November! The leaves are turning, the air is chilling, and the last of the Halloween cash-in movies are wrapping up their time in our movie theaters and we’re making way for one of the two most profitable movie-going days of the year: Thanksgiving. Here we have a grab bag of stuff the studios hold in good esteem: high-profile comedies, sci-fi epics, high-octane action flicks, the beginning of the end of a major franchise, and a new Disney princess film.
Bureau Chiefs Ken Lowery and Dorian Wright take a look at what the month of November has in store for us all.
KL: I liked The Hangover a great deal, which I realize is not a very controversial thing to say. But it’s superior comedic filmmaking, and I do; the jokes remain funny, the actors are perfectly cast, their charisma and chemistry mixes well and they all get a chance to shine.
A two-man road comedy may be harder to pull off than a three-man show, however. You’ve got Zach Galifianakis doing his man-child thing and Robert Downey Jr. playing the straight man, and also a cute dog, so you have a lot going for you. Todd Phillips is also one of those rare comedic directors who can make a good-looking movie, so there’s that, too. Barring some lethal reviews, this is close to a sure thing as the month offers for me.
DW: I’m still waiting to be convinced that Galifianakis is funny. If I squint a bit I can sort of see it, but for the most part he just really hasn’t “clicked” for me, either as a comedian or as an actor. And so ninety minutes or so of him in a lead role gives me some slight pause. Still, as far as comedies go, this month’s selection feels pretty thin, and there are some moments in the trailers that are genuinely funny, so this has pretty strong potential to be good. Plus, as you say, it does look very nice, and Downey Jr. is almost always worthwhile, in addition to being pretty under-rated as a comedic actor himself.
DW: I’d heard a lot of good, excited buzz for this, but I’m not sure why, exactly, now that I’ve seen the same trailer everyone else had. There’s one unique, fairly exciting visual here, which is a sky full of people being lifted into an alien ship, but everything else feels very familiar. We’ve got the large, barely glimpsed monsters wreaking havoc on the city from Cloverfield and we’ve got the dog-fights between jets and aliens from Independence Day, the “lights through the doors” from Close Encounters, and I suspect that if I dug a little deeper I’d probably see plenty more shots that recall other alien or monster movies. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; good films can be made from synthesizing earlier films. But I’m just not seeing what it is about this one that I’m supposed to be so excited about when I’ve seen so many of its constituent parts before. And, frankly, didn’t much care for them then.
KL: From what I understand this is more a showcase for special effects that a movie was then built around. I don’t say that as a swipe; that is basically what is going on here. The “Brothers Strause,” whose only previous feature-length credit is Aliens vs. Predators – Requiem, are primarily known for designing visual effects for rather striking work… and also, sometimes, some very pedestrian work as well (lookin’ at you, Jonah Hex). As a spectacle I’m sure it’s fine, but for this kind of subject matter I’d rather see Monsters.
KL: So this looks bananas.
There’s no way to talk about this without talking about Tony Scott. The man HAS put away some classic movies in his time, and my brother to this day makes the argument that Scott is deconstructing and reordering the action movie in a way no one else would try – which is true, but is not on its own a measure of quality.
I did like Déjà Vu, actually, but the rest of his latter movies are kind of a hot mess. I did not see The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, because really who has the time, so maybe he’s toned it down a bit? But no. Not even the presence of Rosario Dawson will get me in for this one.
DW: So, Speed on a train? Did they do that one yet?
I want to say that at least it looks different from your usual action movie, and the lack of any real identifiable villain is a nice move forward for the genre. But it also looks like we’ve got a cartoonishly evil corporation trying to stop our heroes from doing the right thing, which is a bit overdone. And, honestly, adorable little kids are going to be killed by the runaway poison train? Was a bus full of puppies and kittens stuck on the track vetoed for being a little too on the nose? I’m not shocked by blatant emotional manipulation in lesser Hollywood films, but this is a little too blatant.
DW: I’m finding big, high-concept thrillers and action movies a bit of a chore these days, but I still find myself pretty interested in this one. I still like heist movies, and prison breaks are basically just heists on a really big scale. That there’s a strong emotional component to this one helps; that notion of risking everything to save your family from an unjust fate is pretty powerful. So, take that, and add a really excellent looking cast, and you’ve got something that looks to be promising. Even if I think I still need a little more story to be totally sold and not more action set-pieces.
KL: Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks I like; Paul Haggis not so much. Then again, Paul Haggis the interminable bore (the one who wrote-directed In the Valley of Elah) appears to be a different beast from Paul Haggis who wrote Casino Royale and (to a lesser degree) Quantum of Solace. His blue tones are in full force here, but I suppose I can cope with that. If he can give me Royale-like thrills with actors I like this much, this’ll be a good time.
KL: Appropriate that the art on that link is the kids running through a forest, isn’t it? Because though I’m a big fan of the series, the first 3,000 pages (approximately) of the last book were a textbook example of why Rowling is a better idea person than a prose person. That “hiding in the forest” series of chapters darn near killed the book for me.
But I pressed on and, hey, look, I’m a Harry Potter fan. I love the books, I like the movies, I wish they’d kept Alfonso Cuarón on as director but there’s no way I’m not going to see this through to the end. I did not particularly enjoy Half-Blood Prince, what with the adaptation deciding to take out several key points of that book’s conflicts and revelations, but what am I going to do? I’m in the fan tractor beam. I just hope they finish with a bang.
DW: I find myself in a remarkably different position. I enjoyed the books, but once I finished the final one, I was pretty much done with Harry Potter and his world. Not out of disgust or the disgruntled fan whine that “Rowling got it wrong.” But because it was a satisfactory conclusion to the whole endeavor. Which meant that I had no more desire at all to see any more Harry Potter films.
And that is pretty much where I find myself still. Visually, I’m not too excited because of the overuse of dark blues and blacks, which tells me that, in theaters, this is just going to be a loud, murky mess. And I’m more curious about how Watson and Radcliffe are going to follow this up, career-wise, than see how they wrap this up. I just can’t muster any excitement or enthusiasm at all.
I’ll wait for the Lego video game version of the story. That’ll keep me satisfied.
DW: For a genre that people keep trying to call dead and gone, it sure seems like we get a big, loud, eyeball-searingly bright musical every couple years. I’m sure this will do fine. It’s the sort of spectacle movie that tends to do well with audiences that are underserved during the blockbuster season. I’ve got no real interest in bright young things, though, or their romantic travails or hopes for stardom. If I do suddenly feel the urge to watch something like that, though, I’ve got plenty of other options. I am struck, though, by how…straight…this feels in the marketing, given how much it looks like they’re trying to lure a gay audience in. “Look, boys, Cher! You like her, right! She’s some sort of, whatchacallit, diva, or something? Please give us money.”
KL: Man, the studios have non-competitive, hit-all-demographics Thanksgiving programming down to a science, don’t they? Look at the four movies we’re highlighting for this day: a big brassy musical, a romantic comedy with a male lead, an adrenaline-fueled action festival and a Disney princess movie. Of these, Burlesque is most like the type my family chooses to go see en masse on Thanksgiving Night.
And, really, that’s all I got for you: this is programming.
DW: I’m apparently willing to concede a lot to engaging leads and likeable casts, because honestly, that’s really all this film looks like it has going for it. It’s not an original story, by any stretch, the cad who discovers that the love of a good woman makes him a better person. And, thankfully, the trailer pretty much spells out every major plot point from the film, from the obligatory meet-cute on to the crisis that nearly drives them apart and their eventual reconciliation at the eleventh hour. But Jake Gyllenhaal does really well with the roles that require comedy and smoldering, and he has exceptionally good chemistry with Anne Hathaway, so I’m prepared to forgive the triteness and lack of originality in the actual story realm.
KL: I like both the leads a lot: Gyllenhaal’s got an easy charm that masks a surprising range, and much the same could be said for Anne Hathaway. (Just look at them in Brokeback Mountain; they were both amazing.) But it is, you know, a romantic comedy; at least in this one it’s the guy that’s the Type A busybody social climber who needs to chillax a little bit. Probably won’t see it, have nothing against it.
KL: There was a time—oh crap, that was seven years ago—when I thought Dwayne Johnson might be the next big action star. He can obviously do the action, he’s smart, he’s charismatic, and he made The Rundown twice as much fun as it should have been. But it never seemed to happen for him, and he ended up diving into the kid-friendly stuff way faster than his muscle-bound predecessors.
This is more like the kind of stuff I want him to do. OK, so I can take or leave the “he’s just SO BADASS” super-serious stuff, actually prefer him when he’s allowed to be a bit goofier, but at least they’re using his physical presence here. Am I thinking a November release is a vote of confidence? I don’t know. Maybe not. Could be they’re just throwing the dudes a bone in the Thanksgiving line-up.
DW: This might actually be fun, in an over-the-top, done to excess sort of way. Johnson has charisma, absolutely, and there’s a lot of supporting cast here that’s noteworthy as well. That usually works to pull off a plot that doesn’t quite hang together. Because, frankly, it looks like this plot isn’t quite as fully developed as it might have been. Is this a revenge movie, where brutal justice is being meted out to wrong-doers? Or is it a face-off between two badasses? The film probably should have made up its mind before putting both threads into the trailer.
DW: I usually want to like Disney movies, but I’m feeling torn on this. On the one hand, it’s very pretty. On the other, it feels like some sort of bait-and-switch is being pulled. It’s a story about Rapunzel, but why is a rather unlikeable male character being presented to me as the lead? Why are all the bits that seem to be suggesting that this is her story being punctuated with him acting like a jackass? I’ve heard that Disney is trying to fight the perception that they just make “princess movies.” But if I want to see an animated comedy with an unappealing lead and no jokes that are actually funny, I’ll go and see something by Dreamworks or Sony.
KL: I suppose the basic idea for a romantic comedy—regardless of age group—is that one person must have it “together” while the other must eventually figure out that the other one, well, has it together.
And I was about to say “reversing the roles must be a sign of progress,” but come to think of it, that’s how it’s been for a long time now: Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King… rehab for guys, realization of dreams for the girls. Suddenly, I’m less enthused.