simplicity means they’re tapped into Deeper Truths, in an explicitly condescending and borderline-racist way. Because, brother, that is exactly what it looks like so far.
KL: Oof, let’s hope it’s more about that than manifesting that, but it’s hard to say. There’s, you know, some history between England and India, history which was astonishingly not solved by Indiana Jones and Short Round. The trailer basically tells you everything that’s going to happen, complete with a music cue that shifts us from “haha rueful!” to “hey man, like, LIFE!” and at this stage in my own life I’m good with 90 seconds of that, as opposed to 90 minutes of it.
DW: Maybe I’ve become too accustomed to these things, but I will honestly be more surprised if it turns out that Samuel L. Jackson is not a figment of Luke Wilson’s imagination.
In any case (figment, charming sociopath, actual devil) it’s pretty rote ground for a thriller, so whether this is worthwhile or not is going to depend pretty strongly on the performances and the quality of the script and any wit and originality it can wring from the scenario. Jackson I’m feeling a bit burnt out on; it feels like his performances increasingly tend towards camp as a result of, as a friend puts it, the “Samuel L. Jacksploitation” factor. Wilson I’m still pretty okay with, so…maybe Netflix I guess?
KL: I’m leaning “actual devil or possibly figment,” but I sincerely doubt it’ll be clearly spelled out.
I mean, this doesn’t look bad. SLJ is toning down his Al Pacino Yelling All The Time School of Acting and leaning more on the glowering and that is, for him, a refreshing change of pace from the last 78 movies he’s made. I’m all for popular entertainment advancing the elementary (yet still controversial) truth that evil is not an “other,” but I can’t tell which way this one will shake out.
DW: Weirdly, this is both the last thing I expected out of a Tim Burton remake of Dark Shadows and exactly what I expected out of a Tim Burton remake of Dark Shadows. The last thing because “brooding supernatural romance” sounds like something right up Burton’s alley, and exactly because, boy, does this look like a self-indulgent train-wreck.
As with most remakes, the question of who precisely this was for seems to come up. Doing a wacky period comedy is the sort of thing that, one supposes, would only alienate fans of the original series. And the sort of people a wacky period comedy might appeal to are likely to be alienated by having it tied to this old soap opera property they’ve maybe heard of only vaguely. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll see a bit of the Beetlejuice-era Burton here. Johnny Depp in full on ham mode, though, makes me skeptical.
KL: I am hoping this goes for the pure hilarity and some creepy imagery, because that’s a Burton we haven’t seen in a little while and because that’s the only thing that could possibly get my ass in the seat for this. I haven’t seen the show, so adherence to it isn’t really a priority for me (and in an ideal world never is; all works, even adaptations, should stand on their own.)
Um, also: Eva Green.
God Bless America
KL: It’s funny, every bit of praise I can cook up for Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad—which I outright loved—sounds very trite. “Bracing,” “fresh,” “raw,” “unflinching” – it’s hard to come up with new words for a movie that, when presented with the movie choice or the human choice, relentlessly pursues the latter.
This looks… different. Look, we all enjoy our little Falling Down fantasies. And we’ve seen nearly this exact one played out twice in recent years: in the somewhat repellant Kick-Ass (based on a way more repellant comic) and Super, which at least had the self-awareness to cast serious questions about the sanity of its protagonists.
I’m further annoyed that these stories seem to require a teenage (girl) accomplice, someone who’s smart beyond their years and just as fed up with the world. Straight up, teenagers: you don’t know shit. Shut up.
Our two heroes are whacking easy targets in the trailer – the people set up by media conglomerates for us to gawk at, bitch about, and most of all never stop watching. Taking that to the extreme of eliminationist rhetoric about what constitutes “Real America” is not just brain poison, it’s buying completely into the game and letting it own you.
I sincerely and truly hope there’s more than meets the eye here.
DW: I’m with you on really hoping that there’s more here than simple revenge fantasies against “annoying people.” It’s a really fine line to walk between satire and just congratulating yourself for not being a “bad person” as narrowly defined by an aging comedian, and from just the trailers it’s hard to tell which side Goldthwait is falling on. And that’s even without factoring in the very good likelihood that, like Idiocracy before it, the parody goes over the heads of some viewers and they come away with the wrong message. Goldthwait’s previous work makes me hope that he’s got a handle on that, that this is more than the sum of its parts.
But, yeah, spunky teenage girl engaged in cute violence. That’s…that’s not a good sign.
DW: I’m not a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen. I find his satirical films forced and over-reliant on “foreigners lol” types of jokes. The initial trailers didn’t do much to dissuade me from that position, but at the very least the mockumentary format was being ditched.
This new trailers make the film look something more like a pretty blatant rip-off of Coming to America. I can’t decide if that’s actually a good thing or a bad thing in terms of Cohen’s career trajectory, but it certainly doesn’t make the film any more appealing.
KL: There was a time when I championed Cohen, but that time is gone. I recognize there is a genius in what he does: zeroing in on the chinks and cracks in the polite veneers of middle class life and taking a fucking rocket launcher to them is at times spectacular to see.
So I don’t know if he got old or if I did. I like some of what I see in the trailers, but this particular brand of freaking the norms has lost a lot of its appeal – and the hints that this’ll be more of a conventionally filmed comedy give me the impression he’ll be defanged.
KL: Nothing makes me feel like Sam Neill at the end of In the Mouth of Madness quite like this movie’s marketing. This is a movie based on a plotless board game starring some Friday Night Lights guys, that True Blood guy, a swimsuit model, Rihanna, and Liam Neeson. Peter Berg at least knows how to move a camera, but everything else about this is beyond parody. “From Hasbro, the company that brought you Transformers”? That is a board game company getting the “from the producers of” spot! It’s surreal.
DW: This is, apparently, already a hit overseas. Now, I’m the first one to mock those who take a film’s box office success or failure as a sign of its quality, but lately I’ve seen a lot of “well, it did well overseas” explanations used to justify a film’s lackluster performance in the US, usually with a side of “US audiences just didn’t get it/deserve a film of this quality” thrown in there as well.
That this is a success in foreign markets should, I would hope, definitively illustrate that box office takes have nothing whatsoever to do with quality, because this is the stupidest thing to come from stupid town in a good long while, and Atlas Shrugged was released not too long ago. Everyone involved in the production of this should feel bad about themselves.
What To Expect When You’re Expecting
KL: I guess they’re putting a veneer of sass on this and that’s meant to update and evolve the heartwarming family thing they’ve got going on. There’s some good comedy names in here (Thomas Lennon, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Rob Huebel, Elizabeth Banks) but there’s also that friggin’ bikini model again and listen, those good comedy guys also know how to cash a check and get their name out there, so I’m not expecting anything but the PG-13iest of PG-13 takes on “what it’s really like” parenting comedies. Give me hard R or give me death.
DW: Man, Thomas Lennon is just becoming my personal bellwether of if a comedy is going to be crap or not. If he’s in there by himself, with no other members of The State to back him up? Yeah, this is going to be lousy.
This feels a lot like one of those holiday themed rom-coms, where they get like a dozen rom-com actors and throw them in there with interlinked plots that, by themselves, are too slight to support a whole film, but we’re so tickled that this film has Julia Roberts and Sarah Jessica Parker that we’ll just overlook the fact that it’s crap. Only it’s a completely bland, safe “date night” style comedy.
Men In Black 3
KL: I’ve never really cottoned to Barry Sonnenfield. Just about everything he’s done wears the strain of effort a little too obviously to achieve the weightless weirdness of his screwball subject matter. In short: He tries too hard.
MIB wasn’t really any different. I was about as buttered-up by hype as I possibly could be for the first movie, but it failed to meet even my lowered and sympathetic expectations. God knows why I saw the second one, but I did, and even at 88 minutes it felt too slight to exist. Josh Brolin’s Tommy Lee Jones impersonation is great but, like, I have Saturday Night Live for that.
DW: I sort of liked the first film (though, granted, I think I only ever watched it once, when it came out, so I have no idea if I would still like it), and I barely even remembered that there ever was a second film. But, no, I just can’t muster up any enthusiasm for this. Smith passed over into annoying territory a long time back, and having Brolin deadpan his way through a movie pretty much kills what charisma he has. That there doesn’t appear to be any real development in tone or style from the earlier films sends me the message that this is pretty much just an attempt to wring the last few cents out of a franchise that’s almost reached it’s sell-by date.
DW: I had actually heard some intriguing advance praise for this, so I was eager to check out the trailer and see what was what. I actually liked The River, enough to make me think that I should probably check out the Paranormal Activity films despite really not liking the format they used for them.
But when I watch the trailer I’m pretty underwhelmed. Sure, there are a couple of spooky shots. But when you set your horror film in Chernobyl? I sort of expect something more original than what looks like another mutant hillbilly cannibals film. Because that is not only a trope that just needs to fucking die already, but it’s the least original sort of threat you could come up with for a film set in fucking Chernobyl.
KL: I liked Paranormal Activity, but then I’m a fan of anything that removes a camera’s omniscience and makes you very aware of how limited a camera really is.
This is another thing, and not nearly as inventive. Props for using Chernobyl for the setting (are they really there? The trailer clips seem to sync up with photos I’ve seen, but who knows) and Oren Peli can pace things out, but I sincerely doubt that will be enough.
KL: I have really, really come around on most of Wes Anderson’s stuff in the past few years, though there’s some exceptions (Darjeeling Limited) to that rule.
He’s definitely got his own thing going and he’s rigidly set on following that and he enjoys success for it, so, cool. We’ve got the usual jokes about which B-side Kinks or Rolling Stones songs he’ll use in this one’s soundtrack. It all looks a little precious, but for reasons I have a hard time identifying, his particular brand of precious doesn’t offend me – maybe it’s to do with the raw need at the core of a Max Fischer, or the malaise gnawing at the core of the Tenenbaums, or how Mr. Fox’s desire to do things his own way can scare and potentially hurt his loved ones. There’s more, is what I’m saying. And I like him for that.
DW: I can’t make up my mind about Anderson. I want to like his stuff, but usually when I give him a shot I just get…bored, to be honest. The whimsey levels look to be off the charts here, and while I would usually find that sort of thing a bit forced, it feels mostly appropriate, given that this is a film about kids. I’ll accept a certain degree of self-conscious sweet oddness under those circumstances.
Which means I’m probably setting myself up for disappointment again, but oh well.
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