22 September 2017

LEGO, Facebook Demons, and Cowboy Spies - ALL TONIGHT and MORE!

As we mentioned last week, September 2017 is rolling, folks. There are plenty of notable films emerging from the woodwork like little shitty termites here for our pleasure. There are three big films this weekend, although one will almost assuredly be lost in the shuffle, and the other two appeal to relatively distinct demographics. So, as is the norm, let's go through this in my personal order from least to most anticipation.

Friend Request (2017) is a film I kind of thought they had done years ago, but I guess still exists for some reason. Once again I have attempted to actively know nothing about this film before I set to ramble about it, and I'm more confident than ever. This is about some kind of Facebook Demon I guess, who lives in the computer and requests you to be its friend, then eats you or something. All of this is unfortunate, because while there are a lot of interesting ways to dissect horror in a modern technological setting, Black Mirror does it better than any of this.

Critically this is not getting a lot of love, but I don't think it was ever meant to. There are a shitload of interchangeable horror films these days, but then again, there has always been a ton of horror movies, just instead of bad B-Monster movies we get weird demon computer ghosts or whatever. This kind of disposable, quick-scare, quick-buck horror seems kind of fruitless coming off the hot heels of IT (2017), though, right? 2017 is becoming a banner year for horror, with the excellent Get Out (2017) and the shitty Anabelle: Creation (2017) doing comparatively massive business. Now, Anabelle: C certainly falls into that cheap buck category, but simply by its tangential relationship to the legitimate Conjuring franchise, felt like it had more prestige backing it up. Friend Request sounds like a "Boy in the Wall" movie that we will never again care about.

While it would also seem that horror is really in these days, kids have definitely gotten their fix from Anabelle and IT in the past month, and typically, non-IT horror doesn't even work in September anyway. IT's success really has to do with so many other factors, from expert marketing, a perfect mix of nostalgia and ambivalence towards the remake, and frankly, the current trend of psychotic clowns roaming the countryside. Friend Request looks pretty rough from all angles, and will be gone as quickly as the time I spent thinking about it.

How could you not want to watch this movie
Moving on, for the kiddies today we have The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017), which really snuck up on me. I think that The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) was so high-profile (and also frankly, sort of disappointing), that this one totally slipped my mind. It also doesn't help that LEGO Batman fits a far wider audience profile, with easily recognizable characters and the voice of Will Arnett, whose LEGO Batman is probably his second-most famous role at this point. It also feels much more specific than The LEGO Movie (2014), which successfully connected children's interpretations of LEGO imagination to the adult world in all sorts of meta post-modern ways.

This is of course all a fallacy for those in the know who know that LEGO Ninjago is one of contemporary LEGO's most successful brands. LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu has run for an impossible seven seasons on the Cartoon Network, and this film is almost more an extension of that rather than an extension of the LEGO Movie brand. It does seem to retain more of the latter's humour style and high-profile voice cast, which really works pretty well. It's harder to latch on to something broad here, though, and anyone caught unawares of what Ninjago is will assuredly be lost. Casual fans can hop on to the LEGO Movie, which ran through a lot of classic town, Old West, and Space sets while telling an original story engrossing enough to bring in casual fans both through its actual plot and its more general theme / advertisement of digesting what it means to actually play with LEGOs. Ninjago is like...Ninjas? Or something? With robot dragons? LEGO Power Rangers? All this makes it a tougher sell for casual fans.

Kids, however, ought to line up. And they've been starved for a truly good animated movie all year. This is a weird spot where it looks pretty good but not really a must-see for adults. The good success but not really as great-ness of The LEGO Batman Movie has got to be worrisome, as is LEGO's general recent decline, they're surely banking on this flick to prop up sales of their most popular line. There's not a crazy amount of competition right now, and it ought to get second or first place this week if it can clear the $30 or so million that IT will make.

Culturally I can see this becoming a gem, but likely not really ubiquitous. Again, it's largely apart from adult consciousness, but those who seek it out will probably be rewarded. Or it may be total shit, although the wit and weird father/son blatant insane supervillain conflict plot on display so far is appealing. I'm a little concerned about the three different directors, none of which really have much pedigree in directing (Charlie Bean has done plenty of other animation roles over the years), so it's hard to say they're a slam dunk like Lord and Miller. Who knows, but my interest is peaked.

I mean, come on
Finally, the long-awaited sequel to The Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) comes The Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017). Now, there were a lot of fucked up things about the first Kingsman, mostly that ending and Sam Jackson's weird lisp. Still, I was a big fan of the church scene, obviously, as well as candy-coloured head explodings. It was like the xXx (2002) for the modern age - a Bond that didn't give a shit about being Bond. The sequel promises what every sequel promises - all the dependable home shit from the first movie burned down and no one to trust by Channing Tatum.

This franchise lives and dies by its action sequences, which need to be up to par for this film to be memorable at all. While The Kingsman is generally underrated as an all-time great modern action movie, it's certainly distinctive enough to be remembered and referenced more than some other shittier flicks. It also did great despite a February release. Golden Circle has an equally non-traditional September release, but that might do it a favor by opening far away from the cluster of the Summer. This and IT really ought to be the first step towards uncrowding the Summer and showing that a big film can be be released whenever, an even better release model that allows similar films to shine on their own without blending into each other and causing fatigue.

Critically this film seemed to get rid of its weak points and added some great new cast members. The first film was well-received, although nothing like a serious award contender or anything. The Golden Circle needs to do enough to distinguish itself from its predecessor while retaining the renegade fuck all spirit it had. This is certainly possible and with director Matt Vaughn returning, it feels like it's in good hands.

So that's it, folks. There's some potentially good under-the-radar shit coming out this week that could be pretty good. Or it could be more overplayed crap. Everything has a decent pedigree and solid marketing though (well, except Friend Request), and both these films will have to give me a reason to doubt them before I assume. What are you checking out this weekend? IT? Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)?

15 September 2017

Mama Mia La Madre!

So, we've gotten past the big blockbuster summer crap, and for a while now I've thought about bringing this "Road to a Blockbuster" column into the fore as a year-long thing. There aren't any franchise-starters or anything dropping this week, but it'd be fun to analyze this shit anyway, right? I need to come up with less obscure titles, though. But you kind of get that I'm talking about mother! (2017), right? I mean, what else? This week we see the release of both this and American Assassin (2017), which is so obviously dumped into the dead month of September. Let's start with our cultural preview for that one first.

Listen, I don't have words. Those are actually my driving glasses.
I know nothing about this film. So let's go on this journey together. I want to try to piece this piece of shit together. First, let's look at the posters. I have no idea who the main character is, but judging that an action film needs a young up-and-coming brunette male lead, I'm guessing it's Dylan O'Brien who looks so much like Taylor Kitsch that it's stupid. But then Taylor Kitsch IS actually in this as well! This is like when The Roommate (2011) had both Minka Kelly AND Leighton Meester! They should make a remake of that film starring Nina Dobrev and Victoria Justice. That's a great party game.

Getting back on track, Dylan O'Brien is most famous for being an interchangeable white dude protagonist in the Maze Runner film series. The first film that came out in 2014 was apparently okay. I actually infamously saw the second film, The Scorch Trials (2015) which was one of the worst films I had seen in years. I was actually really curious about it because I heard it was a uniquely terrible adaptation that completely ignored the source material. I probably should have read the book to actually compare, but it was pretty awful. It's also fairly unique because it kind of becomes a totally different scenario. Like there's zombies for some reason that only appear in the second one, because the first one is just this maze or whatever. Zombies in the "Scorch." Yeah, you can figure this out.

Oh no! Dylan O'Brien apparently got fucked up so they delayed The Death Cure (2018). Haha, that sucks. How did he get around to filming American Assassin? They probably just used Taylor Kitsch for the whole thing instead. Poor Taylor Kitsch. He's neither the worst part of Battleship (2012) or John Carter (2012), but that's a tough one-two punch. Dude it's just dawning on me now that I saw both of those shitty films in the theater. It wasn't my fault they bombed, Taylor!

Who else is in this shit? Where are those posters. "Takes one to kill one!" Hahaha. Alright, I'm officially having fun with this. There's some variation on that phrase on every single character poster! "Takes one to uncover one!" What does that mean? I don't know who Shiva Negar or Sanaa Lathan is. Ohhh! That's that chick from AVP (2004). That's right. She broke all sorts of little boy's hearts when she didn't make out with the Predator at the end. Seriously, if that was Schwarzenegger left at the end, they definitely would have kissed.

And Michael Keaton. He's having a great post-Birdman (2014) career to make up for his Oscar loss. This totally feels like Kevin Costner in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) or Harrison Ford in Paranoia (2013), right? Damn that's a really specific genre. Old respected actors slumming it in cheap thrillers featuring pretty main stars? Is there a Netflix subgroup for that? Keaton is hot coming off of Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and The Founder (2016), where he did solid work in two solid movies. He's reliably good, but his performance here will likely depend on whether he respectably believed the material was beneath him OR if like Nic Cage, he believes that no material is beneath him.

So, my guess is this film is about like, an assassin of some kind who is sent to kill somebody, then gets double crossed, probably by Michael Keaton with what looks like Taylor Kitsch representing some kind of evil twin thing and probably one of the women, my money is on the Predator-kisser, works to get him out of it like Joan Allen in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). I still don't really want to watch a trailer. Someone else check back in to see if I'm right.

Although that number will undoubtedly be pretty small, because no one is going to see this fucking movie. We just got The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017) and yeah, that did great and is still third somehow because no one is seeing non-creepy clown films in the theater, but that was also a funny film starring likable actors. This stars Dylan O'Brien, Taylor Kitsch, and the chick from Alien vs. Predator. We will probably never talk about it again, which is kind of sad because I like ragging on it.

But does she bang Mila Kunis
In the other corner we have the latest from brilliant director Darren Aronofsky, mother! Well, he's not totally great, but when he fails he fails SPECTACULARLY. There's always something really sad and sinister about how he gets to the heart of his subjects starting from the ultimate film you only want to see once, Requiem for a Dream (2000). Before this feel-good film of the decade we got his initial film, Pi (1998) which is crude in the way that all great directors' first films are crude but is also a brutal look at mathematical obsession.

Success made Aronofsky really weird, which is awesome. The Fountain (2006) makes no damn sense and was pretty savaged, but has found a little following. I mean, he doesn't crank out Book of Henry (2017) when he misfires, he cranks out the fucking Fountain, an insane 1000-year journey through time which doesn't even really take place on earth as far as I can tell.

Then he gets super-grounded with The Wrestler (2008), which is the second old man Oscar whiff we've covered today, but still hold some incredible performances from Mickey Rourke and Evan Rachel Robo-Wood and a tragic story of a man good for one thing and one thing only to the detriment of everyone around him, including himself. Then Black Swan (2010) of course, which seemed to fuse his trippy reality-bending sensibilities with another grounded look at a physical performer only good at one thing and a complete failure at every other social aspect. Black Swan taken literally makes no sense at all, which is challenging since it works as a constant metaphor where we're never really sure whose head we're in (mostly either Natalie Portman's or our own). It's surely a masterpiece that finally won his muse an Oscar.

Then we got Noah (2014). I'll actually hardcore defend Noah, but it's also sincerely fifty minutes too long (they get on the damn boat with like a third of the movie left to go!) and there's a lot of brutal dumbass decisions, mostly made by Russell Crowe himself that take you out of the moment. You still get one of the better looking blockbusters ever, a weird 900-year old Anthony Hopkins, and this little montage, which rules.

By all accounts mother! is back to that Black Swan territory, which at first feels more grounded (at least more so than The Fountain or Noah), but there's also something real real weird going on here. Jennifer Lawrence is the main girl here obvi, but she's got some fucked up relationship with her old gross by still Spanish husband Javier "Silva" Bardem and who the hell knows what Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris are doing here. Then Kristen Wiig and Domhnall Gleeason pop up for some reason, too? This is the best cast film ever.

Apparently it's already a critical hit. Who knows if it gets too weird for maitstream or at least Awards-stream acceptance, but for some reason that really didn't stop Black Swan. Maybe Aronofsky was like, "Fuck these guys for not being weirded out by Black Swan, let's push this way weirder!" We can all dream. The poster, in contrast to American Assassin, was all sorts of simultaneously tepid, reserved, and subtly wild and full of bizarre possible clues. Also the heart thing.

But let's sink into J-Law. It kind of feels more and more that the lovable pizza-eating bro J-Law it girl that everyone loved was getting a little thin, right? Like, especially with Passengers (2016) last year it was like, this chick is too much. It was probably a good move to stay out of the spotlight for a bit and then make this wild wacky psychological thriller. She's never really sank her teeth into this kind of material, except maybe Winter's Bone (2010). If you really boil her best work down, which is basically just her non-Hunger Games and non-X-men work (damn that actually makes for a crazy short list), you get Silver Linings Playbook (2012), American Hustle (2013), and JOY (2015), which are not coincidentally three out of her four Oscar nominations (the fourth being the aforementioned Winter's Bone). Those are all outstanding dramatic roles, but all pretty loose drama Oscar bait-y works. Also all David O. Russell works. I'm curious what she does in a film that looks like a somehow creepier more intense version of Queen of Earth (2015). There's a lot to look forward to here.

The rest are probably good. Ed Harris has never won an Oscar. That fucking blows. Neither has Michelle who is actually putting together an underrated little comeback between this year and next. I do think she was kind of underrated in Dark Shadows (2012) and The Family (2013). Ugh I watch so many terrible movies.

At any rate, I think mother! can be pretty distinctive, at least enough to leave a solid cultural crater, even if it feels smaller than The Wrestler or Black Swan. That could just be pre-Oscar shit, too. If it takes off and gets second to IT (2017) this weekend it could find a nice audience, although it is coming out damned early to really do some damage. Anyway, I'm pumped.

08 September 2017

Attack of the IT Department

That's right - Information Technology is a scary thing. Clowns are worse and seem to be the rave right now, from the Joker to American Horror Story: Cult to uh...real life creepiness lurking in the woods and stabbing people. And the Clown Consortium is actually trying to defend themselves. Clowns were never wholesome entertainment, people. Always, always creepy. Today we see the remake of a movie (adapted from the book) that many blame as originating the central scary clown concept. I've always thought that John Wayne Gacy, the Joker, and hell, HIS inspiration, The Man Who Laughs (1928) all paved the way. Hell, Pagliacci was pretty creepy. But today, precisely 27 years after its first incarnation, we get the return of IT (2017). I hadn't thought about that 27 year thing. Damn.

2017 is turning into a big year for Stephen King adaptations, even if The Dark Tower (2017) flopped pretty hard. It was at least hyped up quite a bit. IT has arguably hyped up even more, but that's also in part because it has a lot of iconography to draw from, and by all looks, does a fantastic fucking job with remaking it. I wasn't really old enough to watch the Tim Curry IT (1990) ABC mini-series (how was this ever on Network Television), but I've caught up since then. It may be my jaded millennial approach to horror films, but it almost seems quaint these days, not creepy. Pennywise could pull off being just a normal wacky clown, until his teeth come out and blood shoots everywhere. Or when he turns into a giant monster crab spider.

This is all to say relatively unknown actor Bill Skarsgård looks downright amazing as the new Pennywise - one who is positively creepy throughout. You may know his father, Stellan, who has made a career out of appearing in every movie ever, and his brother Alexander, whose roles ranged from ripped but shitty in The Legend of Tarzan (2016) to the underseen but brilliant War on Everyone (2016). Now, part of IT's fucked up charm was that this relentlessly jolly Tim Curry creep was killing everyone with glee while looking like he belonged at a 5-year old's birthday party. Not so much here, which I think works better, and as a rep to everyone who wants to pay money to see this, that's a good thing.

The difficulty here is preserving all those great moments from Steve King's excessively long novel, along with the iconic mini-series, while somehow forging its own path. The marketing campaign has demonstrated that pretty well, and I at least as not a huge IT '90 fan am pretty interested. It's got to be nerve-wracking for the producers having just seen another magnum opus King work flop worse than a limp dick at the box office, but IT '17 ought to do better. Probably. Over / under on child healing orgy scene?

For real, the movies need IT and they need it badly right now. All due props to The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017) for winning three weekends in a row, but they've also been some of the lowest weekends in two decades. I'm eternally curious if Hollywood will ever learn to actually put out good original movies, although with the failure of Logan Lucky (2017) in that mix, that might not even be the problem anymore. Even though we're hot off the heels of Annabelle: Creation (2017), the haunted doll Conjuring (2013) spin-off spin-off we never knew we needed (and one of Summer 2017's bigger box office success stories), IT feels like a much different kind of horror, even if it's not. It seems prouder and creepier, and more steeped in both tradition and genuine 2017 scares. September is pretty rough, too. It could make a ton of coin.

Then again, September Horror is notorious for falling on its face. I think the hype has been there for a while, though, and there's enough build-up, expectation, and previous interest that this will be fine. There's a difference between this and the random cash-grab horror schlocky stuff that's filmed and churned out within a few months, given a traditionally crappy September release date and let free.

Critically IT's done decently so far as well. More and more that seems to be a bigger factor in a film's success than it was even a few years ago when spectacle still ruled. It's far from absolute, though, as there have been a tremendous amount of well-received blockbusters that didn't quite reach the heights of their predecessors (see: War for the Planet of the Apes [2017]). If anything in 2017 has felt like a sure thing, though, IT is it.

Get it girl
On the subject of September 8th releases, I'd also be remiss to skip out on what I can only describe as the underhyped Reese Witherspoon cougar orgy movie, Home Again (2017). Now, it's important to remember that Sweet Home Alabama (2002) held the September release box office record for ten years straight until Hotel Transylvania (2012) and later Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015). Anyway, people do actually like Reese Witherspoon, even if she definitely peaked in like 2003. She is riding some good vibes though, she's got Wild (2014) of course, that big movie where she also had public sex in an alley, Hot Pursuit (2015), which I really thought would have done better, and a voice in SING (2016), which I'm sure no one cared about.

I don't really know anything about Home Again, it's definitely counter-IT programming and geared towards the mom crowd, but also seems like a bizarre mom fantasy of banging young ripped dudes. That's really fine by me, practically every movie in history is filled with bizarre creepy male sexual fantasies. I guess I'm most curious about the lack of stakes and danger in this trailer - there seems to be no repercussions between banging all these dudes and her husband. I guess maybe she's not banging all of them. Nah, she definitely is. But what is this is about? Divorcée mid-life crisis finding love? Or reconnecting with Michael Sheen? It's Nancy Meyers, so you can expect a bit of tasteless romance almost indistinguishable from smut, but hey, maybe that's just what America needs right now. Who am I kidding, I would definitely pay and watch a Reese Witherspoon cougar orgy movie.

I think IT will bury Reese, but both are pretty fresh films after a damned long drought of pure shit from August. Well, apparently Home Again is still pretty rough, but I still think it can do some damage. Next week we get mother! (2017), a Blake Lively film (that's literally the best quality trailer I could find - she also plays some blind woman who regains her sight and then I dunno, shit happens? What the hell, Blake Lively), a Nic Cage film, and a Taylor Kitsch film. Yeah. Holy shit. That last one looks so bad you didn't even notice it's Dylan O'Brien, not Taylor Kitsch. The latter is actually in the movie as a minor role, which makes this joke even more confusing. The point is, IT can print money all day.

What are you checking out? Child orgies or Witherspoon orgies?
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