[1 May 2012]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It’s all led up to this, the Iron Man success, the takes on Thor and Captain America. Even the big green failures of the Hulk have paved the way for Marvel to finally bring their superhero team The Avengers to the big screen, and early buzz has director Joss Whedon knocking it out of the park. Granted, at nearly two and a half hours, there’s a lot to cover and Loki may not be the most compelling villain, but the end result appears to have capitalized on all the promise presented in the material. Get ready for the mandatory sequel talk come release date.
Talk about taking a risk. This is counterprogramming at its most brash. While other areas of the country will see this roll out slowly, John Madden’s latest will go head to head with a group of costumed crusaders in the major markets. Apparently, Mr. Shakespeare in Love and his studio believe that disgruntled fanboys, unable to get into a sold out Avengers screening, will take their tired dates one theater over to see a retirees seeking a more financially fit lifestyle in India. Some “veddy British” hijinx ensue. Yes, it’s another culture shock comedy, but the cast and credentials support one’s initial interest.
Like most closed societies, the world of ballet is something only a dancer can truly appreciate. The hardships and sacrifices, the joys of performance and the ever-present possibility of never being able to do so, professionally haunt the six individuals featured here. Ranging in age from nine to nineteen, we watch as our subjects enter the Youth America Grand Prix, the largest competition that awards full scholarships to top ballet schools. Within such a backdrop, personality and problems are highlighted and harnessed. A festival circuit favorite, this sounds like a standard documentary approach to an otherwise intriguing idea.
When a foreign filmmaker comes to Hollywood, career resume intact, and attempts to reboot their bankability by making an English language version of their original triumphs, something specious usually happens. Just ask George Sluizer (The Vanishing) and Michael Haneke (Funny Games). This time around, French director Lisa Azuelos is remaking her 2008 coming of age comedy Laughing Out Loud—now going by the shorter and more tech savvy LOL—and she’s bringing Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore along for the repetitive ride. The plot synopsis, filled with hints at sexual awakening and drug use, must be driving the House of Mouse stars fanbase loopy.
Poor Kate Hudson. Twelve years ago, she was an Oscar nominated starlet whose parental lineage (she’s the daughter of Goldie Hawn) suggested a successful career as a leading lady/comedian. A series of sizable flops later, and she’s appearing in this five handkerchief weeper about a successful woman who falls in love with the doctor who diagnoses her terminal cancer. Of course, the actress can argue that she can only make what is offered to her, but what does it say about her commercial credentials that her choices run the gamut from this to Bride Wars and Something Borrowed?
When it was announced that Johnny Depp (YEAH!) and Tim Burton (Umm…) would take on the seminal Dan Curtis soap opera from the ‘60s, fans where cautiously optimistic. Then the casting came along, and aside from certain givens (Helena Bonham Carter), the acting choices seem stellar. Now, with a pair of comedy-heady trailers making the rounds, purists are concerned that this version of Shadows will forgo the creepy for some stranger in a strange land comedy. There are reviews that suggest the humor is not the main focus of the film, but for a series many felt was unintentionally funny, the laughs are illegitimate.
Talk about your perfect Summer movie fare: a small village in Lebanon, home to both Christians and Muslims, tries to avoid the civil strife going on in the rest of the country. At first, they use unusual tactics (sabotaging local radio, destroying the village TV) to avoid conflict. Of course, the ruse doesn’t work and sides are quickly drawn up. As the violence increases, so does the senselessness of the new divides. It is up to the women to keep the peace, and their process becomes the basis for this movie’s ultimate message - war is a question of access, not pure adversarial need.
No - God Bless Bobcat Goldthwait. Over the course of crazy directorial career which saw him use bestiality as the basis for a black comedy (Sleeping Dogs Lie), strip certain circus performers of their implied comic dignity (Shakes the Clown) and tackle teen suicide and the false sentiment typically attached to it (World’s Greatest Dad), he’s pushed buttons while crafting some very clever social commentary. His latest is no different: a man, dying of a brain tumor, decides to go on a multistate killing spree (eventually with a teen partner) in order to rid the world of unnecessary and bad people. His targets - reality show stars! Yeah!
Like a bright red signal in an otherwise bleak night sky, director Fow Pyng Hu is back with another character study that seems completely unique and unusual. This time around, the title hero is a self-centered chef whose abrasive attitude leave everyone in his wake angry and agitated. After losing yet another high profile position to his personality, he decides to drop out and go truffle hunting. As usual, it’s a pursuit more for who he is than the elusive, expensive fungi. Well respected in the rest of the world, it will be interesting to see if Fow Pyng’s vision translates beyond the arthouse.
Basically, it’s Transformers in the ocean… and those who have already seen it argue that it mimics the board games it’s based on a bit too closely (we can just imagine characters shouting out “B! 4!”). Still, director Peter Berg understands action and the trailer seems to suggest enough spectacle to make up for the movie’s many narrative misgivings. Of course, any time you include a famous non-acting face (in this case, hit-making chanteuse Rihanna) in the mix, you are asking for a Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions level of trouble. Still, as part of an otherwise pure popcorn conceit, aliens invading from their dormant undersea sleep is an acceptable entertainment ideal.
Oh boy - after the limited demographic success of Think Like a Man, it appears we have another self-help book turned RomCom on the horizon, and this one looks just awful. In fact, it has the stink of something by Gary Marshall (ala New Years Eve or Valentine’s Day) mixed with the mindboggling bad He’s Just Not That Into You. While UK director Kirk Jones might be able to avoid many of the genre’s likeability landmines, his all star cast (including J-Lo) argues otherwise. On the bright side, the script is from a pair of women who’ve authored some excellent efforts (Freaky Friday, Whip It! )
After the less than successful returns of Bruno, British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen is trying something a bit different. Gone is the mock documentary approach that made Borat such a sensation, and in its place is a standard set-up complete with recognizable co-stars (Anna Faris, John C. Reilly) and a fish out of water premise. Apparently, the despotic overlord arrives in America, is stripped of his signature beard, and is mistaken for an illegal immigrant. All manner of poor taste hijinx must ensue - it’s Sacha Baron Cohen after all. The trailer speaks to this proposed change, and it does look promising.
A film about the invention of the vibrator? Set in Victorian England and featuring a cast of first rate UK thesps. Only those masterminds over in Britain could get away with something so… snarky. Hugh Dancy plays a doctor trying to ‘cure’ the commonly misconstrued and misdiagnosed illness in women nicknamed ‘female hysteria’. In the name of advancing medical science, he initiates a kind of carnal revolution. Of course, everything is very tasteful and above board. Still, it seems surreal that one of the most popular and permanent fixtures in bedrooms around the world was first thought of and fabricated in the 1800s.
It was only a matter of time before the principles behind this underwhelming franchise came back for thirds. After all, no one has been blown away by the career choices made by superstar Will Smith, Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones, and MIA director Barry Sonnenfeld… and this time, the desperation really shows. How else do you explain a narrative involving time travel and Josh Brolin as a 1969 version of Agent K.? Of course, the introduction of 3D is also a problem, even if Sonnenfeld believes in its power to place audience directly into the action (he praised the technology in a recent interview).
Believe it or not, it’s been five years since Wes Anderson made a live action film. His last effort was the wonderful stop motion family flick The Fantastic Mr. Fox, while his most recent human endeavor was the excellent Darjeeling Limited, back in 2007. This time, he’s going back to the ‘60s to focus on a pair of underage romantics who steal away to the local woods, causing chaos in their small New England town. Soon, sheriff Bruce Willis and parents Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are on the case. If it all sounds very whimsical and quirky, well, that’s Anderson. He’s a true original.
How do you capitalize on the success of a film made for little money, hyped to the hilt, and simultaneously loved/hated by the always discerning members of the horror fanbase? Well, if you’re Paranormal Activity‘s Oren Peli, you use the historical nuclear meltdown as the famed Russian reactor and turn it into another found footage fright fest. This time, a group of tourists trek to the radioactive locale, only to discover that they are not alone. Lots of shaky-cam scares are promised… and when you consider the weak willed shivers of Peli’s (who merely produces here) previous effort, we can only hope for the best. Or something better, at least.
It’s happened before. The documentary on ‘70s skateboarders, Dogtown and Z-Boys, was turned into the fiction film Lords of Dogtown. Currently, The King of Kong is being refashioned as dramedy as well. So it’s no surprise that the true life story of a rich paraplegic and the Senegalese man hired to care for him would be made into one of those feel-good disease of the week entertainments. What’s perhaps most shocking is that the end result, already released in France, has become a massive hit, garnering huge box office returns and earning the country’s “cultural event of the year” tag. Must be pretty good, then.