[9 September 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It’s a great idea: giant robot boxers. Too bad Stuart Gordon did it—and from the looks of things, did it better—than this big budget bungle from the director of such dross as Night at the Museum. Shawn Levy aside, the premise reeks of an automaton remake of The Champ, complete with down and out pugilist looking for redemption and a tow-headed tot along for the manipulative ride. While the F/X and money are magnified a thousand percent, the results don’t look much different than what Gordon accomplished with Robot Jox. Definitely aimed at the adolescents in the audience.
George Clooney: the mancrush of every human being on the planet. He’s a great actor. He’s a classic movie star. And when he feels a bit frustrated, he stretches out and directs movies like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night and Good Luck. Now he’s back with a political potboiler based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon. It deals with backstabbing and betrayal during a fictional presidential campaign (though the material was loosely based on the run of Howard Dean in 1992). Clooney himself plays the Democratic candidate, with Gosling as his advisor and—if you believe the trailer—eventual turncoat. With such a pedigree, it becomes one of October’s must-sees.
David Wain is one of the most beloved creators of comedy in the last 20 years. Or at least, you’d think that was the case considering the buzz that has built up around his early work as part of the obsessed over MTV sketch show The State. Even with a mainstream hit (Role Models) and a fondly held first film (Wet Hot American Summer) under his belt, the fans still foam over the 26 episodes of the memorable music television series. This sounds like the reverse Out of Towners (city slickers escape to the country), but with Wain’s unique POV.
Call us old fashioned—or just old—but the title of this independent film automatically has us thinking about Elton John and his fabulous ‘70s masterwork, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (side three, song three). In truth, it’s the tale of a promiscuous teen in the ‘80s who befriends a gay classmate and, together, steal away to Los Angeles. He hopes to escape the ridicule of his homophobic father. She wants to find her birth father. This is the first feature film for writer/director Abe Sylvia and he has an established cast (William H. Macy, Mary Steenburgen, Milla Jovovich) to work with. Still, ignore us while we nostalgically hum away…
Yawn number one. When John Carpenter released his gross-out gory spectacular version of the classic sci-fi monster movie from the ‘50s, few were expecting a trial by blood drenched special effects. But with the brilliant Rob Bottin on board and a tightly wound suspense approach to the horror, a watercooler work became a genre watershed. Now, the ridiculous Hollywood remake machine, incapable of bettering what Carpenter created, goes the lame prequel path towards trading on the past. This version centers on the Norwegians (with the help of some Americans, apparently) who discovered the space thing in the first place. Wake us when it’s over.
Yawn number two. Granted, this tale of a big city boy discovering anti-dance intolerance in small town America was nothing more than a gender revised rip-off of Flashdance (even the titles have the same linguistic cadence) and it gave Kevin Bacon more hoofer cred than he deserved. The same question remains, did we really need a remake? Especially one that seems so staunchly similar to the original? At least the numerous dread retreads out there strive to bring something new to the fright night mix, but in this case, it looks like things have been darkened up a bit… and that’s all.
He’s one of the few foreign film ‘event’ directors, meaning his movies are heavily anticipated by both critics and arthouse movie buffs alike. In the case of the latest effort from Pedro Almodovar, the expectation was doubly delightful as the famed director would be working once again with one of his favorite actors, Antonio Banderas. Tackling a genre he never truly attempted before—Almodovar calls his latest, an adaptation of Thierry Jonquet’s Tarantula, “a horror story without screams or frights”—several speculated on the movie’s more blatant narrative. As usual, Almodovar has surpassed expectations while staying solidly within the themes he loves to explore.
Bird watching. Bird… watching. Yes, that’s the foundational premise for his comedy starring an exceptional cast and directed by the man responsible for The Devil Wears Prada and Marley and Me. Granted, one assumes no birds will be put down in a heart wrenching bit of unnecessary manipulation, but the surreal source material (a book by Mark Obmascik) and the oddball core concept could make for one tired travelogue. Still, a chance to see Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, and Jack Black work together just might be reason enough to head out into this far left field film.
Here are three people you probably never thought would work together in a film: Nicolas Cage, Nicole Kidman, and Joel Schumacher. That the two Oscar winners are wallowing in such exploitative material—the story involves extortionists who kidnap the couple at gunpoint—is no big surprise. After all, Cage has quickly taken the place of Robin Williams as once respected performers who never met a script he didn’t approve of. But Schumacher is still trying to rinse the rotten taste of his Batman movies out of the viewing public’s mouth. This probably won’t do it.
How do you keep your franchise going when you’ve kind of, sort of pinned yourself in a narrative corner? Why, break out the prequel. Works every time, right? Well, not really, and in the case of this surveillance camera silliness, dragging everything back a decade and a half doesn’t seem like the right way to go. After all, the first two films were built on the notion of available technology as a means of gathering evidence. In this case, it looks like home movies and random camcorder experiments will drive the spook show. We’re shivering—or is it bored—already.
Alexandre Dumas must be wondering where he went wrong. After all, his most recognizable work—the archetypical swashbuckler The Three Musketeers—has been remade so many times that the original story and sentiment seem literally lost in time. Now, prince of the paltry blockbuster, Paul W. S. Anderson is out to give the tale a fresh, funky take… and he’s bringing along 3D to make sure all the gimmicks are in place. The casting—Christoph Waltz, Orlando Bloom, Ray Stevenson—is promising. The proposed ‘reimagining’ of the characters and setting are not.
With all the brilliant documentaries that have come out concerning the global financial collapse of 2008 until… well, let’s just say it’s not over yet, it seems suspect that a fictional take on the subject could be as effective. Yet this intriguing title was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and the cast couldn’t be better. In fact, the dramatization of such a fiscal scandal could be just what the movie doctor ordered. Sometimes, audiences roll their eyes at talking heads spouting statistics. Here, watching a major financial institution disintegrate over a 24-hour period may be the wake-up call the disconnected public needs.
A young woman escapes from a scary cult run by an enigmatic but dangerous leader. Months after going missing, her sister receives a phone call for help. Reunited, the former finds re-assimilation into a life outside the sect is harder than she thinks. It’s made even worse by the paranoid thoughts running through her brain. As another Sundance favorite, this movie has been mentioned for the outstanding work of Winter’s Bone‘s John Hawkes as the crazed head of his Catskills clan. Though writer/director Sean Durkin is an unknown quantity, the story and the actors performing it promise something interesting and intense.
Red State is destined to become the movie where everything else except the film itself becomes the eventual legacy. From the moment he announced the bidding war at Sundance to the 180-degree switch to self distribution, writer/director Kevin Smith has made this horror movie a prime cause celeb for the last eight months. He even released it to VOD and Pay Per View before this timely pre-Halloween release. So, what about the movie itself? Well, let’s just say that a man already out of favor with film critics for his numerous attacks on the profession isn’t garnering that much favor. Fans seems to dig it, though.
Women’s basketball doesn’t get enough respect in the United States. Relegated to something less than its male counterpart, it’s often cast aside as less than engaging. Now comes the true story of a ‘70s tomboy who decides to live out her dream. She gets a job at a local Catholic School, putting together a ragtag group of gals who—in pure Tinseltown style—end up playing for the national championship. While it’s hard for us to picture Carla Gugino as the lead, there is still a lot to like about this traditional hard knocks story. as long as it avoids the cliches, it should survive.
Andrew Niccol is known among science fiction fans as the creator of one of the ‘90s must iconic efforts, Gattaca. That future shock story of genetic perfection versus human frailties continues to resonate in a world where image is slowly becoming more than everything. Now, some 14 years later, Niccol is back braving the new world with an allegory about immortality and the commodity of time. With Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Olivia Wilde, and Cillian Murphy among the cast, and an idea that plays perfectly into our contemporary obsession with age and physical perfection, it sounds like another winner. We can only hope.
As part of his long running friendship with the late, great gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, super hot superstar Johnny Depp longed to make a movie out of this ‘long lost’ novel. Written in the late ‘50s, it wasn’t published until the late ‘80s, decades after the controversial writer had established his genre busting credentials. Those hoping for a sort-of sequel to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will be less than impressed. On the plus side, everyone’s favorite cult filmmaker, Bruce Robinson, is back behind the lens, more than 19 years after Jennifer 8 and nearly 35 since his heralded comedy Withnail and I.
So, what is director Roland Emmerich going to destroy this time? He’s already leveled the planet—twice—and had aliens take out a substantial portion of our cultural icons. So, what indeed is there left to obliterate? Well, how about Shakespeare’s reputation. This weird amalgamation of period piece intrigue and literary mystery sees the Tudors and the Cecils fighting over the crown while Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (Ifans) is begged as the true author of the world’s most famous collection of classics. It sounds preposterous and overreaching, but then again, Emmerich is an expert at such stylistic positions. Color us intrigued.
Rowan Atkinson consistently comes across in both interviews and individual comedy routine as smart, savvy, and very, very serious. So it’s with a great deal of displeasure that he is stuck, once again, in a low brow formulaic film where the funny business is dumb and derivative. This is Blackadder; he deserves better. Yet foreign audiences, an increasingly important aspect of any studio’s overall marketing plan, loves it when Atkinson plays the fool. So, along with a wholly unnecessary series of Mr. Bean movies (never as good as the TV show that spawned them), we wind up with this. The terrible trailer says it all.
Luckily, this is not a remake of the Todd Haynes drama starring Julianne Moore as a woman being slowly ‘poisoned’ by the various products (hairspray, air freshener) of the modern world, though it would be interesting to see what star Jason Statham could do with such a premise. Instead, this is another amped up action film from the UK stud, this time centering around an elite spy out to rescue a 12-year-old Chinese girl from the various lawful and illegal elements in NYC. While it sounds promising, one look at the individual (Boaz Yakin—ouch) behind both the script and the scenarios is cause for concern.
No this is not the famous fairy tale, although the premise (a young escort is allowed to be “put to sleep” so that dirty old men can have their erotic way with her) derives from the noted bedtime story. Apparently, the biggest problem facing this film isn’t the graphic sexual content or copious nudity. No, many critics and messageboard pundits have complained about the casting (they can’t seen Australian actress Emily Browning in the title role) and the less than spectacular work of first time director/novelist Julia Leigh. Clearly close to the material—she wrote the screenplay—her lack of vision undermines the film’s viability.
Winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival usually guarantees a certain level of quality. Past winners include the incredible Winter’s Bone, the abrasive Precious, the fascinating Frozen River, and serious sci-fi examination Primer. While success is not always a give (there are dozens of titles that make a similar splash at said festival and then… nothing), there is a certain creative bankability that derives from the recognition. So this movie about a long term relationship may indeed be something special. It could also be a early Awards season struggle to reach beyond a dedicated indie audience.