[30 April 2008]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Talk about a crowded schedule. There are more offerings scheduled this month than in the previous two combined. How may of these movies will actually make the cut, continuing on during the popcorn parade instead of dropping off and dying during awards season (or God forbid, next spring!) remains to be seen. Even more interestingly, some of the summer’s most anticipated unknowns—new comedies from Seth Rogen and Ben Stiller—are being saved until now. Among the other tempting titles are more big budget speculative action efforts, including the return of an Egyptian icon. What a cinematic side show!
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Just what we needed to start August off with a bang—another mindless sequel of this incessantly silly franchise, only this time around, two key components are totally missing. Steve Sommers, the man behind the whole Mummy movie marathon, is off making his big screen adaptation of GI Joe (oh joy!) and an Oscar has given co-star Rachel Weisz the industry spunk to say “nyet” to another round of this ridiculousness. While the Asian angle may make this a more palatable outing than the whole Scorpion King debacle, director Rob Cohen’s recent track record—The Skulls, Stealth, The Fast and the Furious, xXx - suggests otherwise. It used to be that August was the dregs of the summer season, a place where studios put their destined to underperform losers. Looks like this bandaged bad boy is following in the footsteps of old time Hollywood.
It may not be Fight Club (and frankly, what can be), but Chuck Palahniuk’s novel about a sex addicted swindler who uses the title malady to pry money out of unfortunate restaurant marks could be this year’s underground smash. A resounding success at Sundance, where the Hollywood Reporter declared it “an extreme post-modern fairytale”, this has cult favorite stamped all over it. Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston give knockout performances, and the entire tone is part social commentary, part twisted fantastical farce. Sounds like the perfect combination for a cynical, Generation Hex audience.
Midnight Meat Train
Clive Barker’s terrifying tale of a serial killer stalking the New York subway system has a lot of cinematic potential. There’s the blood and guts element to be sure, but the story also centers on a down on his luck photographer, and the desperate need to make a name for himself in the city’s art community. Helmed by Ryuhei Kitamuram, the moviemaking madman behind the Japanese zombie criminal gorefest Versus, the combination of atmosphere and offal signals some solid urban scares. While Barker is an acquired literary taste, his fright films have typically been pretty good. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.
He’s Just Not That Into You
A sophisticated comedy based on a self-help book? Sadder still, the cast is made up of some solid performers like Jennifer Connelly, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, and Scarlett Johansson. Indeed, in our esteem addicted society where nothing is personal and everything is excused, using some idiots dating tool as a way of creating a series of serio-witty vignettes smacks of creative desperation. Now imagine the mind looking forward to this film. Yikes!
Kevin Costner is a beer swilling bumpkin who learns that the entire Presidential election comes down to his one vote. Right. Apparently, the Electoral College, the Supreme Court, and the entire population of the United States get split 50/50, leaving Almost Larry the Cable Guy as the determinator in chief. We’re laughing already. Unfortunately, it’s not with the film, but at it. Definitely AT it.
Rainn Wilson gets a starring vehicle as an ex-‘80s hair band member who uses his nephew’s high school rock outfit as a means of restarting his career. There’s a great deal of potential here, especially when you take into consideration that The Full Monty‘s Peter Cattaneo is behind the camera, and it was written by Wallace Wolodarsky (of The Simpsons) and Maya Forbes (of The Larry Sanders Show). Now if they can just get the decade-defining music right.
Talk about a pre-emptive push. Message boards have been waxing prophetic about this film since Superbad started its Cineplex domination. As stoner comedies go, this one has a decided dark edge…one amplified by the presence of George Washington/Snow Angels’ David Gordon Green in the director’s chair. Star Seth Rogen once again scripted with Evan Goldberg (with Freaks and Geeks buddy Judd Apatow adding a story credit), and rumor has it that Mr. Knocked Up was supposed to play the role that James Franco is now essaying. But because everyone’s favorite Spidey supporter was so hilarious in slacker mode, the parts were switched. The current trailer looks like Cheech and Chong Piss Off the Wrong Guys, and the violence seems almost antithetical to the whole pot approach. Still, if anyone can pull this off, it would be this cocky creative team. Their track record speaks for itself.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
You know the old joke: this sequel was clearly needed to address all the issues that were raised and yet unresolved at the end of Part One. Number two guarantees more laughs, more tears, and more well-worn dungarees. Online excitement among in-the-known tweens is high, so who knows. This could be one of those unimpressive pictures that still makes the studio a pile of money. It could also fade away without anyone really noticing.
Back in 1996, writer/director Larry Bishop concocted one of the worst films of all time, the mob mess known as Mad Dog Time. Now, over a decade later, he’s back with a Quentin Tarantino approved bow to the biker epic called Hell Ride…and early reviews are equally uncomplimentary. He probably never realized how hard it would be to recreate the sleazoid sensation of ‘70s grindhouse fodder. His Executive Producer could have helped him out with that insight.
It’s probably the Summer’s biggest gamble, a crazy comedy in which one of the main characters surgically changes his RACE to play an African American Vietnam war vet. Robert Downey Jr.‘s Method blackface routine has already got publicity machines percolating, and the rest of the narrative—centering on a group of actors who inexplicably wind up fighting like real soldiers—sounds like Three Amigos mixed with Platoon. Ben Stiller’s name on both the directing and screenplay credits may alleviate some of the qualms. His work behind the lens is usually more solid than the frequently flailing he does in front. And let’s not forget the Tom Cruise cameo that had the famed Scientologist up in arms when the secret was revealed. Of course, no one really cares if he’s playing a fat, balding idiot. Some may consider it typecasting—or at the very least, karma.
Star Wars: Clone Wars
Oh no, here he goes again. Using the already tired medium of CGI, George Lucas is giving fervent fans even more Star Wars revisionism. This time out, we are linking the second prequel (Attack of the Clones) with the horrid last part of the opening trilogy (Revenge of the Sith). Sadly, it seems like any semblance of imagination or invention the franchise had to offer is being sapped away by lame animation and an even worse marketing ideal. Apparently, it’s all a set up for a TV series to start in the Fall. Even longtime diehards are starting to see the man’s money-oriented approach to his legacy. The action oriented trailer (quickly yanked off YouTube after appearing briefly), indicates that everyone associated with this folly believes that an excess of eye candy is all you need to make a movie. At least there will now be an excuse for the horribly unnatural mannerisms of Anakin Skywalker.
Alan Ball’s Oscar for American Beauty remains a well deserved screenplay win. It stands as one of the most insightful looks at suburban malaise this side of Joe Sarno. What he knows about the Arab experience in these United States is questionable at best. Apparently, this film about a sexually frustrated young Lebanese girl has been getting a lot of uncomplimentary buzz for the teen promiscuity angle. Oddly enough, the racial element is not a problem.
Alexandre Aja burst onto the horror landscape with his landmark effort Haute Tension. While some hated the slasher redux, the French filmmaker showed a lot of gumption. Even his remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes was inventive and weird. Now comes this take on the Korean movie Into the Mirrors. If he follows the trend set by fellow countrymen David Moreau and Xavier Palud and their appalling The Eye, we’re in for another fear flop.
The Pang Brothers have yet to prove themselves on our shores. While foreign film fans adore their Eye franchise, their first American feature, the forgettable The Messengers argued they weren’t quite ready to take on the task. Now comes a so-called return to form, offering Nicholas Cage in a remake of their 1999 crime thriller. While the original antihero was a ruthless hitman whose status as a deaf mute made him almost unstoppable, our Hollywood A-lister will indeed get some dialogue. Filming was disrupted in 2006 for a little something called a coup d’état (in Thailand), and early buzz has been fairly mediocre. Action films like this usually don’t do too well toward the end of Summer. You have to hit audiences hard and early before they are overwhelmed with similarly styled efforts. This may be too little way too late.
It wants to be this year’s break out eccentric comedy, a weird amalgamation of high school musical and inspirational teacher sludge. With the talents of Pam Brady (South Park) and Andrew Fleming (The Craft, Dick) behind the scenes, this has a chance. Of course, the already overheated hype could turn audiences off long before this dog day of the popcorn season arrives. It also doesn’t help that nearly a dozen other laughfests will have opened before it. Still, with a sharp cast and an intriguing premise, there could be much more here—wit wise—than meets the eyes.
The House Bunny
Now here’s an original premise (sarcasm alert!)—a dispossessed Playboy bunny runs into a sorority house full of female dorks, and through the magic of make-overs and a philosophy heavy in sexually promiscuous girl power, they learn to be themselves. Now, that’s never been done before, right? Since it’s from the writers of Legally Blonde, it’s time to milk the perky Miss Perfect jokes for all they’re worth. The results look like a decent opening weekend, nothing more.
Emma Roberts, daughter of Eric and niece of Julia, stars as a spoiled brat who gets sent to a snooty British boarding school. Naturally a clash of cultures occurs. Yawn. The only elements of interest here are the interesting cast, and the possibility that some of the standard stereotyping used in these films will be avoided. Early word is not encouraging.
The Accidental Husband
This has to be one of the most convoluted stories ever considered for a film. Uma Thurman is a successful radio talk show host (subject: relationships) who wants to get married. Unfortunately, she can’t. That’s because she’s already hitched to someone she doesn’t even know. Huh? Wait, it gets better. Once she tracks down the title man, she can’t get him to admit the issue. It all sounds so scripted and stupid.
If Under the Same Moon proved anything, it’s that American audiences just aren’t interested in stories about the modern immigrant experience. They love their Ellis Island mythos, but talk about Mexicans, or Koreans, or Cubans and the romance quickly fades. That’s the uphill battle writer/director Wayne Kramer faces here. While the cast contains Harrison Ford, Sean Penn, and Ray Liotta, many have found it preachy and overly liberal. Like Hollywood could produce anything different.
Get ready folks—Mr. Vin Diesel in back in speculative fiction mode, and all dystopian societies shudder at the very thought of his bald-headed heroism. Here, he plays a mercenary escorting a woman to China. Turns out, she carries some magical DNA that a powerful cult can use to create a new Messiah. Sounds legitimate and quite logical. Odder still is the appearance of La Haine and Gothika director Matthieu Kassovitz on the credits. Of course, the source material comes from fellow Frenchman Maurice G. Dantec’s novel, but this just doesn’t seem like the kind of movie he would make. Maybe he’s having a Children of Men/Alfonso Cuaron moment here. On Mr. Diesel’s end, there’s an edge of desperation. He needs another epic action hit. He’s been stuck in flop (Find Me Guilty) and family friendly (The Pacifier) territory for far too long. Whether or not any of this will work remains to be seen.
Drake Bell, fresh off the semi-success of Superhero Movie, returns to the big screen as a prospective freshman tasting the treasures of the university experience for the first time. That means lots of liquor, lots of women, and lots of loud life lessons learned. While the material may seem overly familiar, a smart, updated approach just might make it viable again. Then again, it could be Animal House with less subtlety.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
It’s Woody Allen doing his European ‘thang’ again, this time dragging Oscar winner Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, and Penelope Cruz along for the ride. The story centers on an artist romancing two American tourists. When his ex-girlfriend finds out, all kinds of romantic entanglements ensue. As with most Allen projects, little else is known.