A round up of news, rumors and opinions at the edge of the fall season.
September’s pretty much over, and the whole industry greets the coming of autumn and winter not with cooler temperatures but with meatballs. Lots and lots and meatballs. Once again a CGI spectacle rules over adult-oriented films like The Informant! and Surrogates, even while the rest of the Top 10 looks like a scrap heap. The coming months at least bring a few intriguing films: the Gerard Butler-Jamie Foxx ne0 noir Law Abiding Citizen, the perfect storm of hipsterness Where The Wilid Things Are, the Coen Brother’s A Serious Man, and dozens of others. So there’s light at the end of the tunnel, even as the days grow shorter.
The following few news items are a miscellany of observations and opinions we’ve built up over the last month. The opinions are our own, though you’re welcome to discuss.
1. As far as box office goes, September was notable not for what made money but for what didn’t: Jennifer’s Body, the double flash-in-the-pan teaming of Megan Fox and Diablo Cody, was dead on arrival despite a saturating media campaign. Meanwhile the Jennifer Aniston romantic drama Love Happens (which we like to call Pointless In Seattle) also went nowhere, even in a year in which other romances like The Proposal and (500) Days of Summer have exceeded box office expectations.
We think the lesson to be learned is pretty simple: people are bored, and ready for something new and fresh. Aniston and Fox are both overexposed, though Proposal star Sandra Bullock isn’t. The public won’t pay money to see faces they see too much already, for free, on magazine covers.
2. We bitched some about the season premiere of Mad Men, but the show has gotten substantially better with each episode, and the last couple especially can stand with the best of the series. Watching the Sterling-Cooper ad agency unravel from within is a suprisingly gut-wrenching process, even as Don and Betty Draper (Jon Hamm and January Jones) seem to prepare themselves to finally go their separate ways. Cheers also for bringing back Draper’s nemesis Duck Philips, played so well by Mark Moses.
As last night’s episode, “Seven Twenty Three,” was the halfway point of the seasons, we’ll risk predicting that by season’s end both Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) and Don Draper have left Sterling Cooper, either by choice or through firing. We also hope there’s some resolution to Joan Halloway’s flailing marriage, though we can’t help but see domestic violence on the horizon.
3. Has reality television finally, at long last, neared its tipping point? Scandals such as the murder mystery surrounding VH1′s Megan Wants A Millionaire and the ongoing tabloid marketing scheme that is the Gosselin’s marriage seem to be the kind of negative-buzz generating backlash events that signal the end of a trend. We hope so. In roughly a decade the advent of “reality” based television has rearranged the television landscape, and largely for the worse. As the major networks grow increasingly desperate, quality programming has fled to some cable networks, while other cable channels, such as VH1 and especially TLC, cater to a lower denominator than was even thought to exist ten years ago. Television does not have to be a vast wasteland, the efforts of most reality programming to the contrary. Enough already.
4. One potential bright light for network scripted drama arrived last week in the form of Flash Forward, the ABC sci-fi drama adapted from Robert J. Sawyer’s novel by David Goyer (The Dark Knight) and Brannon Braga (Star Trek: Enterprise). The Goyer-directed pilot was a long way from perfect, lacking as it did the confidence and effortlessness that accompanied previous landmark debuts such as ER and Lost to the screen. We’re also not sure about star Joseph Fiennes’ ability to center the somewhat expansive cast, which includes Courtney B. Vance, John Cho, Jack Davenport, Dominic Monaghan, and Gabrielle Union.
Still, the premise – everyone on Earth gets a 137-second glimpse of their near future, six months hence - is intriguing enough to earn our loyalty for two or three episodes, by which time the show will have probably found its sea legs or not. Ratings for the debut were solid, meaning the show’s fortunes now depend on word of mouth. If not, hpefully ABC will show the series more patience than it extended to other sci-fi fare like Invasion and Life On Mars, neither of which we imagine carried Flash Forward’ s hefty payroll.
5. In what must be the answer to a question nobody asked, Disney is moving forward with a fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, this time with or without Johnny Depp’s involvement. Depp is reportedly aware the second and third Pirates movies lacked quite a bit in quality, and wants script approval after former Disney studio chief Dick Cook resigned last week.
Just so this doesn’t go unsaid, Depp’s post-Jack Sparrow career is nothing to crow about: Secret Window, Public Enemies, and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory are nobody’s idea of classic cinema, and the upcoming Alice In Wonderland looks like standard Tim Burton weirdness. Depp might do well to get out the eyeliner once again.
6. A rare highlight of the last Pirates film was Chow Yun-Fat’s appearance as pirate warlord Sao Feng. The long delayed Shanghai, in which Chow co-stars with John Cusack and Gong Li, has been delayed yet again, this time looking at a release sometime next year. Directed by Mikael Hafstrom (1408) and featuring Ken Watanabe and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the saga of an ill-fated romance in the months leading to the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor seems a treat for older film audiences, offering the kind of film spectacle Hollywood rarely attempts anymore. So why the delay?
7. Finally, we forgot to mention While The City Sleeps in our recent list of movies watched while under the influence of DVR-enabled cinematic insomnia. If you’re a fan of classic cinema, Fritz Lang, movies about newspapers, Ida Lupino, and/or lurid trash, this film has something for you. Basically, its sprawling plot follows the staff of a major newspaper as its department heads race to outdo each other pursuing “the Lipstick Killer,” a freudian nightmare of a serial killer preying on women who live alone.
Lang directs the 1956 film with a kind of dreamlike detachment, keeping the characters in close proximity to one another even as they never really establish meaningful contact, even when intimate. The always-underrated Dana Andrews plays the television commentator leading the hunt for the killer, with Vincent Price, film noir siren Rhonda Fleming, and John Drew Barrymore also swirling around the tangle of events. Part film noir, part melodrama, and part Hollywood ensemble piece, it’s a weird mixture that doesn’t come off as well as it should, yet still remains completely, if cheaply, entertaining.
UPDATE: We’ll be back Monday. Thanks for reading.