Wow! Five different movies that I would totally go see at some point, all coming out in a single weekend. This obviously can’t last all month; you should probably save one or two of these for New Moon weekend.
The Box: When I first heard that Richard Kelly of Donnie Darko and Southland Tales was adapting a Richard Matheson short story that had also been a Twilight Zone episode, it all seemed strangely simple. Why would Kelly, whose two movies have so entertainingly (if puzzlingly) overflowed with insane ideas, focus so intently on a story that can apparently be told in under an hour? According to the trailer, the answer is apparently that a simple short story provides a study handle from which to fly off. Kelly’s version of the story, in which a financially strapped couple is given the option of pressing a button that will anonymously murder a strange for a payment of one million dollars, seems to go off in his customary crazy-ass directions, with a half-faced Frank Langella and lots of dead-eyed minions and a chilling Cameron Diaz attempt at a Southern accent (that said, she’s an underrated actress). Obviously I am way on board. [Jesse, you will not be disappointed, which is to say good luck being this cogent about the movie after you've actually seen the damn thing. -Ed.]
The Men Who Stare At Goats: For a while, George Clooney seemed only to work with Steven Soderbergh and the Coen Brothers, with O Brother Where Art Thou, Ocean’s 11, Solaris, Intolerable Cruelty and Ocean’s 12 all compressed into a single four-year period. Though he’s branched out since then, he does have a habit of making movies that look like simulations of those filmmakers: Syriana, Good Night, and Good Luck and Michael Clayton for not-quite-Soderbergh; Welcome to Collinswood and Leatherheads for not-quite-Coens. Given that two of those not-quites are Clooney directing himself, it’s a little shocking that he didn’t actually direct The Men Who Stare at Goats [The director, Grant Heslov, is his good friend, and producing and writing partner. -Ed.] since it looks a combination deal: the insane-true-story Soderbergh deadpan married to the Coen style of neo-screwball. Though this is movie about secret government agents trained by hippies to be real-life Jedis, I doubt the material quite matches Soderbergh or the Coens—or, you know, Clooney might’ve brought them in to make it. Just sit back and enjoy the fact that extremely talented crap-movie vets Kevin Spacey and Ewan McGregor are both in a movie that looks at least reasonably intelligent and entertaining.
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire: Poised for indie-breakout status, this little movie that could [have a ridiculous subtitle] played like gangbusters at various film festivals, is generating Oscar talk, etc., for its extra-heavy ghetto misery chased with a sliver of hope. Benjamin Mercer is less than enthused, and his is one of the only reviews I’ve read that makes heavy note that director Lee Daniels previously made the movie Shadowboxer. Granted, I haven’t seen Shadowboxer, but it came during Cuba Gooding Jr.’s switch-up from making the worst possible studio movies to making the worst possible indie movies. In other words, I’ve seen Dirty and Harold, so I shouldn’t have to see Shadowboxer. Though maybe whoever’s thinking of hiring Daniels to make the movie version of Miss Saigon (seriously!) should. Then again, even detractors of Precious seem to think Daniels has some talent; maybe he can make the first actually-good, actually-cinematic movie derived from a Broadway musical in who knows how long.
The Fourth Kind: Actress Milla Jovovich, as she informs us in the trailer, plays a psychologist investigating “real-life” alien encounters (the fourth kind is abduction; the first three kinds have apparently been saved for direct-to-video prequels). This may play a little less chilling after the no-credits, video-shot Paranormal Activity made everyone scream, but I’m feeling charitable toward Jovovich after the underseen, enjoyable genre run-around of A Perfect Getaway.
A Christmas Carol: This goes last on the list not out of disdain for 3-D or motion-capture, though selling either as the future of cinema seems ludicrous, but because it’s not fucking Christmas, not even close. I know this is how things work in the Christmas-movie industry, and that studios understandably prefer a holiday movie that’s starting to leave theaters before the actual holiday over one that comes out just before and only has a week or two to make money (although: how different is that from the general gross model these days?). But I won’t check this out until the calendar says December. I’ll be checking it out at all because of Robert Zemeckis and that New York Times article where he talked about how he considered doing each Christmas Ghost segment as a mo-cap-enhanced single take. That didn’t come to pass, but apparently there is (the illusion of) a thirteen-minute sequence with no edits, which is sort of cool. I just worry that Zemeckis, a pretty fantastic entertainer what with Back to the Future and Roger Rabbit and all, is getting lost in mo-cap playground, hypnotized by his ability to compose any shot he wants, as long as that shot features slightly uncanny painted-over computer graphics. Look at the Christmas Carol trailer: it looks like half the movie is Ebeneezer Scrooge hurtling around in a series of technically amazing but story-irrelevant rollercoaster shots. Sometimes crazy cinematic trickery is more fun when this stuff actually looks difficult.