Insidious: Chapter 2 (September 13)
Silver: There’s been a lot of chatter around the recent financial success of films like The Conjuring, Sinister, and The Purge,, but what’s missing in all the chatter is the fact that these films are actually really good. And in some cases really, really good.
The downside is that when a clever, low-budget, practical-effects-heavy film like this hits, Hollywood’s über-exploitation and monetization machine kicks in (“We can make how much after spending how much?!”), and inevitably the death knell for any horror film is eventually uttered: “franchise.” Remember the first Paranormal Activity or the first Saw? Both great films, but their memories are now sadly tarnished by being lumped in with their less-than-worthy offspring.
So needless to say, I’m a little wary of Insidious: Chapter 2. The first film is the scariest movie-going experience I’ve ever had in a theater. But given that every key person, both in front of and behind the camera, is back for this sequel, I’m not After Earth–wary. And I certainly don’t see a “Jamie Lee Curtis running around in a wig” equivalent here. So that’s a solid start.
Side note: I doubt anyone is more pleased than I am we’ve finally moved on from the muck and mire of torture porn films.
Yoshida: I'm pretty pleased as well, even though it doesn't affect me as I never really get around to seeing any of these films. But in principle, I approve of not having to pay $16 to watch pretty ladies get mangled for our entertainment. I think there's something weird and bad about that, call me crazy.
So yeah, Insidious. Didn't see that one, either. I talked about this briefly last week, but I don't really do horror. I can see how this film is probably "better" than Paranormal Activity 17, but I still always feel embarrassed for name actors who have to run around and pant and scream for two hours before collecting their paychecks, especially when they're as good as Rose Byrne (still figuring out my personal stance on Patrick Wilson; I'll get back to you on that whenever it's relevant).
All Is Lost (October 18)
Silver: We're almost out from under a summer when the question of "Do audiences have blockbuster fatigue?" was not only rightfully posed, but potentially answered in the affirmative. And given the trailers we've been seeing for the last couple weeks, we will probably soon be asking the same question about awards movies. So how does a film stand out? By giving the people something they haven't seen before (or, since nothing's truly original anymore, something they haven't seen in a long time), and make sure it’s good.
That's what All Is Lost appears to be doing. It's Old Man and the Sea meets The Sundance Kid. Ninety-plus minutes of an essentially silent Robert Redford fighting for survival on the open ocean. All from the writer and director of Margin Call. Based on this trailer, and the word of mouth out of Cannes, if I had to choose only three Oscar contenders to see this year, All Is Lost would definitely be on that list.
Yoshida: I'm interested in the psychological implications of being shipwrecked or lost at sea, but it's usually something I prefer to read about than see onscreen. All Is Lost seems to be the seafaring cousin of Gravity, and there's no reason to think either of them are bad films, so it's all about which hostile setting you'd rather see your protagonist(s) float around in while they contemplate their likely deaths. The nice thing about space is that there's nothing there but the psychology; you're in a sterile, (usually) predator-free environment, whereas there are germs and sharks and heatstroke to contend with at sea. I will most likely end up seeing All Is Lost, but I know it will feel like I'm forcing myself to eat vegetables, while I'm just flat-out excited for the more far-flung castaways of Gravity.
One bone to pick with critics and/or trailer producers, though: Can we stop with the word "epic"? This film, by all appearances, is about one man in one boat/dinghy, which I'm pretty sure is literally (I'm using "literally" correctly here) the opposite of epic. If you mean to say that the film is just punishingly long, well, jeez, spoiler alert!
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (December 25)
Silver: My objectivity as it relates to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is slightly askew. Not because I worked on the film, or know someone who did, or even have ties to any of the companies involved. Nope, none of that. It’s because this trailer did something for me that hasn’t been done in a long, long time. It surprised me, and stirred something up in me that I’d long since forgotten.
Yoshida: It's a really good trailer and you had a strong, positive reaction to it. I think your objectivity is just fine, Silver!
Silver: I saw this wonderfully rousing trailer for the first time on a huge screen in an actual movie theater. Yeah, in a theater. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since that’s happened? So I’m checking Twitter prior to the start of The Wolverine, occasionally looking up to see what trailer will play next, and I see the 20th Century Fox animation, and then the Samuel Goldwyn title card. I’m puzzled. I haven’t seen those two companies together before, I think. I put my phone down. What is this? Then, like a shot out of an Anderson/Baumbach-constructed cannon (Mr. Stiller doesn’t seem to be shy about his influences here), this trailer unspooled before my eyes. I knew I couldn’t click pause, or scroll frame by frame so as not to miss a single details, so I paid close attention.
It’s been 66 years since Danny Kaye’s classic cinematic telling of this story. And if you don’t believe that Ben Stiller is the right person to shepherd this tale back to the big screen, I encourage you to go back and look at the cleverness of The Cable Guy and Zoolander, and the technical and narrative proficiency of Tropic Thunder.
With wonderment and childlike innocence seemingly running amok in this trailer, it's no wonder it elicited such feelings in me.
Yoshida: So, I outed myself recently at Grantland HQ as a big Stiller defender. That's not to say that I think he's necessarily the funniest comic actor working today, but he's one of the best at finding what's heartbreaking about the superficially goofy characters he plays. He hasn't shown that specific dramatic quality as a director, though, and it appears as though the script for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty went to pretty much every director in Hollywood before it finally landed in his lap. (Seriously, there were about 800 parallel-universe versions of this film that were created as it went through development hell for almost two decades. Thank god ScarJo isn't in ours.) But I have strong faith that he has the emotional literacy to pull something like this off in a way that doesn't feel ridiculous or forced, and this trailer supports that belief.
I could, however, have done without the Lumineers-esque backing track (it's actually Of Monsters and Men). which, while atmospheric, gives me some worry that this could go to a regressive, indulgent (500) Days of Summer place. James Thurber's original Walter Mitty was a Manic Pixie Dream Man before there were comic books and vinyl collections and the Internet to hide behind, and his story is slight enough that a lazy director could just turn it into 90 minutes of twee travel porn. But if Stiller is able to comment on Mitty's escapist tendencies rather than just romanticize them, this film could actually transcend its childlike wonderment and have something to say about being an adult.
American Hustle (December 25)
Silver: Is it me, or does Christian Bale sound a lot like Robert De Niro in this?
After The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, director David O. Russell has rightfully earned his “gimme.” A no-fuss, no-muss passion project, with which he can walk into any room in Hollywood and say, “Both my last two films have been nominated for Best Picture, I’ve been nominated for Best Director for each one, and each of my top-tier cast members in both films have either been nominated for or won an Oscar. And oh, by the way, both films made money. So you either do this, or you don’t. Because I will find someone who’ll make this.”
It’s a great spot to be in. But until you’re Scorsese, Allen, Spielberg, etc. ... not only are these opportunities as rare as an Oscar host who gets positive reviews, it also takes a unique individual to flourish with such unfettered freedom in Hollywood. Directors like Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, and Zack Snyder (to name just a few) have all fallen prey to the sweet ambrosia of “final cut.”
Right now, O. Russell is in a similar spot to where Michael Cimino was post–The Deer Hunter. So to me, this one is pretty simple. American Hustle is either going to be the best film of the year or it’s going to go down as a Heaven’s Gate –like misfire. Rooted in such excess, from the cast to the hair, how could it not?
Yoshida: Yeah, I was gonna say, I remember watching the trailers for The Fighter and Silver Linings and I ♥ Huckabees for the first time, and each time having a moment of "Wait, no, seriously ... what is this movie actually about?" in a good, curiosity-piqued way. No such moment here; I feel like I've seen some version of American Hustle every year for the past 10 years. God, even that title gives me 10 kinds of déjà vu. By the looks of this trailer, I wouldn't be so concerned with Russell going off on a creatively liberated tangent as much as I'd be worried about him phoning it in because he can now.
Bad Milo — Red Band Trailer (August 29 — VOD/October 4 — Theaters)
Silver: This is a horror comedy about a guy who manifests a demon in his colon to spring from his ass to murder the people around him who stress him out. It stars the always-funny Ken Marino, and features Community’s Gillian Jacobs, Patrick Warburton ("We’re the Devils!!!!"), Stephen Root, and the perfectly cast Peter Stormare as a cross between a therapist and an occult adviser. There seems to be a vibe of Bubba Ho-Tep–meets–Gremlins–meets–Child’s Play soaked in vats of blood going on.
So the question is, what is there not to like? This looks tremendous.
Yoshida: Thank god for VOD.
Lone Survivor (December 27 — Limited)
Silver: Ugh, this is such a terrible trailer. It’s essentially selling two different movies. One of which I have no interest in at all.
There’s the Black Hawk Zero Dark Down Thirty, “this is what happened” procedural set to Explosions in the Sky music, and then there’s the Three Kings–y, “this is an inspiring, character-centric story of friendship and survival that just so happens to revolve around a battalion of soldiers in conflict.” Yeah, I want to see the latter, because I’m a little burned out on the former.
Once this trailer shifts to the “heroes” second half, I’m fully engaged. Love that the four guys are played by Wahlberg, Foster, Hirsch, and Riggins ... I mean Kitsch. (Peter Berg, not giving up on his boy. Good on ya, man.) I like each of these actors individually, and believe the camaraderie between the four of them. And when you’re in a tough spot, who else would you rather call to bail you out than Eric Bana. The dude’s badass.
Yoshida: You know that moment where you've been taking it for granted for years that you were a fan of somebody, and then you suddenly realize that you actually liked only one thing they've ever done, which has fueled an unchecked, unquestioning support of them for years? Yeah, I think I just had that moment with Peter Berg. It wasn't Hancock, and it wasn't Battleship, it was this destined–for–Walmart–Father's Day–$10–2 pak piece of unimaginative patriotic bullshit.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (October 25)
Silver: I’m a huge fan of all things Jackass. Some of my fondest, and probably most clouded, memories from college were of impromptu all-nighters spent watching marathon reruns of the TV show on MTV. And to this day I think one of the best 3-D sequences ever shot is Steve O in the Port-a-Potty in Jackass 3D. Yet, I always felt the Bad Grandpa sequences were the weakest and most ineffective. So it was with deep trepidation that I clicked to watch this trailer.
And now ... I’m sold.
This film appears to be a Borat-like quilt of real-world skits/pranks woven into and around a story. But what I like most is the "grandchild” character. As seen in both Borat and Bruno, having an accomplice assist in the mayhem only heightens the effectiveness of the “real world” comedy. And setting aside my concern for Knoxville & Co. as it pertains to child exploitation laws, this kid looks hilarious. A mini Andy Milonakis, even.
Can’t wait to see this one.
Yoshida: Why are all these trailers giving me such bad anxiety today? Regardless, prank movies always give me indigestion; as funny as Borat was, I had to enjoy most of it while cringing behind my popcorn bucket. These pranks seem to mostly revolve around just breaking things and upsetting old people, so I don't think I'm going to miss out on much when I skip this in October.
Mr. Morgan’s Last Love (October)
Yoshida: No, YOU'RE the crack in MY world, SIR MICHAEL.
Silver: As far as male movie stars go, if one can sustain a career to the point where landing a lead role in a heartstring-plucking “coming to grips with mortality” tale is a foregone conclusion, then that performer should look back at his career as a success. When executed with the proper levels of somber whimsy, films like these are immensely affecting. And the ones that leave a lasting impact usually feature an aging star. Paul Newman in Nobody’s Fool, Christopher Plummer in Beginners, Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt — the list goes on and on. But in all cases, these actors took on these roles at an age when they were just old enough that the memory of them as young and virile leading men was still fresh in the audience’s mind. It also doesn’t hurt that all of them, like Michael Caine here, are all truly gifted actors with the ability to raise the quaint and seemingly glum subject matter to another level.
Yoshida: BECAUSE CUTE FRENCH TWENTYSOMETHINGS JUST CAN'T WAIT TO FEED PIGEONS WITH DECREPIT OLD MEN IN THE PARK.