[16 September 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Stoners meet Santa as the famous bong fried duo take on the holiday season in this supposedly final entry in the marijuana soaked series. While not a traditional trilogy, this latest adventure promises to bring our waking and baking buddies full circle, whatever that means. Except lots of drug humor and you’ll be fine. Naturally, Neal Patrick Harris is present to provide substantial cult camp appeal. Similarly, the use of 3D is being both embraced and mocked by the production, creating a kind of meta-commentary on the culture. Perhaps one needs a few recreational pharmaceuticals to truly appreciate the level of wit involved.
With Shrek slinking off to the land of wait and see, it’s time to milk the mindboggling popular franchise for all its ancillary character worth. This time up, everyone’s beloved Hispanic accented cat goes toe to toe with his greatest enemy—public indifference. While recent surveys suggest that this is one of the most heavily anticipated films of the Fall Season, the feline’s ability to take center stage remains in doubt. Even worse, this is a prequel, with events occurring before our suave animal hero met the smelly green ogre. As long as it’s loud, obnoxious, and stays within the typical Shrek strictures, it should be a success.
Isn’t it convenient that two month before their major league comic action movie arrives in theaters, Academy Awards producer Brett Ratner (whose the director here) and star Eddie Murphy have just announced the latter’s gig as Oscars host? Would have nothing to do with drumming up interest in this otherwise suspect heist film, right? With a cast that includes Ben Stiller, Alan Alda, Casey Affleck, and Gabourey Sidibe, there is plenty of promise. But for the most part, the premise seems antiquated (a group of disgruntled building employees plot to rob the rich crook who conned them) and the approach is right out of a high concept crock from 1989.
It centers on the making of The Prince and the Showgirl. It deals with the seven days the superstar spent being escorted around England by assistant director Colin Clark. It supposedly contains a crackerjack performance by Michelle Williams as the fabled blond bombshell. Yet there is the nagging question of “why” permeating this film, a feeling of unnecessary voyeurism given the set-up and situations. As usual, the motive must be to humanize Monroe, to turn her from an indelible sex icon into a regular human being. Of course, there was nothing ordinary about the troubled beauty and no single film can rewrite that reality.
It’s taken a while, but 300 finally has its sequel. No, not really, but from the look of the trailer, visionary director Tarsem Singh is more than capable of mimicking the Zack Snyder/Frank Miller epic. This time around, it’s a battle between gods and the humanity they lord over. The story sounds like a slapdash combination of every mythological allegory you’ve ever heard and the casting is impeccable. Another certainty is Tarsem’s abilities behind the lens. No matter what you think about The Cell or The Fall (wonder why this isn’t called The Immortals), they are breathtaking in their visual approach—and there is nothing wrong with a little violent eye candy now and then.
Here’s the basic problem with this otherwise ambitious film: Leonardo DiCaprio as the title character. Anyone whose seen pictures of the former ferocious head of the FBI will have a hard time imagining one of Hollywood’s most photogenic and handsome leading men as the disgruntled dictatorial toad. On the plus side, DiCaprio has recently found a way to tap into some powerful inner turmoil and rage. Whether or not director Clint Eastwood works in some of the more scandalous elements of Hoover’s life (rumored to included closeted homosexuality and cross dressing) remains to be seen. Still, DiCaprio stands as the chief concern.
Lars Von Trier has never shied away from controversy. However, his recent Nazi-referenced rant at the Cannes Film Festival has even his staunchest defenders reconsidering their support. Luckily, he has his films to refuel any waning accolade—and this latest effort is no exception. Like Antichrist, which juxtaposed a failing family dynamic within a strict fright film ideal, Von Trier is working out another set of interpersonal crisis against a doomsday sci-fi backdrop. As a planet prepares to collide with Earth, a well to do clan clash as well. Hate him or howl at his arrogance, but Von Trier makes engaging films—and this one is no different.
Unless he manages to pull something incredibly clever or genuinely funny out of his ass this time around, Adam Sandler is setting himself up to be one of the most despised performers ever. Even after the ballistic backlash that came with I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, nothing can or will compare to this disgusting drag act. Again, unless he discovers some reason to smile over this swill, we could be watching yet another in a long series of suicidal career moves for the sullied star. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have his stand-up buddies for ‘grown up’ support. He does, however, manage to bring Al Pacino down to his level. How sad.
This could be it. This could finally be the film that earns Gary Oldman his long deserved Oscar. While no one is suggesting he can replace the late great Sir Alec Guinness as the venerable agent George Smiley, a voice as formidable as source author John le Carre has been quoted as calling Oldman the best version of the character he has ever seen. Ever. And when you consider that Tomas Alfredson is behind this update, the man responsible for one of the best horror films of the last 20 years—Let the Right One In—it’s easy to fall prey to the hype. Supposedly, all the acclaim is well deserved.
Ugh. Do we really need to say more than that? After three previous films, we are forced to finish this obnoxious romanticized vampire nonsense in two doses, not one. Narratively, Bella and Edward marry and have a mutant vampire/human baby. Somehow, we have to have a pair of films to explain this all. More concerning, however, is the talent trajectory of the series. The first film was almost unwatchable. The second and third were incrementally better. At this rate, we’d have to be well into the teens before a Twilight film approached something akin to ‘good.’ None of this matters, of course. The rabid fanbase will be there, haters or no haters.
This is what we get instead of more Mad Max. This is the alternative to an epic Justice League movie or anything remotely resembling George Miller’s former action/adventure spark. Granted, audiences just adored this muddled musical take on the world of penguins, and where there’s success (and the smell of additional monies), the sequel machine is never far behind. But instead of coming across as necessary or new, this redundant repeat appears to be a professional placeholder while Miller jerryrigs other stalled projects. If we ever see the Road Warrior again, this cotton candy kiddy fluff will be the reason why—or why not.
Is there a genre that Martin Scorsese won’t try? While his Cape Fear remake was about as close to horror as he has come, he’s done everything from comedy (After Hours) to drama (take your pick), musicals (New York, New York) documentaries, and biopics (The Aviator). This time around, not only is he embracing the dangerous dynamics of the kiddie film, but he’s experimenting with 3D, all of which makes this adaptation of the popular children’s book even more compelling—and concerning. Naturally, we have nothing but faith in the director’s ability to deliver, but in the past, other more serious family fare (City of Ember) has met with audience indifference.
How clever was Disney when it decided to re-launch this Jim Henson property (which they bought in 2004)? Not only did they get Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller of Forgetting Sarah Marshall fame to forge a whole new update for the beloved characters, but the pre-release ads and viral videos have captured the imagination of both old and new fans alike. Even those who would normally not consider the continuing viability of these formidable felt staples are now interested to see where this full blown musical extravaganza reboot is heading. All signs point to a long and prosperous future for these endearing comic creatures.
Just what this stodgy, stuck-up time of the year needs—a little splatter to countermand all the seriousness. Though French fright maverick Alexandre Aja is not back behind the lens, Feast filmmaker John Gulager is taking over, and he’s definitely not afraid to color the Cineplex bright red. The plot also offers some novel intrigue—the deadly fish from the first film find their way into the city’s plumbing—and it’s brand new wet and wild water park. As long as they keep the same cheeky exploitation vibe as the first film (or match the camp of the Corman originals), the demo will dig it.
Alexander Payne is a typical awards season fixture. From his work with interesting actors (Jack Nicholson, Paul Giamatti) to his desire to use novels as his filmic foundation, works like Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways always generate lots of Oscar noise. This take on the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings is no different. Word out of Telluride and Toronto argues for another run at Academy glory… and with Clooney onboard, this could be Payne’s year. Of course, one can always look to Up in the Air for an argument against such early prognostication. By the time this opens in November, we’ll have a better idea of this film’s Year-End fortunes.
A silent movie? In 2011? And one that readily channels an already superior cinematic experience (the brilliant musical Singing in the Rain)? Indeed, early buzz on this festival favorite has critics and audiences head over heels in love with the frilly French import. The byproduct of spy spoof specialist Michel Hazanavicius and shot in stunning black and white, the results have resonated with film fans looking for that elusive combination of entertainment and emotion that seems to be missing from most movies today. While it will be a struggle to find acceptance outside the arthouse, reviews suggest one of the year’s most sunny, sleeper surprises.
Whenever you mess with the Yuletide mythos, audiences usually don’t respond. Everything from Fred Claus to those terrible Tim Allen comedies all try to take the Jolly Old Elf with the bowl full of jelly belly and retrofit him into a cool, contemporary setting. So once again we have an attempt to take a certain Kris Kringle and humanize him (the title character is his son…) while finding a unique way to milk the holiday audience out of some disposable income. Even though it comes from Wallace and Gromit’s Aardman, this looks like the standard CG fluff that Hollywood relies on for box office buoyancy.