Trailers of the Week: And the Band Played On

The Oscars are a week gone already, and the film world has settled into that soothing lull between awards circuit madness and the summer blockbuster explosion. Things will ramp up again very soon with “Captain America 2” on its way in early April, but in the meantime here’s a few rhythmically-inclined teasers to remind you that even now in the quieter weeks, the music never stops.

Frank

Lenny Abrahamson’s absurd-looking story of a musician who prefers to hide behind a bizarre fishbowl head had its share of defenders and detractors at Sundance, and indeed it strikes me as a conceit that could either turn out brilliantly or insufferably precocious. But I’m enthusiastic after this first look, which proves that Michael Fassbender is an unearthly charismatic performer even when he’s got nothing but his voice and body language. I’m a fan of all the ensemble, in fact – Maggie Gyllenhaal is at her best in the dry, incisive mode she’s showing off here, Scoot McNairy is the kind of character actor that delivers no matter thankless role he’s given (hello, “Non-Stop”), and Domhnall Gleeson is proving to be a likably offbeat leading man. As long as the black comedy outweighs the self-conscious quirkiness, this could be a winner.

Breathe In

Doremus isn’t really stretching himself in terms of style in his follow-up to 2011 Sundance sleeper “Like Crazy” – the melancholic, hesitant mood and deceptively controlled camerawork here seems much the same as his debut. The melodrama has been ratcheted up a notch, though, moving from the perils of modern long-distance relationships to the turmoil of a music teacher falling for the foreign exchange student he and his wife are hosting. Both Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones look relaxed with Doremus’ improvisational approach to his scripts – Pearce even manages to deliver that clunky, trite “you don’t seem as young as you actually are” line with authenticity. There’s a literary sort of emotional truth that helps “Like Crazy” mostly ring true, even when the plotting tips toward the incredulous – can Doremus bring that same touch to “Breathe In,” with what looks like an even more overdone narrative?

The Broken Circle Breakdown

The Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars is always an opportunity for a few adventurous titles to get their name out to a wider audience that would otherwise never ever hear of them. Titles like “The Great Beauty” and “The Hunt” had at least a little exposure to art-house viewers, but even the most dedicated cinephiles might have been hard-pressed to tell you anything about Belgium’s submission, a bluegrass-infused relationship drama that quietly earned a fair amount of acclaim on the festival circuit last year. Be forewarned, I read that “Broken Circle Breakdown” is far more “Blue Valentine” than “Crazy Heart” – but as a huge fan of the former, I have no problems with that, and this stylish little teaser has certainly piqued my interest.

Trailers of the Week: Turn, Turn, Turn

To everything there is a season. as awards season 2013 slowly (slowly, slowly) winds down with the BAFTAs tonight marking the last major precursor before the Oscars themselves in two weeks, it’s time to start looking ahead to the year in film that will be 2014.

Shockingly, we already have the year’s first cinematic phenomenon, with “The Lego Movie” absolutely crushing the box office two weeks in a row and picking up scores of positive reviews from critics as well. I’ll try to get a full review in soon, but it’s a blast. After the surprise success of the “21 Jump Street” reboot and now this, writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are sure to be hot tickets in the industry. In that spirit, we’ll start off with our little 2014 trailer preview with a few more films that could contribute to this being another banner year for animation.

Ernest & Celestine

Indie distributor powerhouse GKIDS did it again this year, already guiding this charming-looking French film to an Oscar nomination. An English dub and slightly expanded release look to capitalize on that recognition. I wish I had caught it in the original French, but the animation looks suitably gorgeous enough, and the story charming, in any case. Plus, Lauren Bacall now voices the matron mouse, so not all dubbing is questionable.

The Boxtrolls

We don’t get anything of the story of “The Boxtrolls” from this teaser, but I love that Laika, the studio behind “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” decided to put the behind-the-scenes work front and center. The craft and artistry of Laika’s work has been astounding, and it’s entrancing to see these stop-motion figures come alive in front of our eyes. Anyway, the story apparently tells of a boy raised by the eponymous trash-dwelling creatures, who are endangered by an evil exterminator. Sounds suitably Roald Dahl-ish to me; since “ParaNorman” was a particular favorite, I’m very much looking forward to whatever Laika has cooked up next.

A Long Way Down

I was already scared that someone was attempting to film probably one of Nick Hornby’s trickiest novels, tonally. There’s something about an impromptu suicide pact support group that works in Hornby’s nimble prose, but runs a risk of being insufferably maudlin when literally visualized. And, well, this trailer certainly doesn’t dispel that fear. A critical drubbing at the film’s premiere in Berlin pretty much confirmed the worst. It’s a shame, as the casting is reasonably spot-on, and I pretty much desperately want to love anything with Toni Collette. But this looks like a total misfire that misreads Hornby’s black comedy for inspiration.

Joe

What’s up with Tye Sheridan and gruff, inappropriate mentors with mysterious pasts? In any case, it’s nice that David Gordon Green, an indie darling who seemed peculiarly sidetracked by big-budget stoner films like “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness,” has returned to the taut, primal kind of filmmaking that made his name. “Prince Avalanche” was a pleasant, unexpectedly meditative little piece last year that made excellent use of Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, and now “Joe” looks to resurrect the one and only Nicolas Cage. I’m not entirely sold on his performance just from this trailer, but at least it does look like he’s giving a damn again. “Joe” premiered last year at Venice and got generally favorable reviews both there and at Toronto, so it could be worth a watch even if the narrative looks like a fairly standard genre rehash.

Transcendence

Wally Pfister, Chistopher Nolan’s long-time cinematographer, strikes out on his own in a big-budget directorial debut that sure looks to have a huge debt to his friend and collaborator. Set aside that he’s even stolen a couple of Nolan repertoire members (Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Rebecca Hall), the combination of high-concept sci-fi with eye-popping set pieces sure has that “Inception” stamp on it. How will Pfister fare, especially considering Nolan’s got his own enigmatic sci-fi project coming up later in the year with “Interstellar?”

The first couple looks at “Transcendence” certainly have been intriguing. The cast is fantastic (Paul Bettany is always welcome), especially with Johnny Depp, also, actually looking like he gives a damn; and I’m excited that he’s decided to take on a more villainous/menacing role, a route he hasn’t gone down for a while now. The ideas swirling around artificial intelligence are also quite challenging – can Pfister and company follow through on them rather than devolving into explosions? The writer, Jack Paglen, is a newcomer, so we have no clues there.

I can’t help but think they’ve already shot their wad a bit here with money shots, though; unless there’s something even more spectacular they’re not showing, the question now isn’t what we will see but why it’s happening. That’s never quite as satisfying as encountering such imagery firsthand in the theater.

Trailers of the Week: No, You’re Not on Drugs, Jared Leto is Back

Dallas Buyers Club

“Dallas Buyers Clubs” has been lurking on the circuit for a while, as critics and viewers waited to see whether the film would be just another notch in Matthew McConaughey’s continued career resurrection or a complete package. Rave reviews out of Toronto has everyone leaning towards the latter, with everyone insisting that the true-life tale of homophobe-turned-HIV-patient-turned-drug-smuggler Ron Woodroof is not just a baity performance piece but a genuinely touching account of redemption and survival. McConaughey’s scary physical transformation sure seems to be matched by an emotional dedication to the character – it seems like the whole key to his sudden rebirth has been that he’s started picking out roles that he can genuinely invest in, and good for him. This season’s Best Actor race is a tight field already, but factor in all the good vibes for his career turn-around and a nomination’s all but assured.

We don’t get to see as much as him, but I should think Jared Leto’s also a pretty safe bet. I don’t see how the Academy resists an actor playing an HIV-positive transgender woman (see: Felicity Huffman in “Transamerica,” Jaye Davidson in “The Crying Game”). The film itself sure looks to tug at the heartstrings – but as is always the question with these prestige pics, can it do so without feeling manipulative?

Mr. Nobody

Speaking of resurrections, apparently we’ve decided to give this whole “Jared Leto acting” thing another shot. Although, the circumstances behind “Mr. Nobody” are a bit odd –  it debuted in 2009 at the Venice and Toronto festivals to overwhelmingly favorable reviews (and even some raves) and earned a release in Europe, but for no discernible reason didn’t get American distribution until this year. Considering its level of acclaim and fair share of recognizable Hollywood actors, that’s really inexplicable. But no matter – “Mr. Nobody” looks to satisfy those who were frustrated by the bombast of “Cloud Atlas” with a smaller-scale sci-fi investigation of the way our choices resonate across our lifetimes (devoted readers might recall that I thought the pure bombast was actually the only thing keeping “Cloud Atlas” afloat, but sure, let’s try again).

Kill Your Darlings

The trailer for this Sundance favorite is a bit disjointed, but somewhere in there’s a moody depiction of Beatnik-era New York – and the plethora of intriguing young acting talent is certainly enough to keep an eye on this one. Daniel Radcliffe is on a mission to leave his Harry Potter days behind him, and he might just do it – I’m actually starting to think he might end up with the best career of that whole bunch, although Emma Watson was pretty spectacular in “The Bling Ring”. But he certainly seems to challenge himself with his roles more than Watson does – there’s no real consistent through-line from Harry Potter to “Equus” to Broadway musicals to young Allen Ginsburg, but there he goes. Meanwhile, Dane DeHaan was basically the best part of Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines” – keep an eye on this guy. Ben Foster I’m always happy to see, and he should have plenty of fun with the eccentric William S. Burroughs. Jack Huston (as Jack Kerouac), Michael C. Hall, Elizabeth Olsen, Jennifer Jason Leigh – a tremendous cast all around and a fascinating true story that I personally know nothing about.

The Double

I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about Richard Ayoade’s debut film “Submarine” – an odd little coming-of-age film that felt like Wes Anderson filtered through Mike Leigh. But I love love love this brief but very atmospheric look at his follow-up feature, an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s short story with pitch-perfect casting on paper. Jesse Eisenberg plays the dual lead role of a nebbishy office worker who starts to be replaced by a charismatic, asshole doppelganger that no one seems to notice looks exactly like him. That’s basically an ideal personality split for Eisenberg, who combined both halves so well in “The Social Network.” Mia Wasikowska also strikes me as a great fit for one of Dostoevsky’s idealized, sweet but distant romantic objects. The film has gotten solid reviews out of Toronto, but as a Russian literature lover this one will be a priority for me.

Escape from Tomorrow

So this one needs some explanation. “Escape from Tomorrow” was filmed, astoundingly, almost entirely on location inside both Disney World and Disneyland. And director Randy Moore did it all without the company’s permission. As you can imagine, it’s unlikely that Disney Studios would be too thrilled about a fantasy-horror flick criticizing the soul-sucking insanity of its own ubiquitous entertainment, so the entire production was cloaked in secrecy, right up until the film’s furtive debut at Sundance. Critics found the film uneven in execution (rather unsurprising, considering the technical limits of such guerilla filmmaking) but obviously fascinating if only as an artifact – this is a movie that really shouldn’t exist. And most people assumed that would be the end of that; surely Disney would never let the movie actual secure distribution and see the light of day.

Yet here it is, with a limited release slated for Oct. 11, and still Disney’s lawyers sit silently. Considering the company’s history of tightly controlling the image of its copyrighted material, this is staggering. Do they think Moore’s film would hold up as critical commentary under the fair use exception of copyright law? What about trademark infringement? Or the violation of Disneyland’s clear terms of use, which prohibits filming?

It’s possible that they think, in fact, that legal action would just bring unwanted attention to the film, and would prefer to just let it fade away in limited release. So pass the word around – I want everyone to start talking about this movie, if only to see what the hell Disney does next. Should make for fascinating discussion in my copyright class.