[10 September 2008]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
What studio suit thought this was a good idea. With four months to schedule your high priced efforts, you instead unload almost 30 overpriced pictures on an unsuspecting movie audience. Not the kind of argument that wins friends and influences ticket sales. Heck, with the economy the way it is, one wonders if it’s possible for Hollywood to recoup its print costs, let alone any errant advertising dollars. Still, the story will be which one of these titles finally breaks out - and which executives will be canned for their regressive release strategies.
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
Remember how excited everyone was a few years back when Bette Midler was tagged to take on the oversized legend of bestselling smut peddler Jacqueline Susann. And do you also remember how repulsed everyone was when they saw the final pathetic product, the highly fictionalized flop Isn’t She Great. There is a similar cloud of contempt hovering over this “loose” adaptation of Toby Young’s manic memoirs. Not even the presence of geek God Simon Pegg can elevate the potential problems of this story centering on a small time British journalist trying to make a go at a big city New York rag. It all seems so forced.
Rachel Getting Married
Fresh off a recent screening at the Toronto Film Festival, Jonathan Demme’s return to fiction filmmaking (his last few works have been well meaning documentaries) has received some well earned kudos. Comparisons to Casavettes and Altman abound, and the return of Debra Winger to a major studio motion picture is cause enough to celebrate. While the Terms of Endearment luminary is getting her fair shore of awards consideration, it’s her co-star, Anne Hathaway, that’s wowing the critical community. How this will play to a demo down on family dramas as of late will be interesting to see. If anyone can pull it off, it’s the often underrated Demme.
What Just Happened?
Reteaming with Barry Levinson (Sleepers, Wag the Dog), Robert DeNiro also returns to dark comedy in this insider spoof about the filmmaking biz. Based on the book from noted producer, director, and screenwriter Art Linson (Car Wash, American Hot Wax), the plot follows a failed Hollywood hotshot, desperate to get his new film financed and made while going through a literal Hell of a divorce. At one time, Magnolia Pictures was seemingly proud of the end result. They had screenings set up for mid-September. Then, without warning, several of said previews were cancelled, with release information “to be announced later”. That doesn’t bode well for the comedy’s commercial appeal.
Flash of Genius
Greg Kinnear has carved out quite an interesting career for himself. In between more mainstream efforts (As Good As It Gets, Invincible), he tends to take on quirky, outsider titles that test his mantle as both a box office draw and an actor. As with Auto Focus and The Matador, Flash promises another small, intimate effort, this time focusing on Bob Kearns, the inventor who claimed Detroit stole his idea for the intermittent windshield wiper. The vibe created by producer turned director Marc Abraham (Children of Men) goes for a retro throwback to a more nostalgic ‘50s/‘60s ideal. Early word however suggests something minor at best.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Disney defies the intelligence of its audience to offer CGI enhanced mutts making fun of racial stereotypes and cultural clichés. If Mike Myers got grief for going Guru, this pack of pooches should have every Mexican American action committee taking up arms. Even the presence of pabulum producer Raja Gosnell won’t guarantee the House of Mouse a kid friendly hit. Some ideas should definitely stay in development Hell where they belong.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
A post post-modern romance combining New York City night life with standard young adult angst, there are only two things that make this movie worth considering—the casting of Superbad‘s Michael Sera as Nick and the potential ‘queercore’ soundtrack. Otherwise, we liked this improbable love story back when it was High Fidelity. Or Some Kind of Wonderful.
Bill Maher has never made any bones about his contempt for organized religion. Here, he teams up with Borat‘s Larry Charles to create a true ‘mock’ documentary—that is, a fact based dissertation on faith in which the comedian ridicules his dogmatic marks. The trailer suggests the ambush tactics of that famed fictional Eastern European reporter meshed with Maher’s typical Libertarian laments. It will have to maintain a delicate balance less it become more screed than satire.
An American Carol
Taking the other side of the political debate is recent Republican convert (and one of the ZAZ masterminds behind Airplane! and The Naked Gun films) David Zucker. Hoping to take down the man he sees as the root of all liberal evil—Michael Moore—the co-writer/director of Carol adapts Dickens to a Fox News mentality. Featuring Chris Farley’s brother Kevin doing his best Jim Belushi, there are some who suggest there is some actual wit in between all the Neo-Con jingoism.
Body of Lies
What makes this spy story any different than the dozens of genre examples from the last few years? Well, for one, it features Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, and a screenplay from Departed Oscar winner William Monahan. Add to this the presence of one Sir Ridley Scott as producer and director and you’ve got enough star power to light up the darkest Cineplex night. Of course, there are those who saw the filmmaker’s last effort—the crime drama American Gangster—as a failed opportunity given its list of luminaries, and Scott does seem to have abandoned the visionary stance of his earlier films for a more forced, staid stylization. Still, with this caliber of talent both behind and in front of the camera, we’re keeping our filmic fingers crossed.
City of Ember
For his first live action film, animator Gil Kenan has decided to abandon all things Monster House for a trip into the young teen novels of Jeanne DuPrau. Based on the first of The Books of Ember, City tells the story of a dark drenched metropolis that starts losing its only source of light—electricity. It is up to two adventurous adolescents to save the day. With a cast including Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, and Toby Jones, and some positive publicity from this year’s Comic-Con, this may be the one film that beats the dreaded Harry Potter curse—you know, the same box office blight that killed potential franchises like last Fall’s The Golden Compass.
It’s time for another uplifting sports film, once again based on a true if mostly forgotten famous figure. This basic bio-pic follows the story of Ernie Davis, the first African American ever to win the Heisman Trophy (College Football’s highest honor). Of course, there’s the ever-present undercurrent of racism, and the Caucasian coach (Dennis Quaid) who bucks the system to support his socially unacceptable star. Here’s hoping it’s not as hackneyed and hooky as it sounds.
Mike Leigh’s latest has been out in Britain since April, but we are just now getting a taste of his latest improvised marvel. This time, the UK maverick tells the tale of Poppy, an eternally optimistic Pollyanna type and her cheerful interactions with everyday life. Some have suggested it’s a real return to form for the man responsible for Secrets and Lies and Vera Drake. Looking over his recent filmography, such comments are ludicrous at best. Leigh’s never really been away.
One of this Summer’s most effective horror films, Spain’s [REC] is getting remade for American audiences—and so far, the results seem respectful of the found footage fright fest. A TV reporter on a routine night shoot finds herself locked in an apartment building with her cameraman, a group of scared residents, and some authority figures screaming about an “outbreak” of some sort. True terror ensues—at least in the original. Here’s praying the revamp is equally unnerving.
It’s time for another video game adaptation, this time focusing on the popular title from 2001. Featuring Mark Wahlberg as a cop who seeks revenge when his family and friends are murdered, dork nation didn’t hold out much hope for this big screen translation. Once the trailer arrived, however, messageboard debate began with a frenzy. On one side are those suggesting that filmmaker John Moore (Flight of the Phoenix, The Omen) managed to rescue what seemed like a doomed project. Others see the visual finesse and voice over narration and suggest Payne is poised to fail. Either way, they’ve got the potential demo talking which is more than most movies being released this fall can claim.
Ever since it was announced, this Oliver Stone look at the life and high/low times of our current Commander in Chief has been rife with ridiculous speculation. Some have suggested the controversial auteur is simply out to destroy the Republican’s chance at a repeat visit to the White House this election year. Others (who’ve actually read the script) see a similarity between this project and Stone’s previous look at a much maligned leader, his near masterpiece Nixon. With some highly clever casting and a no punches pulled approach, the director states his intent to humanize an already flawed leader. This promises to be October’s most overheated hot button opus.
Someone once said that every generation needs its adolescent sex comedies. The ‘60s had the beach movies while the ‘70s celebrated the cheerleader. The ‘80s leered at bikinis and party girls, while the ‘90s ended on an all American Pie fight. Now comes this under the radar release from novice helmer Sean Anders. Using that ‘oh so hip’ happenstance of the online hookup, our hard up hero (played by Josh Zuckerman) travels across country to meet the WWWomen of his dreams. Naturally horndog hijinx ensue.
Produced by Uncle Walt’s nephew Roy Disney, and directed by first timer Mark Monroe, this documentary centers on the story of the title sloop as it competes in the trying Transpac Yacht Race. With a crew consisting of young people ages 18 to 23, this is the kind of uplifting story that confirms hard work and self esteem can make the impossible seem simple. Of course, there’s always the chance it meanders over into maudlin pap, but that’s the risk we moviegoers frequently face.
The Secret Life of Bees
Based on Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, this coming of age story set in the South during the early ‘60s sees Dakota Fanning running away from her abusive father to visit a small town important to her late mother’s past. With the help of Jennifer Hudson as her housekeeper accomplice, and the fiery Boatwright Sisters (essayed by Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys), our heroine learns of her family history and its cross cultural significance.
Fresh off almost unanimous rave reviews at Cannes (it was a serious contender for the coveted Palm d’Or), the most recent in Clint Eastwood’s impressive late in life renaissance finds Angelina Jolie playing the mother of a kidnapped child. When her boy is finally returned to her, she slowly becomes convinced he is not her actual son. Set in the Los Angeles of the ‘20s, and loosely based on the real life Wineville Chicken Murders, the Oscar winning director has been widely praised for his maintenance of thriller conventions while expanding the visual language of the genre. It seems that the switch from the project’s original overseer (it was developed by Imagine for Ron Howard) did everyone good.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year
The House of Mouse knows which side of their bread the disposable income of post-millennial youth culture is buttered, so it’s back to East High for more pop song and modern dance dopiness. Let’s face it—there is a built in phenom simply agog for the moment this movie opens, and nothing we say here will dissuade said demo from lining Disney’s coffers with green. If Kenny Ortega’s lightweight franchise does anything, here’s hoping it turns tweeners onto the real musicals of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. This jukebox jive can’t hold a candle to the traditions established during the genre’s Golden Age.
Synecdoche, New York
Calling a Charlie Kaufman film quirky is like the pot calling the kettle ‘kitchenware’. But few who’ve seen the screenwriter turned director’s first cut of this film were ready for how abjectly bizarre it really is. The premise alone promises something truly surreal—a theater director decides to build a full scale replica of Manhattan in a warehouse for his latest production—and the clips recently unearthed on the Internet seem to support an outrageous, avant-garde head scratcher. Such overreach can be considered arrogance. Here’s hoping Kaufman can find the right balance between ego and entertainment.
Like Hurricane Season and Rush Week binge drinking, it’s that time of the year again. Time for Jigsaw and his catlike nine(teen) lives to scare up fright franchise dollars with this fifth installment in the neverending scare series. With Darren Lynn Bousman out as director (he helmed Parts 2 through 4) we now get production designer David Hackl behind the lens. This could be the make or break movie for all things Saw.
Anne Hathaway is back, this time as a grief counselor who must work through the conflicting accounts of some plane crash survivors. Just as she makes some manner of headway, her patients start disappearing. Little else is known about this production, except that director Rodrigo Garcia has a long list of credits in episodic television. Whether he can translate his talents to the big screen remains a compelling commercial question.
Pride and Glory
The trailer makes this movie featuring Edward Norton and Colin Farrell as competing cop brothers look like last year’s lame We Own the Night. Now comes word that this New Line leftover may actually be pushed to 2009. Sometimes, the cinematic omens really do predict a film’s financial future.
Wayne Kramer, responsible for 2003’s sleeper The Cooler, retools one of his short films from 1998 into a feature length story of the immigrant experience in America. With a powerhouse cast consisting of Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Sean Penn, and Ashley Judd (among many others), there is a great deal of promise for this kind of multi-layered interlocking narrative. Some are suggesting that the film oversimplifies a very complex problem, while leaving out several segments of the populace that should be front and center. It awaits to be seen.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Rumor has it that Kevin Smith sold The Weinstein Company’s head honcho Harvey on this project via a small scarp of paper with only the title scribbled on it. Now, several months (and a few MPAA battles later), the clever Clerks creator has everything in alignment for a major box office success. He’s got the red hot Seth Rogen and his equally omnipresent costar Elizabeth Banks. The premise suggests lots of scatology and smut, and Smith is known for his wonderful way with words. If it’s anything like Clerks II, we could be looking at one of 2008’s unlikeliest Year End champs.
For a while, it looked like Madonna really did kill Guy Ritchie’s career. After Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and the equally brilliant Snatch, the UK filmmaker gave audiences the godawful update of Swept Away and the equally abysmal Revolver. This time around, however, he seems back on his game, delivering a deft little gangster drama. With 300‘s Gerard Butler onboard, and a supposed superstar making turn by Toby Kebbell as drug addled musician Johnny Quid, we have proof that the Material Girl’s meddling was merely temporary. Thankfully, it looks like Ritchie has remembered what life was like pre-tabloid nuptials.
The Haunting of Holly Hartley
It’s been a while since we had a good ‘the Devil made me do it’ fright flick, and this intriguing release from Freestyle suggests a throwback to the days of Rosemary’s Baby and precarious post-modern Satanism. Our title character is truly disturbed by her mother’s actions when she was a child. After barely surviving a brutal knife attack, she tries to get her life back together at a new school. Still, the visions bring on fears of mental illness—and the notion that her murderous parent may have been working for (or perhaps against) the forces of unnatural evil.