Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hey, Did You Hear Kevin Hart is In "About Last Night"? Also Some Other Trailer Reviews

It is only a few days away from what will likely be the marching out of an army of big, loud, shiny trailers for big, loud, shiny summer blockbusters. So, this week we enjoy a few quieter trailers to limited release pictures along with a few bigger films hoping to strike gold at the box office. Oh yeah, we do discuss that little known actor, Kevin Hart, too.


Maleficent (May 30, 2014/Wide) - Trailer #2



Christopher:  This is the fourth trailer I've seen for this picture, so Disney is definitely pushing for another Alice in Wonderland here.  Not sure if they can pull it off, because it will hinge on how much parents want to take their children to a film with the villain as the central figure. I realize I just described Despicable Me, but that was animated and had far less haunting material in the trailer. There is the Angeline Jolie factor of a big star that we rarely see on the big screen, and she is prominent throughout every single trailer (plus the whole being the title character). This has been described as a story that explains how Maleficent turned into the cruel witch that put such a sweet princess under a dark spell, but the trailer hints far more towards events happening when she is already evil and nasty. The CGI works here and the visuals are pretty stunning and storybook-like, and this is what is still drawing me in. The whole moss monsters battling the knights looks too much like trying to capture a Lord of the Rings crowd, and brings back far too many memories of the visually stunning but rather disappointing Snow White and the Huntsman. There are hints at a more complicated relationship with Princess Aurora this time around rather than just being the person to trick her into pricking her finger that then gives her an extended slumber. Hopefully, this means the story is set to bring a new twist on their connection and explain why Maleficent does the evil deed. I still want those bubbly fairies to turn out to be bitches and revealed to be the nasty backstabbers that cause the transformation and all the problems. I have lots of hope for this movie being a different kind of big summer blockbuster, but I also sadly must admit each new trailer gets me less interested.

Scott:  I believe I have said it before, and I will easily say it again, Angelina Jolie rocks the look in this movie and brings perfectly to life the cold, calculating stare of a wicked witch.  The movie looks like a lot of fun, and I personally enjoy tales that allow more focus on the villains.  When I used to watch professional wrestling, I always cheered for the heel because that was a lot more fun.  My tastes, however, are not what is going to turn this movie into a profit, and it could be possible that the material is one that has parents less ambitious about spending money on, especially considering that only two weeks after the release of How to Train Your Dragon 2, and that is more typical family fare.

Visually and conceptually, it looks great, but how it will make out is a tough guess.  While I know I will be watching its success closely, I can only imagine that Sony will be paying even more attention, as they are looking to expand the Spider-Man universe with spin-offs based on Peter Parker’s opponents.  If Maleficent fails to connect, it could be a huge indicator to Sony to perhaps rethink its long term strategy.

Stalingrad (February 28, 2014/Limited)



Christopher:  I'm all for foreign films breaking into the North American market, and I'm always intrigued to see war movies from a different perspectives than just the American. The Battle of Stalingrad is one of the bloodiest battles in military history and also considered by many historians to be the turning point in World War II. There is no arguing that this is a story that deserves to be made into a big budget motion picture. My grievance and hesitation is the visuals remind me of a graphic novel, and it seems to be closer to Red Tails than Saving Private Ryan. This should have been a gritty and thought-provoking war drama that focuses in on a few key characters and explores how a soldier deals with the heartbreak and trauma of war while protecting the country they're sworn to defend. Except this instead looks like a big budget, special effects laden action picture that replaces depth and character for big explosions. I could be wrong but the promise of a 3D IMAX experience sort of points me in the direction towards the type of audience they want and how they plan to sell this movie. It is already the highest grossing Russian movie of all time and seems to be a major success overseas, though just like how American-centric war films don't play well outside of the domestic market, I expect less interest for it here. I just hope this picture doesn't end up being a sign of the future of war movies where it is all about being shiny, fast-paced and explodey rather than gritty, dramatic, and thoughtful.

Scott:  While Iron Man 3 liked to rule many areas of the world in 2013, it did not even come close to touching Stalingrad’s numbers in Russia.  I had not seen the trailer before today, and it looks like it really could be an interesting 3D experience.  I catch what Chris is saying about the atmosphere that seems similar to movies based on graphic novels, but some part of me is thinking that it could work in this film.  It leaves it looking like the sky itself is burning, almost like blood is mixed in with it, and from an artistic standpoint that makes sense for the brutality that was the battle of Stalingrad.  I think this movie will more lean to the side of visual spectacle, but will not be void of heart or vision.  I am also looking forward to seeing a WW2 movie that is not about the American involvement in Normandy, but one that pays attention to one of the most gruesome and horrible battles in the war in a story that people rarely hear about from a voice that is justified in telling the tale.

Joe (TBA)




Christopher:  Nicholas Cage has to be one of the most frustrating actors ever, and I'm not referring to his "cry to the heavens" scenes that he must have written in his contract for every movie. He is one of the most talented actors around, but most of you probably roll your eyes when I say that. He earned that title in incredibly complex and nuanced performances in acclaimed films like Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, and Matchstick Men while his presence elevated otherwise decent action films to something special in The Rock and Face/Off. Can you think of any other actor that could have truly pulled off the Big Daddy character in Kick-Ass as expertly as Cage? The guy is great and I'll write a whole essay if I have to, in order to prove it. The problem is that for the last decade he has constantly been taking shit roles in movies destined for the bargain bin a week after release. In these pictures he ends up over-acting and hamming it up at the most inopportune time in some misguided attempt to improve the material. His name is tarnished and it could have been saved if he just took the time to read the scripts before signing on.

This is why I'm so excited about Joe. This reminds me a lot of Mud and not just because of the inclusion of rising star, Tye Sheridan. It is about a complicated man that ends up becoming a questionable father figure to a tormented boy in what should be a dark coming of age story. The story is something far more significant and intriguing than most of the other work that Cage has been starring in. Hopefully the material allows him to show a wide range of emotions and tackle some challenging character acting in order to prove he is the real deal. Maybe it can be the kind of role that Mud was for Matthew McConaughey where it possibly leads to some better scripts but more importantly, reminds people that he is above the direct-video-pap he has been smothered by lately. Unfortunately, all of Cage's other upcoming work doesn't give much hope for a renaissance, but baby steps can work for rehabbing a career too -- especially if this ends up getting some awards recognition.

The cynical side of me feels that its chances for any awards rely on the picture being released closer to the end of the year. Once again mentioning Mud, that movie ended up being totally forgotten during the awards race, despite really strong reviews. Of course, this picture is also far from Oscar bait material anyway, and more of a gritty drama about salt-of-the-Earth types battling to make the best of their situation. The antihero is also still in fashion and it is a perfect role for Cage who I've got high hopes will be in a few memorable and captivating moments.

Director David Gordon Green is also an intriguing choice for this picture, because he is kind of an enigma with his portfolio. He has goofball pictures like The Sitter and Your Highness, but also outright entertaining genre spanning pictures like Pineapple Express and Prince Avalanche. He also has a pretty strong resume for the tougher dramatic pictures with stuff like Snow Angels and Undertow. I have a lot of faith that the talent in this picture can put together one of the year's surprise gems and this trailer hints at some engaging hard-edged entertainment.

Scott:  This movie came out with perfect timing at TIFF this past year, as around a week earlier I had mentioned Nicolas Cage in a podcast about actors who are not deserving of all the hate they get on them.  While Cage seems free to take pretty much any role that pops along, if given the right script with the right director, the man is magic.  The reviews from TIFF seemed to indicate that this is another quality role for the acting veteran, and the trailer proves that it is a much more layered character that Cage has the ability to ease into.

And, it has Tye Sheridan in it.  If you have not heard his name before, remember it because I am predicting this kid will be huge on the acting scene.  When I say that, I don’t mean that he will be taking the same kind of roles that Seann William Scott takes.  Sheridan, even at a young age, seems to be drawn towards more dramatic roles.  He will be in a film later this year with another great acting prospect in Chloe Grace-Moretz... fun stuff.

Okay, back to Joe.  From my perspective, the talent looks great, the cinematography looks great, and I am thinking that this film has a lot of potential to be great.  It also has the potential to be a bit of a letdown, but I am going to focus more on the positives.

A Long Way Down (TBA)



Christopher:  Nick Hornby has consistently delivered witty and sharp novels about cynical protagonists that hide from their insecurities and inadequacies through immersing in some type of obsession until meeting an individual that changes their perspective. He is a master of writing smart comedy and quirky, pessimistic characters that help balance out the sentimental moments of his narrative, and is one of the few talented writers that can safely swim into the realms of heartwarming and touching without things feeling overly melodramatic. It comes from creating complex and fully developed characters that we believe and grow attached to. High Fidelity and About a Boy are two adaptions from his novels that turned into fantastic not-quite-romantic comedies that followed some of the usual patterns of the genre, but offered several unexpected twists that made it exceed the formula.

Being an adaption of a Hornby's novel is enough to get me on board with this picture. This also looks to have the quirk and humour that made the other movies into stand-outs. It is hard to make a dark comedy believably transition into touching and sweet, but the actors involved along with a strong story should be able to pull it off. The cast is really great with Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, and Aaron Paul all fitting well into their roles and seeming to have a believable camaraderie with each other. This trailer had several dark humorous moments that pulled a laugh out of me like Brosnan offhandedly mentioning they'd live to regret the pact or Collette wondering if the jumper could hurry things up. The trailer had a stronger hit rate with jokes than some feature length comedies I've seen. This should be the funniest dark but sweet picture of the year, and hopefully, a film that really gives this talented cast the recognition and buzz they deserve.

Scott:  This trailer makes me think of The Breakfast Club on a roof, but instead of ending in the instance it follows the rag-tag group as they go from almost dying together to living together.  I quite like the poetry of the concept, and, completely echoing Chris, I laughed more in this trailer than some that I have seen for full on comedies.  I absolutely love the cast, and felt like there was a great chemistry between them that this kind of story would absolutely hinge on.  It is the kind of movie that could walk the audience through a wide range of emotions, and the people who are attached to it give me good reason to assume that it will be successful.

Blood Ties (March 21, 2014/Limited)



Christopher:  I saw a trailer for this picture over a year ago; it essentially showed many of the same scenes but with slower paced music and cuts. It made the film feel more like a gritty crime drama about one man trying to wrestle with reconnecting with his family and staying on the right side of the law while fighting off the urge to make the major money from his former criminal life. It looked intriguing, and I told myself to keep an eye on this film's release date. It is a year later, and it still hasn't come out in the domestic market. Even more disturbing is this trailer makes the picture now feel like an action thriller with its high paced music and glimpses of shoot-outs and car chases. So, which movie are we getting? I'm very leery of limited release action pictures because that is just screaming for direct-to-video fare that tends to have all the eye rolling sequences of big budget action films but look far shittier. I'm really hoping this was a case of trying to appeal to a different demographic than the initial trailer, but the actual film being closer to what was promised the first time around. It being a year since I last saw that mythical trailer could also means this picture has been recut to be more "mainstream."

The two brothers from different walks of life isn't a fresh concept, but it still makes for good storytelling in the right hands. Writer James Gray has experience creating dramatic action-like pictures that deal with one guy being pulled back into the life of crime often with a belief to help his family. If he isn't writing a screenplay like that then it is about the dark side of life, such as the upcoming The Immigrant about a woman being forced into prostitution. The guy likes his stories with broken protagonists in very dark and nasty situations. The Yards and We Own the Night would likely be the scripts that would play closest to this particular picture, and both had a decent amount of focus on character and action. Clive Owen is a great choice for the man torn by his allegiances, and works well as the possible antihero here. His name has faded the last few years, so it'd nice if this can get him a bit of buzz. He is supported by a cast that I really love with names like Zoey Saldana, Billy Crudup (sporting an awesome '70s time period mustache), and Mila Kunis. James Caan can be hit or miss in the films he picks, but the man always has a remarkable presence and I enjoy him even if I'm not digging the film.

I've got hopes for this, but it is also likely going to be a harder film to track down. Lionsgate at least usually is able to get a good portion of their pictures into fairly wide release. If it turns out to be pretty good and gets an audience on the limited run, then this may be a gritty little treat to gobble up before blockbuster season.

Scott:  I am going to admit right now, I was pretty damned bored through the trailer.  It really felt like the kind of cop and family movie that has happened before, and that I have seen tons of trailers for before.  Visually, it seemed to have an almost ‘made for TV’ quality to the action, and I half expected the stars in it to be people like Tom Selleck and Don Johnson.  I didn’t read Chris’ thoughts on this one because, well, I was bored and I was more interested in just writing my piece and moving on.  This movie has ‘On Demand’ written all over it, because it sure won’t be coming to a theatre near you.

About Last Night (February 14, 2014/Wide)



Christopher:  The major success of Ride Along and the rise of Kevin Hart seems to have altered the last minute advertising campaign for this picture. This is a remake of the 1986 hit comedy starring Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Elizabeth Perkins, and James Belushi, which was based off David Mamat's play Sexual Perversity in Chicago. The initial trailer did focus more on the premise of the original movie by making it clear it was about two couples and showing the scenes where the two guys and two girls would separately talk to each other about the events of the previous evening's dates. The jokes were more about how the lines got crossed and each gender interpreted the dates differently. The trailers also made it look like Hart was the comic relief and secondary character like Belushi was in the original, and that Michael Early and Joy Bryant were the lead couple of the picture. Well, you now hardly even see Early or Bryant in this trailer, and it looks like the Kevin Hart show. His name seems to be how they will try to sell this on the final stretch and possibly make it seem like the film is entirely framed around him and Hall's antics. It isn't a bad marketing approach considering he is a hot star at the moment, but based off the first movie and the first round of trailers, it isn't an entirely honest one. On the other hand, this trailer made me laugh while the other one didn't, so it suddenly looks like a slightly more appealing picture now.

Scott:  Yep, I am on board with Chris’ last statement on this film.  This is a good example of smart marketing, which is realizing that Kevin Hart is a fast rising star and they should be tapping into that.  I found myself laughing, having a good time, and almost thinking that it would not be a waste of time to see that film.  But then again, this shift in tone with this recent trailer may get more people out on opening night, but it could very easily disappoint when what they get is not what they were sold on.  As much fun as this trailer was for me, I have to remember that it is a representation of secondary characters, and if you got excited about the movie after watching this trailer, I think you should also remember that.

Robocop (February 12, 2014/Wide)



Christopher:  I've always been a sucker for the viral in-universe commercials. I think the best version of this style of ad campaign in recent years was Dark Knight and probably the second best that I remember was Prometheus.  Hopefully, this one turns out more like the former.  Based off the past trailers, it appears the crew involved remembered that the original worked because it didn't take itself too seriously and there was a good dose of old school genre picture camp tossed in. I'm a fan of this being about a big giant corporation clearly trying to get global dominance and convincing everyone their robots are the future.  Once again based off previous trailers and sort of hinted here, the major difference in this picture seems to be that Alex Murphy retains most of his memories, and he fights back against the actual corporation this time. In the current environment where many see big corporations as the big bad, I think the plan is for the entire company to be the villain rather than one greedy executive. If I'm right about that, then the proper resolution is Murphy overthrowing the company and finding his way once again. The conclusion doesn't really set things up for a sequel though. There has to be a billion sequels planned, right?

Scott:  Ah, it’s good to see the logo of Omni Consumer Products once again, and this time they are not just about revitalizing Old Detroit, but on improving the world as a whole.  I like that change from the original Robocop, and as well the fact that this time Alex Murphy volunteers instead of being forced and then having to rediscover his identity.  Perhaps I like the original idea better, but at least this is a reboot that is actually taking the story in a different angle.  As for the trailer itself, it is always hard to guess just how effective these can be.  I think if perhaps there was a little nefarious undertone towards the end of the trailer it may have been a bit better.  I liked Chris mentioning Prometheus, because the feel of the all-consuming corporation has the same feel to ‘the company’ in the Alien universe.

Vampire Academy (February 7, 2014/Wide)



Christopher:  This was one of those cases where I was despising this picture before I'd seen any real evidence to have such strong feelings. Any backlash towards this picture can be blamed on Stephenie Meyer's popularization of vampires as the dark, brooding, handsome bad boy with a heart of gold archetype. I need to confess I haven't even read much of the literature or watched any of the shows and movies that follow this modern trend, despite it still being everywhere. I hold bitterness over Anne Rice turning the once demonic, bloodthirsty, terrifying, pure evil monsters into deeply disturbed antiheroes seeking redemption. Last year, I learned a valuable lesson from Warm Bodies that you can't automatically discount a film based on being a Young Adult supernatural romance novel and also that not all of them are created equal. It seems that some critics couldn't get out of that mindset with the zomcom and panned it more on principle thus missed out on a surprisingly fun little picture.

I mention all this because there is a small bit of me leaning towards this picture possibly being this year's surprise delight. The trailer plays around with the typical high school movie clich├ęd characters along with the common fish-out-of-water in a new school story, but with some tongue-firmly-in-cheek incorporation of the typical YA supernatural stuff. It isn't played straight and looks like it is trying for some genre twisting and turning with the tropes. I'm expecting it will still lovingly follow the typical YA formula considering this is based off a bestselling novel series, but it looks to also have a strong self-awareness. I sensed a Joss Whedon style of writing and it reminded me a lot of one of my all-time favourite and underrated TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The vibe partly came from the self-referential humour, but the other part comes from the wit, charm and strength exuding from lead Zoey Deutch. I know absolutely nothing about this novel series other than the brief bits I looked up to get some background on this trailer, but I do know these type of films hinge on a captivating lead and the trailer makes me think we may have one.

I'm not expecting a genre redefiner here.  It may not even turn out as good as Warm Bodies. I admit the Whedon comparison sets the bar high. I am not necessarily recommending to run out to the cinemas to check this out. It may be worth a look once it arrives on Netflix.

Scott:  Hey, Twilight and Harry Potter were successful, so why don’t we make a movie that throws both of those together because then people would of course run out and see it.  That is what I was originally thinking when I saw the title for this movie a few months back, but there is something in the trailer that excuses it from my angst and negativity because it really seems to be having fun with itself.  In no way does it look to be taking itself super seriously, and that is really what may save it and set it apart from all of the supernatural young adult movies that are being forced fed to audiences.  I should not say that they are being ‘force fed...’ that would imply that someone is eating it.  In most cases, it just gets coughed up on the floor like a cinematic hair ball.

I kind of want to hate myself right now, because this trailer has me kind of intrigued.  I think the film could be fun, it knows the genre, it is having fun with the genre, and that is something it has in common with a number of my favourite movies.  I won’t be rushing out and buying a ticket, but I won’t fight against seeing it, because curiosity is a hell of a thing and I love being proven wrong.  In this case, I may have to eat the months of mockery that I dished out on this film before seeing the trailer.


Zero Theorem (TBA)



Christopher:  Director Terry Gilliam is the master of visually stunning, mind altering, existential science fiction. He makes the Wachowskis' philosophical science fiction seem straight forward in comparison. It isn't to say all of Gilliam's work has been an acid trip, because he also has stuff like The Brothers Grimm and The Fisher King to his credit. His science fiction is almost always something you need to watch more than once and allow some time to simmer in the brain. It is interesting the trailer used Twelve Monkeys as one of his credits, because I'd say that was his most mainstream and least bizarre of the science pictures he has done when one compares it to stuff like Brazil, Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. If we're going to play the comparison game, I'd say this picture has the most in common with Brazil.  Though it doesn't look like this one is necessarily about a dystopian future along the same path as 1984 (a huge inspiration to Brazil), but there still seems to be a man seeking hope and having it altered through technology.

Gilliam's style isn't really mainstream and without a Bruce Willis or Brad Pitt, I'd say this likely is stuck in limited release purgatory in the domestic market. His ability to make the visuals enhance and drive the narrative is masterful and something that almost no other director can quite compete with. As I sort of alluded to before, you're really looking at a drug trip without the need for mind altering aids other than what is on the screen.

Christoph Waltz may lack the star power, but he is the perfect casting for this role. He has proven that he can do eccentric in the Quentin Tarantino pictures, but also has a commanding screen presence. He can tackle a wide range of emotions and also play distant while still connecting with the audience. These are the skills necessary for making an abstract and philosophical picture like this work. Or so I am assuming it will be that style based off seeing this trailer, and having to admit I don't exactly know the plot. I want to know it via watching this picture whenever it decides to get over here. This could be what one calls a cinematic experience and one we're discussing and trying to figure out for a few years.

Scott:  This trailer looks like it was pooped right out of Terry Gilliam’s head, with the colours, the physical sets, and, well, pretty much everything else in it.  I would love to spend a day inside his imagination, because I am pretty sure it would be a wild, crazy, and unique ride that would be well worth the time.  This movie in particular does well in introducing the concept of ‘the zero theorem’ but does not seem to go so far as to give away its main importance and power.  It allows us to know that it is important, but holds back enough to build proper intrigue.

This, however, is a film that will most likely not be seen by me in theatres due to the over the top nature of it.  I had been thinking that a possible stumbling block for Wes Anderson’s upcoming film, The Grand Budapest Hotel is that it looks very ‘Wes Anderson,’ which means it is visually very imaginative and colourful, which could keep a lot of audiences from wanting to see it and leaving it with just his fan base.  Take that factor and times it by one hundred for Zero Theorem, as a lot of people may get scared off by the world presented to them in the trailer.

Nymphomaniac: Volume II (April 18, 2014/Limited)



Christopher:  This is likely an example of a major event movie among writers, festival goers and film buffs, but something the general public doesn't even know exists. Lars Von Trier's magna opus about sex addict Joe recounting her life after being discovered beaten in an alleyway has been discussed and eagerly anticipated by many critics. The question is are they looking forward to the possible train wreck or are they holding out hope for a provocative and challenging adult picture? What we do know is it has now been split into two parts, and it also promises a whole load of simulated sex that apparently can be seen in a softcore and hardcore version. This is apparently a trailer to the second half of the story, with the first being scheduled on limited release on March 21. It was the first half that screened at Sundance to a pretty strong reception with Uma Thurman's performance being the stand-out in what some said was hilarious. I wasn't even sure this movie was supposed to have humour.

Trier is a talented director who creates some emotionally stirring and challenging works. He is kind of known for the strong sexual images and making stuff that upsets the Religious Right. He has a key eye for visuals and imagery, even if some critics can't see past how he decides to use it.

Based on this trailer alone, I can't really say I'm all that intrigued to see it. I am interested to see how largely forgotten actors like Shia Labeouf and Christian Slater get used, and I'm always a fan of Willem Dafoe. I have to admit that the scenes of the woman tied up like cattle on the couch or the scene with two guys ready to do the nasty with the uncomfortable woman makes me feel uneasy. I can handle disturbing images and scenes, even of a sexual nature (Leaving Las Vegas was very effective with that), but it needs to have a purpose. If I am going to get traumatized or left unsettled, then I want to believe it was telling me something. Maybe it will be. I just don't know what that is, based off this trailer.

Scott:  I think this is the type of movie where cinesnobs can wave off anyone who does not want to see it as being a prude.  I would not consider myself to be prudish, and I will flat out say that I really have no interest in seeing the movie.  There has been lots of underground hype around it, and articles seem to be written at length simply when a new poster is unveiled.  However, I believe a lot of the hype is simply around the visual content as well as being by Lars Von Trier.  I remember a fun news clip The Onion did where they claimed Lars Von Trier was going to be doing the new Denmark tourism commercials and highlighted the types of themes the director is known for.  He always seems to be living on the edge of issues and willing to push boundaries, which can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing at times, such as making comments about sympathizing with Hitler and, in the same breath, stating that Israel is ‘a pain in the ass.’

Director aside, it just is a film that could be for some people, but easily not for others.  One person may look upon it and call it art, but I don’t think I would be that person.  The presentation of the material does not interest me or get me wanting to see around five hours of that sort of subject matter.  Perhaps there is an interesting story under the surface, but it is the delivery that really does not seem to resonate with me.

 

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