Tuesday, March 19, 2013
It's happened to all of us, we see a trailer for a movie that looks so amazing, and think that there's no way the movie won't be great. I could name dozens of examples of good trailers for films that turned out to be lousy: Star Wars Episode 1, Cloverfield, Rise of the Silver Surfer, Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Matrix Reloaded, any M. Night Shyamalan movie after Signs. There's no great art in taking two or three minutes worth of great footage and making it look enticing to the viewers, but there's another phenomenon that exists in the world of movie trailers.
I've selected five trailers for movies that I actually liked, but after seeing the film, I was disappointed that it was nowhere near as good as the trailer for the film. These are the kinds of trailers that, when you re-watch them, make you want to immediately see the movie again. Now, there's lots of great movies with equally great trailers, but it's a rare phenomenon to have a great trailer, and then the movie turn out to be good, just not as good as the trailer, and today, I'm looking at my Top 5 examples...
5. Flight (2012)
I rather enjoyed Flight, even though a number of people I've spoken with said it felt like an R-rated afterschool special. But one thing I just couldn't get over about Flight, and I even mentioned it in my review is that it had an absolutely amazing trailer. The trailer is gripping, intense, suspenseful, and gives you just enough information without giving away everything, which is the cardinal sin that far too many trailers commit. Flight the film got 3.5 out of 5, but I'd give this trailer a 5 out of 5.
4. Watchmen (2009)
It's ironic that this trailer uses a Smashing Pumpkins song from the terrible film Batman & Robin, and this trailer debuted before The Dark Knight in the summer of 2008. It was almost ominous, but in spite of the overwhelming odds against it, Zack Snyder's Watchmen film managed to be pretty damn good, although I won't go so far as to say it's great or even one of the ten best comic book movies ever made. The trailer gives you iconic imagery that fans of the book recognized immediately, and even though the costumes seemed a little off, you still get pumped up about the very notion of a Watchmen movie. Again, Watchmen is not a great movie, but every time I see this trailer, it makes me want to watch it immediately.
3. Garden State (2004)
I spent the spring and summer of 2004 obsessively watching this trailer, fevered with anticipation for a film that looked as though it could legitimately be The Graduate of my generation. No film could live up to such high expectations, and I definitely enjoyed Garden State in spite of its numerous plot contrivances and quirk for the sake of quirk. But watching this trailer again and hearing Frou Frou's "Let Go," it's like I'm transported back to a time when I thought this movie was going to change my life.
2. Independence Day (1996)
The summer before my senior year in high school, this trailer was showing before every movie, and all the anticipation was focused firmly on the week of July 4th when we'd finally get to see The Fresh Prince, Lone Starr & Ian Malcolm kick some alien ass. And don't get me wrong, the first time I saw Independence Day, I thought it was great. I found myself getting caught up in the jingoism & the spectacle of it all, but let's face it, the film is nowhere near as good as this trailer. It's a classically edited 90's action movie trailer, featuring Don LaFontaine's dulcet tones & the promise of the action movie to end all action movies. In retrospect, it just turned out to be the best Roland Emmerich movie ever made.
1. Where The Wild Things Are (2009)
I adore Where The Wild Things Are. I don't think any film has ever captured the inner turmoil of being a ten year-old boy better. The only problem is, the film's trailer was an absolute masterpiece. Featuring the song "Wake Up" by the not-yet overrated Arcade Fire, the film promised to be a journey to another world where anything was possible. It looked incredible, the creatures looked just right, the design elements looked amazing, and Spike Jonze was directing it, what could possibly go wrong? Essentially, the only thing that went wrong was that this trailer is selling a completely different movie. In fact, with the exception of the short shot of Carol crying, there's no hint of what the movie's true nature was going to be. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, I really do love the movie, but I think I'm not alone in saying that the movie that this trailer promised us would have been even better.
Honorable Mention that I am totally embarrassed that I forgot...
Moonlight Mile (2002)
Here's a movie that I love, that most people have forgotten about, yet I'll never forget seeing this trailer before Road to Perdition all three times I saw it, and I couldn't wait to see it. I love Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon does solid work & Jake Gyllenhaal was starting to grow on me. Add in the Rolling Stones reference in the title & Elton John's Someone Saved My Life Tonight, and this trailer looked amazing. Again, the movie is great, but this trailer is transcendently good...
Sunday, March 17, 2013
"Big words make me angry... keep talking!"
Dreamworks Animation's seven year partnership with Paramount ended last year, and 20th Century Fox has taken over as the distributor for their animated films for the foreseeable future. It's interesting that The Croods is the first film released as part of this new partnership since, on the surface, it bears many striking resemblances to Fox's own animation franchise, The Ice Age series. If there's an obvious joke in here about Neanderthals being Fox's strong suit, I'm going to go ahead and dodge it, but this is a film far more in line with the lackluster Ice Age series than the strong work Dreamworks has been churning out of late.
The film opens, much as the also 3D Kung Fu Panda 2 did, with a 2D animation sequence. This one is narrated by Eep (Emma Stone) and done as a series of cave paintings that give us the backstory on her family, the eponymous Croods. The dad, Gurg (Nicolas Cage) is overly protective of his family, since all manner of disasters have befallen the other clans in their neighborhood, and he has a system to keep his family safe. His system essentially consists of locking his family away in a cave and repeating his catchphrase "never not be afraid" ad nauseum.
Eep, as the story requires her to, wants more out of life though, and her curiosity one night causes her to cross paths with Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a slightly more advanced human who is traveling to the sun, so that he can ride it to "tomorrow." I swear I'm not making this up. In context, it sort of makes sense, since these primitive humans would have an equally primitive understanding of the universe, but it's still a bit of a stretch.
An earthquake destroys The Croods' cave, and they set off in search of a new home. Their paths cross with Guy's again, and he is taken hostage by Gurg since he knows how to make fire, and could come in handy. The rest of the film plays out as a typical road adventure, as the insanely protective father must come to terms with his family's desire to grow and learn more about the world around them.
First things first, the film looks gorgeous. It's beautifully animated, and many of the 3D effects are great, in particular the flying debris, dust particles or fire embers had the many children at my screening reaching out to grab them. The animators have taken great care to lovingly animate the film, and it's pure eye candy. A lot of the action sequences are exciting and great to look at as well, particularly the family's first trip outdoors to secure breakfast.
The film is also jam packed with humor, not all of which works, but most of which is aimed squarely at the young people in the audience. Unlike the best Dreamworks & Pixar films, this one is not entirely interested in entertaining the adults in the audience. The humor is mostly for the kids, and my six and three year-olds are it up, particularly the antics of Guy's sidekick Belt. I did find it odd how lowest-common denominator most of the humor was, considering one of the co-writers/co-directors is Chris Sanders, who did the wonderfully subversive Lilo & Stitch.
The film has a ton of problems however, not least of which is the mixed-tone of the film. It's squarely set in a fantasy world, at least as far as the wildlife in the film is concerned. There's a ton of Flinstones-esque stone age parallels to modern day devices like photographs, umbrellas & shoes, and it makes the whole film feel much more lightweight than it would have been had it dodged these sort of cheap jokes altogether. At times it seems like the film is trying desperately to let you know that it's got a lot of brains & heart, but these moments all seem forced and more contrived than if they weren't surrounded by so much nonsense.
The film's climax, in particular, is preposterous & ham-fisted. There's a genuinely touching moment with Gurg coming to terms with his over-parenting, but it's followed by a ten minute sequence that feels significantly reduced in order to wrap things up in a timely fashion. The film spends over an hour with The Croods wandering around, essentially doing nothing, and then forces virtually all of its characters to have a change of heart within the same ten minute sequence. And to top it off, it's followed by the most absurd climactic sequence this side of The Matrix Revolutions.
The voice cast does admirably solid work. Cage is one of my favorite actors, but he's unreasonably restrained here. The only glimpse we get of the bonkers Cage that we know and love is a late second act sequence where he dresses up like Guy and tries to unleash a series of dumb inventions on his family. Stone & Reynolds are both good in their by-the-numbers roles, and Cloris Leachman manages to score the most laughs as Gran. Clark Duke is also funny as the dim-witted son Thunk, and Catherine Keener is reliably good as Ugga, the mother.
One last thing I have to mention is the film's score by Alan Silvestri. It is awful. It's so overbearing and bombastic, you can't help but be overwhelmed by it for virtually the entire running time of the film. The mark of a great score is that you don't notice it, and you can't help but notice this score. It forces itself on you in an unpleasant way, and resembles Hans Zimmer at his worst.
If you want the real lowdown on The Croods, I would say this. If you have children, particularly under the age of ten, you should definitely take them to see it. If you're just a childless fan of Dreamworks animation or Nic Cage, however, I would subtract a full star from my final rating. Your kids will adore this movie, but you'll find yourself weighed down by its plot contrivances and hollow climax. In the "absurdly protective dad" genre, it's not as good as Finding Nemo, but it's also nowhere near as bad as last year's atrocious Hotel Transylvania, and it even fails to reach even the mediocre heights of Dreamworks' recent output like Madagascar 3. But make no mistake, your kids will love it, and at the end of the day, that's what these films are all about.
GO Rating: 3/5
[Images via BoxOfficeMojo]
Friday, March 15, 2013
"That is a terrible trick to do for children, what if they try and copy you?"
"I'll sue them."
There is no greater sin for a film to commit than that of squandered potential. There's honestly nothing I hate more than a film full of great comedic talent flailing about in a desperate attempt to get laughs where the script has failed to provide them. The world of Vegas magicians seems less a source ripe for parody than a last resort comedic device designed to simply differentiate itself through the sheer fact that no one has really taken a major shot at it before. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a film so jam packed with idiocy that it will almost annoy you more when it actually manages to deliver a handful of inspired jokes.
Bullied from a young age, Burt (Mason Cook) seeks refuge in a crappy birthday present from his mom, a Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) magic set. Any child of the 70s and 80s will recognize this as a nod to the ubiquitous Harry Blackstone magic sets of that era, and the film relies on that sort of nostalgia to bring you into this world. Burt's only friend is Anthony (Luke Vanek) and they hone their craft as kids, and as adults, form the magic duo of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) & Anton Marvel (Steve Buscemi). They're stuck playing cut-rate rooms in Vegas until they are offered a deal to bring their act to Bally's by Doug Munny (James Gandolfini). The catch is that they would have to split up, but Burt refuses to leave Anton behind, and turns the deal down.
10 years later, the duo are still doing the same show, to increasingly diminished crowds, and what's more, they despise one another. Their style of magic is now being usurped by crazy street magicians like Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), and an attempt by these old school hams to jazz up their act leads to disaster, and Anton abandons Burt. With his contract cancelled, Burt must try and get his mojo back, as Munny will be opening a new casino, and the winner of a magic competition will get the chance to headline at the new casino.
Don't get me wrong, there are some truly inspired bits throughout the film. Burt trying to continue his two man show by himself is very funny, the running gag about bed sizes also made me laugh and Jim Carrey's final scene is also about as funny as anything he's done in the last decade. But the film prefers to wallow in cheap, lazy jokes. Spray on tans, big wigs, nonsensical Criss Angel/David Blaine -style street magic, this is all pretty low hanging fruit, and the film unfortunately doesn't aspire to any greater heights than these.
The fact that I've gotten this far into the review without mentioning Olivia Wilde's character will also tell you what an afterthought the script treats her as. She's perfectly good in the role and manages to score a few laughs as a foil for both Carrey & Carell, but her character (a stagehand turned magician's assistant with aspiring magic dreams of her own) is a total romantic throwaway.
The main trio of Carell, Buscemi & Carrey are all perfectly fine. They're great comedic actors who can always manage to do a lot with very little. They never show the desperate flop sweat they must have been drenched with, which is really a testimony to how committed they are to this paltry material. Arkin is great in his small role as a shyster who's stil got a few tricks up his sleeve, and Gandolfini is always good, even playing a character as one-note as the one he does here. There's also some funny work in small roles by Jay Mohr & Brad Garrett.
Director Don Scardino has worked almost exclusively in television, and his uninspired work here shows as much. The film is flat and uninteresting visually, and as I said earlier, relies far too much on wigs to get laughs. The script has two screenwriting credits & four story credits, and my opinion on films written by that many people has been well-documented in the past. When that many writers are all fighting for their material to be front and center, it spells disaster for the finished product.
In fairness, I may be giving The Incredible Burt Wonderstone a bum rap. It is definitely a much better comedy than this year's mega-hit Identity Thief, but merely being better than an awful movie is no great feat. This film could have been hilarious and it's a decent rental for a night when you've got nothing better to watch, but it's got too much wasted potential for me to recommend it.
GO Rating: 2.5/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]
Thursday, March 7, 2013
"Good work, you just sneezed away the plan."
Oz: The Great and Powerful seemed to be one of the more interesting films on the 2013 release schedule. Part of me cringed at the notion of it turning into another Alice in Wonderland style over substance fiasco. But another part of me believed that with Sam Raimi behind the camera, this could be a good film, a nice companion piece to the classic 1939 The Wizard of Oz. So, which is it? Read on to find out...
Before you go any further in this review, I must let you know that while I didn't hate this film as much as I did Alice in Wonderland, I didn't like it at all, and in order to explain why I didn't like it, there will be some minor spoilers. Disney has more or less done a terrible job of keeping it a secret who the Wicked Witch turns out to be, but if you're interested in going into this film without any spoilers at all, come back once you've seen the film.
Oscar Diggs (James Franco), Oz for short, is an illusionist living in early 20th century Kansas when the film opens. At a show, a young girl (Joey King) in a wheelchair asks him to cure her, he refuses. All hell really breaks loose when a circus strongman finds out that he's been making advances towards his girlfriend, and Oz is forced to flee the scene in a hot air balloon. His balloon heads right towards a twister, and soon enough, Oscar finds himself in the Land of Oz.
The first person he meets is a witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) who informs him that he may be a wizard of prophecy, who is said to help defeat the Wicked Witch, restore Oz to its former glory & rule the land as its king. Oz works his charms on Theodora, who takes him to meet her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Evanora tells him he must journey into the dark forest & kill the Wicked Witch, and once he does, he can rule as king.
We're not even forty-five minutes into the movie yet, and I've already skimmed a ton of details and still have a ton more to wade through. Needless to say, this film is bogged down in exposition & incidental nonsense, making the first hour a chore to get through. When Oz finds the witch in the woods, she turns out to be a good witch named Glinda (Michelle Williams) who informs him that he's been tricked by the real wicked witch, Evanora. She brings him to the good part of Oz to meet the people & mount a counterattack against the evil witches.
Now the big turn that Disney has done a poor job of hiding is that Theodora turns into the classic looking green witch when she takes a bite of an apple that her sister gives her to reveal her true form. I was fine with this, even though I knew this "twist," my issue with it is the fact that while I like her a lot as an actress, Mila Kunis is not good enough to sell the big, bold, over the top classic Wicked Witch schtick. Her first scene where she reveals herself to Oz & Glinda is comically bad & her dress shows so much cleavage that it was clear that no one behind the scenes really cared how good she was as an actress.
This was pretty much a deal breaker for me. Put aside the fact that Weisz is a much better actress and would have likely sold the transformation in a more believable way, it's ridiculous to even consider that they're sisters when Weisz has a British accent & Kunis doesn't. It just doesn't seem like a whole lot of foresight was given to what these roles would require of the actresses in them. Williams is thoroughly wasted in a thankless role, and all of her backstory with her murdered father is chucked aside in the final battle in favor of more spectacle.
The real problem with the film though is Franco. He's an actor that is so tricky to cast, because he's great at doing a handful of things, but playing a fraud who wants to be a great man is not one of them. I believe the role was originally intended for Robert Downey, Jr. who would have been much better despite the fact that his age would have made his multiple romantic subplots a bit creepy. Franco has a tendency to look like he's phoning it in (even if he isn't), and while that works sometimes, it's disastrous here. The whole film centers around his character & his character's arc and he looks as disinterested and disconnected as he did when he hosted the Oscars two years ago.
Why the filmmakers felt the need to create an original story when L. Frank Baum has provided us with nearly twenty tales from the Land of Oz is beyond my comprehension. The film cribs more from the film The Wizard of Oz than it does from any of Baum's works, but that's the version of this world most people are familiar with. Sam Raimi added a few flourishes that work, such as the changing of aspect ratios along with the switch from black & white to color, but mostly his talents were wasted on what seems like a film calculated to appeal to as broad an audience as humanly possible.
Films like this are going to feel like they were made by committee, because they almost always are. Why even hire a director like Raimi then? Fans will love some of his stuff in here (Bruce Campbell as a Winkie Guard, a late film homage to the "She-Bitch" from Army of Darkness) but he just reeks of being a director for hire. Even the 3D is pretty pedestrian, I can't honestly remember anything I liked about the use of 3D, and I just left the theater about an hour ago.
Oz: The Great & Powerful suffers from a lot of things: bad casting, lame jokes, overly cgi'd everything, but more than anything else, it falls victim to being inessential. It just didn't need to be made. It's boring as all get out and god help your children if you take them (the handful at my advanced screening were mostly asleep by the end, although it was a school night).
I realize that I didn't even mention things like Oz's sidekicks, the flying monkey voiced by Zach Braff & the China Doll voiced by Joey King. That's how little they matter to the overall story, which was so crammed with stuff, that none of it mattered in the end. I just shouldn't leave a film like this wondering why they even made it in the first place and that speaks volumes about what's truly wrong with the film.
GO Rating: 1.5/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]