[31 July 2013]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
As we enter the dog days of summer, we get the summer movie season dregs as well. Still, there’s some stuff to look forward to, including the latest from Neill Blomkamp, a biopic on Linda Lovelace, more Disney cross promotional marketing, and the latest from the almost always brilliant Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost.
It seems like, every once in a while, a film teams up two actors/stars that seem perfect together… that is, until you see their actual onscreen working relationship. By the time you read this, the film will have been screened for critics, but as of now, all we have is the trailer to go by, and from the looks of it, a certain African American superstar doesn’t appear too pleased to be slumming with the former leader of the Funky Bunch. Now, we love Mark Wahlberg just as much as anyone else. From Boogie Nights to The Departed to Ted, he’s been an efficient leading man. Standing alongside Denzel, he looks small and unimportant.
Last year, writer/director James Ponsoldt surprised many an indie film fan with Smashed, his look at alcoholism and recovery among 30-somethings. Now, he goes back a bit further, adapting Tim Tharp’s coming of age novel about a high school senior who only lives “in the now”. When he is befriended by a “nice girl” (Oscar nominee Shailene Woodley) who loves science fiction, he starts to learn that there is more to life than immediate self-gratification. Earning acting nods at Sundance, critics have been equally kind to Ponsoldt for his funny fresh take on the tired teen angst genre. Whether this film can break beyond the arthouse crowd remains to be seen.
Yes, this is another found footage film. Yes, we understand that it’s about a group of astronauts on a privately funding mission to one of moons of Jupiter and, well, you can probably guess what they find there. When you consider that it features District 9‘s Sharlto Copley and the original Mikael Blomkvist, Michael Nyqvist, this sounds promising. When you learn it was shot entirely in Brooklyn on a greenscreen set, such hopes quickly diminish. Still, the critics have been kind, with NASA even adding to the accolades by claiming it’s as realistic as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Moon. Hmmm…
Speaking of District 9, Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to his Oscar nominated future shock epic looks equally amazing. Matt Damon plays a desperate ex-con living on an Earth scorched by poverty and ruination by the privileged. Indeed, said wealthy have taken everything up to an orbiting space station called Elysium, run by an aggressive security secretary played by Jodie Foster. While the trailers have been vague about how the two finally confront each other, we know Sharlto Copley is back as well playing an assassin out to stop Damon’s mission. Sounds like another brilliant combination of speculative fiction and social commentary.
Among the many attempts at turning young adult novels into blockbuster tentpoles (The Spiderwick Chronicles, City of Ember, The Golden Compass), this one apparently remains cheap enough, and did well enough at the box office (only $226 million, though) to warrant a second go round. For those unfamiliar with the fledgling franchise, our hero is a demi-god adolescent who joins up with others of his kind to take on contemporary version of the classic Greek myths. This time around, Percy and his pals go after the famed golden fleece. At least previous director Chris Columbus is out. He hasn’t made a good film since Harry Potter was pre-pubescent.
All you need to know about this film comes from the poster art tag line: “From Above the World of Cars.” For those outside the industry, Pixar’s hugely profitable series about anthropomorphic vehicles is the House of Mouse’s number one seller when it comes to merchandising, so it makes perfect sense to glom onto such success with even more toys for the kiddies to cry for. In this case, Dane Cook (yes, you read that right) voices a competitive little crop duster who dreams of being a real racing plane. Groan, Without Pixar’s input, expect this to be yet another corporate crash grab.
Okay, many already know this but it bears repeating: Jennifer Aniston is critical kryptonite to us. She could appear in the greatest movie of all time, give a performance worthy of Davis, Hepburn, and Streep combined, and we’d still run shrieking from the theater the first time she appears onscreen. Along with the newest member of the ‘Unreasonable Hatred’ Club, Mary-Louise Parker, we would actually pay NOT to see this. Still, the ex-Friend plays a stripper (she’s 44, right?) who agrees to play wife to a drug mule needing a temporary family to make a trip across the border. Jason Sudeikis is the lead. Pass.
We were really interested in this movie, which explains how Linda Lovelace went from relative unknown to porn superstar after appearing in the ‘70s “classic” Deep Throat. We even liked the trailer which had a distinct Star 80 vibe, what with Peter Sarsgaard doing his best abusive suitcase pimp routine. But then we thought about it for a moment and realized that another erotica icon, Ms. Betty Page, was given a less than stellar treatment in the film about her life. Hopefully, documentary directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (who did a great job with Howl, about Allen Ginsberg’s seminal poem) can avoid sensation to discover some truth.
Wow, this is getting BUTCHERED by the critical press. Of course, when you have a director like Paul Schrader (Hardcore, the scripts for The Last Temptation of Christ and Taxi Driver) and a writer like Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, Less than Zero), you can assume expectations would be a bit out of whack. But then the filmmaker went to the press, stating that hiring star Lindsay Lohan may have been the biggest mistake of his career, and apparently, he was right. Most have called her performance “dead” while porn star turned legitimate (?) James Deen is no better. All we can say is “OUCH!”
We loved the first film in all its politically incorrect, violence and curse-word laden glory. Matthew Vaughn did a bang-up job of delivering the delights that made this entire graphic novel adaptation a cut above the standard superhero fare. Jeff Waldow, a relative nobody with some decent TV and film credits is taking over, and while we can’t say we’re happy about the choice, his cast (including a controversy courting Jim Carrey) looks gangbusters. Of course, the usual first film suspects are back. Joining them now are a new group of masked avengers (Battle Guy? Night Bitch) which promise to make this even more anarchic and fun.
So much controversy over something so minor as a title. Apparently, Warner Bros. played the vendetta card when Harvey Weinstein came calling. Wanting to use the “non-Lee Daniels” version of the label, the competing studio remembered his previous bully tactics and said HECK no. We have a short silent film from 1912 with the same name in our catalog. The result was the adding of the director’s name to the marquee, and now apparently, everyone is happy. The story centers on a White House servant (Forest Whitaker) and his observations from Eisenhower (Robin Williams) to Reagan (Alan Rickman). Cue Oscar race.
We LOVE Gary Oldman. We still have a fond place in our cinematic heart for Harrison Ford. We’ll even give Liam Hemsworth a pass for not being his brother, Chris, and for “marrying” Miley Cyrus. The wild card here is Robert Luketic, the director responsible for Legally Blonde, 21, and The Ugly Truth. While he’s never made a wholly awful film (well, that last one listed was pretty terrible), he’s also never made a great one. This time around, we get the standard corporate espionage narrative with Oldman using Hemsworth as a mole inside Ford’s tech giant. The trailer tells us nothing. The release date says everything.
Ashton Kutcher can be funny, in small, self-deprecating doses. On the other hand, he is a miserable actor who’s never really removed from his “aren’t I clever?” smarm. Nothing about the trailer for this biopic of the famed Apple entrepreneur gets us excited about his performance, though we are intrigued to see Book of Mormon‘s Josh Gad here as the oft forgotten Steve Wozniak of the computer titan’s humble beginnings. Since it seems to cover his entire life, we wonder how Kutcher will pull off the latter years when Jobs was sick and still struggling to be the face of the company. We’ll have to wait and see.
At one time, David Gordon Green was considered a indie film savant. His George Washington became an instant addition to the famed Criterion Collection and his subsequent efforts—All the Real Girls, Undertow, Snow Angels—seemed to suggest the film preservationists were right. Then came The Pineapple Express, Your Highness, and The Sitter. Suddenly, his champions wondered if he hadn’t sold out for good. Now he’s back with what many are calling a return to form, a two person character study about guys painting stripes down a country highway. Of course, his next foray into filmmaking—a remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria—is bound to get tongues wagging again.
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck are outlaws on a crime spree when their paths cross with some Texas lawmen. While Ruth is responsible for a near deadly shot, her man Bob takes the blame. While in prison, he learns his love has given birth to a daughter. Desperate to see the kid, he escapes. A big hit at both Sundance and Cannes, this sounds like a nice little slice of aged Americana, something we’ve seen dozens of times before. Hopefully, David Lowery can find a new and inventive way of investing this story with some kind of aesthetic spin. After all, David Lynch did it with Wild at Heart.
First they took on the horror genre. Then they tackled the over the top bombast of the American action film. Now director Edgar Wright and his partners in satiric crime, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, are giving science fiction a run for its money in a bizarre combination of pub crawl and The Stepford Wives. Having already opened overseas, the comedy is receiving raves, which is typical for this talented triptych. On the other hand, Wright’s films don’t always fare well at the box office (right, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World?) and Universal’s decision to release it so late in the season means they either hope it’s a sleeper hit, or have little faith in its financial prospects.
There should be a concrete rule in Hollywood when it comes to attempted franchises forged out of popular young adult novels: if someone as clueless as yours truly has never heard of it, it probably won’t work. After all, you’re tapping into an eager zeitgeist, not trying to create and then capitalize on same. About the only example where this didn’t work out so well was Lemony Snicket. Otherwise, the vast majority of movies like this must rely on crossover, and while the books have been popular, they’re not Harry Potter popular. Of course, the notion of adolescents with special powers might win over a few of the uninformed.
At the beginning of the summer we had the surprise hit The Purge which centered on a dystopian future where, one night a year, all crime was legal. The resulting home invasion effort took its $3 million and has raked in almost $80 million since. We don’t think this similarly themed film will follow suit. For one, it’s being vastly undersold by its studio, Lionsgate. Secondly, director Adam Weingart’s genre resume is a bit wobbly at best (his efforts for V/H/S and V/H/S/ 2 were some of the worst in those otherwise excellent horror anthologies). On the other hand, the film has received decent notices (mostly from the typical dread-oriented websites, though).
Chinese cinema is currently OBSESSED with Ip Man, the martial arts master who would teach Bruce Lee all he knows about kung fu. There’s an already established franchise under the iconic instructor’s name, and now Wong Kar-wai—that’s right, Wong Kar-wai of My Blueberry Nights, In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express, and 2046—is tackling the subject. Bringing famed fight choreographer and wire-fu expert Yuen Woo-ping along to handle the histrionics, the results have been praised as both visually stunning and cinematically exciting. Others have found the characterizations wanting. Still, just to see what Wong does with this material would be worth the price of a ticket.
Nicolas Cage where have you been? Between 2009 and 2012, you made 12 films. Since then, only three? What’s wrong? Paychecks not profitable enough? You’ve started paying attention to the scripts you’re selecting? Whatever it is, it’s good to have you back buddy, and this oddball police procedural seems right up your alley. Cage is an Alaskan cop who partners with the survivor of a serial killer to track and capture the madman. And who is this Hannibal Lecter wannabe? Why, none other than that bastion of bad behavior and evil acumen, John Cusack? First timer Scott Walker wrote and directed this, so we’ll cut the guy some slack. As long as Nick goes gonzo, we’re sold.
Many might known writer/director Joe Swanberg from films like Hannah Takes the Stairs, Kissing on the Mouth, and Uncle Kent. He is the king of what’s been called the “microbudget” indie film. Now he tackles the tale of two Chicago brewery workers—Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson)—who are clearly meant for each other. The only problem is, both are betrothed to others. She is with Chris (Ron Livingston) while he has a gal pal (Anna Kendrick) who is desperate to get married. One imagines many pseudo-mumblecore complications ensue. We’ll just call this one a “catch it on cable” offering and move on.
When it played at SXSW this year, this foster care based film received rabid kudos. Critics couldn’t get enough of this story centering on a dedicated social worker (Brie Larson, of 21 Jump Street and Greenberg) and her interactions with her kids and her long-term boyfriend. Considering the subject matter and its dramatic possibilities, one can imagine that the accolades it has earned so far are indeed well considered. On the other hand, writer/director Destin Cretton creative output hasn’t been that spectacular. Maybe this is that stunning “debut” everyone dreams of. We kind of think it is.
Justin Bieber’s done it. So has Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry. Even the Jonas Brothers tried to show just how “regular” they were by offering up a clever combination of concert film, Behind the Music biopic, and bubbly backstage access. Now it’s time for Britain’s own boy bastards, One Direction, to showcase their seemingly normal existence while make the teen girls wet themselves. The one oddball element is that the movie was directed by Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? , and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold fame. Who knew these flash in the pan adolescent idols mandated a real filmmaker to tackle their tale?
Remember a few blurbs back when we asked Nicolas Cage what happened? Well, we figured it out. Ethan Hawke swept in and took up all the scripts the former anything-for-a-paycheck wingnut was waffling over. First there was The Woman on the Fifth and Sinister. Then another stab at the Before film franchise with Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater. Then he lead The Purge into becoming a sleeper Summer sensation. Now we get this supposed action thriller which sees the actor ordered around by a mysterious man (Jon Voight). Said villain has kidnapped his wife. There’s also a computer savvy teen (Selena Gomez, still trying to break out of her Disney-fied good girl image). Definitely Cage-worthy.
Before heading to TV and the big screen, writer/director John Crowley got his start in the theater. Some might know him from his celebrated 2003 crime comedy Intermission, and he’s worked closely with Danny Boyle to bring some artistic merit back to the British film industry. Now, he’s taking on international terrorism and high profile trials with this look at an mysterious explosion in downtown London and the media/legal circus that results. The title suggests that something caught on surveillance cameras will play a big part in the case. So will co-stars Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall’s onscreen status as ex-lovers and defense counsel. Hopefully Crowley can make this redundant idea relevant.
We’ve been waiting for that promised Brian DePalma return to form for quite a while now. After going all commercial in the ‘80s and ‘90s, he’s been trying to recapture the post-modern mantle he flaunted back during his solid ‘70s heyday. So far, Femme Fatale, The Black Dahlia, and Redacted haven’t been it… and according to critics, don’t expect his latest to reverse said trend. Instead, this pallid remake of the French film Love Crime seems so hellbent on presenting Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace as hot to trot lesbian lovers that the real plot (about a corporate underling who kills her boss and then plots the perfect defense from her jail cell) has been lost.
Kristin Bell has gone a bit batty as of late. She seemed poised to step into the role of blonde backup for some Friend of Apatow comedies, but then she started shacking up with Dax Shepard, made his horrible feature debut Hit and Run, and has since been spied running interference for the upcoming, Kickstarter funded Veronica Mars movie. Now she’s going indie, playing a 30-something reporter from New York City who returns to her hometown and her high school job as a lifeguard. Naturally, she takes up with a tormented 16-year-old. Legal or not, sounds like this movie has a big issue at the center that it’s not about to address.