[2 May 2007]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Before we go crowning Judd Apatow as the new king of character-driven comedy, let’s reflect on one thing: his concepts are rather one note. First we had a 40-year-old geek given over to the joys of sex after suffering through three decades of virginity. Now, a hot chick and an uber slacker must endure the pangs of paternity when a one night stand sends biology a callin’. The trailer spends an inordinate amount of time telling us how completely incompatible Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogan are for each other, yet the only way this movie can work –- either as drama or humor –- is to have the dork get the gal in the end. Otherwise, it’s more of the same old Hollywood shtick filtered through the Gen-X demographic. Besides, babies as fodder for funny business feels so… ‘80s. Previews have been very positive though, so we will have to wait and see if Apatow keeps his rep –- or loses his legitimacy after only two films.
Remember when it was a big deal for Kevin Costner to play evil? Long ago, when the Earth was green, Clint Eastwood cast the Dances with Wolves dandy as an escaped convict on the lam from the law (and with a kidnapped child in tow) and Tinsel Town tongues could barely stop wagging. Fast forward 14 years, and now Costner’s playing a serial killer -– and no one cares. Typical of Hollywood’s hype machine, one of the film’s major twists has already been revealed in the ensuing publicity. And preview audiences have been known to giggle at the sight of Mr. Bull Durham turning on the terror. Still, this could be the breakout adult drama of the summer.
You know, if this were 1984, and Burt Reynolds was taking the place of George Clooney, we’d be talking Cannonball Run 2 territory here. Like the old saying goes, where there’s money, there’s retreads, and our astonishing cast of A-list superstars is back for another run through the high tech heist genre. This time out, that debonair thief Danny Ocean rounds up his gang to help right a wrong befallen one of his original 11. And who is responsible for this dastardly deed? Why, none other than Al Pacino. He’s here along with the rest of the red carpet cult of personality to prove that, they too, can act on behalf of a quick payday and a trip abroad. While Stephen Soderbergh can shake his Oscar and defend his continuing fancy with these films as a way of financing his independent efforts, this is one caper franchise that is quickly squandering all the goodwill it has built up over the last six years.
What do you get when you take a computer, a collection of famous voices, a group of anthropomorphized animals -– this time, those box office behemoths known as penguins -– and a really lame premise? Now, before you answer with any of a dozen derivative animated titles that have come out in the last few years, let’s give this crazy creature cartoon a chance. After all, Happy Feet won an Oscar on the wings of these tuxedoed titans, so why can’t the people responsible for the brilliant Toy Story 2 and the inventive Tarzan do the same. Sony thinks they can.
Hostel: Part II
Eli Roth is back for more blood, this time letting the gals get good and gory. The storyline is almost exactly the same, with gender being the only major difference. Still, a lot has changed since Mr. Cabin Fever tweaked the face of post-modern macabre with his so-called ‘violence porn’ paradigm. It will be interesting to see if he can push the concept even further, or if he becomes a slave to his own self-made motion picture mandates.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Clearly a question of the bottom line –- not audience approval -– dictating the terms of a second helping of superhero. In this case, the original Fantastic Four was picked apart by critics, and ended up making a vaguely impressive $154 million at the box office. But with constant cable repeats, brisk DVD sales, and a fanbase still foaming to see the title villain (who really wasn’t all that bad in his counterculture conception four decades ago), Fox found a way to make another adventure fiscally viable. The apologists for the first film will argue that there are much worse comic book movies in the marketplace, but such a comment is the analytical equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. In addition, the original cast is so b-list (with the possible exception of the fetching Ms. Alba) that re-upping their contracts was probably a piece of scale rate cake. Already destined to be one of the first big budget franchises to be remade a decade from now, only the devoted should be preparing to queue up opening week.
The alternative for giving Stan Lee and Marvel more money. Since it appeared at the Toronto Film Festival last year, the web has been buzzing about this delicious black comedy set in the ultra conservative 1950s. The premise is particularly unique –- a young boy must fight his communally conscious parents to keep his pet as part of the family. Only problem is, the title character is a decaying member of the living dead –- and he’s just eaten the next door neighbors. While there is much more to this horror comedy than gore and goofiness, its best to save the social commentary until the film finally hits theaters.
Here’s a question: are adolescent readers, especially those of the female persuasion, still interested in a teenage detective who rivaled the Hardy Boys in wholesomeness and chutzpah? Better yet, are fans familiar with the old school sleuth up for this post-modern reinvention, especially with the manner in which they’ve reconfigured the classic character? Sources are suggesting “No”, on both counts.
How do you make a sequel to a hit movie from four years ago when your chief star won’t commit to the project. Well, you bring up a costar whose had his fair share of success (The 40 Year Old Virgin), look for a script that skirts similar Biblical territory (this time, the focus is Noah and his ark) and start spending. It will be curious to see if anyone actually misses the lost-in-career-transition Jim Carrey, especially since it’s clear that spectacle intends to replace star power in this Great Flood update. Steve Carrell seems perfect for the part of a hapless Congressman suddenly serving God’s plan on Earth. He has the right combination of modern indignation and old school warmth to work both sides of this touch and go tale. Still, how many animal poop jokes and Santa Clause style transformation gags can we tolerate, especially when the denouement needs to be the destruction of the world via water. It has potential, both as a hit, and as a rather major miss.
A Mighty Heart
Believe it or not, Angelina Jolie actually found time, in between all the adoptions and media scuffles, to make a movie. It is her intention this time to tell the story of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and how his wife Mariane reacted to the disappearance and murder of the man she loved. Michael Winterbottom, who used a combination of fact and recreation to bring The Road to Guantanamo to life, promises to stay true to the story, but many are already up in arms about a decidedly white Jolile playing the mainly mixed race heroine.
It’s killer livestock time, and Peter Jackson’s WETA studios are behind the pissed off creatures. When a chemical spill turns New Zealand’s main populace –- sheep, that is –- into raving barnyard badasses with a taste for human flesh, it is up to the rest of the country to react. While some have found the humor hopelessly hokey and lame, others are calling this Shorn of the Dead. Here’s hoping the latter is correct.
Live Free or Die Hard
Bruce Willis is back, and that deafening sound you hear is a collective yawning of a disinterested fanbase. Twelve years is a long time to wait between franchise films, and since this retread smacks of superstar desperation, we’re guessing no one outside Fox was clamoring for the comeback. With technology and computers taking center stage (the plot involves an ‘Internet terrorist’ undermining the US mainframe -– oooo, how Y2K!) and Willis saddled with a smarmy slacker sidekick (in the persona of comic cut-up Justin Long) we have something that vaguely resembles a Die Hard pic, but also something that spans several other lesser action titles, all in service of the ‘must be appeased’ demographics. Adding insult to injury, the director behind those dire Underworld movies -– Len Wiseman -– is helming his first non-genre motion picture. While he may have a knack for spectacle, the trailer tends to tell another CGI story. Perhaps the only good that can come out of this is an end to the series all together.
Brad Bird is a genius. His Iron Giant is one of the great forgotten 2D animated classics, and his Incredibles was the best thing to come out of Pixar –- EVER! So it’s hard to knock his latest effort, even if the recently revealed plot causes one to pause and contemplate possible problems. The story centers around Remy, a gourmet mouse (surprisingly, voiced by comic Patton Oswald) who lives beneath the luxury restaurants of Paris. Desperate to become a chef himself, the rodent befriends a bumbling kitchen assistant, and together they ‘cook’ up a plan. Remy will teach the kid the fine art of cuisine, thereby living vicariously through his human host. Starting to sound a little like the end of 1997’s Mouse Hunt, huh? Well, no matter. Bird is batting 1000, and his clever, carefully chosen narrative concepts promise to keep this CG presentation from being cloying or dull. Here’s hoping he gives us adults as much fun fodder as the wee ones. It remains one of his strongest creative attributes.