[28 April 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
When it was announced that Michael Mann would be going period to take on the story of John Dillinger, and that he was bringing an amazing all star cast along including Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Billy Crudup, and recent Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, film fan tongues started wagging in anticipation. Then the trailer arrived and, for most, sealed the deal. Still, there is something a little disconcerting about seeing 1930s America viewed through the handheld shaky cam lens of a digital camera (Mann went full non-analog back in 2004 with Collateral). Many find it refreshing. Others will feel like they’re watching some time traveler’s high tech home movies. Still, with the group of actors he’s collected, and the lush look of his early century America, Mann may have found a way to have his technology and still produce something spectacular.
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Among film critics, there’s a certain 2D cartoon franchise that gets constantly ridiculed for going back to the direct to video well over and over again. Don Bluth’s Land Before Time holds some kind of record with 13 - that’s right 13! - VHS/DVD spin-off, though it looks as if Fox is preparing to do the same thing with this similarly themed CG series. As the joke often says, this third installment in the Ice Age franchise clearly exists to clear up all the questions raised in 2006’s The Meltdown, and with the addition of every kids favorite prehistoric predator, the cash coffers are guaranteed to be filled with babysitter substitute scratch. Wake us when Ice Age 7: Neanderthal Dance Party hits the big screen.
Oh brother. This critic was not the biggest fan of Borat when it hit theaters back in 2006. Sure, it was funny, but it wasn’t the end all, be all of big screen comedy that every other film geek claimed. Like The Blair Witch Project and, to some extent, Neil Marshall’s The Descent, it was a good film gummed up by a web-based hype machine that couldn’t cool down enough to realize the truth behind the title. So Sacha Baron Cohen’s return to abuse humor is not that highly anticipated around here. Of course, this is just one opinion, and judging by the amount of pre-release foam the recently released trailer is churning up, the faithful are ready to laugh at their own homophobic foibles. With all of his Ali G characters now turned into cinematic stop gaps, it will be interesting to see where the talented UK chameleon goes next. The first stop, of course, will be the bank.
I Love You, Beth Cooper
It’s based on a book by Simpsons’ scribe Larry Doyle, a prize winning novel often described as the anti-John Hughes view of high school circa the ‘80s. And it stars a quality cast of fresh faced newcomers. Heck, there’s even a Greed Decade icon—Chris Columbus—behind the lens. So what could possibly go wrong, right? Well, if you know Hollywood, you realize that no other industry can take a ‘can’t miss’ idea and turn it into an unmitigated, unwatchable disaster. That’s not to say that this film won’t work, but it’s never good to rely on pedigree when the proof is a mere 89 minutes away.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
We’re getting close. The boy wizard and the gang at Hogwarts are only one more book (and, rumor has it, two more movies) away from completing J.K. Rowling’s celebrated publishing phenomenon, and while the original cast is aging gracefully, film fans are getting a little worried. You see, we were supposed to see this sixth movie in the unflappable franchise last November. Then Warner Bros. pulled the release, arguing that an impending actor’s strike (which has yet to happen, by the way) and the overwhelming success of The Dark Knight mandated the move. So while the seventh and eighth films are being prepared by the same individuals behind this one (director David Yates, series screenwriter Steve Kloves), we are finally going to see the storyline which supposedly ‘changes everything forever’. With the success of Order of the Phoenix, and audience anticipation at an all time high, we could be looking at one of 2009’s chart toppers.
(500) Days of Summer
Oh…it’s a play on words. Summer is the name of a character in this anarchic, vignette oriented RomCom. Zooey Deschanel is the title gal, a woman who doesn’t believe in long term commitments. She’s the object of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s affections, and first time feature filmmaker Marc Webb applies a freestyle, experimental approach to the narrative. Dividing this relationship into individual moments, we get in-depth discussion one sequence, a musical number the next. Sounds very quirky and achingly independent. Here’s hoping it works.
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
It’s part of a recent trend—the rest of the world gets a celebrated fright film, and then Americans have to wait six to nine months before the title actually hits our shores. Obviously, our reputation as horror haters proceeds us. Actually, hate is a strong word. We love to dismiss the genre, jumping on the boo bandwagon whenever a new fad—Asian terror, torture porn—comes along to call us out. This old school slasher attempt has been getting good notices. As usual, it will be another three months before we will know for sure.
Animated animals acting like humans? Hasn’t this been done before? Not if you’re mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer. His idea: take a group of highly trained guinea pigs, set them up as the savior of the human race (in this case, protecting the world from an evil billionaire) and then subvert their efforts by forcing them to play house pet. Granted, the concept has promise, even if the saggy screenwriting team of Cormac and Marianne Wibberley (The Shaggy Dog remake, the National Treasure films) are crafting the scenarios. And making matters worse, Oscar winning special effects wizard Hoyt Yeatman (The Rock, Armageddon) is using this as his feature film directing debut. If it all fails, the reasons will be patently obvious. If it works, all kudos to Bruckheimer. With over three decades and dozens of hits in his personal canon, he remains one of Hollywood’s surest bets.
The Hurt Locker
There’s been a lot of good buzz about Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq film since the last wave of post-millennial war titles came and went without much impact. Of course, the problem with those previous entries is that Tinsel Town made the solider, not their situation, the source of everything awful. This time around, Bigelow (whose seven year absence from the big screen has been baffling, considering her previous resume) uses the situational intensity of an Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit to amplify the suspense and draw out the dread. Since it premiered at the 2008 Venice Film Festival—where it received a 10-minute standing ovation—audiences have been anticipating a stateside screening. For those of us waiting for the Near Dark/Strange Days director to score big again, July can’t come soon enough.
No, this is not a remake of the Spanish horror classic The Orphanage (though one assumes that somewhere along the Hollywood periphery, a highly paid hack is churning out that unnecessary update right now). Instead, it’s yet another take on that tired premise of the innocent child with a hidden evil streak tormenting a foster family. Sigh. At least the movie poster looks menacing, though the track record of filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax 2005, Goal 2: Living the Dream) offers little actual hope.
All Good Things
Capturing the Friedmans’ Andrew Jarecki goes fictional for this murder mystery romance about a hot shot man of privilege (Ryan Gosling) who may or may not be involved in the disappearance of his lover, a girl from “the wrong side of the tracks” (Kirsten Dunst). It is based loosely on the life of real estate mogul Robert Durst (though a quick overview of the facts argues for some far more interesting aspects to the man’s “character”). Depending on the route taken, Jarecki could have something special—or specious—on his hands.
The Ugly Truth
It’s got Knocked Up/Grey’s Anatomy‘s Katherine Heigl and 300‘s Gerard Butler. It’s directed by Aussie Robert Luketic, best known for Legally Blonde and the J-Lo/Jane Fonda romp Monster-in-Law. Still, there’s little buzz about this stunt-based RomCom featuring a narrative revolving around an uptight news producer challenged to a series of “outrageous tests” by a male chauvinist correspondent. Gee, that sounds entertaining, and realistic, right?
Judd Apatow drops the frat house funny business—mostly—and goes semi-serious with this tale of a stand-up legend (Sandler) who discovers he is dying. He then hires a wannabe up and comer (Rogen) to be his personal assistant and friend. Together, they learn how to prioritize life before a last minute “reprieve” changes everything. Though many fear that the mind behind The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up might not be capable of meshing the scatological with the somber, but the teaser trailer offered a while back seems to support the genial genre clash. It will be interesting to see how Sandler and Rogen play off each other, since both seem derived from the same school of slovenly loser likeability. Equally intriguing will be the final box office results. Will they push Apatow toward more considered fare, or will he have to revert to the repugnant to maintain his current king of comedy tenure?
They Came from Upstairs
The original publicity material promised something a little more…dark. Then the official website went live, and it was clear that any sort of fear factoring from the story of a family tormented by a group of evil aliens in their attics was being completely undermined by a cloying, kid vid sense of spectacle. Now, the jury is official out on John Schultz late Summer family film. This is the man who made Like Mike and the horrific Honeymooner‘s remake, after all. Still, there is some clever material in the trailer, including a sequence where Everyone Loves Raymond‘s Doris Roberts becomes a mind controlled ET butt kicker. If handled properly, without too much regressive humor, this could be a sleeper. Somewhere, Joe Dante is wondering why he didn’t get this call.
Beth is a writer. Adam is her downstairs neighbor. She has a damaged past. He has Asperger’s Syndrome—a kind of high functioning autism. Together, they explore a friendship that made this Sundance entry a fan favorite. How it hopes to find an audience in between all the popcorn histrionics remains to be seen. Maybe there’s a demo during the balmy months of Summer looking for a quirky indie romance. Then again, maybe not.