(On the plus side, the buzz for Adventureland is growing increasingly positive. It’s hard to say which I’m more excited about this weekend, the release of the movie or my fantasy baseball draft. O.K., it’s the draft, but still, I’m pumped for Adventureland, and you should be too.)
Anyway, Adventureland aside, the best word to characterize April’s theatrical release schedule is feeble. As someone who unashamedly adores movies (even, God forbid, modern movies), I generally refrain from gloom-and-doom pessimism, but it’s difficult for even the most hearty theatregoer to approach April with more than minimal enthusiasm. Sure, there are a few films I’m excited to see (three, to be precise), but I had to struggle just to fill out a top five, which is severely discouraging. (I couldn’t in good conscience include James Toback’s documentary Tyson or Dito Montiel’s Fighting – Toback is a hack, and Montiel’s first movie, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, annoyed me.) Furthermore, the gargantuan shadow of May looms, when the blockbuster season officially begins and my teenage soul gets revved up, so it’s hard not to look past spring’s opening month.
Nevertheless, there’s always the possibility that I’m unaware of an upcoming release or that a movie will exceed my expectations, so I’m not hanging my head just yet. Regardless, here are the Manifesto’s five most highly anticipated releases of April – as always, sound off in the Comments about what you’re excited to see.
5. Gigantic (April 3, limited). I don’t know much about this movie, and I’d like to keep it that way; in the online era of rampant spoilers and trailer proliferation, it’s the rare opportunity to enter a theatre knowing virtually nothing about what will be shown onscreen. What I do know is that it stars Paul Dano, who performed admirably in the unenviable task of acting as Daniel Day-Lewis’ foil in There Will Be Blood and also starred as one of the three legs of the tripod in one of my great guilty pleasures, The Girl Next Door. That 2004 crowd-pleaser helped usher Emile Hirsch to stardom, but Dano has carved out a nice niche for himself as well, including a memorable role in Little Miss Sunshine (he’s also appearing later this year in Ang Lee’s Oscar-bait, Taking Woodstock).
So Dano is someone to watch, and he’s joined by Zooey Deschanel, that blue-eyed buttercup who’s been gliding effortlessly through this decade’s films ever since Almost Famous (“One day … you’ll be cool”). Miss Deschanel may not be the rangiest actress out there, but she’s compulsively watchable, and she’s capable of illuminating a picture and holding an audience hostage with the merest blink of her baby-blues (see her supporting work in The Assassination of Jesse James or Bridge to Terabithia). So when you pair two engaging young actors and throw them in something called Gigantic (with John Goodman and Ed Asner providing support), you’ve done enough to get me intrigued.
4. The Informers (April 24, limited). I know just as little about The Informers as I do about Gigantic, but its pedigree is certainly eye-catching. The cast is impressively sleazy – Billy Bob Thornton, Mickey Rourke, and Winona Ryder never hesitate to get dirty – but the big news is that it’s based on a novel by Brett Easton Ellis. I’m not exactly an ardent fan of the film adaptation of Ellis’ American Psycho – probably because I’m not mentally unbalanced – but it’s certainly compelling, and I get the feeling The Informers will be nothing if not watchable. Director Gregor Jordan lacks acclaim, but I enjoyed his serviceable Buffalo Soldiers, an off-kilter look at military turbulence. Whether Jordan can shanghai Easton Ellis’ frenzied prose into something cinematically accessible remains to be seen, but I confess I’m interested.
3. Observe and Report (April 10). People here and there are grousing about Seth Rogen’s meteoric rise to popularity, but here’s my question: Has he stopped being funny? Sure, Pineapple Express was a bit of a letdown (though it wasn’t his fault), but his performances in The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up constitute a phenomenal one-two comedic punch. Throw in solid turns in Superbad and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and he’s given us four truly memorable roles in comedies in the past four years. That’s a rare talent these days. I don’t know if it’s Jewish pride or just film appreciation, but I will defend Seth Rogen at all costs.
Perhaps more important, however, is that Observe and Report – which, by the way, is ostensibly a comedy about an overeager mall-cop protecting his turf, and no, it has nothing to do with that fucking Kevin James movie that made five billion dollars – is the brainchild of Jody Hill. Why is this important? Because Jody Hill is one of the creators of “Eastbound & Down”, the tremendous new HBO comedy series that will soon give Danny McBride (another true talent) his due and also introduced the world to Katy Mixon and her ridiculous breasts. It’s an utterly hilarious show – offbeat, outrageous, politically incorrect, and truly unpredictable. If nothing else, “Eastbound & Down” effortlessly eschews formula, and that innovative approach to comedy could pay big dividends for a Seth Rogen vehicle. So in the words of Ollivander, I think we can expect great things from you, Observe and Report.
2. State of Play (April 17). Now we’re talking. Though it appears defiantly American in its advertising, State of Play is actually a remake of a terrific British miniseries helmed by David Yates, who is now directing the final installments of the Harry Potter franchise and who to me is probably a more important celebrity than Barack Obama. Yates’ electric series spans six hours and focuses on, among other things, political corruption, journalistic integrity, the drug underworld, and James McAvoy’s dreaminess. In crafting the remake, director Kevin Macdonald (who helmed the serviceable Last King of Scotland) will need to cull a number of subplots while maintaining the urgency and complexity of the original series, which is surely no easy task.
Fortunately for Macdonald, he has three crack screenwriters collaborating on the project: Matthew Michael Carnahan, who penned a surprisingly sophisticated script for The Kingdom; Tony Gilroy, who wrote all three Bourne movies as well as Michael Clayton and Duplicity and just may be the most talented screenwriter alive; and Billy Ray, whose two writer-director credits include the stunningly perceptive Shattered Glass and the cagey, efficient Breach. The commonality among the three, other than that they’re all good writers, is that all have delved into thorny political issues (global military jurisdiction, ethics of corporate law, traitorous collaboration among government agents) with an appropriate combination of subtlety and dynamism. For State of Play to serve as a nuanced examination of contemporary journalistic and political mores rather than just as a straightforward whodunit, Macdonald will need that level of texture. If nothing else, he’s chosen the right screenwriters.
And the right actors as well. It’ll be interesting to see if Ben Affleck can match Russell Crowe’s magnetism, but let’s not forget Affleck was on a superstar trajectory before poor script choices derailed his career. Crowe himself is an automatic slam dunk at this point in his career (honestly, try naming his last role in which he wasn’t spectacular), and the same can be said for Rachel McAdams (you might remember a certain author of the Manifesto declaring her a future star way back in 2004). Jason Bateman will bring some welcome low-key humor to an otherwise sizzling production, and Helen Mirren should ably slide into Bill Nighy’s shoes as Crowe’s eyebrow-arching superior.
State of Play isn’t a danger-free production. It’s undoubtedly difficult to slice a two-hour miniseries teeming with vitality into a compact two-hour feature with a functional storyline and appropriate character development. But the right cast is in place, and the right writers are at the table. Let’s get to it.
1. The Soloist (April 24). The blogosphere is convinced this movie’s going to fail for two reasons: The release date was pushed back from last fall to this spring, and the trailer looks alarmingly schmaltzy. To answer the first, DreamWorks intentionally delayed The Soloist not because of any issues with its production but because the studio was gunning for an Oscar nomination for Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder and didn’t want to distract voters with another lead performance from Downey Jr., especially when he’d already appeared in Iron Man earlier in 2008. (By the way, it worked.) So if you’re speculating that The Soloist was rife with production difficulties and was shunted unceremoniously to April for that reason, as Emperor Palpatine would say, you will find it is you who are mistaken (about a great many things).
As for the trailer, I admit that it’s a little heavy on the sap, though that doesn’t prevent me from breaking out into goose bumps every time I see it. But let’s ignore the potentially hokey story (depressed journalist develops bond with homeless prodigy), and let’s ignore the ridiculously talented cast (Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Catherine Keener, Tom Hollander, Stephen Root). Because really, only one thing matters:
The Soloist is directed by Joe Wright.
Bam! O.K., I’ll explain. Joe Wright has made two movies thus far in his sure-to-be-immortalized film career. His first was Pride & Prejudice, which easily ranks as the superlative cinematic adaptation of a Jane Austen novel and remains one of the most elegant, tender, and all-around beautiful movies of the decade. His second, which somehow surpassed Pride & Prejudice on virtually every level, was Atonement. I can’t really discuss Atonement rationally at this point; whenever anyone mentions it, I start convulsing and need to be chained to a radiator like Cristina Ricci in Black Snake Moan until I can get my emotions under control. Suffice it to say that it holds a place in my All-Time Top 10 Movies – I’ve seen a lot of movies, so as Ron Burgundy would say, that’s kind of a big deal. (For anyone interested in more detail – much, much more –on my thoughts on Atonement, feel free to refer to the links to the 2007 Manifesto. You won’t run out of reading material.)
So suffice it to say that I await Joe Wright’s third feature with an unhinged anticipation bordering on fanatical zealotry. Is the storyline potentially hokey? Maybe, but I don’t care. Is the cast outrageously talented? Certainly, but again, I don’t care. Joe Wright is making this movie, and that alone has me absolutely convinced that it’s going to be tremendous. Hallelujah.
(And if it sucks, I can always watch Pride & Prejudice and Atonement back-to-back before crying myself to sleep. God bless DVD.)