Even my affinity for Michael Keaton can’t lift the snarky little indie flick The Last Time up to the level of a sincere recommendation. He’s the best thing here in this mish-mashed tale of ambition and deceit, but one scenery-chewing character does not a film make, alas.
The Last Time marks the feature film writing and directorial debut of Michael Caleo, who honed his chops on television shows like The Sopranos and Rescue Me. The film centers around Ted (Keaton), the cynical but hard-charging, top salesman at Bindview, a high-tech New York City company. Ted is chafed by having to show the ropes to optimistic, enthusiastic Ohio transplant Jamie (Brendan Fraser), but when he meets Jamie’s beautiful fiancee Belisa (Amber Valletta), Ted falls hard. The two begin an illicit affair (getting it on in front of a passed-out Jamie, actually), and the Ted of old slowly emerges. Losing his bitterness, though, somehow robs him of his edge, and sales failures follow. Jamie, meanwhile, continues to flounder at the sales game, and Ted’s guilt over the affair prompts him to feed Jamie what’s left of his own sales leads to try and keep him afloat. For Ted, his dalliance with Belisa really seems to mean something, but can the same be said for her?
The benchmarks here are obvious, whether it’s Glengarry Glen Ross or even a few of the bored-housewife-in-the-new-big city B-plot strands of movies like The Devil’s Advocate. The problem is that The Last Time can’t really measure up to any of the films that it most immediately summons to mind. The performances are certainly not bad, but consistency of tone is a bit of a bugaboo, and the movie’s third act twist seems like a commercial contrivance, a genuflection at genre salability. That’s ironic, I guess, given the movie’s backdrop.
Presented on a single-sided disc in both full-screen and a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, The Last Time comes housed in a regular plastic Amray case, and with a smattering of subtitle options. Its Dolby digital 5.1 audio mix sometimes favors the swell of compower Randy Edelman’s score over dialogue straightforwardness, but wide-ranging dynamism isn’t necessarily part of the film’s conceptual sound design anyway, so it doesn’t become too big of an issue. The only supplemental extra is a clutch of nine deleted scenes, running just under 12 minutes in total. More Keaton isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this showcase isn’t the best platform for him. And for a movie with such an authorial bent, where’s Caleo? To order the film via Amazon, click here. C (Movie) C+ (Disc)
So pictures from the new, fourth Rambo film — now entitled simply John Rambo, after having gone through a host of silly monikers — have leaked online, including the above one, which to me makes Sylvester Stallone look like an animal wrangler on the set of Snakes on a Plane.
Against long odds, Stallone pulled off a marvelous feat with Rocky Balboa; he showed he really got the root appeal of the character, and went back to his roots in an interesting way. I’m more skeptical about his ability to do the same sort of thing with the character of Rambo, who is a relic of Reagan-era machismo in not insignificant ways. That said, I’d much rather see this sort of autumnal career arc from Stallone — involved, hands-on, really trying — than a flicker-fade of more block-headed genre tripe. It makes for nice contrast with all these discussions and stories about newbies on the scene.
At the recent press day for Hairspray, Michelle Pfeiffer talked about how she was inspired to believe in herself and strive to achieve — issues at the core of the buoyant musical. “It was my mother,” says Pfeiffer of her inspiration. “My mother didn’t have a career, and she
used to always say to me, ‘Michelle, there are two things you need to do before
you get married: you need to have a career, and you need to live on your own.’
That was her mantra to me, and then my dad inspired me [too, because] he had a
very fierce work ethic — he instilled in all of us kids the desire to succeed…
it didn’t matter what you chose to do, it was that you did it the best that you
could. So I kind of had a man’s work ethic for the time, because that was who I
emulated. Now it’s sort of everybody’s work ethic, men and women.” For Pfeiffer’s thoughts on her work in the upcoming Stardust, meanwhile, click here.
What do director Stuart Gordon, writer Dennis Paoli and star
Jeffrey Combs have in common? Well, besides collaborating on the 1985
horror classic Re-Animator, they now have another shared credit
— this time lifted from a short story of one of America’s most revered
and mysterious writers.
King of the Ants), co-written by Gordon and Paoli (Dagon, Castle Freak) and starring horror icon Combs, The Black Cat is the latest entry in the Emmy-winning Masters of Horror anthology series, and it dives headlong into the unchartered waters of biographic speculation, mixing the telling of the same-named story with elements of Poe’s actual life, much like Shakespeare in Love or the forthcoming Becoming Jane, I suppose.
As gorgeously shot (by Jon Joffin) as it is grisly, the brisk, hour-long movie stars Combs as Edgar Allan Poe. Suffering from crippling writer’s block, he’s deep in debt and in love with the bottle. When not nursing his own woes, Poe cares for his loving wife Virginia (Elyse Levesque), who’s been struck down with consumption. He tends to her, burdened with the knowledge that he cannot save her, especially when the doctor helping to treat her refuses to continue with his care unless Poe can make good on his overdue bills. But is it his wife’s slow, agonizing death and other real-world troubles, or her ever-present black cat that is steadily driving Poe insane? Unsure if he’s been condemned to a living hell of illusion and insanity, the writer sets out on a dark, inner voyage to create one of the more famous early horror stories ever written.
While the source material in all honesty isn’t really the best of Poe, the filmmakers get around this by tricking it out a bit and refracting it through Poe’s life, and the general stylishness with which they accomplish this carries much weight in terms of the project’s watchability. Film fans who abhor navel-gazing and referentiality — in horror or any other genre — will likely not find this among the best Masters of Horror entries, on par with such delightful works as Family and Deer Woman, which are more streamlined and fun. Still, if the means are obviously limited, these restrictions feed a certain imagination, and the film’s execution (no pun intended) is solid.
Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and enhanced for 16×9 televisions, The Black Cat, like other Masters of Horror titles on DVD, comes housed in a cardboard slipcover, and accompanied by a litter of bonus features. An amiable audio commentary track with Gordon and Combs kicks things off, and much time is rightfully devoted to a discussion about the look of the movie. Running nearly 20 minutes, The Tell-Tale Cat gives a nice overview of the making of the movie, while a separate featurette, Bringing Down the Axe, shines a light on the special effects used herein, and how CGI and practical latex work were combined. Rounding out the disc are a brief biography and filmography on Gordon, a photo gallery from the movie and a DVD-ROM version of its screenplay. B- (Movie) B+ (Disc)
All right, I’ll look to slam out a proper review tomorrow, perchance, but I thought I’d drop a few thoughts on Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. All in all, it’s an interesting and kind of artful misfire — the type of movie that doesn’t really ignite a desire to ever view it again, but one that you’d recommend to certain friends, if maybe not others.
Loosely categorized as a science fiction thriller, it’s set in the year 2057. The sun is dying and a solar winter has
enveloped the Earth, whose last best hope lies with the Icarus II, a spacecraft
with an international crew of eight men and women. Their mission: to
deliver a nuclear device designed to reignite our fading sun. Deep into their
voyage, out of radio contact with Earth, the crew hears a distress beacon from
the Icarus I, which disappeared on the same mission seven years earlier. A
terrible accident throws their mission into jeopardy, and soon the crew finds
themselves fighting not only for their sanity and their lives, but for the
future of us
The obvious benchmarks here are Solaris, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien and (just a bit) Armageddon, with Boyle’s tastes of course tilting toward the more artistic, which accounts for Alwin Kuchler’s affected cinematography, shot in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, a first for Boyle. What the movie — which, at its concentrated core, has a relatively bleak-hearted view about humanity essentially being its own worst enemy — most has going for it is that there is no sentimental attachment to its characters, which equals a real sense of jeopardy, since anyone can die at any time. After creating a relatively foreboding sense of mood in its first half or two-thirds, however, Sunshine devolves into an impressionistic action tale. By the time two characters are left sliding around on a giant cube, three words surge to the front of your brain: what the fuck? For more information, click here.
Good news for folks who want to be sedated — a special Ramones DVD, It’s Alive: 1974-1996, will be released this fall (exact date TBD) from Rhino, distilling the essence of over 2,000 performances onto a two-disc set with over four hours of footage. Promising a blend of rare material from the influential group’s earliest performances at CBGBs to international festival gigs in front of crowds of over 100,000, this special set should be the closest experience to seeing the Ramones live again.
A full review will follow on Friday, but Kevin James and Adam Sandler’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry is a movie that makes you say wow, and not in a good way. It’s bad. In fact, it’s flat-out awful. I went in expecting a slightly down-market, dumb-fun-time comedy, and left underwhelmed. The story is derisible, the cameos are strange (Dave Matthews? Dan Patrick?) and a long and absolutely laugh-free early passage leaves one with plenty of time to ponder the average number of popcorn crunches per minute of one’s neighbor.
From Sandler’s libidinous, gum-smacking, single-guy skirt-chaser right on down the line, Chuck & Larry goes to extraordinary lengths to assert the fact that it’s a “play-gay” movie, both in the film and of course in its marketing. It even has not one but two hetero-tilting taglines — “They’re straight as can be, but don’t tell anyone,” and “How far would you go for a friend?” Why not just go ahead and put, “Seriously man, they totally dig boobs, for reals” in parantheses under the title? That would roughly equate to the level of nuance and subtlety contained herein.
Sure, the movie actually delivers on Jessica Biel’s butt shots, in rather… admirable fashion, I guess you’d say? But it’s not funny, period. Further carving to follow…