Looper: After a lackluster four or five weeks at the box office, it seems to me that Rian Johnson’s buzzed-about sci-fi thriller Looper might’ve done well to claim an August release date, District 9 style, rather than staking out the last-September-weekend sci-fi slot, Surrogates style—although probably lots of people involved would be ok if Looper matches that movie’s $38 million gross. Actually, Johnson’s limited-release track record means that he’s poised to have one of those movies where it will probably make more money on its first day than his first two features grossed combined. Those movies, Brick and The Brothers Bloom, are two of my favorites of the past 10 years, so while I am rabidly, insanely, maddeningly anticipating Looper (which reunites Johnson with his Brick co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt and then adds time travel and Emily Blunt), I’m also pretty secure in assuming I will like it very much. For me, a substantial part of the story here is the possible return of Bruce Willis, who—like so many stars of the late 80s and 90s—seems to be grappling with how to balance faded movie-star mojo with supporting parts.
Like Nic Cage, Willis’s second-half-of-career movies seem to come in batches: a bunch of comedies from 1999-2001 (The Story of Us, The Whole Nine Yards, The Kid, Bandits), military-themed pictures in 2002-2003 (Hart’s War, Tears of the Sun), and cop roles in 2005-2006 (Hostage, Sin City, 16 Blocks). I mean, this is the dude who made two different endangered-child thrillers in 1999; remember when you saw the trailer for The Sixth Sense and you were like, wait, is this just Mercury Rising with ghosts?! (Ok, maybe you didn’t ever see the trailer for The Sixth Sense and have that reaction. But some of us did. Man, kids today.) And like Cage, there’s a lot of junk mixed in with the occasional great director or interesting experiment. But with Moonrise Kingdom and Looper, Willis seems poised to recapture that versatile-actor thing he had going on circa 1994-1995, when he did Pulp Fiction, Nobody’s Fool, and 12 Monkeys. Then again, his line up for next year looks like a series of action sequels, to Die Hard and Red and even G.I. Joe, a movie he didn’t originate, so maybe his stellar-seeming 2012 is just another passing fancy.
Pitch Perfect: In a bid to stir up some audience buzz for this competitive-a-capella comedy, Universal has decided to roll it out in semi-limited release this weekend, ahead of a national rollout next weekend. This seems savvy enough; it also may be, based on my informal polling numbers showing every single girl I know indicating strong interest in seeing the shit out of this movie, unnecessary. That demographic, plus the only semi-overlapping demographic of Camp fans who have been waiting to hear Anna Kendrick sing again, will make this movie into a hit (then again, I thought Whip It seemed like a surefire success, especially once I saw that it was actually good, but no dice). It’s not insubstantial to note that this comes from a 30 Rock writer; strong TV writers, especially sitcom writers, are no kind of guarantee of an unmessed, high-level screenplay, but if you hire someone to write an a capella competition movie, Kay Cannon seems as good a choice as any (and a better choice than anyone who has anything to do with Glee).
Hotel Transylvania: The long, weird history of Team Adam Sandler taking over a promising high-concept comedy and failing to do anything interesting with it seems ready to move into animation. Sony Pictures Animation did make the surprisingly funny Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and hired animation maestro Genndy Tartakovsky to direct this one, which is about a castle full of monsters hiding away from pesky humans. Even having Sandler voice Dracula is actually sort of an amusing idea. But Sandler doesn’t just contribute himself to movies; he has a whole entourage to employ! As such, the Sandler repertory company gets to play Frankenstein’s Monster (Kevin James), the Invisible Man (David Spade; if only); the Wolf Man (Steve Buscemi); Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz), and a hapless human dude (new Sandler pal Andy Samberg) who falls for Dracula’s daughter (Selena Gomez; hey, at least she’s not playing Sandler’s wife). Not all of these people are bad choices for an animated monster comedy, and apparently Sandler chum Robert Smigel has a co-writing credit on the screenplay. Really, that sounds like something that could be fun, and maybe it is—but almost every movie Sandler has ever starred in has seemed like it could be fun without actually being fun (and in a way, who can blame him? When he makes a decent one like That’s My Boy, audiences roundly reject it). Take a look at the movie’s poster; rather than displaying anything gothic or mock-horrific or even any real movement, it’s just… cartoon characters standing around, basically saying, hey get a load of this!
Won’t Back Down: Rare enough among actresses and rarer still in showbiz-steeped families, Maggie Gyllenhaal is able to convincingly play characters well below her actual income/class level without condescension or strain. So I understand why she’d want to do this quasi-inspirational maybe-true-ish story about a tough mom and a tough teacher teaming up to take over a school from the greedy, heartless… teachers’ unions? It does sound a bit conservative for avowed lefty MG, huh? Of course, it’s fine to make a movie that doesn’t lionize teachers; there are bad teachers and schools out there, no question. (I mean, didn’t you see that documentary Bad Teacher?) But this Walden Media production feels a little fishy, as does the self-satisfied righteousness Gyllenhaal wields in the trailer. Judging from those clips, the movie is primarily about Gyllenhaal’s character going door to door, office to office, trash-talking everyone in town about her personal dedication to her child.