Archive for the “In A World” Category

Every month Ken Lowery and I look at a selection of trailers for upcoming releases, to see how good a job studios are doing at getting us to give them money.
September is when the “prestige” films start to roll in, and, uhm, it’s looking like it might be a slim year for that, too.

September 6th

Riddick

KL: I want to meet the guy who keeps successfully pitching Riddick properties to studios and video game companies and whatnot, because that guy could probably sell gasoline to people who are on fire.

I say this as someone who actually likes Pitch Black a decent amount, and at least this one is written and directed by David Twohy, who directed and co-wrote PB. But Riddick – or at least Riddick by himself – isn’t the reason why I liked the first film. I don’t need another Invincible Badass Rattled By Nothing And No One. I’d be interested for Katee Sackhoff, but I am hearing her parts are the most problematic in the whole movie – and boy, does that set off alarm bells.

DW: I know I’ve seen the first two films in this series, but I can barely remember anything about either of them, other than something something Riddick is the chosen one pseudo-messianic hoo-har in the second one maybe. That a franchise as apparently forgettable as all that has managed to reach a third installment is impressive. Also probably a sign of just how afraid of risking money on new properties Hollywood is these days, if the giant space-bats film is getting another go.

Apart from just being underwhelmed by the entire concept, the trailers look like a bunch of CGI on green-screen, and boy howdy am I over that sort of thing.

Hell Baby

DW: This is one of those inevitable signs of aging. It’s a film written and directed by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, two guys I’ve always thought were funny and talented, doing a horror send-up with a bunch of other folks I’ve always thought were funny and talented. And…it just feels lazy. Like I’ve seen all of this before. And, truth to tell, I probably have. I’ve just seen that many horror spoofs. Probably all the same ones that Lennon and Garant have. So, for a younger audience, one for whom Saturday the 14th is just a date and Repossessed is something that happens to your car, this may be fresh and new, but I can’t get over the “been there, done that” feeling.

KL: In general I feel you, Dorian. When I was doing movie reviews regularly “sameness creep” was the hardest part of the job. Movies started to feel less like distinct entities and more like “This year’s entry into [x genre].” I tried – and often failed – to keep in mind that every year’s installment was someone’s first installment.

But that out of the way, these people are some of the funniest people alive. I think that alone is enough to carry it for me. I’m positive I’ve seen these jokes before; I am positive I have not seen how they would tell these jokes. I want to see this very much.

September 13th

The Family

KL: Theoretically yes, but I’ve been hurt real bad by these people before. One ray of light, and perhaps I’m naïve for thinking so: it’s Luc Besson doing his thing in his country of origin, which hopefully should provide a little more sly observational humor about life in this movie’s setting than an American writer/director would afford. That hope is slim, though. I’ll need to see some stellar words first.

DW: The thing I like about Besson’ film is that there’s a style and a slickness to them that is frequently lacking in American action films. I’m not seeing any of that here. Instead, I’m seeing the same beats I’ve seen in every other Mob comedy, only in France! Casting folks who have, you know, been in a few Mob comedies already isn’t helping things.

September 20th

Prisoners

DW: Missing children is one of those “go to” plots for thrillers, but even as someone who watches a lot of these things, it feels like we’re seeing a lot more these last few years than we’d averaged in the past. Must be something in the zeitgeist to do with suburban paranoia.

In any case, this is one of those films that I will probably eventually get around to because it looks decently put together and has a bunch of actors I like in it, but I’m not in any great hurry because, as I said, I watch a lot of these and in every other case this looks like it’s as by-the-numbers as you can get with this particular set-up.

KL: Strike one: A character named “Detective Loki.” Strike two, a plot summary that includes the phrase “But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?” Strike three: Did I mention the character named Detective Loki?

A Single Shot

KL: I mean it’s got the things I want in it: the single catastrophic mistake, the mysterious pile of cash, Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, everyone trying on backwoods accents, Situations That Reveal True Character, and so on. The director (David M. Rosenthal) and writer (Matthew F. Jones, adapting from his novel) don’t have a lot for me to go on, but, sure, whatever. I like Sam Rockwell and think he could sell some drama, and is about due to show us what else he can do. And I’m sure that’s precisely why he’s doing this.

DW: Yeah, this is hitting all the right notes. An actor I really like and think is under-used in a dramatic lead, a “one bad decision and things spiral out of control” plot, and what looks to be very pretty and considered cinematography. This is going on my “to look for” list pretty much as soon as possible.

September 27th

Don Jon

DW: All right, look, as much as I might be curious to see how Gordon-Levitt does with his directorial debut, between the pretty white straight people dealing with problems of their own making plot and the over-the-top Jersey accents, there is just no way.

KL: Stellar reviews on this one. I like JGL okay – he’s on the Leo DiCaprio route of taking the long way ‘round to me seeing him as a grown-up adult actor person, but he got there – and I’m inclined to put faith in the people who put faith in this movie. Also, generally I’m a big booster of hyphenate filmmakers giving us as clear a vision of what they’re doing as possible. That’s nothing but good for the medium.

But I guess this is a thing about how men and women have unrealistic views of relationships and maybe – maybe????? – they’ll learn something and meet in the middle? Ehhhhhh.

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Every month, Ken Lowery and I take a look at the trailers for upcoming films, to see how they strike our fancy, or don’t.
August is now apparently the month for all the horror and thriller films to be released. Yeah, I’m not sure I get how that happened either.

August 2nd

2 Guns

KL: There’s a good lineup of actors here I’m glad are getting work (the headliners, yeah, but also Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Fred Ward, and James Marsden) and I am more often than not on Team Wahlberg. I am also on Team Steven Grant Gets Paid For This Adaptation. The rest I can take or leave; the gaggy final bit in the trailer doesn’t actually even make sense to me. (He gets his foot shot at a lot?) They could have replaced this trailer with 2 minutes of the word “WHATEVER” on a black screen and it would have had the same effect on me.

DW: I too am generally on the Team Wahlberg, for slightly different reasons at times I suspect, but man does this just look like a screaming pile of hoary old cliches in a genre I’m not particularly invested in at all at the best of times. Even the “meet cute” of the concept (they’re BOTH undercover! Wacky!) is just, ugh, no.

Cockneys vs. Zombies

DW: If there’s two things I hate, it’s mash-up culture and zombies. In normal circumstances, this would be the exact sort of thing that I would run from as fast as I possibly could, especially since British horror-comedy about zombies is going to draw inevitable comparisons to Shaun of the Dead, which I still sort of like.

But it’s written by James Moran, who also wrote Severance and Tower Block, so that gets the film the benefit of the doubt. And the film does look to be going into areas that most horror films, especially the zombie genre, doesn’t. Making the protagonists a mix of working-class types and the elderly is a pretty positive change, especially since there’s an unfortunate “othering” subtext in most zombie films that makes them really uncomfortable to watch for me most of the time.

KL: I mean the type treatment is even a rip on Shaun of the Dead. Those marketers are taking no chances here.

There is a certain grubbiness to British horror (or at least what gets exported over here) that I like; I’m not sure what else to call it. Maybe I’m just happy to see horror not formed in one of the two or three templates our studios allow at any given time.

And I still, beneath it all, believe in the flexibility of the zombie story. I’ve been a fan of zombie movies since I was a kid, and right now I feel like I’m more or less just waiting out the current glut until the misfits get their hands on it again and this shit stops being respectable.

I like what I see here, in other words.

August 7th

We’re The Millers

KL: What’s presented up front grabs my interest. The first time I saw this trailer, I was hoping it was from The State crew that’s been quietly making great comedies for years now. (I just love the absolute hell out of Role Models and found Wanderlust to be surprisingly good.) They make fun, rambling comedies, and this had that same tone.

But this movie does not have the David Wain/Ken Marino pedigree I go out of my way to make time for. This movie’s directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, best known (if that is the word) for Dodgeball, which let’s face it you or I could have directed to much the same effect. The four-man screenwriting team features two guys who did Wedding Crashers and two guys who did Hot Tub Time Machine, a moderately funny comedy that never once failed to go for the most obvious joke in any situation. Slide this from “YES” to “eh.”

DW: This is going to come down precisely on the merits on trusted reviews for me. Because while this is a heck of a lot of poeple I generally like (and Jennifer Aniston*), the pedigree on the writing and directing angle is not that great. Because I’m in the same boat; the up front looks like something I’d dig, especially with that cast. But knowing that the people behind this probably pretty much meant it to be a Vince Vaughn vehicle and I’m starting to lose a lot of interest.

*Who, to her credit, seems to be doing much more interesting work now that we’re not all trying to pretend she’s America’s Sweetheart, but still.

August 9th

Elysium

DW: My desire to see a smart, engaged take on income disparity and exploitation of the poor by the wealthy, gussied up as sci-fi in order to make it palatable to a mass audience is at war with my increasing boredom with big, dumb loud sci-fi films that are all flash and no substance.

Given that this is the same folks behind District 9 are responsible for this, it could really go either way.

KL: I trust Damon’s and Blomkamp’s hearts are in the right place, and they’ve both got enough clout to get a little meat through. But I share a similar war, Dorian: whether this will be the product they want it to be or sandblasted enough to get past the kind of people who fund this thing, who are also the kind of people who are likely not portrayed very well in the movie. (To say nothing of the rarefied lives of the actors themselves.)

I am glad for heavier themes making their way into mass entertainment. I grow increasingly skeptical that anything truly daring could ever make it past studio gatekeepers in the current climate.

August 16th

Paranoia

DW: Man, I’m so glad they showed us every major beat for this thriller of shifting loyalties in the trailer, otherwise things might manage to be shocking or surprising.

As much as I’d like to see Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford angry-old-man acting at each other, it looks like we’re mostly going to be focusing on the kid who gets in over his head (but he’s got a good heart!) through doing things that are completely avoidable and obviously a bad idea. And, no, I’ve seen that story quite enough times now, thanks.

KL: I’m trying to remember the last time a movie with a story like this was not forgotten like four weeks after it came out. Anyone?

August 23rd

The World’s End

KL: The combination of Paul and Pegg’s book have more or less transitioned me past considering this group of actors to be vital. I still enjoy Shaun and Hot Fuzz but I no longer get that “modern canon” feeling out of them. Still affectionate, but feel altogether less vital to my life.

Edgar Wright’s the key for me. I will talk your damn ear off about how good Scott Pilgrim Versus The World is, and I’m positive that is 100% to do with Wright’s enthusiasm and visual inventiveness. Even if the story isn’t a good one, he’s incapable of telling it in a boring way. I’d actually go see friggin’ Ant Man if Wright is directing it.

Yes, please. And then I’m ready for this chapter in all their lives and careers to come to a close, for their sakes as much as mine.

DW: I think I’m coming at this from the opposite end. Pegg I can pretty much take or leave; like his work, don’t need to see it. Wright, though, just increasingly bores and frustrates me. He strikes me as the sort of director who’s incredibly pleased with his own work, and let’s technical dazzle get in the way of telling a coherent story. So, yeah, I’ll see this, because it puts an end to a long collaborative period, but I’m thinking I’m just going to be done with Wright and any project he touches after this.

You’re Next

DW: I am…surprisingly interested in this? The home-invasion horror sub-genre doesn’t really do it for me, for a lot of reasons, mostly involving frustration with films reinforcing privileged people paranoia about how scary and violent people who aren’t like them are. But Adam Wingard’s contributions to the recent spate of horror anthology films were pretty good, there’s some really striking visual elements at play here, and there’s just enough coyness going around about what is actually going on in the film that I’m curious.

KL: Like the mix of cinematic lighting and the slight wavering of faux-doc camera work. Like that this is ditching the nigh-ubiquitous “based on a true story” malarkey. Like the suggestion that there is a greater mystery at work here, because the usual “BAD THINGS HAPPEN JUST BECAUSE; ISN’T THAT SO CHILLING????” thing is actually just pretty tiring and aimless. I’d have to hear some stellar words to get me in the theater for this, but let’s say I’m not against its existence.

August 28th

Closed Circuit

KL: Strong cast, strong writer, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what the hell is going on in this thing.

I don’t doubt the general seriousness of purpose to this project, but I do get a bit ill at starting this trailer off with footage of a bunch of people getting blown up by a terrorist’s bomb. It’s effective, which is the point I guess, and I can appreciate wanting to do something “real.” But it’s hard to see. It’s doubly hard to see coupled with the “they’re having an affair!” personal angle because I guess we need one of those, or maybe because Steven Knight thinks we need some theme mirroring going on in the B plot.

As with Elysium, I’m theoretically more open to these kinds of conversations being played out on the big screen for big audiences. Conversely, I’m less certain all the time they’ll be done well.

DW: And see, I’ve got a lot more confidence that this will address the conversations, primarily because this is a very British feature, and in my experience, British thrillers and mysteries tend to have a lot more skepticism towards authority and power structure than American efforts, which half the time seem to be working hard to normalize borderline fascist approaches to law and order. Yeah, there’s a lot of action move stuff going on here, so we’re probably not going to see a full-throated investigation into the corrosive power of excess government authority, but I expect we’ll get a lot more than if this was a Warners or Universal release.

Plus, that cast.

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Most months, Ken Lowery and I look at a selection of trailers for forthcoming films, to see what’s worth our time and what’s a damning indictment of modern society.
It’s the middle of summer, so it’s big bloated tentpole season. God help us all.

July 3rd

The Lone Ranger

DW: I still have a vague, lingering child hood attachment to the idea of the Lone Ranger, but there’s just still too much dumb here for me to take any of this seriously. Even if I were willing to overlook the incredibly fucking offensive casting of a white man as a Native American in 20-fucking-13, all that’s being pushed here is a big, loud, dumb action movie, and my patience with those has worn bone thin. Yes, yes, there is something to be said for spectacle, but I am an old man now and I need some steak with my sizzle.

KL: Had this movie come out five to ten years ago, I’d have been intrigued. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a studio that squandered the promise of high-adventure live-action movies as thoroughly as Disney has since the release of the first Pirates of the Caribbean. That franchise took a sharp dip south and most of my hopes along with it. Like a moron, I went ahead and saw Prince of Persia anyway and… yikes. John Carter, while much more a passion project than a carefully constructed simulacra of entertainment, was no less dreary.

What to say about Depp that hasn’t already been said? Here is a man who had a world of options available to him and chose hollow caricature. I suppose that makes him the ideal masthead to put on this multi-billion-dollar sinking ship.

July 5th

Hammer of the Gods

KL: I wonder if there’s something about living in England that makes you look around at all the beautiful, mountainous country and say, “yep, we need to shoot a Viking movie.” Which, to be honest, I’m pretty OK with. Something about the swords and the Pictish make-up and all the talk about what the gods do or do not want gets me smiling, even if I know the actual product is usually 80-90% horse shit. That most of the talent here, from the director on down, is transitioning from TV leaves the whole enterprise’s pedigree as a big question. But I’m glad it’s there, if that makes any sense.

DW: Grim and gritty pseudo-Medieval stories with folks with British accents certainly do seem like a thing now, don’t they? I find myself intrigued, despite the action-movie cliche beats that hit the trailer. A lot of that is, even though much of this feels awfully familiar, it still is going into areas that don’t get covered all that much. That hope for the novel that so frequently disappoints me.

July 12th

Pacific Rim

KL: Here’s my thing with Guillermo Del Toro: once he hits a certain price point on his budgets, I start the checkout process. Maybe it’s him, maybe it’s me, but once his toy box gets big enough it’s like he loses focus on what makes an audience attach to a movie beyond the “well that’s kind of cool, I guess” level. Yeah, I know, it’s “just a movie,” but there’s doing this sort of thing well and then there’s doing this sort of thing noisily. We should stop confusing the two.

Or, possibly, I am an old man and kids of today will talk about this movie like we talk about Jaws. I sincerely doubt it, but I’m willing to leave room for error.

DW: Del Toro is one of those directors that I feel like I should like, but when I sit down and actually think about his films, and I’ve somehow managed to see almost all of them, it seems like I didn’t actually enjoy them. But I think a film where not-Godzilla fights not-Mazinger Z with an ridiculously large budget I think finally broke the “yeah, sure, go see it, it’s a Del Toro film” thinking I was having. The film is clearly pandering to an audience of like-minded folks who I presume will get excited about it, but brother, that is not me.

As you say, maybe kids will dig it, but it doesn’t feel like that’s an audience they’re even trying to draw in with those ads of big black things hitting big black things at night.

July 19th

R.I.P.D.

KL: Rest In Police Department!

Not a half-bad idea, but it seems like there’s one too many layers on the high concept. Do we need the bit about how they look like different people to the living, so we can have lots of Hilarious Hijinx about the Hot Lady and the Busted Old Asian Guy? I wonder if some of those hijinx might involve hilarious make-outs! C’mon, guys, just get on with the Ghost Cop stuff.

Robert Schwentke is directing. He directed Red, a decent cheeseburger of a movie without much visual distinguishment. I’m expecting much the same here just with a much larger budget.

DW: I can’t tell if the conceit is really dumb or really smart. Yeah, the execution is looking to be a really mixed bag, but the idea itself…I just can’t make up my mind.

I’m in that minority of people who still really likes Ryan Reynolds, though, so I suspect that’s going to be the determining factor if this gets a look in.

The Conjuring

DW: I should be all over a period haunted house film. It is like perfectly pitched at me and my tastes, and the cast is a bunch of people I really like. Yes, they’re over-selling the “true story” nonsense, as tends to happen with these things, but that’s not actually what’s making me really hesitant about this. It’s the James Wan angle. I’ve given him chances before, and he just continues to make movies that frustrate or infuriate me. As a follow-up to Insidious, which I especially did not like, I can’t see any real hopes for this.

KL: But for a great cast, this would be an easy pass. Vera Farmiga is one of the very best things American movies has going for it, and I have an abiding fondness for Ron Livingston that possibly outweighs its justification. Still, probably not. I don’t know what you call someone who loves ghost stories who is mostly pretty bored with the ghost stories he’s seeing but whatever that is, that is what I am.

Only God Forgives

DW: Refn and Gosling’s previous collaboration, Drive turned out to be a surprisingly polarizing film, with many people (like me) appreciating it’s deliberate pace and style, the acting approaches the actors used, and lots of people finding it either pretentious, boring or both.

Early critical reception to this has been mixed to negative, but to be honest a lot of the extremely negative reviews have felt a little back-lashy, as if some of the critics are unloading on this film because they would really rather be unloading on Drive.

The Oedipally undertoned revenge film plot doesn’t exactly thrill me, and the white man versus Asian gangster thing could be problematic, but I liked Drive enough that I’m willing to at least give this a chance.

KL: There’s basically no way I can objectively appraise this – when the mixed-to-negative reaction you talked about poured out of Cannes, I basically did the movie snob equivalent of putting my hands on my ears and going “LA LA LA LA LA I’M NOT LISTENING.”

Could be it doesn’t work out, but Refn’s personal track record with me is good, and I have no doubt he’ll give me more beautiful, clashing color schemes to soak in. I do hope Gosling brings more to bear than the high-functioning violent autistic thing he had going in Drive. Once or twice, fine. More than that… we got a problem.

July 26th

The Wolverine

DW: I think we’re reaching the point where the contest between my appreciation of handsome men running around with their shirts off and my distaste for biglouddumb and creepy exoticization are just about evenly matched. I suspect I am going to end up wanting to see this, but man do I feel bad about wanting to see this.

KL: I can plead out on precedent. The “noble samurai” stuff is my least-favorite Wolverine stuff, and that coupled with this production’s rather troubled history make this an easy pass. Now if Hugh Jackman also runs around with his pants off, then maybe. Because that is a handsome man.

The To Do List

KL: Women can also write and direct comedies where we are to believe their strikingly beautiful leads are social outcasts!

Ah, I’m just being snarky. If this is another trickle preceding the tidal wave of women auteurs then, please, bring it on. I am downright grateful for the opportunity to see a (straight, admittedly) take on the virginity movie from the other side of the aisle.

But I’m not gonna get all Social Justice Tumblr up in here. This looks pretty funny to me, and there’s a murderer’s row of talent on display. Aubrey Plaza’s dry-as-dust thing doesn’t do it for a lot of people, but she cracks me the hell up, as does just about everyone else on show here. Bill Hader basically just has to wave and I’ll start laughing.

DW: Yep, I’m all for shifting the axis on the teen gross-out/make-out comedy formula (I still have an admittedly unjustifiable fondness for the Not Another Gay Movie movies), and there is just an absolute bevy of people I really like who are really funny just hanging out in this thing. It doesn’t hurt that we seem to be hitting a spot where female-led comedies are being taken seriously (so to speak), and yeah I can’t help but think that’s a good thing overall.

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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.

March 1st

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.

Stoker

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.

March 8th

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.

March 15th

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.

March 22nd

Admission

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.

The Croods

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.

March 29th

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?

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Every month Ken Lowery and I so on and so on cue trailer comments…

February 8th

Side Effects

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.

Identity Thief

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.

Pass.

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.

February 14th

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…

Beautiful Creatures

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?

February 22nd

Snitch

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.

Dark Skies

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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