Paramount via Everett Collection
Two dunderheaded stepbrothers, a bigoted manchild news reporter, and the recent economic downturn. One of these things is not like the others. Adam McKay has built up a long legacy of idiotic comedy through his frequent collaborations with Will Ferrell, but his next upcoming project is going to be quite the departure from the director’s usual fare. McKay is set to direct an adaptation of author Michael Lewis’ The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, a book that sheds light on the housing and credit bubble. McKay is equipped with a directoral know-how more suited towards laughter, so a drama film is about the last thing we expected from the director. This is the guy that just made Anchorman 2 after all, and unless it's revealed that Ron Burgundy was the guy behind all of those fraudulent loans, we’re not sure what this upcoming feature will look like when all is said and done. With all that said, McKay’s sudden dramatic inspiration is not totally unheard of in Hollywood. Other directors have taken surprising left turns in their careers, and made films well outside of their perceived comfort zones:
In 1979, Francis Ford Coppola made Apocalypse Now, a tragic and surreal vision of the Vietnam war. Seventeen years later, he made the accelerated aging comedy Jack, which starred Robin Williams as a five-year-old in a 50-year-old's body. The horror, the horror.
In 1976, Martin Scorsese made Taxi Driver, a dark and gritty character study about an unhinged man trying to "clean up" the corruption of New York City. Thirty-five years later, he made Hugo, a whimsical family film about a boy living in a clock.
In 1991, John Singleton made Boyz n the Hood, a tragic look at the corrosive influence of gang life on inner-city youth. Twelve years later, he made 2 Fast 2 Furious, the most broey movie of all time.
In 2000, Ron Howard made a live-action adaptation of Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas, starring the mostly rubber funnyman Jim Carrey. Eight years later, he made Frost/Nixon, a historical drama about a post-Watergate scandal interview with Richard Nixon, honing in on how the president's duplicity tore America apart.
In 1987, Rob Reiner made the loopy, enchanting fairy tale classic (and "kissing story") The Princess Bride. Five years later, he made A Few Good Men, a stirring courtroom drama about the violent murder of a soldier.
In 1979, Steven Spielberg made 1941, a zany comedy satirizing war with the antics of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Fourteen years later he made Schindler's List, a heart wrenching story about one man's efforts to save Jews in Nazi Germany... scientifically proven to be the saddest movie ever created.
In 2004, David Gordon Green made Undertow, a harsh thriller about two young brothers trying to escape their murderous uncle. Seven years later, he made Your Highness, a medieval stoner comedy featuring Danny McBride.
In 1973, Robert Altman made A Long Goodbye, a neo-noir mystery film. Seven years later, he made Popeye, starring Robin Williams as the anchor armed sailor with a serious spinach dependency.
In 2001, Steven Soderbergh made Ocean's Eleven, a fun and campy remake of a fun and campy Rat Pack classic. Four years later, he made Bubble, a pitch black, intense look at the dead-end lives of several lifeless doll factory workers surrounding a murder.
In 1996, Kenneth Branagh made Hamlet, an adaptation of one of Shakespeare's most revered, and most tragic, play. Fifteen years later, he made Thor, a film about a magical hammer affectionately called "mew mew."
'The Little Mermaid' and 'Avatar' Both Return
1. The Animated Voice Business is Booming.
Children of the world, if you're looking for a job I'd start working on that voice of yours. As an example I'd like to point out exhibit A, Despicable Me out this weekend. As Thomas Leupp has already rightfully noted, it's delightful. But that's not the focus of this particular musing, nope, I want you to scroll down the cast list and note who "Jerry the Minion" is being voiced by, a fellow by the name of Jemaine Clement. A couple of things you should know about this casting choice:
1. Jemaine Clement is one-half of The Flight of the Conchords band, of HBO show fame, and a world-class New Zealand humorist. Admittedly, Jemaine Clement is a very funny human, worthy of any role offered to him.
2. The Minions are completely unintelligible in Despicable Me. You can't understand a word they are saying. Here, watch this:
So what conclusions can we draw when they have a hilarious Kiwi voice a creature that doesn't speak a lick of English? I'll tell you what conclusion to draw: they are handing out money for voice work. I don't know how much he made on this project, and you don't either, but I guarantee it's more than either of us made this year (unless C. Robert Cargill is reading this ... that guy is fully loaded). Clearly, the choice to cast Jemaine was crazy overkill, because they could have gotten the interns to speak gibberish into a microphone and called it a day. Hey, don't get me wrong, I'm appreciative of the effort, and the Minions are really funny throughout, I just want people in a down economy to having something to shoot for. Also providing a voice in this movie? Jason Segel, only you can't tell that it's him because he purposefully puts on an accent. That's right, they paid Segel NOT to sound like Segel! These guys had some budget to burn. Starting this weekend I'm working on not sounding anything like myself. It could be my key to financial freedom!
2. The Little Mermaid is Back!
The Little Mermaid was released all the way back in 1989; Splash came out three years prior. So the stage is definitely set for director Joe Wright to bring us some compelling live-action Mermaid-related content. No, Popeye didn't work. True, The Flinstones was a disaster. And Wright's last project, The Soloist was visually compelling but lacked anything nearing a coherent story. So this could turn into an epic disaster, a Waterworld level punchline.
Which is precisely why I'm betting on it. Our expectations couldn't be lower because mermaids usually look fake (the tail portion usually foils the shot) and the transition from cartoon to live-action generally ends in disaster. So why not? We've got nowhere to go but up with this project, though I do wish he was simply remaking the Disney version and not going all the way back to the Hans Christian Andersen source material.
Wright directed Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, two brilliantly paced films. He's visually gifted. This could work, I'm officially talking myself into it and I'm hoping they tap me to direct the viral campaign (Hint: it would involve multiple trips to the Red Lobster seafood buffet). One final piece of advice: consider casting Amy Adams or Emma Stone. Don't leave Ariel to chance, cast a pro.
3. Avatar isn't Done with You Yet.
Are people really going to buy another $15 IMAX ticket to see eight additional minutes of Avatar? The film was over 150 minutes already, how does another five percent of running time merit another trip to the multiplex? Or are there still folks out there who haven't seen it in theaters or watched the DVD?
I don't quite get this move because they'll still have to market it, send out prints, and compete against films no one has seen yet. Yeah, they'll probably be able to come up with another $50m or so in box-office revenue, adding to the prodigious $2.7 billion the film already earned, but it seems like a ton of effort for very little gain. Not to mention the mistake of fleecing the same sheep all over again. Avatar was a massive movie, a cultural touchstone, but it doesn't need another theatrical run for eight lousy minutes. I mean, c'mon fellas. Let's all act like professionals around here, eh? On that note, I hope you all have a great weekend, full of first-run films! Check out last week's Movie Musings here
Laremy is the lead critic and senior producer for a website named Film.com. He's also available on Twitter.