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Shared Darkness

A Communal Life in Film, Examined

Free Screening of Pulse

the Weinstein Company’s Pulse in Los Angeles.

A remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 Japanese film — which is entitled Kairo and screened theatrically late last year in limited release from Magnolia — Pulse details a series of increasingly horrifying supernatural events that consume the life of Mattie Webber (Veronica Mars
Kristen Bell, above
) after she receives an e-mail from her boyfriend
begging for help beyond the grave. Her investigation of the mysterious
e-mail leads to unexpected answers and terrifying conclusions.

The screening is scheduled for tonight, Thursday, July 27, at 9:30
p.m. at the Harmony Gold Theater
, 7655 Sunset Blvd. As an added bonus, free
pizza and beer are also being served beforehand
, thus necessitating the
21-year-old age requirement for all attendees. Ample parking is
available directly behind the theater and in the surrounding
residential neighborhood, but be sure to arrive early to guarantee
admittance, as seats will be doled out on a first-come, first-served
basis. Pulse releases in theaters on August 11.

The Princess Bride

Screenwriter
William Goldman and director Rob Reiner’s beloved fairy tale adventure
is one of those rare movies of whimsy that appeals across gender lines
,
and in near-equal fashion. Full of well-choreographed swashbuckling,
lively character interplay and pithy, irreverent dialogue, it’s an
adventurous treat, plain and simple
. Satire can so frequently seem
malicious and kind of jaded because there’s no lively appreciation of
the genre(s) being aped, but 1987’s The Princess Bride, is
lovingly framed as a rousing bedtime story, and wears its affection —
and thus its emotional honesty — refreshingly on its sleeve.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men)
brings his shrewd eye for detail and ear for whipsmart dialogue to bear
on this eminently quotable (to this day, “Have fun storming the castle”
ranks as my all-time favorite flippantly pleasant tiding of futility
)
adaptation of his own cult tome, but the movie is just as notable for
its discernment in casting. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are perfect as
Miracle Max and Valerie, and Peter Falk anchors the movie’s wraparound
segments as the kindly grandfather relating the story to his grandson
(a wee Fred Savage).

Released concurrently in “Dread Pirate” and “Buttercup” editions, which might best be described as his-and-hers versions, The Princess Bride
is presented here in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that
preserves the aspect ratio of its theatrical distribution and is billed
as a high-definition re-mastering. For those already owning the movie’s
previous special edition release, though, the difference is negligible,
with perhaps slightly more attention paid to color consistency in
cinematographer Adrian Biddle’s backgrounds.

Spread out over two discs in a regular Amray case with snap-in tray,
the film imports all the previous, vintage featurettes and
mini-documentaries from the aforementioned release
, including separate
audio-commentary tracks from Goldman and Reiner. Among the bits new to
this release are a 10-minute mockumentary on the “real” Dread Pirate
Roberts, with historian’s recollections and other edifying information
;
a make-up featurette that nicely showcases Crystal’s transformation via
new footage and interview information; a trivia game; and more.
Rounding things out are a mock-tour booklet (“Fezzik’s Guide to Florin”
— now, with the location of the Pit of Despair!) which offers up some
fun for diehard fans of the film. Don’t allow neophytes to do more than
flip quickly through it before watching the film, though, lest spoilers
dampen their enjoyment of the main attraction. A- (Movie) A- (Disc)

Screenings: Get Short-y/The Music Man

In two other tidbits for SoCal natives and/or traveling left-coasters, the Alex Film Society will present a special screening of 1962’s The Music Man,
at which co-star Shirley Jones will be present, on Saturday, July 29 at
8 p.m.
For more information, phone (818) 754-8250 or visit alexfilmsociety.org.
Also, the 10th annual Los Angeles International Short Film Festival
will be held September 5-13 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood
. For
more information, visit the festival’s semi-eponymous web site by clicking here.

Road House

What’s not to love about an action movie whose story is as big and over-the-top as its hairdos? Starring Patrick Swayze as zen bouncer James Dalton, who “cools” the rowdiest club in Jasper, Missouri, and eventually triumphs, at great personal cost, over crooked small town kingpin Brad Wesley (a growling, glowering Ben Gazzarra), 1989’s Road House is perhaps the best and most unapologetically honest B-movie of its decade, and certainly the highbrow blueprint for the classic era, early ’90s canon of Steven Seagal that would follow in the wake of this movie’s tremendous word-of-mouth VHS success.

Kevin Smith and his producing pal Scott Mosier, self-professed fans of the movie, who nonetheless evidence no greater grasp of minutiae (or even plot, actually) than anyone who’s glimpsed even part the film on TBS in the past decade. Instead, this entertaining track devolves into a series of read jokes in which the pair takes the famously viral list of “man’s man” attributes credited to ass-kicker Chuck Norris (e.g., “He invented the cesarean section when he roundhouse-kicked his way out of his mother’s stomach”) and substitute the names of Dalton and producer Joel Silver. Along with this bit of juvenilia, Smith and Mosier offer up a rapid-fire blend of random, often only tangentially related observations, most of which are still funny — especially during the sex scene between Dalton and Elizabeth, which has Smith bemoaning his sexual prowess and technique.

Alongside an amusing trivia track, the highly enjoyable “What Would Dalton Do?,” running 13 minutes, takes a look at real-life bouncers and shares stories from their occupational lives (one dude ripped off a guy’s prosthetic arm) along with their thoughts on the movie, while the 17-minute documentary “On the Road House” includes interviews with Swayze, Lynch, Herrington, bit player Jeff Healey, villain Marshall Teague, fight choreographer Benny Urquidez and — disclosure alert! — yours truly. While my face time is dispiritingly limited, and my insights thus perhaps rather pedestrian, Lynch talks about the task of getting her hair blonde enough (“almost white”) and her skin dark enough (“mahogany, actually”) for the role, while Herrington notes the movie — his undeniable career high point — was “the most fun [he’s] ever had with [his] clothes on.” B+ (Movie) B+ (Disc)

Bill Lawrence Scrubs in for Fletch Won Duty

In what might signal the eventual realization of Zach Braff’s rumored starring attachment to the prequel reboot of the Fletch series, the Weinstein Company announced yesterday that Bill Lawrence — creator and show runner of the Emmy-nominated Scrubs — has signed on to adapt and direct Fletch Won, based on the book of the same name from the successful 1980s franchise of mystery/comedy novels written by Gregory McDonald.

Fletch Won predates the first seven books in the series — two
of which, of course, were turned into movies starring Chevy Chase — and
follows the early days of the oblivious title character’s journalism
career as a junior reporter in his 20s. Fletch Won will be the
first feature film Lawrence (above) will direct, and is expected to
shoot in April 2007
, following his work on the final season of Scrubs. No cast is yet attached; David List will serve as producer.

Even though production is a ways off, Lawrence is already looking forward to the challenge. “The coolest thing about the Fletch Won book is that it’s an origin story,” he says. “Like Batman Begins, I think people will enjoy seeing how Irwin Fletcher became Fletch. And not only can I recite the original Fletch
line for line, I actually read all the Greg McDonald books as a kid, so
consider me obsessed. I’m going to try as hard as I can not to screw
this up
.” I can see this working, and a re-teaming with Braff might
well serve both of their burgeoning film careers. Stay tuned.

Little Miss Sunshine

Paul Dano), who has
taken an oath of silence until he achieves his goal of entering the Air
Force Academy. Living with them is Richard’s irascible father (Alan
Arkin), a foul-mouthed heroin junkie who heartily advises Dwayne to
bang all the chicks that he can.

When we first meet the dysfunctional Hoover clan, Sheryl’s suicidal
brother Frank (Steve Carell), a gay Proust scholar despondent over a
recent breakup
, has joined them as well, only further upping the
awkwardness quotient of dinner-table conversation. A call about the
titular California beauty pageant sends Olive into an ecstatic tizzy —
she’s a last-minute replacement — and so the Hoovers, unable to afford
airfare or leave Frank alone, all pile into an untrustworthy,
rusted-out VW Bus to head west. The bulk of the film then charts their
bickering misadventures on the road
before arriving at the garish and
creepy but not too overplayed beauty pageant finale.

Penned by debut screenwriter Michael Arndt, the film is funny in
piecemeal fashion
, charting various cathartic highs and crushing lows
enjoyed by its characters, but if only these bits felt more strongly
tethered to something emotionally substantive
. Perhaps I’m a bit too
inured by hegemonic comedic formula, but Little Miss Sunshine’s
characters almost all feel like willfully colorful responses to the
sort of stale, cardboard characters
we see in many broadly pitched,
mainstream comedies — atypical, therefore, but just as flatly
two-dimensional
and in blind service to the contrivances of plot as
their less original contemporaries. Sheryl, for instance, has to go
from beleagueredly supportive to a harridan at a moment’s notice, all
in order to generate momentary drama, and Dwayne’s eventual breakdown
similarly leaves a sour taste of fleeting — and thus false — pathos.
The seams of this story all show.

Dayton and Faris — an experienced husband-and-wife team making the
leap from commercials and music videos to features with this, their
film debut — coax terrifically enthusiastic performances out of their
cast, and it’s here that Little Miss Sunshine most succeeds.
Arkin tears into his role with glee. Carell gets to showcase another
side of his talents. Dano is a gifted young actor with impeccable
instincts
, and Breslin, meanwhile, is a smart choice upon which to hang
the film. In a story that’s rooted somewhat in the real world but
requires big gestures and acting out from a lot of its cast, she is the
underplayed nexus of what marginal, to-scale poignancy the movie does
achieve, for in her wide, blinking eyes and boldly indifferent Little
Miss Sunshine final performance one can clearly recall the tension of
adolescent realization at being judged, and how that judgment will
continue into perpetuity in adulthood.

Little Miss Sunshine isn’t for everyone — its R rating,
albeit a “light” one, assures us of that — but one can appreciate, in
fits and starts, the chord that it strikes in highlighting familial
extremes
. Ultimately the Hoover clan achieves that pinch of momentary
togetherness that assures us all these characters really love one
another and belong together, but it feels synthetically attained in my
opinion. (Fox Searchlight, R, 101 mins.)

Can I Get a Hot Beverage?

I caught a screening of Pulse, the
Weinstein Company’s new J-horror remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 film of the
same name, last night at the ArcLight in Hollywood, and while I’ll reserve sum
total judgment on the movie until a later date, one brief scene tangentially
stirred my ire, and got me wondering
.

In said scene, Christina Milian, who plays star Kristen Bell’s best friend
and a fellow college student, wanders into class late, books cradled in one arm
and a takeout coffee cup — presumably just grabbed, en route — in the opposite
hand. She holds it, though, not carefully, as with a full, hot beverage, or even
as one would an almost empty cup of cold coffee. No, she holds it as it is: an
empty cup
.

Now, Pulse is hardly the first or most egregious example of this
rapidly increasing and annoying phenomenon. It’s seemingly everywhere, including
in this summer’s The Devil Wear’s Prada, in which, as I recall, Anne
Hathaway’s put-upon fashion magazine assistant awkwardly balances a tray with
four very obviously empty cups of special-order Starbucks. In fact, whenever
movies want to show us a character juggling the myriad, whirlwind, crazy demands
of modern day life, they generally put a beverage in their hand, and more often
than not ostensibly a hot one
.

The thing is, many times said cup will be clearly empty, as minutely
evidenced by its weight upon pick up, the complete disregard the actor/character
has for item, and/or some combination thereof
. Is this some sort of goddamned,
ridiculous, arcane production rule or something? I know we don’t want “the
talent” scalded, but can we not have actors handle full cups of water or any
other room-temperature beverage? I’m not sure, but what was once just a minor
irritation has stirred in me a vitriolic rage matched offscreen by those that
ride around obliviously with their turn signals on.

Let me know of any examples you spot and/or remember, and together we’ll
make up a list to hopefully shame studios and filmmakers into paying attention
to this sort of piddling detail that, when botched, really pulls you out of a
scene.

Final Destination 3

It’s appropriate that a doomed roller coaster serves as the narrative leaping-off point in Final Destination 3, for the third installment of the teen-skewing (and teen-skewering) horror series about gory fate and unseen Death and all that squirmingly unnerving stuff is itself an exercise in cathartic goosing, in many of the best senses of the phrase.

On the eve of her high school graduation, Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) joins her fellow seniors for a night of celebration at a local amusement park. In line for a roller coaster, a premonition of the death of she and some friends causes her to freak out, and in the ensuing fracas, classmate Kevin (Ryan Merriman, below left) disembarks with Wendy, along with football jock Lewis (Texas Battle), sardonic Ian (Kris Lemche, quite good), goth chick Erin (Alexz Johnson), camera-toting lothario Frankie (Sam Easton) and others. These kids soon discover, though, that fate’s reach is hard to escape, and a series of grisly deaths follows.

Shockheaded

Art
is subjective, so it’s natural that that it attracts loafers and
passively creative-inclined folks
who might otherwise face tougher
roads in occupation tracks with standardized tests and more rigid
systems of accountability and grading out. That’s certainly the feeling
one dotes upon when watching 2002’s Shockheaded
, a wrongheaded
blend of Alan Parker, Raymond Chandler, David Cronenberg and David
Lynch
that desperately wants to stir up, in noirish fashion, elements
of the psychological thriller, horror and revenge genres. It fails,
wholesale.

The film’s story centers around Noble (Jason Wauer),
a stubbled young guy who rents a room in a rundown hotel and smokes
cigarettes like it’s going out of style. Two cops (Demetrius Parker,
Sr. and Peter Smak) start harassing him about a missing woman (genre
vet Debbie Rochon), and someone additionally starts sliding cryptic
notes under his door telling him to do things. All of this converges
with a disturbing dream Noble has of a white mask lying on the ground
(the iconography smartly used for the cover photograph). Linking these
items together with a further mysterious visitor, Noble sets him off on
a mission that sends him into dark places, believing that if he can
find said woman then he will have answers and get his life back.

Shockheaded is written, directed and also photographed by
Eric Thornett, leaving little doubt as to the root nature of its
shortcomings
. It’s decidedly hamstrung by a low budget, but that
shouldn’t automatically relegate it to discount bin. No, what does that
are too tightly framed shots, an utter lack of compositional intrigue,
spare sets and no sense of spatial tension or relationship, and all
manner of rote, inane dialogue
. Shockheaded shows rich evidence
of its many influences, but does nothing either particularly new or
even well within the genre; it’s a filmic fan valentine, and a messy
and unfulfilling one at that.

Shockheaded, as you might expect, also wears the scuffy
tribulations of its source material a bit on its sleeves at times, as
its image is rife with grain and color inconsistency and its audio less
than stellar. There are, thankfully, a nice number of supplemental
extras on its DVD
, starting with a motion-animated menu that gives way
to a collection of a half dozen deleted and alternate scenes, a goofy
introduction from co-star Rochon and (touted on the packaging, though
unconfirmed here) downloadable MP3 music tracks. There’s also a
106-minute audio-commentary track, with multi-hyphenate Thornett, star
Wauer and composer Jason Russler, in which the trio good-naturedly
detail the film’s Virginia-based production and share a few anecdotes
,
including one about dulling the pesky shine of a doorknob with makeup.
In another instance, Thornett cops to the physical impossibility of
certain angles of one of his sets.

Also included are eight trailers from distributor Heretic and another original short film by Thornett, the fourteen-minute Spider Ghost,
with additional optional audio commentary by the writer-director
. This
effort is a more straightforwardly comic tale about a guy who moves
into a house only to get into an escalating series of seriocomic
disagreements with titular creepy, crawly inhabitant — it somewhat recalls James Franco’s hallucinatory directorial debut The Ape in this regard — but not necessarily a short that delivers much beyond the thin comedic promise of its premise. D- (Movie) B- (Disc)

Justin Theroux on David Lynch’s Inland Empire

this week’s big screen re-up of Miami Vice,
but Justin Theroux has another movie coming out this year that in some
circles is even more hotly anticipated — namely, David Lynch’s Inland Empire
, the visionary filmmaker’s first big screen work since 2001’s Oscar-nominated Mulholland Drive.

“I
love it!” exclaims Theroux when asked about the film and his experience
on it, which involved breaks of several days while he was
simultaneously on call for Miami Vice duty. “It’s loosely a
mystery [but] I have no idea what kind of movie we’re going to have,”
says Theroux
in an exclusive interview from the editing bay of his directorial debut, Dedication.
“As far as what the movie is about, I could rattle off a couple scenes,
but it’s difficult to describe. I play an actor who sort of gets cast
in a large movie, and in that movie I play a Southern gentleman, and
that’s about all I know.
And then there are tons of scenes within that,
but I don’t know how he’s going to use those scenes, you know?” Theroux
estimates the director could have literally hundreds of hours of usable
footage
.

While Lynch always exerts an exacting stylistic control over his
films that often renders flat narrative description or attempted plot
synopses rather moot, the tightly controlled and digital video-shot Inland Empire production marks a further descent into the type of beautiful, slurry mystery the director indulged after Mulholland Drive
— in which Theroux also starred — morphed from a failed ABC television
pilot into a stand-alone feature film. Eschewing a completed
screenplay, he instead parceled out bits days before filming
. “David
never really gave us a script, he just gave us scenes, these little
10-page packets,” recalls Theroux. “And then we’d go home and he’d hand
us another one at the end of the night, or hand us three at a time. But
they sometimes seemed really linked and sometimes didn’t. So the actual
process [of filming] seemed probably very similar to what it’s going to
be like to watch it, which involves sort of having to link it together
as you go.”

Regardless, it’s the experience itself that Theroux most cherishes.
“Working with David is probably the best time you’ll ever have in your
life,” he notes. “Contrary to what anyone might think, when you’re
making a David Lynch movie you don’t feel like you’re making a
David Lynch movie; you feel like you’re making a Farrelly brothers
movie or something.
He’s just a really, really fun guy to be around,
and everyone that he works around and hires is just a blast. So you
just go and have a goof and get serious for the work, but the rest is
just gravy. It was really fun.”

The American Experience: MacArthur

Military
figures have long fascinated the American public, if only because they
most rise to notoriety during periods of extreme collective
psychological duress
. Perhaps most divisive among a handful of
preeminent war legends of the last century — a list including George
Patton, Dwight Eisenhower, Norman Schwartzkopf, Colin Powell — is the
hard-charging General Douglas MacArthur, the courageous and egotistical
leader who engineered a bold invasion in the Korean War only to
eventually be fired by President Harry Truman in one of the more
controversial executive orders of its time.

Drawing on archival
footage and myriad first person interviews with historians like Stephen
Ambrose, this “American Experience” production charts, in expectedly
detailed fashion, the full course of public life of its subject
.
Running a full four hours, though, MacArthur also delves deep
into the general’s background, adolescence and home life, all of which
tremendously inform this portrait of a driven, brilliant and yet
sometimes very isolated man.

The phrase “theater of war” was tailor-made for a glory whore like
MacArthur
, who grew up in the shadow of his stentorian father, Arthur
(that’s right, Arthur MacArthur), who drove back Geronimo’s marauders
and instilled in his sons both a desire and expectation for military
service. After an 1883 bout with measles that took one of his brothers,
Douglas went on to West Point, then became captain of the so-called
“Rainbow Division” during World War I, where he displeased his
superiors and won the hearts of his men by flaunting a devil-may-care
attitude — eschewing both a gas mask and feckless instructions,
charging up hills in his West Point sweater and a scarf his mother,
Pinky, made him. It was at this time that he reportedly first uttered
the quote most famously associated with him: “Sometimes it’s the orders
you don’t obey that make you famous.”

Returning home to the States after the war, MacArthur was made
superintendent of his alma mater, where he stirred up the conservative
West Point base by transforming it from a provincial repository based
on fear and drilled repetition into a cosmopolitan university rooted in
self-respect and pride
. It was this experience that would inform his
singular vision and lay the groundwork for his future triumphs — and
overstepped boundaries — in both Korea and the Philippines.

While it’s obviously primarily a biography, and thus appeals to the historically-minded, MacArthur
works equally well as an explanatory document of the peculiar type of
American aggression under the microscope in documentarian Eugene
Jarecki’s masterful Why We Fight.
For those wondering why there is such a gap between this country’s
rhetorical calls for peace, freedom and democracy and our unironically
embraced bloody history as bayonet-pointing, globo-cop enforcer of
same
, one need look no further than a figure like MacArthur, who in
many ways is the perfect product of the military industrial complex,
before it even had a name.

Spread out over two discs in a regular Amray case with snap-in tray, MacArthur
is presented in 4×3 full screen, and includes links to printable
material for educators. The heartiness of the feature is a bit of a
double-edged sword, in that it leaves you completely sated in its
portrait of the man, but wanting more information about some of the
specifics of the battles, conflicts and incidents that it touches upon.
B+ (Movie) C (Disc)

Joe Dirt

As one would expect, make that desire, nay, demand from a movie bearing such a title, David Spade’s 2001 offering Joe Dirt is defiantly lowbrow and scuzzy. And yet it’s also funny, one of the diminutive former Saturday Night Live
star’s best solo screen offerings. If that’s a somewhat dubious
distinction, so be it. But if you also enjoy Spade in small doses
courtesy of his supporting work on everything from Just Shoot Me to 8 Simple Rules…,
yet have never sampled of his screen wares outside of his
collaborations with the late Chris Farley, this is probably as fine a
place as any to start, certainly better than 1999’s Lost & Found.

the smokin’ hot Brittany Daniel), though
he eventually leaves her because he thinks he’s not good enough for
her. Utilizing a flashback structure in which Joe relays his life story
to a bemused Los Angeles drive-time disc jockey (Dennis Miller) who
holds him up to (oblivious) ridicule, Joe becomes an unlikely cause
célèbre and finally tracks down his long-lost mom and dad.

Needless to say, Joe Dirt’s particular brand of comedy went
over like an I-Roc full of bricks overseas
, where it grossed less than
one-tenth of its $30 box office haul, and it likely will do the same to
dyed-in-their-wool Blue Staters who’ve never escaped an airport
terminal between New York, Boston and Los Angeles
. But there’s a real
sense of heart to the humor here, as well as heartening amount of
detail that helps create a healthy and convincing backdrop. Co-written
by Spade and Fred Wolf, and directed by Dennie Gordon (a skilled
episodic television vet with the features What a Girl Wants and New York Minute
also unfortunately to her credit), the film plays up Joe’s never-quit
spirit, making for a real loser for whom you can root. A plethora of
friendly cameos (including Christopher Walken as a whacked-out janitor
and Kid Rock as a romantic rival) and comedic asides fit relatively
neatly into the narrative, with only a bit nipped from The Silence of the Lambs
involving a psychotic serial killer of questionable sexual orientation
(Brian Thompson) seeming too much of a conceit-butchering stretch
.

Housed in a regular Amray case, Joe Dirt gives viewers the
option of either 1.33:1 full screen or 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
exhibition, the latter preserving the aspect ratio of its original
theatrical release. There’s an audio-commentary track with director
Gordon, but the real attraction is Spade’s parallel, solo,
feature-length track, wherein he recounts the movie’s 36-day shoot, on
a summer hiatus from Just Shoot Me, with both remarkable
clarity and self-deprecation
. He talks about his “Billy Ray
Cyrus-gone-wrong” mullet wig, details trims made to ensure a PG-13
rating and notes, during a quasi-emotional beat, “the crew unanimously
voted that I not act in the movie.” Spade also talks a good bit about
the music in Joe Dirt, and how irked he was that a key song
written into the script two years prior to production was ripped away
because it was wanted on a whim for the higher-profile Charlie’s Angels.

Other supplemental extras include seven deleted and alternate scenes
(three with commentary from Gordon), theatrical trailers, production
notes, cast filmographies and a three-minute blooper and outtake reel
involving an adlibbed joke about Pop-Tarts and maxi pads and Dennis
Miller continuously flubbing a line before pronouncing that he’s tired
of “the screenplay by Rubik.” Joe Dirt doesn’t need “churching up,” it’s just fine as is — lowbrow and proud of it. B- (Movie) B- (Disc)

Gil Kenan on Monster House

From the outside, the life of a Hollywood director is glamorous, but just days before its $23 million opening weekend bow, Monster House
director Gil Kenan is calling from the doctor’s office, where, in
advance of his film’s big premiere later that night, he’s cramming in a
few interviews alongside a mandatory appointment for a full physical
that will allow him to embark upon an international press tour of three
weeks. We chat a bit about the competition his movie will be facing and
other films soon set to release — he’s eager to get the advance scoop
on Woody Allen’s Scoop — but soon Kenan’s name is called, for the moment cutting short our talk.

The next day Kenan calls back, and confirms what this past weekend’s
box office would corroborate: the 29-year-old is in fine shape
. The
motion-capture animated Monster House,
which is deservedly getting great notices, tells the fun, engaging
story of a trio of tweeners who investigate and then do battle with an
anthropomorphized abode, and in a summer full of bloated and
disappointing fare it’s a streamlined winner, something kids, teens and
adults can all enjoy
.

For Kenan, all the praise only fits in with what he readily admits
is a surprisingly stratospheric rise. “All kidding aside, I was really
certain that when I graduated from UCLA I would be making short films
in my kitchen for the next five years until I got a job doing something
on a movie and got a break,” says Kenan
, a Tarzana, California native.
It was his graduate thesis short, a blend of live-action and animation
entitled The Lark, that put him on the path toward helming a Hollywood blockbuster straight out of film school. “Monster House
is the further embodiment of some of those same themes, one of which is
that houses play an emotional role in our lives,” says Kenan. “In The Lark that notion is much more subtly presented.”

“I was really stunned when the movie got noticed at its first
screening by Creative Artists Agency, and they signed me out of that
screening,” Kenan continues. “That was really shocking to me. I thought
that was as good as it was going to get, and then they started sending
the movie around and it ended up in the hands of Robert Zemeckis, who
thought it was cool. And then he passed it on to his friend Steven Spielberg…”

The rest, as they say, is history. Of course, Kenan still had a few
battles to fight in shepherding the film to the big screen, including
casting age-appropriate actors in the lead voice roles (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steve Buscemi, Jon Heder and others pop up in supporting roles). “That was a big deal for me,
actually,” recalls Kenan. “I had to fight hard to convince a lot of
people that we needed kids in this movie for it to have any shot at
emotional honesty, and for it to be at all valid as a coming-of-age
story
. A lot of people would say, well, you don’t see the kids (on
screen) and their voices change (over production), but I knew in my
heart that the movie wouldn’t work without the kind of weirdness and
awkwardness and natural energy that the kids bring to their parts.”

Kenan’s happy, too, with the integrity of Monster House’s
PG rating, which he admits makes the movie probably a bit too
hard-edged for very young kids. Pointing out that its tension comes
from “good-natured scares,” Kenan notes, “One of the great things about
having Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg as your producers is that a lot of that nonsense that makes movies kind
of gutless goes away
. They helped me make this movie the way it needs
to be, which is really scary for young kids.” If its opening weekend
and positive word-of-mouth are any indication, Monster House should be scaring up hearty audiences throughout the rest of the summer.

Kevin Smith on The Green Hornet

Kevin Smith was at one point attached to make the film adaptation of The Green Hornet. Kevin Smith wants to make it clear he no longer has any interest in that gig. To wit:

“It really comes down to the fact that I’m not
talented enough to pull off a movie like that,” says Smith, in a straightforward fashion. “It was between that and Clerks
II
, and I drove toward Clerks II in such a big, bad way. I almost really had to
fight Harvey Weinstein to do
Clerks II instead of The Green Hornet, because he was
like, ‘It’s time for you to grow and stretch as a filmmaker,’ and I’m like,
doesn’t anybody fucking get it, after 12 years? I am not that talented. This is
what I do, this is why I got into films, to tell stories like this. I love
watching films, I love comic book movies, I’d love to watch the Green Hornet movie, but I do not want to
be the guy at the helm of that movie.”

“Number one, if I make that movie I lose
the right to make fun of other people for making those movies,” Smith
continues. “I learned that
lesson harshly on Jersey Girl. I can’t go after shit like Raising Helen anymore. …But number two, and more importantly, that’s
not the type of story that I like to tell. I like to tell stories about people
sitting around talking to one another, and that’s really all I’m good at, and
most people would argue I’m not very good at that to begin with. So the notion
of doing The Green Hornet is not appealing to me. In comic book form — wonderful. I
love to write comic books. You don’t have to worry about actually shooting it.” For more from Kevin Smith about Clerks II, click here. Or, for a review of the film, click here.

Covert One: The Hades Factor

The
title is a ridiculously self-important mouthful, and that’s not even
including the possessory affixation of author Robert Ludlum, upon whose
work this two-part spy miniseries is based
. Still, despite the
limitations and reputation of small screen genre pieces of this ilk
(Rob Lowe’s Atomic Train, anyone?), Covert One: The Hades Factor marginally acquits itself as a piece of time-whiling entertainment for the Tom Clancy/armchair homeland security set.

Clerks II

Kevin Smith’s sequel. Affection for the first film and its overly demonstrative and episodic charms is a fair prerequisite for Clerks II, a movie that eventually and a bit surprisingly arrives, somewhat (and I can’t stress that word enough) sweetly, at a place of plaintive nostalgia. For the full review, from FilmStew, click here.

Shark Attack!/Kingdom of the Seahorse

In its ever-expanding library of educational
market titles, the DVD format can indulge all sorts of niche interests of the
animal world. That folks like to watch sharks is a foregone conclusion given our
collective cultural predilection for violence
— heck, one cable channel devotes
a whole week of its programming each year to the glassy-eyed creatures — but
some of the littlest underwater organisms also get their due
.

Yes, deep sea secrets and dispelled myths and rumors get a workout with
Shark Attack!
and Kingdom of the Seahorse, both new to DVD from
WGBH Boston Video. The former charts a team of researchers who set out to track
movements of the titular predatory beasts, and along the way discover some
surprising truths about the way they kill. The footage here, some never before
available, is pretty amazing, including a shocking seal’s-eye view of one
attack. In fact, if cute albatross chicks and seal pups are your thing, best not
to sample this title
. If you do, though, your curiosity will likely be piqued by
some of the questions raised herein, including whether or not tiger sharks are
developing an evolutionary or conditioned taste for human flesh. That you’ll be
left wanting more information about both that topic and more is a sign of the
hour-long disc’s only shortcoming — brevity.

Kingdom of the Seahorse, meanwhile, keeps the wetsuits but breaks out
the close-ups and zooms in an entirely different fashion, primarily exploring an
underwater enclave off the reefs of Australia
. Big fans of the movie
Junior seahorses must be, because in their world it’s the males who get
pregnant and give birth
. (No wonder they’re considered a source of sexual
prowess
to proponents of traditional Chinese medicine!) Biologist Amanda Vincent
and others lend fascinating voice to this title, and point up the curious
creatures’ importance in the underwater ecosystem. B (Movies) C (Discs)

Shadowboxer

As I’ve commented on before, there’s a lot of bad
independent cinema these days that just sort of floats by hazily, its attempts
at courting more overt commerciality ironically rendering it indistinct. Then
there’s something like Shadowboxer,
the directorial debut of Lee Daniels — producer of the Academy Award-winning Monster’s Ball — and a movie that makes
you appreciate independent films, if in no doubt wholly unintended ways. Yes,
if you’re going to do bad, you might as well close your eyes and swing for the
fences like Shadowboxer, in the hopes
that someone mistakes all that effort and intensity for insightfulness.

An emotionally over-dialed drama, Shadowboxer centers on the warped, intertwined lives of a pair of
live-in assassins — preternaturally quiet Mikey (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his
mentor/lover, Rose (Helen Mirren), who years ago rescued him from an abusive
household as a child. Theirs is a relationship that recalls a pet and pet
owner as much as anything else — Rose bathes Mikey, and he sleeps curled up at
her feet. To add, though, to the… intrigue? well, let’s say convolution, Rose
has now been diagnosed with terminal cancer, leading to a bit of a shift in
their traditional caregiver arrangement.

The pair’s latest assignment finds them carrying out a
contract, sight unseen, for crime boss Clayton (Stephen Dorff), an out-there
club owner whose villainous motivations are less recondite than purely
baffling. After offing a lippy subordinate himself, Clayton includes his
pregnant wife Vickie (Vanessa Ferlito) in a series of in-house hits just on the
off chance that she may be cheating on him (“We’ll never know,” he says with a
shrug and a smirk). Rose and Mikey coldly dispatch a group of Clayton’s
henchmen, but Rose has a change of heart when she sees a panicked Vickie’s
water break. So begins a harrowing life on the run for this ultimate odd
quartet — Rose, Mikey, a bewigged Vickie and baby.
A year passes, and while Rose
looks to redeem their tragic past in her remaining time on Earth, a reticent Mikey
dutifully if dispassionately protects their new adopted family.

Penned by William Lipz (perhaps a pseudonym?) and credited
with 15 producers on the project
, Shadowboxer
keeps you guessing, all right, but never in a really good way. Though one
hardly ever knows what is about to follow, the accrued litany of garish,
puzzling and/or silly elements reads like a random grab-bag of stylized clichés
and truncated impov exercises
, from Rose and Mikey’s wheelchair-bound contact
and bizarrely operatic and baroque score by Mario Grigorov to a zonked-out
supporting turn by Macy Gray and not one, but two sex scenes between Gooding
and Mirren — one preceded by a striptease set to rapper Nas’ “The Cross,”
allowing this reviewer to unfortunately spend an inordinate amount of time
contemplating just how deep-set Gooding’s ass crack is.

Independent of its execution the film scores a few, scant
points for its off-kilter, multi-ethnic casting and blind eye toward
conventionality
. But eccentricity in place of substance and psychological
perspicacity in the end doesn’t fly any more than rote formula. Directorially,
Daniels substitutes slow-motion for meaning, and the performances are wildly
uneven (Ferlito in particular is awful), sometimes seemingly cobbled together
from tonally different films. Only Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as a shady doctor who
aids Rose and Mikey but then must deal with Clayton as well, escapes with his
dignity more or less intact.

Shadowboxer is
ostensibly a picture about colliding damaged souls, the legacy of sadism and
the toll and endless cycle of psychological abuse. But A History of Violence this ain’t. Lacking any natural flow or
cohesion, it instead becomes an unintentional comedy of unfortunate choices,
not the least of which is on the part of erstwhile Oscar winner Gooding, to
whom Chill Factor 2 must now be
looking pretty good. (Teton Films, R, 91 mins.)