[27 April 2008]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
In the first act of this four-part production, Tinsel Town decides to do some unbelievable front loading. We’ll see the start of a new franchise (hopefully) for Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr., as well as a Matrix-less Wachowskis, the fourth installment in another beloved blockbuster series, along with the second in a proposed seven film arc based on a popular set of children’s novels—and all of this happens in a mere three weeks. Will there be room for independent offerings, or former HBO carnal comedy divas? Who knows? Without a doubt, it’s an interesting way to start the season.
To say that director Jon Favreau has his work cut out for him is an understatement. Here he is, the maker of such marginal hits as Elf and Zathura taking on one of Marvel’s mainstays—and using the action picture canvas as his calling card into Summer season success. Iron Man has had one of the more troubled production paths of the celebrated superheroes. Luckily, the buzz is already big—early screenings have the geeks going ape over the casting (including the incredible Robert Downey Jr. as the mighty metal Tony Stark) and the trueness of Favreau’s vision. And the trailer has offered its own comic book fanboy freak out facets. How mainstream audiences will respond to the rather unfamiliar character (aside from Black Sabbath fans, he’s not that well known) will remain to be seen. Favreau’s effort could be the blockbuster to beat. It could also be the under-performing shape of cinematic things to come.
Made of Honor
Given his previous career as subpar generic John Hughes teen knockoff—Can’t Buy Me Love ring a bell?—the newfound ascension of Dempsey into the ranks of the romantic lead is slightly surreal. Of course, a four year stint as Dr. Derek Shepherd on the hit show Gray’s Anatomy helps, as does a decent turn as Amy Adam’s human love interest in the animated fairytale come to life, Enchanted. How he’ll hold up in this otherwise anemic looking rom-com will all depend on his chemistry with co-star Michelle Monaghan. Advance word is not too promising.
Harmony Korine, the mind behind the scripts for Kids and Ken Park offers up his third take behind the camera (after Gummo and
Julien Donkey-Boy) and the premise looks tempting. A Michael Jackson impersonator is invited by a Marilyn Monroe clone to join a celebrity lookalike commune in Scotland. Themes of identification and hiding from the world are obvious, and the symbolic struggles of fame are present as well. With a stellar cast including Samantha Morton and director Werner Herzog.
Son of Rambow
Will, a young boy living an isolated existence under his family’s strict religious code, befriends Lee, the local renegade outsider. After exposing the entertainment exile to a bootleg copy of the Sylvester Stallone classic, the duo decide to make their own homemade celluloid celebration of the character. Of course, it all has to be kept secret from Will’s faith-led clan. After his less than successful adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this looks like director Garth Jennings big breakthrough.
Will the Wachowski’s ever fully live down the last two acts of their Matrix trilogy? Seems that everything they do—or did—is now measured against those confounding psychobabble sequels. It’s not there fault that expectations failed to mesh with what was purposefully put onscreen. Or maybe it was. Anyway, with its pinball machine color scheme and retro-cartoon compunction, the boys seem poised to take back a bit of their revisionist reputation. One thing’s for certain, this digitally enhanced movie looks amazing. The race sequences recall anime on acid, while the visual cues and directorial flourishes have a firm foundation in the old ‘60s series. Perfectly cast—especially Emile Hirsch as the title character, Christina Ricci as his gal pal Trixie, and John Goodman as the jovial Pops Racer—and overloaded with enticing imagery, this could wind up the film that wipes out the last vestiges of Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity forever.
What Happens in Vegas…
Here’s an original idea (wink, wink). Take a pair of unlikely lovers, give them a drunken night in Sin City, pile on the inebriated nuptials (which no one remembers) and toss in a hefty jackpot. Sounds like a winner, right? Filed under Number 12432 in the standard cinematic formula department, there’s very little hope for this so-called comedy. The casting of Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz as the leads aside, this take on the already tired tagline to the Nevada hotspot seems like an exhausted idea looking for a place to die. Let’s get the eulogy ready, shall we?
How does the combination of David Mamet and Mixed Martial Arts happen? Better yet, what does the Tony winning playwright bring to this world that makes his insights any clearer? Of course, there’s his way with character, and early reports have lead Chiwetel Ejiofor already lining up for his awards season run. But others have pointed to the lack of action, the convolution of the narrative and motivational issues as potential problems.
The French have had a fabulous string of luck with their genre efforts as of late. With Haute Tension, Ils, and Inside out-scarring their American competition, one has high hopes for this Xavier Gens helmed effort. While the story sounds like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by way of a concentration camp (Parisian criminals end up in an inn run by vicious Neo-Nazis), there’s the potential for some potent bloodletting here. Here’s hoping this material is more solid than sordid.
The Tracey Fragments
Current young actress “IT” girl Ellen Page stars in this faithful translation of Maureen Medved’s novel. Taking the book’s monologue heavy foundation and forcing it into a mainstream movie may be tough. Even worse, the subject matter deals frankly with the typical teen angst/dysfunctional family issues. Director Bruce McDonald decides to forgo the normative and employ a vignette heavy, non-linear storytelling style. Many early reviews have pointed to this scattershot approach as the film’s main stumbling block.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Disney seems destined to force all seven of the C. S. Lewis penned fantasy epics down film fans throats—and as long as the movies make as much money as the first installment (2005’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe—$800 million worldwide and counting), the House of Mouse is full steam ahead. Caspian promises to be more action-oriented than its predecessor, with an expanded world and more battle scenes. But the Tolkien-ish nature of the storyline (evil king won’t let rightful ruler reign) may give this sequel an unnecessary sense of déjà vu. It will be interesting to see if this installment draws in as many new fans as old. Those already familiar with the revisionist religious allegory, loaded with good vs. evil elements and numerous talking critters, are already lining up. Other studios clearly view the series as unstoppable. There is nothing else scheduled to open this weekend. Wow.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
This may sound cynical, but something just doesn’t feel “right” about this fourth film in the ultimate ‘80s adventure series. Given George Lucas’ knack for unnecessary undermining and the questionable content already revealed (a main character named Mutt? What, Short Round was too subtle?), one has to pray that a rock solid Spielberg can pull this one out of the approaching abyss. For many blinded by their love of the character and the three previous installments offered, anything featuring this archaeological superstar will suffice. But audiences are also far more sophisticated than they were in 1989, when Last Crusade bowed. Now, we expect more from our action films and heroes, and if there was one thing that was constant about this franchise, it’s the over the top spectacle of the stunt work. Maybe this will work and work well. But don’t be surprised when the negative reviews start pouring in—reluctantly, of course.
What better way to counterprogram the mega-media blitz that will surround the return of an American icon than by giving bad movie mavens something to celebrate in the form of Dr. Uwe Boll. In his long standing tradition of tapping video games for his films, this latest entry is a supposed political satire with the splattery shoot-em-up as its basis. The most shocking thing—some critical responses have actually been good! Maybe there’s hope for Boll after all.
Sex and the City: The Movie
Clearly, someone outside the creative process thinks this is a good idea. After all, the lax standards of cinema should allow the carnal cravings of these contemporary Manhattan minxes to flow in a way that HBO couldn’t, right? Well, not really. Especially since the aforementioned pay cable channel was fairly open in its approach to the well-received series. Still, for those who’ve worn out their DVDs and demand more of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte, here’s your chance to celebrate onscreen what you enjoyed at home for years at a nominal fee. Potential plot points have been leaked all over the Internet—Carrie marries! Someone special dies!—as well as well-reported rumors of cast infighting and personal salary demands. Seems like much ado about nothing, when you really think about it. Still, after four weeks of freewheeling eye candy, there may just be an audience ready for some saucy big city snarkiness.
In a tradition as recent as the fine French film Ils (aka Them) and the ‘70s shocker Last House on the Left, the home invasion as horror show offers several cinematic pros and cons. On the plus side, everyone can relate to having their privacy and personal domain violated. On the negative… well, Funny Games was an ineffectual pile of pompous crap. The recent theatrical trailer tries for unconventional bumps in the night, but unless Bryuan Bertino has mastered the art of suspense, this shocker is set up to stink…and stink bad. Subtlety in scary movies may be making a comeback. The Strangers may hinder the genre redefinition more than help it.
The Foot Fist Way
Sitting on the cinematic shelf for any considerable length of time is never good news, but it looks like this low budget kung-fu comedy just might be the exception to the rule. After premiering in 2006 at the Los Angeles Film Festival, this starring vehicle for solid supporting player Danny McBride may have a tough time finding an audience, especially with the soiled memories of the miserable Kung Pow: Enter the Fist floating in their mind.