E: Readers old and new, welcome to the February movie preview!
M: Now wait. Before we get to the February, a quick note on a potentially major development from January. For those not up with the usual cycles of movie releases, there are typically only a few big movie months out of the year. The summer (which, in Hollywoodland, starts in May and ends somewhere around the start of August), October (horror movies) and the holiday season (November through Christmas). However, that all may be changing. In recent years movies like The Hunger Games and Divergent have come out in March, and done exceptionally well, making the early spring more viable.
E: Let me stop you there: there have always been outliers in March. Silence of the Lambs — the rare blockbuster and thriller to also win the top five Oscars — opened in March.
M: Yes, that’s fair, but recently March seems more a target than just having occasional outliers.
C: And last year, The Lego Movie came out in February. Or do kids’ movies not count, even when adults go to see them?
E: It totally counts as an outlier.
M: Moving on to my point, though, the last couple weeks have seen what could be a seismic shift. Oscar contender American Sniper has been put into wide release (it technically opened in December, but that was in literally FOUR theaters) and has shattered January box office records. Not only did it shatter the single-weekend monthly record, but it put up the 8th biggest second weekend of all time. Not January all time, all time all time.
E: I’m not willing to call it a shift; lots of Oscar movies open to wide release in January, and plenty of them make money. It’s just that American Sniper happens to be making a lot of money.
C: Unlike — no offense — most “Oscar movies” (aka depressing critical favorites of the sort that usually went wide in January).
M: Obviously it’s too early to say for sure, Miss Not Willing. The question is, what does this mean for January moving forward?
E: I’ll admit, if it were a shift, I’d be pretty happy about it. There should be good movies out all year long, and the fact that people are willing to brave the terrible weather much of the north has been having to see American Sniper ought to show the studios that. It’s ridiculous to compress them all into a few months, and you’d think the great box office slump of 2014 — not to mention the massive competition movie theaters face from home theaters — would help convince the industry that they can’t take time off from giving us good options. What a revolution that would be!
M: So say we all. Okay, on to February, and another crapshow of new releases.
C: But sort of a fun crapshow!
E: Ill-conceived looking sci-fi epic starring Mila Kunis as the unexpected savior of Earth (something she accomplishes by controlling bees and wearing stunning ball gowns).
M: Also by “claiming it,” whatever that entails.
E: There’s also an eyebrow-less, pointy-eared Channing Tatum…
M: …a mild improvement…
E: …as the savior of Mila Kunis (something he accomplishes by means of wire-assisted karate and flying shoes). Also featuring the gravelly-voiced wisdom of Sean Bean.
M: You know his character will die, right? He always dies. #dontkillseanbean
C: This is the kind of story that’s positively trite in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of any bookstore — normal (stunningly gorgeous) young woman turns out to be the reincarnation of some ancient queen, is pulled into a power struggle among rulers in a world she didn’t know existed, and must learn to use her special powers and claim her destiny with the help of a stern-but-attractive bodyguard/guide who is secretly supposed to betray her. If you’ve spent any time in the aforementioned wing of the bookstore, you’re nodding right now (or groaning).
M: There are a fair share of male-lead stories in the same genre, too; really, it boils down to the staple “stranger in a strange land” plot, which is easier to do in sci-fi or fantasy than in realism.
C: Most certainly, though I feel like the “finding out you’re a destined leader/power player in an unfamiliar world” plot is a particular brand of those. And one that, oddly, we don’t see so often on the big screen.
M: Definitely not often enough, which is a shame; I’ve been a sucker for the plot ever since seeing Star Wars when I was four.
E: I’m always pleased to see science fiction on the screen, and to see stories lead by women. It’s just that I’m more pleased to see good movies.
M: You’re so picky! Wanting movies to be good? Geesh.
C: Sadly, this doesn’t look like it fits E’s unreasonable qualifications. In fact, it has the potential to fall in the “hilariously bad” camp instead. Although, it’s pretty beyond question. It has those gorgeous, not-quite-believable graphics one sees in atmospheric video games. Those who usually consider Tatum as an aesthetic enhancement to any scene may not find him so here, though — he looks decidedly weird. And Eddie Redmayne looks like he was borrowed from the set of Dune.
E: Ha, yes.
M: I’m not sure if that’s a slight to Redmayne or Dune (which, despite all reason, I enjoy).
E: Redmayne. In a weekend full of embarrassing flicks made by Oscar nominees, Redmayne costars as the villainous Balem, an alien heir trying to control a galactic corporate empire, which will necessitate doing away with reincarnated heiress Kunis. And the Earth, if it prevents her from claiming it, mwahhaha.
C: Such a weird casting choice for a melodramatic villain!
E: Oh, I don’t know. I’m sure he relished playing against his normal puppy-dog type, and he seems rather good at it, even if the “it” in question is lame.
C: Well, actors always say playing evil is the most fun.
E: There’s a moment of genius in the trailer though, in this exchange, that buoys your hope of classic camp. Tatum: “Your Majesty, I have more in common with a dog than I have with you.” Kunis: “I love dogs. I’ve always loved dogs.”
C: She even says it like she’s suddenly realized her lifetime love of pups was all to lead her to this moment. Preparation for making out with Channing Tatum: what dogs are for.
M: Yeah, both the line and her delivery were the things of campy legend.
E: In February, you have to take pleasure where you can.
M: I will say, looking at everyone and everything involved, this should be waaaaaaay better. The Wachowski siblings, Kunis, Tatum, Bean, Redmayne, James D’Arcy, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, heck even Terry Gilliam! Spectacular visual effects. Classic sci-fi plot. That should make for an epic. Here’s hoping we’re wrong…
E: Even though we really, really doubt it.
E: So, while we’re on the theme of Oscar-nominee-filled genre pics that look like they’ve totally missed the mark, exactly how do you get Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore and Djimon Honsou in a movie that looks this lame?
C: Not to mention Olivia Williams and Ben “Prince Caspian” Barnes.
M: Haha, as I was watching it I thought, hey, that’s Ben “Prince Caspian” Barnes. Not that we’re related or anything.
C: Maybe just a little. But E, I’ve got a much bigger question: why did they make a high fantasy movie that wasn’t based on any of the great, beloved, rabid-fanbase-boasting book properties out there, but instead chose to adapt a little-known book about a 12-year-old hero (here: Barnes) that looks like a vague amalgam of every familiar sword-and-sorcery trope?
E: They got the rights cheap? I don’t know. Don’t ask me. Ask the producers.
C: I shall send a letter.
M: Perhaps because Barnes is typecast as the adult portraying a role that is a child in the source material?
C: Ha, good point!
E: I should add, this kind of fantasy — in this case, one where the seventh son of a seventh son is destined to defeat a great evil — is totally in the Siblings’ wheelhouse. We all want to like something like this succeed.
M: Yes, much like the kind of sci-fi that Jupiter Ascending is. I want this to be good. Other than whatever voice Bridges is attempting to do, it does appear mildly entertaining in the promo materials.
C: But with “from the creators of 300: Rise of an Empire and Godzilla” in the trailer, I suspect we will not get our wish.
M: Unfortunately agree, I don’t expect we will, but they made a good trailer.
E: You think so? Genuinely? Because the trailers and commercials make me think it’s going to be incredibly bad. On the other hand, that’s what I thought about the now BAFTA-nominated Paddington, and the reviews point to that being actually charming, smart and heart-felt. I’ll be delighted if I turn out to be wrong here, too.
M: You only think that because you’ve seen trailers like this, and then been let down by the movie. And because it’s coming out in February, not July.
E: No, it’s because the effects look middling and the acting looks terrible. But what you’ve pointed out is true too.
C: Here’s a fact you may not know about the Siblings: somehow, though we grew into media titans, we were raised in a house without cable TV. So I never actually saw this Nickelodeon cartoon!
E: And aren’t you blessed? I don’t honestly even feel fair previewing this, since I’ve never understood the appeal of the cartoon, despite its popularity.
M: That makes two of us. I didn’t even want to watch the trailer, so I have nothing to say one way or another. All I’ll say is if you like the show, you may well like this.
E: Yes. As an entertainment fan, it infuriates me when critics denigrate something because it simply doesn’t fit into their particular taste; the Sibs all try to make a distinction between things that look bad and things we’re just not that into.
C: I for one am not denigrating! So much hate for an innocent cartoon, sheesh. I simply don’t know anything about what people want in a SpongeBob movie, or if they’ll get it here.
M: Fair point. You know what surprises me about the movie? Not that it got made, but that it got made now. I mean, SpongeBob has been out of the spotlight (so to speak) for years. Why now?
C: Hollywood’s a mystery. People do still love this cartoon, though. Some I know even have him on their pajama pants.
E: In 1971 — surprise! — a group of ordinary citizens broke into the offices of the FBI and took out every file, releasing them and leading to the first congressional investigation into intelligence gathering in American history. Because whistle-blowing has gone so well for Edward Snowden, those war protesters (some of whom were married couples, none of whom have never been caught) decided it was a good idea to reveal their identities in this documentary.
M: While things may have gone poorly for Snowden, he was releasing current information. I think that information that was stolen before any of the three of us were born is probably less of a concern for retribution. That said, it’s still a risk.
E: Yes, very risky, and I’m not sure what they gain by it. Perhaps I’ll have to watch to find that out.
C: This is a fascinating story, and a morally complex one. Their break-in revealed illegal activity on the part of the FBI that may not have otherwise come to light. Does that make it right? It’s like a classic Ethics 101 problem scenario.
M: I know, right? Is it a crime, or civil disobedience? Are the things that are being kept secret secret for a good reason, or are they dangerous and needing to be stopped? Like the trailer said, even the President was afraid of the FBI, and there had never been a congressional oversight investigation before. So, believe it or not, I tend to side with it being justified.
C: Wow. That’s not the stance I’d have expected!
E: That M, occasionally surprising us all. I’d never heard of Media, Pennsylvania (the office that was robbed) or these events, but I wonder now if this is why we know that the FBI tracked members of the Civil Rights and anti-war movements.
M: Much like the leaks these days have let us know about conservative groups being targeted, yes.
C: Ah, there’s the M I know. Now, in terms of how all this plays out in the film, it seems like a combination of interview footage and reenactments with very — perhaps cartoonishly — ’70s costuming. In those parts, it has the air of a heist movie — one could easily see this story succeeding as an Argo-style feature film.
E: I heard a great interview with two of the burglars talking about civil disobedience, saying that when laws assist in perpetrating crimes, then those laws should be broken.
M: Yeah, the reenactments look more America’s Most Wanted than Argo, but still, important stuff.
E: Sweet-looking story of best friends Rosie (Lily Collins) and Alex (Sam Clafin) who’re meant to be together yet somehow manage not to connect romantically for an inordinate number of years. At least initially, this may have something to do with Alex’s truly egregious high school hair cut.
C: It’s hard for movie after movie to sell me on the concept (quoting from the trailer here) that: “Sometimes you don’t see that the best thing that’s ever happened to you is right under your nose.”
M: I agree, this is totally overdone in film.
C: Is it really all that common in life for two mutually attracted close friends to go a decade without anything happening, unless there’s some very definitive obstacle?
E: If they like each other at different times, sure.
M: Common? Really? Shockingly, I’m with C.
E: Maybe not common, and definitely not for the number of years pictured. Just not impossible.
C: That’s not to say several great films aren’t based on this premise, but many more terrible ones are too.
E: I agree, and yet — even though there’s no way I’ll see it this month (or at all in the theaters), I kind of would like to see it eventually . I’m a fan of pining. Except, on the other hand, there’s the part where they both seem to be married to other people.
C: Wait, did we watch different trailers? In the one I saw he got engaged to someone else, while she had an unplanned pregnancy while single.
E: That’s trailer #1. Trailer #2 showed them both marrying other people, after her Prom-night whoops single motherhood.
M: Ugh, that makes it worse for me.
C: Yeah, as I’ve said a million times in these previews, infidelity stories are completely unromantic in my book.
M: And, unlike E, I’m not a fan of pining (unless it’s pining for the Fjords). Also making it worse for me? Every other guy Rosie is with in the trailers looks similar enough to Alex that I can’t tell who’s who.
E: Okay, so I suppose what I’d like to do is remake the movie myself and compress it so that the leads get together a lot faster, after Alex’s hair improves but before he and Rosie can make huge matrimonial mistakes.
E: You know, I’m kind of thrilled that this movie’s been made.
M: Me too!
C: Okay, clearly I ought to know who this person is and I totally don’t, so I guess that means I’m also glad this movie exists to educate me?
E: This might be one of those times where our age difference rears its head.
M: No “might” about it.
E: As a planet, we justly adulate the charismatic, triumphant Nelson Mandela for his trials and many long years of civic devotion — but we don’t talk at all about his once-traditionalist counterpart without whose eventual conversion and cooperation, a peaceful transition to popular rule could never have been possible.
M: I love the words superimposed over the beginning of the trailer, “We are naturally drawn to those with the courage to stand up to power. But there is another heroism, scarce and undervalued, owed to those who stand down.” One of the great moments in the history of the planet, in my opinion, was when George Washington, who could have been king or president for life, chose to step down and let someone else lead. Every great change needs a Mandela, but it also needs a de Klerk, a Gorbachev to Mandela’s Reagan, a person who is willing to stand up to power when they ARE the power. That is in some ways harder.
E: I don’t know about harder, but it’s definitely an achievement worth discussing.
M: True, harder is debatable, but how often do people in power give it up willingly? As the saying goes, power corrupts. We need more stories of people putting aside personal good for the greater good, personal power for what is right.
C: The film, by the way, is a documentary, since no one has said that yet.
E: Yes, sorry, did we not say that? A documentary about the president of South Africa who — under great pressure from both sides — finally helped abolish apartheid and stepped down peacefully after being voted out of office in favor of Mandela. Held elections with universal suffrage, in which he knew he would be defeated, even. Together the two men were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I know almost nothing about de Klerk, and I’m very interested to find out.
E: Guess what? Ryan Reynolds hears voices. Given the title, it comes as a big surprise.
E: I know! This month’s offerings are all about the misleading titles.
C: It could have been a singing movie, maybe?
M: Anna Kendrick is in it…
E: But alas, it’s not. The voices he hears are in fact those of his cat and his dog, who act as a sort of angel and devil on his shoulder.
M: The cat being the devil, because as everyone knows, cats are evil.
C: You don’t even think that so you can just shut up. Oboe would be so hurt.
E: And heaven knows we don’t want to write something that might offend our dead cat. But in the movie, the cat is evil.
M: BOOM! *mic drop*
E: Oh, get over yourself. Moving along, when it tells Ryan to kill people, he does, sometimes leaving their heads in his fridge where they, too, can talk to him.
C: Aaaand this premise just went from cute to nightmare in the space of one sentence.
M: Oh, you should watch the trailer. It starts out like the first part of E’s comments, all funny and a little Dr Doolittle-y. Then Reynolds is chasing Gemma Arterton down in the woods, and putting her decapitated head in the freezer. Blammo!
E: Yeah. It’s a bit of a shock. Anna Kendrick plays Reynolds’ dimwitted coworker/love interest who doesn’t understand just how close she’s coming to mortal danger.
M: So, I’ve got nothing against Reynolds (who also does the voices of the cat and dog, BTW), and like both Arterton and Kendrick. But, yeah, comedic serial killer with talking animals and (literal, non-political) talking heads? No, thank you.
E: It looks like the studios have pretty much ceded Valentine’s weekend to the — I really don’t want to call it a literary sensation. C, what would be a good word for it?
C: Pornomenon? Sado-mania?
M: I think “literary phenomenon” really is probably most accurate. Not positive, per say, but captures the massive popularity.
E: Maybe I’ll say publishing phenomenon, then, although pornomenon is pretty catchy.
M: It is. C, you might want to trademark that.
C: My claim to fame at last!
E: Now, I read this book, for the same reason I read Twilight; I don’t despise popular entertainment for its own sake, and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Twilight was fine, if not super-interesting, but I actively hated this book’s concept of love, and it gives me fits that domineering, unpleasant Christian Gray is considered a romantic hero.
C: Reading a lot of romance novels lately for a work project (yes… really), I’ve noted that words like “domineering,” “masterful,” and “overbearing” get used a lot on the back covers to describe the heroes.
M: I just want to interject that your work and my work are really, REALLY different. Back to what you were saying.
C: Well, E and I may both personally find those traits a turn-off, but it requires no startling act of literary analysis to get that this is a fantasy a lot of women like to indulge within the space between two book covers.
E: You know the post I just wrote about the price of greatness, and the how the cause of our suffering has to be worthy of what we suffer for it?
E: Gee, thanks, bro.
M: In fairness, I knew you posted something, I just didn’t know it was about greatness and suffering.
E: Well, feel free to go back and read it! Or at least the title.
M: Technically, the title didn’t mention greatness or suffering.
E: Aaaaanyway, maybe I still have my mind stuck in that frame, but I think that principle applies here. Too many women throw themselves into relationships thinking that the more tormented and screwed up the guy is, the greater they’ll be if they can redeeming him with their love. One of my least favorite delusions ever.
C: What I’m curious to see is how well the private act of reading a smutty novel transfers to the public act of going to the movies. For how many couples is this really an ideal Valentine’s date?
E: It might be more of the thing you watch with your girlfriends, right? It’s either going to be, ahem, inspirational, or supremely awkward on a date. I’ll grant you that Jamie Dornan is extremely sexy…
C: Though I’d have much preferred John Oliver, myself.
E: I think my mind just exploded.
M: Okay, sorry, I have to divert us wildly off track for a moment! I just found out recently that back in ’81/’82 when Return of the Jedi was being made, Ben Kingsley, fresh off of portraying Gandhi, auditioned to play the Emperor. Not only that, but you know who auditioned to play the Imperial lackey in charge of building the Death Star, the one that Vader berated for the slow progress? Alan Rickman!!! Can you imagine?
C: Which all connects because… M would rather have seen Rickman star in Shades? I can think of one or two others who’d back that…
E: M, that was just so smooth. Impressive. Anyway, readers, if you liked the books, this is probably going to be what you want in a screen adaptation of them. I’m not entirely sure how you make a movie out of this book that isn’t porn (to call the plot thin would be a gross understatement) but presumably they’ve done so since it managed an R rating.
M: I was wondering the same thing since they announced they were making a movie out of it. I was also surprised Mickey Rourke wasn’t involved.
E: If they’d made it in 1987, maybe.
M: Like C said about the public vs. private aspect of it, I am wondering how it will hold up in the imaginative vs. visual aspect. I can see the book capturing the imagination, putting the reader into a make-believe setting, allowing them to imagine the acts being written about. From what I’ve hear, as unlike E, I haven’t read the books…
E: Book. First book. One book only.
M: Thank you, Vasili. Back to the book, I believe there is a lot of minute detail about the “encounters” that can’t really be filmed. Seeing it all up on a screen in front of you, that seems different. It seems much more voyeuristic, and well, just kinda seems like porn. And I’m pretty sure if you made a Venn diagram of the people who read 50 Shades and the people who publicly watch porn, there’s not a big overlap.
E: Fair enough, but Hollywood is pretty skilled at making sex look sexy.
M: And that’s the kind of pearl of wisdom that keeps our readers coming back!
C: Guys, enough. My guess is that this will get a big opening for the curiosity factor alone (not to mention the lack of competition).
C: I’d be surprised if it has legs, though. Then again, unless it’s utterly panned I can see ladies trooping to this with their book clubs, so one can’t be sure. In any case, the DVD/download sales will no doubt be impressive.
C: Firth. Need any more be said?
M: Yes, for the non-Pride and Prejudice obsessed.
E: So we will. There’s no way I would see it in the theater — especially not this week, when I’m going to be spending all my time writing up my Oscar preview and seeing the more obscure nominees — but I am SUCH a sucker for Colin Firth. And the idea of him kung fu fighting and training a cadre of unlikely teen secret agents? It slays me. It will probably be terrible, but I want to see it anyway.
C: Oh, but couldn’t it maybe be good enough to be entertaining? Pretty please?
E: It has to be, right?
M: I feel like I saw the trailer for this a year ago. Still, then and every time since, it’s been entertaining, and is begging us to watch it.
E: Add in Mark Strong, Michael Caine and Jack Davenport as Agents Merlin, Arthur and Lancelot, a rare live-action gig for Jedi Master Mark Hamill, and the incomparable Samuel L. Jackson as the big bad who employs a ninja assassin with scythes as prosthetic feet, and you’ve got a whole mess of silly fun.
M: I really want to make one, but am going to refrain from making an Oscar Pistorius joke.
E: Thank you so much for (sort of, not really) refraining in that text book example of recusatio. If I were going to point to a weakness in the film (besides the obvious silliness), I’d have to admit I’m maybe less enchanted with lead actor Taron Egerton.
M: Well, duh, look at the cast you already mentioned.
E: I’m thinking my lack of interest might just be the costume department’s fault. I’m sure it’s all much cooler than me, but his jacket looks like a scarf our grandmother used to wear. (And yes, I do know that’s a classic designer print, but it still reads grandma.)
C: It’s not just that; he’s boring. If this movie wrecks, I suspect it will be on the rocks of Egerton’s blandness. But maybe what Firth says of his character is true of the actor, and he will turn out to have unsuspected abilities.
M: Or maybe it’s just that, like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, no matter how awesome an idea sounds, you still need a good script. Actually, as I think about it, if this is bad then LXG may be the best comparison.
C: One small, niggling thing, though: shouldn’t it be Kingsmen?
M: I think the implication is that Egerton’s character is to become a Kingsman. Maybe.
E: Or aspires to be like Firth’s perfect Kingsman, because it all comes back to Firth, alpha and omega.
M: And in a late breaking development, I got tickets to a sneak preview of this.
E: Dude! Which one of us are you taking with you?
M: Sorry, too late. I went with friends, and without revealing too much, the best description my friends or I could come up with after was “weird.” There is a lot of good in the movie. Some very fun, some campy fun, definitely tongue-firmly-in-cheek, some winks (practically blinks) at the audience.
E: Good so far.
M: There’s some fun spy stuff. Firth doesn’t disappoint, nor did any of the respected cast, including Jackson with a great lisp and strange personality, and Hamill with a solid English accent. Oddly enough, Egerton doesn’t disappoint, either, and yet…
C: Now that’s unexpected.
M: The real issue is that it’s AMAZINGLY violent, at times in a campy and entertaining way, but at other times well across the line. Like, to an uncomfortable, really off-putting extent. I told Dad that there is no circumstance in which he should watch this movie, unless they make a really edited for TV version, which would probably be about an hour long.
E: Ugh. That’s too bad. I find that kind of thing off putting, as in the preposterous fountains and gushers of blood in Django Unchained. Usually the previews let you in on that — witness the arterial spray in Everly — but I didn’t get that at all out of these trailers.
M: Not the problem I was expecting going in, and not sure if it ruined it. Lots of it was spot on and very entertaining. We all left the theater shaking our heads, trying to figure it out. So, yeah, weird.
E: Though it’s been some years — more than twenty — since the label “a Spike Lee joint” made the movie attached to it a cultural happening, the former Wunderkind director still maintains an active role in documentaries and television as well as films. His latest offering is definitely unusual — the story of Dr. Hess Green, who becomes addicted to blood (yes, you read that right) after finding a cursed artifact during a trip to Africa. It purports to be an exploration of marriage, love, sex, addiction, violence and social class, all of which are more usual Spike Lee subjects. I had to look all that up, by the way, because after watching the trailer I had absolutely no idea what was going on.
M: From the trailer it looks like it manages to wrap all those things up in an exploration of boredom.
E: This is apparently an homage to the 1973 flick Ganja & Hess. Which I’m sure you’ve all heard of.
M: This feels like one of those “I have my own production company and more money than I know what to do with, I’m going to make whatever the eff I want” movies. I’ve never been a big fan of Lee’s movies (his old commercials with Michael Jordan, on the other hand, I loved), this does not look likely to change my opinion.
E: So, I actually know a little bit about the subject of this Israeli film because of a story I once heard on NPR’s This American Life. In Jewish religious law, a get (or gett) is a divorce decree. And in Jewish law, it is created not by a rabbinical court but by the husband, and so a husband can keep his wife trapped in their marriage essentially forever, especially in Israel where there is no such thing as civil marriage.
M: Seems totally reasonable.
E: Excuse me?
M: Sarcasm, hello. When have you ever taken anything I say seriously?
E: Thanks for curing me of that habit. The movie by sibling filmmakers (hey, cool!) Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz stars Ronit (who’s also one of Israel’s most popular actresses) as an agunah, a “chained wife” seeking to begin her life again, appearing over and over at a court that can grant her no relief from the will of her cold and tyrannical husband. It’s a pretty fascinating subject.
C: Fascinating and scary. Sounds a lot like some of the nineteenth-century novels I study, actually. Wilkie Collins, anyone?
E: Sure, or Henry James.
M: Not sure I want to see this, but it looks very powerful, and well worth the attention it draws. As can be seen in the trailer, the marriage the husband refuses to dissolve is hardly an example of love. So sad, that this can exist.
E: If there’s a theme to this month’s offerings, it is — unsurprisingly — romance, and this contemporary musical is no exception.
M: If there are sub-themes to this month’s offerings, they are “the people who brought you P.S. I Love You“(Love, Rosie is, too. Seriously, was that a hit?) and Anna Kendrick.
E: The adaptation of the Broadway musical details the relationship of Cathy (Pitch Perfect star Kendrick) and Jamie (Smash‘s Jeremy Jordan). Who’ve been together for — you’ll never guess how long!
C: I know the musical a little, though I never saw it performed.
M: I know it none, and also never saw it performed.
E: Neither of you is going to guess? Crumb.
M: Fine…fine. Ummm… five years?
E: Ding ding ding!
C: While it’s very well-regarded in theater circles, this show is one of a particular modern style — plot about normal, not especially interesting or admirable people…
M: …with movie star looks, of course…
C: Well, that part isn’t necessarily the case on stage, but maybe.
M: Oh yes, I’m sure the leads on Broadway were hideous.
C: MY POINT that I was getting to is that the songs are all conversation-y or monologue-y rather than having notable melodies and hooks — a style that, raised listening to Annie, Fiddler, My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music on repeat, I have just never managed to get into.
E: While I totally applaud the making of any contemporary musical, it IS pretty important that — as with Once and Begin Again — the music be good.
C: The lyrics sung over the opening moments of the trailer reminded me very strongly of Lili Taylor’s character in Say Anything: “She’s written sixty-five songs. Sixty five — they’re all about you. They’re all about pain.”
M: Again, I was thinking the same thing!
E: And as with the aforementioned infidelity dramas, that just isn’t my kind of love story.
M: Neither is the fact that it starts with them breaking up, and then rewinds five years. Um, we know the ending, and it’s not happy. I suppose that takes some sting out of it, but still… boo.
C: So maybe if you loved Five Hundred Days of Summer for the story, rather than the charm of Zooey and Joe, you’ll love this?
E: And that must be someone, or else this would never have been made, but I don’t know who that audience is.
E: Looks like the best romantic comedy you missed in 1997.
M: That’s kind of harsh, I thought it looks funny.
C: I’m not sure how that’s a slam. There haven’t been a lot of truly great romantic comedies since the 1990s, and Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei both featured in some of the best (ex. Only You, 1994; Notting Hill, 1999).
M: Because she was implying that this is something outdated, and that the stars are outdated. It was a little Russell-Crowe-ish of her, actually.
E: I was not! I’m just noting, as C did, that these two were staples of the ’90s rom-com scene and aren’t so much now; seeing them starring together surprised me. Oscar-winning screenwriter Grant, falling on hard times, accepts a college teaching gig out of desperation, despite snobbishly believing that there’s nothing of value to be taught about constructing a story. While there, of course, he falls for Marisa Tomei’s delightful college sophomore.
M: The line about her going back to school at her… height? Quite funny.
C: Somehow we’re expected to believe that as the professor he has to read 70 full student screenplays to choose who’ll be in his class, because obviously college is constructed to put as much unnecessary work as possible onto prestigious faculty members.
E: Evidently he thought that was burdensome as well; it looks like he selects his class based on gender and attractiveness rather than merit.
M: You were expecting realism in a Hugh Grant movie? Seriously?
C: Look, if there’s one thing in the whole world you’d expect a Hollywood screenwriter to be able to depict plausibly, wouldn’t it be screenwriting?
M: No, not really. I’d expect them to make it look far more important and glamorous. Anyway, let’s move on.
C: Also, while fewer audience members are likely to know this, the line “When it comes to writing, there are no rules!” is the dumbest piece of advice a screenwriting teacher could give. It’s probably the most rule-bound of any creative writing genre save the villanelle.
M: Again, Hugh Grant is involved. Actual rules are out the proverbial window.
C: I don’t accept that, any more than you’d accept it if I said “why are you complaining about the problems in that Peter Jackson movie? It’s fantasy, it’s not supposed to be believable.” I’m not asking for real-realism, I’m asking for the movie not to distract me from enjoying it with bad writing.
M: But that is only something you are distracted by because of your profession. I never would have picked up on it. I see it as more akin to complaining about a character in a Peter Jackson movie speaking Quenya when they should have been speaking Sindarin. Distracting to those who know, perhaps, but not something that would be caught by many.
E: But why bother to write badly about something you know? That’s just annoying. Our standards, they are so high. I will say, having Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons on as fellow members of the faculty is a plus, though from the trailer it doesn’t seem like they’re doing anything either couldn’t do in their sleep.
C: They get to take part in adorable exchanges like this: “You don’t like Jane Austen?” asks Janney. “I’m just getting a little tired of female empowerment,” replies Grant. Precious.
M: Agreed. As was the awkward silence that followed.
E: Also, the words “from the director of Music and Lyrics” do not fill me with confidence.
C: Most of all because this looks like the SAME MOVIE as Music and Lyrics, only sub in “washed out once-huge screenwriter” for “washed out once-huge singer.”
E: A role Grant had already perfected in the delightful hit About A Boy. (Or, wait, was he a washed out singer-songwriter?) Also worrisome: the fact that the trailer says it was supposed to be released in October. BUT. All that said, it must also be acknowledged that putting Tomei and Grant in a movie together is a vast step up from pairing Grant with Drew Barrymore. They’re only 4 years apart in age! How is that possible?
C: Since they were both big in the ’90s, this doesn’t bowl me over as it seems to do you.
E: Clearly you need to re-read our open letter to Russell Crowe.
C: Oh, I thought you meant you didn’t realize they were close in age, not that this was an unusually decent move for Hollywood. Which it certainly is.
M: That bit aside, I can understand the date change, choosing to have it open at Valentine’s Day rather than Halloween. Plus, coming off Bill Belichick’s shout out to Tomei’s My Cousin Vinny character, the timing couldn’t be better.
M: As the movie describes, every social group has labels. Jock, geek, mean girl, and the DUFF. What, you’ve never heard of the DUFF? Oh, that’s because this movie made up this “lightheartedly” offensive term, which stands for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend,” the one designed to make the other friends look better.
C: Okay, that’s appalling.
M: Right? Of course playing the title role in this high school comedy is Parenthood‘s Mae Whitman, who is neither ugly or fat. Or, at 26, an appropriate age to play a high schooler. Ahhh, Hollywood.
E: Well, as the trailer explains, you don’t actually have to be fat or ugly to qualify as a DUFF, just less sophisticated or less attractive than your friends. More approachable.
M: Not making it any better.
C: Wait, what’s unattractive about being approachable?
E: Well, theoretically it’d be easier to approach a normal looking person to ask them whether their intimidatingly hot friend liked you?
C: Also — while I’m hesitant about even dignifying this premise by debunking it from a scientific standpoint — many studies have shown that friend groups tend to be on a similar attractiveness level. In fact, one study I looked at recently showed that women perceive far greater gaps between their own attractiveness and that of other women in their friend group than outside observers perceive. The DUFF concept is pure Hollywood.
M: And it’s these awful roles that poor Rebel Wilson is always typecast into. Unless it’s the ugly duckling version of the role, which go to the likes of Anne Hathaway.
C: Not only that, but it’s a great way to give teens who don’t realize that it’s just Hollywood even more anxiety issues.
M: Because teenage girls especially don’t have enough anxiety. Okay, enough of our indignation, on to the movie itself.
E: With the help of an old childhood friend and obvious love interest, Whitman decides to make herself over. He’s of course the hottest jock at the school dating the meanest hottest girl — though unexpectedly also a whiz at dressing women, which he attributes to his love of Project Runway (although anyone who watches it knows that sounds more like What Not to Wear). I guess I like that today he can plausibly be a metro jock?
C: As opposed to Henry Higgins? It’s just another way for him to express his mastery of social norms. I like makeover stories in many cases, actually, but what I like is when they emphasize how much a person’s image, and the impression they make on others, is within their control. When it’s about confidence. This seems more about conformity.
E: I think the problem with this movie is that it wants to be triumphantly stereotype-exploding and a classic She’s All That/Pygmalion make-over story at the same time, two goals that are naturally opposed to each other. In what seems like a very obvious homage, Whitman clearly dresses like a 90’s grunge sister to Rachel Leigh Cook’s Laney Boggs.
M: What, you don’t think overalls are making a comeback?
E: Speaking of 90s rom coms, it’s also a possible Clueless homage. Speaking of clothing (or the lack there of), I could definitely do without the whole pec bouncing locker room scene, too. Did The Rock write this movie? What the heck?
M: The original was mildly funny, and became a sleeper hit. Take away John Cusack (who grounded the plot), and we’re left with what looks like a classic comedy mistake sequel. Sure, there will be a few good lines and moments, how could there not be. But overall this seems like a really bad idea.
E: How could there not be? Let me count the ways.
M: Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry and Adam Scott are heavily involved. There will be funny moments. There just won’t be enough, or, in all likelihood, a decent plot.
C: I’m 100% with M. Nothing with Adam Scott could be all bad.
C: I’m pretty excited for this movie, because the dad of one of my best friends grew up in this town and even had the character played by Kevin Costner as a teacher. Hooray for nice hometown stories!
M: A Disnification of a true story, like The Rookie, which I quite liked. This time, instead of a high school teacher becoming a major league pitcher, we have a high school teacher becoming a cross country coach for a bunch of Latino kids who think they have no future. The starring role goes to Kevin Costner, with Maria Bello as his wife (only 12 years age gap, for Hollywood that pretty close!).
E: Um, no. Still pretty gross.
M: Seriously, you are so not catching my sarcasm this month.
C: I missed it too there actually. Ugh, Hollywood. Back to the promising aspects of this, which are many!
E: Like with last month’s Spare Parts, this kind of inspiring true story really gets me, and the trailer gives us more about the kids both as a group and also with their families, which nicely counteracts my general mistrust of Kevin Costner.
M: It looks to hit all the right buttons for a movie of this type… down and out setting, kids that just need a chance, coach that’s never done it before, no one believes in them, mean kids to compete with, all that schmaltzy stuff. And it uses U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name in the trailer, which makes anything better. I’m not expecting to see this in the theater, but some day I’ll Netflix it, and probably really enjoy it.
C: It’s the kind of movie we’ve all seen before, and liked before, but adding the racial factor raises important issues that many underdog stories don’t, and brings recognition to some real people who deserve it.
E: Also to the good; this movie looks nicely made. Gorgeous cinematography, excellent training montages, hilarious/awkward family dinners, ruthless mockery of 80s running shorts – like M says, it hits a lot of buttons.
M: Plus, the exchange where Costner tells one of the kids to thank his father, assuming he doesn’t speak English, and the father responds in English telling the son to say you’re welcome? Always funny.
E: Oh yeah. Good stuff.
C: See now, I found that a bit too familiar to amuse. But I guess you can’t be shocked when Disney chooses to make the expected joke.
E: The coming-of-age story brings us a lost teen trying to cope with his father’s death. It stars Kodi Smit-McPhee of mildly cute indie flick The Birder’s Guide to Everything (in which he was struggling with the aftermath of his mother’s death) and the unpopular adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic modern classic The Road, with Victoria Madsen as McPhee’s struggling mother and an unrecognizably ancient Danny DeVito as his therapist.
M: Seriously, I thought DeVito was Frank Langella in the first picture I saw. I never expected to confuse the two of them!
E: Me neither. Not that I did — but I can see how it could happen.
C: Only if they were sitting down. Langella is 6’4”! To return to the movie, though, while I’m not a big fan of coming-of-age stories, this looks gorgeously filmed. At least, if the well-cut trailer is anything to go by.
E: Not to be confused with the 2013 Canadian school-shooting drama starring Falling Skies‘ Connor Jessup, or the upcoming Rooney Mara/Ben Mendelson relationship film, or the 2007 doomed junkie romance.
C: But what delightful company to be in!
E: This Blackbird is the story of a young black man (Julian Walker) from a deeply religious family which struggles with his sexual orientation. His parents are played by Oscar winner Mo’nique and (with an interesting meta level thrown in) infamous homophobe Isaiah Washington.
M: Washington is actually a producer on this, I suppose in an effort to try to get off the blacklist.
E: I can’t decide if I’m more interested in mocking him for the hypocrisy or applauding him for trying to make a change.
M: I can’t decide if I want to get into a fight with you about Hollywood’s hypocrisy of preaching “tolerance,” but only being tolerant of what they agree with. Nope, I decided. Not worth it. Let’s move on to horror dreck.
E: Good move.
C: What I found deeply odd about this trailer, with its many references to trusting God and the like (trailing off with a rendition of “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know”), is that watching it I would assume it to be a conservative inspirational Christian film, were it not for the interspersed shots of sex (mostly male-male, some involving multiple partners). They leave it for you to infer the conflict, I guess, based on the imagery.
M: Take this under advisement before you click the link above. Remember my comment about not wanting to even watch the Sponge Bob trailer? Well, this is one where I kind of wish I hadn’t watched the trailer. Of course, I’m not a horror fan, so if you are you’ll be fine.
E: Oh, now you’re alarming me. Is it a horror movie about stupid and atrociously drawn cartoon characters?
M: No clue what you’re referencing.
E: Am I taking you inappropriately seriously again? SpongeBob! Stupid and badly drawn cartoon!
C: That you have never watched!
M: Nope, this time I wasn’t putting two and two together. So, my bad this time. Anyway, it’s about kids that go missing, and then other kids find one of them in a creepy treehouse in the middle of a huge forest. It’s very dark, there are hangings and creepy, zombie-like disfigured faces… need me to say more?
C: No thank you.
C: Another case of what-were-they-thinking with the totally forgettable title. All you readers after closing this window may think “I wanna see the new Will Smith movie,” but are you gonna think “Man, I really wanna see Focus“?
M: Will Smith stars as a con man who gets mixed up with a femme fatale looking to pull the big con. The trailer looks slick and has great music.
E: I know he hasn’t had quite the same box office punch as in his heyday, but what’s the Fourth of July king doing opening a movie in February?
M: It’s because of his recent track record. On the heels of After Earth, if you were a studio exec would you devote a key weekend and big marketing money to a Smith picture that looks as iffy as this one? Taking it further, his last semi-hits were MIB 3 in 2012 and Hancock in 2008, and his last legit action hit (which excludes Hitch, which was great) was Bad Boys 2 in 2003. Maybe that’s why Hancock 2 and Bad Boys 3 are in the works?
C: He’s made a lot of money since 2003.
E: Hollywood, seriously. Fun fact: Margot Robbie, the student who seems likely to beat Will Smith’s master at the con game, is just a little bit more than half of Will Smith’s age.
C: In fact, she was born in a year when Fresh Prince was on the air.
E: Sigh. Will Smith, why??????
M: Because, to take our third dig at Russell Crowe in this post, all the women Smith’s own age are obviously taking wonderful, age-appropriate roles! And since you’ve been having trouble telling… that was sarcasm.
E: Thanks for that, bro. Also, you’re going to laugh, but I got so confused initially by this preview; when they brought up the word Focus I thought it was the production company (Focus Features) and kept waiting for the actual title to appear.
M: Not laughing, because I thought the same thing. We are movie dorks, though.
E: Ah, it feels so good not to be alone in my dorkdom.
C: So you both agree it’s a terrible title?
E: Yup. Though supposedly it comes from the most important element of a con — focus. Having your eyes always on the prize. Presumably it’s his appreciation for Robbie’s game-playing skills that distract Smith so badly.
E: Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass star as scientists trying to bring animals back from the dead. I wonder what could go wrong with that?
M: Obviously nothing, especially when the trailer states “From the producers of The Purge, Paranormal Activity and Insidious.” Those are all “nothing goes wrong movies, right?
C: Oh, definitely. Especially as there’s an advertising image of Wilde with creepy all-black eyes.
E: Inevitably, Wilde is accidentally killed during an experiment, and her grieving partner/husband Duplass injects her full of their experimental serum and brings her back. Except, sadly, she’s brought all the powers of hell with her, and starts moving lab equipment with her mind and otherwise wrecking havoc on her hapless, well-intentioned coworkers.
M: As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of The League. As such, I’m glad to see Duplass getting major roles. Maybe not this specific role, in a movie that looks like a cross between Flatliners and Pet Semetary, but still. In addition, another of my favorites, Community‘s awesome Donald Glover, supports as one of the doomed co-workers.
C: See now, that’s just adding to my reasons not to see this. Don’t kill Troy!!
E: It’s not my thing, but the trailer’s super creepy and well-made. Mr. E and I jumped a bunch of times watching it.
M: Please tell me you didn’t jump when the dog came back to life. Because that could not have been any more predictable.
E: No, but that thing with the filing cabinet? Shudder.
E: No, this is not another documentary about Media, Pennsylvania. It’s about a British soldier’s experience in Belfast, Ireland, during The Troubles. The man’s unit retreats and he’s accidentally left behind in the worst possible area of the city, his only thought to avoid the IRA fighters hunting him through the night.
C: The story centers on that one night: his tension as he tries to hide, the question of who might hide him and who will kill him, who he can trust and for how long.
M: A true powder keg of a setting, and oddly enough one definitely not overused by Hollywood.
E: Right? The tense-looking thriller stars Unbroken‘s Jack O’Connell.
M: Tense is definitely the right word. Just watching the trailer I could feel my stomach tensing. Seeing the hatred, the danger, and at the same time the people willing to risk everything for a stranger, and the fight to survive. This could be excellent.
E: I can’t help notice that the British Army’s response to actual riots looks a lot less frightening than what got rolled out in Ferguson.
M: Well, life and death situations tend to bring out the worst and the best in us. And in fairness, this is a movie intending to portray the Brits as the heroes. Go back and re-watch the portrayal of them In The Name Of The Father, or watch actual news footage from the time, and you might think differently.
E: Oh, good point. Now that’s a movie all of America needs to watch for a little post-9/11 perspective.
M: And just because it’s great.
M: Not to be confused with the above-mentioned Blackbird. Or the 2012 or 2007 Blackbirds.
E: Devastating-looking indie drama about the trials of a family in a Maine logging town, starring a trio of decently-known television actors.
M: Doesn’t that sound like a fun escape from the doldrums of February!
E: Wait, it gets better. I’m not nearly done yet. The bus driver mom, Chicago P.D.‘s Amy Morton, gets her bus started one morning only to find that a child had fallen asleep during her route and ended up there in the freezing cold all night.
M: Oh God, that’s awful.
E: Yes, completely awful. Thankfully the boy didn’t die outright, but he spends most of the trailer unconscious in a hospital bed. The bus driver’s husband, played by Mad Men‘s John Slattery, tries to hold the family together while Margo Martindale (of Justified, The Millers, The Americans and Dexter), the boys’ grandmother, tries to stop her wastrel daughter from destroying Morton’s life.
M: Martindale really is in everything, isn’t she? Not that I’ll see this, but that’s good to see.
E: We left her out of the list of women over 50 who work a ton, but only because she’s a supporting actor. It’s great to see her get juicier and juicier roles, though.
C: I don’t even know who she is, though I assume she’d look familiar if I saw her.
E: Oh, she totally would. And here’s a continuing trend from 2015: Morton and Slattery’s daughter figures in the film as well, as does her love interest, played by Girls‘ Adam Driver. Who is in a way the anti-Martindale, because I am not thrilled to see him show up everywhere I look.
M: Seriously, still waiting for ANYONE to explain his sudden stardom. Please, someone, anyone.
C: Readers? Got anything?
C: Not to be confused with Everwood. At all.
E: Salma Hayek stars in this Tarantino-esque grind house-style bloodbath, about a woman alone who murders a ton of people who attempt to get into her loft apartment, which tend to be mostly Asian men in business suits but also a few female Kill Bill-style ninjas.
M: To be fair, they’re not “trying to get into her apartment,” they’re trying to kill her. Over money. And some of them are Kill Bill-style female assassins. And it looks atrocious.
C: That is an important clarification. In terms of motive. So… Kill Bill in an apartment, basically.
E: I bet you anything that more people will want to see these ridiculous arterial sprays of blood than will see Bluebird. Or Blackbird, for that matter. And quite possibly either excellent-looking 1971 flick, all because this is an escapist cartoon.
M: I will not take that bet, because you are 100% correct.
E: Awards-minded fans might recall that Julianne Moore got a nomination for this at the Golden Globes, which means it had to have been released officially somewhere in 2014 but simply didn’t make our radar screen.
M: Considering the tiny, oddball things we go over (like the de Klerk movie above), and especially your awards obsession, that’s kind of shocking.
E: It’s a really odd story about movie star Moore, her nemesis, and her stalker/insane new personal assistant, Mia Wasikowska.
C: Jane Eyre!
E: Not to mention Moore’s celebrity therapist John Cusack, his sister Olivia Williams who’s the momager to her child star son, or Wasikowska’s limo driver love interest, Robert Pattinson. And they’re all crazy, and there are guns, and would-be-spiritualist talk, and confusion.
M: You really like using that “momager” term. I don’t think it’s as cool as you think it is.
E: I don’t think it’s cool remotely.
M: So, feel free to stop using it.
C: She’s fibbing, she loves that kind of made-up-for-a-specific-of-the-moment-usage term.
E: It’s just so apt! Anyway. Back on point, if you follow his movies at all, it won’t surprise you to know that the film was directed by David Cronenberg.
M: Cronenberg tends to cast people multiple times (Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons), so it’s not a big surprise to see Cedric Diggory (Pattinson) here. I find it funny, though, that Cosmopolis had him riding around all day as a limo passenger, and this one has him as a limo driver. Other than that I found nothing in the trailer funny. Or appealing.
E: I’m sure that was a personal joke.
C: What a wild one!
M: And that brings us to the end of the month. Looking over the list, there isn’t a single thing that I expect I’d see in the theater other than that free screening of Kingsman, unless something like Jupiter gets better audience reaction than we’re expecting them to. There aren’t even that many things I’d expect to watch if they happened to be on TV. Not good.
C: Eh, though it may seem like we hate on a lot of movies, that’s just because we consider more movies than most people do. Will any of our readers go see a movie this month? Tell us!
M: This month, maybe not. But that is because they are so worth hating on.
E: To sum up: February. More entertainingly bad than January.
M: And there’s your marketing tag line, more entertainingly bad than January. Love it.