Will Ferrell's guest stint on "Hoarders" doesn't go well.
Summer Movie Preview
April 29th, Wide
The ads say this is THE “official start of the summer,” so why not start with this seminal series? “The Fast and Furious” series has the astonishing distinction of surviving the careers of both its initial stars who thought they were above such nonsense, and then had to go back because they determined they really weren’t above it. Auto porn of this quality will make money whether or not Vin Diesel or Paul Walker are involved. Once James Bond retires, James Bond can’t be James Bond anymore, and we likely won’t see Brandon Routh in any “Superman” reboots.
Still, if these movies make money, even if the stars fade the series will go on. “Furious” has outlasted three directors, about six or seven minor characters’ acting careers, the dignity of Paul Walker, and Vin Diesel’s tough-guy-in-Disney-movie phase. That’s ten years and five films, people! In the fourth installment, the cooler-titled, the-dropping “Fast and Furious” featured the original stars and brought in as much dough as ever.
What gives? Well, dude dig fast cars and chicks dig dudes who dig fast cars. Oh, and dudes dig lots of shots of women’s butts in tight skirts. Plus, Vin Diesel gives the guys a hunky role model and Walker gives the ladies a sensitive lad with a six-pack. Imagine if George Lucas directed “American Graffiti” with the skillful gravitas his production brought to “Howard the Duck.” But without the characters and with worse dialogue.
So, what’s the movie about? The $50 million worth of tickets sold the first weekend won’t care. Why should you? (James)
May 6th, Wide
What the hell happened to Kenneth Branagh? I mean, this guy was the successor to Sir Laurence Olivier—heck, you could argue that as a director, as a visionary of Shakespeare, his first films bested Olivier. The man made the only uncut, thoroughly kick-ass four-and-a-half hour Hamlet produced by a major studio. Though mocked at the time, Branagh’s Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar may be the most deserved winner in the history of the category: In the words of Boston Review critic and Harvard Law professor Alan Stone, Branagh’s “prodigious accomplishment” was in “interpreting in detailed stage directions every scene in a way that invites our understanding.” In other words, Branagh made sense of the world’s most confounding work of art. His Much Ado About Nothing with then-wife Emma Thompson featured cinema’s most artful and spirited verbal sparring since Burton and Taylor. Branagh’s debut was no less impressive: In his Henry V, Branagh created a specific counterpoint to Olivier’s jingoistic, post-World War II Churchillian ideal, embodying Henry W. L. Godshalk’s notion that Henry’s refusal to accept responsibility for mass death in the name of the crown makes him both the perfect Christian king and Machiavellian manipulator.
How do you get from creating “nothing less than a monument to the highest art of the Western canon” to directing “Thor”? Here’s my theory: We all have a limited store of genius, so the process of creating Hamlet sapped Branagh of his remaining artistic strength while its success created an extraordinary hubris. The result is a director who thinks he can turn Love’s Labour’s Lost (probably in the bottom five on the Shakespeare Power Rankings) into a 30’s-style musical with Alicia Silverstone and Mathew Lillard. And that was it. Rather than making sense of Shakespeare’s texts, Branagh now seems to think that “pushing the envelope” is artistic posture appropriate to his talents. This is how you cast Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind and turn As You Like It into a dark war movie for HBO.
So what’s the former great man’s idea for Thor? Thor is Henry V. Yep, Henry…The…Fifth. Branagh deserves our respect, so let’s hear him out:
I think Henry V was an interesting example because, as a young man he was reckless and he kept bad company. People thought he’d make a terrible leader. His father was angry at him but he turned out to be a terrific leader. But he had to earn that privilege, earn that place by losing a lot of friends, losing power, losing family and making sacrifices. They’re both stories of how you find yourself. A rite of passage. Both are a good identity story and very relatable.
If you’re thinking, “My goodness, this sounds like a high school freshman’s C+ essay that he half-plagiarized from SparkNotes,” then you and I are on the same page. Without diving too far into the Marvel myth, I’m not sure if Branagh means Loki to be the Earl of Cambridge and Jane Foster to be Catherine of Valois, but I’m interested to find out. It may be that Branagh has entered his post-war Orson Welles phase, where the man who made film into high art got paid for turning Macbeth into a voodoo-influenced violent b-movie. Imagine Hollywood throwing millions in special effects at Orson Welles to direct a ‘roided out Othello, and that may be the kind of insane and depressing spectacle we’ve got here. (Steve)
“Chic lit” is some concept that captures my attention only when I see a bunch of brightly-covered, thinly-paged pamphlets in the novel bin at Target. Perhaps it’s a form of masculine panic that I shudder at the thought of twenty-something women getting their heads filled by Candace Bushnell-snark masquerading as hardened observation. Then again, how different is this from 19th Century British novels of manners, but minus the apple-tini references and tampon jokes?
Here, Rachel feels she might be falling for her friend’s (named Darcy, and no, I’m not kidding) fiance’. Rachel’s always had a thing for him, and after a night of drinking and some regrettable decisions, what’s a hip, urbane, modern girl to do? First, be played in the movie by insufferable woman-child Gennifer Goodwin to play you, then get Kate Hudson to play the spurned gal pal. “Something Borrowed” also features John Krasinki pretending his film career is going to work. There’s no doc-camera to raise your eyebrows at, Jim.
But, hey, good counter-programming to “Thor”, Warner Brothers! (James)
Jumping the Broom
“Jumping the broom” refers to the tradition (believed to have originated either in Africa or with Welsh gypsies) of having the couple jump over a decorated broom together after the wedding ceremony. In Europe, the custom solemnizes unions not legally sanctioned by the state, and in United States, slaves used the tradition to legitimize marriages. Roots revived the practice in African-American weddings, with brooms passed like rings through generations.
This leads us to “Cute Looking Black Movie With Completely Non-Threatening Black Actors,” like Angela Bassett as the rich mom and Omar Epps as the working class dad. As a thoroughly white-bread guy living in a white-bread neighborhood in the south-center part of a Midwestern city, I’m not sure what my appropriate response to these movies should be. “Jumping the Broom” doesn’t strike me as a minstrel shows, and it seems to lack the moral hypocrisy and Madea-ization of Tyler Perry. But I wouldn’t normally say, hey, let’s check out “Jumping the Broom” because, well, I’m not sure why. Do they even want my nine dollars?
Or is it because if I were to buy a ticket to the Friday 8:00 show at, say, the Cinemark on the Plaza here in Kansas City, odds are there’d by a 40-1 black-white ratio in the theater? So does that make me one of those liberal racists Chinua Achebe talks about? This blog has long documented that romantic comedies starring skinny white actresses are mostly terrible. If I have the inclination to see a romantic comedy, “Jumping the Broom” seems interesting and a helluva lot better than this Kate Hudson/Ginnifer Goodwin trendy urbanite wedding porn.
So why am I so hesitant to buy a ticket? To my mind, even if I go to the same critics screening as Shawn Edwards, that doesn’t count. In the end, labels shouldn’t matter—“jumping the broom” comes from both Africa and Wales, after all—so perhaps the right thing to do is drive down to the Plaza, walk up to the ticket window, and loudly declare to that uneasy mix of white yuppies and East KC teens in the lobby, “Two for ‘Jumping the Broom’, please!”
As long as I’m not there during a flash mob. (Steve)
May 6th, Limited
Is it possible Jodie Foster is crazier than Mel Gibson? Looking at the trailer, I wonder why we are being subjected to another middle-aged identity crisis for some jerk who has to go through some spiritual awakening to realize that he’s ruining the lives of everyone around him. This time, the spiritual awakening comes in the form of a beaver puppet that becomes his main form of expression. Surely there’s a sexual subtext, but that would be too easy. Could it be as simple the path to successful adulthood is returning to some element of childhood? How’s that still working for Sandler? Or perhaps ask the leading actor who thinks it’s cool to beat his girlfriend (allegedly). Either way, surely something must have driven Foster out of semi-retirement. Or I could just watch “Little Man Tate” again and realize she’s a hack director. (James)
Everything Must Go
Back in 2004, in my review of “Anchorman” I boldly predicted that Will Ferrell would someday score an Oscar nomination, probably a win. The driving force of Ferrell’s comedy is white male panic and suburban emasculation, which could easily be harnessed into one of those “American Beauty” style “black comedies” (but not too black—still palatable for American multiplexers) that wins awards. “Everything Must Go” probably isn’t that movie, but it points the way toward the eventual Bill Murray awardsification of Ferrell.
In a way, a Raymond Carver short story about an alcoholic loser seems right for the guy who made his big screen splash as “Frank the Tank,” a guy who turned a beer bong into a rebellion against Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Done well, “Everything Must Go” can be a literary riff on the theme. This is writer/director Dan Rush’s first feature film, so all the usual “curb your enthusiasm” disclaimers apply. (Steve)
Megan Fox plays an angel in this movie. Not a stripper or a porn star named “Angel,” but a real angel under the control of a mobster played by Bill Murray. She can only be saved by Mickey Rourke, who plays a trumpeter. Not Gabriel, the messenger of God, but Nate, which rhymes with “gate.” Obviously, this movie takes its metaphors pretty literally. What it does not take literally is the criticism of its star, which he now takes back because Rourke didn’t want to be bothered at the premiere party for “Scre4m”. Or it could be that the writer of “Scrooged” and “The Recruit” might have made an oddly inconsistent film. (James)
May 13th, Wide
Judd Apatow developed a film for Kristin Wiig? Must be comedic gold, right? Then, you watch the trailer. Is it the most laugh-less, pathetic thing you’ve ever watched? Is there anything funny about it? Lame rom-coms put their one good joke in the preview, but this could be Christopher Hitchens’ Exhibit A. Maybe the funny parts are too raunchy to have in a trailer? If that’s the case, I want a red-band trailer. This looks like a Katherine Heigel movie with a better pedigree and a fart joke. Plus, do you really want Wiig to lead one of these comedies? Her specialty is the dry supporting role—maybe she needs to consult Seth Rogen on how his leading man experiment is working out. (James)
The concept behind “Priest” seems to be this: Let’s take Silas the evil albino Opus Dei priest and instead of whipping himself, have him whip some vampire ass. I’m curious about the “disobeys church law” part of the official synopsis—by definition, if we’re all still here in a post-apocalyptic world, shouldn’t we feel free disobey all the church law we want? At that point, it’s lost its credibility, right? (Steve)
May 20th, Wide
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
It was a sad spectacle to see Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp go from such impressive and elegant blockbuster storytelling with the first “Pirates” to such incomprehensible nonsense as the last two “Pirates.” Unless you’re a hyperattentive twelve year old boy, you can’t figure out what’s going on. But I am not sure the fix is hiring Rob Marshall to helm the fourth in the series. Let’s say you liked “Chicago.” I did, but that’s mostly because it embodies the worst of the Modern Musical. But, what in “Memoirs of a Geisha” or “Nine” made someone say: Put this guy in charge of a Big, Stupid Pirate Movie! Well, I the stunts will be nicely choreographed.
This time, Johnny Depp’s outrageously fey Jack Sparrow is on some sort of quest for the Fountain of Youth. Which is a plot never employed by desperate filmmakers. Since Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom are…busy(?) or “focusing on projects with more artistic merit,” we get a pretty feisty looking Penelope Cruz as an alternate. That might be to the audience’s gain, and we also have Ian McShane and Geoffrey Rush and Keith Richards trying to chew the scenery right out of Depp’s hungry mouth. That’s the reason this franchise is still around, right? (Steve)
May 20th, Limited
Midnight in Paris
The conventional wisdom is that, with Owen Wilson, Woody Allen made such an odd choice for his alter ego that “Midnight” is destined to be another mediocre late-Woody bomb. Fair enough, but let’s look again: A young man breaks into Hollywood doing comedies, but fashions himself an artist, so he tries to stretch himself into “serious” roles. He’s thoughtful but depressive, breaks down, and in middle age tries to rebuild himself by going back to what made him famous in the first place. Maybe it’s me, but the trailer indicates that the mumbly Wilson thing might find new life in the dialogue of Woody Allen. (Steve)
May 27th, Wide
The Hangover Part II
“The Hangover” is an exercise in comic virtuosity—a demonstration of technique, as if the director of “Old School” and “Starsky and Hutch” took Viktor Shklovsky’s notion that the technique of art is to manipulate forms to create a prolonged aesthetic experience and turned it into a R-rated summer blockbuster comedy (he did a good job creating a steady flow of really funny set pieces). The problem is, as Shklovsky would explain, if technique creates a feel, it can’t be replicated because the original is a unique experience.
What can the revolution-era Russian formalists teach us about “The Hangover Part II”? Some of the funniest parts of the original cannot appear in this film without severe plot manipulation, which would break apart the veneer of believability the story rests upon. In other words, how do you get Ken Jeong and Mike Tyson back into the “Hangover” universe without straining the plot? Because once you strain the plot (according to the rules of the universe you’ve created, where randomness predominates coincidence), then technique falters—which is the whole point of the exercise. As Shklovsky observes, art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important. In other words, a naked Asian man jumping out of the trunk is not important, but how we experience him is. I hope Todd Phillips figures out a way around this. (Steve)
Kung Fu Panda 2
A favorite Family Guy cutaway once cast Jack Black in “The Unconventional Butler,” which featured a stodgy old white person initially shocked but inevitably charmed by Black’s “unconventional” nature. I wonder what the unconventional butler would think of Black’s family movies of late—or, I wonder what the Jack Black from Tenacious D would think of this. I mean, is this what we’re going to see from Zach Galifianakis in six years? Or…perhaps two years ago?
Anyway, this is another one of those kid movies with enough cool actors (Angelina, Seth Rogan) that make it acceptable to take your children to and still feel like you haven’t completely wasted a trip to the movies. (James)
May 27th, Limited
The Tree of Life
As any proper film critic, I hold Terence Malick in the highest esteem and have signed the online petition to ask 20th Century Fox to release the original six hour cut of “The Thin Red Line.” And boy howdy, does this movie want to cover The Meaning of Life and all sorts of other Malickian things. But it gives me a little Aronofsky “The Fountain” vibe, as if the ambition to make a film about All Things is too big for the medium and can only result in pseudo-intellectual pretention. (Steve)