It has been a very Dwayne Johnson-heavy day here on the blog.
And why not? It's his Hollywood, and the rest of us are just living in it. After all, he's got four films out this year before we even reach June, and one of those is one of the most highly-anticipated event sequels of the summer. He has settled into his new role as Hollywood's "franchise Viagra," the guy you bring in when you want to make a new movie in a series and your'e not sure how to get people interested in it again. There is a very clear sense in the new "G.I. Joe" of the series being passed from Channing Tatum's Duke to Johnson's Roadblock.
One thing that distinguishes Johnson from the typical action heroes of the '80s is just how able he is to make you forget he happens to be a gigantic slab of muscle. When he talks about how he loved "G.I. Joe" as a kid, I can actually picture him as that kid, and he seems amazed to be a real-life action figure these days.
It has been a very Dwayne Johnson-heavy day here on the blog.
When I praise Michael Bay, I feel like I have to explain that I'm being ironic and I'm not doing it sarcastically. I've had plenty of problems with plenty of his films, but the things I like, I like quite a bit. "Bad Boys II," for instance. That is a startling film, a studio movie that seems to have a completely and utterly broken moral compass. It is actively offensive, and I have to admire how completely committed to things it is. It feels like the perfect movie reaction to what was happening in gaming at the time, like the "Grand Theft Auto" series. It's incredibly well-made, even if it feels like everyone involved had to be just a little bit crazy to think that it was okay.
This new red-band trailer for "Pain and Gain" looks like the movie that's been backing up Bay's system the entire time he's been making the "Transformers" movies. He has been a good soldier for Paramount as he cranked those money-making behemoths out, and while I like a lot of the set piece work that he's done in the series, I've never felt like his heart was fully in what he was doing. The most personal details in those films tend to be the things that people react negatively to, and it's always seemed like a bit of an ill fit between franchise and filmmaker.
It's an interesting afternoon of trailers, particularly because you can find plenty of examples of me raining scorn on the work of Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich online if you go looking. At one point, Michael Bay got so used to me disliking him that he would just roll his eyes when he saw me.
Today, though, I'm sincerely impressed by the trailers for both "Pain and Gain" and "White House Down." We'll get into "White House Down" first, and it's doubly interesting to see this less than a week after sitting in the theater watching "Olympus Has Fallen" unfold. Say what you will about Roland Emmerich as a storyteller, but he orchestrates large-scale chaos with a sharp eye, and he's gotten better at it over the years. If anyone knows the value of destroying the White House in a movie, it's Emmerich, and he seems to have pulled out all the stops for this one.
What variations on the basic formula will we see here? Well, in "Olympus," Gerard Butler is a Secret Service agent who has been sidelined because he was involved in an accident involving the First Lady. Here, Channing Tatum is a DC cop who wasn't able to get a job in the Secret Service, and I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that he proves himself capable of the job at some point in the movie, just as Butler redeemed himself.
When I think back on how I processed things as a kid, I can't imagine what would have changed for me if I had the sort of opportunities that my kids have. I dreamed of having the sorts of encounters that they have all the time now, and I am thrilled every time I can allow them to do something that is unique or special.
For example, last week a box of toys from "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" showed up at the house, and the boys went crazy with them. In particular, Allen was smitten with a large-size action figure of Dwayne Johnson, and when he took it to pre-school as his share toy for the day, the other kids in his class went nuts for it. Several of the kids were aware of Dwayne as The Rock, and when Allen brought the figure home, he had stopped calling him Roadblock and started just calling him The Rock.
I never know who will or won't be a big deal to the boys. On Friday, Allen went with me to the press day for "42," the new film about Jackie Robinson, and I had an interview with Harrison Ford scheduled. Allen seemed totally unimpressed by Ford in general, even though he's a huge Han Solo fan. I wasn't sure at first that he even understood who he met. Ford does, after all, look fairly different now as he settles into the Spencer Tracy phase of his career. Allen told me afterwards in the car that it was amazing, and he got more excited when he told his brother who he met, but in the room? Cool as cool gets about it all.
This should go without saying after the intentionally vague headline, but there will be some big spoilers in this article for "The Wolverine." Read accordingly.
Here's one of those moments when a decision is made by someone on a film and I'm so baffled by it that I'm not even sure what to write or how to handle the headline.
James Mangold is the director of this summer's "The Wolverine," and that's one of those choices that has kept me interested since he was announced. Darren Aronofsky was first on the film, but when Mangold took over in development, it seemed like a cool and unconventional choice, which can pay off in cool ways sometimes. The entire time Mangold has been in production, he's been pretty vocal about the sort of thing he's trying to make, and they've done a great job of keeping images from the film locked down. As a result, all we've had were a few on-set photographs, a couple of portrait images, and that's it. Descriptions, and nothing more.
I'm starting to get the feeling that the people who are going to like "World War Z" the most are the people that are already familiar with "World War Z" because they read the book and loved it.
Personally, I'm not sure what to make of these trailers. It's odd that they refuse to say the word "zombie" anywhere, especially since not every audience is going to get the title's meaning right away. It's also odd that we have yet to see a long sustained shot of what a zombie actually looks like in the film.
Instead, we're looking at lots and lots of CGI figures swarming like ants, and a buttload of Brad Pitt reaction shots. I'm not even sure if Pitt's character has the same job in this version of the story as he does in the book, because this feels more like the war against these things is in full-swing. In the book, you get an oral history from a number of different perspectives, but it feels like the world of the novel is starting to heal itself. Here, we're obviously still at the start of everything, and it's more of a "find a cure" ticking clock with Pitt's character right at the heart of it.
I had fun with "G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra," and I don't remotely feel bad about it. Stephen Sommers isn't a great overall storyteller, but when it comes to ridiculous action movies that seem giddy on their own invention, Sommers has done it right more often than wrong. I think "Van Helsing" is so bad and such a frustrating botch of a decent high concept that is almost erased any goodwill he'd ever built up as a director, but "G.I. Joe" felt like a nice rebound.
When I praised the film, I made the very clear distinction that I liked the energy with which he told the story and the reality that the movie created. I thought Channing Tatum was miscast in the lead, and when I recently rewatched the film, I feel like it's pretty clear that Tatum hadn't really relaxed into his own talents as a performer yet. I felt like the film had a pretty clear shot at kickstarting a series, and while I enjoyed it, I think Sommers didn't care about doing "G.I. Joe" the way the fans would want to see, but instead used "G.I. Joe" as an excuse to make a Stephen Sommers movie that just happened to use a sort of sci-fi military premise that fit the title.
At least someone still knows how to make "Die Hard" movies.
There is very little about "Olympus Has Fallen" that I would consider fresh or surprising, but Antoine Fuqua does a nice job of creating a certain degree of tension that he manages to sustain for most of the film's running time, and as an action movie, it is satisfying. I am startled by a few major technical issues with the film, but for the most part, I enjoyed it as I watched.
On the other hand, if I take a step back and view it through any sort of political filter, it's kind of horrifying. And considering where we are right now in our relationship with North Korea, the film feels ill-timed at best, downright inflammatory at worst. Last year's terrible "Red Dawn" remake was too chuckleheaded to be taken seriously by anyone. "Olympus" follows a pretty familiar shape, and the extended opening sequence serves to set up Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a Secret Service agent who is basically a surrogate member of the First Family. When we meet him, he's in the boxing ring, sparring with President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), who is wrapping up a family trip to Camp David so he can head out to a major fundraising event, his wife Margaret (Ashley Judd) and his son Connor (Finley Jacobsen) in tow. On the icy road as they head into town, there is a terrible car accident, and Banning makes a choice that ends with him being transferred permanently off the President's detail.
I'm really curious to see how Twitter evolves in the future. It's gone from what I considered a ridiculous idea the first time I heard about it to a very powerful form of social media where information is shared in new ways and at lightning speed. I think people are trying to figure out how to game Twitter in some cases, and in other cases I see people simply being people, using it in a very pure and sincere way, and there's no rules that dictate how it has to be at this point.
I know that there is actual language in contracts these days that mandates that certain people have to maintain a social media presence, and there are agencies that exist to provide people who can manage that presence for you. In some cases, when you read the Twitter feed of a public figure, you're getting something that's been vetted, something that is written by committee and used to release certain publicity materials at certain times.
Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling working together is automatically interesting after their collaboration on "Drvie." I think it's safe to say that they now demand a certain level of curiosity just by virtue of what they each bring to the table. Gosling's taste is great nine times out of ten, and that tenth time, I can almost always understand what attracted him to the project. He picks his scripts and his directors with care, and I think it speaks well of him that filmmakers seem to like to work with him more than once if possible.
It's amazing to me that we've got a new "Star Trek" movie hitting theaters in May and we still know very little about it. Amazing and, I must say, highly enjoyable.
At this point, I've decided that even in my review, I'm not going to spell out the details of who Benedict Cumberbatch is playing in the film. At this point, if Paramount and Bad Robot have successfully kept the true nature of "John Harrison" a secret, then more power to them. I think it's an interesting coincidence that they're using Robert April so prominently in the "Countdown To Darkness" comic series that IDW is publishing, since I was the one person to point the finger at April as the possible identity of Cumberbatch in the film, but I suspect even that is part of the misdirect.
What I do know for sure is that this is a seriously confident marketing push so far. This new international trailer has some great imagery, and I like that we're still not seeing a polished and practiced crew onboard the Enterprise. I don't mind seeing this new configuration of the classic characters go through some difficult learning experiences on their way to becoming the iconic characters of the original series. I hope they hold off on assigning them on their five-year mission until they've been well and truly tested as a team. After all, you'd send your best and brightest out there to make first contact with a wild and untamed universe, wouldn't you? And right now, these characters are still learning how to be a united crew.