TraThursdayLer — November
It's the first Thursday of the month which means a new slate of trailers. We have quite an exciting batch, too. The Coen Brothers make their long-anticipated return to their comedy roots, HBO is set to release another exciting series, the Point Break remake gets wild, and Spike Lee returns.
I am an unabashed, unrepentant, unyielding, and, in some cases, undernourished (in regards to their output rate) fan of the Coen Brothers. In my opinion, they are the finest American filmmakers today. In a particular style of film making — the texture of Americana, the substance of the where the country was, comes from and is — I think there should be very little doubt about that.
Which is why this trailer has me downright giddy. Firstly, it’s perceptive. The entire premise is that a movie studio has hedged its biggest bet on a tentpole epic called Hail, Caesar! Which is essentially the way studios do business today. Furthermore, the plot thickens when the most valuable commodity the film has — its star played by George Clooney (a frequent Coen Brothers collaborator) — is kidnapped.
Could you imagine if Robert Downey Jr. went missing days into a shoot on The Avengers? Marvel likely has a massive insurance policy to protect it against kidnapping or MIA's resulting from all-nigh benders, but I digress! The drama would be something to behold.
The trailer has everything you could want. Witty dialogue that teases the ironic flavor of the film, ‘Mr. Mannix, I know it sounds screwy but someone is calling from The Future…’, exceptional camera work by frequent Coen's collaborator, Roger Deakins, and a period piece throwback nostalgia. Plus, hilarity.
It stars a murderers row of acting talent who are taking stabs at comedy. In addition to Clooeny you have Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton (!), Ralph Fiennes (!!), Scarlet Johansson (increasingly the most watchable actress working today (don't believe me? Watch Lucy or Under The Skin) Channing Tatum (!!!!), and, yes, of course Frances McDormand.
Hai, Caesar? No, no, no. Hail, Coens!
First thing you notice: the dubbing. Wow it’s obvious. Luke Bracey, who plays Johnny Utah — character made famous by the he-should-never-be-dubbed Keanue Reeves — is Australian. He must have struggled mightily with his accent or was asked to speak normal and dubbed in post.
This is only made worse because Bracey’s costar, Edgar Ramirez, as the legendary Bodhi, is from Venezuela and no effort is made to hide his accent. Nitpicking? Sure. Of course it is. But this is a remake of Point Break, folks. There is no such thing as nitpicking when a studio decides to use a ready-made brand. They want your money. They’re banking that as a fan of the original you’ll just pay up. Not I!
The story has been altered so that Bodhi and his crew are students of the natural spirit. Or something. Bodhi’s crew are pursuing eight trials that honor the forces of nature. Or something. They need money to pull them off so they rob banks and give back what they don’t keep, like Robin Hood. Or....something. No longer are they just in it for the sheer kicks. Now they’re righteous something, something's, dude...
Some of the stunts look mesmerizing. From skydiving, motocrossing down mountainsides, and that flying squirrel thing that seems to kill a lot of its participants. And, of course, surfing. But the surfing looks to be far less of a focus in this film. Which is, totally a bummer, dude. That may be the point at which I break.
The last time HBO debuted a series in January with this much momentum? True Detective. That worked out pretty well for them (*cough* for one season, at least *cough*).
Music and cinema have always gone hand-in-hand. Nothing can put your senses on notice quite like a montage of beautiful, entrancing visuals overlapped with a captivating line of dialogue that transitions into a a great tune.
This trailer captures that perfectly. “Think back to the first time you heard a song that had the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. That made you wanna dance. Or go out and kick somebody’s ass. That’s what I’m talking about.” Cue ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ by Iggy Pop. Oh. My. Gawd. I wanna go kick ass right now.
The series is produced by Terrance Winter, Martin Scorsese, and Mick friggin’ Jagger. You’ve got the producers of The Sopranos, Raging Bull and Sticky Fingers. Any of those guys walks in a room and it’s, “Hello Mr. _____, you’re the best at what you do, sir.”
Then, as if it needed more, the star of the show is Bobby Cannavale. His Emmy-winning performance on Boardwalk Empire as the quick-to-offend Gyp Rosetti was as captivating as anything on TV (sorry, it’s not TV – it’s HBO!) the last decade. It also stars Juno Temple, Olivia Wilde and...Ray friggin’ Romano? If you’re counting, that’s two sexpots with exceptional acting chops and...Ray Romano. It could be it’s own sitcom: Two Sexpots and A Sitcom Star. I am so eager to see how coked up he gets on this show. There is no other option.
“That’s rock and roll! It’s fast! It’s dirty! It smash you over the head!’ Yes, it does, Mr. Cannavele. Yes, it does.
You know, if there is one director out there who you always want to return to prominence, it's Spike Lee. It feels like forever since Do The Right Thing, He Got Game, The 25th Hour, and When The Levees Broke (cause it has).
The debut trailer for Chi-Raq certainly seems to bring him back to the cynic's voice that always suited him best. Some filmmakers are simply better when they talk in a specific voice and, well, if you've ever heard Spike speak in real life, you can understand how Inside Man or Miracle at St. Anna aren't exactly how he says things. He can be forceful, wry, and sardonic with the best. How can you forget how supercharged every line of dialogue is in Do The Right Thing? Or what of his derision for corrupt bureaucracy and criticism of human nature during Hurricane Katrina? That's Spike at his best.
Chi-Raq steps into the gang violence of south side Chicago, a place where more people were killed in one year than soldiers killed in Iraq, hence the moniker. Lee adds a wry twist to the narrative of violence, adapting an ancient classic Lysistrata, a tale where the title character attempts to force peace during the Peloponnesian War by convincing the women of Greece to withhold sex from their husbands. Same plot applies here. It feels like a good thing that Lee is adapting a story rather than attempting to build a story himself. Which is a good thing. His writing has been a major weakness in recent years with shallow, disengaged narratives.
One thing to be very excited about is Teyonah Paris starring in the lead role as Lysistrata. She played Don Draper's secretary for a number of seasons on Mad Men and was always one of the most engaging actresses when given her time. Nick Cannon as a gangster has an intriguing contradiction to his public persona which could add some depth to the character. I can only hope at one point, he point shis gun to the sky and fires off a few rounds, 'Yoooou've gooooot taaaaaleeeeeent!' Mostly though, Samuel L. Jackson filling the narrator role, always a very important in classic plays, adds a dose of energy a la his pseudo-narrator role as Mister Senor Love Daddy in Do The Right Thing.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb @NPBroadcaster