May 2008

Burn After Reading

All detective movies, even the comedies, follow the same formula. A small-time guy is sucked into a big-time situation. At first, the detective thinks his goal is simple: collect some money, photograph an infidelity, track down a ditzy ingénue. He has no interest in the big picture. But the original task turns out to be more difficult than he imagined. In fact, merely extracting himself from the situation will require him to understand it, and his quest to do that expands his knowledge of how complex the world is and how depraved people can be. Ultimately, he finds himself the focal point of a high-stakes battle that affects many people, and shoulders him with a great moral responsibility that he doesn’t want.

The crux of the humor in Burn After Reading is that Continue Reading »

Comedy

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August

Duddy_kravitzWeb 2.0 is booming so rapidly right now that many observers can’t help but remember all the hype leading up to the crash that took down startups looking to capitalize on Web 1.0. I work in the industry, and one question I get a lot from people outside it is, “Do you think we’re headed for another crash? Is this another bubble?”

Made to order for the syllabus of some future film survey course, August will be discussed in terms of both the era in which it takes place, and the era in which it was released. The public is anxious about where the Internet is taking us. Should we all be jumping in head first? Should we be running for the hills? Do you, yes you, have a fortune just waiting to be made online if you do X, Y, and Z? Do you have the guts to find out?

For those who don’t (99% of the population), Continue Reading »

Drama

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City Of Ember

Logans_runThe “escape from the underground city” movie is a metaphor for nonconformists (and children) escaping from society’s rigid expectations, and (at another level of metaphor) from death.

The child protagonists’ grappling with the mysteries of the ancient past is aFrankweiler metaphor for the drive that all intelligent children possess to understand themselves in the context of a world larger and more complicated than the one they inherited from their parents.

One twist here is that Continue Reading »

Science Fiction

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Righteous Kill

The good-guy serial killer has a long history in TV and movies. If one ever appears in real life, it won’t be nearly as much of a shock as it is every time it happens in fiction.

What’s refreshing about this trailer is that it puts all the genre’s tropes right out front. The cop’s ambivalence about what the killer is doing. Their complete lack of pretension about becoming cops to get respect. Their lack of remorse about killing. Their willingness to lie to Internal Affairs.

Usually, in this genre, someone is working their way from believing in black-and-white morality to believing in something more complex. Sometimes it’s the cop, sometimes it’s the audience. Here, it’s neither. These guys are not on a soul-searching journey. They know who they are. They have carved out their own moral ground, and if you want to go there, they’ll draw you a map.

It’s a gutsy move to Continue Reading »

Thriller

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars

MultiplicityNow that Lucas has completely forsaken meaningful storytelling, there’s no reason to get excited about a further descent into complete digital abstraction.

Clone Wars Trailer

Animation
Science Fiction

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Noise

NetworkThis is part of a long-standing tradition in movies: The Guy Who Just Can’t Take It Anymore.

Part of the way this formula works is that it has to appear very current. The things that the guy is annoyed with are particularly modern problems.

And yet, every modern decade is full of new annoyances. The nature of day-to-day life is changing fasterFalling_down
than it ever has before, and the rate of change is also increasing. People who grew up in times of relatively slow change are going to feel this pain until they die. After they’re all gone, maybe we won’t see these movies anymore.

Noise Trailer

Drama

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Journey To The Center Of The Earth

Time_machineDon’t be deterred by the fact that this movie is ostensibly based on a novel published in 1864. If you have no patience, no tolerance for intellectualism, no ability to suspend disbelief, and no imagination of your own, you can still enjoy it.

Witness: It has that guy from The Mummy in it. Remember how he kept swinging swords and stuff to disable monsters at the last second? More of that here.

And isn’t it funny how he stops screaming mid-fall to comment on how far he’s falling? Conveniently, this will also ensure that you’re not scared about what’s going to happen to him…little chance of a likable character ending up impaled on a stalactite after that.

The more typical editing choice would be Continue Reading »

Science Fiction

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Indy 4

Lethal_weapon_4
The edgy silence that pervades the theater while this trailer plays is a lot like the kind of silence you feel when you watch one of the people you respect most in the world take a pratfall. You sort of sit there and wait for guidance as to how you should feel about it. In other words, it’s almost an embarrassed silence, but not quite, because, hey, everyone is thinking, this could be good. After all, we still don’t really know anything about the movie.

But see, when a trailer doesn’t tell you anything about the movie, that’s almost always a bad sign. It usually means that the movie isn’t strong enough to sell itself, so the trailer has to do it. And in this case, all the trailer has to say is, “Look! Another Indy movie!”

And no doubt, in this particular case, that’s going to get asses in seats. And yet…we’re treated to not aMatrix_revolutions
single genuine character moment, not a single in-joke, not even a hint to reassure us that there is actually going to be a story in there somewhere. We get to hear Indy warn his fellow spelunkers: “Don’t touch anything,” and we are asked to share a chuckle as Marion says that she doesn’t think Indy plans his chase scene tactics very far ahead…and yet, these are both non-ironic recyclings of dialog we’ve already heard. And sure enough, there’s the hot Nazi (or Nazi-esque) villainess.

Rocky_4
It’s also possible that the movie is a masterpiece of nuance and terseness, the likes of which Tarkovsky would have been jealous of, and that the studio is afraid nobody will want to see that, so they’re releasing a nonsensical trailer containing only the parts of the movie that are likely to be enjoyed by the mouth-breathers. But I doubt it.


Indy 4 Trailer (I can’t even bring myself to write out the retarded full name of the film.)

Adventure

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The Love Guru

Guru
There was already a comedy about a sham guru coming from India to the US, being hired by wealthy people to solve simple problems, and having sex with beautiful white women. But nobody saw it (except me), because American mainstream audiences aren’t ready to get behind a bumbling Indian and cheer while he hoodwinks rich white people, realizing that he can revel in their money and their bodies simply by embracing how exotic he seems to them.

But mainstream American audiences will see a similar story if the hero is played by a white man. It’sMumford2
probably disquieting to many Americans to watch while a skinny unknown Indian seduces Marisa Tomei under false pretenses; it’s just good clean fun to watch Mike Meyers seduce Jessica Alba with whatever means are at his disposal. And by having a white man play an Indian, the Indian can be portrayed as a complete goofball, with strange mannerisms and ridiculous clothes, allowing the audience to laugh at the same stuff that they would have been afraid to laugh at or make fun of under different circumstances. Thirty years from now, all this will be so obvious upon a repeat viewing of The Love Guru that audiences will squirm the way they do now when they see old movies with white actors in blackface.

The Love Guru Trailer

Comedy

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