[30 August 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
By the look of the calendar—and this list of titles - it looks like Hollywood is out to investigate the horrors of vampires, demon children, alien invasion, and the most evil entity of all—Facebook!
By all accounts, 2010 has been a pretty mediocre year for movies… so far. In the eight months that have transpired, we’ve seen the lingering effects of Avatar‘s billion dollar success (translation: more 3D titles than ever before), a surprise vote of confidence for intellectually challenging, cinematically spectacular popcorn fare (read: Inception), and more than a few miscues (Kick-Ass) and misfires (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). In between, the same filmic flotsam and jetsam ebbed and flowed. The RomCom and CG family genre both underperformed, while action spectacles aimed at the easy to please PG-13 demo keeled over and died. In fact, if the last two-thirds of the calendar have taught us anything, it’s that Hollywood no longer cares about pleasing the masses. While it would be nice, a few micro-managed, focus grouped hits will do just as well. [READ FULL INTRODUCTION]
Ever since it was announced, the Aaron Sorkin/David Fincher collaboration on the founding of Facebook has stirred up its own cottage industry of gossip and controversy. Based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, it focuses on the group of Harvard pals who came up with—and fought over—the idea of the intensely popular website and its eventually moneymaking mechanism. Recently, main Facebook force Mark Zuckerberg came out and claimed the film was 100% fiction, and you won’t find a fan page for the movie anywhere on the group. Either it hits far too close to home, or is more dramatics than direct fact. Either way, we can’t wait.
This is destined to be one of 2010’s most over-considered offerings. Of course, when you decide to remake the critically popular revisionist Swedish vampire masterwork Let the Right One In, you are bound to stir some pointed prose. Helmed by Matt Reeves who turned Cloverfield into a found footage phenomenon and starring up and comers Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Moretz in the leads, it promises to provide more insight into the child vampire/adult dynamic as well as dealing with other subplots left out of the 2008 adaptation. Many in the foreign fright film fanbase just hope that Reeves does right by this material. It’s a large charge indeed.
Nothing shouts “STINKER” louder than a movie made several years ago that has sat on the shelf waiting for a release. This Renée Zellweger thriller, centering on a social worker dealing with a potentially possessed young girl, might smack of the recent Last Exorcism but with Pandorum‘s Christian Alvart behind the lens, it promises to be a lot more potent. Still, there’s a lot of speculation as to why this film has been MIA for so long, and the obvious answer is quality. Here’s hoping there’s more here than a quick Fall Season money grab. Unfortunately, history dictates otherwise.
A spry little independent slasher film with slaughter to spare, the first installment in the murderous misadventures of bayou mutant Victor Crowley was a gory little groove. Now, writer/director Adam Green is back to revisit the pug ugly psychopath, and he’s bringing an army along to fight the find. Reminiscent of sequels like Aliens, the story expands the mythology while giving last girl Marybeth (now played by Halloween honey Danielle Harris) a group of hunters capable of taking down the terror. Of course, the beefy brute will have something splattery to say about such revenge. Arterial spray ensues.
The continuing efforts to make Katherine Heigl the next Meg Ryan continue unabashed, this time with a cloying little effort about unlikely godparents who must come together to care for their suddenly orphaned godchild. Sounds like the makings of a serious drama, until you realize that some of the instant parent stuff is being played for laughs—oversized slapstick laughs. Believing she knows best about where her career should be going, Heigl is an executive producer here. She was also one on the awful The Ugly Truth, which should tell you a little about her decision making process.
Wes Craven is back—though not in the sleazoid exploitation mode than actually made his career. Balancing somewhere between Scream and such post-Nightmare on Elm Street fare as Shocker, we just might have a new horror icon in the making. The Reaper is a fabled serial killer hell bent on murdering the seven children born on the night he supposedly died. The kids, now teens, all know of the campfire tale, but few believe it to be true—that is, until a 3D bloodbath begins. Here’s hoping that Craven can recapture that old school scary maestro magic. The genre surely needs it right about now.
For those of us old enough to remember the important of horse racing to American popular culture, the ‘70s saw three magnificent beasts break through and claim the elusive Triple Crown. In 1973, Secretariat was the first (followed by Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978) and it’s the story of this mythic steed—and its unusual owner, Penny Chenery—that Hollywood has decided to focus on. Writer turned director Randall Wallace (Braveheart) sure has his work cut out for him. Since the outcome of this story is already the stuff of legend, making it more than pretty pictured history will take some doing.
Originally released in the UK last year, this unusual look at John Lennon’s early life (pre-Beatles) is being released in the US to coincide with the 70th anniversary of his birth. Looking at the individuals involved in the production—Control scribe Matt Greenhalgh and artist turned filmmaker Sam Taylor-Wood—one would hope for a visually arresting and psychologically complex look at the soon to be phenom. Early reviews from the UK have been glowing (if more than a little hometown biased) and one can legitimately question Kick-Ass star Aaron Johnson as Lennon. A definite case of “wait and see.”
One of the most notorious films of the ‘80s gets remade in 2010—and then has the gall (or the balls, depending on your horror point of view) to hit theaters unrated. The pro-feminism backlash should be titanic. Still, for some, the story of a rape victim getting gratuitous revenge on the men who violated her has a certain tacky torture porn quality and the promise of no MPAA interference means more of the sex and violence some fright fans crave. Be prepared to be let down, however, as with most movies made in the last decade or so, the inference of prurience usually ends up tepid and tame.
Edward Norton is a convicted arsonist desperate to get out of jail. Milla Jovovoch is his co-conspirator spouse, eager to use her feminine wiles to win her husband’s freedom. Robert DeNiro is the parole officer who becomes the target of their psychological twists and turns. With The Painted Veil‘s John Curran behind the camera, this could be one stellar thriller. On the other hand, the narrative seems a tad pat, and all three actors are reeling from recent career letdowns. Hopefully, they will find their footing. Otherwise, we could be looking at another Incredible Hulk/Righteous Kill/Perfect Getaway situation for the threesome.
Oh boy—this isn’t going to be pretty. No, not the various bodily fluid, bare bodkin, and scatology shots the famed dork daredevils have specialized in over the last few years and not even the countless YouTube hours these slacker stuntmen have inspired. No, now we get to see every feces flinging, testicle crushing moment in the glory of three dimensions. Promising to push the boundaries of both the cinematic gimmick and their standard brain damaged feats, one can only hope that there aren’t too many images of Johnny Knoxville’s junk flying directly at the camera. Talk about duck and cover!
Two time Oscar winner Hillary Swank is back playing another real life character - this time, a poor single mother who puts herself through law school in order to help prove her wrongly accused brother (Sam Rockwell) innocent of a horrific crime. Naturally, the true story of Betty Anne Waters and her efforts as part of the Innocence Project spoils the possible outcome of the plot (just don’t Google or Wiki her name and you’ll be all right). Here’s hoping actor/director Tony Goldwyn can invest this scenario with some heart as well as some smarts. Otherwise, we could wind up with one dull bit of predetermined drama.
Adaptations of obscure comic books have not fared too well as of recent. For every Wanted, there’s been a Jonah Hex. So when ads started playing for this adaptation of Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, DC/Homage imprint, many outside the graphic novel geek community said “Huh?” Even the premise—a former Black Ops expert is forced to rejoin his fellow spies in a last ditch effort to save the woman he loves from assassins - seems borrowed from several, better films. Still, with a cast consisting of Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeeman, and Dame Helen Mirren (oh yeah, and the mediocre Mary-Louise Parker), this could have potential.
It’s been fairly hush hush around the post-production camp for Clint Eastwood’s latest. Even with less than two months before release, few facts are known about this follow-up to his much beloved Invictus. With a script by Peter Morgan, the man behind The Deal, The Queen, and Frost/Nixon, one would expect another taut insider slice of political life. Instead, reports have the script being similar to The Sixth Sense. At least Eastwood is smart enough to bring back Matt Damon as a reluctant psychic who can speak to the dead. Beyond that, everything else about this intriguing effort from the 80 year old Hollywood icon is a big fat question mark.
It’s got a relatively timely storyline—Ben Affleck is a corporate executive who suddenly loses his swanky six-figure job to downsizing. Reluctantly, he agrees to join his brother’s (Kevin Costner) dry wall business. Sadly, writer/director John Wells is not known for his work in feature films. He’s had a celebrated career in TV (including stints with ER, Third Watch, and The West Wing) but there is a major difference between drama on the small screen and the amplified emotions of movies. While his cast seems capable—including costars Maria Bello, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper—one fears too much boob tube and not enough cinematic bravado.
Initially, we were promised that this would be the final installment in the long running gorno scare series. When casting was announced and some familiar faces from previous entries were reintroduced (including original Dr. Gordon, Cary Elwes), it did seem like a solid swansong for a seminal fright franchise. Then rumors began circulating about a 3D update. Then producers mentioned in passing that, indeed, some ideas are being kicked around for Saw XIII. So don’t be surprised if this proposed last gasp is yet another jump start for more jaded Jigsaw shivers.
If horror is indeed cyclical, then we are clearly entering into the found footage stage of the genre. Consider the fact that last year’s massive hit—Paranormal Activity—is offering up its own competing sequel this weekend, and in the last few months we’ve seen REC2 and The Last Exorcism. Still, this seems pulled from the Cloverfield/District 9 school of speculative shivers. The story centers on a journalist who agrees to escort an American tourist through the alien-riddled warzone of a post-Invasion Earth. As long as F/X artist turned director Gareth Edwards delivers on the concept’s promise, a certain home video spook show might have some solid competition.
If you remember the ending of the first film, it’s hard to envision a potential follow-up. Indeed, one character is dead and another is seemingly possessed. Still, Paramount and the suddenly successful Oren Peli are determined to turn this one-off indie hit into a franchise. The only lingering question is “How?” The teaser trailer is truly no help. Apparently, our female frightmare from the original is back to haunt a baby? Or perhaps possess it? Who knows? If it’s anything like the non-event of the initial film, you’re response will be more like “Who Cares?”