Well, here we are at the first day of a new year and while Justin Souther and I are laboring away on end of year and indeed end of decade lists, I’m taking a break from looking at the past to look at what awaits us. Generally speaking, the first of the year traditionally means a certain number of films that have simply not made it to the provinces yet—and a lot of junk that the studios dump on us in the dead of winter as a kind of cinematic January white sale. In fact, except for the leftovers, the first three months of the year are pretty grim. This year stands at least a chance of being a bit different.
Oh, yes, we still have a certain number of interesting 2009 offerings to look forward to. Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Paranassus opens here next Friday. Also in the offing are Tom Ford’s A Single Man, Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces and Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. Granted, the last has been treated with surprising brutality by the critics who’ve reviewed it and hasn’t set the box office ablaze in limited release, but it’s a big enough film by a big enough director that it will probably show up. And I’ve been given to understand that Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is going to make it to town this coming week.
As for the usual crapfest releases, I’m pretty sure that they’re out there—just waiting to slink into multiplexes while we aren’t looking. I certainly can’t claim that I’m looking forward to The Spy Next Door, Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil (the first wasn’t bad enough?), Tooth Fairy, Extraordinary Measures, When in Rome, Edge of Darkness, Dear John (two Nicholas Sparks adaptations in one year? Dramamine sales should skyrocket), and Kevin Smith’s Cop Out looks plain awful. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in all likelihood. But at the same time, there are a surprising number of tantalizing titles—and a few others that offer the prospect of pleasant surprises or at least diversions.
Next week may not offer any sure bets, but it has a bit of potential. The Australian production Daybreakers with Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill has a certain degree of promise. It’s kind of nice to see a vampire picture that isn’t a Twilight travesty and isn’t utter garbage like Transylmania. The trailer doesn’t look bad, but is certainly in the “could go either way” realm. The film’s twin brother directors Michael and Peter Spierig are an unknown quantity to me. What amuses me about this one is that it’s coming from Lionsgate as part of their latest new move to focus more on horror movies, which sounds a lot like their position pre-Joe Drake—the guy responsible for burying The Midnight Meat Train. I guess Mr. Drake’s insistence on “quality” pictures (which mostly seemed to mean more Tyler Perry) didn’t pan out so well. I’m not expecting much, but I’m intrigued.
Also up is Miguel Arteta’s Youth in Revolt. Now, Arteta hasn’t done much in the theatrical realm since the good, but not great, Jennifer Aniston vehicle The Good Girl. Plus, the film stars Michael Cera, who is going to have to work hard to win me over after Paper Heart and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. (I didn’t see Year One and have no intention of changing that.) For that matter, he needs to prove he can play more than one character, which this offers him the chance of doing. I’m not optimistic, but I’m willing to give it a shot.
And then there’s Leap Year. Yes, I know, it looks like pure formula romantic comedy—and PG-rated romantic comedy at that. But it stars Amy Adams, who can’t save everything as Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian proved spectacularly. Still, her presence is a plus. Also in the plus column is director Anand Tucker, whose Shopgirl (2005) was good and whose When Did You Last See Your Father (2007) was at least close to great. So who knows? The trailer is hardly inspiring, but it could translate into very high quality and pleasant frou-frou.
And those are just in the first week of new releases. Not inspiring perhaps, but neither are they exactly the sort of thing to send you cowering under the bed till the season blows over.
Further down the line is The Book of Eli from the Hughes Brothers and starring Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. The Hughes Brothers haven’t made a movie since From Hell back in 2001, but From Hell is enough to make me anxious to see this. I’m not a huge fan of post-apocalyptic tales—and judging by the lame box office of The Road, I don’t seem to be alone in that—but this looks at least intriguing. Or it will be so if the trailer is something of a put-up job that isn’t quite telling you what you think it is. I’m hopeful that that’s the case and that the film goes down some paths that the trailer doesn’t suggest.
I’ll concede upfront that Scott Stewart’s Legion (no relation to the William Peter Blatty novel of that name that became The Exorcist III) looks like trash, and it’s not like Paul Bettany and Dennis Quaid haven’t been in some stinkers. But it also looks like it might be fun R-rated trash horror.
While January has the advantage—and for January this is saying something—of simply not looking like cinematic frozen tundra, February offers two movies that I’m officially excited about: Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman and Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island. Even the fact that both were removed from the award season schedule and shunted into less prestigious February slots does nothing to seriously dampen my enthusiasm.
I can’t say that I’ve ever been all that impressed by Joe Johnston’s work, but The Wolfman trailers have only gotten better as they’ve come out. Of course, Universal is taking a huge chance with this one any way you look at it. In general terms, the fact that it’s a period piece may make it a hard sell, though Sherlock Holmes may have improved chances there. It’s also a classic-styled horror movie. While it very obviously uses CGI, it appears to be a return to something of the traditional werewolf—you know, the kind that wear trousers and are, at least in part, the actual star of the movie in make-up—which may seem a little old-fashioned. But that’s only the general public.
The Wolfman also has to face the scrutiny of classic horror movie geeks—and that’s going to be a tough crowd. Remember Van Helsing (2004)? It’s a wonder writer-director Stephen Sommers wasn’t lynched over that. And here we have an actual remake of an actual beloved classic. They’ve already made one mistake, since the 1941 film is The Wolf Man, not The Wolfman. Think that’s minor, do you? Then you don’t know classic horror fandom. What else? Well, The Wolf Man was set in contemporary times. The Wolfman is clealy a Victorian period piece. It also obviously departs from the original in a number of ways—not the least of which involves those scenes in the trailer of the title character being treated for mental illness, something that actually seems more related to Guy Endore’s 1933 novel The Werewolf of Paris. How these things will go down with the hardcore is anybody’s guess.
On the plus side there, is the fact that it’s apparently straightforward horror and respectful of its source. Character names have been retained and the central premise. Even the embellishments appear to be drawn from the old film. There is a psychiatrst in the original, which might be the source of the mental illness angle. Though he’s a fairly minor character in the film (as well as a rather dull one) there’s also a policeman, Captain Montford (Ralph Bellamy, who probably accounts for the dullness), who seems to have been enlarged upon for the Inspector Abberline character played in the new film by Hugo Weaving. (That there’s also a Captain Montford in the cast argues against this, however.) The casting is good. Benicio Del Toro even looks a little like Lon Chaney Jr. No one’s likely to complain about Anthony Hopkins as Sir John Talbot—except maybe Claude Rains, who was pretty much wasted in the original and might resent the obvious scenery-chewing Hopkins gets to indulge in.
The truth, however, is that the original isn’t really all that great of a movie. It’s just one some of us grew up with and have a great sentimental fondness for. There’s every chance that the new film might even be a better movie. There I’ve said it. The problem with that is that being better might be the greatest affront to fandom imaginable. Sometimes you just can’t win.
What to make of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island? Though the studio likes to call it a thriller, the trailers scream “horror movie.” That may or may not account for moving it to February from an Oscar-bait position in the fall. I’m not sure it matters all that much. I certainly don’t care—and I like the idea of Scorsese making a horror movie. We haven’t seen him use his considerable talents in this realm before, so it’s kind of refreshing and maybe even exciting. The trailer certainly looks stylish and creepy—and even blessed with some degree of fun to judge by the nicely ripe performances we glimpse from Ben Kinglsey and Max von Sydow. I know there’s a standard resistance to horror movies being taken seriously. But hey, Stanley Kubrick made The Shining.
Then there’s March—and most especially, March 5 and the release of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. OK, I freely admit to being predisposed toward Burton’s work, but that’s not news and I’m certainly not alone. But goodness knows if ever there was a match made in heaven, it’s Burton and Alice in Wonderland. However, it’s as well to note that this isn’t another version of the story. It’s more of a sequel with 19-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska, Amelia) returning to Wonderland to help overthrow the power-crazed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
At the same time, it’s apparent that Burton was careful to preserve favorite characters and even aspects of the original into this new version,so it’s a case of expecting a grand collision of the original with a new vision. It might just be spectacular. The early teaser trailers were intriguing to say the least. The longer trailers that have started appearing suggest a film more and more worth getting excited about.
At the end of March we have How to Train Your Dragon, which initially didn’t strike any kind of a chord at all. Then I saw the trailer and thought it looked better than I’d expected. But the kicker was when I learned it was by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders—not exactly household names, no. But if they sound familiar, that’s because these are the guys responsible for Lilo & Stitch (2002), and that’s enough to fully engage my interest in this new offering from them. It’s about time.
And that’s just a glimpse at the first three months of movie offerings for 2010. If this is any indication, we might be in for a pretty good year. Here’s hoping.