Thursday, October 6, 2011

At the Movies – October 2011 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Serious Films:

Margin Call (J.C. Chandor) – Thriller – Oct 21
Summary: The film is about America’s financial crisis, revolving around the key people at an investment bank during the early stages of the meltdown. Filmmakers: Writer-director J.C. Chandor makes his feature debut, and is working with a pretty good indie group featuring composer Nathan Larson (Our Idiot Brother), cinematographer Frank DeMarco (The Winning Season) and production designer John Paino (Win Win). Cast: The film has a great ensemble cast with Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto (who is also a producer on the film), Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, and Stanley Tucci. Expectations: The cast alone is enough for me to want to see this, despite my initial feelings of ‘not another Financial Crisis movie’ (similar to the ‘not another Iraq War movie’ feeling that moviegoers were collectively experiencing a few years ago). Plus, it has been very well received in its advanced screenings. What sets it apart is that it both looks like an informative piece on the crisis and a good thriller. Check out the trailer.

In Time (Andrew Niccol) – Sci-Fi – Oct 28
Summary: The film is about Will Salas, a man living in a world in which people stop aging at twenty-five and must work to earn time to continue living. Will meets a mysterious man who bestows upon him more time than he knows what to do with, but must go on the run when the corrupt police and elite class that control the society want the time for themselves. Filmmakers: Writer-director Andrew Niccol is very well suited for the material (having written and directed Gattaca and Lord of War, and he also wrote The Truman Show). He is working with composer Craig Armstrong (who has not really worked on sci-fi before), excellent cinematographer Roger Deakins (True Grit) and production designer Alex McDowell (who has a good body of work in the genre). Cast: The film stars Justin Timberlake and co-stars Amanda Seyfried, while Olivia Wilde, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Galecki, Cillian Murphy, Matthew Bomer, and Vincent Kartheiser (playing the villain is right in his wheelhouse) round out a good supporting group. Expectations: My anticipation for this film has waned a bit since I first saw the teaser trailer, which was great. The normal trailer is good too, but when I saw the more expansive ‘super’ trailer I lost a lot of the enthusiasm I had for the film, primarily due to questions on whether Timberlake can carry a film like this. I hope I am wrong and he can, because I really like good sci-fi films. In any case, the film looks like a decent thriller (a sci-fi Robin Hood tale of sorts) that will hopefully not just be all gloss and have substance as well (which is also an issue arising from the longer trailers). Check out the trailer.

The Rum Diary (Bruce Robinson) – Drama – Oct 28
Summary: The film is about Paul Kemp, a freelance journalist who takes a job for a run-down Caribbean newspaper. Surrounded by lost souls, he decides to secure a niche for himself going after a big, potentially dangerous, story. Filmmakers: Writer-director Bruce Robinson has not made a film since 1992, and has not made anything good since his first film Withnail & I in 1987 (this is his fourth film). That being said, he has a very good group working with him, including composer Christopher Young (Drag Me to Hell), cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy) and production designer Chris Seagers (X-Men: First Class). Cast: He also has a good cast with Johnny Depp starring and supporting work from Amber Heard (who is ready to breakout), Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi, and Richard Jenkins. Expectations: The last time Johnny Depp starred in something based on a book by Hunter S. Thompson we got Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (of course, Terry Gilliam was involved it that too). The Rum Diary looks to be an all-over-the-place misadventure romp, that hopefully all comes together and works – and not totally incoherent. Check out the trailer.

Anonymous (Roland Emmerich) – Drama – Oct 28
Summary: The film presupposes that all of William Shakespear’s works were in fact written by someone else – the Earl of Oxford Edward De Vere – his name removed because of his involvement in the Essex Rebellion opposing the succession of Queen Elizabeth I, being her alleged offspring. Filmmakers: Disaster-film specialist Roland Emmerich is directing (leading to suspicions that somehow Earth will be destroyed in the film at some point – or at least the literary world). He is working with frequent collaborators composers Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker and cinematographer Anna Foerster, as well as first-time production designer Sebastian Krawinkel (however, he was the art director on Inglourious Basterds). Cast: The film stars Rhys Ifans with supporting work from Vanessa Redgrave, Rafe Spall, David Thewlis, Edward Hogg, Xavier Samuel, Sam Reid, Jamie Campbell Bower, and Joely Richardson, making for a decent group. Expectations: Edward De Vere is the most popular candidate as the alternative author to the works of Shakespeare, and it should be interesting to see how the theory is presented in the film (it was first made popular in 1920). Emmerich seems like an odd choice for the film (as this probably could have been the typical period stuff that Academy voters love), but he should bring scale and action to it. The cast is fairly solid and the story interesting, thus this at least should make for a decent rental. Check out the trailer.


Real Steel (Shawn Levy) – Action – Oct 7
Summary: The film is about a former boxer who sees an opportunity to get back into the fight-game training a humanoid underdog robot boxer (yes, this does sound ridiculous, but alas this is what Transformers has done to us, along with two unwatchable sequels). Filmmakers: Hollywood director Shawn Levy is at the helm (for his 8th straight somewhat entertaining but mostly bad movie, plus this is the man who directed the cinema blaspheming remake: The Pink Panther, and will never be forgiven) with Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis producing (and likely focusing on money over quality), awesome composer Danny Elfman (Dick Tracy and Batman), very good cinematographer Mauro Fiore (Avatar), and production designer Tom Meyer (who is a random choice given his past credits). When I look at this list of mostly top-notch filmmakers, it makes me sad that their talents will be spent making Real Steel and not something with some potential of being decent. Cast: It stars Hugh Jackman (who is an A-list star who has only arguably made one great film: The Prestige), and features supporting work from Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand, Anthony Mackie, Hope Davis, and Dakota Goyo. Expectations: As you may have guessed, I do not expect much from Real Steel, and realistically nor does anyone else (my brother and I are even planning a terrible and ridiculous movie marathon with this, Transformers 3 and Battleship, once all three are out on Blu-ray). That being said, will it be entertaining on some level? Yes, probably. Will it make money and continue Hollywood’s progression into making bigger and bigger terrible movies? Wait; has that not been the case since Jaws (though, who am I kidding, many of my favorite films are blockbusters)? The real problem is that there are only so many great directors, and those directors do not really want to make stuff like this…But at the same time, stuff like this funds great movies that do not make any money (something like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or Never Let Me Go from last year for example). So, really the problem is the average moviegoer who only cares about the spectacle and not the art or meaning (anyway, this could go on and on and probably already has). Check out the trailer.

The Three Musketeers (Paul W.S. Anderson) – Action Adventure – Oct 21
Summary: Yet another retelling of Alexandre Dumas pere’s story, only this time it is a big action-heavy adventure with lots of explosions and slow-motion. Filmmakers: If you are going to go for a crazy over-the-top mindless action film, might as well hire Paul W.S. Anderson to direct it. He has made Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, AVP, and Death Race – none of them good (though there are times when I actually think Resident Evil is a good movie, but those moments are briefer the older I get), but all entertaining (on a ‘I do not care about anything other than cool looking action sequences’ level). He is working with composer Paul Haslinger (who scored Resident Evil: Afterlife for him), cinematographer Glen MacPherson and production designer Paul Austerberry (who both worked on Death Race). Cast: The redeeming thing about this film is that the cast is kind of excellent, especially given the genre. The Musketeers are played by Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Matthew Macfadyen, and Logan Lerman, and the cast also includes Milla Jovovich, Juno Temple, Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz (as the villain!!!), Mads Mikkelsen, and Til Schweiger (see, I told you it was awesome). Expectations: This cast alone makes this a definite rent for me, but will it be any good? Probably not, though the filmmakers seem to be going for a Pirates of the Caribbean feel, so that could be fun. Would I see this over Real Steel? Yes, yes I would. Check out the trailer.

Johnny English Reborn (Oliver Parker) – Action Spoof Comedy – Oct 28
Summary: James Bond wannabe Johnny English is back, and this time he is up against international assassins going after the Chinese Premier. Filmmakers: Comedic actor and sometimes director Oliver Parker is helming the spoof and has a surprisingly very good group with him including composer Ilan Eshkeri (Stardust), cinematographer Danny Cohen (The King’s Speech) and production designer Jim Clay (Children of Men). Cast: Joining star and executive producer Rowan Atkinson and sidekick Ben Miller this time around are Dominic West, Gillian Anderson, Rosamund Pike, Daniel Kaluuya, Richard Schiff, Stephen Campbell Moore, and Togo Igawa. Expectations: This has a pretty strong cast and group of filmmakers for a spoof, and I generally enjoy Atkinson’s brand of slapstick. Johnny English was funny, but this one looks like it will be much better. Check out the trailer.


The Big Year (David Frankel) – Comedy – Oct 14
Summary: The film is about three competitive bird watchers (really? This is a movie) who compete to spot the rarest birds in North America at a prestigious annual event (yup, still trying to understand why). Filmmakers: Director David Frankel has a decent comedy background with Marley & Me and The Devil Wears Prada, and the film is produced by Ben Stiller. Joining them are composer Theodore Shapiro (Tropic Thunder), good cinematographer Lawrence Sher (The Hangover Part II) and production designer Brent Thomas (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). Cast: The film stars Owen Wilson, Jack Black (who desperately need to be funny in something after the terribleness of Year One and Gulliver’s Travels) and Steve Martin. The supporting cast is potentially great with Jim Parsons, Rosamund Pike, Rashida Jones, Joel McHale, Tim Blake Nelson, Anjelica Huston, Anthony Anderson, Dianne Wiest, Brian Dennehy, Kevin Pollak, and Corbin Bernsen. Expectations: The trailer is not too good and honestly these three leads are a bit tired these days for this type of throwaway bland (mail-it-in) comedy. However, I really like a number of the supporting players who could make this better than it otherwise looks. Check out the trailer.


The Thing (Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.) – Action Horror – Oct 14
Summary: The film serves as sort of a prequel/remake to the 1982 film of the same name. It is about a grad student, Kate Lloyd, who travels to an Antarctica research site when the discovery of an alien craft is made. When strange happenings start to occur, Kate believes something seriously wrong is going on (though, presumably we have all seen Kurt Russell’s The Thing and thus more or less know what is going to happen to poor Kate and the other scientists). Filmmakers: Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. makes his feature debut with the film. He is working with a crew that specializes in action: composer Marco Beltrami (Scream 4), cinematographer Michel Abramowicz (From Paris with Love) and first-time production designer Sean Haworth (but he was the art director on films like Thor and Avatar). Cast: The cast is great for the genre with Mary Elizabeth Winstead starring and support from Joel Edgerton, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Ulrich Thomsen. Expectations: You must have very guarded expectations when a classic is remade, especially when it is a first-time director tackling what many consider the best horror film of all-time from horror master John Carpenter. The cast is solid though, which does give me some hope. Check out the trailer.

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