Wednesday, December 4, 2013

At the Movies – December 2013 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Serious Films:

Out of the Furnace (Scott Cooper) – Crime Drama – Dec 6
Plot Summary: Rodney and is older brother Russell live in the depressed Rust Belt, always dreaming of finding a way to escape. But, Russell ends up in prison and Rodney is drawn into a life of crime with some rough people. Russell finally gets out of prison, but finds that his brother has mysteriously disappeared and the police are incapable of helping. Now, he must take things into his own hands, risking his newfound freedom. Filmmakers: Out of the Furnace is writer-director Scott Cooper’s follow-up to his feature debut Crazy Heart, and like that film it looks to be a strong performance-based drama. He is working with composer Dickon Hinchliffe (Rampart), cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (Silver Linings Playbook), and production designer Therese DePrez (Stoker). Cast: The film stars Christian Bale, and features supporting work from Zoe Saldana, Woody Harrelson, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, Forrest Whitaker, Casey Affleck, and Boyd Holbrook. Expectations: Out of the Furnace looks like a potentially fantastic character crime drama. If nothing else can be said about Crazy Heart, it does feature a strong leading performance, and the same is true of this film. Christian Bale is brilliant in it. The film is a slow burning exercise in great character development and the use of tension. It is not going to work for everyone, but for those looking for a drama built on performances and a darkly simmering tone Out of the Furnace is well worth checking out. Bale will likely either get nominated for this or American Hustle. Trailer: Here.

Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock) – Family Drama – Dec 20
Plot Summary: Walt Disney wishes to adapt the novel Mary Poppins for his latest live-action feature. However, to do so he must work with its difficult author P.L. Travers. Filmmakers: Director John Lee Hancock continues his trend of adapting true-life stories. This is his fourth in a row (following The Rookie, The Alamo, and The Blind Side – which I am still highly perplexed by its nomination for Best Picture). He is working with great composer Thomas Newman (Skyfall), cinematographer John Schwartzman (The Amazing Spider-Man), and production designer Michael Corenblith (Frost/Nixon). Cast: The film stars Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, while featuring Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Rachel Griffths, and B.J. Novak in support. Expectations: Saving Mr. Banks is another film that should be in the awards season discussion, though I suspect it will only see nominations (if any) in acting categories. As a life-long fan of Disney’s movies (including Mary Poppins), I am interested in this just to discover the behind the scenes story (of course taking it with a grain of salt, as it has no doubt been dramatized to make a better film). But that is really where my interest stops. John Lee Hancock is not a particularly great director. Sure, he is adequate. He delivers films that stylistically feel very Hollywood, sugar-coated, and smarmy – and rather sickeningly fake. He has never made a great film (or even a good film) and I do not anticipate that will change with this. Although, Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks should do great things with their characters Travers and Disney, which might be enough to make it a decent light character drama. Trailer: Here.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson) – Adventure/Fantasy – Dec 13
Plot Summary: Following the events of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey, and the dwarves continue their quest to reclaim Erebor (the dwarves’ homeland). The problem is that it is presently inhabited by the dragon Smaug. Filmmakers: Writer-director Peter Jackson and his team from the first film (and The Lord of the Rings series) return behind the camera. Cast: Returning cast members include Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, James Nesbitt, Ian Holm, and Cate Blanchett, while Benedict Cumberbatch (voicing Smaug), Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Stephen Fry, Billy Connolly, and Manu Bennett join the cast. Expectations: An Unexpected Journey was what fans of the series expected and served as a good beginning to this new trilogy (but did not play as well for general audiences – and is the weakest of all the Middle Earth films by Peter Jackson et al). The Desolation of Smaug looks to be even better as it gets more into the heart of the story and action (much in the same way The Two Towers was more engaging than The Fellowship of the Ring). This will likely be the biggest box office film of the month. Trailer: HereReview: Here.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) – Adventure Dramedy – Dec 25
Plot Summary: Walter Mitty is a day-dreamer, always dreaming of adventure but never doing anything. Finally, when his boring life is uprooted by his job disappearing, he decides to take a global journey that turns into something incredible. Filmmakers: Director Ben Stiller has made some under the radar cult films like Reality Bites, The Cable Guy, and Zoolander, and then had a bigger hit with Tropic Thunder more recently. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is his most ambitious to date (and it also looks like his best). He is working with composer Theodore Shapiro (who also scored Tropic Thunder), cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (The Painted Veil), and production designer Jeff Mann (who worked on Tropic Thunder as well). Cast: Ben Stiller also stars with Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Kathryn Hahn, Adam Scott, Shirley MacLaine, and Patton Oswalt in support. Expectations: The teaser trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is incredible – almost to the extent where I cannot imagine the film actually living up to it (but I hope I am wrong). The film looks very ambitious, which is great but also presents the high probability that it does not come-off. It could very well be the next great ‘grand story epic’ following in the footsteps of David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but I am subduing my expectations because I just do not see that happening (even with its brilliant teaser). The potential is there though. Trailer: Here.


Plot Summary: It is the 1980s, a time of 24-hour news. Only one man is truly up to the challenge: Ron Burgundy. San Diego’s top rated news-team is off to New York. Filmmakers: This is writer-director Adam McKay and writer-star Will Ferrell’s fifth film together – however their last, The Other Guys, was easily their worst. Hopefully, Anchorman 2 will recapture the magic of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Step Brothers (my personal favorite). McKay is working again with producer Judd Apatow, cinematographer Oliver Wood, and production designer Clayton Hartley. New to the team are composers Andrew Feltenstein and John Nau (Bachelorette). Cast: In addition to Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, Christina Applegate, David Koechner, and Fred Willard return. Featuring in supporting and cameo roles are Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Kristen Wiig, Liam Neeson, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, James Marsden, Sacha Baron Cohen, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Meagan Good, John C. Reilly, Greg Kinnear, Kanye West, and Dylan Baker. Expectations: Anchorman 2 carries with it almost unattainable expectations, as Anchorman has become a comedy cult phenomenon. There is almost no way the jokes in this will be as good – right? I am afraid that this will end up just being a joke-by-joke retreading of the original film, when hopefully it will instead try to be as different and comically groundbreaking as possible (but still with some throwbacks, of course). It looks kind of funny in the previews, but nothing amazing (but that could be because they are saving the good stuff for the film – which I hope is the case). 2013’s best comedy so far is either This Is the End or The World’s End, but Anchorman 2 is definitely in the hunt. Trailer: HereReview: Here.

Grudge Match (Peter Segal) – Sports Comedy – Dec 25
Plot Summary: Rivals Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen were boxers at the top of their game thirty years ago, each winning a head-to-head bout. But, they never got to fight a third and deciding time – until now. Filmmakers: Comedy director Peter Segal makes generic films, mostly starring Adam Sandler – but he did direct Tommy Boy. He is working with composer Trevor Rabin (who scored Get Smart for Segal), cinematographer Dean Semler (Date Night), and production designer Wynn Thomas (who also worked on Get Smart). Cast: Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro star, while Jon Bernthal, Kim Basinger, Kevin Hart, and Alan Arkin feature in support. Expectations: Grudge Match looks like an okay sports comedy – basically it is just a rehashing of any washed-up athlete who gives it one more shot narrative (The Rookie, Mr 3000, Rocky Balboa, among others). The only reason to have any interest in this is because it stars Rocky and Kevin Hart is funny and on a roll right now. At best, this is a rental. Trailer: Here.

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