Movie Hardball – New Year's Edition

Welcome back everyone! We here at Movie Hardball hope you had a safe and lovely holiday season. With lights coming down and everyone getting back to the grind we would like to offer you all one last belated present with our latest edition. In the New Year we resolve to pop up (get it?) on Popcorn Junkies a little more often with some fresh participants. Until then we have to play with the hand we are dealt namely discussing cinema with two of Inside Pulse’s Heavy Hitters when it comes to cinema: Popcorn Junkies Imperial Leader Scotty “The Hottie and the Naughty” Sawitz and DVD Lounge Czar Travis “When Life Gives You Lemons” Leamons.

Hopefully you received all that you wished for this holiday season, but now it is time to reflect on the less fortunate in Hollywood. Pick one each and tell us what you wish for them in 2009:

1. Actor

Scott: Ben Affleck – A return to stardom as a serious, dramatic actor. It’s been too long and he’s due for a comeback.

Travis: What to consider when thinking of actors? Maybe you want a particular actor to resurrect his or her career and find a new audience. Or, maybe you just want an actor to stop acting altogether. I’ll go with option two. Sometimes an actor – and for this exercise I use the word “actor” loosely – will skirt around on screen just because of appearances. The actor hasn’t done anything remarkable, save for one performance, and just keeps churning out crap again and again. I call it the “Paris Hilton effect.” This could describe any number of actors. For this hardball spiel I’ll go with Kate Hudson. Honestly, Kate, take a look at your filmography. Eight years ago you got an Oscar nomination (Almost Famous). Since then it has been one romance comedy train wreck after another, with a poor supernatural thriller thrown in for good measure. Granted you might like working with Matthew McConaughey or Matt Dillon or even Dane Cook. But look at the end result. Who knows, you may not even be a producer’s first choice for a role. Maybe a third or fourth. Fire your agent or something, because the scripts you are getting aren’t all that. Sadly, it looks like you’ll be part of another rom-com disaster this January: Bride Wars.

Take a break, reassess your career, and hope that your role in next fall’s Nine is a step in the right direction.

John: I recently wrote in another publication similar sentiments about Kate Hudson and I couldn’t agree more Travis. But I, like Scott, feel it is time for an actor to reclaim some former glory. Tom Cruise: I wish for you to take a serious re-evalution of your career in 2009. I don’t mean you should make Oscar bait or play against type. While your role in Tropic Thunder was hilarious, I feel it was the equivalent of putting a band aid on an amputated limb. What I want for you Tom is a complete transformation of your career. Start playing villains more often, act your age, do a movie that is typically off your radar. Everything you do is a prestige piece in some way (even Tropic Thunder) and if you can’t start taking yourself a little less seriously then it might be time for you to just get the hell out of the way.

2. Writer

Scott: Matthew Michael Carnahan – A huge hit in State of Play.

Travis: Was 2008 a good year for the writers in Hollywood? Well, let’s see. At the beginning of the year you guys were still in the throes of a writers’ strike. Not a good start. You were arguing over DVD residuals and union jurisdiction over animation and reality program writers (Wait. Reality TV is scripted? NO WAY!), and compensation for new media (i.e., Internet streams, et al.) I understand the plight of the writers, all twelve-thousand strong. But come on. Had it occurred during the economic recession, there would have been those screaming bloody murder. Man up, writers. It’s not all about you! Understand what the strike was doing to the below-the-line talent, like the catering services that supply productions with food and beverage. On the bright side, the strike made the American public realize that the loss of new TV episodes wasn’t the end all be all of civilization.

But when the writers went back to work, we heard announcements about retooling old classics and more remakes. Ah, to be a writer in Hollywood. Where originality isn’t a job requirement.

John: I’m afraid Scott will be the only one here with a straight answer as my wish for writers is sort of abstract. I wish for any aspiring writer with a good idea to get their project made before any one of the writers of Date Movie, Meet the Spartans, and the like. I won’t name them because they don’t deserve it and when I refer to them as writers I am stretching the boundaries of the very definition of the word “writer”. Each time one of those movies comes out I die a little inside and when people go to see them they get a little of the blood on their hands. I hate that these chumps get their garbage made and I don’t even have a script written; I can’t imagine how a writer with a legitimately good idea who is shopping his project around must feel. In 2009 I hope at least one of you struggling artists gets a shot over this group of antichrists.

3. Director

Scott: Uwe Boll – A chance to direct a serious, dramatic film that will single-handedly redeem an entire career of schlock.

Travis: What do I want to bestow directors for 2009? How about putting an end to all these split-second, quick-cutting action scenes that do nothing but leave us wanting pills for motion sickness. Directors, who are you trying to appease? The MTV generation that is used to such technical wizardry in the shows they watch? Believe it or not, there are those who watch movies that remember when MTV actually played music.

And to acknowledge a specific director for 2009, I guess I’ll go with Quentin Tarantino. It’s put up or shut up time for a project that’s been in writer’s block hell for many years. That’s right, Inglorious Bastards, Tarantino’s so-called World War II epic hopes to make its way to theaters in 2009. Even with a star like Brad Pitt, there’s no telling what the film is going to be like. I do know one thing, however. There will be critics who will praise its originality, despite it (like all of Tarantino’s films) being of borrowed parts.

John: I think Scott’s answer is our first selfless wish so far unless, of course, he is being sarcastic. Myself, I wish for Gus Van Sant to get a richly deserved Oscar. While I haven’t seen Milk, I have heard good things and his body of work really calls for some sort of proper recognition. Granted it would technically be for work done in 2008, but it’s my wish so I can do what I want with.

4. Next let’s look at resolutions. Certainly you have resolved to improve your life in the New Year. Now, what should Hollywood resolve to do for you?

Scott: Make more great films. 2008 was kind of weak and I want them to resolve to have more great films coming out. I want to go to theater and have that era of magic again, like in the two years prior.

Travis: It’s simple, Hollywood. Stop making so many crappy movies. A few are stomachable (is that a word?). But when you have twenty-plus then it gets to be a bit ridiculous. Though, I guess, quality is in the eye of the beholder. If people keep shelling out ten or twelve bucks a ticket to see such cinematic abortions, then they would be better off just throwing their money in the trash. While it’s true that we can’t all like the same movies, a little quality control is in order.

On a related note: So far I see no projects on the horizon for the duo of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, of Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Meet the Spartans fame. Excuse me while I go do the “Happy Happy, Joy Joy” dance.

John: Don’t get your hopes up Travis, the Wayans Brothers are back with Dance Flick. Also, Spellchecker tells me “stomachable” is not a word.

Now, on to Hollywood’s resolution to me: I think that Tinsel Town should resolve to give me more high quality movies during the summer. I hope that someday Best Picture winners are being released sometime between May and September. Also, they should promise me less sequels and remakes and more original fare or I am going to have to come in there and do it myself.

5. What movie slated for 2009 are you most excited for and which do you hope will be the biggest success?

Scott: State of Play. Loved the BBC serial and the film adaptation has so much going for it including a trio of Oscar winners (Ben Affleck, Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren), a top notch screenwriter and a director who did a great film already in Last King of Scotland. My gut thinks this could be an early Oscar contender.

Travis: 2009 has an interesting lineup of films, with plenty of sequels to look forward to. My most anticipated 2009 release is a no-brainer: Michael Mann’s Public Enemies. The star power alone – notably, Johnny Depp and Christian Bale – make this an easy must-see. Then you factor in Michael Mann, who directed one of the great crime epics in Heat, as well as Collateral with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, now you are getting somewhere. Here’s hoping for a crime-drama period piece that’s every bit as excellent as The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential.

As for what film I hope is the biggest success, well, whatever it is, it won’t eclipse The Dark Knight‘s performance for 2008. Looking at Box Office Mojo (love that site), there aren’t really a lot of films that could match even half of TDK‘s domestic gross. The film that I hope is big in 2009 is Sherlock Holmes. I want to see if Guy Ritchie can make a film that is aimed at an American audience. His previous efforts were big successes in England, but only generated modest returns in the States.

Sadly, it comes out the same day as the Twilight sequel, New Moon. Ah crap.

John: I’m going with Watchmen for both. That movie looks awesome and mostly faithful to its material. Its success is important if comic book movies want to continue establishing themselves as more than just popcorn flicks. It has the toughest challenge so far, though, as the subject matter is very dark and decidedly not universally appealing. Plus there has been much protest about the film having been made at all, and a slight possibility that the release date will be pushed back. Still, I hope for the best as the comic book genre grows by leaps and bounds every year while most other genres and franchises remain quite stale.

6. What stars do you think will break out in 2009? Whose star do you think will fade?

Scott: Break out will be tough, but Chris Pine who plays Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek, could be huge if the film is massive. He was terrific in Bottle Shock and seems to be on the cusp of being a major star.

Who will fade? I think this is the year that Jude Law kind of disappears from it all after being poised for superstardom.

Travis: Actors and actresses that should have a breakout year in ’09: Ginnifer Goodwin (He’s Just Not Into You), Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland), Chris Pine, Anton Yelchin (Star Trek), Marion Cotillard (Public Enemies), Alison Lohman (Drag Me to Hell)

While these stars may have breakout years, I think Renee Zellweger’s star power is all but gone. Slated for three movies in 2009, her last big hit was back in 2004 with a sequel to Bridget Jones’s Diary. It was only a hit overseas, failing to attract huge numbers in the U.S. Since that release it has been bombs like Miss Potter and Leatherheads. And from reading the synopses for New in Town and Case 39, it’s not looking any better for Ms. Zellweger.

John: I’m going to take a gamble on both of these and guess Emma Roberts for breakout star and Brad Pitt for falling star. Roberts has a couple easy-money kids’ flicks (Hotel for Dogs and Winning Season) scheduled for release this year that should move her past being simply a megastar’s niece to a tween sensation.

As for Pitt, I think this is the year that his excellent movie work is finally overshadowed by his tabloid exploits. I don’t know how much more good will fans can offer him when he and his wife (and his ex-wife for that matter) completely over-saturate the market with their constant “newsworthy” interviews and endeavors.

As we take one last look back at 2008, let us take one more opportunity to reflect on things not covered in our top 10 lists.

7. What was the worst film you saw this year? Why?

Scott: Kill Switch on DVD was easily the worst. Steven Seagal doing a Southern accent made me want to shoot myself.

Travis: The worst film I saw this year would have to be M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. All I have to say is congrats to the editor of the movie trailer. It just goes to show that a two-and-a-half-minute clip can make a M. Night movie look good. Seems like his MO, good trailer…bad movie.

Where do I even start when describing how pitiful this movie is? I think all the casting decisions were randomly selected from a hat. Is Mark Wahlberg convincing as a teacher? Not in the slightest. The expressions he makes in the movie would make a fun drinking game if you pony up for the good stuff. That way you’d only have to watch half of the movie. And the big mystery about all the deaths in the movie (all of which you can see in the trailer) is wind. WIND! ARE YOU F’N KIDDING ME?!

John: To make it more challenging, I will disqualify Meet the Spartans as a movie (which I do anyway, incidentally), and go with the mirthless Four Christmases which was easily the worst movie I saw this year that was at least sort of trying to be good. Vince Vaughn plays out of his range and Reese Witherspoon dumbs herself down considerably. Crappy cameos, stupid ending, no jokes beyond what was shown in the preview; clearly there was no joy in making this thing which is a complement I can actually offer Meet the Spartans.

8. What film were you most disappointed by? Why?

Scott: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. All the good will of getting the band back together for one more go around to piss it all away with a horrid story. I could’ve accepted another Indy serial type film, but it was such a kick to the face I almost wanted my money back.

Travis: Righteous Kill. Waste of two great talents. When you see a film that’s headlined by such renowned thespians like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino you expect quality. Then you see that the film has a screenplay from the writer of Inside Man. Looking good. But when watching the movie, think back to Inside Man. There you had two quality actors paired with a quality director. For Kill, Jon Avnet was at the helm. Not nearly the same pedigree as Spike Lee. Avnet is a producer first and foremost. His track record for films isn’t the greatest (88 Minutes, Up Close & Personal). And it turns out the script isn’t all that great. When you can see the twist within the first five minutes, you know the film won’t work. Even a scantily Carla Gugino couldn’t save it.

John: I’d love to say I saw it coming, but I truly believed George Lucas and company were going to atone for being Star Whores for so many years with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. But what do I say when I get fooled four or five times? The sad thing is that if they make another Indiana Jones movie I would totally see it. Stop date-raping me George Lucas!

9. What was your favorite movie-going experience this year? Why?

Scott: Wanted. The type of film that loses something when on DVD because it works much better on the big screen.

Travis: It would be easy for me to say it was The Dark Knight since I saw it three times while it was in theaters – twice in IMAX and once in a regular auditorium. But to not go with the norm, I’m going to go with Wanted. I only saw it twice. Yet the amount of time between viewings was less than 24 hours. Timur Bekmambetov’s visuals were off the charts. I don’t think there was a scene where something wasn’t happening. The added bonus of seeing Morgan Freeman in a villainous role made it that much more enjoyable. Excellent popcorn-munching entertainment.

John: You guys are going to be surprised by this one, but I probably had the most fun this year at Mirrors. The theater was packed with the sort of rowdy crowd that cheesy horror movies are built for. The whole audience was yelling directions and warnings at the characters and laughing during all the parts that deserved to be mocked. Much more fun than if I had seen it on DVD.

That’s it for this edition. Happy New Year to you and yours!