In a World for June, 2010

Summer is here, and much like last year, the buffet of blockbusters and crowd-pleasers before us seems both grim and meager. There are a few bright lights–The Killer Inside Me seems like such an unlikely release for June–but for the most part it’s a lot of noise and movies that don’t get screened for critics. (Honestly, studios, that sends only one message, and we all know it.)

With hearts and minds steeled, Bureau Chiefs Dorian Wright and Ken Lowery check out some of the upcoming releases for June.

JUNE 4

Get Him to the Greek
Hijinx!

Get Him to the Greek

KL: Dammit. I was pretty ready to hate on this thing, but the trailer actually made me laugh.

But there are most definitely qualifications to that: A few viewings of Superbad pretty much put me at my limit for Jonah Hill’s shtick, so if he does his yelling-a-lot form of comedy like a junior Will Ferrell, OK, this could get tiresome pretty fast. And Russell Brand is kind of inexplicable to me; he was funny in his bit part in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but reprising that role to run feature length? Man, I just don’t know. And there’s just no way you can make me do anything but sneer when you put Sean Combs up on the screen.

But I did laugh. Conundrum.

DW: At least you laughed. There was nothing here that I didn’t feel like I hadn’t already seen, in dozens of better, funnier movies. The roteness of it all just feels tiresome to me. Like they looked at “dude comedies” of the last few years and made a checklist of jokes and story-beats they had to hit. Ha-ha! Drugs! Ha-ha! Sex in a public place! Ha-ha! Black jokes from a black character so no one accuses the white screenwriters of racism! As far as Hill and Brand are concerned…yeah, I just don’t get their appeal. With both of them it seems like their gimmicks as actors are best used for supporting roles or cameos. Casting them as leads doesn’t feel like a fit for either of them.

Killers
"One.. cup.. dot com."

Killers
KL: Serious question: did someone recently open a time capsule full of Mr. and Mrs. Smith rip-offs? This is the second of at least three movies this year about regular folks caught up in wild Bond-esque adventures (the first being Date Night, the third being Knight and Day, later this month), and it’s as if the people who greenlight pictures now just want the most literal escapism they can find. Steve Carrell and Tina Fey kind of work, but I don’t know who got the idea that Katherine Heigl is an everywoman. Look at her: she’s a bombshell. Further, she’s a bombshell who seems to find herself in just about the most tired movies you can find. And Ashton Kutcher? That’s your leading guy in 2010?

Also worthy of note: the film will not be screened for critics, and Lionsgate has said this is because they “want to give the opportunity to moviegoing audiences and critics alike to see Killers simultaneously, and share their thoughts in the medium of their choosing.” Which means it sucks.

DW: I’ll be honest here; I watched this trailer back to back with the one for Knight and Day, and now I’m not sure which is which. Is this the one that shows a woman being impaled on spikes in the trailer and an “ordinary person” committing vehicular manslaughter? Because, wow…that’s really a high level of implied violence for something that’s trying to market itself as a fun comedy film for couples on a date.

The casting for this seems odd, too. Heigl’s made a name for herself as the girl in the guy comedies, but Kutcher is pretty much only good for eye-candy in films for women. So I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a hybrid, but it feels more like a women’s film than a guy comedy. And again…awfully high level of implied violence if this is a film for women.

IS THIS SCARY (1925) Ceramic, paint.

Splice
DW: Oh good, I was wondering when the new “science is bad” movie was due out. I probably shouldn’t complain; as a horror trope it goes back at least as far as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It’s probably giving the filmmakers too much credit to think that any kind of politicized moral was even on their radar when they were making this. It’s from Dark Castle, after all, a name mostly associated at this point with terrible remakes of terrible films. And this looks like it doesn’t have any greater ambitions than to be a half-assed attempt at ripping off themes from Species and It’s Alive without taking so much from either film that they get sued for plagiarism.

KL: As a horror fan, it pains me to say this, but when I first saw this trailer in the theater I laughed. It just seemed goofy. Why does it pain me to admit that? Because you can’t go to a good horror movie these days without some jackass adolescent snickering through the whole thing, as if they want to let the world know that this silly business doesn’t get to them. (So why waste money on the ticket, I ask?)

But, yeah, goofy. That’s the takeaway here. If “ack, evil baby!” doesn’t push your squick button, you need not apply.

JUNE 11

"Where the white women at?"

The A-Team

KL: I did not watch The A-Team when I was a child, so I get zero nostalgic resonance when I see trailers for this. It looks pretty fun and the leads are charismatic, but aside from brand recognition I don’t really see any compelling reason this movie was made. I’ve said before that the Apple trailers page is starting to look a lot like the ‘80s, and this may be the high watermark of that trend. I’ll probably end up seeing it—Bradley Cooper goes shirtless and my wife has needs—but after The Losers I’m pretty well covered on quippy special forces units doing the impossible.

DW: And see, I did watch the show when I was a kid, but that had more to do with having limited viewing options at the time, and I still have no nostalgia for the property. And while shirtless Bradley Cooper does have a certain appeal, there are plenty of films I can get that in without having to watch a film take a terrible ‘80s children’s show (admit it, nerds, it was) and play it straight for ninety minutes. I mean, seriously, parachuting tanks as an action centerpiece? That would work in a comedy, maybe, but not in a film that feels the need to cut in clips of the actors laughing at the jokes in the trailer so that you know that those are supposed to be the funny ha-ha jokes.

JUNE 18

Incidentally, when image-searching this movie you're going to get several pages of the same three shots of Fox.

Jonah Hex
DW: You know, there’s so many ways you could probably make a good film based on the Jonah Hex comic books. You could do a film about a Western anti-hero. You could do a supernatural horror film set in the west. I’m not quite sure why, then, the film-makers decided to take every possible comic incarnation of the character, throw them in a shredder, and attempt to construct a film from the pieces they paste together. He’s a bounty hunting badass! With magical powers! And he’s fighting steam-punk villains!

Huh?

Even the bits that look like they could be entertaining, in a dumb, over-the-top summer spectacular sort of way such as gatling-guns mounted on horses, just come off as inappropriate, somehow.

And that’s without getting into the whole issue of Megan Fox being in the film. I don’t know what you straight boys see in her.

KL: Speaking strictly from an objective point of view, I think Megan Fox is like Jack-in-the-Box tacos: You know you shouldn’t but you do anyway. She’s a little too cartoony for me to take seriously as a sex symbol, but nobody asked me before we all decided she was the It Girl.

As it turns out, right now I’m reading t hrough DC’s Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex collection, spurred on in part by falling back in love with Westerns thanks to Red Dead Redemption. And you know what? These are good stories; morally grey, cantankerous hero, and much like Punisher stories, anyone who’s not Jonah Hex usually ends up dying. So the trailers on this thing are at once baffling and totally predictable.

Conventional wisdom is Westerns no longer sell, because audiences now are too sophisticated (or another, less flattering word) to take joy in the simple pleasures of an anti-hero who’s good with his guns. But I’ll be straight with you: no amount of genre-blending curlicues makes up for good writing, directing and acting, and I get way more joy out of seeing “normal” things done well than a bunch of crazy bullshit done poorly.

To the non-comics-reader this must look like the usual amount of noise, with an extra layer of six-guns and corsets, and this’ll rake in poor box office and be forgotten three months from now. And thus does the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuate itself: Westerns don’t sell.

The Killer Inside Me
No joke, this looks pretty good.

The Killer Inside Me
DW: Given that we seem to get a renewed interest in noir adaptations from film-makers every few years, it’s a little surprising it’s taken this long for someone to take another crack at Jim Thompson’s best novel. Casey Affleck is a woefully under-rated actor; I don’t think I’ve seen him give a bad performance in anything, but he hasn’t really had a break-out role yet. This probably isn’t going to be the one, either. Even though film-makers, and a certain breed of self-conscious film-goers (*cough-cough*) gravitate towards noir, it doesn’t seem to be a genre that pulls in a mass audience, outside of the big, blockbuster examples of the genre such as L.A. Confidential and The Usual Suspects, and those probably succeed due more to the “you gotta go see this”/”all your favorite stars” angles. That the main character is, let’s face it, a murderous sociopath, and that American audiences expect even their anti-heroes to be cool and likeable, is going to be another hurdle.

KL: Wow. That is a hell of a trailer.

I’m on the Casey Affleck train as well. He’s such an unlikely candidate for these honest, probing portrayals: rail-thin, unassuming, kind of a reedy voice, but holy shit can the man pull it off. And is this a reform school for lightweight actresses, or what?

Toy Story 3
"I'm getting too old for this shit."

Toy Story 3
DW: I’m more than a little surprised that this is even coming out. It’s been fifteen years since the original film was released, and since the target audience had out-grown Disney films, Disney had to do that massive re-release of the first two films a little while back just to reintroduce the characters to a new generation. And then they release a film whose plot implies that the characters have aged in real time, making Andy a college student. It all seems like a lot of work to maintain a franchise when a new IP would probably have done just as well. It feels inappropriately backwards looking, like Disney and Pixar had more interest in connecting with the audience that has aged out of their products than in making something that would appeal to today’s kids. That the plot looks to be recycling quite a few of the beats from the second film isn’t exactly confidence inspiring either.

KL: Truth: I am a big ol’ Pixar fan. I’ve only missed one of their movies (A Bug’s Life) and I tend to be right there crying on opening weekend with everyone else. Further, I remember how utterly delighted I was with Toy Story 2. The story goes that 2 was meant to be a straight-to-video affair in the manner of most Disney sequels—a filler for parents who needed new entertainment for the kids—but the film tested so well that it got its Thanksgiving release and remains, to this day, one of their stronger films.

But this one seems pointless. It was one of the first films I recall being mentioned when the studios made their first major push for 3D, and so it seems like a made-to-order film rather than something that sprang up organically; again, this was also true of Toy Story 2, but then Pixar of 1999 was not quite the powerhouse that Pixar of 2010 is, so I assume they had less room to negotiate and call their own shots. Perhaps I’ll be wrong… naturally I’d like to be. But I think Pixar is better served by striking out for new territory.

JUNE 25

Grown Ups
"Laugh through the tears, guys."

Grown Ups
KL: Where to begin.

How about this: once upon a time my family was in Washington D.C., and we caught a stand-up show. Three acts: David Spade opened for John Stewart who opened for Dennis Miller, right around the time of the O.J. chase. I was young, but I distinctly remember my whole family walking away saying man, that David Spade guy is really funny. Who knew?

I’m starting to think not even David Spade knows he is (or was) funny. He’s been hooked into work like this, with a veritable menagerie of guys who were edgy and new ten or 20 years ago but have now found themselves largely replaced by Judd Apatow’s crew of comedic actors. I’d suggest that this could be the great middle passage of their lives—Steve Martin did a whole bunch of shit between his heyday in the ‘80s and his relative revival in the late ‘90s and onward—but you tell me if you think Spade, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, or Chris Rock has the range or depth of Martin. I’ll go so far as to suggest that Sandler might—he’s done some good dramatic work and his comedy CDs remain genuinely absurd—but Kevin James? No. Chris Rock? Never as funny as I want him to be. Spade is likely a lost cause.

Regardless. A movie where they get together and fall down hills and are whipped husbands is probably not the vehicle for their rehabilitation.

DW: I’m just not sure who the audience for a movie like this is. Like you said, this crew of actors has largely been replaced with the younger Apatow bunch, and instead of maturing into a different type of role, they’re trying to stick with that same niche they’ve been in. It doesn’t help that, as you say, none of them were ever really that funny to begin with. I guess it’s a film for guys in their thirties and forties with wives and kids that they hate and resent because having wives and kids means that you’re not young and hip anymore? Sort of the same people that Wild Hogs and Hot Tub Time Machine were aimed at? Maybe if they’d opened this opposite Sex and the City 2 as counter-programming.

Knight and Day
"Tom Cruise didn't know he was in that vampire movie for two years."

Knight and Day
KL: And here it is, part three of the Unintentional Trilogy. Tom Cruise has a couple of good modes these days—one evidenced in Collateral, the other in Tropic Thunder—and here I suppose he’s going for a mix of the two. Cameron Diaz is… can we be frank? She’s the cute and approachable straight (wo)man in most of the comedies she’s been in, but I can’t think of a line she’s ever said that’s made me laugh. Anyway, she’s a normal lady and he’s a spy or something blah blah blah.

The only question left to ask is: who are these movies made for? Couples, I suppose. Date Night is explicit in that, and I can only guess that glomming a lame rom-com concept onto a lame action concept is a way to lure the women in. This could work, given an inspired premise. (Such as, say, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.) But I have no idea what this is about, other than random spy hijinx and also screaming.

DW: You know, even the poster for this film annoys me. Stupid block letters and silhouttes. Whatever appeal Cruise once might have had has long since faded, with his rapidly deteriorating looks and his crazy outbursts. So why am I surprised that he’s doing a terrible looking, derivative comedy version of the action roles that, let’s face it, he was miscast in the first time? There’s just nothing here with any novelty, wit or appeal.

JUNE 30

Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Everyone look to your left. No, Robert, your other left.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

DW: I’m starting to suspect that the blind adoration of millions of teenage girls (and adult women who should probably know better) isn’t the only reason why these films make so much money. This doesn’t look like it cost anything to make. It just looks…cheap. I’m tempted to guess that they spent all their budget on the actors, but no one in this is going to be winning awards any time soon.

About the only thing this franchise has going in its favor for me is that it enrages male nerds to know that female nerds have their own little geeky fiefdom of their own. Anything that makes nerds angry probably has something going for it. But between the terrible acting and how lousy it looks, I’m not going to sample it anytime soon. Even if the notion of werewolves killing scores of vampires appeals to me.

KL: Awhile ago I read an opinion piece that said Twilight‘s rotating list of hired-gun directors should just take the opportunity to go buck wild with the material, since a certain amount of box office is absolutely guaranteed—there is no way the core audience is NOT going to see the movie, online hemming and hawing aside.

And while that’s nothing more than a pleasant fantasy, it would be nice to at least see some basic competency in action. Then again, what do you do with the material you’re given? Twilight as a series is allergic to genuine conflict, and much like grown-up romantic comedies or underdog action movies, the formula exists to comfort rather than challenge the audience.

It’s also a good thing that these movies are coming out at a fast clip. If there was the longer, more drawn-out release schedule of, say, the Harry Potter franchise at work here, the core audience might grow out of the damn things before the last movie released.

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8 thoughts on “In a World for June, 2010”

  1. I do not want to act as a shill for Kevin James–all I have ever seen of his work is an episode of Sammo Hung’s series MARTIAL LAW, and a couple of talk show appearances–but I am confused by your confident assumption that no one likes him any more and no one ever did like him much. KING OF QUEENS ran for several years, and every one of his films (except for the barely released GRILLED) has been a big hit. I would not bet against him.

  2. Oh, and this reminds me that, when Mr. Wright was doing a version of this column on his own blog, he predicted that PAUL BLART, MALL COP would be a box office failure.

    There really is here a bit too much of an “If I don’t like it, there’s no way anyone else could” attitude here.

  3. Lawrence,

    The only time we mentioned Kevin James is when I asked if he has the range or depth of Steve Martin. Until I see Mr. James’s contributions to the New Yorker or his dramatic work in a David Mamet picture, I think the point stands.

    As for the rest, well, we’re not picking out what will financially succeed or fail, only what we think looks good and bad and why. We don’t care about box office. GROWN UPS may well pull in $400 million (it won’t, but let’s be hypothetical), but that will not make it any less of a tired exercise in clichéd humor.

    We’re not in the business of trend-spotting (except when identifying observable mentalities and phenomenon, i.e. “Westerns don’t sell”) or box office predictions. We’re offering opinions. This seems pretty obvious to me.

  4. Splice is getting good word of mouth. The director, Vincenzo Natali, is actually very talented–he’s best known for “Cube” but since then he’s done a couple of obscure but cool little Canadian movies that barely got released; he’s shown that he’s got a distinctive style, at least. (I’m a fan, can you tell?) Anyway, Dark Castle or no, I’m pretty sure this is going to be something more than the Species ripoff you’re pegging it as.

  5. I’d add The Bounty Hunter in that list of rom-com/action flick hybrids. It’s not mining spy tropes, but it seems to have the same…inspiration, which, at this point, isn’t working at bringing butts of any gender into seats (Date Night banking off of the good will engendered by Carrell and Fey, and having the least rom-com elements of the bunch, being the notable exception).

  6. I cannot blame Dorian for thinking Paul Blart would fail. It did not seem like it would succeed. On the other hand, American’s do like our overweight merican schlubs. I am still a little stunned that we are getting a Paul Blart sequel.

    I would disagree with Dorian on one point. Heigle’s guy comedy was Knocked Up, which she derided for the women characters being shrewish. But the Ugly Truth and 27 Dresses, which made her Knocked Up caracter utter endearing, were aimed at women, not guys. I am not sure how producers suddenly saw her as an “everywoman”, but she’s definitely established herself in the Rom Com category. I got the impression that Killers was supposed to be an action rom com movie for people who thought 27 Dresses was awesome.

  7. You’d be surprised at the amount of recognition Toy Story has among the pre-school set , dating back to even before the re-releases. The characters have been kept visible in Disney Stores and, presumably, the parks all this time, and a lot of us who remember the originals when they were new now have kids of our own and have shared the movies with their kids. My own son (almost 5) has been a big fan for a few years now, and is pretty excited at the idea of a *new* Toy Story movie (and the associated toys, especially the Lego sets, which are admittedly pretty cool).

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