Tag Archives: In A World

In A World for December, 2010

In A World... for December


Black Swan

Black Swan

DW: It’s a little surprising, but not unwelcome, to see an American writer and director make a film that looks and seems so much like a European thriller. I’m happy with this, as my taste in the genre veers more towards the stylized approach and psychological themes of the European thrillers than the violent and gruesome approach that seems to be dominant in the American approach. Portman has been getting a lot of praise for her role as a repressed ballerina who can’t quite rise to the demands of her role in the lead of a prestigious production, and the implication of a supernatural element to her situation, or simply her belief that there is a supernatural element, is a good thematic approach that I really would like to see handled well. Aronofsky’s work here has drawn a lot of comparisons to Roman Polanski’s work at the height of his career, and when we’re talking things like The Tenant and Repulsion, that’s a pretty high compliment for him to be getting.

KL: I’m real hot or cold on Aronofsky; I tend to find his movies either arresting or tedious in the extreme. At first I was inclined to throw this one in the latter category, until I started seeing the trailers and their hints at deep psychological trauma and surrealism. That puts me squarely on board.

I’ve also spent all this time waiting for Portman to dazzle me the way she did way back with Heat and The Professional and rarely since then. It feels like this might be the role to do it (well, this one and her upcoming role in Your Highness.) Ditto Mila Kunis. I’m frankly pretty excited for it.

Also: $20 says Kunis’s character is Tyler Durden to Natalie Portman’s Jack.

Rare Exports

Rare Exports

DW: Yes, the entire premise, that Santa is actually an evil Scandinavian monster, is a joke, and I’ll even concede that it probably is a pretty tasteless one at that. But, you know, after being inundated year after year after year with sappy, saccharine, cynically exploitative Christmas movies that turn “loving your fellow man” into a commercial enterprise, I’m more than eager to embrace something that gives us the flip side to that. Enough so that I’m willing to overlook the indications that the story is more than a little slight. If, indeed, it is even there at all, beyond the premise of “we found Santa and it turns out he’s evil.”

KL: Frankly this looks pretty hilarious, and I’m all for that. There seems to be a cottage industry in inverting traditional symbols of goodness and light into something else, and within that niche is the Santa Niche; guys, there are five Silent Night, Deadly Night movies.

This seems like this season’s saving grace, the one welcome turd in the punch bowl that is the holiday movie season. Every year has one, and this one is ours; do us proud, Rare Exports.

The Warrior's Way

The Warrior’s Way

DW: It’s still remarkably rare to find a film-maker who understands that one of the most underutilized benefits of the available film-making technology is not to create an exact recreation of the actual world, or to create a fake world that looks as if it could actually be a real world, but to create a world that could only exist within a film. Speed Racer was the last film that really “got” this, and we all know how critical and audience reaction to that went down.

And when I say that I get a definite Speed Racer vibe off of this film, I mean that as a compliment, because what I see here is a beautifully realized world that is, quite explicitly, not the real world and could never be a real world. It’s stylized and surreal but still contains pieces that are recognizable and relatable. Yes, it’s going to be spectacle and eye-candy and if we’re lucky there will be a half-way decent story to go along with it.

KL: Right? These days, I’m finding myself increasingly impatient with the same-old, which is strange, given that I no longer have writing assignments to see as much stuff as possible every month. Now that my movie-going is purely elective, I’m way pickier about how I spend my time and all that money.

Which has generated some strange cinematic bedfellows for me. The Warrior’s Way qualifies: it looks like a bunch of stuff I have not seen before (or at least in awhile), and anyway it’s a hell of a lot different from anything else coming out this month. Sometimes, that’s enough.


The Tourist

The Tourist

KL: I’ll be blunt with everyone and say I’m an Angelina Jolie fan boy going way back – first noticed in Hackers, took serious hold in Playing God and there on afterward. Johnny Depp, too, is a charismatic actor and by all accounts is a genuinely decent person. And who doesn’t love intrigue and deception and the common man lured into action hijinx?

Well, me, for one. On the other hand, The Tourist‘s writer/director is Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who gave is the absolutely stunning The Lives of Others. Hope springs eternal for me even as movie after movie disappoints, so I will let this movie’s pedigree convince me in ways the premise could not.

DW: Oh, hey, they remade Gotcha!

Jolie I have no strong feelings for either pro or con, but Depp I’m starting to feel like I’ve just about reached my saturation point with. Even though I personally tend to find him more appealing when he’s doing these quieter, Everyman style roles than the big, deliberately and self-consciously “quirk” ones. So that, coupled with the broad premise being awfully similar to other films, films that I didn’t find myself particularly impressed with either, pretty much leaves me cold on this. If I absolutely must see Johnny Depp running around Europe being chased by angry people, I’ll just go watch The Ninth Gate again.

Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

KL: Uh, so I thought this franchise was kaput, but I guess not?

And I’m cool with that. I liked the first one OK – who doesn’t love a Tilda Swinton villain? – and I liked the second one even more. The kids are charming and natural and the setting is just different enough from the usual fantasies that I am still occasionally surprised. With fantasy franchises, that’s usually the most you can ask for.

That said, I haven’t read the books, and I think Dorian has. So…

DW: The Narnia books never really impressed me. Even as a kid, I thought Lewis’ brand of Christian allegory was needlessly hectoring, and as an adult I find his fantasy world-building a terribly clichéd mish-mash of tropes borrowed from other, better writers. Of these film adaptation, I watched the first one and thought it was pretty disappointing. It felt like it desperately wanted to have the same kind of exhaustive replication of the source material that the Harry Potter films have, and that copying that success was the only concern for the film-makers. Well, that and rather cynically exploiting Christian audiences with a fantasy film that it’s “safe” to take their children to.

I’m not really seeing anything here to convince me that their goals or ambitions are any different the third time around.

The Tempest

The Tempest

DW: I’m not a fan of Taymor’s work, and the reaction I have to this is one of the reasons why. I love The Tempest; it’s one of my favorites of Shakespeare’s plays. But there’s something curiously pedestrian about taking it and turning it into a big, flashy special effects film. Yes, the material is there to do just that to it, the play is full of magical creatures and impossible situations. But it’s a tiresomely literal take on the material. To take the things that were intended to create an impossible to realize mental picture in the audience and then actually go ahead and film it just feels, oddly, like an indication of a lack of imagination on the part of the film-makers. And then there’s the stuff that just feels off, like turning Prospero into a woman, thereby completely changing the dynamic between Prospero and Miranda that actually drives the play. It’s a peculiar change to make in light of the literalness of the rest of the film.

KL: All I’m going to say is Across the Universe was one of the more offensive movies I’ve seen in a long time, and Taymor has a lot of ground to make up for it. I get angry every time I think about it.


TRON Legacy

TRON: Legacy

KL: So here’s me confessing a shameful thing: I’ve never seen the original TRON, and barring great leaps in the science of extending my attention span at home, I never will. Thus its value to me is pretty slim, and affects my judgment of what I’ve seen of the sequel almost not at all.

Here is my hope: That, as mentioned a bit further down, the filmmakers took this opportunity to make a truly surreal, unique and otherwise bonkers movie to slip into mainstream theaters. There is almost nothing movies can’t show us anymore, and video games have been eroding and evolving what storytelling is and can do for decades. These things put together could make a dynamite movie, or just a completely kick-ass action flick-slash-whatever else it is.

On the other hand: big, safe Disney sequel with blockbuster money behind it. But a man can dream, can’t he?

DW: I want to be interested in this, but I just can’t quite get there. Part of the problem, I think, is that this is a sequel to TRON. That was a great movie for a little kid who loves video-games, but as an adult it’s pretty damn flawed. And as visionary and cutting-edge as it was when it came out, those same designs, even slicked-up with state of the art CGI, now just look hopelessly dated. And not in a cool, retro-future way, but in a “wow, those are definitely some ’80s designs there” way.

So I think I’m going to file the original TRON away as a pleasant memory from my childhood and just go ahead and ignore this new one as much as possible.

How Do You Know

How Do You Know

DW: So, I’ve watched this trailer a couple times now, and I still have really no idea what’s going on or why I’m supposed to care. Yeah, we’ve got Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon in your standard meet-cute set-up, and you’ve got some broad comedy with Owen Wilson as the bumbling ex and Jack Nicholson playing straight man to Rudd, but…it just feels like a bunch of tropes and bland characters tossed together in the hopes that we’ll respond to the charisma of the actors and the reassurance that, yet again, we have a “feel-good” romantic comedy-drama for this Christmas season.

To be honest, I feel a little cheated that a film pairing Rudd and Nicholson has such meager ambitions.

KL: I think both of them are losing sight of who they are—it could be said Nicholson lost that a long time ago. A friend of mine said he’d occasionally like to quiz Paul Rudd sometimes to see if he knows what movie he’s filming at the time, because for all his charm, he really is just playing Paul Rudd in everything he’s in. And that’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s a quick and easy way to the implosion of an actor’s credibility.

The trailer’s as forgettable as the apparent premise; what surprises me is that the first place I saw a stand-up for this movie is at the Magnolia Theater, which, here in Dallas, is a pretty upscale kinda-sorta art house theater. The James Brooks angle, I guess, but for every As Good As It Gets there’s a Spanglish.

Let’s go to the IMDB page. “Feeling a bit past her prime at 27…” Oh, fuck you, Hollywood.


True Grit

True Grit

KL: I feel like the Coen Brothers have been honing in on something their whole careers, most often in their dramas but occasionally in their comedies. They’re hacking away at concepts like justice, retribution and sin, though like most of us they ultimately can provide no answers but can only observe. Some people are good, some people are weasels, and mistakes or lapses in judgment can bring about terrible consequences. (Even Burn After Reading, their darkest and most misunderstood comedy, understands this.) Their gift is not in sermonizing but rather in sculpting perfect – and perfectly inscrutable – lessons in human behavior and the consequences thereof.

Early reviews are in on this and they’re very, very good, which is to be expected. Since No Country For Old Men they’ve been on a streak almost unlike any other in their career. On top of that, I just plain love Westerns and think they’re perfect fodder for the Coens’ particular brand of moral spelunking. This is my most anticipated movie of the year.

DW: To be honest, I don’t think I’ve really liked, unreservedly, any Coen Brothers film since Blood Simple. I get what they’re doing with their films, and I can recognize the qualities that lead other people to praise their work, but man, I dunno…I really can’t find any more positive a way to review one of them than “It was okay, I guess.”

This has a cast of actors I like and it looks like a gritty, realistic modern take on the Western. It looks okay, I guess.

Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver’s Travels

KL: I guess what Gulliver’s Travels makes me realize is how special and rare a gift a movie like School of Rock is. It put its (large) child cast on equal footing with the adults and made the melding of adult and kid concerns seem effortless, indeed to the point where those concerns were not separate at all. It’s fun, funny, and even a little – dare I say it? – inspiring.

Then there’s this. There’s some pretty good talent backing up Jack Black there – Jason Segel, Emily Blunt and Billy Connolly are always welcome names. But screenwriters Joe Stillman and Nicholas Stoller have mostly done pretty bland film work (Yes Man, Planet 51), and director Rob Letterman’s credits are a handful of uninspiring CGI also-rans. So will this be more than Jack Black being Jack Black at some CGI? Probably not.

DW: See, a film in which Jack Black plagiarizes someone else’s work and gets a prestigious job as a writer? I’d be interested in that. That’s got potential. Jack Black doing his usual shtick in this holiday’s fart-and-poop joke movie for kids? Yeah, not so much.

And there is a lot of talent in this film. I recognized a half-dozen folks from the British comedy scene here whose work I really do like. But they’re all reduced to bit-players in the same film Black has made a few times already.

In a World for November, 2010

In A World... for November

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.

NOV. 5

Due Date

Due Date

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.

NOV. 12



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.

NOV. 19

The Next Three Days

The Next Three Days

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.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

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.

NOV. 24



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.

Love and Other Drugs

Love and Other Drugs

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.

In a World for September, 2010

In A World... for September

And now we tread headlong into the limbo between summer blockbuster season and Oscar season (with a quick stop over in Horror Town in late October). What do September’s offerings have in common? Not a whole lot: there’s some serious highbrow stuff alongside lower-end fare, horror films and biopics and even a bit of Mexploitation.

No, the only thing September’s releases have in common are maddeningly non-specific titles that make it hard to quickly search for relevant images on Google.


The American
"Just bask in me."

The American

KL: George Clooney remains one of the true “stars” left in Hollywood, and sure enough I’ll see just about anything he’s headlining. Pedigree is what The American has going for it: Clooney and screenwriter Rowan Joffe, who wrote me-favorite 28 Weeks Later.

On paper, the whole thing looks kind of pedestrian: American hitman abroad, one last job, tempting fate by seeking a normal life, love interest, and so on. We’ve seen all that before, but in these kinds of stories it’s all in the execution, because we’ve seen all its component pieces before. I’ll be there.

DW: The thing that strikes me is that, yes, we have seen pretty much all of these elements before, often in pretty much this exact same configuration, and yet watching the trailers, very little of the story is sketched out. The film is pushing the mystery and the moral ambiguity of the situation, and the appeal of Clooney in these roles as a “thoughtful” action hero type. It’s a good approach to take, but it comes just shy of really selling me on the picture. Which is frustrating, because the style of it, and the presence of Clooney, makes me want to look forward to the film, but I find myself sitting there and thinking “and?” throughout the trailer.


Order now and get this handy carrying coat and vest combo.


DW: It’s like the Mexsploitation fever-dreams of my youth brought to life.

Robert Rodriguez does stripped-down action movies very well. He usually strikes the right balance of spectacle and over-the-top ridiculousness that serves the genre well. And that looks like what we have here: a bunch of actors and actresses we like, doing insanely improbably badass things in service to a rather typical for an action film revenge story. It’s a loud, dumb action movie, but with enough variation on the standard tropes, and just barely enough variation at that, to pass successfully as an original composition.

KL: I run real hot or real cold on Rodriguez movies. From Dusk till Dawn is hands-down one of the most entertaining movies I have ever seen; it was Grindhouse ten years before Grindhouse, and way, way better. But the rest of his stuff seems less like movies and more like feature-length trailers: a bunch of stuff happens and some passably witty dialogue is spoken, but ultimately it’s the cinematic equivalent of eating Chinese food.

I have actually seen the movie, and I was not a big fan. Liking this movie will depend on how much you like the general structure of Once Upon a Time in Mexico with the kind of gore in the aforementioned Dawn. Ultimate it’s just not enough for me to laugh at throwbackism.


Resident Evil Afterlife
Is this still even from the right RE movie? You tell me!

Resident Evil: Afterlife

KL: The reason this franchise keeps going is the reason the Saw franchise keeps going: they make money. This seems like an odd duck to keep coming back to life (zombie jokes lol), but hey, at least it consistently casts women in its lead roles.

I admit: I liked the first movie, cheesy as it could be. This was before the current glut of zombie movies, when making such a thing in modern times was still novel. It also gave us a lot of gore and some corny action, and hey, ain’t nothing wrong with that. The second one was an incoherent mess, and the third had some nifty sequences but didn’t live up to the premise promised us in the trailers. This one… I don’t even know anymore. Does the mythology matter? Are there hardcore fans out there who know every twist and turn of the movie franchise?

I suspect not. Maybe this franchise more closely resembles the Bond movies than other, more direct sequels.

DW: I only ever bothered to see the first film in the series, and I thought it was about as good as you could probably expect a movie based on a video game to be. I can see the appeal; there are big action set-pieces all over the place, gore for fans of that, and women in the lead. But I watch this trailer and I just feel lost. All the big reveals of monsters and characters feels like I’m expected to know who they are and why they’re significant, and I don’t, and what’s more, I don’t even know if I am supposed to recognize them or if I’m just supposed to be impressed with how scary or menacing they look. It’s like watching an undubbed foreign film without subtitles. Only with zombies.


He who made the rhyme...


DW: Everyone on the Internet seems to have had their good laugh at the anecdotal stories of audiences reacting negatively to M. Night Shyamalan’s name appearing in the credits. I would hope that, after the last couple of years, we’d all have learned some important lessons about mistaking how the Internet reacts to a film to how the general public will react. And while I personally tend to think that Shyamalan’s best work is behind him, actually stepping back and let someone else direct the story might be the sort of thing his career needs.

The part that bothers me more than the “story by” credit is that “The Night Chronicles” line in the movie’s homepage address. I don’t want a series of horror films released under an umbrella title. Horror as a genre is already plagued by an overabundance of remakes and sequels. A “ready made” franchise just seems like a terrible idea.

The plot doesn’t do much for me either, to tell the truth. Why would Satan need to scare a bunch of people on an elevator? Is Hell micromanaged that badly?

KL: The basic concept of the trailer looks like it might make a pretty good 30-minute episode of something – I suppose Tales From the Crypt. As high concepts go, “bunch of people stuck in an elevator no one can get to, one of them might be a demon” isn’t bad, but it isn’t feature-film material.

I’m automatically turned off by any movie that seems to hinge on one crucial reveal. Take Cloverfield, for instance: the heat building up for that one seemed immense, but so much of it was based around “what’s the monster look like?” And once people knew, man, no one cared anymore. Unless there’s some exceptional character work done here, I don’t know if anyone will care “who the bad person is” past the first leaked online spoilers. A gimmick does not a story make.

The Town
"Bask, also, in me."

The Town

KL: Gone Baby Gone was, like, the best movie I saw the year it came out. Walking out, I asked the question probably a lot of other people did: holy shit, why doesn’t Ben Affleck direct more movies? Great cast, great mystery, great suspense, and an absolutely crushing moral dilemma. I can’t ask for more in my crime dramas.

OR CAN I? Affleck directing, starring and co-writing, with Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Chris Cooper, Jon Hamm… the trailer unfolds and the hits just keep on coming. Affleck’s got a lot to live up to with his sophomore effort, but I think he’s equal to the task.

DW: Affleck’s previous effort as a director was a smart crime thriller that was so much better than a film by the star of Mallrats had any right to be. I’m not as enthusiastic about this one, but that’s not because this doesn’t look good. It looks extremely promising with an absolutely stellar cast. It’s that so much of the drama of the film looks to be based on the relationship Affleck’s character has with the female characters. The moment in the trailer that looks like it’s supposed to be a shocking reveal felt, frankly, a bit obvious, though that may be more due to me watching and reading far more mysteries and thrillers than I probably should. That is holding me back a little, as is the thought of Affleck injecting that love-sick puppy-dog affectation he takes on in romantic roles into what otherwise looks like an engaging crime drama.

Easy A
See because it's like the Scarlet Letter.

Easy A

KL: Easy A doesn’t have much going on behind the camera, far as I can tell—director Will Gluck only has Fired Up on his resumé and writer Bert Royal has written one episode of one show I have not heard of. The people in front of the camera have more going on. I like Emma Stone a lot, and the minor characters are filled out by a reliable crew: Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson and Lisa Kudrow, among others.

But that’s not enough; in the mental calculus that goes into my “will I or won’t I” formulas for movies, none of that stuff put together adds up to a passing grade. The premise? I suppose it has some potential for turning conventions about teenage-girl sexuality on its ear, but, again: Fired Up.

DW: Let me get my one moment of politically-correct gay umbrage out of the way first: in 2010, the whole notion of encouraging a gay teenager to pretend to have sex with a girl for the sake of popularity is offensively retrograde, not to mention more than a little stupid.

Apart from that, I find myself rather liking the premise. With so many teenagers forced to endure abstinence-only sex education programs, I like the idea of a mainstream teen comedy that pricks the egos of religious hypocrites in the schoolyard. Add an appealing cast to that premise, and I think you have something that actually sounds fairly promising.


There are just a lot of handsome dudes in movies this month!


DW: I like Ryan Reynolds a lot, and I think with the right material he can be a really fantastic presence in a film. But I can’t seem to muster any enthusiasm for him in a box talking to people on a cell phone for an hour and half, no matter how taut and suspenseful the experience is supposed to be. It’s largely the same problem I had with the recent return of the “man vs. nature” horror films like Open Water and Frozen. I’m willing to take your word for it if you tell me that they’re good, but I just don’t have any interest in watching people slowly die as a form of entertainment. Buried appears to be aiming for something more in the classic thriller mold in its approach than those other films, but it still strikes me as in the same general vein.

KL: Geez, I feel like I could copy-and-paste my feelings about Devil and call it a day. Good high concept that’d be much more potent in shorter form, central mystery to crack…

The difference is that I also like Ryan Reynolds quite a bit and have more faith in his charisma to carry this kind of concept. That said, I’ve been to my share of film festivals and seen my share of low-budget horror movies whose premise (and budget) demanded extreme claustrophobia with one or a handful of actors, and the exercise is, nine times out of ten, more exhausting than suspenseful.

I just checked out the writer’s IMDB page. You know he’s got another script in pre-production right now? Here’s the summary: “On a late night visit to an ATM, three coworkers end up in a desperate fight for their lives when they become trapped by an unknown man.”

It’s called ATM. Sounds like he’s found his niche!

"I saw the best minds of my generation deployed by sadness.. no, no..."


DW: James Franco has turned into a very interesting actor in the last few years, and even in these brief glimpses of the film on display here he really seems to inhabit the role of Allen Ginsberg in an engaging and believable way. I’ve never had much patience for the “Beat” writers, so I don’t find myself too interested in learning more about Ginsberg’s life. Sure, more mainstream, Oscar-baiting biopics about gay and lesbian historical figures are probably, on the whole, a good thing, but I find the story about the obscenity trial more interesting. Both as an excellent reminder of what an era that is viewed with too much nostalgia was actually like for anyone who wasn’t a straight, conservative, white Christian man, and as a useful parallel to contemporary political and cultural controversies.

KL: I care even less about “Beat” writers than you, Dorian, but there seems to be a lot to recommend this.

There’s the cast. There’s the striking visual style on display, showing that once again, some filmmaker somewhere remembered that you can do anything you want with this medium, and that literalism is a prison, not a duty. And also there’s the obscenity trial, which by itself is a fascinating cultural artifact: the notion that there was a time that poetry could be so powerful and so threatening as to warrant such a thing.

Wall Street
From the deleted make-out scene.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

KL: I do and do not understand the desire to create this movie.

On the one hand, yeah, Gordon Gekko would flip the fuck out in these heady times, when high-finance criminals rake in millions, tax payers shoulder the cost and no one seems to give much of a damn. Our country’s an oligarchy in everything but name.

On the other hand, yeesh. The trailer does the movie no favors by sketching out what must be 80% of its narrative and emotional arcs, leaving you with questions about the characters that are so obvious they may as well be rhetorical. I don’t really get off on watching people live the high life, so there’s precious little to offer me here. If Michael Douglas brings his sizzle, that’s something. But then I could just pop in the old Wall Street, couldn’t I?

DW: More so than most sequels, I find myself wondering what the point of this is. Yeah, the culture of greed that made Wall Street such a commentary on its times had its resurgence, and screwed over most Americans in the process, but even then a sequel feels about a year too late to have any impact. And, as you say, this looks so much like the original, if you really wanted to know what Oliver Stone thinks about the Gordon Gekko’s of the world, the original is right there already. Why would you need a retread?

You Again
Betty White did something inappropriate! Take a shot!

You Again

KL: It’s gotta be tough out there for a mainstream actress. You don’t get to do action unless you’re Angelina Jolie, so the only leading roles you’re left with are period pieces or romantic comedies. Witness poor Kristen Bell, who has proven time and again she is really damn funny, headlining a movie that seems powered by how many groans-per-second it can generate.

Oh well. At least it’s not a romantic comedy.

DW: I think I’m slightly more generous than you in my reaction, because the film has so many actors whose work I really enjoy, and the situation is one that’s very relatable for just about everyone. And the fact that it isn’t a romantic comedy actually does give it some added appeal. I could really use a break from the bro-comedies dominating the discussion of what is and isn’t popular in theaters, so I hope that a good, women-orientated comedy can find some traction and an audience.

In a World for August, 2010

In A World... for August

As summer winds down to August, all those movies that studios either couldn’t make sense of or otherwise couldn’t cut it get unleashed on the public. Consequently August is a kind of limbo; most of the releases have the hallmark of a blockbuster but aren’t quite “award season” material. They’re somewhere in between. As with February, some serious gems can slip in under the radar. But there’s a lot of chaff to get through to find that wheat.

Bureau Chiefs Dorian Wright and Ken Lowery take a look at the upcoming August releases and find it a pretty schizophrenic bunch.


The Other Guys
"I think we go right." "No, we go left."

The Other Guys

KL: I tend to run real hot or cold on Adam McKay as a writer and director. I think Anchorman is possibly the strongest comedy he or Will Ferrell has ever done, but everything after that—at least the stuff produced for the big screen and not Funny or Die—has been real hit or miss. Talladega Nights is amusing but I can take it or leave it, and even after my opinion of Step Brothers improved, I feel the same way.

This could be different. I think Mark Wahlberg is actually pretty solid as a comedic actor, and Will Ferrell doing the whitebread thing also has some mileage to it. I like the gags that poke at buddy-cop-action-movie conceits, but self-awareness aside, this does sorta seem like yet another melding of comedy with insane action to double-dip on your audiences, a la Knight and Day, Date Night, et cetera. Pretty on the fence here.

DW: I usually like Mark Wahlberg too, though as you say, more as a comedic actor. When he’s trying to do a serious role I can’t help but think “take your shirt off already and give the audience what they want.” Ferrell I can’t make up my mind whether I’m done with his films or not. I enjoyed them, but then he entered that long stretch where it felt like he was making the same movie over and over. This seems different, at least to some degree, from his usual schtick, so I’m willing to give it a shot. Mostly because, apart from anything else, I like the conceit here. I like the idea of two guys trying to live up to the action-movie hero-cop expectations with two living embodiments of that archetype standing in their way. I may be setting myself up for disappointment, as a premise like that so rarely seems to live up to its promise, but we’ll see.

Step Up 3D
Ripped from the headlines!

Step Up 3D

DW: It’s kind of cute that the producers of these films think that the plot actually matters. People don’t watch these films for the stories, they watch them for the visuals. The stories are just a necessary evil to bridge dance scenes. Looking at this, I’m starting to get the idea that, this time, the creators realize that, as there’s really no indication of any kind of plot other than the apparently obligatory “lovers separated by class” story.

I’m not honestly interested enough in the genre to want to see the film, but I do find myself curious at the niche they’re filling. These are big, spectacle, event-style films, but they’re not CGI-fests, all the visuals are just things that humans can do. I don’t want to say that movies in this genre are the feminine equivalent of your summer sci-fi film, but I’m leaning towards that as being a component.

The other thing that strikes me about this film is the use of color and light. The last film I can think of that actually used color and light as elements of “world-building” the way this does was Speed Racer. Which just brings me back to thinking about the market films like this are trying to tap.

KL: The thing about 3D the first time they tried it is that it belonged at least as much to trashy fare as it did to spectacles. So I think this, in a weird sort of way, actually works; it’s a lowest common denominator kind of movie but it actually displays real human skill, versus, as you point out, CGI wizardry. 3D glasses make my eyes hurt and I’m allergic to jacked-up ticket prices, but I’d be more inclined to see this over the half-dozen shovelware 3D “epic” kids movies that’re coming out this year.


The Expendables
"No one told Couture we'd be doing berets?"

The Expendables
KL: Uh, hm. I have an unironic love for movies like Predator, The Last Action Hero, Demolition Man, and even, on a good day, Commando. They’re big hyper-masculine relics of the ‘80s for the most part, some with greater awareness of what they are than others, but they’re fun movies. And I can get behind the macho charisma of most of this cast.

I’d feel better if Stallone weren’t such a klutzy writer and director. Rocky Balboa met and exceeded the daily FDA recommended intake of schmaltz and Rambo was problematic. (OK, another one: I did like Cliffhanger.) The amount of pleasure I can get out of The Expendables depends entirely on whether it wants to be fun badass or “cool” badass. Early on in the movie’s publicity campaign I was optimistic. Now, I’m a lot less so.

DW: Every time I’ve seen one of these trailers play out here, there’s been a big cheer from the audience every time one of these meaty ’80s action guys appears on screen for the first time. And then Schwarzenegger appears and the groans are deafening. Not that I expect the political mood of coastal Californians to be a huge factor in the final box office, but I thought it was interesting.

I suspect that nostalgia factor of this will give it decent sales and word of mouth, but I can’t help but feel that, as a genre, action movies have really moved on from the time when most of these guys were in their hey-day. The inclusion of Jet Li and Jason Statham seems like an acknowledgement of that, as they are lithe, athletic guys who actually give violence a sort of poeticism, not slabs of meat spouting one-liners.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World
Huggable or punchable? U DECIDE

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

KL: I’m going to be real with you: I tried to read the first volume of Scott Pilgrim on three separate occasions and it never took. I didn’t find Scott cute or relatable; I found him immature and kind of gross. (Now I think I “get” it a bit more; in the age of relentless status updates, everyone tries—humorously or not—to recast the most mundane aspects of their lives as something epic.)

But I like these trailers. Mostly because (as I’ve said elsewhere) I have a craving for novelty in big movie releases, a craving that sometimes takes me into unhealthy spaces. Mostly I’m just glad that Edgar Wright decided not to water anything down and just straight-up did fucking Scott Pilgrim right there on the big screen. I think that takes more guts than just doing an animated feature, and I respect guts.

DW: I’m not the target audience for this. I read a few pages of the original graphic novel when it was released and very quickly came to the realization that it was “not for me.” The fans of the series love it in an extremely vocal way, and more power to them (though please stop trying to convince me that my lack of interest is a sign of moral retardation on my part), but more nuanced reviewers have left me with the impression that, as a body of work, it is masterful at giving its target audience exactly what they want, to the point that we can probably go ahead and call it “pandering,” and that I would find the work extremely problematic.

Coupled with my growing weariness with Edgar Wright and his work and the utter, visceral, irrational loathing I feel for Michael Cera whenever I see his image, it’s safe to say that I don’t have high expectations for the two of them teaming up to present a film version of the comics.

And then I actually sit down and watch the trailer, and yeah, that’s definitely an Edgar Wright adaptation of Scott Pilgrim comics with Michael Cera.

Eat Pray Love
Their two faces are definitely not Photoshopped in, despite how it looks.

Eat, Pray, Love

DW: I usually find myself exasperated with films like this. It’s aspirational affirmation for women, and the only thing that immediately differentiates it from things like Sex and the City is that it’s not materialistic. It does, though, perpetuate this idea that “the other” is more in tune with spirituality or nature or whatever the protagonist feels is unbalanced in her life than her own culture is. I find that really problematic, not to mention condescending in its attitude towards other cultures. Films like this don’t value those cultures on their own merits, but for their ability to “fix” Americans and their problems. It aggravates me.

KL: My doctor no longer allows me to watch Julia Roberts movies (he keeps talking about something called a “rage coma”), so I won’t be heading into the theaters for this one. I can say my wife found the book to be as uninspiring and aggravating as you feel this movie will be, so!

Tales from Earthsea
"No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you."

Tales from Earthsea

DW: The Studio Ghibli films are some of the most gorgeous animated films produced. You just have to pretend not to notice that most of them follow a pretty predictable formula. And that you haven’t noticed that their last couple of films haven’t been very good. It’s an adaptation, though the studio isn’t particularly known for the faithfulness of their adaptations, but maybe having the spine of someone else’s plot will help on the story aspects. And it’s an explicit fantasy film, which I tend to think is the studio’s strong suit, but that’s still no guarantee of a better result.

But it is so very pretty, and a fantasy world that’s visually based on native South American cultures is novel enough that I’m going to want to see it anyway.

I do find myself wondering at the shortness of the trailer and its narrated nature. We know the film is going to be dubbed for the theatrical release, but adopting the usual markers of “serious foreign film” in the trailers makes me wonder how they’re pitching the marketing money.

KL: Oh man, a world where humans and dragons were one! I have definitely not seen that in at least two months!

OK, maybe that was unfair. But Dorian, you put your finger on a couple things that bothered me that I was unable to name. For one, the quality of Ghibli pictures—or perhaps it’s just my interest level—has waned precariously ever since Spirited Away. (Which I quite enjoyed.) The last one I saw, Ponyo, I saw on assignment. It was very pretty but it was definitely not for adults. So I feel like my opinion on that movie would be a moot point.

I don’t know why this trailer is narrated, but Disney has had kind of a heavy hand in trailer editing lately. The Princess and the Frog’s trailer spent the first half of it telling us how fucking awesome and epic and historical and monumental this new movie was going to be, and I suppose they’re doing the same thing here. Which is weird, as I see a list of dubbed voice actors right there under the trailer. Why not just let their dialogue tell the story?


Piranha 3D
She won't even make eye contact, which is PRETTY RUDE.

Pirhana 3D

DW: Film icons slumming! Unnecessary use of an obnoxious gimmick! Disrespectful teens bearing a suspicious resemblance to the film’s market getting killed in nasty and inventive ways! On the one hand, I kind of admire the filmmakers for hewing so close to the ’80s horror cheapie formula. On the other, it’s the ’80s horror cheapie formula and they want us to pay $12 to see it, knowing full well that there are dozens of these things available on streaming services like Netflix.

Every once in awhile, when I’m bored, I’ll make notes on themes in horror films, and why I think they work or don’t. Generally, I find I’m pretty down on the “nature gone wrong” films. I just don’t find animals, even prehistoric or mutant animals, to have quite the gravitas as a supernatural or human “monster” has. It’s the lack of motive or direction, I think. It’s hard to find a fish doing what a fish does all that terrifying. Film-makers have to be very careful when using animals as monsters to avoid camp, or else they have to just embrace it. Because, frankly, animals as monsters almost always come off a bit silly.

Which is a long and indirect way of saying that, if this turns out to embrace the camp, it might be worth a rental, or at least a download via a streaming service. If not, well…at least we’ve got 2025’s Piranha 4D to look forward to.

KL: Like I said above, 3D belongs to trash cinema at least as much as it belongs to any other kind, so I’m glad stuff like this is happening.

However, this is most definitely trash cinema, and I should be honest here: I’ve never had much of an “ironic appreciation” gene. I do not like things because they are terrible; if a thing is terrible, I just think it’s terrible. At the least, I need a heavy filter—think Mystery Science Theater 3000—to get through that stuff. Unless Piranha 3D is unusually well done—and I do not think the phrase “unusually well done” has been applied to any made-for-3D movie since Coraline—I will spend my $12 on a good meal.

Lottery Ticket
That is indeed a lottery ticket.

Lottery Ticket

KL: So that is definitely the entire movie outlined in the trailer, right there. Bully, mentor, wacky sidekick friend, gold digger, friend who should be the real love interest… I hit BINGO about halfway through.

I’m sure it’ll be OK in a forgettable way. And maybe it’s Idiocracy or Everybody Hates Chris, but I’m going to laugh any time Terry Crews is on screen. Still, the only mystery here is what ultimately happens with the money… and the inspirational friend-who-should-be-the-love-interest spells that out, too. Oh well.

DW: Yeah, as you say, the trailer spells out pretty much every detail of the film, including what looks to be the resolution, a tactic which I always suspect is a sign of a film that doesn’t have much in the way of plot or story to go on. But then, neither of us exactly in the target market for this film, so I’m willing to concede that the intended audience may be getting more out of it than I might be.


The Last Exorcism
That dress IS horrifying.

The Last Exorcism

KL: The Exorcist casts such a long shadow over the horror genre that any movie about demonic possession will inevitably be viewed through its prism. The Last Exorcism seems aware of that, and adds a few nice twists: the modern conceit of being a documentary or “found footage” a la Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity, along with some of that spooky Southern flavor that gives good horror a nice tang. Could be good; exorcism movies have a special hold over me, for reasons this trailer make explicit: an innocent person wholly subsumed by evil they did not earn or deserve.

Someone smarter and better-versed than me: who are Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland and Daniel Stamm? They’re right there on the promotional material as if they’re a big deal, but I’ve never heard of anything they’ve done.

DW: As near as I can tell, the gentlemen you ask about have done…not very much, and nothing very notable.

I don’t like the faux-documentary approach to horror films at all. I’ve seen too many where that approach was used to cover the lack of a budget or because someone thought shaky cameras pointed at something in the darkness is scary in and of itself. And it feels like we’ve had a LOT of exorcism themed horror films in the last few years, as well. I don’t think the sub-genre is at the tipping point yet where the devil has stopped being scary, but it feels to me that ultimate evil is starting to be in as much danger of over-use and over-exposure as vampires and zombies are now.

In other words, I’m pretty confident that I can skip this one and not feel like I’m missing anything.

You can tell it's the land of the Celts because everything's teal.


DW: I’ve yet to be impressed with anything that I’ve seen from Neil Marshall. It just feels a little too calculated to me, I suppose. There’s nothing specific, just something vague there that I find off-putting.

Which is a shame, because otherwise I might find myself interested in a Romans vs. Celts action movie. There are hints here of something a little more ambitious going on, in a political metaphor sort of way, but it’s not clear if Marshall is attempting to use Rome’s occupation of Britain as a metaphor for any other world powers occupying another country or if he’s using the suggestion of corruption within the Roman war-machine as, well, a metaphor for corruption in a contemporary war-machine. Or maybe none of that is actually in the film and it’s just really skillful editing on the part of the people who put together the trailer in an attempt to make the film look deeper than it might actually be.

KL: I loved, loved, loved Doomsday, because it was a big crazy joke and a mash-up of everything from John Carpenter’s Escape movies to Lord of the Rings. Best of all, the execution lived up to the ambition; it was just entertaining as hell, and for me (and precious few others, I’ll admit), it totally worked.

But no, I don’t think he’s a terribly deep filmmaker. Not that that’s a problem for me. This looks in some ways just as bananas as Doomsday; Ukranian actress/model Olga Kurylenko as a badass Celt manhunter? Sure, why not!

This is also a period that’s woefully neglected in modern filmmaking; I suppose everyone saw Gladiator and thought anything that had to do with Romans had to be epic, Best Picture-baiting material. Good on Marshall for finding the fun, brutal potential.

"Looks like someone didn't get the memo about charcoal suit day!"


KL: There is not an original thought to be found in the movie’s premise (totes badass bank robber crew takes on One Last Job; will it be their last?) and despite liking Idris Elba, Paul Walker and Zoe Saldana, the presence of Hayden Christensen in just about anything that isn’t Shattered Glass is a turd in the punch bowl. The parkour stuff looks neat, at least.

I don’t know where my line is when it comes to depicting hyper-competence on the big screen. I can really get behind how guys like David Mamet and Michael Mann show it; I could watch Spartan and Heat forever. But when you throw in that music video gloss and the impossible stunt work, my interest meter goes from green to zero like that. Pass.

DW: Actually, I take back my earlier comments. I’d rather watch ’80s meatheads spew one-liners than something as cold and slick and lifeless as this. As “by the numbers” as those ’80s action films were, this is the modern equivalent of an action movie that is just checking off al the required plot and stunt elements and assembling them into something that the studio hopes is viewable. Or, if not viewable, at least has a good couple of days of box office before word of mouth kills it.

In a World for July, 2010

In A World... for July

Folks, let’s be real: this summer pretty well sucks. Not only is general quality of movies quite low, but movie-goers are noticing–and across the board, opening weekends just ain’t what they used to be… and no matter how much the studios stuff every month with a new 3D release, the higher ticket prices are just turning people off.

And it is another summer stuffed with sequels, but as A.O. Scott pointed out in The New York Times, that’s certainly nothing new. What does seem new, however, is the sheer volume of remakes and adaptations that accompany the sequels, sending the loud-and-clear message that new ideas are no longer welcome in Hollywood.

Continue reading

In a World for May, 2010

We’re edging ever closer to the summer blockbuster season now, and as April trudges into May the studios are firing their first major salvos: Iron Man 2, Prince of Persia, and Robin Hood all look poised to take in big bucks, carefully spaced out as they are so as not to infringe on each others’ business. And unlike last year’s never-ending festival of crap, this year’s crop of summer flicks looks to be pretty promising.

And not just among the blockbusters, either. As in previous In a World entries, Bureau Chiefs Dorian Wright and Ken Lowery examine what the studios have in store for movie-goers in the upcoming month, sampling not only the aforementioned major releases but a good sampling of the smaller, more exotic fare. It’s looking to be a good month.

Iron Man 2
May 7

KL: It’s, you know, Iron Man 2. What can be said?

OK, I’ll try this: the first Iron Man accompanied The Dark Knight in making 2008 the high watermark of superhero movies, both for very different reasons. The Dark Knight was appropriately dark and uncertain of the moral territory of masked vigilantes. Iron Man, on the other hand, was like the American id unleashed in joyous bright colors and witty dialogue. I mean come on: it’s a story about a handsome billionaire playboy who invents a suit that makes him invincible and can fly. That is fun.

This one looks to be treading into some of the murkier territory of The Dark Knight; for all his awesomeness, Tony Stark inherited and maintained a business that thrives on war and destruction, and the chickens are coming home to roost. There do seem to be an awful lot of villains and big-name players here, perhaps too many to seem as effortless as the original. But, at the very least, this promises to be a good time.

DW: I’m just happy that there’s at least one super-hero film franchise out there that seems to understand that super-heroes are supposed to be fun. A lot of that has to do with Robert Downey Jr. and this little mini-Renaissance his career is going through, granted, and that leaves up the possibility of a Johnny Depp-esque over-exposure souring his appeal. I’m fairly confident that we’re not at that point yet, though. I’m giving slight pause over the sheer amount of new characters introduced here. We’ve got Whiplash, War Machine, Black Widow…too many characters at a time is one of the factors that hurt previous super-hero film franchises. Unless you’re aiming for the nerd audience, and trying to fulfill their obsessive need to check off characters from a list, throwing too many people with silly names at an audience appears to alienate viewers.

I mean, really, Whiplash? That’s who they think is a good arch-villain for Iron Man?

Casino Jack and the United States of Money
May 7

KL: The problem with documentaries like this is they tend to come out two years after most people stopped giving a damn about the subject. Which is too bad, because the story of Jack Abramoff is instructive; he is a living personification of the corruption of the lobbying process, and his double-dealings—with casinos in Texas, most notably—are jaw-droppingly audacious.

Also, director Alex Gibney is damn good at his job. I have not seen Taxi to the Dark Side, but I have seen Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and that latter doc did an excellent job laying out exactly what happened with Enron in 110 minutes… something that was seemingly beyond the grasp of most television journalists. Should be enlightening, but I’m guessing anyone who has a chance of stepping foot in this theater will already know about half of what’s going to be talked about. What a loss.

DW: Like you say, the core audience for a project like this are people who are already informed about what happened. What I find frustrating is that material like this should be of appeal to the current wave of anti-government protestors, but they’re unlikely to go see it because, let’s face it, Abramoff was in bed with the political party that they’re supporting. And that’s on top of the fact that documentaries seem to have a natural audience with the more lefty-leaning population centers, which only compounds the problem. Populist documentarians would be welcome, I think, but I shudder to imagine what kinds of material they would cover, much less their approach to it.

Just Wright
May 14

DW: Combining a romantic comedy with a sports movie seems at first glance to be a good idea. You could create the perfect date movie; something for both women and men to see and enjoy. But while Queen Latifah has shown that she’s a remarkably likeable and appealing lead in roles such as this, this looks to be hittting every terrible cliché from both genres. They meet cute! But he’s interested in her hotter friend! But they’re thrown together by fate! Oh no, crippling injury! Will he choose his career or love! To make matters worse, we get all that in the trailer. If there are any significant plot beats lefts unrevealed, I’d be surprised.

KL: Man, you are not kidding; every single thing is right there in the trailer, right down to what I am sure is the last (successful) date. It’s no great mystery that people dig romantic comedies because they satisfy a rhythm everyone knows… no one’s there for the surprises. But holy cow.

What’s actually most interesting to me? The movie is PG, which is pretty rare for a rom-com. I wonder if the movie’s actually meant for younger audiences, even if it’s not spun that way in the trailer.

Robin Hood
May 14

DW: I don’t care what anyone says; I still like Gladiator and I still like Russell Crowe. There’s too much here that just hits the right buttons for me not to get excited. I like Robin Hood stories, quite a lot, and have since I was a kid. I like the Middle Ages as a setting, especially for films. Heck, I even like Cate Blanchett and Ridley Scott, “Directors Cut” of Blade Runner notwithstanding. So I’m dumfounded by the pre-backlash the film seems to be generating. I can’t imagine that I’m the only person who gets beautiful shots of men in armor fighting and Russell Crowe monologuing and gets thrilled at the prospect of seeing how it all comes together.

KL: You are not alone. I too still like Gladiator and still (mostly) love the hell out of Ridley Scott, though I admit their combined efforts are a diminishing brand; American Gangster just straight-up bored me, which is kind of tragic, given that its recipe was exactly the kind of movie I go for. I did not bother with A Good Year.

But Crowe being all intense, doing the Robin Hood thing? Cate Blanchett, whom I love? Yeah, I’ll say it as one of like five guys who liked Kingdom of Heaven: I love it when Scott goes period piece.

Letters to Juliet
May 14

KL: Hollywood is generally unkind to actresses. Usually the major studios find one or two young women who are “hot” and then casts their brains out for a good year or two before moving on to the next one. Right now it’s Amanda Seyfried’s turn. I think she’s talented and cute as hell, so bully for me.

Not that I spend a lot of time in her movies; it’s pretty plain they’re not made for people like me. But for a certain audience (in this case, I’m guessing teenage girls), it’s all there: the cute European boy, the beautiful Italian countryside, the wise and fun grandmother figure. Enjoy yourselves, girls.

DW: I feel like I’ve seen and read this story lots and lots and lots of times before. Heck, it’s even a minor plot point in a Terry Pratchett novel. What I’m most struck by is how bright and yellow everything is in this trailer. He’s blond, she’s blond, sunflowers everywhere, wheat fields, pasta…it’s an overload of color correction in post-production to give everything a warm and fuzzy and safe feel. Possibly to distract you from the fact that, yep, this is another trailer that shows you every single major plot beat, right down to the resolution of the film’s story. I’d be more surprised if Seyfried’s character doesn’t end up with the emotionally distant and decorum-obsessed English kid.

Holy Rollers
May 21

KL: Jesse Eisenberg gets a lot of comparisons to Michael Cera, but I don’t think that comparison is a fair one. Though they both do the quiet, passive-aggressive put-upon thing, Eisenberg’s presence is altogether more adult and thus altogether more engaging. I suppose that’s only fitting; Eisenberg is five years older than Cera.

Anyway. This is a pretty dynamite premise, even if the ultimate arc of “good times with drugs” movies is as predictable and as moral as any romantic comedy. I’m not expecting greatness—director Kevin Asch and writer Antonio Macia really don’t have much else to recommend them—but a passably good time? Likely.

DW: There are so many ways you could go with a premise like “Hasidic Jews smuggle drugs” I’m vaguely disappointed that they appear to have gone with the earnest drama about how everybody’s lives are ruined by crime route. Which, to be honest, is probably preferable to the comedic route. I can just imagine someone pitching this to a studio as a “wacky” comedy vehicle for Adam Sandler or Jonah Hill.

I’ve got more tolerance for Eisenberg than Cera, but I’ve got more tolerance for just about any actor than I have for Cera. But Eisenberg is on the (very) short list of actors of his generation that I think have real talent and staying power, and even though I haven’t really enjoyed any of the films he’s been in, he’s aquitted himself well in them.

May 28

DW: Hypatia was a fascinating woman for her time, but “incredibly intelligent and well educated Roman woman” probably isn’t quite thrilling enough to attract an audience. So that would explain why the focus here seems to be on the events that lead up to her murder at the hands of religious zealots. What’s really interesting is that the film isn’t shying away from the fact that Hypatia is about as close as we can get to a “martyr” for atheism, as it’s being made clear here that the religious fanatics that murdered an innocent woman for offending their sensibilities are Christians. That’s still a pretty damn bold position for a film to take.

KL: Bold indeed in an era where studios are more aggressively targeting churches and Christian groups for that sweet, sweet Passion of the Christ revenue. In fact, that subject matter may explain the trailer’s opaqueness. I’d be at a loss to describe what the movie’s about, just going by it alone. People are angry, I guess? And running around? And it’s Rome?

But what YOU say sounds pretty intriguing, and it’s been way too long since Rachel Weisz has been allowed to carry a movie.

May 28

DW: I like visually inventive films. It’s one of the great strengths of the medium. Jeunet’s films are always arresting in that sense, even if narratively they tend to be a little flat sometimes. This looks charming, more akin to the light whimsy of something like Amelie, but without the horribly played out “manic pixie dream-girl” tropes that make it hard for me to watch. I also have to say that the prospect of a film in which someone who has been wronged by the system gets revenge by being clever, instead of going in guns blazing and leaving a pile of bodies, feels a lot more refreshing and overdue than it probably should be.

KL: I was just thinking “hey this sure looks a lot like City of Lost Children” and then there was Jeunet’s name, so there you go.

More often than not you have to go overseas to be reminded that films are a visual medium, and special effects long ago unshackled us from the need to be ploddingly, thuddingly literal and realistic. In other words: it sure is nice to be reminded that films can show us things that can’t be seen anywhere else, which goes a long way toward explaining why I loved Speed Racer so much.

Note to major American studios and theater chains: Surreal visual treats like this put my ass in your overpriced seats, not 3D… even if Micmacs seems to be suffering from Teal and Orange Syndrome.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
May 28

DW: It’s become a bit of a truism that films based on video games are incredibly bad to the point of being unwatchable. That’s not entirely true, but it’s true enough that knowing that a film’s premise is recycled from a game should be enough to give any rational person pause before they hand over their money to see it. But then, people never expected that a movie based on a theme park ride could be any good either, and this combination of studio and producer did manage to prove that you can make one, and precisely one, good movie based on a ride. Bruckheimer is good at bombast, but he also is very good at giving audiences the big spectacle that they want out of their blockbuster-style films. That he isn’t actually directing this, only producing, is actually a good sign as well. And while a little part of me does cringe slightly at the fact that a film set in fantasy Arabia features an almost all English and American cast, I also realize that I’m getting a big, sweeping sword-and-sandal epic fantasy set in Arabia, and I’m actually pretty okay with that.

Plus, we’ll be getting shirtless Jake Gyllenhaal in this, so it’s pretty much mathematically proven that it’s going to be fantastic.

KL: This looks big, dumb, loud, and possibly too long, but you know what? So was Pirates of the Caribbean, and Pirates was a hoot. It was also unlike anything else coming out at the time, a descriptor that also seems to fit Prince of Persia. I’m just wondering if the key players—Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton, who is the sword-and-sandals genre’s answer to Amanda Seyfried, apparently—will have enough strength to stop this from being another landslide of numbing CGI. Give me fun, give me wit, give me real fights—less wires and close-up incoherence, more staged, practiced, and choreographed—and I’ll be happy.

Survival of the Dead
May 28

KL: I am a George Romero fan. I’ve watched four of his five Dead movies backwards and forwards. (The fifth, Diary, was so painful a misfire that I have tried to forget about it.) What I like most about his zombie movies is that they’re not really about they zombies; the zombies are just the catalyst for bringing out some of humanity’s ugliest urges. And no matter the quality of the film (seriously, Diary was so bad), the man never treads water. He’s always trying to do something new, even while everyone else is busy copying his last work.

Two things here: I can’t tell what this one is really about, beyond the obvious. And also, I don’t care. Romero almost always goes with nobodies in his leads, which leads to predictably mixed results, but this Army guy looks like the real deal.

DW: I’d be perfectly happy if no zombie movies, books, comics, televison shows, radio plays, what have you, ever came out ever again. Pretty much for the same reason that you cite as Romero’s strength: they’re really about people. They’ve become too much of a blank canvas for creators to project whatever point they want to make about the nature of humanity onto. And yeah, Romero is the only filmmaker who really seems to manage to do that well, but I still find them just about the least interesting horror antagonists out there.

Now, you take the zombies out of this plot, somehow, and I’d probably go see it. Inter-family conflicts on a remote island that are disrupted by newcomers, played out as a horror film? Yes, please. But with zombies? No, thanks.

In A World for April, 2010

It used to be that summer releases stayed confined to, well, the summer months for their release. Come June, July and (reluctantly) August, you’d get your choice of tentpole movies meant to prop up a studio’s revenue for a few months before the quick rush to the home market right around Christmas time.

But as studios shift comfortably into their unspoken non-complete clauses, where only one big movie seems allowed to open every weekend (and we do mean EVERY weekend), those summer movies have begun creeping into May and now, finally, April, which was at one time a mishmash of Hollywood also-rans and Weird Little Films from earnest first-time filmmakers. Now? Those Weird Little Films are shoulder-to-shoulder with the summer blockbuster season’s advance scouts.

Bureau Chiefs Dorian Wright and Ken Lowery take a look at what April 2010 has to offer the movie-goer.

Clash of the Titans
April 2nd

DW: There are two things here that I’m really enthusiastic about. The first is Louis Leterrier as director. I’m a sucker for that French action movie style, and I’m actually curious enough to see how it melds with the big CGI showcase style of film-making to overlook my usual skepticism towards the big CGI showcase style of film-making. The second is just the fact that we’re getting a big showcase film dedicated to classical mythology instead of yet another sci-fi or horror film in the style.

I’ve still got reservations, though. Although the original film looks pretty dated now, both for its special effects and its overall style, it still holds up remarkably well, probably because telling a coherent story is one of those little details that blockbuster film-makers have let fall by the wayside in recent years. I’m just not sold on the need for a remake here. It’s not as if the film-makers have to pay anyone to use the names of mythical figures in the film, and using the name feels like a move designed to win over nerds, and they’re just not a strong enough base to make a film a success. My other big reservation is Sam Worthington, not out of any antipathy to his acting. In fact, this will be the first film he’s made I’m likely to see. I just don’t see his turn as Perseus having the same impact on gay men and proto-gay kids that Harry Hamlin in a toga did in the ’80s.

I’m also not real happy about this last-minute 3D angle, but the migraine-inducing effects of those damn glasses is an argument for another time.

KL: My reaction upon first seeing the trailer was “so, I guess someone just gave a Dungeon Master a hundred million dollars and said ‘go nuts.’” Because hey, it’s all there: the gratuitous monster overkill, the latter-day prog rock soundtrack, and deadly serious proclamations from stern dudes. Given that there’s likely a whole generation of DMs influenced by the original Clash of the Titans to find this the apex of storytelling, maybe we’re just coming full circle.

But I have to step back before snark overtakes me entirely. Why? Because there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with pure spectacle. And in an era when studios are struggling to remain relevant in the face of ever-cheaper (and ever more enjoyable) home theater experiences, it’s not unexpected for them to just throw a shit-ton of CGI at the screen and hope it sticks. So long as the SFX festival has some kind of honest core to it—think Speed Racer, another pure-spectacle vehicle that was a sheer delight—it’ll be a good time.

I hope.

The Greatest
April 2nd

KL: Well, they pretty much sketch the arc of the thing out in the trailer, don’t they? It looks like a weepy thing—lots of grief and misplaced anger until everyone learns a more constructive way to heal and move forward. And wouldn’t you know it, family always grows.

OK, so that’s a little facetious. I finally saw An Education the other day and, yes, Carey Mulligan really is that good, and folks like Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon always have a baseline of reliability. But I note that this is Shana Feste’s first outing as a writer-director, so I’m guessing The Greatest is just going to overflow with earnestness. And earnestness, like herpes, is best experienced in manageable flare-ups.

DW: “Earnest” is a far kinder description than I’d be tempted to give. The over-wrought angst of films like this have never appealed to me, and we’ve all seen the individual components (grieving parents, lost love, alienated sibling) in other films. This one just arranges them in a slightly different configuration than other films do. But not so different as to venture far from the baseline of these tragedies affecting comfortably middle class, white heterosexuals.

April 2nd

DW: These epic Chinese films are always visually interesting, but are so strongly dependant on a knowledge of Chinese history and culture that I always feel like I’m only getting half the story. Which is fine, a well-made film is a well-made film, even if I don’t know whether or not the name General Pang would have more signifigance to someone raised in China than it does to me. But there is a certain sameness to a lot of the Chinese films that get released in this country, borne probably out of the demands of the audience for the films. They want to see more films about dudes in armor fighting each other with plausibility-pushing stunts. I think I’ve had my fill of them, though. Let me know when something more emotionally involving comes along.

KL: I think the thing about China I’m most envious of is their 6,000+ years of history to pull on for epics like this. With whippersnappers like America, you get 1776 and Glory and I guess maybe Tombstone and you’re pretty much set.

I am predicting Warlords will have a not-fun scene/fun scene ratio of 4:1.

Why Did I Get Married Too?
April 2nd

DW: It’s easy to take pot-shots at Tyler Perry films. Especially for people who have never actually bothered to watch one. He actually does what does very well. He is just doing it for a very narrow and specific audience. And that’s fine. Hell, I’ve seen just about every gay romantic comedy ever made, I’m certainly not going to begrudge Perry his success with doing didactic films about relationships for religous and conservative black audiences.

He is pretty much just making the same two films over and over, though. I preferred his stage musicals.

KL: I think what puts me off Perry’s work is the self-conscious importance of the promotional material. Perhaps it’s unfair to judge a work solely on how the trailers are cut, but, hey, those trailers are meant to entice, and his simply fail to do so. It could be the general “stage” tone of his stories; I’ve never been much for theater. And that penchant he has for putting himself into a movie to talk sass and tell everyone what they’re doing wrong—dude, come on. That’s not a story, that’s a badly-disguised sermon.

But—awful sequel title aside—this one actually looks like it might rise out of the muck of melodrama and strive for greater authenticity. Let us hope. I don’t have much use for the guy, but good filmmaking benefits everyone.

April 9th

DW: Now, this is the kind of horror film I can get behind. A psychological basis, with an existential terror at the root of it. I’m still not sold on Justin Long, but Liam Neeson and Christina Ricci are always enjoyable, even when it’s clear that they’re only in a “down payment on a house” film. But the premise here works for me and has strong potential. Either you’ve got a ghost story, with Ricci unable to move on because she refuses to admit that she’s dead, or you’ve got a creepy psycho stalker film with Neeson as a particularly psychologically sadistic serial killer. In either case, I’m intrigued and want to know more.

KL: I’m gonna go out on a limb and say we discover she really is dead, and Neeson is some kind of Charon figure who’s giving her a tough-love approach to accepting what’s happened. Even the bloodiest ghost story movies tend to have (or strive for) an ending with emotional resonance. If I’m wrong, well, that’s OK too.

I won’t lie. Ghost stories get me. The guilt, the fear, the uncertainty, the seasickness of reality becoming elastic, the scares and the sadness—I won’t lie; I get high off that stuff. In the wake of seeing or reading a really good one, I wonder why anyone bothers with any other kind of story.

Anyway, Liam Neeson as psychopath or psychopomp: sold.

April 16th

KL: Once upon a time there was a massively successful comic book writer named Mark Millar. Long ago, Millar may have had something resembling a soul; so that his ability to spin fun high-concept stories was weighted down with something like a care for what, exactly, he put out there for public consumption.

But then Millar discovered something. He discovered that if you simply went with dead-simple high concepts and mixed in excessive violence, quippy protagonists, and a patina of “cool” cynicism—which is really just another phrase for naïve posturing—you could sell a hell of a lot more comics. It helped that Millar speaks fluent Hype, so he can pass off his stories (which are more like the distilliations of a handful of clichés) as something wild and new and original, and way, way too many journalists believe it.

Thus: Kick-Ass, which in comic book form takes the fairly fun (if profoundly unoriginal) premise of a teenage kid putting on a superhero costume to fight crime, runs it through the ultra-violence machine (courtesy of legendary comic artist John Romita Jr.) and nails himself a movie adaptation, because the damn thing might as well have been titled HELLO HOLLYWOOD I AM READY FOR YOUR CHECK.

So no, I don’t think terribly much of the man, the book, or consequently the movie adaptation. Yes, it’s directed by Matthew Vaughn, who directed the wonderful Layer Cake. I submit to you that Vaughn then went on to direct Stardust, which was one of the more joyless and forced ways I’ve spent 127 minutes. I also submit that Jane Goldman, who adapted Stardust for the screen, also adapted Kick-Ass. If Kick-Ass is anything but empty posturing (which a certain segment will be over the moon about, because LOL HITGIRL!), I’ll be amazed.

DW: When I see trailers like this, I’m always reminded of Snakes on a Plane, another movie that was hyped to hell and back online and was much beloved of nerds, and that died a quick and merciful death in theaters because it was, frankly, shit that existed only to pander to nerds. This gives off the same vibe, right down to casting people like Nicholas Cage and Christopher Mintz-Plasse because of their “ironic” appeal or recognizability from other films that went over well with audiences eager to be condescended to.

I suspect this will do okay, but only okay. If they can avoid reminding people that this is from the same man who is ultimately responsible for unleashing Wanted on theaters, the audience that just loves to see cinematic violence alone will probably make them some money.

The Joneses
April 16

KL: This looks like a hoot and a half, and not just because I wrote a short story just like it back in junior high. Richard Corliss of Time is quoted as using the word “zeitgeist,” and that sounds about right. How else to describe a movie that takes the personalization of marketing to its logical (yet charmingly old-fashioned) extreme?

And I like David Duchovny. Rather a lot, actually. He can be wooden, sure, but he’s got an easy-going charisma and a wicked-dry sense of humor, which is exactly what you need to carry both his in-movie role and the larger one. I’ve never been convinced Demi Moore (who has not quite shaken her perpetual deer-in-headlights gaze) needs to be in any movie ever, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

DW: The literalizing (so to speak) up the “keeping up with the Joneses” idiom is a clever twist, and it feels like it’s been forever since we’ve seen a smart satire of contemporary business and social attitudes. That part I’m surprisingly enthusiastic about, too (with the exception of the presence of Demi Moore, who has just never really worked for me in any of her films that I’ve seen).

What I’m nervous about is the implication that those satiric elements are going to be undercut by a seemingly “safer” rom-com formula, where Duchovny and Moore are antagonistic co-workers thrown together who eventually succumb to their mutual attraction. There’s nothing wrong with a film like that, in and of itself, but I don’t like the idea of it seeping into the takedown of corporate marketing and advertising that is the film I want to see.

The Losers
April 23rd

KL: Speaking of comic book movies… The Losers is based on Andy Diggle and Jock’s update of an old DC Comics property about a group of special ops types who get betrayed by the CIA and decide to extract a little revenge. It was a fun action comic with lots of bravado, wit, socio-political awareness and genuine oh-wow action sequences. In the world of film, this sounds like pretty standard stuff, but in superhero-dominated comics it was an abnormality; the series barely registered in sales despite being one of the most “mainstream” offerings on the stands. It’s a shame when a good comic dies young.

The film adaptation has an interesting approach to casting (Idris Elba! Chris Evans! Zoe Saldana!) and the filmmakers seem to have a pretty solid grip on why this kind of action movie should be made. In a world of grim-n-gritty Bourne-style action movies, studios forget that a lot of people watch action movies to have a good time. It helps if the plotting isn’t stupid as hell, and if The Losers stays true to its source on that matter, we’re in good hands.

DW: Like Ken, I was a big fan of the comic this is based on. I still like to point it out from time to time as an example of what comic fans say they want (a smartly-written, well-drawn comic with a unique voice and subject matter that appeals to a broader audience than the usual man-children) and what they actually buy (about twenty different X-Men titles a month) are vastly different.

So what we’ve got here is strong source material, unbelievably good casting, and what appears to be a stylish action-thriller that isn’t afraid to be at least slightly silly. That’s exactly the kind of big, loud movie I want to see.

That there’s a good chance of seeing some Chris Evans skin here is merely the icing on the cake.

Harry Brown
April 30th

DW: Normally I’d be all for a film about Michael Caine being a bad-ass vigilante. But something about this feels really off. I’m sure an old man killing teenagers appeals to a certain audience, one that’s ripe to blame “kids these days” and specifically poor and/or minority kids for all of society’s ills, but I’d have hoped that that sort of fear-mongering, crypto-fascist storytelling had gone out when the Death Wish and Dirty Harry films stopped getting made. It feels like a particularly paranoid, right-wing revenge fantasy, to be blunt.

And then I see praise for the film from the Daily Mail in the trailer and yeah, all my doubts feel like they’ve been confirmed.

KL: There seems to be a lot of free-floating Impotent White Rage out there, and I’d contend this inspires the yearly cycle on which we get revenge-fantasy flicks starring currently or once-respectable actors (Jodie Foster, Kevin Bacon, Liam Neeson, Mel Gibson). Some small part of me—that eternal optimist, the thing Dorian wisely let die out—assumes, every single time, that there’s a further dimension to this thuddingly simple premise. “Surely,” I say, “we’re not just revisiting this again.”

But then we probably are. How much do you enjoy Michael Caine? How badly are you hoping he’s rekindling some of that Jack Carter magic? The answers to these questions will determine your interest level. I think I’ll just rent Get Carter again.

Touching Home
April 30th

KL: If you watch the outtakes on the DVD of The Rock, you’ll see Ed Harris isn’t really acting in the first few seconds of this trailer.

Joking aside, this is a touching story, and I don’t doubt the Millers’ sincerity in wanting to bring the story of their fathers’ life to the world. But if I’m being honest, I think I’d be rather much more interested in a documentary about the making of this movie than in the movie itself. Here are twin brothers who had an obviously rocky relationship with their father, and now they’re behind the camera, attempting to recreate that man in another actor—a famous and well-respected four-time Oscar nominee, at that.

What’s that process like? Is it emotionally draining, numbing, or invigorating? How do you draw the line between truth and nostalgia? Do you even consider if you’re too close to tell the story truthfully, or does being that close mean you’re the only ones who can tell the story truthfully?

Make that movie, and I’ll watch it.

DW: Yeah, I’m in a pretty similar state of mind. The sincerity pours off that trailer, at least in the second half, when it’s the actual people talking directly to the audience. That first half, though…I hesitate to use the term “clichéd” because we’re talking about real things that happened to real people, but so many of the little moments in that trailer just remind me of Oscar-baiting “based on a true story” moments in other films. I’ve no doubt that the Miller brothers have put their heart and soul into this project, and they’ve certainly attracted some stellar people to it, which is pretty compelling in and of itself. But as horrible as it may sound, I’m just not sure the tragedy of their father’s life is as unique a story as they seem to feel it is.