EVERYBODY knows about that famed rodent of weather prediction, Punxatawney Phil. Every February 2nd, he pops out of his den like Santa Claus and looks around at the world. This is the only time he sees sunlight all year, because he is kept in a locked dungeon for the rest of the year. When Phil looks around, he may or may not see his shadow, and depending on the shadow-sighting, this is alleged to determine how many more weeks of winter will follow. Needless to say, Phil’s predictions are nearly always correct. This fact has led some to theorize that Phil is in actuality a disgraced wizard who was transformed into his pathetic groundhog form by a rival during the Middle Ages.
What most people are not aware of, though, is that Lawrence, KS has its own prognosticatin’ groundhog – Lawrence Lyle. His name is equally alliterative, but his powers of prediction are much more limited. Instead of determining whether the world will endure several more weeks of biting chills, he instead looks at movie trailers and early buzz (and, honestly, sometimes he just has gut reactions) in order to determine whether the coming year’s films will prove to be the equivalent of an Early Spring or 6 More Weeks of Winter. Of course, only time will tell whether Lyle’s predictions are correct – he’s no Punxatawney Phil, after all – but let’s all humor him and pretend that we believe he’s got some kind of super-powers.
And with that, I give you Lyle’s thoughts on some of 2011’s cinematic treats…
The Beaver – 6 More Weeks of Winter
The recent racist, misogynistic ramblings of star Mel Gibson aside, director Jodie Foster’s comedy sounds cute on its face. The trailer, however, seems to show a movie that is unfortunately weak and lame. Gibson may be able to gain a little bit of credibility back by playing a somewhat bizarre character that wears a beaver puppet on his hand and speaks to it as though it were alive, but beyond that it looks to be all sap. Spoiler alert: There are laughs, tears, and a strong moral center about the importance of family, being confident in yourself, and yuck yuck yuck.
Courageous – 6 More Weeks of Winter
Being a lesser being, Lyle has no need for human constructs like religion, but he knows that the guy who usually runs this website has a weird affinity for Christian cinema, so here’s the scoop on the newest film from the Kendrick Brothers (of Facing the Giants and Fireproof fame). What made the Kendricks’ previous films work was their seeming cluelessness with regard to how bad their movies were. Because it’s a church production, amateur actors – read as: people who went to their church – were used in the first few movies, and the lead role was reserved for director Alex Kendrick. As the filmmaking duo gains notoriety, however, their movies have started to trail toward the unoffensively bland. Courageous looks to finish the job Fireproof started by being the exact opposite of “some serious humor”.
Cowboys & Aliens – Early Spring
Look, Lyle ain’t saying that this is going to be the best movie of the year, but there’s something about the idea of putting aliens and cowboys together that is just inherently wonderful, and judging from the trailer it’s going to be done with a lot more panache than the cowboy-samurai hybrids that have been popping up lately. Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, and Paul Dano are all actors with mostly strong careers, and if the movie stays true to the trailer – a slow, dark, quiet movie punctuated with bursts of violent science fiction – this could be a highlight of 2011. The only wild card here is director Jon Favreau, who most recently did the Iron Man movies and, um, Zathura.
Drive Angry 3D – Early Spring
Lyle has to side with Josh Glasgow on this one, mostly because Josh is much larger than the poor little groundhog and could easily crush him if angered. It’s a movie filmed in 3-D, rather than hurriedly transmogrified in post-production, and it stars Nicolas Cage as a bad-ass who escapes from Hell in order to cause some awesome car chase action-packed trouble. What does it have going for it? Knowing exactly what it is and embracing that. Also, the inclusion of Cage: this man knocks ’em out the park when he’s in the zone, and this character feels just off-the-wall enough to be a classic. On the other hand, the actor doesn’t exhibit any freak-outs in the trailer (wouldn’t you highlight that?) and the movie is coming on the heels of the sedate Season of the Witch. Also, it’s hard not to cringe at William Fichtner’s “I’ll see you again in three months” line. Hopefully it will be more gleeful absurdity than disappointing stabs at jokey humor.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Early Spring
Lyle may not be quite sold on Rooney Mara as heroine Lisbeth Salander, but that may be largely because Noomi Rapace was so perfect for the role in the original Swedish films. Like 2010’s Let Me In, this is an American remake that nobody was asking for. But unlike that film, this one is being made by virtuoso director David Fincher (his The Social Network has been hailed as the film of our age) rather than that one guy who made Cloverfield. Further, although the original film was very good, it was not immune to criticism and so it’s conceivable that Fincher could bring something different to the story. Rumor says that the ending has been altered entirely, so even if you’re a die-hard fan of the original film, there’s at least an alternate ending to draw you in. Also, Let Me In bucked expectations by being decent – it’s hard to imagine Fincher doing anything less.
Hanna – Early Spring
Director Joe Wright gets a free pass for a while thanks to his amazing 2007 film Atonement, a movie which was wrongly seen as little more than a period piece at that year’s awards ceremonies. Only the BAFTAs recognized the film, but that’s small consolation given that they drool over anything semi-British. Still, Hanna features the earlier film’s breakout star Saoirse Ronan as what appears to be an assassin. The film looks gorgeous from the trailer and leaves enough mystery to make the viewer want to see more. Of course, it’s easy to imagine this becoming another The Lovely Bones-type fiasco, especially given Wright’s failed last effort The Soloist, but the Lyle and I are both willing to give Wright the benefit of the doubt.
Harry Potter 7.2 – Early Spring
Coming off of the disappointing sixth installment of the Harry Potter franchise, hopes were not high for director David Yates to turn it around and bring some excitement back. What he delivered is the most mature and engaging film in the series to date, and quite possibly the best film of the year (Oscars, be damned!). I can’t speak for Lyle, but Josh saw the movie in theaters twice and was blown away both times. It added depth and humanity to the characters while ramping up the darkness and dread. Judging from the first released still from Part 2, this should be a continuation of the mood set in 7.1 – and hey, it’s the final installment of a decade-long series: it’s gotta go out with a bang.
Hugo Cabret – 6 More Weeks of Winter
It’s tempting to say that, hey, it’s a movie being filmed in 3-D by Martin Scorsese and call it a winner on that alone. But it’s also a PG-rated children’s feature, a genre that the famously R-rated Sorsese rarely travels in. And though Scorsese definitely has many classic films under his belt, this groundhog can’t help but think of the off-balance Gangs of New York, for one. And it’s about a boy who has adventures in a toy shop? Calling Mr. Magorium, telephone call for Mr. Magorium. There’s no trailer released yet, so it’s hard to form a definite opinion on the film – but last year everybody was shocked when the certainly award-ready Shutter Island was shelved til February. I won’t be surprised if this movie suffers a similar fate, i.e. not being as important as we thought it was.
Immortals – Early Spring
Director Tarsem Singh has two feature films to his name, both of them astounding works of genius. The guy’s batting .1000 right now, so it’s hard to imagine that his long in the works picture about Greek gods could be anything other than mind-bending and awesome. Stephen Dorff recently claimed that Singh’s new film is like “300 meets Gladiator“, which could be a wicked combination. This should definitely be one of your most anticipated films this year; hopefully the general public won’t write it off as a tired story coming on the heels of Clash of the Titans.
The Lincoln Lawyer – 6 More Weeks of Winter
I’d like to say that the trailer looks awesome, so the movie probably will be too. It’s difficult to make that leap, though, because the action sequences that flash briefly here all look kind of phoned in. It’s nice to see McConaughey playing a role outside of a cheesy romantic comedy, and this certainly seems to suit him. The movie might be made on the lead alone. But it could also fall apart in poorly constructed plot twists caused by whittling the movie down from the novel it was based upon. Believe me, I’d be happy to see this one turn out to be a winner… but Lyle’s shadow is saying no.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins – 6 More Weeks of Winter
Jim Carrey plays with penguins. Carrey is at his worst when he’s being wacky, and this movie is sure to be brimming with the wacky, mugging-for-the-camera Carrey that we all know and tolerate. Added to the mix: cute animals. It’s too easy to imagine the pitch, and that false feeling makes Mr. Popper’s Penguins the equivalent of a foot of snow in early March. And if it weren’t bad enough already, they’ve changed the setting so that Carrey can live in a loft in downtown New York with his penguins. And to Philip Baker Hall, what the hell are you doing in this movie?
The Muppets – Early Spring
This is a tentative yes. The movie is being birthed by television’s Jason Segel, who made a splash in the riotous Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but then has done little on the silver screen of note since. The movie is sure to be chock full of celebrity cameos, which is not always a good thing, and Segel’s obvious boredom on his primary vehicle “How I Met Your Mother” makes it easy to wonder whether he’ll be able to bring the magic to this endeavor. But then, it’s the Muppets. How can you screw up a Muppet movie?
Rango – Early Spring
I’m getting pretty tired of seeing the trailer for this animated film, but still hoping for the best. The animation looks great, which is the main thing. The story could go toward the juvenile, but from what we can see so far at least, the movie doesn’t hinge on crude humor the way that many other children’s films do. By all means, this appears to be a crisp, energetic film with some great voicework. With Pixar focusing its efforts on a sequel to a lesser effort of theirs, it’s possible that Rango could end up being the best animated film of the year… so long as it delivers on its promise of maintaining some intelligence.
Restless – Early Spring
It’s hard to say on this one, as director Gus Van Sant is kind of hit or miss. Is this intended to be a mainstream effort, or a quiet indie film? From the trailer, it’s about a boy and a girl falling in love over multiple funerals, but it also includes the comic stylings of an Asian ghost. Will the movie hinge mostly on the relationships between the characters (including the ghost)? It’s hard to imagine Van Sant making a conventional romantic comedy-drama out of this, though in anybody else’s hands it would appear to be born from the same cloth as The Lake House or Charlie St. Cloud. If it weren’t for Van Sant being behind this, I’d imagine that that’s exactly what this was. My greasy, grimy gopher guts.. er, groundhog guts are telling me that there’s something more here, though.
Sucker Punch – 6 More Weeks of Winter
“From the director of 300 and Watchmen,” is not a phrase that makes this small, furry mammal excited. So I guess it’s no surprise then that Zack Snyder’s latest leaves me yawning. Judging from the trailer, it’s overflowing with visual garbage, a CGI nightmare to almost rival Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow… only with scantily clad women as super-hero warriors. Hey, it’s female empowerment for the ladies! Hey, it’s sexy ladies dukin’ it out for the fellas! Hey, it’s not worth my time.
Tree of Life – Early Spring
This may be a case where the trailer is far superior to the movie, but I’m hoping not. Terrence Malick’s latest looks like a peculiar meditation on life, death, commitment, the universe, and everything in between. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on here, except that it looks incredible. There are few movies for 2011 just yet that look as adult as this one – adult, in the sense that it appears to be broaching some pretty heady subjects, the kind of thing that’s not usually discussed in mid-May but instead held back for the winter-time awards season. Malick is known for making movies that are more fun to look at than to watch, and that may be the case all over again here, but the trailer makes a pretty strong case for something extraordinary.
Winnie the Pooh – 6 More Weeks of Winter
A lot of people are pointing out that this is the first Winnie the Pooh feature made by Disney in decades, that it’s unusual in that it is being drawn by hand in a time when computers rule the earth, and so on. I’m sure this will be a fine film, but the Pooh series has always been for children at heart, and so it’s hard for me to imagine that this movie’s going to make any impact anywhere. If Lyle spent as much time on the internet as Josh does, he’d probably have seen people claiming that Pooh’s chances would be greater if somebody hadn’t stupidly chosen to debut it on the same weekend as the final Harry Potter film. It’s hard to believe that Disney would be that dense. It’s meant for a different audience. It will be acceptable to them, but otherwise nothing special.
Hangover, Pirates, Kung Fu Panda, X-Men, Cars, Transformers, Spy Kids, Final Destination, Sherlock Holmes, Mission Impossible, Paranormal Activity, Fast/Furious – 1 Million More Weeks of Winter
Nine times out of ten, a sequel is little more than a desperate grab for extra cash. Or in this case, 12 times out of 10. In short, sequels suck.