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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Preview Review

Preview review: Danny Boyle spends '127 Hours' with James Franco

August 25, 2010 |  3:48 pm

127H-06688 It was only two years ago that "Slumdog Millionaire" swept the Academy Awards, claiming eight Oscars, including one for best director Danny Boyle. That's a fact, it seems, Fox Searchlight doesn't want audiences to forget.

The new teaser trailer for "127 Hours," Boyle's first film after "Slumdog," opens by hyping the director's many credits: "Trainspotting," "28 Days Later," "The Beach." Set to music with a strong drumbeat, the trailer's opening definitely has a "Slumdog" vibe to it -- lots of fast-paced edits, wide shots of impressive scenery. "This fall," the preview touts, Boyle "takes us on a ride beyond our imagination -- and it's true."

That journey? It follows Aron Ralston (played by James Franco), the mountain climber who infamously got trapped under a boulder in Utah in 2003 and was forced to cut part of his arm off to escape a near-death situation.

We've heard that a majority of the film deals with Ralston's frightening predicament, and the loneliness and desperation he deals with over the 127 hours he's pinned under a rock. (And is perhaps thematically similar to the upcoming "Buried," in which Ryan Reynolds plays a U.S. contractor who gets buried alive in a coffin in Iraq.) But you might not realize that, having only watched the movie's trailer.

Indeed, most of the footage we see from the movie is, we'd imagine, not in line with the film's larger tone. As Ralston, Franco comes across as an offbeat adventurer -- a dude unafraid to take risks in the dangerous outdoors, who manages to chuckle even after taking a painful-looking fall off of his bike. He's believable in this playful goofball/stoner type of role, especially when he charms the socks off of two cute girl hikers (Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn) in need of a guide.

Watching his performance evolve as the story goes to a much darker, introspective place is something we're looking forward to. But what has us more perplexed is how Boyle will deal with the rest of the movie, which -- as far as we can tell -- seems to take place largely inside the crevice of a rock canyon. We're hoping that the film will take us that deep inside Ralston's mind, too.

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: James Franco in "127 Hours." Credit: Chuck Zlotnick / Fox Searchlight.


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Preview review: Joaquin Phoenix is more here than ever. Or is he?

August 19, 2010 |  7:48 pm

MV5BNTE5NjA2NzM5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODg5NTE3Mw@@._V1._SX640_SY948_ Months before its release, "I'm Still Here" was already generating a healthy amount of buzz. The documentary/mockumentary, out next month, of course has director Casey Affleck filming Joaquin Phoenix as the actor tries to launch a career as a rapper and engages in some very bad behavior.

As we reported in June, the movie apparently contains some pretty out-there stuff:  Phoenix "snorting cocaine, ordering call girls, having oral sex with a publicist, treating his assistants abusively and rapping badly."

But Phoenix -- who only five years ago earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line" -- can't be serious, right? The whole thing has to be a joke, some kind of social experiment aimed at making a statement about the malleable nature of celebrity. 

A newly released teaser trailer -- only a minute long -- throws some light on the movie, though we'll admit we're still not entirely sure whether the film is a joke.

In the trailer, Phoenix appears disheveled, just as he did during that bizarre David Letterman appearance last year while he was promoting his last film, the family drama "Two Lovers." With a bushy beard and a head of hair flying in all directions, Phoenix looks stoic throughout the trailer, frequently hiding behind dark sunglasses. He is photographed numerous times. He puts his head in his hands, overwhelmed. He boards a private jet. He hugs P. Diddy.

The entire thing is kind of a blur, but it seems the film's very obvious message is about identity, and how fame can change your public persona. We think the voice-over of some wise old man telling Phoenix that he's a "mountaintop waterdrop" who "doesn't belong in this valley" with all of the other drops of water is funny, if also a tad heavy-handed.

But that doesn't mean we're not intrigued by Phoenix's journey. Whether or not he's really trying to be a rapper is almost a moot point; it seems like he (and Affleck) are commenting on what it means to be a part of the modern-day Hollywood machine. Which is more than most actors usually have to say.

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: The poster for "I'm Still Here." Credit: Magnolia Pictures.


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Preview review: Darren Aronofsky does a pirouette

August 17, 2010 |  6:25 pm

Blackswanportmanx-large Films set in the dance world inevitably contain an aspect of competition -- in movies like "Fame" and "Center Stage," everyone's vying for the lead role.

On the surface, Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" -- which will open the Venice Film Festival in a few weeks -- follows the same formula. Lots of pretty girls, only one precious spot.

But then things get considerably weirder.

The supernatural-tinged drama centers on Nina (Natalie Portman), a rising star on the New York City ballet scene. But when Lily (Mila Kunis) joins Nina's company, Nina feels that her prized role in a production of "Swan Lake" is threatened by Lily.

Or is it? The movie's trailer, like the buzz that preceded it, offers the tantalizing suggestion that what looks like a rivalry could be distorted considerably in Nina's own mind.Is Lily after her or is Nina, as Vincent Cassel's character says in the trailer, her own worst enemy?

From the ominous-sounding score to the black-and-white color scheme, the trailer has a sinister feel. Adding to the effect is the fact that that Portman and Kunis bear a strange resemblance -- both slight, with big, evocative eyes.

How far will Nina's trip to darker places go? The last scene in the trailer, where she plucks a tiny black feather from a cut in her back, both creeped us out and made us wonder how supernatural the film is going to get. Aronofsky is certainly switching gears here after his last effort, the acclaimed character drama "The Wrestler," although both movies are preoccupied with the toll the limelight can take on a performer.

It looks like "Black Swan" will indeed prove absorbing on a genre level. Potentially more intriguing, though, is what the movie has to say about the depths to which jealousy can root itself in the human psyche.

  --Amy Kaufman and Steven Zeitchik



Photo: Natalie Portman in "Black Swan." Credit: Fox Searchlight

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Preview review: 'Burlesque,' Christina Aguilera's first (and last?) act

August 6, 2010 | 11:52 am

MV5BMTM1MTk3MzU4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjEyNTM2Mw@@._V1._SX640_SY427_ In the last decade, pop divas haven't exactly had the best track record on the silver screen. Sure, there were some solid turns from Beyonce, but she's the exception. Miley Cyrus didn't bowl over critics with her performance in the Nicholas Sparks tear-jerker "The Last Song." Britney Spears made her big-screen debut (and swan song) with the road-trip classic "Crossroads." And before "Precious," Mariah Carey had (gulp) "Glitter" and "Tennessee."

Now it's Christina Aguilera's turn to show her skills, which she attempts to do in "Burlesque," a  star-is-born drama out in November from Screen Gems. The singer plays Ali, the prototypical small-town girl with starry eyes who buses herself all the way from Iowa to the Hollywood sign to fulfill her dreams of stardom. She starts waiting tables at a "neo-burlesque" club, run by the world-weary Tess (Cher). Ali tries to convince the lounge's owner that she has what it takes to be a part of the club's act, but Tess and her surly counterpart, Sean (Stanley Tucci), don't think she has the chops.

That is, until she gets on stage and belts out a song like — well, Christina Aguilera.

Judging by the trailer, the film looks like it's overflowing with camp and schmaltz — even if the pairing of Cher and Aguilera seems appealing. The story is basically preposterous, a la "Coyote Ugly": All a girl really wants in life is to wear very little and dance atop a bar! (Or in this case, wear very little and dance in a bar.) And the bits of dialogue we hear here are so hokey that we can't imagine taking the movie seriously.

"You gotta make me believe that you belong on that stage," Cher's character implores her protege. "That it's yours! And that nobody can take it from you. Now you wanna show me something? Show me that!"

She and Tucci do seem to have good chemistry. And one of the many doctors from "Grey's Anatomy" (Eric Dane) serves as a potential love interest, which is a plus, if only for the eye candy. But while we're looking forward to the song-and-dance numbers from Aguilera, her acting looks like it leaves a lot to be desired. She's trying so hard to be innocent as her character pleads with Cher, "Just tell me what you want!"

Probably not this.

— Amy Kaufman


Photo: Cher and Christina Aguilera star in "Burlesque." Credit: Screen Gems.

Recent and related:

Preview review: 'Yogi Bear' may be a sandwich short of a full picnic basket

Preview review: Ben Affleck goes to town

Preview review: With powerful trailer, 'The Social Network' becomes a fall front-runner (in July)

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

Preview review: 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.' Or, be very afraid of the dark.

August 5, 2010 |  2:16 pm

Katie%20Holmes%20in%20DON'T%20BE%20AFRAID%20OF%20THE%20DARK Last month at Comic-Con, Guillermo del Toro said the MPAA felt his new movie "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" was so bone-chilling that it could only be rated R.

"We originally thought we could shoot it as PG-13 without compromising the scares," Del Toro said. "And then the MPAA came back and gave us a badge of honor. They gave us an R for 'pervasive scariness.' We asked them if there's anything we could do, and they said, 'Why ruin a perfectly scary movie?' "

Having watched the trailer for the film, we understand why.

The movie, co-written and produced by Del Toro and directed by Troy Nixey, is a remake of a little-known 1970s horror film. At its center is Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison), a young child who moves in with her dad (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes). They're living in an ominous-looking 19th century mansion on Rhode Island, where Sally discovers a secret basement. The hidden space has remained untouched since the man who built the mansion mysteriously vanished 100 years prior. When she goes into the basement, Sally unwittingly awakens a group of creepy creatures, who then begin to threaten the entire family.

The new teaser trailer for the film is pretty short -- far shorter than the roughly 10 minutes of expository footage shown in San Diego -- and includes few shots from the actual movie. Instead, most of the preview features a black screen accompanied by a sinister-sounding voice-over warning us that there's "nothing to be afraid of." Yeah, right. Cut to a montage of dim shots: There are creatures trying to enter the house through a metal vent, glass is breaking, there's lots of screaming.

Even more affecting, though, is the final image of Sally crawling through sheets with only a flashlight until she lets out a bloodcurdling scream. The effect is frightening and leads us to believe that horror fans aren't going to be let down.

In any case, we'll be sleeping with the lights on tonight.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark in HD

Trailer Park Movies | MySpace Video

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Katie Holmes stars in "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark." Credit: Miramax

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Preview review: 'Yogi Bear' may be a sandwich short of a full picnic basket

July 30, 2010 | 11:53 am

YogiSometimes all it takes for a movie to be a hit is a cute cartoon animal interacting with a live-action star (see under: "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel;" worldwide gross $440 million).

Judging by that example, a modern CGI/live-action take on the popular cartoon "Yogi Bear" would seem like a good idea. Unfortunately, the trailer for the November release suggests something other than good.

Yogi is one of America's beloved animated characters, a status he attained primarily via his 1960s television show, during which he spent much of his time nabbing picnic -- or "pick-a-nic" -- baskets from campers hanging out in Jellystone Park.

In the modern version, we find Yogi (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and his sidekick Boo Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake) wandering merrily around their stomping grounds at Jellystone, until the two animals find out that the place they call home is being shut down. The two animals decide to partner with Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh) to stop the sale of the park's land.

The trailer begins with the introduction from a jolly Aykroyd, excitedly inviting viewers to check out "this exclusive look at 'Yogi Bear!' " and goes downhill from there.

We're obviously not kindergartners, but we have a feeling even they'd be baffled by some of the bits in the trailer. Yogi falls down after trying to steal Ranger Smith's lunch. Yogi and Boo Boo "kick it" to some jams on the stereo. A pie is thrown in Yogi's face.

Yogi, that goofball!

The film, which is directed by "Journey to the Center of the Earth" filmmaker Eric Brevig, seems to be missing the original cartoon's silliness. The modern Yogi doesn't appear to embody the carefree nature or obliviousness that made the first one so lovable. (The hokey-looking animation doesn't help either.)

While Timberlake seems to pull off Boo Boo's iconic tone, we're not as enthused about Anna Faris, who plays a nature documentarian breathlessly searching for Yogi. As usual, she's ditzy and wide-eyed, but the act seems more suited to "The House Bunny" than a kids' movie.

Then again, maybe we're just not the target audience for this kind of thing.

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: The poster for "Yogi Bear." Credit: Warner Bros.

Preview review: Ben Affleck goes to town

July 20, 2010 |  7:30 am

The Town movie image JON HAMM After years of turning in solid performances as an actor, Ben Affleck tried his hand at directing with 2007's "Gone Baby Gone." His debut was relatively well-received, but his latest behind-the-camera effort, September's crime drama "The Town," looks even more promising.

Based on Chuck Hogan's novel "Prince of Thieves," the movie tells the story of Claire, a bank manager (Rebecca Hall) who is taken hostage during a robbery. As she tries to recover from the trauma, she's comforted by Doug (Affleck), who it turns out was one of her kidnappers. Meanwhile, Doug's buddy (Jeremy Renner) is worried that his new love interest might figure out Doug's true identity, while an ex-girlfriend (Blake Lively) continues to vie for his affections. 

The trailer has an ominous tone, opening with creepy footage from Claire's abduction, before explaining that captors come from the gritty streets of Charlestown, Mass. Boston-native Affleck is clearly comfortable on his home turf, and it shows here. And despite the shooting and violence, awards darlings Hall and Renner ground the film emotionally.

Even Lively, known for her wispy portrayal of a blond socialite on "Gossip Girl," seems to be veering into more serious territory. Better yet, her Boston accent isn't horrible.

--Amy Kaufman

Photo: Jon Hamm in "The Town." Credit: Warner Bros.

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Preview review: With powerful trailer, 'The Social Network' becomes a fall front-runner (in July)

July 15, 2010 |  1:17 pm

Socialnetwork Who knew Facebook could be so deep?

After releasing two teaser trailers for David Fincher's "The Social Network," Sony has finally given us a full preview for the Aaron Sorkin-penned movie, out in October. And judging by the trailer, there's nothing light about the movie, which takes a dark, dramatic look at the website's roots.

The film is based on Ben Mezrich's 2009 book, "Accidental Billionaires." Among other things, the book details a lawsuit between founder Mark Zuckerberg and former classmates Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who claimed they were the ones who came up with the idea for the site. Of course, we know how the real-life saga ended — the twin brothers reportedly received a $65-million settlement from Facebook.

My colleague Steven Zeitchik has said the movie is going to be a "hot-button film this fall," a possible award contender that "will get tongues wagging about the rigors and ethics of social media." It's evident from this trailer that that's certainly the direction the marketing campaign is headed. The trailer opens with a montage of images Facebook users have posted on the site. At first, the pictures are lighthearted — college kids out drinking, teens hanging out in parking lots. But things slowly get more serious — a woman is shown with an IV in her arm, a baby is born.

Accompanied by Scala & Kolacny Brothers' version of Radiohead's "Creep," the effect is somewhat chilling, and at first we were taken aback by it. We don't generally think of Facebook, which so many of us use to post funny YouTube videos or share Happy Birthday messages, as much more than a fun distraction from work (um, we've heard).

We also get to see more of the newly anointed Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, who plays Eduardo Saverin, one of Zuckerberg's early partners, and he seems right at home as a nervous, smart Harvard student. And Jesse Eisenberg is convincing as (and shares an eerie resemblance with) the real-life Zuckerberg. The only actor who looks like he might be mildly out of place is Justin Timberlake. He plays Sean Parker, the president of Facebook who mentors Zuckerberg and Saverin, but his portrayal of a money-hungry businessman feels unnatural. 

Even though the approach here seems a little self-serious, ultimately, it's effective. It's clear from some of the dialogue that the movie has something to say about social media, the slippery nature of online identity and the perils of youthful ambition. Says Zuckerberg in the movie: "I need to do something substantial in order to get the attention of the [Harvard final] clubs. ... because they're exclusive, and fun, and they lead to a better life.”

Given Eisenberg's portrayal of him, the movie may not do wonders for Zuckerberg’s own life. But it may enhance ours. "The Social Network" looks entertaining and smart – which in contemporary Hollywood is a rare status.

— Amy Kaufman


[UPDATE: An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed to the cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” to Vega Choir rather than Scala & Kolacny Brothers.]

Photo: The poster for "The Social Network." Credit: Columbia Pictures.


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Preview review: 'Hangover' director Todd Phillips births 'Due Date'

July 15, 2010 | 10:51 am

14cskde Ever since the runaway success of "The Hangover," audiences have eagerly awaited a sequel to the breakout Todd Phillips comedy. While they'll have to wait until next year for "The Hangover 2," the director's new "Due Date" might tide over many of that movie's fans.

A trailer for the film, which stars Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis and is out in November, hit the Web on Wednesday, and its tone is reminiscent of the wacky Vegas comedy. Downey  plays Peter Highman, a buttoned-down type who, just before the birth of his first child, is forced into a frantic cross-country road trip with slacker Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) after Tremblay gets them both kicked off an airplane.

Judging by the trailer, the road trip produces all kinds of high jinks, as Ethan continually annoys Peter with his eccentricities. We're especially fond of the preview's opening, which starts as a serious moment between the two men, with Peter telling Ethan about how his dad left him as a young boy. That's until Ethan finds humor in the anecdote, breaking out into hysterical laughter and offering up this zinger: "Oh my gosh, my dad would never do that. He loved me!"

Ethan is the type of character Galifianakis excels at playing -- the clueless immature type who takes himself really seriously. Meanwhile, it's nice to see Downey back in a more straitlaced role after his action-hero parts in "Iron Man 2" and "Sherlock Holmes." With Phillips leading them, the movie looks like it will have the kind of manic hysteria that made "The Hangover" so hilarious. And if our expectations weren't lofty enough, during an "Iron Man 2" press junket earlier this year, Downey raised the bar by referring to "Due Date" with this high praise: "It's like the second greatest movie I've ever done."

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifanakis in "Due Date." Credit: Warner Bros.


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Preview review: With 'Jack Goes Boating,' Philip Seymour Hoffman finds himself in new waters

July 9, 2010 |  7:27 pm

Jackgoes Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman has long had success as an actor -- but does he have the chops behind the camera as well?

We got our first glimpse of Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut, "Jack Goes Boating," on Friday when the trailer hit the Web. The film is about two New York City limo drivers, buddies Jack (Hoffman) and Clyde (John Ortiz). Noticing Jack's discomfort around women, Clyde's wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega, who played Mimi in the original Broadway production of "Rent") sets him up with her friend Connie (Amy Ryan). The film follows Jack's evolving relationship with Connie, which, at least from the trailer, seems to progress slowly and sometimes painfully.

The movie has been adapted from an off-Broadway production that Hoffman and two of his co-stars (Ortiz and Rubin-Vega) all starred in a few years ago. The quirky story seems like a difficult task for any director, let alone a first timer.

In the trailer, we see Jack's troubling attempt to learn how to swim so he can take his love interest boating, per her request. Their relationship seems to stall repeatedly -- at one point in the trailer, Connie apologetically rejects Jack's attempt to sleep with her.

"I'm sorry. I want to. I even imagined it with you. It was a pitch black night. We were in a spaceship flying through super space."

It's offbeat comments like this that make us worry that the film might be a bit too indulgent in its quirkiness, and we can't yet tell whether Jack and Connie's relationship will ultimately say something interesting about the yearning for love.

But Hoffman seems comfortable in these shoes, again nailing the type of guy who is socially awkward but still lovable, whose life would be made right if he could just find a woman to love him.

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Ryan star in "Jack Goes Boating." Credit: Overture Films.


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