Thursday, February 06, 2014

Big Robots, Big Super Heroes, Big Legos, Big Death and Big Love: It's a Big Trailer Review

The Super Bowl has ended, and as is tradition, it has left behind some trailers to the big summer blockbusters. Among the loud and shiny, we also have some intriguing independent fare. Let's jump in. . .

The Fault in Our Stars (June 6/Wide)



Christopher:  It is pretty rare that teenage love is dealt in a thought-provoking and serious way when most studios still see the money in goofy, teen raunch-o-ramas. The perception is likely that teens don't want to see mature relationship dramas and adults don't want to see teen love. This would likely be one of the reasons the Spectacular Now was such a critical hit last year, because it dared to create a real and compelling relationships with the lows and highs that came with that. It made teenagers real live people with insecurities and fear but also with intelligence and bravery. The Fault in Our Stars goes that next level by giving another authentic teenage relationship but throws in the complications that one of the teenagers is a terminal cancer patient and the other has had to deal with his own mortality as well.

Author John Green has established himself as a writer who creates novels about teens that are more than just pawns for some morality tale, but rather people who live and breathe in what feels like real life. He has been heralded as someone who can connect with how teenagers act and feel, which makes his stories compelling and authentic. His 2012 novel of the same name this movie is based on has both won much acclaim, but also been a massive bestseller. It is the huge following and sales that has led to a very different type of movie coming out in wide release, and one of the first YA adaptions that isn't about supernatural beings smooching with a normal.  The fact 20th Century Fox is reeling out a coming of age story that is dealing with issues and love during the major blockbuster season is enough to get excited about this movie.

The other thing to get really excited about is that this just looks really good. Shailene Woodley is rapidly becoming one of the hot new stars, and this hopefully will be one of the movies that establishes her immense talent. She really stood out in The Descendants, and I've been eagerly watching her career path ever since seeing that picture. She is one of those great actors that can deliver a powerful sense of confidence and strength while also conveying a vulnerability, which is a skill so rare for such a young actor. By the time this picture rolls around, she has the potential to have some box office power behind her if Divergent becomes the success that Lionsgate is banking on (there is already work being done on the sequel and it is a very hot YA novel franchise).

Ansel Elgort is Woodley's co-star in Divergent and also her romantic lead in this picture. I haven't seen his only other picture, Carrie, but I was really impressed with what he showed off in this trailer. He has the swagger and confidence of a young stud who just recently conquered cancer, but also has someone who through that experience is willing to go deeper and richer into a relationship than a typical teenage guy. The mannerism and language reminds me of people I know that have been through a tough patch early on in life but refuse to be victims. He will be a good balance to the more tired and hesitant Woodley character. There seems to be an authenticity to their rapport and interaction with each other, which is pretty much paramount for a romance story.

The picture seems to be pretty faithful to the novel.  If it does remain that way, then it should have a good balance of drama, sweetness, and humour that helps it become an emotional and challenging picture without delving into being too sentimental. This is essentially a teenage version of Love Story, except in this instance both characters can relate to the challenges being suffered. Just like that movie, it is probably best to keep the tissues close by or get ready to give excuses about how the cinema is dusty (or someone smuggled in onions).

I expect this to be the perfect counter-programming to the loud and stupid of the summer. I really hope the success of the novel translates into a surprise hit. It will helpfully remind Hollywood that we still care about character driven stories at the mainstream level too.

Scott: It is interesting to see that two of the folks from the upcoming Divergent are in this film, which, as Chris mentioned, shows that a mature story line can still work in romance movies for the young adult.  I really wish that I had seen The Spectacular Now by this point (I have really no good reason why that has not happened) because I am interested to see how Shailene Woodley did in that critically acclaimed movie.  What really stuck out to me is that this is a 20th Century Fox movie, and not a Fox Searchlight production, which is their specialty and art house movie division.  It is encouraging to see a mainline studio putting faith in a project like this, especially considering the date of release.  It is a time of year where independent films can do well, and it is encouraging that it is going to be front and centre during such a busy time.  Actually, looking further into it, some sites have it listed as wide release, and other sites do not.  Perhaps this movie may be one that ends up getting shuffled in the mix of things.  Regardless of that, the trailer has me hooked based on what looks like a good story and solid performances.


Under the Skin (April 4/Limited)



Christopher: Apparently, Film4 studios will be relying on the buzz floating about on most movie sites in order to promote this picture, because this teaser really tells nothing of the concept here. Though likely the success of this film is going to come from word-of-mouth anyway, and even then, only attract a certain type of sci-fi and horror fan as it won't be very mainstream. The one thing that will assist it is Scarlett Johansson is becoming a pretty big star and she has proven to be great in everything she's been in lately. She is the perfect casting choice for the alien disguised as a beautiful woman who uses her sexuality to snare unsuspecting men who she then devours. The big question is if the decision to go the Bad Grandpa route of using a hidden camera to film real people, this time as the victims, will enhance the story or come off as a gimmick. I'm intrigued by the concept and I'm a Johansson fan, but they'll need a better follow-up trailer or hope more people know the Michael Faber novel this is based on.

Scott: I had no prior knowledge at all regarding this film when I saw the teaser trailer, and it was successful in what it set out to do, which was to peak my interest.  However, that interest will only stay for so long as there are constantly big and shiny things coming out that will instantly distract me.  What they need is a good follow up trailer to come out soon enough to show people a bit of the story that is happening here.  The main marketing point is Scarlett Johansson's attachment to the project, and not so much on the director, Jonathan Glazer.  Glazer only has two other feature films, so there is not much of a name there, but one of those movies is Sexy Beast, which will be sure to have created some followers for the director.  It is an excellent movie that focuses on characters and their decisions, and not on the major criminal elements that a heist movie would normally follow, and that shows me that Glazer likes to peer at things from different angles.  I am very excited to see another trailer for this film, but am just worried that if too much time passes before I see something else, I may lose some of the interest.

A Million Ways to Die in the West (May 30/Wide)



Christopher: This obviously was inspired by Blazing Saddles, as I'm sure that is a movie close to Seth MacFarlane's heart. Though this feels much more like a Family Guy episode if they could keep the network's standards and practices distracted during air time. The camp fire scene in the trailer brings back direct memories of Mel Brook's Western spoof, though the humour around that camp fire was different.

I don't really watch Family Guy even if I do find moments to be hilarious. I find MacFarlane's style to get repetitive where he mixes in countless dated pop culture references along with occasional jokes that are meant to be shocking and controversial. Sometimes it works, but other times it makes even the half hour episodes feel like a drag. This looks like an attempt to use the same formula but stretch it out to a full two hours. The advantage here is that it can be R-rated, which appears to be the type of humour MacFarlane prefers. At the same time, this trailer may have been fast-paced and presented a great cast, but it was also fairly hit or miss. I get a sense some of the best stuff (not the most shocking, mind you) may have already been shown here.

The promotional campaign for this has already been fun. They've made up old-school movie posters for each of the characters (much like American Hustle, but this time, they look hand drawn), and it definitely hit my movie geek side. There is a chance as it gets closer that I begin to warm up to this movie more. The playing to nostalgia is a MacFarlane strength.

I fell in love with Charlize Theron in Young Adult. She played such an amazing cynical and self-centered princess. I've wanted to see her in comedy ever since. She had such a bite and wit, and it made that film one of my favourites of its year. I see a bit of that humour in her character for this picture. I'm looking forward to her performance. I also want to add that the casting of Sarah Silverman, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris and Liam Neeson is pretty much perfect for their roles. Silverman is specifically someone that I just don't see enough, and she makes me bust a gut every time.

The one major miscast for me is Seth MacFarlane. It seems he feels the need to give himself roles in everything he directs or runs. I can understand such a desire. It works when he is just the voice. The problem here is he comes off so smug and insincere. He mind as well just wink at the audience after every scene to make it clear he knows it is all a joke. It got tiring in just the trailer, and don't see it getting much better at 2 hours. It is actually similar to how the Oscars felt for me, so I can't even tell if that is conscious thing or just how he is. His role in this picture needed someone who could have portrayed a character who was a little less sure of himself and not attempt to hijack each scene. The humour would be stronger if the lead didn't have an over-dramatic response for everything.   

Scott: Seeing this trailer, it feels to me like it is a movie that would air on Spike TV.  Partly because of the silly raunch, and partly because perhaps I am just associating it with the show 1000 Ways to Die.  I think both possibilities are equally as likely.  I don't know, there does not appear to be enough in this trailer to make me think there is a decent feature length comedy lying underneath.  It mostly looks like brief skits thrown together, and while that can be fun, it gets boring and dull after a while, especially in a movie.  The supporting cast is what makes me almost look that over, though, because there are some terrific people attached to this movie.  I laughed rather hard at Sarah Silverman's moment in the trailer when she is talking about the tricky ins and outs of her day.  That girl has some serious comedic delivery.  Overall, I just think it still seems to look like the kind of movie that you watch at home with a lot of people around, talking the whole while and just tuning in for the funny moments.

Enemy (March 14/Limited)



Christopher: Director Denis Villeneuve got his name into the mainstream with last fall's Prisoners. His stronger works are actually lesser known pictures that he also wrote the screenplays in Polytechnique (based off the 1989 Montreal Massacre) and Maelstrom. They were atmospheric pictures driven by gloomy but striking visuals that were stuffed with imagery and symbolism that left you with an emotional punch that lingered for a long time after. Prisoners had many of those strong elements, but was hampered by a goofy script by the same guy who wrote Contraband (we probably shouldn't have been shocked by the clich├ęd and convoluted story). Enemy follows the single word title-theme, and the screenplay is penned by Javier Gullon whose work I am entirely unfamiliar with. It is based off the novel The Double, which was written by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jose Saramago. There is a strong chance this can stay out of the goofy thriller trap of Villeneuve's last effort.

This reminds me a little of Stephen King's The Dark Half except there is no sign of malice and torment being perpetuated by the doppelganger. Actually, it doesn't even really appear to be a doppelganger or evil twin, but just two guys who look exactly the same. They both seem to be seeking answers rather than one holding all the information and putting the other on some ill-advised journey. In a real treat for the trailer watcher, it look like much of this cerebral thriller hasn't been revealed and we can go into the theatre with many unanswered questions. If it can stay away from car chases and unnecessary jump sequences then this could turn out to be a refreshing twisty and turny suspense tale.

The visuals and cinematography look quite different than Prisoners. It still looks appropriately dark and unsettling, but done with a different use of colours and settings. I'm sure there will be a lot of rich imagery and the cinematography will likely be a part of the storytelling.

I'm excited about the Jake Gyllenhaal casting as he is becoming quite the talented character actor. He was one of the best parts of Prisoners as the career driven but emotionally beaten Detective Loki. He proved to be quite skilled as a man who is harbouring secrets and hiding another life in the amazing Brokeback Mountain. He has a resume that shows he can bring depth to his character here, and pull off the elements that will be required to keep the tension and mystery. Villeneuve has also proven to be a director that can pull great things out of his actors, so I am excited to see them team up again.

Scott: Walking away from Prisoners I was sure of two things:  Jake Gyllenhaal is a terrific actor (but I did know that beforehand), and Denis Villeneuve makes movies look great.  While I was not excited about the flow and the story of Prisoners, there was a wonderful visual atmosphere that created tension without words or actions.  This is what stuck with me the most, and I am very interested in seeing Villeneuve have a go 'round with some more intriguing material, especially since he is once again teamed up with Gyllenhaal.  The trailer did the right amounts of revealing some of the story without allowing me to quickly fill in the blanks, something which really is a lost art in movie trailers these days.  There was almost a bit of a Duncan Jones element to the story as well.  Speaking of Jones, I am hoping we get some kind of Warcraft teaser out soon so we can start talking about that guy again.

Divergent (March 21/Wide)



Christopher: This is the movie that Lionsgate hopes turns Shailene Woodley into a superstar and allows the studio to repeat the success they've had with The Hunger Games franchise. It is easy and fun to bet against YA adaptions, but not all these type of films are destined for the same fate. Divergent is the first of what has been a wildly popular series from author Veronica Roth, and the third novel just came out last year, so it would be very fresh in the fans' minds. It isn't like anyone knew for sure that franchises like The Hunger Games or Twilight would be smash hits before the first film. The dystopian setting and dividing into factions may encourage some to draw comparisons to The Hunger Games, but it is a little silly to assume move-goers can only handle one action adventure set in a bleak future. This story seems to have more in common with Logan's Run, which was made over three decades ago.

I'm rooting for this to do well, because I like both Roth and Woodley. It would be great for them to get a massive hit. Woodley has done largely dramatic roles before this picture (and will after), but she seems quite comfortable in the kick-ass action hero spot. I'm also a fan of the current trend of getting talented young actresses and slotting them into adventures pictures, because it increases the quality of what once was a throwaway genre devoted to cleavage.

I'm also the fan of a story about one person having to rise against an oppressive regime. It is a nice play on the whole "chosen one" trope. The action sequences and special effects look solid, but those elements have been sewn together by an appealing story. I can handle an action-adventure popcorn muncher if it actually seems to have fleshed out characters and an attempt at telling a different kind of tale. This might hit "my young girl battling the evil government" sweet spot until the next The Hunger Games. I'm also pretty stoked to see Kate Winslet play over-the-top evil, because she just doesn't get to do that enough but can it nail it.

Scott: Young adults, beware!  There is another franchise hopeful that studios are wanting to cram down your throats in an attempt to catch onto the fever that such franchises like Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games are able to attract.  Divergent goes in the direction of dystopian society, and has left me with many fears that they are trying to draw some comparisons with The Hunger Games.  I am also detecting a bit of The Matrix in there as well.  It will be interesting to see what directions the movie takes, and how director Neil Burger runs with the material and the talent.  The only film of his that I have seen was Limitless, and I really enjoyed stylistic choices he made in that movie to show the effects of a miracle drug on people's perceptions.  I think the man has some skills, but you never know just how involved studio execs and pressures can be when a possible franchise is on the line.  I am slightly interested, but not incredibly.  The trailer did not sell me on the film, and I will be waiting for reviews and word of mouth to decide if it is worth the money.

The LEGO Movie (February 7/Wide) - Ultimate Toy Trailer



Christopher: I've already gushed about my love in a past review and I was convinced this was one of the must-see movies of the year about 5 trailers ago, but this one still found a way to get me even more excited. The animation in this picture is phenomenal and definitely deserves the term "ground-breaking." Everything looks seamless, and it makes me believe it is actual LEGO pieces walking about. The "Making of. . . " doc that is bound to be included in the Blu-Ray will make that worth the money right there. I also love how they've incorporated all the different types of LEGO pieces to fit into the universe, such as the tiny circles that I always lost filling the role of water and soap. This is going to be one of those movies you have to rewatch just to catch all the visual treats that they throw into the background, because the detail and visual gags are fantastic.

This specific trailer really succeeded in my falling even in more in love with Chris Pratt's "The Special" character. I couldn't think of a better person to voice the overly-optimistic doofus who likely stumbles his way into heroism. This may also be the kick-off to him becoming a big star as he has Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World in his future.

I had mentioned in the prior review how cool it was that this will be the only movie ever (well, along with its inevitable sequels) to have a collection of the iconic pop culture characters. I'm loving the humorous versions that have been created for this feature. The characters I'm really excited about are the countless nameless occupation figures that deluged upon the children of the '80s before LEGO started getting licensing rights to the major brand. 1980s-Something-Space-Guy is finally getting his chance to shine.

Scott: Yep, we did a trailer for this film already, but that's quite alright.  This movie shows a bit of a different side to the tone of the film, as we get some awesome play on end of the world consequences (something that is now common in movies because of the global marketplace) as well as the trope of the chosen one.  The movie seems to build on typical grounds, but the trailer shows that it is all about having fun, which means they will not be taking these things too seriously.  The villain reminds me a lot of Ferrell's role as Mugatu in Zoolander.  Ferrell does a great job at times with off the chain kind of characters, and it looks like he is grabbing the bull by the horns with this role.  This movie could be a giant financial success, as well as being one that all ages enjoy thoroughly.

The Rover (TBA)



Christopher: The Australian film industry seems to have the market cornered on the dystopian road movie. Mad Max obviously being the template, but this one looks like it will be an intriguing blend of art house meets dark thriller. David Michod has proven to take well-known genres and put a new spin on them with some unexpected twists in pictures like Hesher and Animal Kingdom. I'm also a fan of thriller-like pictures that take their time letting things unfold that allows us to get acquainted with the players and soak up the atmosphere, which this picture looks like it will do. It also is backed by Guy Pearce who is a terrific lead for the dangerous loner on a mission for revenge, because he is one of the guys who has the disturbed and complicated character down to a science. I also like it when actors dare to break out of their mold and try to reinvent themselves from the labels people have created for them. Ever since Twilight ended, Robert Pattinson has been taking roles for smaller, dark and challenging pictures like David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis. I look forward to seeing his continued transformation in what should be an unsettling and thought-provoking picture that will be very different than the usual summer fare.

Scott: Robert Pattinson has been wanting to shed the image of the brooding teen vampire from Twilight and show that there are more sides to him than just that.  This type of movie looks like it could provide him that outlet, but sadly it will most likely not be seen by the numbers of people that are needed to reshape his popular image.  This sort of film is great for showing different elements of humanity as it focuses on people living by codes that their own morals create, and just how long they can live under said constructs.  The atmosphere looks both lonely and unsettling, which could just be elevated to the max by a performance from Guy Pearce, who seems to be created for a role such as this.  I imagine for people who enjoyed a movie such as The Road, this one could be a pretty sweet view.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4/Wide) - Trailer #2



Christopher: The first Captain America from this current franchise was one of the delightful surprises of the current Marvel take-over of the summer blockbuster seasons. The first half of the film had a quirky charm and innocence that reminded of the old serials and had a bit of flavour similar to the 1970s and 1980s Superman pictures. It didn't take itself too seriously, but also created charismatic characters we cared about set in an idyllic America. It allowed the picture to stand-out among all the other special effect spectacles rolled out by Marvel. The second half of the picture was much closer to what is expected from the studio, and sadly, it looks like the sequel will be much closer to that.

It is one of the downsides of the shared universe mentality that Captain America had to be pushed to the present in order to accommodate The Avengers when more fun can be had keeping him in the 1940s and 1950s.  Based off the trailers it also looks like they aren't going to try to do any follow-up with his love interest from the original as she'd be long gone by now. It is a bit of a bummer that major studios seem to avoid romance in action pictures like the plague since they don't think teenage boys want to see such mushy stuff. They may be right, but I like some occasional sweet and intimate romance to change the tone a bit in these testosterone fueled roller coaster rides.

Marvel tends to do serviceable action picture at the worst and absolutely eye-popping extravaganzas at their best, and have a good feel for what is needed for the modern blockbuster action picture. This looks like it'll hit the beats just fine, and I'm sure it will end up being a fun night out. It would just be nice to go against the routine a bit, especially since this will be a month before we'll be assaulted by an army of these types. I like seeing Robert Redford in here, because like Kevin Costner's roles in both Man in Steel and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, his veteran instincts help ground things a bit. I'm also sure there will be some fun teasers towards The Avengers: Age of Ultron as this is one of the few Disney owned Marvel pictures of the year and the only one directly tied to that franchise (Guardians of the Galaxy shares the universe, but I'm assuming it will takes its own path).

I also want to mention Anthony Mackie, because he was one of the entertaining elements in last year's mostly awful Pain and Gain. He seems to be playing the sometimes funny but still kick-ass sidekick here. He also flies in a pretty kick-ass suit, so he should remain a bunch of fun this time around. There are a lot of good things crammed in here, but I have to confess that watching the trailers already is causing some fatigue.

Scott: It is fair to say that I just don't care.  I wish I did, but I don't.  I never understood the appeal of Captain America as a super hero, and the movie versions did nothing to change that.  I mean, he's patriotic and has a shield.  I just don't get it at all.  Now, I will admit that I never understood the attraction towards Iron Man, but I was won over by the performance of RDJ, who gave such life to that character.  I felt like Captain America was a boring character in The Avengers, and I have a feeling that the studio is worried about the appeal level of this character as they have kept Scarlett Johansson's character, Black Widow, attached to perhaps make it seem like more of a big deal movie.

Sigh, I just don't care.  Big explosions, shared superhero universe, nothing new here.  Oh, Batroc the Leaper... that's an awesome villainous name (sarcasm).

Transformers 4: Age of Extinction (June 27/Wide) - Super Bowl spot




Christopher: Speaking of fatigue, I'm really dreading the prospects of sitting through yet another Michael Bay created ear, eye and brain sore. I'm in the minority considering how much this ridiculous franchise has made. Maybe I am being unfair, because it does have a robot dragon, which isn't something Philomena can boast.

Scott: I was hoping Chris would write some more here, because I have nothing.  Uh... big explosions?  Loud noises?  That seems to be the way it goes.  I did like the first Transformers, I will be man enough to admit that, but it was not great.  I just can't get into the groove of Michael Bay movies, but I will be open and honest the next time he does something that catches my fancy.  I just seem to want more than pixels and rumbles.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2/Wide) - Super Bowl Spot



Christopher: Now this is the right kind of chaos and visual overload that I can take. There is a fantasy and comic book feel to the visuals that add personality to this picture that is missing in some of the other blockbusters. Plus Andrew Garfield won me over in the original, and his one small interaction here with Sally Field made me smile. If this picture just has a few of those lighter moments then it makes it more appealing than the stomping robots movie. Plus it has that whole romance I was begging for earlier with Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. As I mentioned in the review of the previous Spicer-Man trailer, I'm very excited to see Emma Stone back in a picture too.

I also mentioned previously that the reboot was a surprisingly fun picture that was good enough to justify remaking a franchise that isn't even a decade old. The little questions they left unanswered have me set for the sequel, and this trailer does look action-packed with some fun lighter moments. I'm excited to see Jamie Foxx in this kind of picture, because he hasn't really done evil before. But this trailer does reinforce my biggest concern. This film is possibly going to be dragged down with villain bloat. It just feels too crammed even in this short trailer. This franchise in the past has proved Spider-Man doesn't a have a great track record for pictures that have 3 villains.

Scott: My biggest fear is what Chris mentioned about the number of villains in this movie.  It makes more sense to me to focus on one, and not go nuts with trying the 'bigger is better' approach every time out.  One of the things that I did not enjoy about Dark Knight was the fact that Two Face felt kind of wasted on that film because of the charisma and machismo that The Joker oozed.  One good bad guy is more than enough, and, if you want, give him a killer henchman or henchwoman.  Now, Batman: The Movie did have four villains in it, but it also had Adam West, so there is no going wrong there.
It looks like it could be a lot of fun, and this is a comic hero that I can get behind because there is some personality there.  Pay attention, Captain America, Peter Parker knows how it is done.  I think I could find myself paying for admission to this movie, but it is still early to tell.  As much as Andrew Garfield excites me as Spider-Man, and as much as I enjoy some of the other casting decisions, it just feels like it is cramming things in not for the sake of telling the best story, but for the sake of creating the best franchise universe, something that I am not so much a fan of.

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