[4 May 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
We apparently worship false gods. We adore sitting, enraptured, as mutants and other mysteries of nature battle it out for symbolic superiority (and no, we aren’t talking about an overly buff Vin Diesel taking on an equally muscled Dwayne Johnson for Brazilian back alley bragging rights). Robots rule our lazy, hazy summer days, their transformative powers perking up an otherwise aggressive assault on our senses, and every once in a while, a comedy/drama/kids film will walk by, gaining our interest before another caped crusader comes in to claim its territory. That’s right, it’s blockbuster time again, the annual cinematic assumption regarding what a majority of the mainstream movie-going public will enjoy come the next four months. Sure, it’s a gamble, and sometimes, the lows are more famous than the highs. One thing’s for sure, however, we won’t be seeing another Inception any time soon.
How do you jumpstart a fan favorite franchise when your previous attempt (via Tim Burton) left you with more egg than entertainment on your series face? Well, you wait around a while, let the reputation of your reboot die down, and then take on all comers, concept-wise. The winner is this “origin” story, an attempt to explain how thousands of years from now, the Statue of Liberty ends up halfway submerged in some beachhead. The answer? A noble scientists (James Franco) who introduces a “smart” drug to his test monkey population, turning them into thinking beings - and apparently, pissed-off hater of humans. While the logistics of an ape takeover remain in question, we can’t wait to see how this plays out.
Oh brother…the body switching comedy? Didn’t we get our fill of that back when Reagan was President? Apparently not, since the makers of this proposed laugher have decided that melding said high concept to the new trend toward gratuitous, gross-out low brow gags would be something novel. After seeing the recent Red Band trailer, the combination seems more specious than ever. Jason Bateman is the harried father who wants another chance at bachelor hood. Ryan Reynolds is the free swinging pal he trades with? Okay, we’re a bit interested. Just remember, for every Big, there is a Vice Versa and 18 Again - except this time, there’s dick jokes.
Like the meaning of life (to paraphrase The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), the answer is 27. That’s the response to the title query, the age when Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, et.al, all bought it in the name of making music. What this has to do with a drama involving two musicians - one massively successful, one failed but fulfilled by being a small town teacher - and their eventual reunion is anyone’s guess. Even more intriguing is how Kevin Zegers and Jason Ritter can pull of their roles as rock icons in various states of flux. Whatever the case, this has the feel of filler, something the studios are sticking into the mix to make room for something more substantial later on.
Rachel Weisz does own an Oscar, you know. Many forget she is an award winning actress. Hopefully, something like this real life drama will bring that particular aspect of her performance personality back to the fore. Here, she plays a former peacekeeper in Bosnia who brought a horrific UN sex scandal to light. Of course, those who would prefer such problematic peccadilloes to be keep private made her life a living Hell. It’s the typical thriller/cautionary tale/media outing, with some superb supporting players (Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci, David Strathairn) along for the eye opening ride. Indeed, the casting is only part of this project’s inherent intrigue.
Call us old fashioned - or just old - but the title of this independent film automatically has us thinking about Elton John and his fabulous ‘70s masterwork, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (side three, song three). In truth, it’s the tale of a promiscuous teen in the ‘80s who befriends a gay classmate and, together, the steal away to Los Angeles. He hopes to escape the ridicule of his homophobic father. She wants to find her birth father. This is the first feature film for writer/director Abe Sylvia and he has an established cast (William H. Macy, Mary Steenburgen, Milla Jovovich) to work with. Still, ignore us while we nostalgically hum away…
As his follow-up to the sensational Zombieland (one of the first mainstream undead comedy horror hits ever), director Rueben Fleischer has decided to stay in humor mode, this time tracking the tale of a harried pizza boy (Jesse Eisenberg) kidnapped by criminals and forced to pull off a bank heist. Danny McBride and Nick Swardson are the inept felons he’s “working” for. As with many current laughers, this is a hard R effort which hopefully doesn’t substitute a plethora of F-bombs for a sense of style and wit. We have faith in Fleischer. As for the rest of the cast, the joker jury is still out.
Though based on a successful novel about coming of age in the segregated South, this late season entry has all the makings of a major cultural (and critical) clash. Dealing once again with the ‘60s, civil rights inequities, and how one spirited Mississippi reporter (who just so happens to be white) exposed the working conditions of the antebellum servant class, we have yet another example of the Caucasian leading the African out of the bondage their majority imposed in the first place. The trailer couldn’t be more cloying and condescending, and while the book is beloved, it’s one thing to read about the inhuman treatment of one race by another. Onscreen, it often comes across as cheap and insincere.
Though he’s burned off a bit of his enormous nerd buzz with the near simultaneous cancellation of his In the Mountains of Madness project and participation in The Hobbit, Messageboard myth Guillermo Del Toro still has one apparently frightening ace up his sleeve. Long a lover of Kolchak: The Night Stalker and the ‘70s ABC Movie of the Week, this update of one of that series most memorable films is drawing raves from those who’ve been lucky enough to see it. While Del Toro left the directing to comic book artist Troy Nixey, his imprint is all over this simple tale of a family overrun by diminutive demons. Frankly, we can’t wait.
The first Fright Night was a lot like Scream. It was a self-referential genre film where a young teen battled a belligerent vampire with the help of his knowledge of old scary movies, and the local TV horror host. It gave Chris Sarandon a great role as a suave neckbiter and Roddy McDowell a late in life boost as the aging Elvira. Now, Colin Farrell is our naughty Nosferatu and David Tennant is our boob tube guide. A fan favorite, there is even the added bonus of McLovin’ himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, taking on the role of Evil Ed. Still, it will take a lot to top Tom Holland’s original. It remains a special bit of splatter.
This film is the exact opposite of Captain America for us. Why? Well, it’s not the source. Few remember the literary basis for this muscled marauders adventures (he got his start in short stories, not comic books) and most live action retellings have been haphazard, to say the least. No, it’s because our favorite fright film reimaginer, Marcus Nispel is behind the camera (he of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th remakes). No one finds the serious undertone in otherwise genre junk better than this intriguing former music video director. While the jury is still out on his non-horror efforts, macabre goodwill should carry us through to the end of the Summer season.
Robert Rodriguez is soooooooo frustrating. Instead of getting on with the projects we want to see from him (Sin City 2, a Barbarella remaqke), we are stuck watching him waste his time with more questionable (yet profitable) kid vid fare. This time, instead of a collection of Shorts, it’s back to the franchise that earned him millions in small fry fame. In what has to be seen as a reboot, the former kids of the title, now teens, will mentor a pair of new super spies as they try to take down an evil villain known as The Timekeeper. Except a lot of action and splashy CG eye candy…if little else.
Apparently, the word “final” means very little in the Tinseltown vernacular. After the whopping success of the last installment in this invisible Grim Reaper as Jason Voorhees/Rube Goldberg death machine series, there was no doubt that Hollywood would be hoping for more. This time, it’s the collapse of a suspension bridge that leads our “survivors” to face a one-by-one pick off by the forces of super-nature, and one can envision a lot of blood spattered F/X (and, perhaps, another dose of that dismal visual gimmick, 3D) to get those last few dollars out of ready to return to school pockets.
We’ve got to admit it - Paul Rudd looks fantastic as the burned out brother returning to wreck havoc on the lives of his poor put upon, always more conservative sisters (Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, and Elizabeth Banks). While you know he’s going to continually screw up, he’s so loveable and likeable while doing it. Already earning some rave reviews (thanks to showings at Sundance), this slacker screwball comedy could be the Sleeper the Summer of 2011 is looking for. On the other hand, it could end up being an endearing if underappreciated anomaly of the entire popcorn motion picture party.
How do a pair of writers - Alex Gregory, Peter Huyck - perhaps best known for working on Late Night with David Letterman and Mike Judge’s King of the Hill, end up helming this supposedly salacious comedy about a group of 30-somethings planning an end of the Summer sex soiree? And how do they finagle their way into the director’s chair as well. Whatever the reasoning, this looks like a lo-fi indie response to the bumbling bro jokefests from a few years back, Old School mixed with Shortbus, if you like. Of course, there won’t be any graphic intercourse of X-rated content. There may not be many chuckles, either.
Time to tick off the Awards Season mandates: (1) Important subject matter? CHECK, the narrative revolves around a group of Mossad agents famed for tracking down and killing an infamous Nazi war criminal. (2) Unusual plot twist and development? CHECK, some 30 years later, the supposed dead man reappears and wants to admit his crimes. (3) Famous actors playing the aging assassins forced to go back and finish the job? CHECK, Helen Mirren, Ciarán Hinds, and Tom Wilkinson play the aging individuals. So, why is this being released now instead of in November or December? Miramax, studio manipulation, and money, is all that needs to be said.