It seems that Ken is inundated this week with family, so I’ve been given the keys to this week’s Screening Room. We toyed with the idea of still claiming that he authored the column this week and seeing if anyone would catch on, but I decided I’d rather see if I can get fewer views than our Halloween article did. I have faith that you and I together, dear readers, can. Being the fount of creativity that I am, I decided we’d take a look at what our current cinematic smorgasbord has in store for us. Hey, it was this or an article on my favorite scenes involving pancakes, but I got stuck after John Hughes’ Uncle Buck (1989) and asked for quarter.
So, with the first half of our movie-going year all but over, we will look forward to what else Hollywood has in store for us for the remainder of ’09—the good, the bad, and the painfully horrendous (at least on paper). Keep in mind, this is only a casual overview, and few of these release dates are set in stone as of yet. There’s bound to be a few surprises seeing as how this time last year Slumdog Millionaire was only vaguely on my radar due solely to Danny Boyle’s name and I was still a good five months away from ever even hearing about Let the Right One In. At least let’s hope there’s some bolts from the blue, since that’s often what keeps us movie critics going in what can be such dismal theatrical times.
Let’s start off with June, where the month ends with what’s likely to be one of the year’s biggest moneymakers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The original Transformers (2007) remains a compendium of what I hate about modern movies: it’s big, dumb, corny, loud, overlong, way too reliant on CGI and stars Shia LaBeouf. But it’s got a brand name and giant robots blowing stuff up so it’s bound to make a small fortune, regardless of how people feel about LaBeouf post-Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). My biggest hope is that my most yearning of questions will finally be answered: if one gets drunk and drives an Autobot through a stop sign, do you or your robot get the DUI?
July looks to be a mixed bag. The month opens with a couple of Wednesday openers, the animated Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Michael Mann’s John Dillinger yarn Public Enemies. Ice Age, moving into the realm of 3-D, will likely be perfectly fine if its pedigree is any indication, but does anybody still care about this franchise? Is the third chapter in a second fiddle animated series justified, especially when the biggest name involved is Ray Romano? The effect of voice talent on an animated film’s box office is iffy to me, but I’m curious to see if there’s still any interest in the franchise.
The biggest plus for Public Enemies is Mann’s casting of Johnny Depp as the charismatic Dillinger, but the movie isn’t quite a sure bet. Personally, I’ve never gotten the fuss over Mann and the trailer for Public Enemies hasn’t helped. Part of this is Mann’s insistence in filming the whole thing in super-grainy digital (digital can look much better than this, Robert Rodriguez proved this years ago), making the whole thing look like Mann was running around during the 1930s with a camcorder. There’s also Christian Bale being cast next Depp. If there was ever anything that just screamed bad mistake, it’s pitting Bale—maybe current cinema’s most humorless actor—against Johnny Depp.
After that, we’ve got Bruno, another Sacha Baron Cohen creation and the follow up to his Borat (2006), which takes on the same type of faux documentary, hidden camera show approach. This time around, Cohen plays—obviously—Bruno, a gay, European fashion reporter, once again with the aim of taking on America in an attempt to offend anyone and everyone along the way. The trailer has some promise but there is the danger of Bruno just being Borat all over again. Hopefully the movie will at least try harder to look less staged than that whole Eminem hullabaloo from a couple weeks back and it’s already stirring up controversy. In fact, GLAAD came out this week asking for a disclaimer to be tacked onto the front of the film explaining that the film’s satirical by nature and meant to expose homophobia. No joke.
Whatever money Bruno hopes to make, it better do it quick, because a mere five days later, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince hits theaters. Originally pushed back by Warner Brothers from this last November due to the piles of cash Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight (2008) was making, Half-Blood Prince is as about as surefire as surefire can get. The only way they could screw it up at this point is replacing Daniel Radcliffe with Burt Reynolds and even then it’d probably break $200 million. Actually, I’d pay to see that.
The month finishes with the newest Judd Apatow concoction—about a comedian who finds out he’s dying —Funny People. This time around, Apatow teams up usual suspects Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill with Adam Sandler. The trailer looks a bit on the dangerously schmaltzy side, I’ve liked Sandler in exactly one movie (Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love), find Rogen too smarmy for his own good and have yet to buy into the praise that’s generally been heaped upon Apatow. But Sandler is still somehow a draw (don’t ask me, there are reasons why I don’t run a studio) and Apatow theoretically remains a hot commodity in the world of comedy, but with a reported whopping 136 minute runtime (what does Apatow think he’s doing? Adapting Tolstoy?), there’s a good chance Funny People could be on the trying side.
August has a bit more potential, starting off with Robert Rodriguez’s Shorts, a kiddie flick about a boy who finds a magic, wish-giving rock. Goofy mayhem ensues, but it appears to be well-intentioned goofy mayhem. Being a huge Rodriguez fan, I’ll be the first to admit I’m hoping Shorts lives up to its potential (when was the last time there was a really good live action kid’s movie?) simply because this is the man who made Spy Kids (2001) whose been hitting a nice creative stride as of late. Then again, he also helmed Spy Kids 3-D (2003) and The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D, so there’s always the potential for Shorts to be a bit on the disappointing side, especially since his more adult-oriented fare has always been more consistent. But if there’s one thing about a Rodriguez picture, they’re never boring.
A week later in limited release is Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, which should be paid attention to simply because it’s Lee, even if it has some of the wonkiest casting I can think of. Starring flavor-of-the-month stand-up comic Demetri Martin and Dan Fogler (yes, the guy from Balls of Fury (2007)), the film centers around the guys who organized the now iconoclastic music festival. If people still buy into the wonder of the whole Woodstock phenomenon today might be questionable, but it’s hard to deny that Lee’s one of the important directors working today, and his work’s always worth attention.
Coming in at the tail end of the month is Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, the director’s World War II flick—about a group of Jewish “Nazi hunters” after “100 Nazi scalps”—that’s been talked and rumored about almost as long as his still unmade Vega Brothers film. From the looks of it, the movie promises to be trashy, tasteless fun, if the mere onscreen presence of Hostel director Eli Roth—who appears to have a fairly big role—and his inherent smugness don’t ruin the whole thing. At the very least, it appears to be one of those movies that has something to offend everyone. There’s some major question marks looming, however. Its reception at Cannes was reportedly a bit mixed and The Weinstein Company—due to their current financial woes (to the point they may not even have the cash to release it)—are asking Tarantino to cut some fat from the film’s three hour runtime.
Rounding out the month of August is a couple of horror pictures, Rob Zombie’s H2 and The Final Destination. H2, the sequel to 2007’s Halloween reboot (why isn’t this coming out on Halloween? I don’t care if Saw XXXVI is coming out, your movie’s called Halloween!) was a step back for Zombie, eschewing a lot of the humor that made his previous couple of movies work in exchange for a more self-serious tone—something that just became boring once the movie caved into generic slasher territory. It’d be nice to think the man’s approach will be different this time around, but that first Halloween made a ton of cash, so don’t expect much difference. Plus, I’m curious how the casting of “Weird” Al Yankovic is supposed to fit into all this.
If any franchise was asking for the 3D treatment, it’s Final Destination, with its creative deaths and rampant stupidity of its characters. No, the movies are no good by any barometer, but they’re dumb fun and there’s always the chance they’ll take these things to their logical extremes (I’m personally waiting for the one where the entire cast decides to hide out in a scissor factory). This one carries the same basic premise, where a cache of TV pretty twenty-somethings cheat death and are then promptly offed by some invisible approximation of the Grim Reaper promises killer car washes and deadly escalators along with a Fast & Furious-styled streamlining of the title. Since this is THE Final Destination, one would assume this is the last film in the series and presumably more final than the last three films in the franchise. How is this one anymore “final” than the last three Final Destinations? It’ll take someone other than myself to figure how all this works since in school I failed my metaphysics exam when I got caught peering into the soul of the boy next to me.
Also that week is Love Actually (2003) director Richard Curtis’ The Boat That Rocked. The film, about a pirate radio station aboard a ship parked in the North Sea in the ‘60s has already been released overseas. So far, it’s gotten pretty varied reviews—most calling it a mixed bag—but with a cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy and Nick Frost combined with Curtis’ pedigree, there’s some hope there.
September begins the post-summer, pre-Christmas doldrums with little of interest to speak of. There’s sci-fi/horror flick Pandorum which sports a somewhat interesting trailer that falls apart once it starts bragging about the fact that it’s produced by the fine folks who brought us the Resident Evil picture (which is really akin to Typhoid Mary boasting over her various accomplishments). It looks even worse once you find out Cam Gigandet’s (Twilight) is in it. 9, coming out on September 9th (or 9/9/09—how clever) is a Tim Burton produced animated film helmed by—as the trailer puts it—“visionary” director Shane Acker whose only other credits are some animated shorts (which, granted, one of which was an Oscar nominated version of this film). The film’s about some ragdolls running around a post-apocalyptic future. Nothing about the preview looks particularly visionary, unless movies that look like extended video game cut scenes get you all hot and bothered.
That same week is yet another Tyler Perry concoction, Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Starring Taraji P. Henson, the film appears to include Perry’s Madea character which means the box office will be guaranteed. Also guaranteed is faith-based melodrama. Not guaranteed is hot grits to the face but a boy can dream.
Things start to pick up in October with a slew of promising releases. The new Scorsese flick Shutter Island comes out, once again teaming the director with Leonardo DiCaprio for their fourth film together. Based on Dennis Lehane’s (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) novel of the same name, the plot revolves around a U.S. Marshal investigating the disappearance of a patient from an insane asylum. With an ace cast—including DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer and Max von Sydow—and Scorsese behind the camera the results should be promising and the recently released trailer looks to be more horror (if a bit on the uninspired side) than anything else.
Mid-month comes Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. Based on the popular children’s book by Maurice Sendak, might be in danger of looking a bit too Sid and Marty Krofft with its men in suits as giant monsters. But rumors spread last year that the studio was less than happy with the film’s less than family-friendly tone and some tweaking may have been to the finished product. The nostalgia factor will play into the film’s box office, but a lot of the movie’s quality will hinge on how well Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers can translate an already thin children’s book to feature length—and if they can resist the urge to be too clever, post-modern and smart-assed for the film’s own good.
Pushed back from earlier this year and scheduled for that same week is another literary adaptation with John Hillcoat‘s big screen treatment of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a novel that got hugely popular a few years ago after being featured in Oprah’s Book Club. Hillcoat, who made the grimy The Proposition (2005) is more than suitable to bring the gloomy Road to theaters. The book’s plot, set in a post-apocalyptic future, follows a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they search for food for about 200 pages, appears to be closely followed by the film. It’s been a few years since Mortensen made a bad movie and Hillcoat is a solid director, but will the movie simply be too glum?
With Halloween approaching, this means one thing: yet another Saw movie. Saw V was probably the lamest, most thrown together installment in the series (and that’s really saying something) so expect diminishing returns this time around if that’s even possible at this point. Expect the same gross-out torture porn and the same hokey “surprise” ending. The only point of interest this time around—aside from the reported trek into 3D this time around—is if these movies can possibly get any worse. My guess is yes, but I like to be optimistic about this kind of thing.
November looks promising, starting off with Joe Johnston’s The Wolf Man. The long rumored project starring Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot finally hits theaters after being pushed back from an April release (hopefully because the studio actually thinks it’s good). Johnston isn’t a terrible director, but with credits such as The Rocketeer (1991), Jurassic Park III (2001) and Hidalgo (2004) he’s not a terribly exciting one either. The cast is strong, however, and the inclusion of Emily Blunt (Sunshine Cleaning) is welcome with any movie. But at this point I’ll be happy if our lupine cursed protagonist simply turns out to be a werewolf in pants.
Whatever promise, however, that comes with The Wolf Man, is probably offset by Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol. Starring Jim Carrey (I guess they’re finally letting him around Christmas movies after Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)) as Ebenezer Scrooge, the film is done in that same creepy Polar Express/Beowulf-styled rotoscoping that Zemeckis can’t leave alone. Maybe worse than the prospects of CGI’ed Carrey is yet another Christmas Carol adaptation, and in the same year as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past nonetheless. Poor Dickens can only roll around in his grave so much.
Filed under the “I’m officially excited about this” category is Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, a stop-motion adaptation (accomplished by the folks who made Time Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005)) of Roald Dahl’s children’s book. Reportedly, Anderson has taken a not-surprisingly eccentric route to the creation movie, going as far as recording the voice talent—which includes George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman—outside of a studio and in such places as forests or caves. At the very least it should be interesting and Anderson seems to be hitting a peak as of late.
And of course we can’t forget about what is certain to be the month’s big hit, set to astound the hearts of millions of teenage girls, The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Kristen Stewart returns as love struck Bella and Robert Pattison—still doing his best pasty Morrissey impersonation—as her Rhine stone vampire love interest Edward. This second film in the Twilight series sets in motion some hot girl-on-beefcake-werewolf (of the boring pantsless variety unfortunately) to complicate matters between Bella and the bedazzled Edward. Catherine Hardwicke’s no longer around, with Chris Weitz taking over behind the camera. Weitz is a better director (OK, so most of that’s based solely on About a Boy (2002) at this point, but still) but the source material—and the quick turn around with production in order to cash in on the franchise’s popularity—does not bode well.
Rounding out the month is Nine (not to be confused with 9), Rob Marshall’s (Chicago) silver screen version of the musical based on Fellini’s 8 ½ starring Daniel Day Lewis, Penelope Cruz and Nicole Kidman. Around that same time should be the Farrelly Brother’s The Three Stooges starring Jim Carrey as Moe, Sean Penn as Larry and Benicio Del Toro as Curly. No you didn’t read that wrong. The movie looks to be heretical enough to be worth a shot.
December opens up with Peter Jackson’s much maligned (Ryan Gosling was fired a week before shooting began, then the film got dropped by Dreamworks and later picked up by Paramount) The Lovely Bones, a film about a girl (Saoirse Ronan, City of Ember) who’s murdered and watches over her family—and keeps track of her murderer—from heaven. While that might sound a bit too Family Circus-as-horror-movie, the film sounds pretty adult and like the kind of movies Jackson should be making in the first place. Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg in the leads should help out, too.
Apparently finally over his Titanic fetish, James Cameron returns with Avatar his first feature in 12 years. Whether this is a good thing or depressing thing is left to the viewer, but there is some curio involved in all this. First, the film—which apparently centers around the oh-so-exciting premise of some people fighting killer plants in space—had all new cameras created for filming in 3-D. An over two-and-a-half hour long runtime promise that the same old Cameron bloat—and the same old Cameron—is still there, which also means the same fans who grew up on Aliens (1986) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) will be there.
As for Christmas, let’s start with the good, which is Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, which re-imagines Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed character in wholly Ritchie terms, something that isn’t sitting well with Holmes purists (see the May 29th Screening Room “Rethinkings, reworkings and other heresies” for a more indepth discussion). With a stylish trailer and Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson, Sherlock Holmes looks to be the best bet for Christmas Day.
Of course, that’s because the competition includes an Untitled Nancy Meyers Project and a sign that we’ve brought the wrath of God down upon us somehow, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. We’ll start with the Meyers’ film, which—according to the synopsis is “romantic comedy in which two men (Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin) vie for the affection of the same woman (Meryl Streep).” How exciting. Being a Nancy Meyers film, ten bucks says it’s 45 minutes too long and the final title will be less creative than Untitled Nancy Meyers Project. On the other hand, it looks simply marvelous when held up against another Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. I’m just on the edge of my seat wondering if the makers can ever top their anthropomorphic singing animal’s feces consumption this time around.
And that’s the next six months in a nutshell. Like I said, I’m sure there are some films I overlooked and some I have no idea about, so please add any that sound interesting—or any in need of quarantine. And since I’m going to end up sitting through a big chunk of them, here’s hoping most of them are actually good.