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Monthly Archives: March 2010

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Scott Pilgrim, If It Wasn’t for Michael Cera

I suspect there are a lot of sentences that are going to begin this way as time goes on, but if it wasn’t for Michael Cera, this trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs The World might actually be kind of cool. Unfortunately there’s the kludge factor, and that’s Michael Cera. Indies have always had their standby awkward kids who exist only to play the sky awkward high school kid who likes that girl, well into their forties. But Michael Cera seems to have built a whole career around it, the way that Seth Rogen built a career on being fat and stoned all the time.

But the thing about those kids, when they’re played by someone like Jesse Eisenberg, is that you get the impression that they’re awkward and difficult only because they haven’t learned to actually get out there. With Michael Cera, or at least the way he plays these characters, there’s nothing else to them. Just socially awkward people who border on the retarded, with no more layers or reality than that. Michael Cera in Zombieland would have made the movie 90 percent unwatchable, because it would have been him delivering those same tics over and over again, mugging for the camera, but unable to do anything else. And it seems he’s managed to do that to Scott Pilgrim too.

At the Movies Canceled

It’s not exactly a surprise of any kind that At the Movies was finally canceled. The bigger question is why it wasn’t just shelved in the first place. A half hour scheduled program in which two critics review a bunch of movies in short thumbnail excerpts makes as much sense in 2010 as telegraphing ticket reservations. Trailers for any movie are a click away. So are text reviews. A search of Twitter will show which way reviews are trending. Variety became the latest publication to fire its film critic. So who in the world thought that audiences were going to keep on waiting for a set time to listen to two film critics discuss their like or dislike of a movie in 30 seconds.

The problem wasn’t a lack of serious film criticism, as is obvious because bringing in A.O. Scott and restoring At the Movies to the professional film critics did nothing to salvage it. Whether it was played like Hot Ticket or In the Actor’s Studio, the pony was just dead. It’s easy to blame Disney for it, but the only thing that Disney did wrong was fail to go out on a high note with Siskel’s passing. Ebert got to bring on his endless collection of guest hosts, so that the audience could hear what Harry Knowles thinks of a movie (while watching him as he talks), and At the Movies became more and more of an embarrassment.

Disney tried to appeal to younger audiences and failed. Disney tried to appeal to whatever supposed fanbase At the Movies had of people who wanted to hear A.O. Scott talk about movies, instead of not reading his reviews at the Times, and that failed too. And At the Movies is gone. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it just didn’t make any sense anymore. Resurrecting At the Movies as a twitter feed might make sense. But as a piece of scheduled TV programming, it was just too outdated and old to succeed.

What Killed Cop Out

Kevin Smith has never been a popular filmmaker. Much as he might want to pretend otherwise, his career existed because with Clerks he picked up some kind of artistic cred in a pretty small community. Which makes his Twitter blowup over negative reviews of Cop Out that much dumber. Sure Smith advances the usual “Just shut up and enjoy it” argument, which is what you usually have to trot out when the thing you’re defending really sucks, and you know it sucks. He even trots out the “It’s not Schindler’s List” defense which is the movie version of the “It’s not Shakespeare” defense.

But Smith’s attacks are misguided, because it was the same public that just wants dumb popcorn movies that rejected Cop Out. The giant falloff on the second week shows it wasn’t negative reviews or negative blogging that killed Cop Out. It wasn’t 50 people on blogs who convinced the public to stay away. Just like it wasn’t AICN that killed Batman and Robin. The 50 people on blogs are a major reason Kevin Smith has a career, why he has kind of name recognition left after Jersey Girl. They’re the people who buy Evening Harder DVD’s and actually about the question of what is Kevin Smith doing next.

Smith’s rant might make sense coming from Michael Bay or an actual successful mainstream director who can crap out a movie in which robots battle zombies and pirates for 500 million dollars, and not care what the public thinks. But Kevin Smith isn’t that guy. He tried to be that guy and he failed. And it’s natural for him to blame the people who are his home base for not liking his new project, but without them, he’s just another guy who made a critically acclaimed movie 20 years ago, and hasn’t done anything worthwhile since.

The Predators Trailer Attacks

If you really wanted a Predator sequel that in true James Cameron style adds an S at the end, Predators gives you that. Also if you wanted a Predator sequel, that’s basically the first Predator movie about a bunch of armed guys (and girl) trying to kill (a) Predator(s), but with a much lamer cast, here it is. Robert Rodriguez produced did, but this didn’t direct (which I guess shows you how high value the franchise has become) and the results look like Anaconda crossed with every Alien vs Predator movie (yes both of them) to date.

Aside from the oddness of having Brody take the lead, instead of Fishburne, this looks like Predator swapped with Anaconda. And while it will probably make money, it’s an insult to the original and completely missed what made that movie so cool. As bad as some of the Alien vs Predator movies were, at least they were made with some understanding that you couldn’t just remake the original movie again with a different cast. But aside from the gimmick of another planet, which is the only thing that makes this a sequel rather than the studio preferred reboot, it’s the same movie again. Only now… with more Predators! As in plural Predators.

I don’t have a problem with cheap cash ins like this. But Robert Rodriguez could have done a lot better if he had wanted to. Instead Predators is the equivalent of one of those remakes of his own movies that Wes Craven keeps producing, but not directing. Movies that aren’t completely bad, just have no reason for existing.

Tim Burton Gives Up on Filmmaking Completely

After his 3D Alice in Wonderland made more money than every Russell Crowe movie over the last 10 years put together, Tim Burton has decided to give up on filmmaking entirely. Proof, his next movie will be a 3D Animated version of the Addams Family. And now it’s not that I don’t think Burton will be good at it. It’s a project that’s almost a little on the nose, but the last time Tim Burton made an original movie was Corpse Bride, 5 years ago. The last time he made a good original movie was Big Fish, 7 years ago. The last time he made a good movie that was actually popular was Sleepy Hollow, 11 years ago.

Since then it’s been one long string of adapting existing material, whether it’s Sweeney Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Planet of the Apes, and even his own Frankenweenie, The Adams Family and Dark Shadows coming up next. With Batman, Tim Burton got put on a path away from being the guy who makes weird, quirky and personal films, and instead became the guy who makes studio appropriate weird and quirky films, with some goofy art, but that are basically mainstream enough for all audiences.

And the thing is that Burton’s adaptations, except for the Batman movies have been awful. This decade he’s sleepwalked through three wacky Depp fronted adaptations, each one worse than the last. Alice in Wonderland isn’t the worst movie ever made. It’s just a completely thoughtless and apathetic movie that makes The Lady in the Water seem almost noble, because at least M. Night Shaymalan cares about telling an original story. These days Tim Burton just wants to be in charge of animating someone else’s generic take on an existing property.

Ivan Reitman vs Sony

So Ivan Reitman made two successful Ghostbusters movies in his time, which is naturally why Sony wants him to sit out a third Ghostbusters movie. Which is the sort of logic that makes sense at Sony, which kicked out Sam Raimi, the director of 3 hugely successful Spider Man movies, and instead brought in the music video director who made last year’s mainstream indie failure, 500 Days of Summer.

Now Sony would really love to make a Ghostbusters movie, so long as it starred the Jonas Brothers, and was directed by the same guy who did their music video. They don’t want the guy who actually made every Ghostbusters movie in the past. To be fair every single movie Ivan Reitman has made in the last 15 years has bombed. The last time he directed a bona fide hit was Kindergarten Cop.

But how much of that track record was really Reitman’s fault? Movies like Super Ex Girlfriend were never going to work, no matter who was behind the camera. Evolution was well liked, it just didn’t do very well. On the other hand Reitman has been the executive producer for plenty of hit movies. So he can pick what works. He can’t seem to direct it though. Either way Sony will probably get its way. Because no one wants to take a chance on a director who can actually direct, but happens to be in his sixties, when they can pick the guy who did the latest Weezer video and give him a 150 million dollar movie.

Run Away, It’s Another Gerard Butler Movie

Back in 2006, it seemed like Gerard Butler was supposed to be the new Russell Crowe, after the old Russell Crowe got fat, drunk and crazy, and refused to make anything that didn’t have Oscar bait written all over it. Luckily the new Crowe, Gerard Butler had no such hang ups. He was willing to be anything, absolutely anything. And I really mean absolutely anything. Like Rock N Rolla or Gamer or Law Abiding Citizen.

Butler’s post 300 career track seemed focused in two different directions, making mediocre female oriented romantic comedies in which he plays a jackass, and making really terrible male oriented movies in which he probably plays a tough guy, but no one actually goes to see them and so we’ll never know. On the one track we have The Ugly Truth, in which Butler plays the male jackass counterpart to Katherine Heigl (a role she could probably take on and do a better job with), The Bounty Hunter (same thing except with Jennifer Aniston) and P.S. I Love You (a movie in which he doesn’t have to be a jerk to his wife, because she’s already dead. Or he’s dead, I forget the details.)

Then there are movies like Gamer, Rock N Rolla and Law Abiding Citizen… movies that nobody in their right mind could think were a good idea to make. Movies that in theory are male and action oriented, but in practice are just war crimes released into theaters. But somehow this weekend, Butler has managed to cross over both these career tracks, with the Bounty Hunter, a movie whose action is reminiscent of Gamer and whose characters are reminiscent of The Ugly Truth.

But luckily Butler has now learned his lesson and will take on Russell Crowe’s career before he has a chance to take it back, and will play Robert Burns and the lead in Coriolanus, a movie in which “A banished hero of Rome allies with a sworn enemy to take his revenge on the city.” So basically it’s like Gladiator, but much worse.

Lost, Gutsy or Gutless

It’s an open question of whether Lost’s final season, which dispenses with trying to appeal to any outside viewers in favor of aiming its programming squarely at existing viewers, with episodes that mix a ridiculous good vs evil showdown, with stories about the Lost characters redeeming themselves in new lives on the outside, is gutsy or gutless. Lost has been on the way out. Its split final season just made a virtue out of a necessity, with the executive producers claiming credit for demanding that the show have a fixed end point, when in reality its end point would have come with cancellation due to falling ratings anyway.

But while the show has become almost impossible for new viewers to get into, I don’t know that its die hard fans are very satisfied with a story that goes light on answering their questions and instead delivers a pretty simplistic battle between Smokey, now in Locke form, and Jacob, a mystical figure of light and all that.

A quick browse of YouTube will show you thousands of videos with complicated theories about time and space, but Lost has instead boiled down to a good and bad split, and the redemption of at least some of the characters. Which suggests that the physics have been wasted and that everyone should have been focused more on wondering whether or not Jack would make a good father or not.

The People vs George Lucas

Coming almost 10 years too late, long after Kevin Smith drained the same material dry, The People vs George Lucas is an almost pointlessly belated whine. It’s hard to disagree with its points, but it’s even harder to care. And that’s the real problem. Because The Phantom Menace, the worst of the sequel/prequels that George Lucas began to churn out happened in 1999. And there isn’t a whole lot more to say about it in 2010, than there was in 2001 or 2003.

The only reason to make a movie like this is to chronicle the entire “George Lucas Raped My Childhood” complaint, but few people in their right mind view Star Wars that way any more. George Lucas himself saw to that, taking his own cult and turning it in for beaucoup bucks at the merchandising store in the kiddie aisle. By the time Robot Chicken and Family Guy have aired the reprocessed leftovers with Lucas’ cooperation, making the same variations on the same jokes that date back to Spaceballs, there’s nothing else left to do with it.

Even Kevin Smith understood that the only thing really funny about Star Wars is that people actually cared about it, which is the one joke that The People vs George Lucas don’t really seem to be in on. And that’s the problem. Because Star Wars is over. It exists as a billion dollar franchise, but not a voyage of the imagination. There’s no more point in criticizing it as if it were a fully realized world, because it’s not.

Making Good Cop Movies Again

Brooklyn’s Finest, a bafflingly inept movie which expected us to buy Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke as bad Brooklyn cops, when most people in Brooklyn have trouble buying the idea that they could walk down a street in Brooklyn without getting beaten up, which debuted at number 2, is down to number 8 in only one week. Which I guess is how long it took audiences to figure out how they had been tricked into watching a bad movie about morally tormented cops, when they wanted to watch a movie about cops shooting people.

Just below it is Cop Out, in 9th place. Cop Out, Kevin Smith’s “Give Me Money” project starring Bruce Willis and the trainwreck that is Tracy Morgan, was in 4th last week. It debuted only 3 weeks ago. Both movies had one thing in common, they scammed audiences who expected ass being kicked, and instead got Gere and Hawke agonizing, and Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan acting like idiots. And so audiences punished both movies.

Cop Out and Brooklyn’s Finest are exactly what audiences did not want to see. But the kind of cop movies that audiences would want to see just aren’t being made anymore. Instead we get cop sitcoms like Cop Out or Paul Blart Mall Cop. And we get the Training Day genre of Really Angsty Cops (Brooklyn’s Finest comes from the director of Training Day, which was already warmed over Scorcese.) And these movies are not hard to do. But studios have decided that no one wants them anymore.

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