And so another prestige season comes to a close, making the cinema safe for cheap romantic comedies and cheaper slasher films once more. Just four Fridays of Oscarbait between here and what I’m already taking to calling “RamboMonth.” Out of giddy anticipation, of course. Not really.
New Line is pitching money hand-over-fist to convince us that The Golden Compass and its presumptive sequels are the natural and inevitable heirs to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I assume means that that film is much too long yet still manages to miss the point of the book, and has been directed with a significant lack of personality. On the other hand, Jackson with all the personality leeched out is still more of an auteur than Chris Weitz has been in his best moments, so perhaps this will endeavor to be even blander than my worst fears.
Oh, wait – it has Nicole Kidman! That’s always a sign of a great big-budget film!
A pair of Oscarbaiters: the Ian McEwan adaptation Atonement, directed by that powerhouse of cinema, Joe Wright of the 2005 Pride & Prejudice. I don’t know, it’s got way too much good buzz coming out of the European festivals for it to be as awful as the trailer makes it look.
And Grace Is Gone, in which John Cusack plays a war widower, and I get physically ill just thinking about it. The good news is, this looks to be the last Iraq film in a year bloated and corpulent on Iraq films.
The Perfect Holiday, a film that will be less memorable than the sticky texture of the floor in the theater screening it.
First there were vampires. Then there were bio-crazies. Now there are zombies, in the third adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, and the first to actually bear the book’s title. Since it was co-written by the notorious Akiva Goldsman, I suppose that will be the only detail it shares in common with the book. But hey, Will Smith stars, which means…I mean, come on, it can’t be as bad as I, Robot.
The week’s Oscarbait: the newest film by the current reigning prince of hackdom, Marc Forster, this time with a neat little metanarrative political controversy, The Kite Runner. It’s based on a novel that I think I am alone in not having ever heard a thing about.
I’m also alone in not being even a bit excited about Juno, as directed by a man whose last film didn’t really do much for me, and whose star I find irritating. It’s got the cast to be good. I’ll try to keep an open mind.
After directing the aggressively evil Because I Said So earlier this year, Michael Lehmann – somehow not yet dismembered by a howling mob – is going to work his foul dark arts upon Zooey Deschanel in Flake.
Okay, to be fair, it’s quite impossible that this film will be as bad as Because I Said So.
Dear Jesus Christ in Heaven, I am nervous about Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd. Or Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, if that turns out to be the actual title. I love the original Sondheim musical more than I love most people, but (therefore?) every new fact I have learned about the project (non-singers! massive song cuts!) over the last 9 months has killed me a little more inside. Still, it’s got nothing but good pre-screening buzz, and the Burton-Johnny Depp pairing has only missed once in five tries. I think it will be best that I just drop it.
See, here’s the thing: every single change has been defended on the grounds that it makes Sweeney a better movie, and Sondheim himself has informed us that he thinks the movie and the stage production are two separate things entirely (though it must be mentioned that Sondheim has a really bent idea of what makes for a good movie musical, possibly owing to the shoddy treatment he has so far received in that area). Depp has bragged about not taking voice lessons because it would interfere with his ability to engage with the drama. And so forth.
I think that a step is missing in all of this, though. What makes musical theater uncinematic? I’m legitimately asking. There’s a whole lot of wiggle room in that word, “cinematic,” and arguing that this work should be changed to accommodate the cinema’s alleged “realism” holds absolutely no water for me – it’s a musical about a homicidal barber, “realism” went out the window long ago.
Besides, I cannot be the only person to think this about Sweeney Todd: its appeal as a drama, while estimable, is very much secondary to its appeal as a musical composition, where it is perhaps the most gloriously complex operetta ever staged on Broadway. An adaptation of this show above all shows that focuses on tightening up the story at the expense of the music is, in my mind, missing the forest for the trees. But maybe I am alone in this; cranky Old Man Formalist Brayton just ranting again about how much he hates narrative.
ON THE OTHER HAND, every time I see the trailer in a theater I literally squee out loud, and the clips released earlier this week get me all a-swooning. So we’ll see. Fingers crossed. I’ve never been this obsessed over a new release, not in all my years of obsession.
21.12.2007: Non-Sweeney films also exist
But they all look pretty drab: the drabbest unquestionably being P.S. I Love You, starring Hilary Swank as a something something dead husband something cute. She is not an actress built for rom-coms, I think.
The Apatow Consortium comes up with the defiantly un-Oscarable musicianc biopic parody Walk Harder: The Dewey Cox Story, and while I think that particular genre deserves a stake through the heart like none other, I remain agnostic on the trailer. Seeing John C. Reilly playing broad comedy gives me very unwelcome flashbacks.
And lastly, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, which by all signs looks to be a fun and disposable adventure-type entertainment, excepting that Nicolas Cage has lost every last tattered scrap of credibility I was ever willing to lend him.
25.12.2007 – Christmas Day
What, I say what is more Christmassy than Charlie Wilson’s War, a dramedy about the CIA’s chicanery in Afghanistan in the early ’80s written by the creator of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip? And I reply to my own question: a sequel to a terrifyingly awful sci-fi action thriller that managed to utterly whore-up two of the genre’s shining lights! Of course, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem cannot possibly suck so bad as the first AvP, for it lacks the input of Paul W.S. Anderson in any capacity whatsoever. Nothing is more festive than the lack of Paul W.S. Anderson!
(Fair is fair, I am mostly excited about CWW).
More Christmas! Two old men prepare for death! Although they’re Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, so The Bucket List will surely be more more mawkish and flamboyant than existentially probing. Plus, some damn kids movie about the Loch Ness monster.
I am continually impressed that Christmas day always gets so many releases, and they always mostly suck. Given that the film I would otherwise be anticipating most of all this month, the animated adaptation of Persepolis, won’t be opening anywhere that isn’t one of those Oscar-qualifying cities today. Fuckers.
And another one! There Will Be Blood, a movie that I eagerly await with anticipation buzzing from my hair to the tips of my toes, and this despite mostly hating P.T. Anderson. Well, it looks my toes and hair will just have to keep buzzing well into January. I know Chicago is in the back of beyond, but come on.
Then the year ends with a 1-2 punch of bracingly non-prestige films that look better than almost anything else from the whole month: the new Woody Allen crime thriller Cassandra’s Dream, which had withering, awful reviews out of Europe, but then turned around with a fantastic domestic trailer. Also, I defy anyone to tell me that however crappy, the first onscreen teaming of Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor isn’t going to be at least pretty. Two, The Orphanage, filling the now-annual “gorgeous and creepy Spanish film that opens in late December” slot, including Guillermo del Toro as producer.
Then there’s an Oprah movie, The Great Debaters, including the most gaudy line I have heard in any trailer all year: “I will show you how to find and keep your righteous mind.” So much for bracing. Let me be the first to sully this blog with a gag about retitling it The Master Debaters.