[26 April 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
It’s the most talked about movie of Summer 2009 so far—and the season hasn’t even started. Fox has been doing damage control ever since a supposedly “incomplete” version of this fourth film in the franchise became available online, arguing that the less than stellar results reported were “not the final cut”. While some might argue that this prequel which tells the story of how Hugh Jackman’s comic book character came into being needs all the publicity help it can get, this is not the kind the studio was hoping for. Gavin Hood, who made the highly regarded Tsotsi in 2005 may seem like an odd choice to manage this material, but the images leaked on the web seem to confirm his confidence behind the lens. With an interesting cast and a fanbase still hungry for more mutant goodness, this could be an early hit—that is, if the leak didn’t diminish already overripe expectations.
The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
It’s an interesting concept - take the classic situational set up from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, transfer it over to the post-modern RomCom, and use the premise to show a womanizing cad (Matthew McConaughey) the error of his lothario ways. Sadly, early reports have this Mark Waters effort (he made Freaky Friday and Mean Girls) failing to fulfill the promise in the approach, with a complete lack of chemistry between McConoughey and co-star Jennifer Garner.
Battle for Terra
This 3D CG epic first premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and the reviews have been mixed at best. Some have enjoyed its combination of visuals and strong anti-war messaging. Others have found it lame in comparison to the exemplary efforts of Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks. This critic would gladly give you his opinion except for one thing—Roadhouse Attractions is only screening the title in major markets. Apparently, where he lives, there’s no need for a preview.
The Limits of Control
Jim Jarmusch is back, and like the recent work of a certain Manhattan mensch, his latest effort takes place in Spain. The artist behind such amazing films as Stranger than Paradise, Night on Earth, and Broken Flowers offers what some have described as a crime film married to an existential slice of magic realism. With an incredible cast that includes Isaach De Bankole, John Hurt, Bill Murray, and Tilda Swinton, this should at least be interesting, if not an antidote of the mostly popcorn product to come.
Star Trek 2009
Star Trek 2009
Get ready for the hype. By the time you read this, several “special” websites will have already screened (and reviewed) this J.J. Abrams reboot of the classic sci-fi series, and along with the main trade papers (The Hollywood Reporter and Variety) are declaring it as good as The Dark Knight. Really? If so, it will be quite a coup for Paramount, especially since the studio has been looking for a way to bring back the classic Trek characters without having to go the nursing home route for almost a decade. Apparently, they found the answer, though many among the devoted are voicing concern over the “youthful” approach to the project. Besides, prequels don’t have the greatest track record. Still, the trailer looks amazing, and if said spies are to be believed, Abrams may have ended the race for Best Film of Summer 2009 before it really even begins.
Next Day Air
Talk about counterprogramming. While a certain demographic lines up to see the original adventures of a pre-puffy Captain Kirk, rap video director Benny Boom makes his feature film debut with this crazy crime comedy. When a couple of bumbling hoods run across a shipment of cocaine, they wind up facing the wrath of the intended recipients, the kingpin behind the drugs, and seemingly everyone they come in contact with. Could be hilarious. Could be another sign of Hollywood misunderstanding minority audiences.
Just reading the synopsis of Atom Egoyan’s latest film is enough to make one’s head spin. The storyline focuses on a young boy who uses a French Class assignment as a means of investigating his “fictional” parentage. What he posts on the Internet creates a controversy that may lead to the actual, unsettling truth. As he does with all his films, Egoyan is playing with themes here—identity, technology, fact vs. fiction. It sounds very dense and thought provoking.
Rudo y Cursi
The famed screenwriter brother of celebrated director Alfonso Cuarón, Carlos, gets his shot behind the lens taking on the story of two brothers, living in Mexico, who can’t stop fighting over who is the best professional soccer player. It actually sounds like a comedy, but both the official website and the press materials indicate that it is more dramatic. Early reviews have been favorable. Here’s betting this gets lost in the deluge of Summer fluff.
Angels and Demons
Angels and Demons
First, he took on the supposed biological lineage of one Jesus Christ. It made The Da Vinci Code a multimedia mega-million dollar smash. Now Dan Brown’s back, with a prequel that discusses the Church’s knowledge as to the true origins of life on Earth, and a horrific massacre used to cover it up. Tom Hanks and Ron Howard are returning as well (thankfully, the former has seen a decent hairdresser this time out), and Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgård are on hand to add some thrills to this big budget mainstream adaptation. While the previous movie of Brown’s work was universally reviled as one of the worst of 2006, it did make a boatload of cash. And with Brown working on yet another Robert Langdon title for release later this year (The Lost Symbol, about Freemasonry), we can pretty much guarantee a return to this territory sometime in 2012, right?
This critic has been told that former Friend Jennifer Aniston now makes movies. He’s been informed that she’s been in some rather popular titles—Marley and Me, The Breakup, Bruce Almighty—and that many in the fanbase think she is a fine actress. Sadly, a clear bias against said star makes this reviewer an untrustworthy source regarding this latest leap back toward Good Girl indie cred. It was made by Stephen Belber (Tape). It has Steve Zahn. Still, that Aniston issue…
Foreign films always try to sneak in during the Summer and keep the arthouse crowd from going cinematically stir crazy. Sometimes, it works. Other times, the fare is so obscure that it fails to resonate with even the most devoted outsider film fan. Here we have a Norwegian export from 2007 centering on a retired train driver who some how winds up with a dead doctor’s dog. It all sounds so deadpan and overdrawn. Who knows.
The battle for box office supremacy this particular May weekend will come down to a clash between the future and the past. In this corner is single named McG’s entry into James Cameron’s fabled robot warrior franchise (the first in a proposed trilogy, believe it or not). Featuring everyone’s favorite F-bomb dropping Method ham Christian Bale as the iconic John Conner and a wealth of CG inspired firepower, the story of how humanity fell to the evil machines of Skynet and the people’s decision to fight back has the potential of putting the rather banal Terminator 3 out of everyone’s minds. There’s even rumors that computer technology will be used to bring a certain sitting Governor “back” to the series. Clearly McG can do action. The trailer speaks for his way with spectacle. But there better be more to this man vs. machine thriller than things blowing up. Without any depth, this could be the last stop on this mythos’ big screen journey.
Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian
The other contender for turnstile twisting champ (and the film that will probably win in the end) is the sequel to Ben Stiller’s surprise family hit from 2006. It follows a similar formula (our star winds up working at the fabled Washington museum, and all manner of historic hijinx ensue) and brings back many of the original cast. New this time around are Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart, Jon Bernthal as Al Capone, Eugene Levy as Albert Einstein, and Bill Hader as General Custer, among many others. With original screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant back for another narrative go-round, expect lots of slapstick and simplistic grade school comedy. And with a built in demographic eager for another cinematic babysitter, this should be the perfect alternative for parents concerned about a competing film’s grim, future shock imagery.
Oh no, the Wayans are back and they’ve decided to revisit the stunted spoof style that made them a semi-successful Scary Movie dynasty. This time around, it’s those empowering ‘me against the world’ dance films that have turned wannabe hoofers into gangsters battling for turf, respect, and the honor of their family/friends/fathers/self. Here’s a few things we already know. It won’t be clever. It won’t be funny. And it will probably make a whole coffer full of should-have-known-better cash.
The Girlfriend Experience
Steven Soderbergh has been stirring up controversy with his latest film ever since a rough cut appeared at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Telling the story of a high priced call girl and her encounters with random people while on the job, this micro-budgeted experiment is said to recall Godard and Bergman. That’s some pretty high minded company, especially when you consider that real life porn star Sasha Grey was handpicked to take on the lead. Here’s hoping Soderbergh pulls this off. Even his failures are fun to watch—sometimes.
It’s a period piece based on Noël Coward’s play of the same name. The last time it was adapted was in 1928 by none other than Alfred Hitchcock. It features a fine cast including Jessica Biel, Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth, and Ben Barnes. And the story is very familiar, even to modern audiences—an impetuous American widow marries a shy English boy and his parents do not approve… well, at least the mother doesn’t. It’s all seems very light and pithy.
Is this the one? Is this the Pixar film which finally provides a chink in the otherwise flawless armor of the Northern California hit factory. Granted, every time the minds behind Toy Story and Cars are questioned about their latest endeavor (A mouse that wants to be a chef? A lonely robot on a desolate destroyed Earth?), they usually end up proving the doubters wrong. This time around, a retired balloon salesman decides to go on one last adventure, and inadvertently takes a rotund Boy Scout along for the ride. Aside from a recent successful screening for Harry Knowles and his pals at Ain’t It Cool News, not much else is known about this movie. Even the trailer does the typical Pixar bait and switch. Still, one can’t help but wonder if CG champions can continue on this winning streak forever. Up may be just another animated masterpiece. Or it could be Pixar’s folly—finally.
Drag Me to Hell
Pro: Sam Raimi, Mr. Evil Dead himself, is back doing what he does best: out and out old school horror. Con: the film is supposedly shooting for a PG-13 rating. Pro: those who have already seen it swear it is a new creepshow classic. Con: it’s PG-13. Look, let’s face it. When someone like Raimi returns to his roots to deliver a demonic tale of witchcraft, curses, and a literal journey into the bowels of the underworld, we don’t want it defanged. Yet thanks to certain studio mandates about marketing and macabre success, we are stuck dealing with material suitable for pubescent teens. Joy. Still, if anyone can pull it off, it’s the man behind one of the definitive terror triptychs (and successful comic book franchises) or all time.
Everyone thought Waltz with Bashir was a shoe-in to win the 2009 Foreign Language Film Oscar when this little known Japanese effort about a cellist turned mortician walked away with the prize. Since then, American audiences outside the main metropolitan areas have wondered if the Academy was thinking straight when they made this decision. With a gradual roll out across the country, we will soon have our answer. Here’s guessing it will be good, if not great.