[31 July 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Marvel has been dominating the superhero movie genre since it decided to take back control of its content and put Robert Downey Jr. in a metal suit. That was six years ago, and since then, competitor DC has been struggling while seeing its rival dominate the box office and critical consensus. It’s only going to get worse after this latest installment in the comic book company’s canon. Taking a group of ancillary characters and turning them into terrific entertainment is one thing. Here, director James Gunn has given Summer 2014 audiences reasons to rejoice. This is one fun, fantastic space epic.
A biopic is only as good as the actor playing the protagonist (or antagonist), and when you consider the character having to be essayed here—the late great hardest working man in show business, soul brother number one James Brown—the odds of failure are even greater. Luckily, 42 star Chadwick Boseman delivers. He captures the essence of this soul funk pioneer without ever falling into cartoon or caricature. The filmmaking, by The Help‘s Tate Taylor, still leaves a lot to be desired, and our lead lip syncs throughout the non-linear recounting of James’ life, but the results are a rousing, foot-stomping good time.
Church, confession, and penance for past/present crimes are the cornerstone for this film from the writer/director of The Guard. Brendan Gleeson is a formerly married priest who abandoned his daughter, after his wife’s death, to dedicate himself to God. A member of his parish plans on killing our lead, arguing that he will murder a good man of the cloth to make up for the sexual abuse he experienced decades ago from a different cleric. Before the fateful confrontation and its implications, Gleeson travels around his small Irish village to try and make sense of both his spiritual and pragmatic callings.
While original Cabin Fever director Eli Roth has nothing to do with this third film in the fright franchise, his newfound obsession with South America makes an appearance here, as we watch a group of tourists run afoul of a virus outbreak in a jungle lab. Naturally, someone survives to bring the disease to America and start the whole blood-splattered backwoods brouhaha of the original 2002 film. Yep, this is a prequel, and early reviews say it’s a gruesome, gory delight. Of course, if you don’t like ample arterial spray, you probably won’t enjoy this gross-out cinematic gala.
James Franco won’t stop until death makes him. He always seems to be doing something; writing poetry, teaching acting and directing classes, appearing on Broadway as well as mainstream movies, and posting provocative selfies all over social media. One of the most intriguing aspects of his drive to be a modern day Renaissance man is his low budget DIY filmmaking. Last year, he delivered an excellent adaptation of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. This time out, he’s bringing a Cormac McCarthy effort to the big screen and he shows a continuing growth as a budding auteur. It’s not perfect, but it shows significant talent and tenacity.
No, this is not a biopic about famed British runner Roger Bannister and his record-breaking efforts of the title. Rather, this seems like one of those minor indie films using a couple of name actors—Oscar winner Kim Basinger and nominee Richard Jenkins—to sell a simplistic coming-of-age tale. It’s your typical sport-oriented narrative, where the athletic endeavor takes a backseat to life lessons, personal reflection, and the sage wisdom of a grizzled but well-meaning coach. Words like “inspirational” and “life-affirming” are part of the festival buzz, though director Charles-Olivier Michaud’s limited oeuvre argues for something more forgettable than fascinating.
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas stick Indiana Jones in a lead-lined refrigerator during the first nuclear bomb test and fans scream about having their childhood raped. Michael Bay, on the other hand, produces this pitiful CG take on the classic comic book “heroes on the half-shell”, complete with wholly unnecessary nostrils, and the outcry has been less than apoplectic. Maybe it’s the significantly lowered expectations that have come from the first few trailers and Jonathan “because Shaun Levy was busy” Liebesman behind the lens. The Rock’s Hercules was predicted to be the big box office bomb this season. Looks like we have a new candidate for said title.
This film takes place in France and focuses on a snooty (and seemingly racist) French restaurateur who revolts when a displaced family decides to open up an eatery across the street from hers. Oprah Winfrey and Steve Spielberg have paired to produce, and Oscar winner Helen Mirren is the feisty female who will stop at nothing to close down her competitor. Some critics have called it cinematic comfort food. Others argue its nothing more than food porn with a decidedly dated message.
We have this because Twister is too subtle for today’s audiences. Indeed, while moviegoers back in 1996 didn’t seem to mind the occasional CG tornado interrupted by silly, superficial storytelling, the makers of this 2014 quasi-update are determined to out disaster the master Roland Emmerich in the whole computer based destruction dynamic. The trailers have absolutely no narrative, just endless scenes of nature doing the 120mph nasty on various buildings, vehicles, and victims. A studio synopsis suggests it’s supposed to be a found footage effort revolving around a bunch of students recording the events and aftermath of a killer storm. Oh, goodie.
Are these kind of movies still a thing? How many have there been now? (The answer, sadly, is five.) Yes, Channing Tatum got his start in Step Up and Step Up 2: The Streets, but since then, these interchangeable efforts have merely been showcases for insanely talented dancers having their efforts mangled by ADD-addled directors. The latest wannabe auteur to sit behind the lens is choreographer Trish Sie, perhaps best known as the mastermind behind OK Go’s “Here We Go Again” and “White Knuckles” music videos. This will be her first feature film, and the narrative promises more fleet footed workouts, this time within a Las Vegas all-star battle.
Okay, so we’ve got an (attempted) suicide which brings a bunch of college friends coming together for a weekend of reconnections, reflection, and dramatic overreactions. Didn’t we already do this three decades ago with a little something called The Big Chill? Of course, both can claim direct lineage to John Sayle’s superior The Return of the Secaucus Seven, but let’s not nitpick. Jason Ritter is the troubled title character, a man-boy whose millennial adult life just hasn’t worked out. After his failed bid for attention, his buddies come together to grouse. Sounds overly familiar and derivative, but who knows? Maybe it can compete with its classic compatriot.
This used to be called The F Word, and no, not for the reasons you think. (Get your mind out of the gutter.) This Canadian RomCom, revolving around the relationship killing “friend” stage (thus the previous title) sees Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliff, trying to remind us that there is more to this 25-year-old than a boy wizard. Actually, he replaced Casey Affleck, who was originally set to star. The script won an award and is based on a celebrated play (which, oddly enough, had another name, Cigars and Toothpaste). How the distributors settled on What If we’ll probably never know.
From the poster art and ambiguous plot description, this looks like a softcore South Korean sex film. Apparently, we have a father and son both vying for the physical affections of a mystery woman while the mother looks on with bitter, jealous rage. Apparently, bloody mayhem ensues. This is from Kim Ki-duk, the same director of the ethereal Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring. And to make matter worse, a single actress (Lee Eun-woo) plays both female roles. Huh? Add in rape, incest, castration, sexual abuse, gore, and a lack of dialogue and you’ve got one bizarre boudoir-oriented bloodbath.
For a long time now, we film fans have known that Sidney Lumet’s classic 1975 crime film, Dog Day Afternoon, was based at least partially on a true story. Now, Drafthouse Films has the documentary to prove it. In this fascinating effort from Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren, we learn of John Wojtowicz, a self-described “pervert” who attempted to rob a bank to pay for his lover’s sex-reassignment surgery. The resulting stand-off resulted in a six year prison term, and a brilliant portrayal by a devilishly young Al Pacino. Apparently, Wojtowicz was influenced to change his life around after seeing Lumet’s take on his tale. Interesting.
While this looks to be a crazy comedy about two friends who take their decision to go to a costume party as policemen a little too seriously (scratch that—way too seriously), there are two words that make this wannabe farce specious at best: Luke Greenfield. The director of such dipstick dregs as The Animal (“Rob Schneider… derpy, derp, derp derp”), The Girl Next Door, and Something Borrowed, is also a co-writer here, so that’s equally problematic. Of course, the trailer and the Twitter-verse would have you believing this is a late in the season treat. The premise does hold promise. The creative team? To be seen.
By now you’ve probably heard that a DVD quality version of this film is already making the illegal download torrent rounds. What you may not have noticed is the overall shoulder shrug produced by that news. Apparently, studio suits are confident that audiences will either turn out in droves to see this continuing series of former action stars go through the mainstream PG-13 motions, or that any international box office receipts will offset the damage done by such a leak. In either case, get ready for more explosions, firefights, and frightening reminders of the kind of meatheads we admired in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Young adult novel potential franchise alert! Lois Lowery’s 1993 novel may have won a prestigious award (the Newberry Medal) and may be part of most middle school reading lists, but that doesn’t mean this utopian turned dystopia is viable motion picture material. Heck, we can list a dozen derivatives of the same concept that came and went with little more than a studio execs job riding on the final performance. Still, this adaptation by Phillip Noyce has been a long-time labor of love for star Jeff Bridges, and it does feature Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, and that grand dame of the thespians, Taylor Swift (no, seriously). So who knows?
It’s loosely based on the comic persona of the late Chris Sievey, an English musician and performance artist. In fact, he gave this film his blessing before succumbing to cancer in 2010. The movie tells the story of a young man (Domhnall Gleeson) who wants to join the eclectic band Soronprfbs, lead by the equally odd title character. Played by Michael Fassbender, Frank never takes off his oversized cartoon head… ever. In fact, our Oscar nominated actor is never seen in this role, and still, critics are raving over his performance. It all sounds very high concept and ...heady. Doesn’t it?
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back, impressive celebrity impressions intact. So is director Michael Winterbottom, and so is the entire English TV series (six episodes) edited down to a single international film release. As the title indicates, our “friends” have taken to the Mediterranean for their latest feeding frenzy and the laconic backdrop is no match for these comedians’ acerbic wit. In fact, it’s safe to say that you could put Coogan and Brydon in a low rent East End dive and they could find a way to brighten it with their humorous repartee. Hopefully, another “trip” is being prepped at this very moment.
For many, Pontypool represents a true post-modern take on the whole overdone zombie dynamic. For them, the good news is that author/screenwriter Tony Burgess is back with another deconstruction of the monster movie ideal, Septic Man. Now, to this purveyor of all things oddball and fringe, the story of a man transformed into a walking crap creature sounds an awful lot like the 2003 indie treat, Monsturd. Others are comparing it to a social commentary-less The Toxic Avenger. (Really?) Consider it a determined diversion from all the big budget bombast being thrown at us this Summer, and you’ll be fine.
Question: How long have we been waiting for this film? Answer: So long that the once daring visual experimentation directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller utilized way back in 2005 looks tired and dated in the light of 2014. Sure, we have little to go on except the tantalizing trailers (and MPAA censured character posters), but nine years is a lifetime in Hollywood. And to make matters worse, one of the highlights of the original neo-noir thriller, Clive Owen, is not back as Dwight McCarthy. Instead, the role will be played by seeming omnipresent Josh Brolin (as a post-facial reconstruction version of the character). Right.
If you aren’t already cried out after The Fault in Our Stars, here’s another young people dying drama to get those tear ducts good and moist. She, Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz), is a musically gifted cellist who falls into a coma after a horrific car accident. He, Adam (Jamie Blackley), is the guitar playing wildboy whom she loves. During an out of body experience, our heroine must decide if she will return to reality and live a life totally different from her previous existence, or slip off into the afterlife. Intense bawling ensues. Since we like Moretz a lot, will cut this claptrap some slack. For now.
Wait, didn’t we just talk about this title a few entries back? A coming of age featuring a dedicated coach trying to teach his troubled players right from wrong? Okay, okay, so it’s not really an uplifting tale of perseverance overcoming adversity. Instead, it’s the true story of the record-setting 151-game winning streak by De La Salle High School Football Team of Concord, California, an accomplishment which lasted from 1992 to 2003. Wow. Jesus himself, Jim Caviezel stars as Bob Landouceur, who retired after winning his 17th State Championship. Sounds like an intriguing story. Save the Last Dance/Coach Carter director Thomas Carter is behind the lens.
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are a gay couple who’ve been together for 39 years. When they decide to get married, all heck breaks lose. The latter loses his job as a Catholic school music teacher, and the pair can no longer afford their New York City lifestyle (because, you know, Catholic school music teachers make a mint). This results in a financially mandated separation, and some supposedly humorous hijinx. Reviews out of Sundance were relatively sedate, though most pointed out the flawless performances of the two leads. Of course, the subject matter couldn’t be more contemporary, though one imagines less politics and more polite interpersonal foibles in the Ira Sachs-directed effort.
He’s written for Becker and The Sopranos and is best known as the guiding light behind the TV phenom Mad Men. Now, Matthew Weiner is trying his hand at feature filmmaking with this tale of a couple of childhood friends who take a road trip back to their hometown when one learns they’ve inherited a bunch of money from his estranged father. Originally, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Aniston were set to star. Now, we get Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Poehler in the leads. Early reviews suggest Weiner delivers on his prickly primetime promise, with some suggesting a breakout career for Don Draper’s creator.
Bruce Willis. John Cusack. Jason Patric. South Korean pop sensation Rain. American rap idol 50 Cent. So why have we not heard about this crime thriller beforehand? Well, Lionsgate appears sheepish about its prospects at the box office, going the simultaneous VOD route during its perfunctory theatrical release. This reeks of a should-have-gone-direct-to-DVD-if-said-format-was-still-a viable-option effort, with the only unusual element being the non-characteristic roles played by the actors involved. We’ve got a crime boss, a man with a vendetta, and a hitman hired to help defend the don from his everyman menace. Guessing who plays what will be the only intriguing element, here.
This sounds a lot like Sex Tape, only a lot, lot smarter. Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) are a couple whose marriage is falling apart. They seek the help of a therapist (Ted Danson) who suggests they spend time at an unusual retreat. What happens there becomes the basis for their renewed emotional bond, as well as some spoiler-specific weirdness. Without going into detail, the “twist” supposedly turns this from a standard RomCom into a real winner. Screenwriter Justin Lader only had a 50 page script from first time filmmaker Charlie McDowell to work from. The rest is pure Duplass and Moss, and from the reaction at Sundance, it’s delightful.
He’s already a cultural icon, thanks in part to his work in the seminal Star Trek TV series. But over the years, George Takei has also become a political powerhouse, using his status as an out and proud gay man to shed light on numerous LBGT issues. This documentary follows his entire life, from his earliest days as a prisoner in America’s Japanese Internment camps to his breakout success as Mr. Sulu. Throughout, Takei exhibits his typical exuberant personality as well as his continuing disdain for a certain starship captain. How he’s avoided being a documentary subject before now is baffling.
If it’s August, especially late in the month, it’s time for Tinseltown to try out a few of its pre-Halloween horror films on the rapidly depleting college age demo (no, they’re not dying, just heading back to classes). In this case, we have yet another found footage fright flick which sees a grieving father on a quest to prove/disprove the existence of God/the Devil and winding up being possessed by a demon in the process. Yeesh. From the looks of this trailer, expect a healthy dose of The Last Exorcism, The Devil Inside, and a bit of Paranormal Activity thrown in for good/groan-inducing measure.
More found footage, this time by someone who has actually excelled at this cinematic gimmick. John Erick Dowdle made his initial macabre splash with The Poughkeepsie Tapes, and followed that controversial film up with his remake of [REC], Quarantine, and the M. Night Shyamalan produced, Devil. All three of those films delivered on their promise, so it stands to reason that Dowdle will make it four for four with this weird look at a group of explorers traversing the catacombs under Paris. Of course, considering its placement in the grand Summer movie scheme of things, that may be wishful thinking. Still, the preview has us intrigued.
What? More horror? Seriously? Anyway, this one boasts Saw editor turned Part VI and VII director Kevin Greutert going James Wan on some silly Southern gothic. What do we mean by the comparison? Well, when you consider that both men are constantly mentioned when it comes to the now dead subgenre known as torture porn, and the latter is a legitimate filmmaker who reinvented the haunted house film with Insidious and The Conjuring, this little PG-13 nod from someone who made their name as part of the gorno franchise makes a bit of sense. Even for confirmed a fright fan like yours truly, however, this is a bit much.
Pierce Brosnan is a former CIA-operative brought in to protect a potential witness against… wait, hold on. Doesn’t this all sound a bit familiar? Especially considering the star and the whole espionage angle? Even with Roger Donaldson behind the lens, this still feels like an attempt by an ex-Bond to recapture some of his previous 007 glory. And it turns out, it is. When he was ousted as the famed British spy, Brosnan decided the title series of books by Bill Granger would be a perfect return to cloak and dagger form. Apparently, The November Man is, since there’s already a sequel in the works.
This Ari Folman follow-up to his 2008 Oscar nominated film Waltz with Bashir will, initially, seem foreign to fans of his engaging aesthetic. We just aren’t used to seeing live action elements in what is typically a high tech animated effort. Soon enough, however, Robin Wright’s alternative reality, in which she sells her likeness to a computer company, which will utilize it in various media projects, returns to Folman’s former pen and ink glory. The surreal sci-fi parable, based on a work by Stanislaw Lem, can be a real head scratcher at times, but thanks to the visual aplomb on display and Wright’s performance, it’s quite compelling.
Considering this film came out in 2013 with enough time to earn a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song, it seems strange that the distributor would wait so long to release it here in America. However, one look at the brain trust behind such a decision, The Weinstein Company, explains everything. Besides, does the US really care about a comedy centering on the story of an English bloke who becomes a country-wide phenomenon thanks to an appearance on Britain’s Got Talent? Okay, we’ll see almost anything featuring fave Julie “Educating Rita” Walters, but this does seem a bit late to the game.
Considering his prodigious output, it’s amazing how few of the late Elmore Leonard’s books have made the transition to the big screen. With more than 40-plus works to choose from (and many of them Westerns) that kind of makes sense. Still, it’s interesting to see this adaptation of The Switch, even if the man behind the camera is a relative unknown. The cast is solid, but we have to mention the inclusion of our own piece of cinematic kryptonite in the form of Jennifer Aniston. She’s enough to keep some of us from ever seeing this otherwise worthy effort.
He was born Mario Fortino Alfonso Moreno Reyes. He was a boxer early on in his career, where his wit often saved him. From there, it was the circus, then the legitimate theater, then film. After changing his name to Cantinflas, he became a Hispanic superstar, though few in the US know him or his work. Now, a biopic has been made, starring Óscar Jaenada as the Mexican icon. Apparently, the story will follow his humble beginnings and feature the moment when Reyes “crossed over” starring in Michael Todd’s Oscar winning adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days. While a documentary might have done a better job, this looks intriguing.