127 Hours: Yes, he won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, which I reviewed favorably in the pages of The L back in 2008, but really, that energetic feel-good movie is, for me, among the least of Danny Boyle’s accomplishments. Prior to breaking $100 million and scoring Best Picture, Boyle made a completely fucking [eye-searingly beer-throwingly -Ed.] awesome sci-fi movie called Sunshine that you should see if you haven’t, which was preceded by a terrific live-action family movie (!) called Millions that you should see if you haven’t and/or if you want a good, honest cry. It’s that sort of genre-hopping, as well as his ability to integrate music-video techniques into gripping narratives, that gets me hopped up for 127 Hours, which slams a big boulder on the arm of Boyle’s tendency to go hyperkinetic and flashy: James Franco plays the hiker trapped, alone, under a rock. Students of Boyle will realize that his patented third-act characters-briefly-going-crazy-for-no-real-reason plot turn might actually fit this time!
Megamind: Okay, for something like two or three DreamWorks movies in a row, not counting Shrek movies because I gave up on those, I’ve gone into them with guarded expectations and come out pleasantly surprised. There’s not a Pixar-level gem among How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, or Bee Movie, but any of them could pass for decent Disney. So it seems logical that with Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and Brad Pitt playing a supervillain, girl reporter, and megasuperhero, respectively, in Megamind, that this superhero spoof should have its comic heart in the right place (even if Despicable Me already covered this territory, maintaining a stunning DreamWorks track record of double-covering ground in movies like Antz and Shark Tale).
I do have a nerdy beef, though, with Brad Pitt’s chiseled do-gooder, apparently called Metro Man. I gather from the trailers that the idea is to parody the golden-boy, implicitly arrogant and too-perfect image of Superman. Except: has this model of superhero been in vogue at any point in the past, I don’t know, I’ll be generous and say thirty years rather than forty or fifty? By either cinematic or comics-sales standards, the most popular superheroes in this country are Batman and Spider-Man, followed by, I don’t know, probably Wolverine and/or Iron Man. Superman still holds a high level of recognition, of course, but the idea of superhero as pious boy scout—the idea of spoofing superheroes by doing a caricature of Superman—has been boilerplate for decades at this point. Of course, the easiest way to create a sympathetic supervillain is to create a pompous jerk for a hero, but the presence of easy jokes in a DreamWorks movie does not exactly fill me with confidence. Still, I’m hoping the dulcet tones of Ferrell, the tartness of Fey, and the neat-looking character designs will triumph over easiness (and also the inevitable scene where the main character dances to a cheesy pop song and shakes his butt, because, you know, butts are hilarious).
Due Date: You can read about what I think of Due Date in my review; I will just use this space to say that contrary to any reasonable popular belief, Starsky & Hutch is totally the best Todd Phillips movie because although it’s sort of pitched as an action-comedy, it is the movie of his most and best divorced from the needs of a traditional narrative, which Phillips seems to think he likes, but kind of sucks at actually delivering. Old School and The Hangover have memorable moments and big laughs scattered across these lazy, galumphing, cliché-ridden stories; Due Date has more of the same, albeit with a little more focus. But Starsky is pretty much just Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson riffing, which is a lot funnier than, say, Bradley Cooper being kind of a sour fuckhead.
Fair Game: I can’t think of many filmmakers as hamstrung by the new franchise order of studio filmmaking than Doug Liman. Liman directed two of the snappiest comedies of the nineties with Swingers and Go, then jumped into action filmmaking with the first and best Bourne movie. Then, somehow, the same guy made Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Jumper. Fair Game, Liman’s new Valerie Plame movie, looks more promising, but it also looks sort of like he decided he might as well try to be Paul Greengrass for awhile, which is too bad because I value Liman at his best a lot more than Greengrass at his. Bejnamin Mercer calls this one “bone dry,” and while I’m sure the craft is there, Liman should not be making bone-dry movies.
For Colored Girls: I wonder if Tyler Perry felt a twinge of jealousy when Precious, the movie he “presented” last year, went on to get major awards attention while he Perry himself has been forced to make do with writing and directing two to five hit movies per year and serving a neglected audience segment. I wonder this because For Colored Girls, adapted from the 70s play that adds “Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” to the title, looks a little awardsy in the sense that Perry himself does not play a sassy gun-toting grandma. Of course, to get awards attention, this will have to be, you know, shown to critics and guilds and such, not a favorite strategy of Lionsgate (then again: they got an Oscar for Crash! How hard could it be?). So far, this hasn’t proven fruitful.