[1 November 2013]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
They have six Oscars between them and dozens of definitive performances. At one time or another they were considered the cream of our Best Actor crop. So how is it that Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline, and Morgan Freeman find themselves in this sloppy, Wild Hogs-like non-erotic older male bonding misstep? Perhaps someone has blackmail material on all four men and threatened to use it unless they starred in this take on The Ha-AARP-ngover. Yes, Douglas is getting married and his “boyz” decide to throw him a bachelor party in Sin City. Geritol inspired hilarity ensues. Groan.
Richard Curtis has a very unique place in British comedy. In collaboration with pal Rowan Atkinson, he helped bring Blackadder and Mr. Bean to life. As a screenwriter, he’s penned The Tall Man, Four Weddings and a Funeral, both Bridget Jones films, and Notting Hill. Now, in the tradition of his beloved Love Actually, Curtis is taking on the story of a young man whose inherited his family’s ability to travel in time. Apparently, this leads to all manner of romantic misadventures. While we have full faith and credit in Curtis and his work, the appearance of cinematic kryptonite Rachel McAdams gives us pause indeed.
How do you thwart a potential Harry Potter like box office bonanza, especially when you’ve got a Star Wars styled fledgling franchise on your hands. Well, if you’re Orson Scott Card, you go on several disgusting anti-gay tirades, telling potential audience members how biased and bigoted you really are. Add in grassroots protests and professional complaints and you’re guaranteeing that turnstile receipts need to be huge before any sequels are discussed. The film itself is a decent bit of speculative entertainment, a video game mentality made into a movie. Sadly, Card’s callous remarks reduce his own output to a joke.
It’s a kid’s film with an agenda, a chance to practice a few PETA positions before sending the kiddies over the river and through the woods. Yes, this weird little family effort wants to teach children that Thanksgiving’s favorite foul is actually the member of some Native American like “tribe” that needs to avoid a kind of comestible genocide. So a pair of modern birds, voiced by Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson, travel back in time to teach the pilgrims about the value in red meats and veggies. All of this might work had the film been funny or inventive. It’s not.
2012 was supposed to be the year of Matthew McConaughey. He starred in five films, with Mud and Magic Mike making the most noise. But it looks like we need to extend his winning streak to 2013 as well. Buzz is building over the laid back actor’s turn as true-life AIDS activist Ron Woodroof who championed the use of non-FDA approved drugs to treat his disease. The twist is that this man was a party boy homophobic who had to learn tolerance in order to take on this dire death sentence. With Jared Leto in drag, early reviews suggest strong acting, so-so storyline.
Keanu Reeves has been absent from the big screen from quite a while. Sure, he’s made a few smaller independent films in the last couple of years, but it’s been over five since he starred in The Day the Earth Stood Still remake and a decade since the last installment of The Matrix movies. Since then, it appears Reeves has become enamored of martial arts, and martial arts movies in general. Next year, he’ll costar in 47 Ronin and then there is this film, which he actually directed. Rumors have swirled around this project since it was announced. Some say it’s unwatchable. Others think it’s terrific. That’s the enigma that is Reeves.
Jared Leto again, this time playing the last mortal on Earth. Apparently, the rest of the world is able to regenerate their cells, and are therefore unable to die. As a novelty, many want to experience life through his dying eyes. So Leto’s character is hypnotized, resulting in a series of fragmented, often contradictory memories. Originally released way back in 2009, this is finally getting a serious theatrical release before disappearing to Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray. Past reviews suggest something experimental and weird. With Leto involved, and the length of time this spent sitting on a shelf somewhere, we’d expect nothing less.
Naomi Watts seems like a nice person. She is an accomplished actress and—we assume—a decent wife to her husband and attentive mother to her kids. She may even nursemaid kittens in her spare time. But one thing she’s not is Princess Diana. Ever since we first saw the trailer for this tacky retelling of the late Royal’s last years, we’ve been struck by how Un-Diana she really is. She barely looks the part, and according to those who’ve seen the film, fails to capture the People’s Princess’ personality. While it’s getting a cursory awards season dump, direct to DVD would have been a better option.
Frankly, we are still suffering from post-Avengers malaise. After you’ve seen these superheroes band together to save the world, do we really want to go back and revisit their individual angst and adventures? Well, Iron Man 3 suggested the answer is “Yes,” and by the looks of this latest installment in the hammer wielding God’s travails, we could be two for two. Yes, Loki is back (apparently, this villain is the most popular Marvel character right now), as is Oscar winner Natalie Portman, so we’re apparently going to tie up some loose ends while dealing with a new form of baddie. And you thought superheroes were just for the Summer.
If it’s November (or, sometimes, December), it’s time for another drama, based on a beloved bestseller, dealing with World War II and the Holocaust. For those who haven’t read Markus Zusack’s novel, it apparently centers on a little girl living with some foster parents who end up hiding a Jewish refugee in their home. From there… well, you know the drill. Indeed, there have been so many movies made of this storyline, about the Nazis and the “Final Solution” that we really don’t need another. Some argue that this particular plot is different. We’ll reserve judgment until the Oscars are over.
Okay, now this is just odd. Based on a young adult novel about a young girl who must survive World War III (yes, you read that right), we have The Host‘s Saoirse Ronan as a New York teenager sent to live with her UK family. Then a nuke destroys London and our heroine is separated from her newfound male cousin boyfriend. And then it gets weird. It’s hard to believe that someone decided to greenlight this “life during future wartime” narrative, but apparently, the book it is based on was very well received. Just remember, it was Stephenie Meyer who hampered Ms. Ronan last time around.
One of two films this Fall dealing with weddings and the guy behind the groom. In this case, we have the sudden death of a best man (Tyler Labine) and his buddy’s (Justin Long) desire to celebrate his life. When he and his bride (Jess Weixler) skip their honeymoon to arrange the funeral, they discover there was more to this fun loving, over the top character than they could possibly imagine. Turns out, there’s a connection to a teenager (Addison Timlin) that no one knew about. The trailer seems to give the entire film away. It this case, it might not matter.
Oh boy…we’re LAUGHING NOW! Yes, this is another in an increasingly long and wholly unnecessary line of subpar spoofs from those (well paid) ministers of mediocre mirth, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Responsible for the repugnant ...Movie franchise (Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie), this one year too late take on The Hunger Games already feels like a failure…and we haven’t even seen it yet. Remember, this won’t be a direct rip, but merely a clothesline for dozens of other lame lampoon targets (wait, is that Nick Fury on the poster? How timely!). Their next target? The Fast and Furious films. Oh brother.
Best Man Movie #2, and this one is a sequel to the 1999 hit by Malcolm D. Lee. Apparently, someone decided that we need to revisit this collection of upwardly mobile African Americans to see how much their lives have changed in 14 years. Granted, a decade and a half ago Tyler Perry was still barnstorming his plays around the US, but ever since the Christian-themed phenom hit the big screen, the underserved black audience has become a powerful demo. We assume this film will be a hit, both because of and in spite of Medea and her man-drag dynamics.
After walking away with an Oscar for his work on the brilliant The Descendants, Alexander Payne is back with a stark, simple story about an old man (Cannes sensation Bruce Dern) and his son (Will Forte) traveling back to the title state to collect on some prize money. As with all road movies, they meet a few fascinating “characters” along the way. The cast is filled out with Stacey Keach, Bob Odenkirk and Rance Howard, among others. As a filmmaker, few can match Payne. From Election to About Schmidt to Sideways, he’s sensational. Here’s hoping this is another winner.
Calvin and Hobbs, along with Peanuts and Bloom County, remains one of the seminal comic strip series of all time. It’s imaginative boy’s adventure tale approach, filled with wonder and a talking stuffed tiger, became a Bible for many in Generations X. So when Bill Watterson decided to end its run in 1995, fans were floored, and ever since then, they have wondered why. Now comes this documentary from C&H devotee Joel Allen Schroeder which tries to track down the reclusive writer. Complete with talking head appreciations, this is like Salinger...only a lot less self-righteous.
Craving more Katniss? Well, here she is, ready to lead the rebellion against her future shock society and end the lethal kid killing spectator sport once and for all. Of course, that’s jumping ahead a bit, but as anyone whose read the books know, this is the moment when our heroine learns about the President’s evil plan, the ‘existence’ of District 13, and the growing uprising. Yes, there’s still the puppy love possibilities with Peeta and the introduction of characters with names like Plutarch Heavensbee and Finnick Odair. Hopefully, new series director Francis Lawrence doesn’t screw this up. This could be epic.
Talk about typecasting. Vince Vaughn in a man who discovers that he is the father of over 533 children. Why? Because, when he was younger, he made a deposit at his local bank…the sperm bank. Based on a hilarious Canadian film entitled Starbuck, that film’s co-writer and director, Ken Scott, is handling this oddball remake, and he’s cast perpetual slacker Vaughn as his reluctant da-da. There’s also a subplot involving a petition to reveal the donor’s name as well as a girlfriend who can’t decide if our hero would make a good father. If she only knew, right?
Who knew Steve Coogan was a screenwriter? The famous British comedian, well known by his clueless alter ego, chat show champ Alan Partridge, crafted many of his timeless TV outings, but aside from something called The Patrol Officer, this is only his third feature film script (he co-wrote with Jeff Pope) and somehow, it landed Dame Judi Dench. The story revolves around a former government official who helps an older woman find the son she gave up for adoption 50 years before. While the set-up sounds overly sentimental, the trailer emphasizes both the true story basis for the narrative as well as that typical British pluck.
Disney has quite the dilemma on its hands. On one side of their business model is the moneymaking steamroller that is Pixar. Even with less than classic product—Cars 2, Monsters University—the animation juggernaut is an ATM for the studio. But then, last year, they nearly matched their partner with the brilliant, bubbly Wreck-It Ralph. Now, they are coming back with a loose adaptation of The Snow Queen and, by all accounts, the House of Mouse has done it again. The initial teaser featured Josh Gad’s goofy snowman character. With the trailer revealing much more, this could be a true Winter treat.
It’s hard to fathom what would be worse, the original attempt to remake this material with Steven Spielberg behind the lens and Will Smith as the man wrongfully imprisoned for 20-plus years, or this take, which sees Spike Lee putting Josh Brolin through some very familiar paces. Nothing can truly compare to the Park Chan-wook original, though the first few trailers show the controversial and outspoken director doing a good job of channeling the Korean hit’s dark, desperate tone. As long as he doesn’t pull any punches, plot wise, this could be one of those rare remakes that works and works well.
It’s time for more ersatz Tyler Perry as the famous black musical based on the birth of Christ. Originally written by Langston Hughes and peppered with gospel-tinged holiday favorites (and a few new tunes), it was hailed as a wonderful pre-Civil Rights artistic statement for the underserved African American community. Now, it looks like an opportunity for Jennifer Hudson to prove that her Oscar for Dreamgirls wasn’t just some “I’m mimicking Jennifer Holiday for Awards Season Accolades” fluke. The setting seems contemporized (the first productions had no specific backdrops) and we’re sure there will be a lot of empowerment and uplift.
For his first film post-Batman and an Oscar for The Fighter, Christian Bale has teamed up with Crazy Heart‘s Scott Cooper and a cast including Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, and Willem Dafoe. While that’s mighty impressive, the potential storyline is not. Apparently, we are dealing with brothers who end up working for a notorious crime ring when one ends up in prison, or something like that. Bale is notorious for picking unusual roles. This one seems right up his eccentric alley, though Cooper’s limited experience as a filmmaker may thwart any entertainment expectations.
So, he wasn’t too old to lead a team of former action heroes into three Expendables battles. He wasn’t old enough to team up with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the boring Escape Plan or with Robert De Niro for the Rocky meets Raging Bull nonsense of next month’s Grudge Match. But according to reports, Sylvester Stallone decided against starring in this self-penned adaptation of Chuck Logan’s novel about a DEA agent defending his family against drug dealers because he was too… Really? Anyway, Jason Statham is the new lead. Too bad Mr. Stallone didn’t think himself too old for Bullet in the Head. He could have saved us all some grief.
The story of how jailed political prison Nelson Mandela went from national criminal to the President of the country that incarcerated him is one that’s both inspirational and very telling. How the minority white rulers of South Africa thought they could keep their growing majority population in check remains a mystery of both policy and personal bias. Based on Mandela’s own autobiography, this potential Academy fave has Idris Elba in the title role, and The Other Boylen Girl‘s Justin Chadwick behind the lens. It too could be very stirring and very complex. Mandela’s story deserves such serious treatment.