Yes, I’ve got it. Call it the movie-going malaise. The cinematic blues. The crummy picture collywobbles. Whatever you call it, it ain’t pretty. No, I’m not burned out on the movies. Far from it. In the past few weeks, I’ve watched: Abel Gance’s J’Accuse (1919) (all nearly three hours of it); Ernst Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938); Victor Saville’s Evergreen (1934); Frank Tuttle’s Waikiki Wedding (1937); F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927); Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932); Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989); and David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991). And these were movies I didn’t have to watch. To this, you can add in the fact that I’ve picked up David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) and Tideland (2005). And there’s a copy of Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) just sitting here waiting for reappraisal.
I’ve seen new movies I’ve liked, including last week’s Iron Man and Flawless. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Counterfeiters on any list of recent viewings.
But there’s something missing. That little extra kick isn’t quite there. Discounting the usual run of last year’s releases that just penetrated the hinterlands this year, the only movies from 2008 on that list of titles I fully intend to buy the minute they become available are Be Kind Rewind, The Band’s Visit and In Bruges. Worse, there’s the question of just what there is to look forward to — and this is where it gets really grim.
Most people look at the trailers prior to movies and think, “That looks interesting” or “That might be good” or “That looks awful” or “I’d rather drink my own urine than see that” (usually reserved for the works of Uwe Boll) or “Who’d go see that?” The answer to that last is simple for me — either I will, or Justin Souther will (depending on the level of sadism I can live with). For you, they’re just trailers. For me, they’re more like some often unfortunate crystal ball predicting my future in widescreen color and six channel Dolby sound.
OK, so I hold out some vague hope that this week’s Speed Racer might at least be visually striking, while the very idea of David Mamet making a martial arts picture — Redbelt — starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (perhaps my favorite actor of current film) and Tim Allen (definitely not my favorite actor from any era) intrigues me. The less said about the prospect of What Happens in Vegas… the better, except to note that I won’t be seeing it. (Tee hee hee, he giggled sadistically.) I positively loathed The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) and am not exactly looking forward to its sequel, Prince Caspian.
I’m probably one of four people living (there were five, I understand, but the fifth passed away suddenly), who has close to zero interest in Indiana Jones and the Impossibly Long Title. And do we really need a big screen version of Sex and the City? Could The Strangers look any less interesting or more derivative if they tried? Oh, but there’s Adam Sandler in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, isn’t there? And Kung-Fu Panda.
More comic book movies are on their way, of course. Next up is yet another version of The Incredible Hulk — this one from Louis Leterrier, who gave us The Transporter and its sequel, and starring Edward Norton. What kind of casting is that? Does it matter? The CGI looks appalling, and anyway, I actually kind of liked Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003). Worse, Norton (who took a hand in “improving” the Frida (2002) screenplay, thereby helping to make that Julie Taymor’s least interesting film) was involved in the writing.
Of course, there’s more enticing comic-bookery afoot with Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II the following month. And while the first film was a big “so what?” for me, the trailer for this looks better, which is to say that it has a similar look to Pan’s Labyrinth. Does it look enough better to get me past the depressing news that del Toro has signed away four years of his creativity to make two Hobbit movies? Not really, no, especially when that presumably moves such tasty looking projects as his film of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness to 2012 or beyond. Or will he simply follow Peter Jackson’s example and remake Son of Kong as a follow-up? Don’t get me wrong, I liked Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, even if the only one I felt truly compelled to see more than twice was the first one. But I’m kind of Tolkiened out, and can’t help but think that del Toro’s unique gifts could be better applied elsewhere.
Yes, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight holds promise, and I have no doubt that it will be good. If nothing else, the late Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker looks absolutely fantastic. But in all honesty, I’m otherwise having a hard time getting that worked up about another Batman movie. I’ll be delighted if Nolan and company can change my mind — and they just might.
Of course, somewhere along the way, there’s room for a new M. Night Shyamalan picture, The Happening. Yeah, I know I found some merit in Lady in the Water (2006), even while admitting its flaws, but I haven’t forgiven him for The Village (2004) or suckering me into temporary insanity and causing me to give Signs (2002) that inexplicably positive review that haunts me to this day. And can I be the only person who finds the trailer for this latest funny? The business where somebody comes down with the “mysterious disease” and we hear the sound of a body falling after the trailer cuts away to a title card is very droll.
Get Smart is admittedly well-cast (The Rock to one side), but another TV show going to the big screen? Why? And let’s face it, Adam Sandler’s pet director Peter Segal (The Longest Yard) at the helm is cause for pause — or cause to send you in search of the TV series. Personally, I can’t wait for the new Mike Myers picture, The Love Guru, to come out, but only because that will mean the trailer will go away, and petitions from Hindu organizations asking me to boycott the movie will stop landing in my in-box every two days. (Good Lord, I just got another one — and I’m not kidding.) Except that no one is protesting it, I have similar feelings about the prospect of the Disney-Pixar WALL-E. That trailer, with the world’s longest lead-in to the song “Brazil” (Terry Gilliam envy?), is just too cute for me.
While Timur Bekmambetov has made a cottage industry of the Night Watch series in Russia, the films have failed to make much of a dent (at least theatrically) here, but what are we to make of Wanted? It’s based on a comic book (does no one read, oh, I don’t know, actual books anymore?). It has a not uninteresting cast — James McAvy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, Terrence Stamp — but the trailer looks like non-stop action of the Matrix rip-off variety.
Peter Berg’s Hancock will be a hit because everything Will Smith attaches himself to is, whether or not it deserves it. But am I enthused? No. Brian Robbins — the man who gave us The Shaggy Dog (2006) and Norbit (2007) back to back — returns with another Eddie Murphy comedy, Meet Dave. This one has Murphy playing a space-ship run by tiny aliens. (That’s what it says.) Obviously, it’s for people who can’t get enough of The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002). What about Space Chimps? Doesn’t the title kind of say it all?
Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard are an imposing collection of talent, but have you seen the trailer for the filmization of Mamma Mia!? Ye gods. In two-and-a-half minutes it answered my question from last week’s Screening Room — why do people hate musicals? Yes, the ABBA songs are catchy (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert proved that 14 years ago), but the musical numbers as depicted in the trailer are almost exactly the sort of thing that could send viewers in search of a torture porn flick as an antidote. I’m hoping the trailer doesn’t do the film justice.
The Will Ferrell machine grinds on with Step Brothers. Didn’t we just get rid of Semi-Pro? And what’s this? The Longshots — another family comedy with Ice Cube. Barbershop (2002) seems like ancient history. It’s the kind of thing that makes The X-Files: I Want to Believe look actually promising, except that nobody really seems to know anything about The X-Files, which may be a good thing. Even after it’s been here and gone, I’m guessing most people still won’t know anything about Henry Poole Is Here — the track record for movies starring Luke Wilson is far from whelming.
August looks a little better, if we charitably overlook the prospect of College (exactly what it sounds like), Babylon A.D. (the return of Vin Diesel!), House Bunny (from the director of Strange Wilderness!), Bangkok Dangerous (Nicolas Cage in a greasy wig as a hitman!), The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (this needed a sequel?) and Wild Child (can Emma Roberts become a star?). Griffin Dunne’s The Accidental Husband might be OK, if things like Made of Honor haven’t caused you to lose all faith in romantic comedies. The Apatow crowd will probably take delight in the stoner comedy Pineapple Express directed by David Gordon Green, but I can’t work up enthusiasm for the pairing of Seth Rogen and James Franco. The prospect of a third Brendan Fraser Mummy picture is only ho-hum-worthy in itself, but it becomes an essay in stark terror when you realize the director, Rob Cohen, gave us Stealth (2005) and xXx (2002).
My personal favorite bet for the end of summer is Ryuhei Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train from the Clive Barker story of the same name. I really don’t even care if the movie’s any good. The title alone sells me — and the title and trailer were the highlight of sitting through Good Luck Chuck (2007). The trailer is too much a jumble of images, interspersed with some unintentionally campy dialogue, to tell a lot about the picture, but some of those fleeting glimpses are downright freaky looking (in a good way). Regardless, this may just be the greatest title ever.
OK, so maybe it’s not that grim, but the prospects still feel like a mix of “yes, it is that grim” and the “maybe it’ll surprise me” range, meaning there’s a basic lack of real excitement here. And that could be offset if the fall/winter season looked good, but right now I’m not seeing anything other than Fernando Meirelles (The Constant Gardener) Blindness that really enthuses me. The problem is that folks like Wes Anderson, David O. Russell, Pedro Almodovar, Alfonso Cuaron, Neil Jordan, Tim Burton, etc. are all slated for movies in 2009. We’ve had our Michel Gondry (Be Kind Rewind) for the year. Julie Taymor doesn’t even seem to have anything in the works. It’s dispiriting.
Maybe there are surprises in store, something completely out of nowhere just lurking in the shadows. I certainly hope so. In the meantime, there’s Midnight Meat Train.