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Wall-E


Ever get the feeling you were meant for greater things?

Me, too. So does everyone else.

The tagline for Wall-E is: “After 700 years of doing what he was built for, he’ll discover what he was meant for.”

The implication that it’s possible to be built for one thing and meant for another is a sort of meta-theism. Not only is there a god who created you, but there is also another, superior, god who endowed you with your purpose. At a metaphysical level, this idea is confusing, but at a visceral, emotional level, it’s comforting, which is why it can used to sell a family-oriented animated summer event movie.

Of course, if you really have any doubt about whether Wall-E’s origin and destiny are inextricably
entwined, watch the horrifically self-indulgent ‘Teaser Trailer 1,’ in which we’re privileged to hear the story of the lunch in 1994 when Wall-E was conceived, along with Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, and other successes. The primary implication is that the lunch in question represented such a convergence of brilliance that every idea that came out of it was destined for success. The secondary (but more interesting) implication is that the force that creates something is, by definition, the same force that gives it purpose. In other words, Wall-E was actually not just built to sort garbage. He was built to be too good to sort garbage, so that our hearts would go out to him.

Which is to say, he was meant for exactly what he was built for.

Also worth noting: in “I just gotta be me” stories like this one, robots and other technology-related characters are usually the bad guys. It’s the hero’s humanity in the face of an impersonal world that makes him so appealing. If Wall-E succeeds commercially, it could be a sign that the general movie-going public no longer sees technology and individuality as oppositional forces. This may seem obvious now, but it wasn’t the case even as recently as ten years ago.

Wall-E Trailer

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Hancock

Greatest_american_hero
The bumbling superhero is a metaphor for the viewer’s unfulfilled potential. Most of us feel that, just below the surface, we have a set of simmering abilities that could change the world for the better, if only we knew how to properly unleash them.

Also, characters like this reflect our society’s cynicism toward authority and power, particularly when cloaked in glamour and tradition. We’re no longer looking for a Superman, neither in the DC Comics sense nor the Nietzschean sense, and if one came along, we would assume he was here to conquer and rule, not to reinforce some pre-existing moral coda. What we can hope for is someone sincere and flawed, transparent in his mistakes, imperfect because he can’t get his act together, not because we have to worry that he doesn’t really have our best interests at heart.

Hancock is also a metaphor for today’s America: powerful beyond measure, meaning well at someFrozone
abstract level, but ultimately destroying more than it saves, hurting more than it helps. The newscaster’s recitation “…Hancock’s latest act of so-called heroism…” doubtless reflects the way that many of America’s decisions and deeds are recounted overseas.

Nearly all movies have a ’second act tension,’ i.e. the question that the viewer asks herself about how the story will resolve. The question here is ‘Will Hancock get his act together?’ And of course, the answer is yes. But the more interesting question is: What will that mean? What does it actually take to a be a credible superhero these days, without turning into the thing that’s so sickly sweet, nobody can believe in it anymore?

Hancock Trailer

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Teeth

Eve_of_destruction
As motifs go, “vaginas are dangerous” is about as ancient as they come. Among the many associations spurred in the minds of anyone watching this trailer are the obvious:

Male fear of sexually transmitted disease.
Male fear of duplicitous women.
Male fear that female sexuality ultimately derives from a place of evil.
Male fear that sex will lead to various situations equating to a loss of youth and virility, such as a marriage and fatherhood.
Male fear that the relatively recent (historically speaking) sexual empowerment of women is a bad thing.Carrie

Female fear that any of the above is true, e.g. that having a vagina is ultimately a disadvantage, and that it will cause you to harm others in a way beyond your control.
Female exhilaration at the power of female sexuality.

The last item on the list is one that is not typically associated with the Dentata myth. If it ends up being part of the movie, then the story has a chance of not Terminator_3
sinking into exploitation cliche. Maybe. After all, the angry cutie who can’t take it anymore and is now on the warpath is a B-movie subgenre all its own.

This trailer may appeal to mouth-breathers who are incapable of understanding the explanation above, but are subject to it anyway, and intellectuals who are curious whether the filmmakers took the ideas in the last paragraph into consideration.

Teeth trailer

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The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything

A_bugs_life
The title is funny only if you accept the implication that this is an ironic and whimsical twist in the tradition of movie plots: action heroes with no action. But in fact, this movie is merely the latest in an endless string of derivatives from The Seven Samurai, the prototype of all movies about a band of unqualified misfits called upon to save a small community. In a drama, the misfits are fighters past their prime; in a comedy, the misfits are entertainers mistaken for real heroes.

There’s nothing wrong with making use of a template with a long history of success.Three_amigos
But there is something grating about announcing your use of that template with a self-congratulatory title that implies you’ve come up with something original. ‘

Of course, this is a movie for kids, who won’t know any better. And maybe the gleeful commercial cynicism of the title masks something original and heartfelt. But I doubt it.

The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything trailer

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The Bucket List

Trading_places
Observing people wealthier than oneself can be depressing. To deal with the disparity, poorer people like to convince themselves that their lives are actually richer, in a non-monetary way, than those of rich people.

At the end of this road is the implication that the ideal would be to have the humilityBrewster and capacity for appreciation of a poor man, but the resources of a rich man.

Although this scenario seldom (if ever) occurs in real life, it happens in movies all the time. People who identify with the poor guy in the movie get to receive affirmation that yes, in fact, they actually do deserve all the things that rich people have, and that they deserve these things mainly by virtue of the fact that they *don’t* have them. People who identify with the rich guy don’t see the movie at all; they make the movie, and get richer. Sorry.

The Bucket List Trailer

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I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With

Heavy
There aren’t many movies about wealthy, self-actualized fat men who find happiness in the arms of a svelte young woman. It must be because poor, depressed fat guys get all the chicks.

It’s a perverse wish-fulfillment fantasy. We want to believe that, somewhere down there, at the social bottom of things, there’s a kind of pathetic glory that comes to those who have nothing else.

If you’re a depressed fat guy, you might see this movie because, if only Sarah Silverman hadn’t been motivated to get rich and famous, she might have ended up in your life, and focused her charming neurotic intelligence on you instead of on her own career, and it’s implicit that after you put up with a certain amount of her crap, she would have let you fuck her.

If you’re a neurotic, intelligent girl, you might see this movie because, if only you had found a way toOnly_the_lonely
focus your own quirky sexuality on your career, you might have ended up like Sarah Silverman, but you didn’t, and now, after spending your 20s drinking Amstel Lights and reading Kristeva, you’re letting a depressed fat guy fuck you, and that’s ok too.

If you’re not in one of those categories, then either this movie appeals to you out of a vague sense that it’s about “real people,” or you figure you’ll wait to see Sarah Silverman in a movie where she has sex with someone more attractive, or maybe just masturbates. But not in an ironic way, as that would be too much like her stand-up persona, and thus not really acting.

I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With trailer

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Untitled J.J. Abrams Project

The trailer sure doesn’t reveal much…not even the name of the movie.

Fortunately, it does reveal that the producer is J.J. Abrams, a master of building up suspense that actually doesn’t lead anywhere.

‘Nuf said.

Untitled J.J. Abrams Project Trailer

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Skinwalkers and Rise: Blood Hunter

Despite a few holdouts like From Dusk Til Dawn and that John Carpenter movie, modern American vampire stories are all about one thing: how cool it is to be a vampire.

Fortunately, I’ve come into your life to ruin that fantasy for you forever. Vampires actually deal with a lot less moral ambiguity than regular human beings. And that’s by design.

Vampires struggle with dualities that are crystal clear. Human vs. animal. Good vs. evil. Violent vs. peaceful. Hedonistic vs. heroic. In each case, the lines are clearly drawn: the good/selfless/peaceful/human part is struggling with the bad/selfish/violent/animal part. The story is always about “redemption,” and the person being redeemed is conveniently seeking redemption for sins that were literally out of his or her control. Which is to say, they were committed while in the “inhuman” state.

As usual, movies are here to streamline our anxieties into simple equations. Everyone with the tiniest imagination and capacity for self-regard watches these vampire-glorification movies and thinks “They don’t know how much they’ve hit the nail on the head! That same conflict rages in my own heart. I too am both hero and villain. I too have the capacity for both the most tremendous good and the most treacherous evil. I too am constantly struggling with how much to give into my animal nature. I too have done horrible things, and I too deserve redemption.”

The vampire story distills those universal human conflicts into a fairy tale that makes them easier to think about. The popular notion is that these movies are indulgences in the viewer’s dark side. But the reality is that the catharsis the viewer experiences by projecting their own conflicted nature onto the screen is the closest that most people are ever going to get to “redemption.” The only true redemption - the redemption that we’re all looking for - is the realization that you actually couldn’t help committing your sins. And only vampires get off so easy.
Not using the word “vampire” anywhere in the title or the text of the movie is part of the same construct. No need to use the word, because by not using it, a vague notion is put forth that a) this is a self-aware vampire movie, and therefore not camp, b) it’s not about vampires per se, which is a joke, because no vampire story that’s any good is actually about vampires, and c) you won’t really “get it” unless you’re one of the four billion people who have ever had a crisis of conscience or wished that they could live by fewer rules.


Skin Walkers trailer

Rise: Blood Hunter trailer

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Gracie

LadybugThe underdog story is a catharsis for everyone who feels that they are, in some sense, an underdog. Which is to say: everyone.

Nobody is going to argue that a sport in which stamina and lower-body strength figure greatly has to be a boy’s game, and women have been playing soccer since it was invented. This strange fantasy world in which girls are scorned for wanting to play soccer is a generic straw man designed to make viewers indignant enough to pay to see the movie.

That the protagonist’s soccer-hero brother dies, leaving his poor team hero-less, seals the deal on the vanilla. She’s not fighting for the right to play as a girl. She’s fighting for the right to play as a boy. In other words, the stakes here are really pretty low.

That’s also true of the movie’s release. The story has just enough generic angst to it, and was made for little enough money, that it can’t really flop unless there’s something about it that’s truly horrible. On the other hand, it takes no risks, so it will reap no great rewards. Few people are going to be motivated to go to the theater to see something that they’re pretty sure they already saw sometime in the past year, on TV, at 3am.

Gracie trailer

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Firehouse Dog/Hot Fuzz

The_long_kiss_goodnight
Perhaps, like many regular viewers of mainstream American movies, you spend a lot of time contemplating the disparity between your own crappy life, and those of your cinematic heroes.

Back in the 30s (for example), audience envy was mostly about the glamour. You wished that you could switch places with Cary Grant or Ginger Rogers because you wanted the opulent lifestyles that their characters typically enjoyed. It was a class thing: the typical audience member was a "have-not," vicariously enjoying the lifestyle of the "have": clothes, cars, chandeliers, what have you. The differences between the actors and their characters weren’t nearly as important as the differences between the actors/characters and the audience. Those movies seldom implied that movie-goers had a shot at a movie-star life; they were impermeable but ostensibly transparent portals through which regular people could observe the rich and powerful.

Now, things are different. What’s truly supernatural about the Hollywood hero is not the position into which he was born, but his finely-honed awareness of self and purpose. Even a quick perusal of the most superficial screenwriting text will tell you: a cinematic hero wants one thing very badly, and he spends the entire movie trying to get it.

This being the case, any extraordinary talents that the hero displays in pursuit of that one goal are, in A_history_of_violence
this model, merely metaphorical embellishments on the same theme. It doesn’t matter whether the character can fly, or fight ten opponents at once, or is preternaturally witty and charming. The point is that the hero, unlike the viewer, a) knows exactly what he wants, and b) absolutely cannot be stopped. Like Hermes with his winged sandals, movie heroes are implicitly gifted with some remarkable attribute - unwavering integrity, a bottomless love of dolphins, bulletproof skin, or whatever - that protects them from this cruel world that has done such a good job of battering down the rest of us.

The fact that these superpowers (actual or virtual, mysterious or obvious, physical or spiritual) are so nicely tailored to their characters - almost, in fact, an extension of something surprisingly normal in those characters’ personalities - is comforting to regular people. For example, most of us fall in love, we just don’t quite fall in movie-love. Some of us can fight, but we just can’t movie-fight. Some of us have a lot of integrity, but we don’t quite have movie-integrity. These movie- characteristics are manufactured so as to seem just out of reach. Your love for your dog won’t give him the power to put out fires and rescue innocent people…but it almost could, right? I mean, sometimes doesn’t it feel like you’re just this close to breaking through some metaphysical barrier, tapping into the part of your brain you don’t normally use, and exploding into a tightly focused machine that does nothing but kick ass and chew bubble gum? And adopt dogs?

Doc_hollywood
Enter the "hero with sleeping powers" story. Sometimes the power and the way it’s sleeping is more obvious than others, but as far as audience manipulation, it’s the same thing. The average Joe’s/Jane’s specialness might be awoken by a traumatic incident, or by a mysterious visitor who has already found his or her own special power.

When the source of the magic is made out to be Hollywood itself, the writer is entering risky territory. Gone is the Golden Age; if you want a modern audience to accept that Hollywood is glamourous, then you need to earn that mystique within the movie you’re making. Modern audiences don’t enter the theater (especially for a movie like Firehouse Dog) like it’s a temple at which they are allowed to worship; they enter it like it’s a convenience store that most likely has the standard fare composed primarily of high-fructose corn syrup. Few people who are regularly allowed to leave the house are under the illusion that actors - human or otherwise - can really do the things their characters do in the movies. To posit a story in which a bunch of regular people (i.e. analogs for audience members) believe that they can is clumsily arrogant and fairly insulting.

Compare to Hot Fuzz, which we’re told was made by "the guys who have seen every action movie everThe_purple_rose_of_cairo_2
made." In other words, the hero is not literally supposed to be from Hollywood. Rather, he has been created by regular people (no superpowers, like you) who are familiar with the Hollywood tropes. The writers are inviting us to share a fantasy. They are implicitly in the theater with us. Together, we laugh at, and marvel at, our shared fascination with these demigods whom we have willed into existence in order to make our own lives just a little bit easier to bear.

Firehouse Dog trailer

Hot Fuzz trailer

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