Your Highness: If ever a director seemed, at the beginning of his career, unlikely to start making big-studio action-comedies, it was David Gordon Green, the lyrical New South chronicler of George Washington, All the Real Girls, and the insanely underrated Undertow—if anything, the tension of Undertow and sections of the also-underrated Snow Angels suggests the potential for an atmospheric small-scale thriller. In fact, can’t you picture him doing something like Hanna (see below)? But Green booked a job with the Apatow gang instead, directing the stoner/80s/action homage Pineapple Express in a loose, lovely haze. That movie outgrossed his previous four combined in a matter of days, so he signed up for a few more Apatow-related (though not formally produced) comedies.
The Sitter, which sounds like a dark retake of Adventures in Babysitting, was just pushed back until Christmas (by which I assume the studio will eventually mean: January or February); in the meantime, we have Your Highness, another stoners-on-a-mission comedy, this one reuniting Green with buddy Danny McBride (who appears not just in Pineapple Express but in All the Real Girls) and their cohort/former classmate Ben Best, who cowrote the movie with McBride. Apparently the boys held a long-standing interest in making a sword-and-sorcery epic, and acted upon the brief window during which it seemed possible to actually get away with this (I got a kick out of the New York Times article describing an early draft of the script that would have cost, the paper estimates, between 200 and 500 million dollars).
It’s a little strange that Green’s comic sensibility (present, if less broad, in his artier movies) amounts to redoing movies he seems to have watched repeatedly on HBO as a kid, and I hope he eventually genre-hops back to some smaller, stranger fare (after which he is welcome to genre-hop back to movies with minotaurs!), but in the meantime: minotaurs! Seriously, this movie looks delightful, and I haven’t even mentioned that it has Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel (another All the Real Girls alum).
Hanna: The new hot child actor accessory is apparently an adult-oriented action thriller where said child actor gets to kick a troubling amount of ass. As went Chloe Moretz in Kick Ass, now here comes Saoirse Ronan starring in: Hanna. She plays a kid raised by Erica Bana (instead of Nicolas Cage) and trained for maximum deadly et cetera. This stylish-looking movie was directed not by David Gordon Green but Joe Wright, he of inserting show-offy camera moves into potentially dull period Keira Knightley movies, so he may well have the chops for some secretly-superior slumming.
Meek’s Cutoff: Yet a third artsy director goes genre as Kelly Reichardt takes up the reins of a Western starring her Wendy and Lucy muse Michelle Williams. I feel like every critic I know already saw this ages ago, but it sounds good [It really, really is! -Ed.]. Sometimes small-scale indie directors can get a jolt of incident just from stepping into genre waters, where it might be somewhat less acceptable for characters to noodle around looking lost/sad/poor. That Blue Valentine guy is invited to give that a shot.
Henry’s Crime: If all of these indie directors going on genre adventures doesn’t sit well with you, well, this probably won’t either, because it looks like the kind of cutesy-crime picture that happened all through the 90s to little fanfare, interest, or success. Then again, whoa, it does have a long-absent Keanu, plus a decent cast: Vera Farmiga, Judy Greer, and James Caan, who was pretty hilarious in that cutesy-crime classic that transcends the genre, Bottle Rocket.
Arthur: Here’s my theory: Russell Brand sort of already remade Arthur with his Aldous Snow character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek. It’s not a perfect one-to-one comparison, mind, but it helps to explain why this new movie feels a bit mild and predigested. Brand is funny enough as the childlike billionaire who risks his inheritance by falling for a poor girl (America’s indie sweetheart Greta Gerwig, making a play for Zooey Deschanel roles and looking lovely while doing it), but his jokes verge on cute and corny, even while playing a supposedly debauched alcoholic. Brand’s swerves into puns and mundane observations are actually sort of amusing—it’s part of his dense verbal traffic—but unlike Greek, the movie never gains any comic momentum. Brand just circulates through an ensemble, doing a scene with Gerwig, a scene with Helen Mirren, a scene with Jennifer Garner, even an occasional scene with an out-of-nowhere Nick Nolte. His relationship with Gerwig is cute enough, but also fairly chaste and desexualized for an alcoholic playboy. Maybe that’s the point, maybe the movie is a little too cute and sanitized for its own good, or maybe, probably both.
Soul Surfer: A girl gets bit by a shark but doesn’t give up surfing. Inspirational, yes, but it seems possible that I just conveyed the depth of inspiration in a single sentence, and it wasn’t even a very interesting sentence. How about this one: from the director of Bratz! And a ton of Disney Channel stuff! Like a ton. And many direct-to-DVD sequels to popular children’s films. Which raises the question, when Soul Surfer Sweet Sixteen goes direct to DVD, who will be in charge?!