Thursday, December 6, 2012

At the Movies – December 2012 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Romance and Rom-Coms:

Playing for Keeps (Gabriele Muccino) – Romantic Comedy/Drama – Dec 7
Summary: George is a former soccer star who has thrown his life away through a series of bad decisions. However, to begin to get his life back together, he starts coaching his son’s team. Filmmakers: Italian director Gabriele Muccino returns to the States for his third film (he also has seven Italian films). Interestingly, his two other Hollywood films are also his most acclaimed: The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds (which I have never seen, should I?). He is working with composer Andrea Guerra (Hotel Rwanda), cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr. (Abduction) and production designer Daniel Dorrance (Max Payne). Cast: It stars Gerard Butler (who is also producing), co-stars Jessica Biel, and features Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid (who continues to collect paychecks, laughing, as no one seems to care that he gave up at some point between 2000 and 2004), Uma Thurman, and Judy Greer in support. Expectations: On paper Playing for Keeps seems like it is going to be terrible. It has a director who has really only made one good film (in nine). It stars Gerard Butler and is a romance (never a good thing: just ask The Ugly Truth or The Bounty Hunter) Its supporting cast is mostly washed up (though Judy Greer desperately needs to be in more things and have bigger roles, as she is fantastic). And, it looks about as emotionally manipulative and forced as any Hollywood film (it has a little kid in it…). I bet it will not even be screened for critics before its release. But hey, if you like really sappy board romance films you will probably enjoy this on some level (and yes, there is a chance I will rent this despite the fact I know it will be bad). Trailer: Here.

Serious Films:

The Impossible (Juan Antonio Bayona) – Drama/Thriller – Dec 21
Summary: The true story of a family caught in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Filmmakers: Spanish director J.A. Bayona had a breakthrough hit in the States with his first film The Orphanage. For his second film (essentially a Spanish film, made for Hollywood), The Impossible, he looks to have an Oscars dark horse. He is working with mostly the same team as The Orphanage: writer Sergio Sanchez, composer Fernando Velazquez and cinematographer Oscar Faura. Production designer Eugenio Caballero (Pan’s Labyrinth) is new to the team. Cast: Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts star, with Geraldine Chaplin in support. Expectations: Having been already released in Spain, The Impossible opened to critical acclaim. It has strong leading performances and moving drama. Disaster films always have a level of built in emotional manipulation, but so do most stories and this looks to be very powerful in its ability to draw the viewer in. Likely, the film should be a factor in the upcoming awards season. Trailer: HereReview: Here.

Les Miserables (Tom Hooper) – Musical/Drama/Romance – Dec 28
Summary: Based on the musical based on the Victor Hugo novel, Jean Valjean sings about his troubles (hiding from the singing policeman Javert who hunts him) and his love of his singing adopted daughter Cosette (whose singing factory worker mother Fantine made a musical deal with Valjean to care for her). 19th-centure France never had so much toil and song. Filmmakers: British director Tom Hooper (fresh off his Oscar win for The King’s Speech, and the acclaim of his second film The Damned United) returns to direct his fourth film, now firmly cemented in Hollywood – how else can you explain his directing this musical (Steven Spielberg was already making Lincoln, so this was the only prestige blockbuster Hollywood had available, and where else could Hooper go from winning Best Picture – something bigger, but still awards worthy). He is working with cinematographer Danny Cohen and production designer Eve Stewart (both of whom he collaborated with on The King’s Speech), and (of course) the film incorporates the songs by Claude-Michel Schonberg from the stage production (which Patrick Bateman has a poster of, so you know it must be good, or at least trendy). Cast: The film stars Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and Claire Danes… wait, wait… that was the 1998 non-musical version (which is not that good). This film stars Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried (who thought: hey, Mamma Mia! went okay, why not make another musical), Hugh Jackman, and Russell Crowe, with Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Barks (who was in a London production of the musical in 2010) in support. Expectations: Les Miserables looks like a grand production (the film is thought to be a front runner in many Oscar categories, including Best Picture) and has a strong cast (Hathaway and Barks are among the favorites to receive Oscar nominations). I like musicals. But, that said, lately they have not been very good (just ask Nine – not even a cast featuring six Oscar-winning actors could make this good, Rock of Ages, Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – deep down, we all know it was terrible, some of us are just in denial, Mamma Mia! – except for Pierce Brosnan, he was only ironically awful, Hairspray, or Burlesque). To be fair, however, this does have a fine director (who has been drawn into Hollywood to make big blockbuster dramas like Steven Spielberg) and it has the potential to be dramatically compelling unlike many of the recent musicals that were doomed from the beginning to be throwaway fluff. I am looking forward to seeing it (if only to see if Russell Crowe can actually sing – Hooper recorded all the songs live on set). When done right, musicals can be very power and wonderful (like The Sound of Music). Trailer: HereReview: Here.

Promised Land (Gus Van Sant) – Drama – Dec 28
Summary: Steve Butler works for a big natural gas corporation. His job is to buy the rights to drill on their land from average farmers, promising dreams of wealth. However, on his latest assignment in a small town, he has a crisis of faith in regards to his job, causing him to reevaluate his life. Filmmakers: Director Gus Van Sant has a strong filmography (things like: Good Will Hunting, Milk, Drugstore Cowboy, Finding Forrester, and Elephant), but his last (Restless) was kind of disappointing (but still had good performances). Though, Promised Land feels like a perfect project for Van Sant (politically seeming similar to Milk – advocating against perceived wrongs by those in power). He is working with composer Danny Elfman (who has scored a few Van Sant films), cinematographer Linus Sandgren (Shelter) and production designer Daniel Clancy (Boss – which Van Sant worked on). Cast: The film features a great acting group: Matt Damon (continuing the list of his fruitful collaborations with Van Sant), Rosemarie DeWitt, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski (who co-wrote the film with Damon), Hal Holbrook, Scoot McNairy, Lucas Black, and Titus Welliver. Expectations: Promised Land looks like a good drama that could factor into awards season. I am a little bit of two minds about it, though. Part of me thinks it will be a strong drama built on great performances (and I think this is probably the case), but part of me also thinks that this feels like one of those Hollywoodized self-indulgent congratulatory films in which seemingly liberal rich people pat themselves on the back from making broad statements like ‘corporations are bad’ (while profiting off them – this is distributed by Focus Features, which is owned by NBC Universal). And, natural resource companies are easy targets. This just has a whiff of that (based on the trailer). Hopefully, this is not just a political ad (we have already had enough propaganda for one year, left or right minded), and rather a well-made thoughtful drama (politically motivated or not, as this is certainly trying to appeal to being conscious of things like global warming and so on). Political films can be fantastic (see Z, Pan Labyrinth, Hotel Rwanda, Dr. Strangelove, The Great Dictator, and The Battle of Algiers, among others – I just read volume one of Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga; it is fantastic, and a great example of how to make something politically motivated that is not smug or douchey). Trailer: Here.


Jack Reacher (Christopher McQuarrie) – Action – Dec 21
Summary: Jack Reacher is a military policeman, working on a new case. A military sniper shot five random victims. Reacher, however, does not think the man suspected did it, and digs deeper getting himself into danger. Filmmakers: Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie is Tom Cruise’s go-to guy these days. McQuarrie has worked with Cruise on Valkyrie and the upcoming projects All You Need Is Kill, Top Gun 2 and Mission: Impossible 5. He also wrote The Usual Suspects (and Bryan Singer’s upcoming Jack the Giant Slayer), and his directorial debut was The Way of the Gun (this is his second feature). He is working with composer Joe Kraemer (also scored McQuarrie’s first film), cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and production designer Jim Bissell (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol). Cast: Tom Cruise stars (and is producing), with a supporting cast featuring Robert Duvall, Rosamund Pike (who needs to be in more good things), Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Michael Raymond-James, and Werner Herzog (playing the villain – which is amazing). Expectations: Tom Cruise action films are generally entertaining, especially those with good people involved (like what J.J. Abrams did with Mission: Impossible, or Cruise’s collaborations with Steven Spielberg). Jack Reacher looks like a good one (with a quietly great cast). With all the prestige films and epics, this might be the best pure entertainment film of the holiday season. Trailer: HereReview: Here.


The Guilt Trip (Anne Fletcher) – Comedy – Dec 21
Summary: Andy Brewster hits the road to sell his latest invention, also his mom tags along. Filmmakers: Director Anne Fletcher makes romances. Her first three films were Step Up, 27 Dresses and The Proposal (I guess you can argue her films are getting better). The Guilt Trip is her fourth, tackling the tried and true odd couple buddy comedy/road trip comedy. She is working with past collaborators cinematographer Oliver Stapleton and production designer Nelson Coates. New to the team is comedy composer Christophe Beck (Pitch Perfect). Cast: Seth Rogen (who is also producing) and Barbra Streisand star, with Yvonne Strahovski, Colin Hanks, Brett Cullen, Adam Scott, Danny Pudi, and Casey Wilson in support. Expectations: My first instinct when thinking about The Guilt Trip (and having watched its trailer) is to dismiss it as a boring throwaway broad comedy aimed at everyone (ooh, it has got Seth Rogen so the kids will want to see it, and it also has Barbra so adults will want to see it, and it is PG-13 so it will not offend anyone – it is a demographics win!) that Hollywood is famous for making (and they all usually stink). But, it does have a lot of funny people involved, so maybe it is worth renting. Yawn. Trailer: Here.

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