Archive for the “In A World” Category

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.

December 7th

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.

December 14th

The Hobbit

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.

December 19th

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.

December 21st

Jack Reacher

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?

December 25th

Les Miserables

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.

Django Unchained

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.”

November 2nd

Wreck-It Ralph

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

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

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

The Man with the Iron Fists

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

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

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

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

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

This Must Be the Place

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

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

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

November 9th


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.

November 23rd


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

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

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

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

November 30

Killing Them Softly

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

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

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

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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?

October 5th


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.

October 12th


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.

October 19th

Alex Cross

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.

October 26th

Cloud Atlas

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.

Fun Size

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.

September 7th

The Words

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.

September 14th

The Master

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.)

September 21

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.

September 28th

Hotel Transylvania

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!).

August 3rd

Total Recall

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.

August 10th

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.

The Campaign

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.

August 17th


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).

August 24th

The Apparition

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.

Premium Rush

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!

August 29th


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.

August 31st

The Possession

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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