What To Watch For In 2009: The Warning Signs
Like I said in the second article in this series, I am a movie optimist.
I hope every film on this list turns out to be great. But let's be honest, all of us have a radar that develops over time, a radar for terrible movies, and there are things that set off that radar for each of us. Maybe the movies on this list sound great to you, but each of them makes me jumpy, and I'll explain why...
I've seen the trailer with the giant wave wiping away the mountaintop Tibetan temple and... that's it? That's the big image that's supposed to hook us in? The same basic gag that ended the "Day After Tomorrow" trailer? That film was wretched, "10,000 B.C." was wretched... what possible reason would I have to think that "2012" is going to be anything other than more of the same?
I also think it's ridiculous to make end of the world movies about this Mayan prophecy nonsense. But I guess it was inevitable, and leave it to the Irwin Allen of our age to be the one to get his onscreen first.
Confession time: I think "8 1/2" is navel-gazing twaddle delivered with enormous skill. And the 1982 musical revamp of the film, "Nine," seems to me to be a disaster waiting to happen onscreen. Yes, Daniel Day-Lewis is the star of the film, which would normally be enough reason for me to put this on a must-see list, and the cast is full of some lovely and talented ladies like Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, and Sophia Loren, as well as Fergie and Kate Hudson. It's basically a trip through a director's head as he struggles with all the women in his life and his creative impulses. I think it sounds like it could be staggeringly indulgent, and I'm not sure Rob Marshall has proven himself to be muscular enough as a filmmaker to make this one live and breathe.
"Night At The Museum 2: Battle Of The Smithsonian"
I know the first one made a staggering amount of money. But really? You think anyone out there is waiting to see what happens in part two? You think anyone, children included, can't already predict every beat of what I'm sure will be a mechanical second part to a first part that already defined perfunctory and by the numbers?
"Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel"
That goes double for this one.
I love how Fox manages to screw up a franchise as potentially lucrative and creatively rewarding as "X-Men," but they have no problem keeping their kiddie vehicles humming along, coughing up one lousy sequel after another.
Even my three year old was bored silly by the first film. And he'll sit through pretty much anything. That's not good.
"The Taking Of Pelham 123"
In the annual parade of useless remakes, every year there's at least one that leaves me totally baffled. What was wrong with the original film version of "Pelham"? Was there something wrong with Robert Shaw's performance? Or Walter Matthau's? Have we made some amazing breakthrough in film score composition that will render David Shire's iconic music obsolete?
It's not even like Joseph Sargent's 1974 film is the only version. They did this already. A decade ago, this was remade for TV. And you know what? It was pointless then, too.
Tony Scott must truly not give a shit if this is what he's down to. Empty action wank without a single compelling reason to exist.
On the plus side, it still can't suck as much as "Domino".
This is what Hollywood thinks you want and, more importantly, this is what they think you deserve.
"Hey, 'Transformers' made money, and that was just some crappy '80s toy line. What other crappy '80s toys could we make movies out of?"
"You know what would be awesome? If we took that Wolverine guy out of those awful 'X-Men' movies and dropped him into a world that looks suspiciously like that totally awesome 'Elektra' movie we made!"
"Crap! We don't have an '80s toys or comic books to fuck up... what else can we buy? Anime? Videogames? FANTASTIC! Quick, hire some writers so we can fire them again."
The reports coming off the set of "Wolverine" were so rough that I ended up just sitting it out. At some point, it becomes an exercise in futility to keep banging your head against a wall. And I don't care how much money they spend on "G.I. Joe," it still sounds like a live-action version of "Team America."
And "Dragonball" and "Streetfighter"? If I really have to explain why those films are on this list, then we may have very different ideas about what we want out of movies.
Because every year, something has to win as the absolute silliest premise for a feature film. And this year, "Burning Bright" has an early lead. A teenage girl (Briana Evigan, best known as the jailbait from "Step Up 2") and her autistic younger brother are trapped in a house by a hurricane... and a tiger.
Yes, seriously. Hurricane outside. Teen girl and autistic boy and tiger inside. Two hours.
If that isn't hilariously funny, someone's doing their job wrong.
I like Anne Hathaway. I think she's charming and she brings a gravity to even the silliest stuff she does.
I liked Kate Hudson for about six minutes once.
But I am learning to get a near-Pavlovian full-body piss-shiver every single time I see them thanks to the loathesome, miserable trailer for this movie, which seems to be about how two women become fucking monsters as they compete to see who can spend the most money on an event that is supposed to be about making a spiritual commitment in front of your friends and family.
I know there's a cottage industry of stuff out there like "Bridezillas" that taps into the same market they think they're making this film for.
But fuck all of it. Skin-crawling. This is why the terrorists hate us. It has nothing to do with freedom, and everything to do with "Bride Wars."
Superhero movies have become so ubiquitous now that I am not surprised to see people trying to create heroes directly for the screen, like last year's "Hancock." If these new characters are going to take hold of the public's imagination, though, they have to be drawn with the same sort of innate sensibility for how to get an audience to relate to them, and it's not about special effects.
"Push" looks like it's trying as hard as a film can try. Paul McGuigan's trying to make a real-world superhero film, but from the footage I've seen and the trailers, I don't think he has a real feel for this kind of stuff. It just doesn't appear to be his basic skill set.
This is an important one for Summit. They have had their first hit with "Twilight," but they have to be able to open original films as well as movies with built-in expectations, and they haven't pulled that off yet. This would be a great time for them to figure that out.
Pascal Laugier's "Martyrs" was last year's very best horror film in any language, so why would I put his follow-up film on this list?
Because it's a remake we don't need, and part of my is afraid that he's going to fall victim to what happens time and again with these foreign genre directors. They make one film that gets them attention, and then everyone brings them to Hollywood and plugs them into making generic garbage that has none of the style that made us notice them in the first place.
As much as I like the first "Hellraiser," I acknowledge that it's the work of a first-time director, and there's room for improvement. But I don't want Laugier to get swallowed by the system before he's really had a chance to build a filmographry of merit, and I'm afraid that's what this signifies.
I am baffled how anyone could give "Youth Without Youth" a pass last year. I love Francis Ford Coppola and absolutely acknowledge how important he was to '70s filmmaking, but that was a long time ago. The winemaker we have today is very good at what he does, and that no longer seems to be "making movies." I thought his last film was awful, damn near incomprehensible, and it suggests to me a guy who is just doodling because he thinks he has to.
It's cool, Francis. If you're not interested in filmmaking anymore, don't pretend, and don't force yourself. Your legacy is already great enough, and if you just pile more bad films on at the end of the career, it doesn't really help.
Didn't want to see it when it was called "Bedtime Stories" and it starred Adam Sandler, and I don't want to see it now when it's called "Imagine That" and stars Eddie Murphy.
His kids films make me regret every laugh I ever wasted on him.
Zac Efron in "Big Redux"?
I know there are people who are convinced this kid is a giant movie star waiting to happen. I think he looks like he just escaped from DouchebagsWithHotChicks.com, and he's one popped collar away from being the bad guy in a "Revenge Of The Nerds" movie.
Maybe he's due for a breakout role that turns him into a viable adult lead. Maybe this is even the one. But it's an uphill battle selling dudes like me on the idea that we should want to spend two hours in a theater with a guy who looks like the Karate Kid should be beating his ass at the end of a film.
So now you've had a three-part look ahead at 2009. Lots of potential high points there, and I'm sure we'll have our fill of awful, too. The point of all of this is to show you that there are a lot more films coming than the four or five that I've seen mentioned over and over, and that you always need to keep your radar set for as much as possible. I'm willing to bet that some of the most interesting films of the entire year weren't mentioned at all in these preview pieces, and that this time next year, the film landscape will look very different than it does from this vantage point. But for now, we've got at least a handle on what we can expect to see between now and Dec. 31, 2009, and I can't wait to get started.