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Source Code – Trailer

The synopsis for this film sounds like a cross between “Deja Vu” and “Groundhog Day.”  It’s encouraging to see that Jake Gyllenhaal is progressing from playing sensitive, whiny nerds to sensitive, whiny action heroes.  Could this be a part that Matt Damon turned down?

No matter.  Judging by the GCI on display, a significant portion of the budget will be on the screen, which should satisfy the majority of contemporary filmgoers, most of whom become suspicious when they see nothing but non-virtual actors and scenery in a film.   Michelle Monaghan co-stars (and looks delectable), and Vera Farmiga gets serious in a military uniform, which is probably worth the price of admission.

When decorated soldier Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up in the body of an unknown man, he discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. In an assignment unlike any he’s ever known, he learns he’s part of a government experiment called the “Source Code,” a program that enables him to cross over into another man’s identity in the last 8 minutes of his life. With a second much larger target threatening to kill millions in downtown Chicago, Colter re-lives the incident over and over again, gathering clues each time, until he can solve the mystery of who is behind the bombs and prevent the next attack.

— Summit Entertainment

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Paul – Trailer

Paul as Paul

There’s nothing much cuter than a cute alien.  If you’ve ever wondered what the result might be if you crossed E.T. with one of the Village People, Paul might be your answer.  The fact is, ever since “The X-Files” cluttered the air waves (or cable waves?) with spooky theme music and soot grey Vancouver skies, aliens, whether on big screen or small, or in your back yard, haven’t been nearly as funny and cute as they ought to be.  “Paul” is set to reverse this trend.

The first trailer I saw for this picture was the red band version, and it was significantly funnier.  The green band iteration, complete with obvious dubbings and snippings of the naughty bits, will give you an idea. The movie, perhaps in the same vein as “The Hangover,” or “Talladega Nights,” threatens to be a one-joke sketch on growth hormones.  We’ll see if the scripters were able to write their way out of the corner.

It looks as though Jason Bateman has turned in another clever, deadpan performance, and Seth Rogan provides the voice of the lead alien, Paul.  Paul’s posse is played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and the supporting players include Kristen Wiig, Sigourney Weaver (is it just me, or do her parts keep getting smaller and smaller?), Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch (who is quickly becoming everyone’s favorite lesbian, after Ellen) and Al Gore.  Okay, I lied about Al Gore, but not about everyone else.

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Red Riding Hood – Trailer

Amanda Seyfried as Little Red

There’s a case to be made for Hollywood’s being the original green industry: sooner or later they recycle everything.  The latest treatment of the Red Riding Hood story is a notable example.  You might think that the children’s fable was tamper-proof, but no, in the conference rooms of Studioland, nothing is safe.

In this case, we have an update.  The original “Little Red Riding Hood” was a folk tale that found its first printed form in the version offered by the 17th century French author Charles Perrault, entitled “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge.”  Perrault is known for having virtually invented the fairy tale in its printed form.  It was Perrault’s intention to offer moral tales as guideposts for the young.

In Perrault’s version of “Red Riding Hood,” Little Red meets a strange wolf in the woods, and is tricked into telling him the whereabouts of her aged grandmother.  The wolf then manages to sneak to the grandmother’s house, evading the notice of nearby woodcutters, and has her for lunch – literally.  You know the rest of the story, including one of the best comeback lines in all of children’s literature, “The better to eat you with, my dear!”

In Perrault’s version, however, the story ends with Little Red residing snugly in the wolf’s gastroinstestinal tract.  She is not rescued by the heroic young hunter.  Where would be the moral instruction in that?  Perrault makes his message clear: pretty young girls would do well not to listen to strangers in the woods.  Further, there are wolves and there are wolves.  While some are obviously dangerous, others seem benign, if not outright charming, and are very likely to talk their way into an unsuspecting girl’s home, where God knows what sort of horrors might ensue.

Gary Oldman

The subtext there, of course, is, “Beware of the charming seducer.  He’ll eat you alive!”  It’s this element that seems to form a link between the traditional tale and the updated version on offer in the latest film rendition.  The picture was directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who also helmed “Twilight,” which belongs to the Vampire-romance genre that currently enjoys an unfathomable popularity with pubescent teens.

Well, maybe unfathomable is the wrong word.  In fact, the attraction seems obvious.  These vampire stories are more about hormones than horror, and teenage girls generally seem to have a weakness for bad boys, especially ones with fangs.  The new “Red Riding Hood” offers a well-worn Gothic shtick, with a GCI infusion: Red’s new menace is a shapeshifter (de rigueur for GCI artists), a werewolf.  What more could a girl want?

As far as I can tell, the only reasons for an adult to have any interest in this film are two in number: Gary Oldman and Julie Christie.  Oldman has a commanding presence in the trailer, with an unwonted patrician accent.  (As a character actor, he’s a gifted chameleon, sharing space on a rarefied plane with Philip Seymour Hoffman.) Christie’s presence seems more obscure.  In the trailer, we see a fleeting glimpse of a woman of a certain age who looks like someone who used to be Julie Christie, prior to unfortunate surgical interventions.  She speaks not a line.  I hope she has more to say in the film at full length.

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Burning Palms – Trailer

If you’re like me, you can’t resist a new film starring the likes of Shannen Doherty and Dylan McDermott.  I know, it almost sounds like too much of a good thing.  But wait, there’s more.

New release “Burning Palms” (actually, it was scheduled for release nearly a year ago, but apparently the distributors forgot) co-stars Zoe Saldana, Lake Bell, Nick Stahl, Paz Vega, Adriana Barraza, Colleen Camp, Jamie Chung, Robert Hoffman, Peter Macdissi, Emily Meade, Anson Mount, Rosamund Pike, Austin Williams, Chandler George Brown and Tom Wright.

I know, hard to believe they’re all in one film right?  But this is an ensemble piece, which means that at least 30 different actors share the bill, each one getting about 10 minutes total screen time.

The film was written and directed by Christopher B. Landon, who also wrote the 2007 thriller “Disturbia.”  According to producer Oren Segal. the film is “a John Waters version of Short Cuts.”  Does that mean overlong and pretentious, or in seriously bad taste…or both?

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No Strings Attached – Trailer

Is Natalie Portman thinking, "Oh my God, how did I get myself into this mess?"

I’ve watched this trailer twice (that is, I’ve watched both the green and red band versions), just to make sure I didn’t miss anything that might actually be funny, and I can report with a fair degree of certainty that, no, I didn’t miss anything.  By all appearances, this might be the least funny A-list (or is this a second-stringer dressed up as A-list?) comedy since “Knight and Day,” the Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz vehicle that left the shop with two flats.

The primary justification for “No Strings Attached” (a title so generic, you’ll be pardoned for losing your way in the theater lobby, should you take a chance on this one) would seem to be Natalie Portman’s conviction that she still needs an image makeover.  Go look up the red band trailer, and you’ll see what I mean.  Not only does it give you a teaser view of a relatively topless Portman (Ashton, move your hands!), but it also features the lovely Natalie as a serious physician (“I work 80 hours a week!”), with a serious potty mouth.

In fact, the F-word gets such a workout in the red band version, that the film sounds a bit like a recycled Eddie Murphy stand-up routine.  The green band version is cuter, emphasizing bonding over bonking.  At least I think that’s the message.  The plot seems so predictable that I my faith in Hollywood would be shaken if this picture actually managed to have a surprise ending.

Kevin Kline has a supporting role as Kutcher’s father (talk about being sent back to the minors), and it seems like thankless duty, especially since, as one character put it, father and son are “tunnel buddies.”  And no, I don’t think it’s a reference to “The Great Escape.”

Ivan Reitman directed and co-produced.  Released by Paramount.

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The Tree of Life – Trailer

Apparently Terrence Malick’s latest epic has been in post-production for two years, and in pre-production for about 30.  According to some, the basic idea for the film was conceived on the heels of Malick’s maiden effort, Days of Heaven, which was released in the late seventies.  At that time, the nascent concept was known as the Q Project.  It does sound a bit like something hatched by the military at the infamous Area 51, but then Malick has always had a penchant for secrecy.

The Tree of Life, like most of Malick’s pictures, is apparently heavily layered with philosophical take-aways, which is only natural when you consider that while Malick’s peers were productively slouched in film seminars at USC or UCLA, Malick was frittering away his time studying philosophy at Harvard (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa), with a chaser at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.

Later, while Malick’s contemporaries were grinding out their first screenplays and student film shorts, Malick was translating Heidegger’s Vom Wesen des Grundes as The Essence of Reasons (Northwestern University Press), and teaching philosophy at MIT.  Not that he didn’t dip his toe in the water in Hollywood: he penned screenplay drafts for for Pocket Money (1972), Great Balls of Fire! (1989) and Dirty Harry (1971).

The new film promises to be, well, a Malick film, if nothing else.  Always interesting, if not entertaining.  Release is scheduled for early summer.

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From MIT to ‘Badlands’ – Trailer

I watched Terence Mailck’s “Badlands” last night, and was hugely impressed.  I ignored it during its initial theatrical release, in 1973.  The story sounded too familiar, and the reviews made it sound precious, if such a thing is possible for a story about two serial killers on the run.  It’s a plot that’s been done to death by now, but Malick’s telling is well worth watching.

The film stars Martin Sheen, before he started shopping for Big Man sizes, and Sissy Spacek, when she could still convincingly play a 15 year-old.  Warren Oates does a marvelous job in a supporting role.

TCM triple-billed this film last night with “Gun Crazy,” which has gone from forgotten B-feature to cult classic, and “The Live by Night,” which was the first rendering of Edward Anderson’s 1937 roman noir, “Thieves Like Us.”   A remake was undertaken by Robert Altman, of course, and as was often the case for Altman during the seventies, he probably should have left well enough alone.

TMC typically refreshes their large, but mainly static library by finding different theme-groupings for their lineups.  The films listed above might have come under the heading of romantic serial killer dramas.  “Bonnie and Clyde,” another obvious inclusion, was shown earlier in the day, but I skipped it. How many times can you listen to “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”?  Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” would have been an obvious choice as well, though I suspect this isn’t part of the TCM library.

Terrence Malick has always been something of an enigma in Hollywood, if only because he’s avoided publicity rather than chased it.  There was a 20 year gap between his second film, “Days of Heaven” (1978), and his third, “The Thin Red Line” (1998).  During the interim, he lived in France and did God knows what.

Malick is a Hollywood anomaly for a more fundamental reason, however: he’s a card-carrying intellectual.  The blurb below certainly isn’t an easy fit in the CV of a film director.  If Malick’s pictures seem ponderous and ethereal, no wonder, the guy used to teach philosophy at MIT.

Malick studied philosophy under Stanley Cavell at Harvard University, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1965. He went on to Magdalen College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. After a disagreement with his adviser, Gilbert Ryle, over his thesis on the concept of the world in Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, Malick left Oxford without a doctorate degree. In 1969, Northwestern University Press published Malick’s translation of Heidegger’s Vom Wesen des Grundes as The Essence of Reasons. Moving back to the United States, Malick taught philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology while freelancing as a journalist. He wrote articles for Newsweek, The New Yorker, and Life.  — Wikipedia

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The Dilemma – Trailer

Personally, I think  Vince Vaughn is effortlessly funny just by being Vince Vaughn.  Granted, the Vaughn brand doesn’t appeal to everyone.  Perhaps it appeals to me because Vaughn was raised in Illinois, as I was.  His various persona quirks make sense to me in an urban Midwestern context.  He seems like a familiar character from Chicago’s North Side (although Vaughn was actually raised in Lake Forest, an affluent northern suburb).

I’ve always had a similar reaction to cop-turned-actor Denis Farina and Jim Belushi, both Chicagoans.  Their peculiar Great Lakes, Chicagoan twang, while repellent to some, is pure poetry to my distorted Midwestern ears.  (For some reason, the late John Belushi never fit the mold.  He neither sounded nor behaved like a Chicagoan.  I’ve always suspected he was actually a pod person, left on this planet by an alien race.  But that’s another story.)

As for “The Dilemma,” the first thing that strikes me from the trailer is that it’s difficult to tell who’s in greater need of a Weight Watchers membership, Vaughn or co-star Kevin James.  (Note to Vince Vaughn: if you’re in a two-shot with Kevin James, and the director refers to James as “the skinny one,”  it’s time to think vegan. )

And then there are the supporting roles of “the wives.”  The spousal counterparts for Vaughn and James are played by Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder, respectively.  These appear to be the sort of non-entity roles often reserved for actresses who are struggling to work their way out of the serial TV ghetto.  Didn’t Connelly win an Oscar recently?  Don’t bother clicking to Wikipedia, the answer is yes.  And what about Ryder?  This is someone who used to have starring roles.

Unfortunately, in a comedy, with a couple of out-sized (you can interpret that term however you please) characters like Vaughn and James hogging the camera, a pair of beautiful supporting players like Connelly and Ryder end up being part of the scenery.

The film is directed by Ron Howard, who apparently has moved on from his Russell Crowe/Tom Hanks phase for the time being, and has returned to his comedic Opie roots.

From the press kit:

Vince Vaughn and Kevin James headline an all-star comedy from director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer about a man who finds out that what you don’t say to a friend is just as important as what you do. Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder, Channing Tatum and Queen Latifah join them in The Dilemma, a story of how far you can bend a brotherly bond before it snaps.

Since college, confirmed bachelor Ronny (Vaughn) and happily married Nick (James) have been through thick and thin. Now partners in an auto design firm, the two pals are vying to land a dream project that would launch their company. With Ronny’s girlfriend, Beth (Connelly), and Nick’s wife, Geneva (Ryder), by their sides, they’re unbeatable.

But Ronny’s world is turned upside down when he inadvertently sees Geneva out with another man and makes it his mission to get answers. As the amateur investigation dissolves his world into comic mayhem, he learns that Nick has a few secrets of his own. Now, with the clock ticking and pressure mounting on the biggest presentation of their careers, Ronny must decide how and when he will reveal the truth to his best friend.

— Universal Pictures


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The Tourist – Trailer

Does anyone besides me think that with each passing year Angelina Jolie looks increasingly like one of those marionette actors from the Brit TV series “Thunderbirds” that aired during the mid-sixties?  For those too young to remember, when I say marionette, I’m not simply making a disparaging comment on British acting technique.  The stars of “Thunderbirds” (excluding their voices of course, which were provided by flesh and blood humans) were puppets.  So perhaps the Angelina analogy isn’t so far-fetched.

Puppetry aside, this trailer is a reminder of why I have no stomach for most films which star either Jolie or Johnny Depp.  Jolie’s acting style seems to be comprised of stylish sunglasses and a smirk.  She attempts a British accent here, which makes me think that Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Kate Beckinsdale, Rachel Weisz and Kate Winslet all turned down the role before it went to Jon Voight’s daughter.  Of course, Jolie seems to have a weakness for roles that the late, great Robert Mitchum tagged as NAR (no acting required), so maybe it’s an ideal match.  Or maybe it’s just karma.  Perhaps Jon Voight is simply getting payback for having morphed into a tea-bag style reactionary.

And as for Depp, unlike Marlon Brando or Al Pacino or George C. Scott, he doesn’t seem to be the sort of actor who has the ability to rise above his material, or provide an otherwise dull film with a point of interest (e.g. Brando in “Morituri” or “The Nightcomers”).  Unfortunately, this film looks like the sort of material that an actor would really prefer to rise above.

Others will disagree with this, of course, and cite many of Depp’s memorable, quirky performances.  I’ll concede that, at his best, Depp is able to step into a quirky role and make it his own.  At his worst, however, he seems like a left shoe on a right foot, and this film might be a case in point.

But judging a film by its trailer is like judging a book by its cover, so I’m willing to keep my guns holstered on this one, until I see the thing in full.  It might be a NetFlixer, though, rather than something I’d watch in a theater half-filled with tubby,  popcorn-munching matinee-goers.

Oh, by the way, if the film has the tongue-in-cheek aspect that seems de rigueur for what passes as a thriller in France, it’s because “The Tourist” is a remake of the French film “Anthony Zimmer.”

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Hereafter – Trailer

Clint Eastwood has called his new film, “Hereafter,” his chick flick, and while the film is something of a departure for him, focusing as it does on spiritual matters, one could also make the case that over the past 15 or 20 years Eastwood has been continually testing the water with different types of material, and that several of the films from this period would qualify as Grade-A chick flicks.

Eastwood cut his teeth in Hollywood as a pretty-boy actor in TV westerns.  He soon graduated to the big screen, but he generally sailed close to a familiar shoreline, primarily with westerns and crime dramas.  In that realm, he’s been an icon, and much beloved by the French, who love to invert the poles of high art and pulp, and whip the result into rich intellectual pudding that only Gallic intestines seem able to digest.

While Eastwood’s acting skills have a steady-state quality (in cosmological terms, a non-expanding universe) as a director Eastwood continues to push the boundaries of his known universe in all directions.  This trend has increased with time.  Comparing his early directorial days with his current efforts, Eastwood recently told The Los Angeles Times, “I was more of an actor who directed back then and now I’m more of a director who acts. Or occasionally acts. Or maybe never acts.”

Of his most recent effort, which poses questions about mortality and life after death, Eastwood concedes that his interest in the material is probably a reflection of his age.  Eastwood is 80.  “At the age I am now,” he said, “I just don’t have any interest in going back and doing the same sort of thing over and over, that’s one of the reasons I moved away from westerns.  The question about what happens after we die is something that we all ask and when I read the script by Peter Morgan it was so intelligent and I knew right away that I wanted to do it.”

From the press kit:

“Hereafter” tells the story of three people who are haunted by mortality in different ways. Matt Damon stars as George, a blue–collar American who has a special connection to the afterlife. On the other side of the world, Marie (Cécile de France), a French journalist, has a near–death experience that shakes her reality. And when Marcus (Frankie/George McLaren), a London schoolboy, loses the person closest to him, he desperately needs answers. Each on a path in search of the truth, their lives will intersect, forever changed by what they believe might—or must—exist in the hereafter.

— Warner Bros.

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