Summer Movie Preview: Part 4It’s time for the fourth and final part of my preview of the upcoming summer movies, this time looking at the films of August. As usual, I haven’t actually seen any of these movies yet, so keep that in mind that these are just my opinions of the big summer flicks.
A Perfect Getaway (Aug. 7) This thriller follows a young married couple (Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich) backpacking through a remote part of Hawaii, where they meet up with two other couples and later learn that local authorities are looking for a pair of killers posing as a traveling couple. Appropriately enough, the men in each of the other couples is creepy as hell (Timothy Olyphant as a possibly-crazed military vet, and Chris Hemsworth, recently cast as Marvel's Thor, as just a big scary dude), and Zahn and Jovovich are soon fighting for their lives (at least this is what the trailer tells me). It was directed by David Twohy, who helmed the Riddick movies for Vin Diesel. The reason this has me sort of interested in A Perfect Getaway is that it’s a straight-up thriller, and Twohy proved in the first Riddick film, Pitch Black, that he can really do creepy atmospherics, and I like the "whodunnit" aspect of the story. It’s a bit of a strange movie to come out in summer, but every now and then a cool little piece of counterprogramming can hit the jackpot. I’m definitely intrigued.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Aug. 7) I’m so torn about G.I. Joe. On the one hand, I’m almost positive the movie will be bad – it was rushed into production to beat the writers’ strike, and it was directed by Stephen Sommers, whose last film was the cinematic travesty that was Van Helsing – but I was a devoted fan of the toys when I was a kid (and I occasionally wear a Cobra t-shirt as an “adult”), so I can’t pretend there isn’t a part of me that’s pretty excited to shell out money to see a movie where Snake Eyes fights Stormshadow and Destro blows things up. It’s similar to how I felt going into the first Transformers movie, but at least that had a director in Michael Bay who, if nothing else, is pretty good at making nice-looking movies in which things explode a lot. Either way, I’ll definitely be seeing G.I. Joe, and I plan on going in with as open a mind as possible. I mean, Destro melts the Eiffel Tower in the trailer. I dunno if that’s worth $12, but it’s gotta be worth something.
Julie & Julia (Aug. 7) The requisite August chick-flick is actually a sort of ambitious idea, telling the parallel stories of Julia Child (Meryl Streep) as she goes to cooking school in France before she became famous, and Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a woman who, I guess, wrote a blog in which she tried to cook her way through all of Child’s cookbooks (forgive me if I’m not that keen on the details, or Powell's potential fame; I’ve only seen the trailer). Playing an icon like Julia Child seems right up Streep’s alley, and if she doesn’t get at least an Oscar nomination for it I’ll be surprised. While I couldn’t be less interested in the movie itself, Streep and Adams are both quality actresses, and Julie & Julia seems like just the type of movie that could sneak in and make a pile of money.
District 9 (Aug. 14) I’ve raved about how stoked I am to see this unique-looking movie a couple of times already, and word out of the Comic-Con screening is that Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi flick delivers the goods. No movie this summer has had me this excited. (I got so worked up when I saw a bus-shelter poster the other day I flipped a car. True story.*) Will it live up to the hype I’ve created in my brain? I guess we’ll see in a few weeks.
*not a true story.
The Goods (Aug. 14) I know very little about this apparently raunchy comedy about competing car salesmen starring Jeremy Piven and Ed Helms other than what I’ve seen in the trailers. And the trailers have made me laugh a couple of times, so unless I hear it’s unwatchably bad, I’ll probably check it out. Another odd summer release, but after the success of The Hangover, maybe Helms will drive some fans of that movie to this one.
The Time Traveler’s Wife (Aug. 14) Another for the “really not my thing file,” this drama sees Rachel McAdams, one of the only living humans who has witnessed me dance (true story**), playing a woman who falls in love with a man (Eric Bana, whom I do not believe has seen me dance) she first met when she was a child and he informed her he would one day marry her. See, he says he’s a time traveler, and he therefore has seen their future together. I guess he bops around in time with no real control, and their eventual marriage (there’s a minor spoiler in the title, apparently) suffers for it. I imagine it would be sort of frustrating if your spouse spontaneously dissolved every few weeks/months/years. It’s based on a best-selling novel, and the minor sci-fi conceit does make The Time Traveler’s Wife seem more interesting than the average weepy romance, but that same ambition could also be the film’s undoing.
**That one actually is a true story.
Inglourious Basterds (Aug. 21) I don’t know what it is about this movie, but I’m surprisingly uninterested. I’m a Quentin Tarantino fan, I guess; I at least really like just about all his movies, particularly Kill Bill and True Romance (which he wrote), but I’ve never really been a freak for his stuff the way many self-styled “movie geeks” seem to. And for some reason, Tarantino’s long-gestating World War II movie is leaving me pretty cold so far. It could be that I’m not really into WWII movies. It could be that the idea was originally to cast a bunch of huge stars never panned out and instead we get a bunch of unknowns and TV actors (the guy from The Office? Seriously?). Or it could be the annoying grin Hostel director and QT pal Eli Roth’s character apparently wears in every goddamn scene he’s in. Whatever the reason, I’m just not really feeling this one. Don’t get me wrong, I will certainly see this movie, probably on the opening weekend. I’m just strangely unenthused about it. Maybe those inexplicably lowered expectations will help me enjoy it more.
Shorts (Aug. 21) I seem to like Robert Rodriguez’s movies more than most people, but I don’t think he’s the second coming of anyone. He makes fun, violent movies that are right up my alley, and he apparently does it cheap. But his chidren’s movies (somewhat obviously) don’t interest me at all, and even for kiddie fare they seem sort of silly (this one’s about a kid who finds a rock that grants him wishes, or something). But he he’s been ahead of the curve for years (Sin City revolutionized the use of green screens, and he was making 3D movies back in 2003, years before they were all the rage), and who knows, this one may be a Spy Kids-level hit. God knows G-Force did a whole lot better than I expected it to.
Big Fan (Aug. 28) I wrote about this film previously (it’s release on the 28th is limited to New York and Philadelphia, but it expands later), after seeing the trailer, and hoo boy, I can’t wait. This exploration of obsessive sports fandom is the directorial debut from the writer of The Wrestler, a movie I adored, and I trust Robert D. Siegel to strike the right balance between being funny, sad and sort of frightening. My only fear about Big Fan is I’m letting myself get too excited about it.
The Final Destination (Aug. 28) The Final Destination franchise is often cited by many movie fans as a guilty pleasure, but personally I’ve always just found the movies silly. Which I understand is part of the appeal, but it just doesn’t really do it for me. Still, there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than watching implausibly attractive young people die in increasingly elaborate accidents, and this one’s in 3D, which I imagine will add up to a pretty fun time at the movies if you’re into this kind of thing. I could see this being a surprise hit, assuming the audience overlap with the next film doesn’t do it in. But considering how divisive Rob Zombie’s first Halloween was with fans, I think The Final Destination could come out on top.
Halloween 2 (Aug. 28) I seem to be in the minority when it comes to Rob Zombie’s Halloween movie by virtue of the fact that I quite liked it (check out my DVD review here). The sequel looks…bizarre to say the least. I certainly don’t mind the fact that Zombie’s departing from the plot of the original Halloween sequels (which I haven't seen and don't really care about), but this seems like he’s shoehorned a Rob Zombie movie about a masked killer dressed like a hobo haunted by visions of his dead mother (an idea more in keeping with Friday the 13th, but I digress) into the Halloween premise. But Zombie’s best film, The Devil’s Rejects, was itself a sequel to a by-the-numbers slasher flick (the fairly forgettable Texas Chainsaw riff House of 1,000 Corpses), and one of the things that makes Devil’s Rejects great is that it feels like Zombie’s freeing himself of the shackles of the first movie to make the movie he wants to make, and if the same holds true for Halloween 2, the result could be something pretty special. But it could also be a total mess.
Taking Woodstock (Aug. 28) Few directors have careers as diverse as Ang Lee. His latest movie, his follow-up to the risqué Chinese spy thriller Lust, Caution, is a light-hearted comedy about the family on whose land the original Woodstock festival took place. I have no idea how accurate the premise is to real life (the trailer has the family basically lying about having a proper permit to put on a massive rock festival, which is just crazy enough to be true), but Lee’s assembled a pretty solid cast (Liev Schreiber, Emile Hirsch, Eugene Levy), with the one X-factor, for me at least, being comic Demitri Martin in the lead. I find I can take or leave Martin’s comedy (I used to really enjoy his occasional Daily Show bits a lot, but the more he did the more same-y and repetitive they started to seem, and what little I’ve seen of his own Comedy Central show, Important Things, is just lame), but I’m keeping an open mind about him as an actor, so he could very well do good work when saddled with a character to play and a talented director like Lee at the helm. And Lee doesn’t make bad movies, so him tackling this sort of material makes Taking Woodstock look more interesting than I would have otherwise thought.
Tron Legacy looks...amazing?As usual, there was a lot of movie news and trailers coming out of Comic-Con, but the one piece of footage that blew me away the most is the trailer (of sorts; it's too long to be a proper trailer) from Tron Legacy. The original Tron is a major piece of my childhood – I trace my fascination with computer animation, which exists to this day, to that movie – and when I picked up the 20th anniversary DVD a few years back I was pleasantly surprised at how well it held up. The then-cutting-edge computer graphics (if I'm not mistaken, Tron was the first movie in history to incorporate computer animation) and the world created for the film are so stylized that the CGI doesn't look anywhere near as dated as it should. The original was quite ahead of its time, and its role in the evolution of computer-assisted special effects can't be overstated.
All that said, a full-on sequel to Tron still seems like a bit of a risky proposition; after all, for a lot of people Tron is basically still just a funny '80s pop-culture reference. I really like Tron and even I wondered what Disney was thinking when I first heard about this project. But after seeing this clip from Comic-Con, not only am I sold on a sequel being a good idea, I've found the first movie I am absolutely gagging to see in 3D. From the return of much of the original cast (Jeff Bridges was really cool and funny in the extras on the 20th anniversary Tron DVD, so I wasn't really that surprised he agreed to do the sequel; Tron seems like a movie he's happy to have been a part of) to the gorgeously slick visuals (and a soundtrack by Daft Punk? That can't be right, can it?), Tron Legacy looks awesome and I can't wait to see it.
Trailer roundup: Ninja Assassin, Whiteout, and Alice in Wonderland
I’m not sure if it’s because Comic-Con is underway in San Diego (which got co-opted by Hollywood some years ago as a big movie press event at which some people will also maybe talk about comics), but some new trailers hit the Internets this week. One of these movies I’m pretty excited about seeing, another I’m sort of on the fence about, and the last one I’ll probably pass on (but it will also be the biggest release of the three by far).
First up is Ninja Assassin, the new film by V for Vendetta director James McTeigue and produced by Matrix brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski. It stars Korean pop star Rain (who also had a fairly big role in the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer, which isn’t nearly as bad as everyone says it is) as, well, a ninja assassin. The film is set in the modern day, which I guess is pretty cool; I’ve seen lots of Japanese ninja movies set in the feudal era, so the added element of guns and cars sort of sets it apart. McTeigue’s directorial authority was questioned when V for Vendetta was released – it was his first movie as director after assistant director duties for the Wachowskis on the Matrix movies, and the rumor was that the brothers did some of the directing themselves, and similar surrounds Ninja Assassin – but V was pretty good, and held the pre-Watchmen standard of being the best movie adaptation of an Alan Moore comic up to that point, so if that’s McTeigue’s “formula,” I have no problem with it. Judging a movie by a trailer is always a dubious proposition (remember how cool those Eagle Eye trailers were?), but the trailer for Ninja Assassin looks like it could be a pretty fun time at the movies, at least for a ninja lover like myself. I look forward to seeing more footage from this one before it’s released on November 24.
Next is Whiteout, a movie I’ve been reading about for years. It’s based on a graphic novel that I quite like, about a female U.S. marshal investigating a murder at a research base in Antarctica. My big problem with the movie adaptation is that in the book, author Greg Rucka and artist Steve Lieber make a point of showing that the heroine, Carrie Stetko, is a regular-looking woman (though for the bearded researchers who’ve been toiling alone in the cold for months on end, she’s a stone-cold fox), and that very non-Hollywood approach really works in the book’s favor. But for the movie they cast arguably the most cartoonishly attractive actress on the planet, Kate Beckinsdale, as Stetko. Now certainly I’m a bit naïve if I thought Hollywood would ever miss an opportunity to cast a beautiful woman in something, but part of me just can’t get past Beckinsdale in the lead; it sort of misses the entire point. Anyway, that doesn’t mean that Whiteout won’t be good, but what I recall of the book (I haven’t read it in a few years, but I remember liking it) had more to do with the characters and the writing than the plot twists being mind-blowing. I’m sort of afraid this will just be a generic thriller, with the Antarctica angle just being a gimmick. Who knows though;I guess we'll find out in September.
Finally, there’s finally a trailer for Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, which is apparently in 3D (did they pass a law I didn’t hear about mandating that all children’s movies MUST be in 3D from now on?). Burton used to be one of my favorite directors (his original Batman, my favorite movie for many, many years, is still a classic in my estimation, and Michael Keaton will always be the real Batman to me), but it feels like he’s sort of in a place now where his work all feels “quirky” in an unfortunately same-y way, like he’s making movies by checklist. (Goth trappings? Check. Johnny Depp in white makeup? Check. Black-and-white stripes everywhere? Check.) I’ve never been a big Alice In Wonderland fan, and kids’ movies (however “quirky”) aren’t really my bag, so I’m pretty cool on this one. But it’s Disney, and it’s 3D, and it’s Johnny Depp, so I’m sure a lot of people will go to see this. Enjoy. Personally I’d rather wait to see if Burton’s got anything in him isn’t just a visual retread of either Edward Scissorhands or Beetlejuice or both.
DVD Review: Trailer Park Boys: The Complete SeasonsTHE SHOW
It’s great being Canadian. Free health-care (eat it, America!), good beer (have another taste!), a national sport not plagued by substance-abuse controversies, and a Tim Hortons on every corner. And The Trailer Park Boys. For those unfamiliar, Trailer Park Boys is a Canadian sitcom about a trio of small-time criminals who live in a trailer park in Nova Scotia, where they hatch a series of comically inept schemes that just about always end up with one or more of the boys in jail by the end of the season. It ran for seven seasons here in Canada, and evolved from being a beloved cult hit into one of the country’s top-rated homegrown shows. (It also ran on BBC America at some point, if I’m not mistaken, though I have no idea if it’s still shown in the U.S.; either way I understand it has a cult of fans in the States as well.) It’s a really funny show that did the fake-documentary thing before The Office did (the U.S. version anyway; TPB debuted the same year as the British Office bowed in the U.K.), and the entire seven-season run has been collected into one set by Alliance Films.
Trailer Park Boys is a pop-cultural institution here in Canada; mention the names Ricky, Julian or Bubbles to most Canadians and they’ll almost immediately know who you’re talking about. While the show isn’t about Canada by any means – aside from a couple of tossed-off references to the U.S. border or places like Dartmouth, the fact that the show is set in Canada is pretty much never mentioned – it’s filled with swearing and drug references, and is otherwise filled with precisely the sorts of thing that would make U.S. censors blanch (the boys sell – and smoke – copious amounts of pot and hash), and an overall scrappy, blue-collar aesthetic that we hockey-loving Canucks can really get behind.
The show itself follows three petty criminals who grew up together at Sunnyvale Trailer Park: the endearingly dim-witted Ricky, who specializes in growing dope and hilariously mispronouncing words; Julian, the would-be mastermind of all their schemes, who is literally never without a rum and coke in his hand; and Bubbles, their good-natured, kitty-loving, bespectacled sidekick who’s probably smarter than the other two put together. Together the boys hatch a series of season-long scams to try to scrape together some money (often with the goal of making enough money to buy the trailer park, so that they can continue to run their scams with relative impunity) while trying to avoid Sunnyvale’s trailer park supervisor, the drunken Mr. Lahey, an ex-cop kicked off the force for his excessive drinking, and his own sidekick (and lover), a former male prostitute-turned-assistant trailer park supervisor known only as Randy. Throw in an assortment of suitably quirky supporting characters (like the wannabe-rapper J-Roc and Ricky’s on-again-off-again girlfriend Lucy, also the mother of his daughter, and the boys’ loyal lapdogs Corey and Trevor), and you’ve got a wonderfully off-kilter sitcom.
The most important thing to note about The Trailer Park Boys is that it's just really funny. Every episode of the show (as well as the two TV specials and the pair of feature films) is directed by series co-creator Mike Clattenburg (the show is very improv-heavy, and most of the key actors are credited as writers as well), and having one guy behind the camera for every episode lends the show a uniform look and feel. Clattenburg and company stick pretty dutifully to the fake-documentary angle, and the lack of a laugh track and more traditional sitcom trappings make Trailer Park Boys unlike almost any other TV show.
One of the things that struck me while rewatching the entire series (the seasons run from six to 10 half-hour episodes in length) is how much heart the show actually has. Not unlike the early days of The Simpsons, it’s easy to focus on the sleazier (or as the boys themselves would say, the greasier) aspects of the show and miss the fact that the boys really do care about each other. Julian and Ricky often go to great lengths to cheer Bubbles up when he’s down (or, worse, when he's facing jail time because one of their schemes has gone awry), and Julian and Bubbles consistently make personal sacrifices for the sake of Ricky and his relationship with Lucy and their daughter, Trinity. Even Mr. Lahey and Randy put aside their differences with the boys late in the series when Sunnyvale itself is threatened by crooked cops (sort of like when the X-Men and Magneto have to team up against a common foe). It sounds cliché to say the park itself is a character, but Sunnyvale is at the center of many of the stories, so it’s a case where the cliché is actually accurate.
The only drawback to the The Trailer Park Boys: The Complete Seasons collection is that it doesn’t include the hilarious Christmas special (which is available separately as a standalone DVD), or the TV movie that wrapped the series’ run, Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys. It’s just the show itself. Which is great, but I can’t help but think an even-more-comprehensive Trailer Park Boys DVD collection that includes the two theatrical films (the latter of which is due in Canadian cinemas this fall), as well as all the two TV specials. Until then though, this set will have to do for TPB fans, and speaking as one myself, it’s pretty awesome.
The Trailer Park Boys: The Complete Seasons is just the individual two-disc season sets collected in an admittedly awesome little cooler emblazoned with the TPB logo and a marijuana leaf. It's pretty sweet.
The upside is that the sets themselves all have pretty nice extras. There’s commentary on select episodes across the seasons (some with the boys in character, some where they’re just themselves, the actors), and the featurettes strike a nice balance between being informative (each season has a behind-the-scenes mini-documentary about the creation of that season) as well as just silly (outtakes and bits like a collection of all of Ricky’s pratfalls that season – one of the show’s better running gags is Ricky’s propensity to fall down at random times). Overall these are great DVDs, and a collection of the entire show will be a welcome addition to the DVD collections of Trailer Park Boys fans. If you already have all the DVDs, wait for the bigger set presumably bigger set coming in the future. If you haven’t checked out The Trailer Park Boys yet, this collection is the perfect place to start.
DVD Review: The State: The Complete SeriesTHE SHOW
The State is a sketch-comedy show that aired on MTV in the mid-‘90s. I’d never seen it before, as at the time it originally ran MTV wasn’t available in Canada (much to my teenage frustration, believe me). Since then I’ve read about The State, usually in fairly glowing terms, usually in the context of the alums’ newer work – former State cast members populate Reno: 911! and many others made the criminally underseen 2001 satire of 1980s summer-camp movies, Wet Hot American Summer – so I was very interested to check it out for myself. It’s got a cult of fans and they’ve been screaming for a DVD of the show for years, and Paramount definitely made the wait worthwhile. The package is excellent, but the show itself is the main draw; while it’s certainly not to everyone’s tastes, I found The State to be the closest thing to a true successor to the absurdist brilliance of Monty Python’s Flying Circus that I’ve seen in a sketch show.
The first and most important thing to note about The State is that it’s funny. Really funny. I have a big weakness for self-referential humor, and The State is packed with it. The skits are all pretty out-there in terms of the style of comedy, and many sketches mock the conventions of comedy itself.
While there’s a definite mid-‘90s aesthetic to the show’s credits and titles – and the odd cast member decked out in ripped jeans and flannel – I was also struck by how not dated the show was. Contrasted with The Ben Stiller Show, another cult sketch-comedy show from that era (which I also very much enjoy), it’s positively timeless; sure, there’s the odd dated pop culture reference (Pearl Jam, The Spin Doctors, etc.), but the 11 folks in The State weren’t anywhere near as interested in spoofing celebrities and current cultural events as Stiller and company were. It’s a wise decision, and it proves these skits work on their own merits; they don’t rely on celebrity impressions and references the way The Ben Stiller Show did.
The show itself lasted four seasons, but each season only has five to seven episodes. Like any sketch show, The State has the advantage of pacing; if a particular skit doesn’t work for you, another will be along in a minute or two that may make you laugh. But make no mistake, the humor of The State is decidedly bizarre, with the men (and one woman) behind it more interested in sly meta-comedy than more traditional gags. There’s a joke about an ostensibly popular recurring character (who becomes an actual recurring character, appearing in several more sketches throughout the show’s run) who just runs out and repeats his hilariously crude catchphrase (“I wanna dip my balls in it!”) to the increasing cheers and guffaws of the crowd. It’s a pretty clear – and funny – shot at Saturday Night Live, which at the time was trying so hard to create new movie-friendly spinoff characters at the time that the show was quite often painful to watch. Several of the skits also feature the members of The State playing themselves to doing phony public service announcements, reading pretend fan-mail or promoting fake contests (my favorite being an invitation to sleep with any cast member just by writing a letter to the show, because with the exception of the hunky Ken Marino, they’re all just lonely). A lot of it is probably too consciously weird for some, but I personally found The State to be hilarious (and just the right amount of absurd) across each of its four seasons.
If you’re an old fan of The State (or subsequent projects from the gang, like Reno: 911! or Stella, the short-lived 2006 sketch show from alums Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black and David Wain), then this DVD package will definitely turn your crank. If you’re not, but your tastes in comedy run towards the decidedly odd (and meta), then I highly recommend The State. It’s great stuff.
Once again, Paramount has knocked it out of the park with a DVD collection of a cult show. The set for The State was created with the participation of the cast members, who do commentary on every episode (I think; I confess I didn't check out all the commentaries, as they're surprisingly subdued). Also, in a smart move, they divided the cast up for different episodes, as 11 people on one commentary track is obviously far too many.
The fifth disc of the five-disc set also contains the unaired pilot episode (which contains a few sketches used in later episodes), and there’s something like 90 minutes of unaired sketches (also with commentary). There’s also outtakes, a pile of promos the troupe made for MTV that are largely very funny, as well as an appearance from the gang on MTV’s short-lived Jon Stewart Show. This is a damn fine DVD set, about as comprehensive as even the hardest of hardcore fans of The State could ask for.
I didn’t hate Revolutionary Road nearly as much as I expected to. Far from high praise, I know, but I don’t really like movies like this. I think the idea of exposing the dark underbelly of apparent suburban bliss is one that’s been pretty well-mined over the past few decades, and I find that idea explored in 1950s America particularly tiresome (and life was definitely less-than-perfect for you back then if you weren’t a white male). I guess it’s because I know things weren’t as warm and fuzzy and happy in the ‘50s as the popular American cultural fiction goes that that juxtaposition between the fantasy and reality holds almost no dramatic impact for me; much of the same awful stuff that happens today happened back then too, it just wasn’t really talked about. It’s a concept that even Revolutionary Road director Sam Mendes himself explored previously in the overrated American Beauty, and while Revolutionary Road is based on the acclaimed novel by Richard Yates and reunites Titanic stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, it’s a movie that ultimately doesn’t say as much as it wants to.
The film follows a young married couple going through some rocky times. Actually those rocky times appear to start almost immediately after the wedding; because the couple is pretty much always fighting about something, it makes Revolutionary Road quite a downer to watch, like spending two hours trapped in a room with your arguing parents. It’s not exactly a light Friday night rental, and may be one of the worst date movies of the past five years. It starts off with the DiCaprio’s and Winslet’s characters meeting at a party, jump-cuts to them being married and miserable an undetermined number of years later, and things just get more depressing from there. They’re both miserable in their cookie-cutter existences, and while there’s a plot about a plan to drop everything and move to Paris with their two kids, the movie’s really just about them coming to terms with the reality of their lives in conformity-obsessed 1950s America.
The best thing about Revolutionary Road is easily the acting. Everyone in the movie is excellent, with DiCaprio and Winslet both doing great work (Winslet earned a Golden Globe for her performance). The other actor that really stood out for me was Michael Shannon, who was one of the guys who lost to Heath Ledger for best supporting actor at the Oscars earlier this year. Shannon’s an actor I’ve been reading and hearing about for a while, but Revolutionary Road was the first thing I actually saw him in, and he’s brilliant. He’s only in a handful of scenes, playing a mathematician recently released from a mental asylum following a breakdown. Because the world of Revolutionary Road revolves entirely around appearances and status (“What will the neighbors think?!??”), his lack of any sort of social filter allows him to say things that nobody else is willing to, and his role as a sort of one-man Greek chorus injects the movie with new life every time he shows up.
Revolutionary Road is also a great-looking movie. While I’m not a fan of Mendes’ films in general, the man knows how make a movie look nice, and with the help of cinematographer Roger Deakins (who shoots most of the Coen brothers’ movies), Revolutionary Road never looks less that fantastic.
The worst criticism I can level at Revolutionary Road is that it deals with subjects that, for the most part, other films do a better job with. The first example that came to my mind while watching it was director Todd Field’s 2006 film Little Children, partly because that film also stars Kate Winslet as an unhappy suburban housewife (she also netted an Oscar nomination for it). That movie’s set in the modern day, but it’s also about the illusion of happiness and how the suburbs can become a gilded prison. But Field’s film, which is also based on a well-regarded novel, has a sense of humor about itself, and I ultimately found the characters – even a child-molester! – more relatable than I found the characters in Revolutionary Road. (I’ll stop the Little Children comparisons now, but seriously, it’s an excellent film and I recommend it highly.)
Revolutionary Road is a film that I didn’t particularly like, but not necessarily because it’s bad; it just didn’t resonate with me the way it meant to. While I wasn’t that taken with it, your mileage may vary.
The Revolutionary Road DVD has a nice collection of features. There’s commentary from director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe. I found the track to be fairly dry and uninteresting myself, but my apathy towards the film itself may have been a factor. There’s also a nicely in-depth mini-documentary on the making of the movie featuring interviews with the cast and crew, and a handful of deleted scenes with optional commentary from Mendes and Haythe.
Trailer roundup: Big Fan, new Michael Moore, and District 9
There’s an odd-sounding movie I’ve been reading about sporadically online for the better part of the past year that has really piqued my interest, and the trailer for it finally hit the web this week. It’s called Big Fan, and it’s a drama about obsessive sports fandom. It’s the directorial debut of Robert D. Siegel, who penned the screenplay for The Wrestler, which was my choice as the second-best movie of last year. That alone is enough to vault Big Fan to a spot close to the top of my must-watch list, but it also stars comedian Patton Oswalt in the lead role. Oswalt is easily one of my favorite comics working today (I’m not a particularly devoted stand-up follower, but he’s one of a handful of comedians with an album on my iPod), and the promise of him delving into dark places as a New York Giants fan who’s WAY too into his team is pretty tantalizing. The track record of comedians doing drama is fairly solid (Tom Hanks, Robin Williams [sometimes], Jim Carrey [also sometimes], Denis Leary in Rescue Me, etc.), and Oswalt’s comedy is among the genuinely smartest I’ve heard, so I have high hopes about his serious turn in Big Fan. I can’t wait for this one. It's out August 28.
Check out the Big Fan trailer here courtesy of Yahoo! Movies. Michael Moore has announced the title of his new documentary: Capitalism: A Love Story. Moore’s a filmmaker whose documentaries I often don’t like as much as I feel that I should, because I agree with him on a lot of issues; I just don’t always like the way he makes his points. (I also confess that I still haven’t seen his last film, Sicko, which I hear is quite good and not as obnoxious as some of his other work.) But if there ever was a topic tailor-made for Moore, it’s this economic mess and the government bailouts. Should be interesting stuff. If he can keep his ego and willingness to play fast and loose with the facts to make his point in check, Capitalism: A Love Story could be pretty great. Judge for yourself on October 2.
And last, but certainly not least, a new trailer for District 9, the crazy-looking sci-fi movie that I want to see so bad it’s like acid in my mouth. The first trailer hooked me. This new one makes me want to build a time machine so I don’t have to wait until August 14 to see this thing.
Summer Movie Preview: Part 3It’s time for the third (and slightly belated) part of my preview of the upcoming summer movies, this time looking at the big July releases. As usual, I haven’t actually seen any of these movies yet, so keep that in mind that these are just my opinions of the big summer blockbusters.
Public Enemies (July 1) So for the second straight month, my list is topped by films already out. Holidays have a funny way of messing up the best-laid plans. But I assume you all enjoy barbecues more than reading my thoughts on movies (if only by the slimmest of margins), so I figure you can forgive me. Anyway, Michael Mann’s film about the last days of legendary outlaw John Dillinger has been getting fairly middling reviews, but I’m still very much looking forward to checking it out myself. Mann’s one of my favorite filmmakers, and this cast looks pretty spectacular (Depp, Bale, Crudup), and it all adds up to make Public Enemies one of the movies I’ve been looking forward to the most this summer. I’ll check back in with my thoughts in the coming days.
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (July 1) This third installment in the animated franchise tied Transformers atop the box office last weekend, which is unsurprising considering how big the first two were. As usual, despite my love of animation, talking-animal kiddie flicks make my stomach turn, but evidently the kids dig this franchise. I still haven’t seen Up yet, but my understanding is that, quality wise, Pixar’s floating-house flick still is the cream of the animated crop this summer.
Blood: The Last Vampire (July 10, limited) Speaking of animation, I’m a kinda-sorta anime fan, in that the stuff I like I really like, but as with anything, 90% of anime is unwatchable crap (I had to become something of an expert on the subject while at my old job, so I’ve seen quite a bit of it), but this action flick is a live-action adaptation of an anime I really like (with the same title). The plot follows a young Japanese girl in a school girl outfit (a fairly well-worn tradition in Japanese pop culture) who cuts up bat-looking vampires with a sword. Turns out she’s actually a vampire herself, and is much older than she appears. The anime is under an hour long, and barely spends any time on character development or even plot, really – vampires attack a U.S. military base in Japan in the ‘70s is about the extent of it – focusing instead on mood and some of the genuinely creepiest images I’ve ever seen in animation, and truly scary-looking vampire designs. The big question is whether this will hold up in a full-length movie. Seems sort of doubtful, but Blood is far enough up my alley on paper (swords, monsters, Japan) that I’ll definitely check it out.
Brüno (July 10) I don’t typically let single reviews sway my opinion of movies going in, but I caught an early review of Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest last week that got my attention specifically because it said the film falls into exactly the trap I was afraid it would, which is that the character of Brüno, compared to Borat, is far more one-note, and this film is little more than Baron Cohen trying to shock bystanders with his gayness. If that’s true – which it very well may not be, as I think he really is something close to a proper genius – it’s pretty disappointing. I know many Americans are automatically uncomfortable with homosexuality, and while I’m sure there’s fodder for some decent comedy there, an entire movie built on that (or worse, the inherent ridiculousness of the fashion industry) will get old pretty quick. We’ll see though; I thought Borat was pretty amazing, and I’m still eager to see Brüno for myself.
I Love You, Beth Cooper (July 10) Teen comedies, rather unsurprisingly, are not my thing, but this one looks worse than most. My thing with this movie, directed by Home Alone’s Chris Columbus and based on a novel by a former Simpsons writer (the film rights were sold before it was published; that’s not usually a great sign) is based on the fact that I’ve seen the trailer a couple of times and I still don’t know what it’s about. The premise is that some nerd, in his valedictorian speech, confesses his love for the hottest girl in school, and she later shows up at his house to take him out for a wild night on the town. The thing is, the trailer makes the titular Beth Cooper (played by Heroes starlet Hayden Panettiere) look sort of like a sociopath. So whether this movie is about the nerdy hero realizing that elevating someone you don’t even know onto an untouchable pedestal is actually a bad idea or whether she’ll turn out to just be “lovably crazy” (a form of crazy that only exists in the movies, I’ve found), I have no idea. I don’t want to see this movie, at all, but I’m pretty interested to find out what it’s actually about. The trailer’s so bad at conveying anything other than a collection of well-trodden high school jokes and crude sight gags that, as a guy who watches a lot of movie trailers, I’m sort of fascinated by it.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (July 15) I don’t care about Harry Potter. But this thing will make tons of money, and I hear this is one of the best Potter movies yet. Enjoy.
(500) Days of Summer (July 17) This indie romantic comedy has been getting some attention, but the trailer (which I admit is the sum total of my knowledge of this movie) looks sort of bland. Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy tries to get girl back….maybe I’m just old, but I feel like I’ve seen this movie before – a lot – and (500) Days of Summer doesn’t look like it’s doing anything different. I love the actors involved though – Joseph Gordon-Levitt has transformed into probably my favorite young actor working today, and like any good movie geek I have a serious crush on Zooey Deschanel – but unless I hear that this is some kind of once-in-a-generation insight into human relationships, it seems like just another cute-and-sappy indie romance. And I didn’t like Garden State enough to find that to be an exciting proposition.
G-Force (July 24) A family comedy about a team of gerbil secret agents. In 3D. If I was 6 years old I’d probably be bugging my parents to take me to this. But I’m not, so I’m just going to go back to pretending this doesn’t exist. If you have kids, however, enjoy all the fart jokes and dated movie parodies.
The Ugly Truth (July 24) Another summer romantic comedy. I doubt this stunningly generic-looking rom-com, about a stuffy TV producer (Katherine Heigl) who is (presumably eventually) charmed by a roguish ladies-man author/speaker (Gerard Butler, playing a really, really watered-down version of Tom Cruise’s character in Magnolia). I hate movies like this with a fiery passion, but many people dig them, which I can understand. But we already had one paint-by-numbers romantic comedy turn into a surprise hit this summer in The Proposal, and I doubt there’s room for two.
Orphan (July 24) I guess it’s because I don’t have kids, but I’ve never fully grasped the appeal of the “creepy kids” subgenre of horror. And those movies don’t tend to do all that well, at least they haven’t lately, so I’m a bit puzzled by this one, about a young couple that adopts a young girl after they lose their own unborn child. Turns out she’s either a psycho killer or a psycho killer with powers (the trailer is unclear; personally I like the powers idea), and all sorts of craziness ensues. The actors in this one are pretty solid though, with Vera Farmiga (the psychiatrist in The Departed) and Peter Sarsgaard as the couple, so at least the performances will presumably be decent. This also doesn’t really feel like a summer movie, but sometimes that kind of counter-programming works (see the success of The Proposal). Orphan seems pretty stock to me, but I’m just a jackass who writes about movies on the Internet.
Funny People (July 31) I’ve really enjoyed Judd Apatow’s previous two directorial efforts, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, although I find them to be a bit overrated (which doesn’t mean they’re bad, I just think people seem to praise them more than they deserve), but I find his tendency towards the more saccharine aspects of romantic comedies and comedies in general to be his least appealing quality as a filmmaker. (The part where the plot kicks in and Things Get Serious is precisely the point where I lose interest in the vast majority of big-budget studio comedies.) The word I’ve heard on this film, about a comic-turned-Hollywood superstar’s cancer scare, set against the backdrop of the comedy scene, is that it’s really a sappy drama masquerading as a comedy, and all the funny bits are in the trailer. While, if true, that certainly doesn’t mean Funny People will be bad, it does mean I will probably wait for DVD for this one. I like the Anchorman-producing Judd Apatow, not the Judd Apatow who tries to make me cry via Adam Sandler dealing with cancer. I expect a big first weekend based on Apatow’s previous hits, but it’s a toss-up as to where things go from there. Who knows, maybe Apatow doing drama will be well-received. Stranger things have happened.