Weekly Trailer Round-Up

The Descendants – B+: It is really gratifying to have a new Alexander Payne film coming out this year. There is nothing really revelatory about the trailer, but this still manages to look wonderful headed by reliably subdued work by George Clooney.

50/50– B+: 50/50 looks like a solid balance of comedy and drama, headed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt who is so adept at both. He and Rogen look like they will have great chemistry.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – C+: Guillermo del Toro’s involvement has me interested, but my reaction to this was the same as my reaction to the teaser; indifference. It does not look necessarily bad, but nothing about it stands out. The little CGI seen looks somewhat poor.

The Whistleblower – B-: My hope is that this film does not fit quite as succinctly into the political thriller mode as the trailer makes it look. Anything that brings attention to this issue, even if through a conventional thriller (to call human trafficking a ‘problem’ is the biggest understatement you’ll ever see on this blog), is a good thing. However, from a cinematic perspective, this looks a bit too cliched to be anything outstanding. Hopefully, it can prove me wrong.

The Smurfs 3D– F: This is the first F I have given since writing these short trailer sound-ups. I say this with all seriousness: I would watch Zookeeper over this any day of the week. This looks like bottom-of-the-barrel filmmaking, if we can even call it that. On The AV Club’s Directors You Didn’t Know You Hated installment of Inventory, they cite director Raja Gosnell. Along with the upcoming Smurfs, he is also responsible for directing Big Momma’s House, Scooby-Doo and its sequel and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. The comedy here looks about as lazy as it gets. Children clearly deserve better than this. After seeing this, I will bet that the most average of children’s films will seem like a breath of fresh air. Neil Patrick Harris looks particularly annoying. Hank Azaria as Gargamel looks appropriate cartoonish, and thus, moronic. The Smurfs themselves do not blend in at all, and they seem more annoying than anything else here. The amount of times “Smurf” is injected into their vocabulary is grating. Just because they make a joke about it, does not mean you will not have to listen to their repetitive ‘Smurf’ lingo. And as if you need another reason to not see The Smurfs, Katy Perry is voicing Smurfette. Oh. My. Smurf.

I Don’t Know How She Does It-D-: Again, I say this with all seriousness; I would rather watch Zookeeper. I get that this is going to appeal to busybody women who want to feel appreciated for all the running around they do. Nothing wrong with that. Having Sarah Jessica Parker doing Sex and the City narration complete with breaking the fourth wall does not help. It really looks like she will just be her zany self, running around for about ninety minutes. Why would I want to watch this?

Happy Feet Two 3D – F: Oh boy. The second F of this week. For the third time; I would rather see Zookeeper. Poor poor “Mama Said Knock You Out”. You have been unfairly destroyed in less than a minute. I am not sure I have seen a worse teaser than this. Ever. I have never seen Happy Feet. I never care to see Happy Feet. The teaser is loud, crowded, nonsensical, obnoxious, a little bit creepy and completely bewildering.

John Carpenter’s The Ward – C+: This, like so many horror trailers, looks completely forgettable but totally watchable.

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front – B+: This is one of my most anticipated docs of the year. This looks like it will have an excellent insight into eco-terrorism, balanced with a humanistic approach that offers no easy answers. That makes me more excited about it, docs that are too broad can become easily problematic. That it is called “A Story” as opposed to “The Story” makes me hopeful that this will live up to my expectations.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – A+: This is, for my money, the best trailer of the year so far. I really enjoy this book (much less crazy about the final two installments). The Swedish film left me largely unimpressed, but Noomi Rapace’s spectacular performance alone had me against a US interpretation. By the time Rooney Mara was cast as opposed to a big name, and David Fincher on board as director, my opinion had completely turned around on this project. My initial worry that the film would tone down the more brutal and disturbing aspects of the film look to be untrue by the feel of this teaser. Can I just say how happy I am that Fincher is getting back to the kind of material he is most comfortable with? My adoration with The Social Network aside (as well as my very conflicted feelings towards Curious Case of Benjamin Button), this pessimistic world of violence and grime is where he is at home. By the looks of it, he has wasted no time with this teaser, showing us that he is coming back with a bang. His visual motifs look right at home in Stieg Larsson’s world. The Trent Reznor/Karen O “Immigrant Song” cover is just as sick and fierce as one would hope. The tagline rules. Craig and Mara look perfect from the little we can see of them. And Entertainment Weekly’s observation that the teaser lines up chronologically with the story looks to be pretty much correct from what I can tell. This is going to be far from an easy watch, but if Fincher’s vision holds up, it’ll be more than worth it.

Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World – D: The one thing I like about this trailer is that kids this young are never really given key roles in children’s action adventure films of this scale. They are almost always several years older. So in a way, I think it’s nice that kids this young can be front and center instead of the protagonists’ being 12 and up. That being said, this looks like it should be straight-to-DVD fodder. I am still trying to figure out why there was a Spy Kids 2. Oh yeah; money. This looks awful.


Review: Passion Play (2011, Glazer)

Back in April, Mickey Rourke made a brutally unhinged comment about two of his upcoming films, Passion Play and 13. He called them both ‘terrible’. Naturally, this sparked curiosity on just how bad the former, Mitch Glazer’s straight-to-DVD directorial debut would be. Is it terrible? In a word, yes. Yes, it is terrible. Passion Play is so misguidedly earnest that it garners the kind of response one has when a toddler tries to walk but is not quite ready. ‘Oh, look at him trying to walk! Isn’t that sweet!’ has been replaced with ‘Oh, look at him trying to make a film! Isn’t that…oh…’ Bogged down in painful noir clichés and rote sentimentality, Passion Play has enough unintentional laugh-out-loud moments that will hurdle it into turkey infamy.

Rourke plays Nate Poole, a down-on-his-luck trumpeter who is in some trouble with gangster Happy Shannon (Bill Murray), after sleeping with Shannon’s wife. Narrowly escaping death (he is saved by random snipers, who are never explained) Nate finds himself at a traveling circus where he meets Lilly (Megan Fox), a woman with wings. She has been brought up by Sam (Rhys Ifans), who runs the circus. Nate and Lilly apparently have enough of a connection in one conversation to escape the clutches of Sam and run off together. Nate secretly plans on exploiting her with Shannon in exchange for his life. As the two enter a relationship, Nate regrets his betrayal and sets out on saving Lilly from the predicament he has put her in.

The weakest element of Passion Play is the script. For all the inertness of the film, the amateurish and nonsensical script is where the films disastrous seed was sown. For starters, the plot is thoroughly implausible, never making us forget how ridiculous its base concept is. Another filmmaker could have scrapped the script, started with the concept and created something delightfully weird and bizarre. Instead, we get a film that takes itself so seriously, clearly believing it has crafted an engaging modern-day fable. The feeling that Glazer was really trying hard to make something good out of a script he clearly believes in, makes the film so awkward to watch. It is sad that anybody, including Glazer who wrote it, would take this script seriously.

Conversations begin with lines like “Have you ever seen the ocean?” Yeah; it’s that bad. The connection between Nate and Lilly is in no way convincing. Let us put aside the fact that we are supposed to buy Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox as two people who fall in love. The way their relationship comes about is too abrupt, feeling about as realistic as Lilly’s wings. How are we supposed to care about these two when Nate is scheming against Lilly during most of their scenes together? Instead of crafting a tale of redemption, the film never points out the moment when Nate’s regret starts to seep in, leading us to believe that it is only when the two sleep together (yes there is a love scene, complete with Rourke fondling Fox’s wings) that he feels differently about her. And if that is the case, Nate comes off as even more of a sad-sack schmuck than at the start of the film.

There is blatant awkwardness throughout, whether from the acting, dialogue or direction. So much of the film is oddly staged, as if we are looking in on an underworked rehearsal. Some of the beats between lines of dialogue do not feel natural. The same goes for the timing between certain shots. There is something entirely off-kilter about a lot of Passion Play, and there are times when Glazer cannot execute simple scenes. For an example of this, look to the early scene with Rourke and Ifans in his abode. Scenes like this come around about once every ten minutes that force the audience to contemplate the mere existence of this film.

Mickey Rourke is clearly coasting here. His worn-out face allows him to fit into these types of roles very easily. Sometimes his heart is in it, sometimes it is not. He cannot even pretend to play the trumpet correctly, in one of the film’s laugh-out-loud scenes. Megan Fox clearly wants to be taken seriously here, but she has chosen the wrong film for it. She is just there to look stunning, doing little to negate the notion that her character is just an object for others to gawk at. The film is using Fox the same way Happy Shannon, Sam and Nate all try to use her. It is hard to take Fox seriously when she is stuck in a constant state of crying gullibility. With Fox, Passion Play becomes a maudlin Victoria’s Secret commercial, complete with wings.

Finally, Bill Murray as a gangster sounds inspired, and admittedly he comes closest to an actual performance. Yet he is coasting as well, relying on his usual droll line deliveries to come off as menacing due to the content of the dialogue. For a perfect example of Rourke and Murray coasting, watch the scene in which Rourke makes his proposition to Murray during lunch. Neither looks like they want to be there. It is all too easy to picture them sitting around and waiting for action to be called so the scene can creep all too willingly towards completion.

What is good about Passion Play? Well, there is some typically wonderful photography by Christopher Doyle, the film’s only saving grace. Passion Play may just seem like a merely terrible film while watching it, with occasional moments of so-bad-it’s-funny moments. But the film’s leap into infamy is made concrete in its final minutes, which needs to be seen to be believed. Hint; there is flying involved.

Weekly Screening Log: May 20th-26th

169. Mad Max (1979, Miller): D+

170. Sans Soleil (1983, Marker): A+

171. Seance (2000, Kurosawa): B+

172. Great Expectations (1946, Lean): B+

173. The Freshman (1925, Taylor & Newmeyer): C+

174. A Hard Day’s Night (1964, Lester): B-

175. Last Tango in Paris (1972, Bertolucci): A-

176. It’s a Gift (1934, McLoed): B+

177. Red Riding Hood (2011, Hardwicke): D

178. Unknown (2011, Collet-Serra): B

180. The Roommate (2011, Christiansen): D-

181. Incendies (2011, Villeneuve): A

182. Passion Play (2011, Glazer): D-

Weekly Trailer Round-Up

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop – B: My boyfriend got to see this at IFFBoston, while I had to miss it due to class. Both of us attended O’Brien’s tour, making this of particular interest. The film looks like a satisfying combination of entertainment and insight.

A Little Help – D: This is the kind of domestic indie drama I cannot abide by. Nothing here feels genuine and it comes complete with ‘indie’ dramedy font. Fischer will lose her husband, struggle to find her own way and mark out a relationship with her son. There will be plenty of ups and downs and the film will end on a moment of hope. There you go. Film seen.

Take Shelter – A: Recently screened at Cannes, this is one of my most anticipated films of the year. Inner psychological torment mixed with eerie atmosphere and bigger-scale visuals looks to be a winning mix. Shannon’s predicament seems similar to his in Bug, a film I love, making this an even more exciting release.

The Muppets – B+: A really clever trailer which shows, in its short footage of the Muppets, that the humor will stay very much inline with the type of meta-jokes they were known for. I am so nervous and excited for this one; the Muppets mean a lot to me.  They have been so misused in recent years by Disney.  Jason Segel seems to appreciate what they once were, so I have hope. Also, it is hard to imagine this not working in a theater.

Salvation Boulevard – C-: This trailer it waaaaay too scattered to feel coherent. It may be going for a zany, wacky satirical vibe, but this too muddled for any of that to really come through.

The Perfect Age of Rock ‘N’ Roll – C: There is something so purposefully dour about this; it so badly wants us to care. I am not sure I do. Everyone involved is clearly trying, but it I did not finish the trailer feeling like I needed to spend two hours with this story.

Weekly Screening Log: May 13th-19th

163. Tron (1982, Lisberger): C-

164. Total Recall (1990, Verhoeven): A-

165. Ratcatcher (1999, Ramsay): A-

166. The Double Hour (2011, Capotondi): C+

167. Barry Lyndon (1975, Kubrick): A

168. Solaris (Tarkovsky, 1972): B

Review: The Double Hour (2011, Capotondi)

Originally posted on Criterion Cast on May 17th, 2011

Plot twists are inherently risky. Over recent years, they have become much more complicated. Certain genres, like horror or thriller, naturally invite the convention to the point where inclusion instantly subjects the film to a battle with predictability. Mostly, the risk comes from the chance taken on losing the audience. Will the twist enhance or muddle the films intentions? Will the audience go along for the ride or will they disengage themselves? The Double Hour, the Giuseppe Capotondi’s debut film, shows promise, but loses itself within its labyrinthine twists.

A plot description for The Double Hour begs vagueness to keep this review relatively spoiler-free. Sonia (Kseniya Rappoport), a hotel maid who is somewhat withdrawn and solitary, attends a speed-dating event. She meets Guido (Felippo Timi) , an ex-cop and widower. They start up a relationship and everything is going well, until they are subject to a home invasion robbery that results in…well, you will have to find out yourself. Other figures in the plot are Sonia’s co-worker Margherita (Antonia Truppo), hotel regular Bruno (Fausto Russo Alesi) and detective Dante (Michele de Mauro).

As for the inner workings of The Double Hour, it is apparent the story was carefully considered outside its plotted nature. Through the twists and turns, a character-driven exploration of one person’s guilt is meant to be examined through the enhanced perspective said twists offer. There are moments when that deepened sense of guilt comes through nicely. The complex ambiguity of Sonia pays off as often as it does not. Yet the film gets lost, and everything is eventually stifled and fruitless. By the end, character development is suffocated by the complicated plot, when it is meant to have the opposite effect.

Theoretically, the twists force the audience to go back and rethink through the film, allowing for deeper and deeper examination of Sonia. The first twist changes what we think of Sonia thus far as we are asked to reshape our perception of her. The second twist is meant to do the same; enhance character development through the revelation. It is different from the first twist because Sonia and the audience learn it at the same time whereas Sonia is in on the initial twist. It is a jarring and risky move in which now Sonia and the audience have to, again, entirely reconfigure how the new situation at hand. The attempted leap falls short, making the film’s entire conceit unsatisfying. It also provides one simple explanation for a hell of a lot of intrigue it sets up, coming off as a cop-out, even though the middle section of the film would admittedly work better on a second viewing.

The Double Hour does not take enough of a stance in genre. It is rarely a detractor if a film does not line up cozily with a genre; in fact I welcome it. It is a detractor when the material is not strong enough to tell the story it wants to. It made me wish it threw itself much more heartily into its thriller origins so it had a grip on something specific. It dips its toes into many genres for a short period of time, but backs off too soon to establish anything of worth.

Finally, there is perhaps the central reason The Double Hour underwhelms and the main catalyst for the twists’ failures. The romance at its center is flat and uninspired despite the chemistry between the two leads. Both Sonia’s character development and the romance between her and Guido need to work in order for the twists to make have the intended impact. The former is moderately strong and the latter is too little too late. Without a relationship the audience is invested in, it becomes difficult to care, especially in the final third.

The only truly palpable reason to see The Double Hour, despite it being engaging enough to merit a look, is for Kseniya Rappoport’s performance. She makes the film almost single-handedly gripping. She is morose, racked with guilt, has hidden agendas and is appropriately vague in her emotions.

The twists in The Double Hour are too much, and the story becomes less and less investing as the film heads towards the end of its runtime. It does not do nearly enough in most aspects to have the kind of impact it strives towards. There is a lot of talent in Capotondi, but this is too unpolished, too undercooked to truly recommend as a whole. Remnants of a recommendation come mainly because of the beguiling performance from Rappoport.

Weekly Trailer Round-Up

This was definitely a light and disappointing week in trailers.

Horrible Bosses – C+: This looks pretty inane, but the main reason for my willingness to eventually sit through it is the presence of both Kevin Spacey and Colin Farrell, who look like they are having fun. There are certainly hints of black comedy here, but in plot, not tone, where it counts. Hopefully it goes further down that road than I expect it to.

Fright Night – C: May I ask how the hell this trailer manages to last two and a half minutes and only feature one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of David Tennant, who is playing the Roddy McDowall character in this remake? This looks like it has very little of the humor of the original (which I am not much of a fan of in the first place). It also looks like it might be hard to buy Farrell in this role.  There are a few reasons I am holding onto indifferent hope here. One is that Marti Noxon is credited for the screenplay. The other is that Craig Gillespie is directing. Lastly, this is a pretty solid cast. We’ll just have to see.

Straw Dogs – C-: Honestly, if this grade reflected my thoughts on the existence of this remake, it would be an F-. Yes, an F-. This C- should serve as evidence that this trailer was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It looks like they are falling back on the original more than I expected, which is better than them taking the name and telling a story that vaguely resembles Peckinpah’s original. To put it plainly though; this. film. should. not. have. been. touched. But it’s happening, whether we like it or not. The casting of the leads is dull as fuck. Alexander Skarsgaard’s presence is always a good thing. I don’t really have much to say. I was expecting disaster; the result is something that has the potential to be passable, but no matter what the level of work, its very existence makes it involuntarily dreadful.

Zookeeper – D- : Hmm. It is hard to know what to say about Zookeeper. This kind of film was not made for me, and I am sure many who see it will enjoy themselves. Trying to bank on the success of Night at the Museum and Kevin James’ previous vehicle Paul Blart: Mall Cop, this will probably make a considerable amount of money. Rosario Dawson. Rosario, Rosario, Rosario. Sigh. The Talking Heads usage just made me a little sad. Although, since I cannot recall “Wild Wild Life” being used in other trailers, it was a welcome change to the endless list of played-out songs that can commonly be found here. There is one thing I will say for this film. Casting Nick Nolte as a talking gorilla is GENIUS. Hence the D- instead of an F.

The Adventures of Tintin – B-: I am very excited for The Adventures of Tintin, more for the screenwriters involved than for Spielberg. This was an underwhelming teaser, that did not entice me to want to see more, the way teasers are supposed to. It  is just sort of there. Nothing great, nothing bad. Hopefully the trailer will entice more from me than unwanted indifference.