[4 June 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Tom Cruise still looks amazing. He also continues to have the kind of box office clout to get a movie greenlit just by adding his name to it. But there is buzz around this town of Tinsel that his latest, a thought-provoking sci-fi tale which is being called Groundhog Independence Day is destined to open “soft” and showcase the fallen superstar’s new level of more grounded, legitimate fame. Whatever the case, we look forward to this film, only because the premise (a cowardly recruit keeps re-experiencing the same day in an all out alien invasion over and over again) sounds like fun.
Otherwise known as Love Story 2014. Hollywood has had a love/hate relationship with the disease of the month movie since Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neil argued over whether or not you have to say a simple word within your otherwise doomed affair. Now we get Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort (her Divergent co-star) as cancer patients who fall in love. Those who know John Green’s YA novel already have their handkerchiefs out, but it will be interesting to see if this story translates with today’s more sophisticated adolescents. Thanks to the crossover appeal of the book, however, one imagines a ‘healthy’ return at the box office.
Bobcat Goldthwait has been on a bit of a roll recently, and it’s not in the professional arena you think. The infamous stand-out who used a kind of psycho Tourette syndrome delivery to sell his humor has taken to making movies, and he’s been wowing critics with such titles as World’s Greatest Dad and God Bless America. Now comes his latest, a weird appropriation of the found footage horror film, this time centering on a search for Bigfoot. While we don’t necessarily need another first person POV style film, the early reviews have been rapturous. It’s no Police Academy 2, but then again, what is?
It seems like, every once in a while, a new name bubbles up in the conversation regarding the future of horror. Ti West has already established himself with cult favorites like House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Now he’s taking on a Rev. Jim Jones like cult in this… yes again… found footage film. Oddly enough, after winning over numerous fans with his first two films (and his work in the anthology V/H/S), West has been criticized for this movie, mostly over his appropriation of the Jonestown Massacre for exploitation/entertainment purposes. On the other hand, the trailer makes it look like a fine fright flick.
Jenny Slate is an actress and comedian with a memorable season on Saturday Night Live as well as stints on Parks and Recreations and Bob’s Burgers. Now she’s branching out into feature films in Gillian Robespierre’s abortion comedy (ummm…oops…Spoiler Alert???). Granted, the movie is about much more than said controversial subject, but both the star and the filmmaker find a way to make it work. Of course, such hot buttons can raise unnecessary controversy. Here’s hoping audiences can approach this film intelligently and not let knee jerk reactions ruin a potentially funny and poignant cinematic experience.
Wonder what Mike “Wayne’s World/Shrek” Myers has been up to recently. Why, he’s directed a documentary about one of the most influential talent agents in any medium. Gordon got his start straight out of college and soon had names like Alice Cooper and Anne Murray among his clients. He even bedded famous women such as Sharon Stone and created the “celebrity” chef. Yet a heart attack left him looking for a deeper meaning to his life, and the answer apparently was this testimonial love fest from clients past and present. It could be sensational. Sounds a bit self-serving.
When you’re Agent Coulson, you can apparently do anything you want. For Clark Gregg, the desire to write, direct, and star in a film about a former child star now acting as an agent for same was just too great to pass up. Bringing together a who’s who of known names - Sam Rockwell, Amanda Peet, Felicity Huffman, Allison Janney, William H. Macy - and going low budget and indie, the results have received generally positive notices. Many who’ve seen it already are calling it very dark indeed. Considering the subject matter, and the man responsible, that’s very good news.
Imagine The Karate Kid as set in a retro styled ‘80s where table tennis, not martial arts, is the nerd superpower that defeats the bad guy. Now add in a lot of Reagan Era nostalgia and a few famous faces (Lea Thompson, Susan Sarandon) and you’ve got something that should score as both spoof and solid sports homage. Some have suggested, however, that writer/director Michael Tully is so in love with the conventions and contrivances of the coming of age comedies from the past that he never finds a way to make them relevant to today’s viewership. They may be right.
We liked the first installment in this franchise a lot, and we also dig the new setting (college spring break). There’s even a moment in the trailer (when Channing Tatum attempts an Hispanic accent with the classic line “My name’s Jeff”) that has us laughing each and every time we see it. But 21 Jump Street did the impossible. It made a mockery of the whole TV show as movie ideal while delivering its own unique brand of laughs. Now directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller will try to trap lightning in a bottle for a second time. So far, they look to have been successful.
In the hierarchy of beloved CG movies, you have almost anything Pixar, a preponderance of Disney, and then How to Train Your Dragon. While it didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (it lost to the equally worthy Toy Story 3), it was considered by many to be the best film of its kind that (or any) year. So of course we are getting a sequel and there is already post-Cannes buzz about it (the verdict: it’s not as good as the first film, but close). One assumes a massive opening weekend for the film. After that…Part 3, perhaps?
Ever since he arrived on the scene with 2010’s Animal Kingdom (centering on the true story of one of Australia’s most notorious crime families - the Pettingills), fans and cinephiles have wondered what David Michod would do for an encore. The answer has finally arrived, and it’s an odd one at that. 10 years after a global economic collapse, the outback of Australia is like the Old West. When he is stolen from, one character (Guy Pearce) vows revenge, and get help from an injured member of the gang (Robert Pattinson) who robbed him. While the response at Cannes was mixed, we can’t wait to see this one.
No, this isn’t the rerelease of the 2007 horror film about a curious noise that turns people into zombies. Instead, we have a slice of speculative fiction in which a group of hackers end up as part of a freaky future shock experiment. It has something to do with alien encounters, or so we’ve been told. While the trailer does look tantalizing, there is a lot that can go wrong with a film like this. Let’s just say we’ll be catching up with it when it hits cable, or perhaps, one of the main streaming services available.
It’s no secret that we LOVED The Last Circus. It was our pick for the best film of 2010. Now the director, Álex de la Iglesia is back with another insane looking extravaganza and we can hardly wait. The premise finds two criminals conducting a heist, only to find themselves hiding out in a forest overrun by cannibalistic witches. Not everyone whose seen this has enjoyed the more fringe elements of its lunatic vision, but if it’s half the film Circus was (which played like Santa Sangre as envisioned by David Lynch and Terry Gilliam) we’re in!
When Breaking Bad ended, Aaron Paul was supposed to become a breakout star…at least cinematically. He had the lead in Disney’s Fast and Furious wannabe Need for Speed and he’s co-starring in Ridley Scott’s Bible epic, Exodus. Then his car chase film tanked and soon everyone was wondering if he really was mainstream star material. This may be the movie that breaks him among filmgoers. It centers on a deadbeat dad who tries to get his youngest son back from government bureaucracy. He must work with his older, delinquent child to turn their lives around. No vehicular mayhem is involved.
Otherwise known as Stephen King’s The Long Walk reconfigured for a low budget horror outing. Here, 80 individuals from all facets of life are lifted from their humble existence and set off on a competition where the rules are relatively simple: If you are lapped twice, you die. If you step off the path, you die. If you touch the grass, you will die. Only one will win. While it sounds like a great idea for a fright flick, writer/director Paul Hough has yet to really prove himself to in the feature film arena. His most famous effort is a documentary on backyard wrestling.
They should really have called this “We Can’t Believe It Made Money Either.” When you consider it’s relatively small budget ($12 million) vs. its eventual return (near $100 million), it makes sense to go back to Steve Harvey’s self-help guide for more battle of the sexes silliness. Besides, Kevin Hart has proven himself a viable box office draw, so why not strike while the iron is hot and tap that underserved demographic for all the greenbacks you can. Perhaps the weirdest thing about this release is that it’s the only major mainstream release for its weekend, outside of an obscure if popular musical.
Speaking of song and dance, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is told in this unique biopic which combines the group’s hits with a story straight out of Goodfellas. As a matter of fact, aside from the actors speaking directly to the camera, the trailer reminds us of all the beats Martin Scorsese uses in his crime epics. Apparently, before they were a pop chart phenomenon, Valli and the gang were part of a (il)legitimate mob scene and there are hints of payola and other graft as well. We love the music. Here’s hoping the movie does it - and its making - justice.
Roman Polanski is back, and before you get the wrong idea about this film, let’s just say that playwright David Ives has found a unique way to deal with an infamous book. Instead of adapting the classic of sadomasochism, he turned the subtext into a two person play about the theater and obsession. Polanski seems to be channeling Robert Altman as of late. His previous film was a take on God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza. This time around, the premise promises even more acting fireworks, and human hysterics. The two person cast, including Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric looks terrific.
2014’s obsession with cinematic doubles hits the indie scene with this festival favorite dealing with individuals at a dinner party who discover a passing comet’s effect on their dimension. Apparently, it’s a solid if slightly talking sci-fi thriller. Writer/director James Ward Byrkit may be an odd choice for this kind of material, considering his major credits include the story for Rango and art department work for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but his eye for detail, matched with a mostly unknown but capable cast, seems to get the job done. There are those who find the film boring and confusing. Others love it.
Paul Haggis is a name that most film fans HATE. After winning Oscars for his racism rant Crash, many wrote him off as a professional pontificator. His next directing effort, In the Valley of Elah, didn’t change many opinions. Now he’s back with a trio of interlocking stories all dealing with how a third party within interpersonal relations (marriage, custody battles, crisis) can add or subtract from the struggle. There’s a great cast and some intriguing storylines, but when it comes to Haggis himself, we are always suspicious. When he worked with Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Flag of Our Fathers) he was fine. Alone? Well…
Now this is odd. In attempting to look up information on this film, we could not find a recent entry. In fact, we could not find an entry before 2000. That’s because this is a rerelease of French auteur Eric Rohmer’s 1996 romance. Apparently, it never made it to our shores during its initial run and now is being poised as a kind of arthouse alternative to all the CG pyrotechnics taking over the Cineplex. What makes this even more unusual is that Rohmer passed away four years ago. It seems like releasing the movie then, in the midst of memorializing the man, would have been more apropos.
Michael Bay is back. Shia “I am not famous” LaBeouf is not. In his place is Mark Wahlberg as a hard working everyman who just so happens to stumble across a deactivated Optimus Prime in a scrap heap… and it’s a good thing too as, apparently, there is yet another Decepticon threat coming from somewhere. Toss in the geek tweaking Dinobots and you’ve got another busy blockbuster destined to dominate the box office worldwide. While the other films in this franchise are mediocre at best, here’s hoping a new leading man and an infusion of new metal can make the difference, aesthetically speaking.
Perhaps the most talked about film of the Fall and Spring is not some major Hollywood tentpole or strategic starring vehicle. Instead, it’s the ongoing battle over Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi allegory, and distributor Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein’s desire to re-edit the movie for “American” audiences. This isn’t the first time the former Miramax head has clashed with his creative teams. He demanded cuts from such stalwarts as Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York) and beloved titles like Hero and The Grandmaster. Bong has apparently refused, so we will have to see which version arrives in theaters at the end of the month
Aaron Swartz was a maverick. He was a computer programmer, writer, political organizer and activist, taking his cause to the world (and its wide web) before being arrested on charges of fraud (he allegedly broke into and illegally downloaded a bunch of academic journals from JSTOR). After being denied a plea bargain, he was found dead in his Brooklyn, New York apartment. He had hung himself. The story seems rife for retelling. After all, he was involved in developing the RSS feed, co-founded Reddit, an worked fervently against anti-piracy legislation. Hopefully this documentary does Swartz and his legacy justice.
While a fictional biopic, Black Mass, (starring Johnny Depp) is currently filming, Joe Berlinger of the Paradise Lost films has created this documentary highlighting the famous hitman and mobster’s various trials. Bulger’s story is indeed detailed. He was a low level criminal who ended up in prison. After his release, he found a place inside some of Boston’s most murderous gangs. From then on, it was contract killings, a consolidation of power, and the head of his own syndicate. Then the FBI came calling, looking for an informant. Sounds like an intriguing combination of truth and mafia mythologizing.
David Wain’s cinematic output is complex, to say the least. While he tends to focus on comedy, the former member of MTV’s The State has roped in several famous friends including Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, and now Amy Poehler to populate his unusual takes on standard movie tropes. This time around, he is tackling the RomCom, more or less spoofing the genre while offering up his own twisted view on relationships. In this film, Rudd will play a corporate jerk who falls for the woman - Poehler - who owns the candy store he is trying to shut down. Could be hilarious. Could be just another indie misfire.
Now where have we heard THAT before? A young man seeks religious enlightenment and moves to the big city. He befriends a family and is soon taken in by them. Then the torture and torment begin. Highly controversial at last year’s Cannes’ film festival, this German effort is noted for its unflinching look at the violence that occurred (the film is based on a true story) with writer/director Katrin Gebbe focusing on the characters as well. There is a subtext of faith based forgiveness that is hard to take, or shake. Indeed, the main character’s values are often cited as more disturbing than the torment he must endure.