For those in the SoCal area who don’t mind a drive east to Montclair, the Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre offers up double features of first-run flicks for only $7, and kids 9 and under get in free. Current flicks include Cloverfield, First Sunday, The Bucket List and Walk Hard. Of course, that eye-clawing double feature of Meet the Spartans and Alvin and the Chipmunks looks like quite the punisher, especially if the latter is your weekday nightcap…
It’s a happy 31st birthday to Kerry Washington, who is one of the most thoughtful and articulate young actress interviews out there.
Her work in the Fantastic Four flicks hasn’t necessarily been showcase-type material (check out The Last King of Scotland, or go rent her film debut, the heartbreaking Our Song, if you want to see her at her best), but Washington has showed plenty of range over the past several years, from Ray, The Dead Girl and Chris Rock’s I Think I Love My Wife to a certain gimmicky summer comedy whose name shall not be mentioned. I’ve had the pleasant fortune of talking to her four times, both in person and over the phone, and like Jodie Foster — among a relatively small handful of other actors — within three to five minutes of meeting her you just immediately know Washington could have been successful at any other number of things other than acting. She’s plugged into the world around her, the real world, and also has a wicked sense of humor. If the right indie writer-director took her as his muse, a fabulous project could easily result.
I mentioned previously that indie darling Juno has crossed the $100 million mark, but it’s worth pointing out a few other tidbits — namely that the movie has spent six consecutive weeks since its release in the top 10, and is now the sixth highest-grossing platform opener of all time, and the biggest such release since 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It also bests all-star indie distributor Fox Searchlight’s previous company highwater mark — 2004’s Sideways, which drank up $71.5 million in theatrical receipts.
For those in Southern California, paranoia, conspiracy and political corruption take center stage at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, February 6 through 10. We live in interesting and politically fraught times, no doubt, so what better way to count down until January 20, 2009, than to take in some classic cinema, including All the President’s Men, The Parallax View, The Manchurian Candidate, Executive Action and 1979’s under-regarded satire Winter Kills, directed by William Richert. Three Days of the Condor, helmed by Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway, kicks off the series on February 6.
The Aero Theatre
is located at 1328 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica
information on directions and the Aero’s upcoming schedule,
phone (323) 466-FILM.
The trailer for Adam Sandler’s new summer comedy, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, is online, and if one strains to erase the sour taste/memories of last summer’s dreadful I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, there’s actually a chance they could muster up a modicum of enthusiasm for this flick. Costarring Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rob Schneider, Nick Swardson, the usual assortment of other Sandler players and seemingly a bevy of hot young chicks in day-player roles (check the full credits on IMDb if you doubt), the film is about a Mossad agent who, tired of years of fighting with the Palestinians, fakes his death so he can pursue his true passion — hairdressing.
Unlike so many comedies with goofball haircuts simply for the sake of forced mock laughs (I’m looking in your general direction, Ben Stiller), Sandler’s ‘do here (a more stylized version of the mop he sported in Mike Binder’s Reign Over Me) seems to work nicely. Now, Schneider in another ethnic role (what, did he and Sandler catch Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s a couple years ago?) and jokes about Hezbollah terrorist supply phone lines? We’ll see… the jury’s still out. Directed by Dennis Dugan — a fruitful Sandler collaborator on Happy Gilmore, decidedly less so on Big Daddy and Little Nicky* — Zohan gets points for the fact that it’s co-scripted by Sandler, Saturday Night Live veteran Robert Smigel and comedy man-of-the-moment Judd Apatow. That, for the moment, counterbalances the fact that the trailer summons up memories of Blow Dry, Beauty Shop and the aforementioned Chuck & Larry, not films of which I necessarily want to be reminded.
* UPDATE/CORRECTION: Yes, per the comment below, Steven Brill, not Dugan, is actually the director responsible for Little Nicky, which for some reason must have been on my brain recently. Still, Dugan did perpetrate I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, which I understand is currently being investigated by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Coming as it did on the heels of Denzel Washington’s
high-profile on-screen turn opposite Russell Crowe in American Gangster, and given that it was Washington’s follow-up
behind the camera to a well received directorial debut, 2002’s Antwone Fisher, The Great Debaters was expected last fall to be a major player at
this year’s Academy Awards ceremony.
Its critical reception, while not fall-out rapturous, was
solid across the board, and there was the line of reasoning that, particularly
when stacked up against other critical consensus picks that might be perceived
as less mainstream accessible (There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men),
the movie could be a big, heartstring-tugging crossover hit in the vein of Million Dollar Baby, which would give it
a flush populist sentiment come Oscar time. Having kingmaker Oprah Winfrey on
board as a producer certainly didn’t hurt.
While the movie opened respectably, and has grossed over $28
million thus far, The Great Debaters
didn’t quite carry its argument with viewers. It was relatively
anonymous on many critics’ year-end lists, and one of six Golden Globe nominees for Best Picture Drama — a prize it lost,
to Atonement. While the cancellation of the attendant, glitzy awards ceremony certainly didn’t help the movie,
there’s no evidence to suggest it hurt The
Great Debaters more than other movies with lower profile stars and/or
In this context, the film’s snub at the recent Oscar
nominations comes as no surprise. Still, The
Great Debaters proves something unequivocally: it confirms
skill at adapting and shepherding to the big screen emotionally resonant dramas
that might otherwise be derisively classified as movie-of-the-week material.
Lacking any affectation or postmodern shading,
years of experience behind the camera make him an excellent arbiter of
emotional truth, and his skill as a filmmaker lies in an ability to ferret it
out and showcase it without over-relying on gimmickry.
Set in the mid-1930s and inspired by a true story, The Great Debaters chronicles the
journey of college professor Melvin Tolson (
and his charges. A brilliant but somewhat volatile instructor, the controversial
Tolson challenged the social mores of the time and was under constant fire for
his unconventional teaching methods, as well as his radical political views. Using
the power of words, Tolson set out to shape a group of underdog students — a
group including Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett) and
James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker) — from his African American college in small
town Texas into a nationally significant and historically elite debate team.
the film was a four-year journey — most of it pleasant, if slow-moving. “This
was just a really good story, I call it a sports movie,” says
at a press conference in advance of the film’s release. “In those days, that’s
what they considered a spectator sport. It was a very popular event to go to;
there were only 360 students at this college and they were going up against
these big schools. That was very fascinating.”
“I worked on the screenplay for a long time,” he adds.
“Between jobs I would shoot and come home, I would sit with the writers. I
worked a lot with Bob Eisele, who had written the original screenplay.” That
was rewarding, if tedious. The problem is that
as with Antwone Fisher, was very
reluctant to appear both behind and in front of the camera. “The acting part of
good-natured sigh. “Well, I didn’t want to be in the movie. It was just in
order to get enough of the money I felt we needed to make the movie, I had to be in it. So once I knew that was
the case, I said, ‘Okay, well, Denzel, just embrace it. Don’t be negative about
it, just do it.’”
“And I think had a good sense [of things],” continues
“I usually do two, or three, or four takes, and if I felt good, I’d just move
on. I was more concerned with getting everybody else’s performance. I’m pretty
good, so I figure three takes and I’ll be okay.” He pauses and laughs. “With
me, I always thought, ‘I’ll cut it together later on, I’ll build a performance
out of it.’”
and his costars, the success of The Great Debaters lies in the message it promulgates — that we have a responsibility
to ourselves, individually, but also collectively, as a society. “An
environment was created for these young people at
“One of the things that was important to me, and a big part of this story to
tell, was that this young boy thought that his father was being less than a
man, or that he had to kowtow or shrink himself when he comes up against these
pig farmers,” says Washington, describing a scene in which young James Farmer,
Jr. sees his father (Forest Whitaker) humiliated after accidentally striking a
swine with the family’s car.
“Maybe he thought Tolson was more of a rebel, and the sexy
guy, the hipper guy,”
continues. “But in the eleventh hour, it was James’ own father that got Tolson
out of trouble. So it is still our responsibility as adults to create a
supportive environment, which we have not done. If you look at politics or
anything else, we spend so much time dwelling on the negative. These characters
[and the real people upon whom they’re based] did not excel in a vacuum. It was
because somebody was there and someone made the sacrifice for them to excel.”
If the art of debate (over win-at-all-costs rhetoric) is
ambivalent about where that takes us as a society, and what that ultimately
means. “I just know we aren’t developing that muscle and magic [of speech and
writing] like we used to,” he says. “We went from spoken word to radio to
television to film to computers.” Sliding scale or devolution, it’s hard to
however, is well developed from his decades as an actor, and he’s utilizing it
as a director to bring evocative, emotionally effective dramas about the human
condition to the big screen. If he keeps it up, one of these days, he may not
even have to appear in front of the camera as well as behind it.
For the full, slightly re-tweaked feature piece, as published by FilmStew, click here.
It’s a happy 38th birthday to erstwhile “Rollergirl” Heather Graham, who — side salad of crazy or not — has one of those fantastic smiles that makes a guy feel like he’s really got it. It’s a 40th birthday shrug, meanwhile, to Edward Burns, the recent 27 Dresses costar who has somehow graduated to the Daniel Cleaver role in movies despite coming off as a raspy, one-note drip, and having negative charismatic pull. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: if Burns and Luke Wilson were to costar in a buddy cop flick together, the world would likely implode from an audience’s collective yawn. If not, that film would be like The Ring: pay-it-forward deadly.
Following in the tradition of its spoof predecessors from 20th Century Fox, Date Movie and Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, a send-up of 300 and other recent hits, claimed the top box office spot this past weekend, pulling in $18.5 million. Running second, Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo somehow tricked $18.2 million out of wallets, perhaps fooling some into thinking its unremitting brutality was some sort of profound statement on violence in today’s world. Or maybe that’s just the going exchange rate for monosyllabic entertainment featuring bayoneted babies. Fellow weekend newcomer Untraceable meanwhile, starring Diane Lane and Colin Hanks, placed fifth overall, with $11.3 million in receipts.
After its $41 million debut, Cloverfield dropped 68 percent $12.7 million; it’s now grossed $64.3 million in total. Outpacing it for third place was Katherine Heigl’s 27 Dresses, which earned $13.3 million, and has now raked in just over $45 in total. Still strong in long-play release were Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman’s pairing, The Bucket List, which added $10.5 million to its coffers in its fifth week of release, and indie darling Juno, which crossed the $100 million mark with an additional $10.1 million.
Rounding out the top 10, Nicolas Cage’s sequel to National Treasure placed eighth with $4.9 million, while writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, previously in extremely limited release, added just under 500 screens and pulled in $4.8 million. Finally, in its second week, Mad Money nipped Alvin and the Chipmunks for the final spot, pulling in $4.6 million (now for a total of $15.2 million) to the latter’s $4.5 million. Still, don’t cry for 20th Century Fox — they’ve somehow now wrung $204 million domestically and over $300 million worldwide from that movie, despite the presence of Cameron Richardson and the depressingly inevitable scene of rodent flatulence.
Looking forward, it’ll be interesting to see how all the top-shelf Oscar nominations for Michael Clayton impact its box office fortunes; despite the fact that its DVD release looms on the horizon (it’s currently slated for February 19), the film is reopening in theaters for a few more weeks, cleansing audience palettes leading up to the (planned) Oscar ceremonies on Sunday, February 24.
There’s seemingly a new reality show every week, often exploring in competitive fashion some bizarre, mash-up niche we didn’t even know actually existed (did VH-1 really consent to something called Celebra-cadabra?). The simple genius of The Girls Next Door, then, is the manner in which it taps into the aspirational admiration for Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Just as the famous “Dick in a Box” sketch from Saturday Night Live was brilliant in large part because it shined a light on the secret desire of men to actually put that little thought into gift shopping, the breezy, lighthearted The Girls Next Door, which centers around Hefner’s three live-in girlfriends, succeeds because it just opens a window into the life of a guy who most men would consider to have led one of the more charmed lives of the past half-century. No bullshit competitions or vote-offs, very little back-stabbing drama or anything of that sort, just flirty lounging, dinner parties and hot chicks padding around in their pajamas.
The three women in question are the now-22-year-old Kendra Wilkinson, Holly Madison, 28, and Bridget Marquardt, a 34-year-old who’s technically still married, but lives apart from her separated husband. Hefner is of course famous for his many parties, so a lot of the episodes are loosely grouped around some of those themed gatherings. Of course, there’s still time for lots of pillow-fighting.
Now three seasons into the show, it’s worth noting that Holly (above right, sporting the black trunks) is really the sympathetic star of the series, however unnervingly shrewd her motivations sometimes seem. Kendra (above center) totally lives up (or is that down?) to all the stereotypes of the bubble-headed beach blonde, and her stuttering, toker’s laugh is probably telling about such matters. She’s so vapid that it’s frequently painful, kind of like staring directly at the sun. Bridget (above left), on the other hand, is quite nice, but seems kind of shruggingly along for the ride, maybe just a bit addicted to the pampering she receives. The episodes in this third season find the girls building holiday snowmen in 70-degree heat, horseback riding in the Hollywood Hills and taking part in the Toyota Celebrity Grand Prix, where tomboy Kendra plants her car into the railing. Since there’s also another photo shoot involving them, Holly starts to exercise her opinion more, and get involved in some editorial planning for the magazine. Of the three women, she seems the most intelligent and proactive, so it’s easiest to see her striking out on her own when her time with Hefner invariably comes to a conclusion, whenever that is.
Housed in three slimline cases in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover with an aerial shot of the girls (and their pets), The Girls Next Door features 14 episodes presented in the full screen format, with optional English and Spanish subtitles. Accompanied by the normal clutch of deleted scenes, the set does feature some unblurred nudity, so it’s certainly good for that. Mainly, though, it’s just a giggly look behind the scenes at the Playboy Mansion; there isn’t much insight or exploration into the specifics of the relationships between Hefner and the woman, so it all boils down to whether you like them and/or are fascinated by their semi-communal, libidinous lifestyle. Also included is a one-hour special entitled “Bedtime Stories,” a sort of best-of clip show spectacular, in which Hef and the girls relive some of their favorite moments of the past three years. Finally, there are also audio commentary tracks on all the episodes with the ladies, but as you might gather, these offerings become rather tedious rather quickly. To purchase the set via Amazon, click here. C+ (Show) B+ (Disc)
The trailer for What Happens in Vegas, Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher’s new comedy which hits theaters May 16, is now online, and essentially tells us what a big, ha-ha, middle-of-the-road laffer it’s going to be.
The story centers on two strangers with recent trauma wounds (one’s been dumped, one fired… by his dad) who head to Sin City, party hearty, and then awaken to discover they’ve gotten married. Naturally, as they’re about to split, one wins a
huge jackpot after playing a slot machine with the other’s quarter; a battle for the $3 million payout ensues, with the newlyweds — egged on by their respective best friends, Lake Bell (Over Her Dead Body) and Rob Corddry (The Heartbreak Kid) — devising
ever-escalating schemes to undermine each other and get their hands on
The pairing of these two stars seems a natural idea, and their sense of timing and the respective comfort levels that they convey will help make things bearable, I suspect. Still, I can’t help but feel that What Happens in Vegas would be a much more interesting (and potentially funny) movie if it weren’t full of the sort of posed comedy (e.g., Kutcher holding up the toilet lid at trailer’s end) we’ve come to expect from such mainstream releases, and didn’t have the pair eventually falling for one another. The psychological temperature of the country is ripe for a ruthless, War of the Roses-type battle of the sexes — something which the ending of The Heartbreak Kid reached for, but didn’t pull off.
Twin witches Alex Fielding and Camryn Barnes (Sister, Sister pair Tia and Tamera Mowry) are back for double the fun, double the magic and double the suspense (sans Doublemint gum, strangely) in Twitches Too, which streets on DVD today from Disney.
The follow-up to the popular Disney Channel original movie based in turn on H.B. Gilmour and Randi Reisfeld’s supernatural book series, Twitches Too finds young witches Alex (Tia) and Camryn (Tamera), having been raised by adoptive families and kept unaware of both each other and their magical gifts until their first meeting on their 21st birthday, deciding what to make of their magical powers. Alex at first wants to focus on college and just having a semi-normal life, while Camryn is all about the “princessing” that such powers afford — glamor, gowns and tiaras. But their dreams must be set aside when destiny again calls (the story of my life, really), and the survival of their birthplace — the magical land of Coventry — is in peril. After having vanquished the evil warlock who threatened them in Twitches, the girls now focus on reuniting with their birth mother, a powerful witch named Miranda (Kristen Wilson). Using telepathy, pyrokinesis, clairvoyance and other powers, Alex and Camryn then work to spurn a shadowy underworld presence that seeks to destroy them, their family and their world.
The set-up, dialogue and stagings here are all pitched benevolently downward, in softball fashion, as one might readily expect. But the Mowry sisters are an appealing tandem, and their easygoing nature goes a long way toward making this bearable not only for the “tween” girl set for which it’s designed, but also their parents as well. Presented in 1.33:1 full screen, Twitches Too comes with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and a couple supplemental bonus features — an alternate scene that has some looking-glass fun with Miranda and her evil twin sister, as well as a brief making-of featurette. Cutely positing that the Mowrys have discovered “real” magical powers, this behind-the-scenes clip-fest includes a few interviews but also then plays around with time and space, jumping back and forth through various scenes and set-ups with the two bubbly gals as our guides. C+ (Movie) C+ (Disc)
Hey, remember that Justin Guarini kid, from American Idol? The one who looked like Sideshow Bob, from The Simpsons? Well apparently, confirming that America is indeed a land of second chances, he’s booked another movie gig, this time in a straight-to-video, family-friendly flick entitled Fast Girl.
Cleanly shorn, Guarini plays second fiddle in the movie, which tells the story of orphaned Alex Johnstone (Mircea Monroe), a young girl with racing in her blood. Under the guidance of her Uncle Bill (Dwier Brown), the owner of a local speedway, Alex sets out to prove to the testosterone-fueled racing world that she has what it takes to be the best in the traditionally male-dominated sport. When she encounters handsome professional driver Darryl (Guarini), though, the stakes are “raised even higher,” according to the film’s press release. So will Alex crash and burn — metaphorically or literally — or will she pull through, and be able to make her dreams come true, and carry on her father’s legacy? Gee, I wonder. Caroline Rhea and Jack Weber also star; Daniel Zirill (The Champagne Gang) directs. For more information, click here.
Segel (above right) plays Peter Bretter, a guy who gets dumped by his TV star girlfriend, then finds his Hawaiian vacation of intended psychological escape rudely interrupted when it turns out he’s at the same resort as that of Bell’s Sarah and her new beau, bad boy singer Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). The trailer slyly evokes Caddyshack in nicely gentle fashion (courtesy of Kenny Loggins’ “I’m All Right”) and capably works in its bit players (Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader), all while not overselling the inevitable rebound relationship with Mila Kunis.
I appreciated, too, the fact that Brand’s work wasn’t (presented as, at least) flaming, over-the-top caricature; Jesus, to think what a younger Ben Stiller would have done with the role. And, downmarket demo-baiting appeal aside, the “pearl necklace” bit at the trailer’s conclusion is nicely underplayed — the bow on top being Segel’s guilty-as-charged shrug.
the Ivy League, is rooted in legacies, so it’s not surprising that certain
opportunities would present themselves to Colin Hanks, the now 30-year-old son
of Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks.
commercial showing (to the tune of $70 million) with 1984’s Splash, a decent follow-up with that
summer’s Bachelor Party, and was
treading water in comedies like The Man
with One Red Shoe, Volunteers and
The Money Pit. His niche, if
certainly not completely his future success, seemed somewhat determined.
For Colin Hanks, things are a bit different. But with a
mushrooming body of work (his latest film, The
Great Buck Howard, which includes his father playing his father, recently
unspooled at Sundance), a future once cloudy is coming into a bit sharper
focus. Heading into 2008, the younger Hanks has a number of high-profile
commercial gigs, along with some idiosyncratic-sounding indie fare.
First up is this week’s Internet thriller Untraceable. Hanks already has some
experience with unsettling depictions of voyeurism, in 2006’s
consigned-to-video Alone with Her,
opposite Ana Claudia Talancón and Jordana Spiro. In Untraceable, however, he’s on the other side of the law, playing a
young FBI agent opposite
as they attempt to take down a killer who’s broadcasting live, streaming video
of his ghastly crimes and using a complicit audiences’ viewership as a weapon.
At a Portland-set field office of the FBI, a special
subdivision of the bureau investigates cyber-crime, mostly tracking identity
predators and other white-collar-type crimes. Soon they get a grisly tip,
though. A tech-savvy predator is displaying graphic murders on his own website,
with the fate of each of his tormented captives left in the hands of the
public: the more hits his site gets, the faster his victims die. It starts with
a kitten stuck to a glue-trap — which helps special agent Jennifer Marsh (Lane)
and her partner, Griffin Dowd (Hanks), determine that the events are of a local
origin — but quickly the ante is upped with a series of kidnappings and more
rapidly unfolding deaths. With the assistance of a local homicide detective,
Eric Box (Billy Burke), single mother Marsh tries to unravel the mystery, even
as she herself becomes the target of the killer.
Like some bastard offspring of Fear Dotcom, The Net and
the Saw films, Untraceable suffers from too many cooks in the kitchen; it wants to
be topical, or of-the-moment, but also cling to conventions for the sake of
narrative ease. To assuage worries about any lingering, lasting unpleasantness,
the movie’s scripters (it’s a cobbled together affair, written by Allison Burnett, Robert Fyvolent and Mark R. Brinker, with the latter two getting story
credit) ascribe a very specific motivation to the killer — there’s a reason for
his acts, as well as the selection of many of his victims.
This sort of directly air-quote competitive antagonism —
nipped from more assertively rooted serial killer flicks like Seven, Zodiac and the second Saw
film — is of course hogwash, utterly incongruous. It just doesn’t play. General implausibilities
aside, though, it’s matched by both a substandard execution that doesn’t measure
up to the best of the rest of director Gregory Hoblit’s work (Fallen, Primal Fear, Fracture),
as well as a third act steeplechase that includes a baffling direct
confrontation on a rainy bridge; a long, explanatory passage of revelation
about what we’ve seen, and the offscreen events that brought us there; and a
“ripcord ending” that wraps things up in faux-sober and thought-provoking
have been a much more interesting film — one to live up to its poster — if it had simply stayed closer to its wonkish
roots, Internet-flavored thriller. (Instead we get the one obligatory
e-takedown, showing how cyber-patrolling busts porn-loving gun-runners and
their deadbeat minor sons.) The melding of this new-fangled milieu with a more
tawdry narrative, however, just doesn’t work.
Whether it nominally succeeds or fails at the box office,
however, not much of Untraceable’s
failings should be able to be traced back to Hanks. His is a solid supporting
part unrelated to the movie’s shortcomings, and he does capable work that
doesn’t hurt himself — an analysis that might befit a lot of his steady upwards
trajectory. After getting his start on the small screen, playing Alex
Whitman on Roswell for parts of three
seasons, Hanks made his big screen leading man debut in Orange County, a second-generation comedy of college anxiety costarring
Schuyler Fisk (daughter of Jack Fisk and Sissy Spacek), and directed by Jake
Kasdan. Hanks then signed on for a tour of duty in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, whose long production in
Other, forthcoming projects, however, shine a light on lessons
Hanks may have learned from his father, from choice costars to branching out
into life behind the camera. Out of Sundance comes word that Hanks will be
directing a documentary about the decline of the music industry over the past
decade and a half. Also, in writer-director George Gallo’s My Mom’s New Boyfriend, the younger Hanks will follow further in
his father’s footsteps, playing a federal agent tasked with spying on his
mother and her new beau, suspects in an art heist ring. The twist? Meg Ryan, a
frequent costar of his father, will play not his love interest, but said mother. Wow. Time flies… (Sony/Screen Gems, R, 100 minutes)
The so-called first 10 minutes of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, starring Amber Heard (below), is now online, courtesy of Yahoo’s UK site (it’s actually more like eight-and-a-half minutes, for the record), and the good advance buzz on the movie looks more and more justified. There’s a long, complicated and typically Weinstein-ian history to this film and its several delays, but things are now pointed in the right direction, insofar as The Weinstein Company has divested themselves of domestic releasing responsibilities — probably a good thing for all parties involved, given the shoddy treatment it would have received in the wake of “creative differences” squabbles, allegedly over gore, other trims and running time.
Given what’s on display, I think the Weinsteins may have been freaked out by how nice-looking a product they had on their hands. The film’s trailer proper is a thing of slow-building and highly evocative stalking terror — several wide shots conjure up recollections of genre touchstones like I Spit on Your Grave and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, both the original and Marcus Nispel’s gorgeously shot re-imagining. And beyond the nicely restrained, impressionistic introductions, the film’s opening party scene — in which a bullied kid seemingly stuck in “friendship alley” uses his wits to coerce a jockish romantic rival for Mandy’s affections into taking a stupid risk — is its own nicely orchestrated chamber piece about teen egos and competitiveness. Most striking, though, is the self-conscious underwear posing by the bullied best friend, prior to a poolside sequence.
Not to gloss over debut screenwriter Jacob Forman’s contributions, but one can tell that music video director Jonathan Levine — who just had his second feature effort, The Wackness, premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival — worked this thing out in his head. If the
rest of the movie is this well ordered and smart, no matter the familiarity of the plot trappings, I’ll be mightily impressed. Regardless, the trailer and this advance look has definitely aroused my interest. Mandy Lane opens next month in the United Kingdom, and is set for a March Stateside bow, from upstart Senator Entertainment.
For the further subset of cave dwellers who are looking to really maximize their theatrical movie-going dollars, a savvy tipster clued me in to the fact that AMC Theatres is running a special promotion by which one can see all five films nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award — that’s Michael Clayton, Juno, No Country for Old Men, Atonement and There Will Be Blood, for the record — for a cool $30. They’ll even throw in a free large popcorn, presumably because you’ll also want to eat something else, and be spending money on that. The rub? They’re doing it one day only — Saturday, February 23, the day before the (planned) Oscar ceremonies. The other rub? I have some quibbles with that running order. To check for a theater in your area, click here.
If, as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s art, then surely the same thing is true of sexual proclivities, where the Internet has dragged out into the 21st century light of day sub-fetishes previously only whispered about, if discussed at all. Director Michael Ney’s Liberty in Restraint is a feature-length documentary that examines just this titillating intersection of the deviant and so-called normal sexual worlds. It’s not for all tastes, certainly, but if a more exhaustive and fair cataloguing of its subject matter exists, I’m certainly not aware of it.
As an aspiring photographer, the clandestine worlds of bondage, discipline, dominance-submission, sadomasochism and fetish fashion held a powerful attraction for Noel Graydon. For five years, he trained and worked as a BDSM “master” in the alt-sex trade, establishing friendships which enabled him to genuinely document this world as an insider looking out. Filmmaker Ney uses Graydon as a guide, peeking behind the scenes of his fetish portraiture to shine a spotlight on a curious roster of rope artists, lapsed Catholics, so-called “pain sluts,” adult babies and blood-play enthusiasts who approach absolution and sexuality like an advanced-level driving course.
Sitting for interviews are a litany of prima facie sources, from Graydon’s photographic mentor, John Elliott, to Sydney Hellfire Club’s Jackie McMillan, BDSM performance artist Zoo and a dominatrix named Mistress Synna. The title Liberty in Restraint works two ways, as ironic commentary on the very nature of fringe-dwelling excess, but also how these acts of extreme constraint give palpable release to folks who are into them. The electro-torture and blood-play stuff is a bit extreme for me — just flat out something I don’t want to see or experience, like chewing on aluminum foil — but it is interesting to hear from its purveyors and enthusiasts, if not always see it in practice. Much like David Schisgall’s suburban swinger documentary The Lifestyle, this movie gives voice to the psychology behind its practitioners, and not all of them are quite as outwardly damaged as you might expect.
Housed in a regular Amray case and presented in 16×9 widescreen with 5.1 Dolby surround audio on a region-free disc, Liberty in Restraint comes with a small but potent slate of supplemental extras. Director Ney, film guide Puck, rope artist Mistress Felina and Barton Staggs sit for a rowdy audio commentary track, while five extra interviews and a half dozen deleted scenes point up the fact that there was plenty of material with which to work. Perhaps most interestingly, there’s also a brief featurette on the making of the DVD’s cover image — a first for any home video release that I can recall. For more information, visit the movie’s eponymous web site. B (Movie) B (Disc)
The short teaser trailer for Mamma Mia!, this year’s screen adaptation of the hit stage musical based around songs of ABBA, is online, and I gather has been so for some time. For me, it elicits a big ol’ shrug. It’s the story of an 18-year-old (Amanda Seyfried), on the eve of her own nuptials, trying to discern her biological father — one of three former suitors (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard) of her mother (Meryl Streep) — but it’s set in Greece, which unfortunately brings back more memories of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin than The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Look, I enjoyed the ever-loving flip out of Muriel’s Wedding, but this seems like a mushy, pre-chewed packaging of the most worn, threadbare elements of Lost in Translation, Definitely, Maybe and a couple other fairer-sex, multi-generational and/or travelogue romances that I’m forgetting precisely because they’re so forgettable. Maybe the music carries the day. I just know that I can appreciate ABBA, and I’m still not tingling with anticipation.
The awards circuit attention being justly heaped on Julie Christie for her performance in Sarah Polley’s Away From Her is the driving force behind a special one-night double feature tribute to the actress on Sunday, February 3 at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. Swinging ’60s London model drama Darling kicks things off at 7:30 p.m., followed by 1975’s Shampoo, co-starring Christie, Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant and, in her first big screen role, Carrie Fisher. The Aero Theatre
is located at 1328 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica
information on directions and the Aero’s upcoming schedule,
phone (323) 466-FILM.
It’s a happy 29th birthday to ex-Bond babe Rosamund Pike, who continues to score work despite reminding every guy who’s being intellectually honest of the girl who wouldn’t give them the time of day (or evening) in high school.
When it comes to actresses, some eyebrows work better than others, but Pike’s, in the photo above, is like a scythe, for Chrissakes, and it sets in stone the tone for every thing else about her countenance. It’s a hard-knock life, however arguably hot, for actresses with this little palpable sympathy and smoothed, “sisterly” edges, or at least the ability to feign such. Pike just doesn’t give off any sort of vibe that makes women identify with her.
So far she’s been well served by most of her choices. Pike’s seemingly natural coolness fit nicely in the legal thriller Fracture, where she played a steely corporate lawyer opposite Ryan Gosling’s slick professional climber, and hey, I even thought she was great in Doom… seriously. But there’s a precariously short shelf life for moon-faced, English-speaking foreign beauties. Audiences tend to regard them as interchangeable. After all, look what happened to Sarah Wynter. Wait a second… who?
He used to be the biggest star in Hollywood, but now Burt Reynolds — bitter and in many ways derisible — is reduced to wan, old-guy variations on the already-less-than-interesting, gum-smacking, smart-guy roles of his commercial heyday. That’s the bottom line regarding Forget About It, an uninspired geriatric comedy which bills itself as being from one of the producers of Ali, Jerry Maguire and As Good as it Gets. As if to underscore the awkward point, Raquel Welch, Charles Durning, Robert Loggia and Phyllis Diller all show up, sleepwalking through tepid set-ups that do little except trade on their aging, autumnal appeal.
The story unfolds in Sunrise Park, a so-called slice of trailer-park heaven just outside Phoenix. For quite a while, the most exciting thing about the golden years for retired war vet buddies Sam LeFleur (Reynolds), Carl Campobosso (Loggia) and Eddie O’Brien (Durning) were their attempts to vie for the affections of their sexy neighbor Christine DeLee (Welch), a legendary former Las Vegas showgirl still famous for her trademark “double dip.” Then new transplant John Brandin (Michael Paloma) pops into their lives. John, né Angelo Nitti, is in the federal witness protection program. In exchange for ratting out his former Mob partners, he’s been given a new name and a new lease on life, but what he didn’t tell the feds is that he stashed $4 million he stole from the Mafia before he left. When the aforementioned hapless trio of Sam, Carl and Eddie stumble across the loot, they think their ship has finally come in, and start living the high life, accordingly. This leads to all sorts of shenanigans, with the feds, the Mob and their ticked-off neighbor on their trail.
Written by Ukrainian-born former model Julia Davis and directed by husband B.J. Davis, 20-plus years her senior, Forget About It plays partly like a spin-off of 2000’s The Crew, crossed with… I don’t know what, The Whole Nine Yards? The wiseguy face-off angles within the movie are stuff that’s all been seen before, from True Romance to every rip-off down the line, and the comedy herein just doesn’t fire. Forget About It plays like a vanity project devoid of purpose; there’s no pulse here, no point to make, except perhaps a paycheck for all those involved — a list that includes Richard Grieco (yup… that guy), Joanna Pacula, Wayne Crawford and Tim Thomerson. Housed in a regular Amray case, Forget About It comes with optional Spanish subtitles and a brief trailer as its only supplemental features. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. D+ (Movie) D (Disc)
Let the nut-jobs congregate and metaphorically jerk one another off on Thursday, January 31, at , when the American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre presents the
narrative feature film to challenge the official story of the events of
The story centers around Alex Prokop (JK Baltazar), a successful Russian-American journalist,
and Paul Cooper (Joseph Culp), a driven researcher whose daughter died on Sept. 11. Together, Alex and Paul travel to
information about the attacks and their aftermath. As Paul introduces Alex to key eye-witnesses, the face of the “official story” begins to
crumble. A discussion with writer-director Kupsc and
actor-producer Joseph Culp will follow the film, purportedly “drawn from established sources and based on verifiable facts,” and almost certainly be more fascinating than the movie itself.
The Aero Theatre
is located at 1328 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica
information on directions and the Aero’s upcoming schedule,
meanwhile, phone (323) 466-FILM.
It’s a happy birthday to low-profile hottie Christine Lakin, who turns 29 today. In regular rotation as a TV guest star, Lakin has had small parts in Georgia Rule, The Game Plan and a few other flicks, but I suppose remains best known from her seven-year run on ABC’s Step by Step. She’s got a plum part, though (relatively speaking), in the forthcoming The Hottie & The Nottie, opposite Paris Hilton; Lakin plays the (really) ugly girl best friend of Hilton’s character — the ugly duckling who undergoes the transformation into the swan. It’s not a great flick by any stretch of the imagination, but Lakin has one really good and emotionally earned scene in particular. No one told her the movie was supposed to be small-fries, apparently.
Just a couple days ago, flipping past E!’s unabashedly
whorish entertainment news show on television, I came across a quick-hit report
— designed to serve as a teaser lead-in, so that Ryan Seacrest could peddle
footage of the erstwhile pop princess’ latest shopping excursion, or whatever —
in which the Associated Press essentially confirmed that they’d already worked
up the bulk of their obituary on Britney Spears, saying something to the effect
of, “We of course wish Britney nothing but the best in these difficult times,
but we have to be prepared.”
I was pretty bowled over at the time (why would E! fish for
this rather callous and insignificant nugget, and why would the AP even confirm
it?), but this bit was among the first thoughts that came surging into my mind
when hearing about Heath Ledger’s tragic death in New York on Tuesday.
The difference between this misfortune with Ledger and something
like the recent passing of fellow actor Brad Renfro (apart from their
respective profiles) is a matter chiefly of expectation — reflected and
refracted in peculiar ways, both privately and publicly. Almost everyone I came
across and talked with about the event on Tuesday, or read a blurbed reaction
from, expressed considerable surprise in addition to the more standard sympathetic
compassion. I know I did: “What?,”
I asked, upon first hearing the news.
It’s always such a big jolt when a death like this doesn’t
match the air-quote public persona of the star. True tragedy, and certainly
fatal accidents (which this event is leaning more and more in the direction
of), don’t happen to people like this; money and fame protects them, right? It
gives them all sorts of buyout clauses and extra chances? The truth is, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes there is a
plane crash, or an automobile accident. Sometimes there is an accidental
overdose of prescription medications. Sometimes there is an undetected heart
condition, or cancer. And that gives us mental pause, because celebrities are
It’s not merely grappling with a cultural loss that feeds
shock and astonishment; we expect and accept, often with a shrug, the deaths of
high-profile actors, directors, musicians and the like. They wash over us,
however lionized they are (even I couldn’t tell you with any degree of
confidence about the death dates of artists whose work I tremendously respect),
until retrospective reminders at the Academy Awards or some other televised
event remind us. We presume, too, the deaths of certain performers given to histories
of excess (John Belushi, Anna Nicole Smith, Chris Farley, the aforementioned Renfro) long before
their actual passing. Ergo, I guess, the locked-and-loaded obituary for Spears,
and no doubt Lindsay Lohan. But when it happens to celebrities seemingly out of the
blue, like John Ritter or Aaliyah, or now Ledger, we don’t know what to do.
Conspiracies or other outlandish theories crop up; rumors run rampant.
So, in the hours following the Ledger story breaking, and
into the next day, cable news channels — because simple expressions of
disbelief can only fill so much airtime — still struggled to make the death fit
into their preformed narrative templates about “
lifestyle.” Rich evidence of this abounds, whether in the mis-reportage about
the apartment in which Ledger was found being Mary-Kate Olsen’s (ooh, link him
to another celebrity), the $20 bill “folded in a suspicious manner” (now
confirmed as free from any drug residue, an ordinary Andrew Jackson), or awards
prognosticator and professional opinion slinger Tom O’Neil waxing enthusiastically
and imaginatively on CNN as to the encoded meaning of Ledger’s personal hygiene
during an interview from several months prior.
As the surprise and sadness from his death fades, the
challenges facing two projects still in production in which Ledger appears — July’s The Dark Knight,
from Warner Bros., and director Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus — will of course come
into starker relief, and keep news of his death in the public realm.
Gilliam in particular has a heartrending history of
unusually rough financing and production problems, so much so that it’s even
been lampooned by The Onion. A half-decade ago, his attempt to film The Man Who
Killed Don Quixote was beset by bombing at a nearby NATO range,
once-in-a-generation flash floods and the herniated disc of his lead actor,
resulting in 2002’s Lost in La
Mancha, a documentary of darkly comedic devolution.
For Warner Bros., the stakes are even bigger. The follow-up
to their hugely successful and critically embraced franchise reboot, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight is a tent-pole
summer release for the studio, and Ledger’s dark, seemingly twisted take on the
homicidal Joker was at the forefront of their marketing campaign, which will
almost surely now see an overhaul.
Still, whatever is done, Ledger’s death — its suddenness and
seeming inexplicability — will almost certainly continue to shade and color
perceptions of these projects, even after the unfathomable particulars are
scientifically explained. As of now, pending final a toxicology report, only six
types of prescription medications — including an antihistamine, and pills to
treat both anxiety and insomnia, which Ledger had previously said he started
suffering during production of The Dark Knight — were found with Ledger upon his death. For a
country so preoccupied, in aspirant-protective fashion, with its celebrities,
that’s cold comfort, and an unsatisfactory answer. For the full, original op-ed feature piece, from FilmStew, click here.
So the new, official title of the 22nd Bond picture was revealed to reporters Thursday at a press conference at Pinewood Studios outside of London, where filming on the movie began earlier this month. And the tabbed moniker is… Quantum of Solace? Look, I don’t want to question whether or not the title was drawn blindly from a fan contest, but… was the title drawn blindly from a fan contest? And besides, wasn’t that the title of one of Stephen Hawking’s best-sellers?
Location shooting is planned for Austria, Italy and Panama, and the film — which picks up where 2006’s Casino Royale left off — of course returns Daniel Craig as Bond and Judi Dench as MI-6 boss M. New additions include pouty hottie Olga Kurylenko and
Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), who will play the
movie’s villain. If my photo posting was working properly, I could include a few pictures from said press conference, but those will have to wait for another day, it seems. Quantum of Solace opens Stateside and in Great Britain on November 7.