[3 May 2012]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
There are several questions surrounding this seemingly “rushed” installment of the prized action franchise. First, why did Matt Damon, perhaps the ultimate thinking man’s spy, suddenly decide to drop out? Why did Paul Greengrass, original praised for this shaky-cam you-are-there approach to thrills, end up directorial persona non grata. Huh? Well, Jeremy Renner is a good replacement and Tony Gilroy—recently responsible for the excellent Michael Clayton and Duplicity—is a good choice for handing things behind the scenes. Whatever the reasons, we either have the start of another terrific triptych, or an entertainment experiment that didn’t work.
Apparently, Arnold’s previous admonishment about getting one’s “ass to Mars” was completely ignored by the makers of this reboot. Instead, Colin Farrell’s version of Doug Quaid will be stuck in a future shock dystopian world where two major reconfigured superpowers battle for corrupt control of the populace. We still get the memory implant, the mistaken spy, the hot wife/assassin (Kate Beckinsale), and Kuato, this time in the person of omnipresent actor Bill Nighy (one imagines no deformed twin attached to Davy Jones’ torso this time around). While the trailer looks promising, this is not really Total Recall. Without Mars, it’s meaningless.
Some are calling it the cousin of Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson—a multilayered, multi-character narrative with intertwining subplots and situations. Others are referring to it as a B-level Babel, or even worse, Crash. Whatever the case, City of God/The Constant Gardener‘s Fernando Meirelles has his work cut out for him, especially if the final result is more of the latter and not the former. In fact, many are complaining about the bland script fashioned by Peter Morgan who seems to do better when he’s dealing with politics (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and not personal issues.
Believe it or not, this kid vid series has been pretty successful. The first installment made over $75 million at the box office (on a $15 million budget) while the sequel topped off at $72 million. So, naturally, a third film was mandated, this time covering two of the books in the successful realistic fiction franchise. Of course, our hero will remain wimpy, his older brother will be a major league pest, our their parents will remain clueless, calculated laugh fodder. While inoffensive and often quite affecting, the Diary films represent the most middling of movie material. Strictly for the wee ones.
It’s interesting that Jay Roach, the man behind such silly comedies as Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Meet the Fockers has found legitimacy in the arena of political theater. His TV movie take on the 2000 election, Recount, won him an Emmy, and last month, Game Change took on the nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice President. Now, he’s stepping back to the big screen and is bringing Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis along for the ride. The story centers on two Southern gents vying for their small town’s Congressional seat. Hopefully, hilarity ensues.
No, this is not a remake of the 2003 RomCom featuring Colin Firth and Minnie Driver. Instead, this sounds like a weird A-list level of TV movie material. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, four Oscars between them, play a couple who need counseling after decades of marriage. They end up in the offices of Dr. Bernie Fields, essayed by Steve Carell. Apparently, his therapy method is “intense” and involves purging both the personal and sexual hang-ups of this ordinary couple. Sounds like an attempt at something a bit more adult, along the lines of Streep’s last major success, It’s Complicated.
The title character lives in a small town where everyone thinks he’s “weird”. When a long dormant witch’s curse revives the local corpses, turning the village into something akin to a Norman Rockwell version of Night of the Living Dead, only oddball Norman can help. See, he’s a “ghoul whisperer”, able to speak to the zombies and prevent them from taking over. The trailer looks terrific, but the pedigree behind the scenes is a bit shaky. Co-director Sam Fell didn’t necessarily set the kid vid world on fire with either of his major directing gigs, Flushed Away or The Tale of Desperaux. Perhaps the mostly macabre material will help.
For its amazing cast alone, the original Expendables holds a special place in many action genre fans’ hearts. The bringing together of so many major icons was an amazing accomplishment. The fact that the film was actually pretty good was icing on the cake. Now, with a bunch of new/old idols on board and Simon West taking on the directing chores (Stallone nixed a return behind the lens), this looks even better than the last. Up front, any film that has Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the company is just asking for our ‘80s direct to video geek to go ape. The rest? Pure adrenalin.
Where do babies come from? Well, if you’re the childless couple in this film, you simply bury all your dreams in the backyard and wait for a good rain. The results: a weird little boy who seems to be made up of plants… or something like that. Sprung from the brain of Ahmet Zappa (the balder son of the late experimental musician Frank) and helmed by Dan in Real Life‘s Peter Hedges, this could go either one of two ways. We are either looking at another Penelope here (Christina Ricci in a pig nose) or something more along the lines of Edward Scissorhands. Here’s hoping for the latter.
Originally, this movie was marketed as the arrival of former American Idol participant Jordan Sparks to the ranks of movie musical greatness (ala her sister in singing, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson). Then co-star Whitney Houston died from an overdose, and now all anyway can focus on is the troubled chanteuse’s final appearance on film. Sad fact is, she could have starred in this remake back in the ‘80s. The fictional story of a Supremes like girl group struggling in Detroit during the ‘60s would have been perfect for Houston’s driven diva personality. Now, her passing renders almost everything else here a filmmaking footnote.
Who knew being a bicycle messenger was so dangerous or controversial. Indeed, this thriller has an equally interesting backstory on top of the already known narrative involving a courier and the dirty cop chasing him around NYC. Apparently, author Joe Quirk wrote a book called The Ultimate Rush which features a rollerblading hero who finds himself pursued by some bad elements of the Big Apple. Naturally, he sued the studio, claiming copyright infringement, able to site similarities in character names, places, and plot points to the script he himself adapted from the tome. The resolution is still pending. The film, apparently, is still being released.
For some reason, August seems to be the resting place for Hollywood’s annual foray into fear. Horror films like The Last Exorcism and the Final Destination franchise love to call the end of Summer home, even when they are less than successful, scare wise. This effort takes a more Paranormal State approach, offering a couple who seek the help of a group of scientists when the title entity infiltrates their home, ruining their lives. And it’s supposedly based on a true story. Whatever the case, we’ll hold off judgment until the official trailer arrives.
Dax Shepard is a slacker named Charles Bronson (are you laughing yet?) who is in the Witness Protection Program. When his girlfriend asks for a ride to LA, he agrees, unleashing both the US government and the baddies he turned State’s evidence against. The chase is on! Yes, it’s a road movie, made even more ridiculous by the insane premise presented. Shepard is also playing both sides of the camera, starring as the lead and lending his talents (?) to both the writing and directing of the film. There is little word on the final result… or much buzz for the project, actually. Could be a solid sleeper. It could also be as bad as it sounds.
Director John Hillcoat made an major impression on audiences worldwide when his revisionist Western, The Proposition, became one of 2005’s unsung treasures. Four years later, he was tackling Cormac McCarthy’s epic The Road... and reducing it to a gritty, grim mess. So now he gets to make up for such mismanagement by tackling the tale of bootleggers in Virginia. The script is also by the Proposition‘s Nick Cave (yes, the cult musician) and stars several excellent actors (Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Guy Pearce). The only downside? The lead is Shia LaBeouf who has yet to prove himself outside a mechanical menace.
The last time the Hebrew evil known as a Dibbick was used in a horror movie, the results were the awful The Unborn. Now, we get a combination of that terrible terror tale and last year’s hit Insidious... sort of. Apparently, a little girl buys a cigar box at a yard sale, unleashing the aforementioned demon. She becomes… well, the title says it all and her parents must battle to win her back. Sounds so familiar that it should feature a campground and a masked killer named Jason Voorhees. Anyway, with August being both a last chance and a dumping ground, we’re betting on legitimate landfill.
The last time we saw Japanese filmmaker Takashi Shimizu, he was jumpstarting a whole new wave of terror with his terrific The Grudge. Now that J-Horror has gone the way of torture porn and the last girl, he’s back bringing shivers to a group of airplane passengers. No, there are no motherf***ing snakes on the motherf***ing craft, just a ghost or something supernatural. Some are even suggesting this is a remake of the classic ‘70s ABC Movie of the Week The Horror at 37000 Feet. The credits are quiet on that account. The trailer tells a different story, actually.