The MCND’s Terribly Incomplete Previews & Predictions for 2010

I haven’t yet splurged on that subscription to imdb Pro, which is where the incomplete part comes in. But I’ve crawled the net and found out a little bit about some Movies Yet to Come, and I’ve helpfully gathered it all into one place! If there’s another movie that you’d like to hear more about, let me know on Twitter (MovieCriticND) and I’ll see what else I can hunt up. These are just a few that have attracted my interest.
First up for the New Year is something that looks pretty promising, namely Daybreakers. If it’s half as good as the trailers make it look, I’ll be happy. The image of the vampire is in dire need of a remodel, and this could be the movie that makes them once again just as creepy as they should be.
Trailers for Legion have been in the rotation for a long time already — I’ve seen it at least six times, but still can’t make up my mind about it. This one could really go either way. On the surface it looks like just another man vs. monster flick, but then, so did 28 Days Later, and I like that.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief will, I predict, be the longest-titled movie of the year. It’s based on a popular series of young adult books, and with fantasy as big as it is right now, the box office, at least, should be tremendous on this one. Besides, what teenager hasn’t occasionally wished that one or both parents were actually Greek gods?
The Wolfman gives Anthony Hopkins and Benicio del Toro the chance to do for werewolves what Daybreakers will (hopefully) do for vampires. The wolfman was never a favorite character of mine, but I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with this one. If nothing else, the transformation effects look like they’ll be horrible, but fantastic.
I’ve seen the trailer for Shutter Island even more than the trailer for Legion, and I’m starting to wish it would just come out, already. I’m also starting to wish that someone would sit Leonardo DiCaprio down for a long talk about these tough guy roles he keeps trying to play.
I saw the previews for The Crazies just once. If they show them again, I’ll have to just cover my eyes until it’s over. It’s possible this is another example of a zombie movie that rises above the usual, but I have a horrible feeling it’s just one of those movies meant to make you jump, and to make teenage girls cling to their dates.
They’re remaking Alice in Wonderland, as nearly everyone must know by now, because Johnny Depp is in it. Alice, the supposed main character, is played by a virtual unknown, because who cares who else is in it if Johnny Depp is in it, right? But he’s been looking steadily weirder ever since he played Willy Wonka, so I suppose his turning into the Mad Hatter was inevitable.
They had a (very brief) trailer for Iron Man 2 before Sherlock Holmes, for the Robert Downey Jr. fans. There’s not much there yet — it isn’t due out until May 2010 — but there was a bunch of dancing gilrs, a congressional hearing, a battle royal with what looked to be Iron Man and War Machine against a bunch of robots, and Whiplash as a villain. This character is sort of a cross between Backlash (who used to be called Whiplash) and the Crimson Dynamo, a Russian adversary of good old Shellhead’s. (If you’ve never read an Iron Man comic, all you even sort of need to know is that they’ve combined two of the villains from the comic to create a new one for the movie.)
Inception is yet another Leonardo DiCaprio film, though I’m not sure how tough he tries to be. It looks like they go all Matrix-y in this one, which is often a bad idea, but it’s an interesting concept. As near as I can tell, Leo’s part of a team that uses a new technology to enter peoples’ minds and sift through them to find things out. Now that’s a good way to interrogate someone, as long as you can get out with everyone’s sanity intact.
And when I went looking to see what other projects he might have coming up that I could mention, there were twenty-seven listed. Twenty-seven. I’m not touching those. Someone make him take a vacation. Apparently he might be in Aquaman, though, so at least he’s not sticking too closely to the tough guy roles. Hee.
Ridley Scott is also working up a retelling of Robin Hood, to go with his proposed version of Brave New World — he’s almost as busy as Leo. Mark Strong (recent Sherlock Holmes villain) seems to be a villain here as well — that’s fine. Cate Blanchett as Maid Marian — also good. But I’m not sure I can root for Russell Crowe as Robin Hood. *sigh*
And last but not least, Clash of the Titans. If you remember the 1981 version, then you’ll probably want to forget it. There was no indication of a plot in the trailer, though I doubt there’s much of one, anyway; but wow, people had fun with the designs for the creatures. They were great.
Before this gets any longer, I’ll sign off. There are so many fun things to preview, though! I’ll have to try this again sometime.

The MCND Best of the Worst, 2009 edition

Or maybe Worst of the Best? I’m not much good with titles. But all the real critics get to put together reviews of the past year about this time, so here I am, taking a little stroll through Memories of Movies Past and picking out some of the most memorable flicks from the past year… memorable not always meaning good, unfortunately. But it’s still fun to reminisce. So without further ado:
The good:
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Gran Torino. Clint Eastwood proves there’s no age limit on being tough.
Watchmen. It was wild, it was over the top, and it was violent; but like a good roller coaster, it was a grand and entertaining ride.
District 9. At the end of the day, it’s all about being able to look at yourself in the mirror.
The bad:
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Knowing. Nic, you’re wonderful. But nothing, I mean nothing, could salvage that script.
The Box. Because throwing special effects at a story isn’t the way to make it better.
2012. See above. These aren’t even good special effects.
The ugly:
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Zombieland. There isn’t much uglier than a zombie. Braaaainsss.
9. The little dolls were adorable. Those monsters chasing them were seriously creepy, and win the award for Scariest Creatures of the Year in my book. Yes, even including the ones in the film mentioned below.
Avatar. Because throwing special effects at a story isn’t the way to make it better. How many times do I have to say that?

Sherlock Holmes

I think 2009 will be remembered as the Year of the Reboot. Like Star Trek, this is sort of Sherlock Holmes, but mostly not. On the other hand, the atmosphere is pure Victorian London — it’s grand and grimy all at the same time, and it seems very accurate. Well, okay, it’s a Victorian London where they’ve already invented tasers, remote controls, and weapons of mass destruction, but aside from that it seems very accurate.
Anyway, Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man, Zodiac) is Sherlock Holmes, or claims to be. He says lots of Holmes’ lines from the original stories, he boxes, he performs weird experiments, he shoots pistols in the house, and he locks himself in his rooms for days on end just like Holmes; but somehow I was still never convinced of his identity. Jude Law, though, made an excellent Watson, which was a very pleasant surprise. He was calm, practical, and generally just the right antidote to his detective friend’s manic, impractical, and generally unsettling ways. He also was not a hapless, uncoordinated idiot, which so many writers have made him, even though he wasn’t supposed to be anything of the sort in the original stories.
So far, things have sort of evened out — one really bad casting decisions, one really good one. Then we come to the, um, lady of the story, who neither acts nor dresses like a lady, one Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, who looks like she’s wandered off the cover of a 1980′s era, pseudo-historical bodice-ripper romance novel). She’s always the woman they throw in when they really, seriously want to mess with the Holmes universe, because she’s the one that Holmes referred to as “the woman,” according to Watson, who should know. This, however, was because she was the only female Holmes ever ran across who bested him in a battle of wits. This is a huge thing when one’s career is literally one’s wits, and is more than enough explanation for Holmes’ notice without wedging in romantic feelings, but that’s what everyone does. It’s very sadly predictable.
And they don’t disappoint me here. Well, they do, but I can at least say that I predicted being disappointed accurately. The writers then go on to mess with Watson’s romantic history, apparently solely to give someone a chance to throw wine in Holmes’ face. The doctor is engaged to marry Mary Morstan, who featured in one of the original Holmes stories (The Sign of Four), and who Watson actually did marry — but for whatever bizarre reason, here she never did feature in that case, because Holmes hasn’t met her yet when the film opens. The two men seem to have known each other forever, judging by the way they harrass each other, but there’s never any mention of any other cases they’ve worked on, which is very unlike the stories.
In fact, let me just list the ways in which this flick actually follows the Holmesian traditions: the names and occupations of all the main characters are the same. Except that isn’t right, either, because “Scandal in Bohemia” Irene Adler is a woman with a very faintly checkered past (standard for any female who dared to act or sing at that time) who bests Holmes because she wants to marry a man she deeply loves and get on with being happy. Movie Irene Adler is an amoral. ruthless adventuress, thief, and con artist who talks like she’s been married seventeen times. Somehow, even in the sexist Victorian world, where a woman just might be able to get a divorce if she’s extremely rich and can prove extreme cruelty on the part of her husband, Irene Adler is able to get divorced as often as she likes. She’s also able to walk the streets dressed like a neon flamingo without being arrested for prostitution, or possibly just terribly bad dress sense.

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Rachel McAdams prepares to read up on the technology used to make her dress glow in the dark.

But the good news is that it does have a plot! As much of a plot as ever a Holmes story did, since even their author admitted that they were more exercises in logic for the famed detective than stories in the usual sense. So I didn’t really mind that the whole film is mainly a series of weird and interesting events (secret societies, booby traps, men bursting into flames, French giants, etc.) that don’t really fit together until it’s all explained at the end, because that’s how it should be. I was only bothered that it was Robert Downey Jr. explaining things, and somehow it sounded like he was just reading it all from the script.
I think that the Holmes franchise (and yes, it’s going to be a franchise, sadly, as the ending isn’t so much an ending as a teaser for the next film), is being groomed to replace the Bond franchise. Now that James has moved on to be meaner, rougher, and tougher all around, the world (apparently) needs another kinder, gentler action hero, and for some reason I’ll never understand, the movie studios have turned to Holmes and Watson. But the best I can possibly rate this is three idols, and that’s a very bad sign, since starting at that level means that it will take only three or four movies before they become unwatchable, based on the usual sequel slump in quality. My suggestion? Keep Jude Law and recast Holmes. Let Robert stick to the Iron Man franchise, because Tony Stark is supposed to be spoiled and self-centered and charming, in a really smarmy way. He’s born to play Tony Stark! I’m not sure I even care who they replace him with for Holmes as long as the guy is about the right age, can act, and isn’t Jim Carrey. Oh, and actually is English, because it would really be nice to have an English actor playing the world’s most famous English detective. Elementary.

Avatar

I always try to avoid learning too much about a film before I see it. Reading other critics’ reviews is out — I’m the Movie Critic Next Door because I’m not a professional and I don’t know what I’m doing. Wait, that didn’t come out right. I mean I’m not supposed to sound like every other film critic out there… and, well, I’m pretty sure I’ve succeeded at that, for better or for worse. The point is, I try to go to the theatre knowing the bare minimum about the plot, and this time I tried especially hard because I kept hearing whispers about how not everyone thought this was a wonderful film. If there were people whispering that, though, they’re currently being drowned out by all the fans shrieking about the special effects.
They’re worth shrieking about, though. They’re amazing. Most of the time, you can’t tell where live action ends and whatever freakishly cool computer imaging they were using begins, and it’s stunning. Giant, blue-striped, vaguely cat-like humanoid aliens seem to live and breathe, surviving on a planet where basically everything has a burning desire to kill and eat something else. There’s a beastie that looks something like a cross between a panther and a catfish that could run you down and rip your head off without breaking a sweat — and it’s far from the toughest thing in that jungle.
But I’m getting ahead of the plot. Sam Worthington (Marcus Wright from the latest Terminator flick) plays Marine Jake Sully. Ex-Marine, technically, since a spinal cord injury has left him confined to a wheelchair. Through a strange twist of fate (aka a necessary plot point), he’s ended up on a planet called Pandora, clearly named for the fact that said planet contains every dangerous thing in the universe, like the legend of Pandora’s Box. But students of this legend will recall that in some versions of the tale, Pandora’s Box also contained Hope, to make up for the nasty things like War and Famine. Pandora also means all-gifted, though, and the movie won’t let you forget that part for a second.

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This is the best picture I could find of all the glowing stuff, and it’s only about one-fifth as cool as seeing it on the big screen.

Pandora’s natives are at a level of technology where poisoned arrows are about the peak of military achievement. It’s an untamed, gorgeous planet, where nearly everything glows in the dark and if you don’t know when to stand still and when to run, you’ll quickly find yourself on the menu. But, beneath this lush, deadly surface lies treasure, and the Sky People (Earthlings) want it. The treasure is a mineral that sells for about twenty million dollars a kilo (which, even allowing for what inflation must have done by the year 2154, is pretty considerable). And it’s called unobtainium. You probably think I’m kidding, but that’s seriously the name of it. Poor Giovanni Ribisi (Public Enemies) has to say it twice with a straight face, and I don’t know how he managed.
Giovanni plays the desk jockey in charge of decimating the planet and turning its natural resources to his company’s advantage, a guy named Carter Burke. I mean, a guy named Parker Selfridge, who’s actually even worse than Carter Burke. Stephen Lang (also from Public Enemies) plays Colonel Miles Quaritch, who’s seriously scary. And scarry. He runs the security team on Pandora, made up mainly of ex-military like himself. He also, foolishly, tries to push around Sigourney Weaver, who plays Dr. Grace Augustine, a botanist who’s in charge of the science team. Like Clint Eastwood, she’s not getting any less intimidating with the passage of time.
The Avatar program allows the scientists to “go native” in a big way. Because of this, they’ve learned a great deal about the indigenous population — except they still haven’t learned the one thing the military wing of the operation wants to know, namely, how to make them realize they’re being selfish by refusing to leave their ancestral land and the giant tree they live in so that the big ugly bulldozers can scoop up all that lovely unobtainium. I can’t even type that with a straight face.
Would you believe I still can’t decide how to rank this? Because I can’t. Ranting the special effects is easy: Five out of five, all the way. The acting gets a solid four and a half. But the plot… oh, the plot. It’s only there to hang the special effects on, because that’s totally all people care about these days, right? And I can’t, just can’t, bring myself to give that plot more than two out of five, even aside from the one nagging error I spotted. Maybe I’m just bitter. It started out great — I couldn’t wait to find out all about the planet’s mysteries. Then, when we started finding out, it became like those old vaudeville acts, where someone would hold up signs telling the audience when to cheer, when to boo, etc. That bothered me, frankly. At the risk of sounding hopelessly un-trendy and harsh, I would have much preferred to see realistic situations and characters on Pandora, to go with the realistic effects — characters with both good and evil in them — and make up my own mind about who I might want to cheer for… if anyone.
Oh, and I still need a ranking. *sigh* Five + four and a half + two/3 = 3.8333, which isn’t too far off, I guess. Even though it was way too long and by the end of the second hour I felt like the seat was carved from stone, you don’t get the full visual impact outside the theatre. So 3.8 out of five it is, and I’ll take the abuse from those who think I rated it too low, because I feel like I rated it too high. And I’ll even offer up a patent pending MCND Fun Fact — some of you may have seen a recent episode of Bones, where several characters were taking turns waiting in a huge line to get good seats for the premiere of Avatar. One of those characters, Colin Fisher, is played by Joel Moore, who plays science guy Norm Spellman in the film. Kudos to whoever came up with that idea.

Invictus

I went into this movie knowing almost nothing about rugby. I left this movie still knowing almost nothing about rugby, but that’s okay, since several of the characters don’t know much about rugby, either. Apparently, the game requires dressing in a soccer uniform, going out onto a reasonable facsimile of a North American football field, and acting like you’re involved in a horrible, no holds barred brawl. There must be rules, because occasionally the referee calls a foul, but I’m still not sure how the referees could tell when a fight started. The fighting looked exactly like the playing. To paraphrase an old hockey joke, I went to the fights and a rugby match broke out.
But it’s also a movie about politics, and I know even less about them, though the movie does a good job setting the scene. In the early to mid-90′s, when this movie takes place, Nelson Mandela (here played by Morgan Freeman of The Bucket List, who does an excellent job of looking like the former president) was trying to unite South Africa after it had been torn apart by Apartheid. The Afrikaners, descendents of the northern Europeans who settled in South Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries, call Mandela and his followers terrorists. The black Africans, only newly restored to citizenship in their own country, call the Afrikaners oppressors — and probably worse, though in the movie, they say it in something other than English, and no subtitles are provided, so I can’t be sure.
After 27 years in a tiny little cell with a blanket on the floor for a bed, Mandela is now elected president of a country that he freely admits is in a terrible state. Ostracized by other nations, with two-thirds of the population glaring angrily at the remaining third and possibly wishing they could still shoot at each other like in the good old days, Mandela has his work cut out for him. No one wants to forgive or forget, and when he urges people to do so, they usually look at him like they’re wondering exactly how the impeachment process works in South Africa.
Then he hits on an idea. It’s offbeat, risky, and makes his long-suffering personal assistant Brenda (Adjoa Andoh, who played Francine Jones, Martha Jones’ mother, in the new Doctor Who series) wish that sports had never been invented. Yes, he decides to use rubgy, of all things, to unite his shattered country. It still seems strange to me, to use a sport that advocates grievous bodily harm as a path towards peace, but then, I suppose in this case, it was advocating grievous bodliy harm against people from other countries, so maybe that’s okay, then. Sort of.

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Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon discover they’ve worn the same outfit to the World Cup Match.

Anyway, reasoning that if he can make everyone cheer for the country’s rugby team, the Springboks (named after a type of South African antelope), then everyone will be much less likely to want to shoot each other. It does seem a little far-fetched, so I understand why Brenda gets so frustrated over her boss’ obsession with the team; but having been born and raised within twenty miles of Lambeau Field, the very heart of Green Bay Packers territory, I can see that Mandela has a valid point. You might not like the guy sitting next to you — you might never speak to this person in the normal course of events — but if you suddenly realize that this person next to you is also cheering himself hoarse over that great play, it’s really hard to dislike that person.
There are just a few little problems with this plan. First, the team isn’t very good. In fact, they’re actually kind of awful. Second, most blacks hate the sight of the (all-white, except for one guy) team, seeing them, their green and gold uniforms, and even their name as symbols of oppression.
Enter Matt Damon, of the The Bourne Ultimatum. (Finally, right?) He plays Francois Pinaar, captain of the team, and he seems to think the team has potential; they’re just not organized, angry, or maybe experienced enough. Or something. He tries to inspire them by making toasts and encouraging the throwing of beer cans, but something’s still not clicking.
Then he gets invited to tea with the president, who tells the hapless rugby player that he’d really like it if he and his team could go win the World Cup for South Africa, please, thanks. And that’s what the rest of the movie is about.
There’s the obligatory dramatic highlights of the World Cup games, of course, and by the end of the film, I was really, really tired of watching these men beat each other up. But then, I don’t like rugby. I don’t even like football much, and that’s practically sacreligious when you’re from where I’m from. Anyway, it really started dragging for me at the end, so be warned.
Basically, since any attempt to deal with the whole of the country at that time would take at least ten movies, Clint Eastwood (now apparently happy to direct instead of act for a while) wisely decides to focus on just the rugby aspect of the struggles so it isn’t too overwhelming. Even so, it’s 134 minutes long, so get a comfy seat. But it’s worth watching even if you’re not a rugby fan, and I’m not just saying that because Matt Damon’s in it. Promise.
Four idols for this one. It’s a little obvious sometimes, clearly working to make the audience weepy, and that didn’t quite feel right. And I’m pretty sure Kyle Eastwood wouldn’t be getting all these music jobs in Hollywood if his dad wasn’t hiring him — it’s okay music, but it should be fantastic. But otherwise it’s a good film. The minor characters all get their chance to shine — keep an eye on the president’s security detail, for instance, now suddenly an integrated security detail, and all the adjustments they have to make. And remember: the first rule of rubgy is to wait until the ref isn’t looking before you punch the other guy.

Armored

It’s the newest trend, and you’re reading about it here first! Or maybe second, or twelfth. Or maybe my guess is completely wrong. But the simple fact is, somewhere, right now, someone is editing out the three swear words from this flick and preparing it to show on network television; because it already is a network TV movie. True, it has a bigger budget then usual for one of those, but in all practical terms, I just paid $10.50 in US dollars for the privilege of watching a TV movie on a really big screen. Okay, really only $7.00, but I needed those Milk Duds.
But just think of it. Take a budget that’s probably really small in Hollywood terms; get yourself a few B through D list stars; a script that’s got moderate violence, a car chase or two, and a couple of explosions; keep the swearing to a bare minimum, and you basically get two movies for the price of one. No muss, no fuss — this baby can go straight to any network you choose. And it’s only 88 minutes. Add 32 minutes of commercials and that voice-over guy warning us that it contains mature themes after every commercial break, and voila! Programming for a Friday night sometime next year.
Oh, and it does have a plot. Matt Dillon is Mike Cochrone, a guard at an armored car company called Eagle Shield. His protege and godson, Ty Hackett (Columbus Short, from Quarantine), is just finishing his probation period there and being made a full-fledged guard himself. But in spite of having this job (which is probably pretty high-paying, I would think, just for the potential danger factor), he has money problems. His parents recently died, and he inherited a house with two mortgages, a lot of medical bills, and a vaguely troubled younger brother who’s way too fond of spray paint. But old buddy Mike is there for him, always pointing out that Ty deserves better, and that they’ll “figure out a way” to save his house.

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The cast of the new Friday night drama about the trials and tribulations of a misfit bunch of armored car guards.

This vague, unspecified “way” soon turns into a scheme that has clearly been in the works for a long time — a plan to fake a hijack, hide the $42 million dollars they’ll be carrying, and when the heat dies down, split the money six ways. But the six ways includes Ty, and he hasn’t yet agreed to go along with the scheme. He’s seen fighting in the Middle East, and already feels guilty enough about the people he’s killed there. He doesn’t need any more stuff on his conscience. But money worries are the worst, and he has Mike’s solemn promise that no one will get hurt, so you can understand the temptation.
However, anyone who’s ever seen a movie knows that a solemn promise that no one will get hurt ranks right up there with saying that nothing can possibly go wrong. Pretty soon the body count is rising and two armored cars will never be the same again. Mike and the other would-be thieves — Dobbs (Skeet Ulrich), Palmer (Amaury Nolasco, Max Payne, unfortunately), Quinn (Jean Reno, a character actor from Morocco whose name you might not know, but whose face is probably familiar), and Baines (Laurence Fishburne, no longer the heroic Morpheus, now reduced to telling slightly off-color jokes) — claimed to have a foolproof plan, but it unravels faster than you can say “Whoops.”
Complications include sheriff’s deputy Jake Eckehart (Milo Ventimiglia, in phase three of his ongoing plan not to be typecast as anything, playing a very good cop to make up for playing that complete pervert in Gamer) and the traditional Place Where Radio Communications Will Not Work, no matter how reliable they were before. And yes, people die. But nothing truly horrible happens, since it’s only PG-13. It’s an action movie for the whole family! Except it isn’t, because the kids would probably get bored, when they’re not freaking out. There are times when they go for a while between explosions or other dramatic bits of violence.
I’m going with two and three-quarter idols. It would’ve been three, but I had to dock a quarter idol for the ending, which was even more ridiculously pat than I was expecting. On the plus side, at least they didn’t try to wedge a romance into the film.