Trick or Treat
As we look towards November, Halloween memories still linger, no matter how much they want us to be in full-on Christmas mode already, and this being Hollywood, we are often inundated with films that are very similar to each other. The problem, then, is figuring out which ones will be treats and which ones will be flaming piles of dog crap left on our front porch.
Spies Like Us
Espionage remains a stalwart subject matter in movies, perhaps because we all like to fantasize ourselves as suave spies saving the world. November serves up two save-the-world-from-the-bad guys films. One features the most famous spy in the world, a sophisticated secret agent making his 20th (give or take) film appearance. The other features a bunch of extreme snowboarders and skiers.
The Trick: Extreme Ops joins the already-growing-tired sub-genre of extreme sports mixed with action movies. A group of extreme athletes travel to the Alps to make a snowboarding and skiing movie, and they stumble across a terrorist plot. Never fear, as armed with puckish X-Games attitude, these athletes take on the terrorists without concern for life or limb or plot. May I please call a moratorium on sequences of skiers outracing avalanches?
The Treat: Bond, James Bond, may not quite be what he used to be, but he is still the granddaddy of all movie spies. Add in Halle Berry as a Bond girl and another interesting choice of director in Lee Tamahori, and you have enough reasons to stick with Bond (We’ll pretend that that Madonna theme song doesn’t exist. LA LA LA, We can’t HEAR you!). Die Another Day should ably continue the recent Bond tradition of propping up MGM.
Gimme an F
Okay, so these two movies don’t really have anything in common except that their titles both begin with the letter F. Work with me here. One is the latest installment in an underrated series of movies, while the other has red flags all over the place.
The Trick: Brian De Palma - run away! Antonio Banderas - run away! Rebecca Romijn-Stamos - run away! So the list of people involved in this film that scream “avoid at all costs” gives it three strikes already. Mrs. Stamos plays a model or something who steals some diamonds and then changes her identity and marries an ambassador or something. Antonio Banderas is the man who tries to figure out her identity or something. The movie-going public stays home.
The Treat: Before there was Barbershop, there was Friday, and after Friday there was Next Friday, and now after Next Friday is Friday After Next. The Friday movies have been rather quietly successful in the first two installments that give a comic look into African American communities. The series experienced a growth from the original to the first sequel, and the audience that made Barbershop a hit should be ready to come out for Ice Cube in Friday After Next as well.
Rappers teaming up with people established in the film business to make the leap into movies is a growing trend. Beyond Ice Cube’s turn in Friday After Next, there are a couple of new movies featuring rap stars in cinematic turns. In one of them, the rapper joins the team of filmmakers responsible for the Oscar-winning LA Confidential; in the other, the rapper teams up with Steven Seagal.
The Trick: Half Past Dead stars Steven Seagal. Need I say more?
The Treat: Controversial rapper Eminem makes his acting debut in a semi-autobiographical tale of a young man trying to earn his ticket out of poverty through his rap skills in 8 Mile. Eminem is such a lightning rod that, of course, much of the attention has been focused on him and 8 Mile as the “Eminem Movie”, but that often causes people to overlook the fact that it is also a Curtis Hanson movie. Banking on his popularity in the music business to make a “serious” prestige-type film is a less obvious move than pandering to the teen-boy demographic that usually buy his CDs, but it looks to be a move that will pay off in the short- and long-run.
Ah yes, the quick fix for when you can’t come up with an idea; remake something! Actually, I’m not in the camp that believes that nothing should ever be remade and that absolutely all remakes suck by definition, but I do admit that there tends to be a preponderance of remakes that seem like they are taking the lazy route. November gives us two remakes. One is a remake of a classic, philosophical Russian science-fiction film based on a novel by a respected writer. The other is a remake of a television show from the 1960s about an international tennis star and his trainer who double as a secret-agent team.
The Trick: I Spy. Well as tricks go, this might be a more gentle one (think some toilet paper in your tree). It looks like it might be mildly amusing and could catch on with audiences. Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson seem to work fairly well together and director Betty Thomas is pretty reliable. Still, the idea reeks of a lack of imagination, but it ultimately feels like a forgettable nuisance.
The Treat: An Oscar-winning director takes on a true sci-fi classic as Steven Soderbergh remakes Solaris, the 1972 film from Russian great Andrei Tarkovsky (or perhaps more accurately, makes another movie version of Stanislaw Lem’s novel). The film may ultimately alienate viewers who are expecting a more wham-bam style science-fiction movie than one with a serious philosophical tone, but with the talent involved, including Soderbergh, James Cameron, and George Clooney, Solaris has the elements to be a truly memorable film.
Two for One
One good turn deserves another, and sometimes one bad turn spawns another anyway. It’s a good bet that if a movie makes a lot of money at the box office that you will eventually see a Part Two. The temptation of the built-in audience is too much to give up, so this month blesses - and curses - us with not one but two Part Twos.
The Trick: The Santa Clause was inexplicably a big box office hit and fared well on video, so I would just like to say, this is all your fault. Of course, it is now eight years later, Home Improvement is no longer on prime time, and Tim Allen’s movie career has been sputtering, so there doesn’t seem to be much worry that The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs Clause will repeat the success of the first film. In fact, by opening on November 1st, it runs the very real risk of being a Christmas movie that’s a faded memory even before Thanksgiving rolls around.
The Treat: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone faced extreme amounts of expectation as fans of the book waited to get a look at the images that they had already envisioned in their minds. The anticipation alone guaranteed box office success, and the movie didn’t disappoint. Fans seemed generally pleased but not quite ecstatic about the first film, so they are likely to turn out again for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Again, it looks like Christopher Columbus has delivered a very workmanlike performance, so fans should respond.
What would the holiday movie season be without an animated feature or two to take the family to? This year, Thanksgiving weekend alone provides two exercises in animation to enjoy...or not. One is from the Disney team that brought you Aladdin and Hercules and features rich animation. The other comes from Adam Sandler, with animation that looks like Saturday-morning-cartoon quality at best.
The Trick: Even while Adam Sandler is surprising critics with his acting ability in Punch-Drunk Love, Adam Sandler’s 8 Crazy Nights looks to make sure his more standard low-brow comedy is represented this holiday season as well. A Hanukkah animated musical actually sounds like a good idea to provide some counter-programming for the bevy of Christmas-themed movies that hit theaters this time of year. Unfortunately in this case, though, it looks like Sandler at his worst.
The Treat: Disney returns to November with an animated feature, but this time there is no Pixar in sight. Treasure Planet will be a harder sell than the Pixar computer-animated features that audiences have grown accustomed to from Disney around Thanksgiving. The film looks less cutesy than other animated films that have succeeded in recent years and more like the more serious in tone ones that have struggled. Still, the trailer features dizzying action and luminous animation that present a promising prognosis.
Read Tim Briody's November forecast
Read Walid Habboub's November forecast
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Read David Mumpower's November forecast
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Read Calvin Trager's November forecast