[31 August 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Things slow down considerably in the rush to Turkey Day, including the latest from Danny Boyle, the House of Mouse, and the always formidable Harry Potter.
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]
No cinematic season is complete without a CG family comedy, and this time out, Will Ferrell, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, and Brad Pitt are on board for this superhero spoof. Unfortunately, the man behind the horribly mediocre Madagascar films—Todd McGrath—is directing, which means the pointless pop culture references will be flying fast and heavy. Strangely enough, the synopsis sounds a lot like this Summer’s solid animated hit, Despicable Me—without the cloying cutesy orphans, that is. Surely, Dreamworks hopes a little of that movie’s moneymaking magic rubs off on this otherwise questionable effort.
Danny Boyle takes his massive Oscar cred from Slumdog Millionaire and channels it into this true story of an adventurer (James Franco) who ends up trapped under a boulder inside a mountain gorge. For those who remember the much publicized case of climber Aron Ralston and the five days of anguish, followed by the pen knife to arm act that finally saved his life, it seems like a solid idea for this equally audacious director. Apparently, Boyle has been waiting four years to get this project off the ground. Funny what a few gold statues will do to your ability to get difficult ideas greenlit.
While Old School promised gratuitous greatness, director Todd Phillips didn’t really deliver until last year’s comedy smash The Hangover. Now he’s dragging break out star Zach Galifianakis along for another bit of levity, this time co-starring Robert Downey Jr. Michelle Monaghan, and Jamie Foxx. The plot deals with an expectant father and a failed actor on a cross country road trip. While logically it makes little sense, one hopes there will be enough of a rationale to keep Downey and Galianakis riffing and retorting all the way to the laugh bank. Otherwise, this could be one very long jokeless journey.
As we move farther and farther away from the Bush Administration and their various War on Terror dirty tricks, expect to see more movies like this. Indeed, the case of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband’s criticism of the Invasion of Iraq stands as one of the more seedy entries in the entire push to invade. With original Bourne backer Doug Liman behind the lens (how many out there actually remember that he helmed the first of the Matt Damon actioners?) and a solid cast including Ms. Watts and Mr. Penn, this has end of the year accolades written all over it.
An unmanned train loaded with biological and chemical weapons is out of control, headed for a well populated area, and it’s up to a grizzled locomotive engineer (Washington) and his conductor trainee (Pine) to try and save the day. A little over a year ago, it looked like this project would fall apart when the studio tried to lowball director Tony Scott and its Oscar winning star with reduced salaries. Washington got so angry he pulled out. A renegotiation later and he was back on board. The trailer promises some decent nail biting thrills and edge of your seat action. Has the potential to be very good indeed.
Harrison Ford in a comedy? Annie Hall herself as his bickering co-anchor co-star? Rachel McAdams as the production young gun charged with giving their sagging morning news show a meaningful make-over. If it wasn’t for the name as part of the production (J.J. Abrams) and the man in charge of direction (Notting Hill/Changing Lane‘s Roger Michell) we would be more than worried. Add in the past of screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (27 Dresses, Fame) and we are concerned all over again. Here’s hoping that a combination of age and experience helps the otherwise sitcom situations here succeed. Of course, the film was bumped from the Summer to the Fall, so…
Recently, some controversy has sprung up over this alien invasion film with Sony arguing that the Brothers Strause (the directing duo responsible) failed to mention their participation in this film when the studio suggested they work on their own extraterrestrial war film Battle: Los Angeles. There is even talk that the brothers were approached to helm the upcoming Universal epic. Of course, they apparently balked knowing full well they had this project already up and running. As lawyers argue over liability (or the lack thereof), we wait to see if the pair can pull this off. From the trailer it sure looks promising.
Perhaps because it has taken ten years to finally bring all seven of J.K. Rowling’s books to the silver screen. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Peter Jackson was adapting a far more beloved (and seemingly impossible to realize) property to movie theaters worldwide. Whatever the case, the amazing Harry Potter movies are hardly ever mentioned when it comes to lists of the genre’s greatest. Instead, they are viewed as necessary tie-ins to an already wildly triumphant literary legend, very good, but uneven in approach and overall success. With the final book being told in two parts, it will be interesting to see how the fans—and film critics, for that matter—react.
Paul Haggis is one lucky SOB. He has his Oscars from that Best Picture pretender Crash, a couple of Emmys for his work on thirtysomething, and enough industry carte blanche to make any movie he wants. As a follow-up to the awful In The Valley of Elah he has chosen to remake the French film Pour Elle about a married couple thrown in disarray when the wife is accused of murder. Of course, hubby will do anything to free his supposedly innocent wife. With a decent cast (including the very overexposed Crowe) and an solid filmic foundation, this could be interesting. Given Haggis’ track record, however, we’re not counting on it.
Disney is done catering to pre-adolescent boys. In this second animated effort featuring a female heroine (the previous being The Princess and the Frog), the House of Mouse goes CG 3D to update the story of Rapunzel. This time around, a rogue element accidentally enters the lair of our trellised lead, and she hopes to translate said invasion into escape and a chance at being reunited with her long lost parents. Oh, and to add even more frenzy to the fairytale, Rapunzel’s coif has the power to cure - or something like that. While Uncle Walk might scoff at the giggly girl power positioning of the narrative, the first few glimpses of the film look very good indeed.
Cher is back (YEAH!) and she’s bringing Christina Aguilera along for the ride (um…yeah?) in this contemporary take on the small town gal making good genre. In this case, the big voiced superstar plays a country bumpkin who arrives at the Cabaret like Burlesque Lounge only to find the establishment on the rocks. Naturally, her sonorous voice restores the nightclub to its former glory, leading to all kinds of complications for its owner. While it apparently has very little to do with the current revival in actual peek-a-boo skin shows, writer/director Steve Antin seems to be channeling Flashdance and Chicago. Our bet is that there’s more glitz than actual glamor here.
Is the world ready for an erectile dysfunction dramedy? Epic auteur Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Defiance, Blood Diamond, Glory) seems to think so. Using the non-fiction title Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman as a starting point and bringing Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway on as our prescription crossed lovers, this one has oddity written all over it. Some early reviews have actually pointed out the gratuitous nature of the nudity involved, while others have championed the comic chops of the actors involved. Still, do we really need a movie about the cutthroat world of pushing penis stiffening pharmaceuticals? Only in Tinseltown.
Yawn. It’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in yet another high octane action film, this time playing an angry ex-con who goes after the men who wronged him during a heist. The double cross actually cost his brother his life. After a string of family films—The Game Plan, Tooth Fairy, Planet 51, Race to Witch Mountain—fans will be happy to see the beefy ex-wrestler returning to the proto-Arnold stance of his past. Perhaps the biggest problem this film has to overcome is the less than stellar directing style of George Tillman Jr. While solid in standard genres—comedy, biopic—he’s untested in the realm of revenge flicks.
Oddly enough, the title refers to his Majesty’s stutter, not some wonderful moment of oratorical glory. Firth plays the role of George VI, father to reigning British monarch Queen Elizabeth II. When his brother abdicates, the ill-prepared new king must overcome his speech impediment to prove to England that he can rule. Thanks to the radical therapies of Rush’s Lionel Logue, he becomes one of the country’s greatest leaders. Though it has year end frills festooned upon it, here’s hoping the backstage drama behind these royals is more realistic and less reverent.