A friend of mine tipped me off to this hilarious advert for Verizon FiOS, in which director Michael Bay “demands things to be awesome,” and then blows up all manner of stuff at what might well be his real house. Briskly paced, embracing from the get-go his ego-centric rep, well done… I’d argue this has a more compelling narrative than Transformers, actually. One question — why, though, doesn’t the tiger explode?
Clearly, what this poster for The Other Boleyn Girl needs is more green. Sigh…
Nice knuckle boob graze by Eric Bana, though. What, did King Henry VIII have to deploy the yawn-and-stretch move?
At first glance, Furnace looks a lot like just about any other anonymous, single-titled, independently produced down-market action thriller, especially given the fact that its cast consists of Ja Rule, Tom Sizemore, Michael Paré and Danny Trejo. It’s got a hearty injection of possessed-machinery-gone-wrong horror, though, making for strong (if wholly undesired) recollections of 1995’s righteously awful The Mangler. Directed by William Butler (Madhouse), Furnace is a mash-up of copped moves, familiar characters and generally underwhelming special effects and execution — a combination which overwhelms the mostly sincere efforts of a game cast.
While investigating a series of deaths inside a maximum-security prison, Detective Michael Turner (Paré) uncovers a nightmare more threatening than the hardened criminals serving time — a group that includes Terrence (Ja Rule) and Fury (Trejo) — or the rogue prison guard, Frank Miller (Sizemore), who runs drugs for the inmates. Behind the walls, you see, lies a supernatural force hellbent on revenge — making for a rising body count that matches the rising temperature.
Furnace claims to be inspired by real events, but the set-ups and the movie’s dialogue, penned by Butler and co-writers Aaron Strongoni and Scott Aronson, are all of the wildly signposted and underlined emotion variety. Production designer Chad Keith does what he can to mask the low budget, but Furnace simply doesn’t have the capital to create a convincing backdrop, and Butler doesn’t downwardly adjust his vision or visual plan accordingly. The result is a movie with a few pockets of watchability, but also some real howler-type sequences.
Furnace comes presented in 16×9 widescreen, with an English language 4.1 surround sound audio track, and is housed in a regular Amray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover. In addition to an 80-second trailer for the movie, there are also previews for a quartet of other flicks, and a modest collection of six deleted scenes. By far the best supplemental extra, though, is a collection of cast interviews with Sizemore, Trejo and Ja Rule. The latter two segments run four-and-a-half and 14 minutes, respectively, and feature static interstitial cards indicating the offscreen questioner’s query, like “What is your roll [sic] in the film?” Sizemore’s 17-minute sit-down, though, is truly fascinating, partly because he’s totally candid and honest about his recent legal and substance abuse problems, and partly because he still seems a missed bout of medication or two away from snapping, as when he notes, gesturing offscreen, “There was a time when people would make too much noise, like this, and I’d get angry, but that’s OK…” There’s also a one-minute Easter egg bonus, accessible via the main screen, of the little girl, in crispy make-up, who plays the embodiment of the haunted furnace. For more information on the movie, click here. C- (Movie) C+ (Disc)
Characteristically anarchic, loosely structured and unabashedly blue, Will Ferrell’s new comedy Semi-Pro rather ably skewers both second-tier professional basketball and the regrettable fashion of the early 1970s, ranking in the top half of the comedian’s personal roster of sports parodies, a list which includes Kicking and Screaming, Talladega Nights and last year’s bloated Blades of Glory.
Semi-Pro centers around Jackie Moon (Ferrell), an affable if dimwitted former singer who has parlayed and elongated the fame surrounding his one hit song into local celebrity status as the owner-player-coach of the Flint Tropics, a floundering team in socio-economically depressed small town Michigan. As part of the struggling ABA league, Moon relies more on half-time gimmicks and wild promotions to get people in the door than any actual basketball acumen.
That has to change, though, when Moon receives word of the ABA’s impending merger with the NBA, the country’s preeminent hoops conference. The Tropics have to both win games and pack the stands if they want to be one of the two teams to survive consolidation. To that end, Moon trades the team’s washing machine for Flint native and former NBA champion Ed Monnix (Woody Harrelson), and begrudgingly takes more of a backseat to he and the high-flying Clarence Withers (André Benjamin), the squad’s most talented player.
The film is the feature directorial debut of Kent Alterman, the former executive vice president of production at New Line Cinema, and a producer on small screen fare like Strangers with Candy and TV Nation. As a filmmaker, Alterman evidences a genial style neither disastrous or particularly memorable; he simply gives his actors a wide berth. As penned by Old School co-writer Scot Armstrong, many of the movie’s bigger laughs, including a Deer Hunter-inspired roulette scene and the alternately sardonic and uncomfortable asides of the Tropics’ announcers (Will Arnett and Andrew Daly), lean on the improvisational talents of its stars. More discretely scripted set piece bits (the wrestling of a bear, a lurching dance of vomitous pantomiming from Moon, who’s never before thrown up) don’t seem quite fully fleshed out. The notable exception of the latter category involves the invention of the alley-oop, now a staple of basketball highlight reels.
While Semi-Pro is not graphic in any other regards, the film’s language is willfully profane, which could be a bit of a commercial stumbling block with respect to the theatrical admittance of younger teens, though Ferrell’s core audience has presumably aged with him and won’t mind. Within the film, the issue isn’t necessarily the vulgarity itself, but the fact that it frequently seems so arbitrary, substituting for stronger jokes. A little bit less of this would go a long way.
No amount or combination of shame, absurdity and unflattering outfits seem to dint Ferrell’s fierce commitment to character, and here he again amusingly jumps through all sorts of hoops of humiliation, proving himself quite possibly the least vain actor working today — a matter which is much to benefit of his films. Harrelson, who famously displayed his hoops skills in 1992’s White Men Can’t Jump, seems perfectly at home back in this setting. As announcer Dick Pepperfield, meanwhile, the aforementioned Daly (who also appears in the forthcoming What Happens in Vegas) makes a strong, breakout impression.
Composer Theodore Shapiro’s unobtrusive score is the perfect counterpoint to energetic musical selections from the period, including songs from Barry White, The Ohio Players, Brothers Johnson, Sly & The Family Stone and Kool & The Gang. All horns and buttery whispers, meanwhile, Ferrell’s credible performance of Moon’s signature R&B-themed hit “Love Me Sexy,” produced by Nile Rodgers, is another high point. Should acting begin to bore Ferrell, he could easily make do as a lounge singer. There’s no word yet on whether Alterman and Ferrell’s flick matches Michael Moore’s memories of his hometown. No matter, though; like basketball, comedy is a game of percentages, and Semi-Pro hits enough shots to be called a winner. (New Line, R, 90 minutes)
Upon its release in 1962, film critic Pauline Kael rightly called The Manchurian Candidate perhaps the most sophisticated political satire ever made. That by turns its frightening, surreal and slyly satirical story holds up — here a bit more so than in Jonathan Demme’s 2004 remake, starring Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep — is a testament largely to Richard Condon’s novel and George Axelrod’s screenplay adaptation. The printed word remains the thing. Of course, director John Frankenheimer’s skill with a scene didn’t hurt either — his staging of the dual tea club/Communist brainwashers garden party remains a classic.
Frank Sinatra’s star turn as distressed soldier Bennett Marco, meanwhile, is much remarked upon, but for me alternately stiff and mannered. (I’d blocked from memory, too, Sinatra’s tiger-fist martial arts rootdown.) Instead, it’s Laurence Harvey, as programmed solitaire player Raymond Shaw, who with his cool, deadpan state anchors The Manchurian Candidate, a film prescient for the manner in which it assays the perversion of the political process. Supplemental features on the film’s special edition DVD are anchored by two 14-minute interview segments with co-star Angela Lansbury and filmmaker William Friedkin, the latter of whom serves here as a loosely historical framer. (There are also two Easter egg tidbits from the special menus screen, accessed by scrolling to the right over the playing card.) Finally, rounding things out is an audio commentary track with Frankenheimer recorded prior to his death, as well as an adulatory, recycled eight-minute interview from the movie’s 1988 VHS release with tidbits from the filmmaker, writer Axelrod and Sinatra. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. A- (Movie) B (Disc)
So the underlying precept of the below poster for Superhero Movie, releasing March 28 from Weinstein Company and MGM, seems to basically be, “Why try?” After all, the one-sheet for the latest genre catch-all spoof flick is such a straight rip-off of the Photoshop-happy Scary Movie poster(s) that one kind of hopes no one actually got paid for it, that some college kid just got internship credit for working it up with a few loose pointers from the producers. Oh well, I guess… “ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” “dance with who brung ya,” “stick with what works,” yadda, yadda, yadda. Any real irritation I might have felt is ebbing out of me with each keystroke.
What might (and I do emphasize that word) give Superhero Movie a leg up on 20th Century Fox’s recent spoof slate (Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans) is the fact that it’s written and directed by Craig Mazin, who did some heavy lifting on the last two Scary Movie flicks, and maintains The Artful Writer, a very literate, engaging and witty blog on the life of screenwriting. This means Superhero Movie could have actual jokes instead of just bewigged impressions, (arguably) comedic reenactments of scenes from recent hits and punches to the balls. Of course, this poster doesn’t really let us know one way or another, except for the fact that it does pack in 10 in 11 sight gags, letting us know that the movie will at the very least keep swinging.
A full review of the film will follow later today, but Will Ferrell’s Semi-Pro is certainly blazing more new paths with its ancillary marketing schemes. First there’s Ferrell’s in-character, costarring role with Heidi Klum in the recent, annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition (below).
Then, in moderate rotation, and I guess greatly defraying the cost of ad buys, are a series of television commercials for Old Spice deodorant in which Ferrell — again in character, as affably idiotic owner-coach-player hoops maven Jackie Moon — ad-libs about sweat, exercise and “herniated colons,” and how Old Spice is the all-important cure-all. They’re funny (despite my girlfriend’s insistence to the contrary) and in keeping with the arbitrary tone of the movie, though still a little bit diminishing. It smacks of all the cross-promotional stuff done for Talladega Nights, though a bit less artfully integrated, since part of the “joke” there was in spoofing the commercialization of racing, and its many sponsors.
So after just baring all for New York Magazine, Lindsay Lohan has followed that up by having her latest film, I Know Who Killed Me, “win” eight of the nine prizes for which it was nominated this past weekend at the annual Golden Raspberry (aka “Razzies”) awards, in which a spotlight is shone on some of the worst films of the year. Lohan alone managed to win two, for both Worst Actress and
Worst Screen Couple, for a scene in the movie in which she appears
alongside herself. With its eight victories, I Know Who Killed Me smashed the unenviable record set by John Travolta’s sci-fi epic Battlefield Earth and the NC-17-rated Showgirls,
which each scored seven wins at previous ceremonies.
Eddie Murphy, meanwhile, was awarded
three of the four prizes in the worst acting categories, for a trio of
characters, both male and female, he played in Norbit. With Murphy and Lohan’s pictures, ahem, sucking up all the oxygen at the ceremonies, Daddy Day Camp, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., was the only other movie to be humiliated with a Razzie award, for Worst Prequel or Sequel. Sadly, no one was on hand to attempt to one-up Halle Berry’s surprise in-person acceptance of her award for Catwoman.
More than three years in the making, a new documentary that takes up where Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code left off has purportedly uncovered some remarkable evidence that may prove a Jesus Christ-Mary Magdalene bloodline did exist. The film, Bloodline, has been acquired by Cinema Libre Studio for worldwide distribution, and will premiere theatrically in the United States in May 2008.
The idea of this bloodline, first set out in the 1982 international bestseller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, has captivated the world. However, although many experts and amateurs alike have painstakingly explored the subject, none have produced new substantiation. Bloodline reignites the debate with what it claims is groundbreaking new archeological evidence. “Filmmakers Bruce Burgess and René Barnett have turned up some fascinating findings and connections that will cause even the strongest skeptic to take notice,” says Philippe Diaz, Chairman of Cinema Libre Studio.
Working together, a joint British and American team analyzed historical records, regional legends and clues culled from interviews with spokespeople from the controversial secret society The Priory of Sion. Their efforts led to the discovery of artifacts dating from first century Jerusalem and a tomb with very unusual features. Located in the Languedoc region of southern France, the site was triangulated by an amateur British archaeologist, allegedly based on clues he found embedded in and around the renowned Church of Mary Magdalene at Rennes-Le-Chateau. The area, which has yet to be officially excavated, contains parchments and texts, religious artifacts, a cache of coins and, most significantly, a mummified body draped with a white shroud emblazoned with a red cross, reminiscent of the Knights Templar. For further information on the film, and its teased secrets, visit the movie’s official web site by clicking here.
The same reason that I could never be a habitual smoker is the same reason that I wouldn’t make a good big screen vampire.
This occurred to me while watching 30 Days of Night, the latest adapted entry in Hollywood’s favorite source material of the moment, the graphic novel. The film’s
vampires are really inefficient when one gets right down to it. After
all, if it’s blood one craves, why would you puncture a jugular, enjoy
only a quick pint (or less) in orgiastic fashion, and then simply leave
the body? This, to me, seems terribly wasteful — the genre equivalent
of lighting a cigarette and flipping it away or stubbing it out after a
quick, single drag. While 30 Days of Night doesn’t exactly encourage such pause
for thought, the fact that I had time to reflect on such matters is
indicative of how at least somewhat botched a rendering of a great
concept the movie is.
30 Days of Night
unfolds in the isolated northern town of Barrow, Alaska, 80 miles away
from the next closest civilized enclave. Each winter, as the title
hints, the icy burgh is plunged into a state of complete darkness that
lasts a full month. It’s a time of hunkered-down communal survival,
with liquor and beer taps turned off at the local bar in order to temper tempers.
free rein, a group of bloodthirsty vampires, led by Danny Huston,
arrive to take advantage of the situation by feeding on the helpless
residents. It’s up to Sheriff Eben Olemaun (Josh Hartnett), his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George) and an
ever-shrinking group of survivors to do everything they can to
last until the next daylight. If this means going Anne Frank and holing
up in an attic to much bickering discord, so be it.
Penned by Steve Niles (the co-author of the original graphic novel), Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson, 30 Days of Night is directed, improbably enough, by David Slade, who most recently made the indie two-hander Hard Candy. As in that film, Slade here trades heartily in tight close-ups, though of
course dialing down the color saturation to play up the surrounding
darkness. Early on, this tack suits the material, as the movie is a quickened-pace, Dawn of the Dead-style
re-imagining of pure, streamlined genre material. Vampires
swoop around in quick bursts and speak in a subtitled dialect of
phonetic clicks and high-pitched shrieks; you can see why the town’s inhabitants are crapping their pants. Much more an exercise in
horror than action, the movie dashes through its moral quandary
checklist — a violent attack by an infected kid, the assisted suicide
of another infected person — and gets some of its ya-yas out via the
group assault of a young woman used, to no avail, as bait to try to
lure humans out from hiding.
vampire aficionados and source text fans will appreciate much of the
film, and it definitely plays better in the intimate confines of one’s own home, as well as earning points for a bleak ending that doesn’t
try to put an unrealistic shine on things. Still, 30 Days of Night remains essentially a somewhat
shrug-inducing vessel of unfulfilled potential, consisting of solidly
executed attack passages followed by great stretches of relative
tedium, or at least overly familiar genre dawdling (the waylaid
re-supply trip, the infected survivor). The great potential of its concept never takes full bloom,
partially because of wanly sketched supporting characters, but chiefly
because the restrictive conditions of space and passing time are
communicated in such a fuzzy, haphazard fashion.
Housed in a regular Amray case with a cardboard slipcover, 30 Days of Night is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen on DVD, with matching English and French language 5.1 Dolby digital audio tracks and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. Producer Rob Tapert — who sounds a bit like Wallace Shawn, actually — sits for a feature-length audio commentary track with Hartnett and George, a pairing that is good in theory (actors plus a behind-the-line guy) and practice, as they exhibit a warm rapport with one another that stands in stark contrast to the chilly weather on display. Among the anecdotes shared is the fact that Slade originally wanted to cast Forest Whitaker in Mark Boone Junior’s role, and that George is… a former rollerskating derby champion?! Hartnett also points out the scenes in which he is noticeably sick, the result, he claims, of a globe-spanning flight to the film’s New Zealand set straight from another production.
The big bonus feature selling point comes in the form of eight top-notch, behind-the-scenes featurettes, which can be played separately or together, at a total running time of around 50 minutes. Shot in a loose, very off-the-cuff style and compiled in a manner to at least partially mimic the movie’s comic book roots, these segments cover all manner of detail with regards to the movie, kicking off with a look at pre-production, before Slade, Tapert and company decamp to New Zealand and an abandoned equestrian facility to mock up their version of the town of Barrow. The interviews herein are brief, but informative, and well interspersed with edifying information that illustrates what’s being discussed. Stunt coordinator Allan Poppleton talks about wire work on one of the roof jumps in the movie, while — perhaps most interestingly — we glimpse production designer Paul Austerberry’s work with production illustrators and model makers. Though the production shot “day for night” and worked with interiors for as much of its production as possible, an infusion of funds for a car chase and fiery finale dictated five weeks of night shoots (and an accompanying 20,000 cups of coffee!), which is amusingly captured in the last behind-the-scenes segment. Slade, who at one point mutters, “Help me die!” seemingly only half-jokingly, evidences plenty of wear and tear, but really gets into showing his vampires how to strut their stuff, and has nothing but high praise for the talented base of creature performers that the Lord of the Rings series has left in New Zealand. Apart from the aforementioned commentary track, this ample slate of featurettes and the savvy inclusion of a half-hour episode of the forthcoming Japanese anime release Blood+, the only other supplemental feature is a vast collection of preview trailers — mostly genre product like the Resident Evil flicks and (gulp) the awful-looking Zombie Strippers, starring Robert Englund and Jenna Jameson — but also other Sony films like Across the Universe. C (Movie) B+ (Disc)
So how did it escape my attention for so long that a fourth entry in Universal’s Fast and the Furious franchise has officially been given the greenlight? Rumor has it that Vin Diesel, who has Babylon A.D. on tap and may or may not get that long-rumored, dream-project Hannibal flick off the ground (I’ll believe it when I don’t see it in theaters), will come crawling back to the series that first made him a household name, reuniting with Paul Walker. (Shirts will be optional, I feel certain.) Third flick director Justin Lin is also tentatively slated to return, along with Jordana Brewster, while 2004 Miss Israel Gal Gadot will apparently slot in nicely as the requisite bikini-chick eye-candy, according to FilmStew and others. No word yet on Bow Wow, alas, but knowing Universal I’m sure there already exists a treatment for a proposed spin-off featuring his Tokyo Drift character.
I’m trying to figure out why I should care, and am even posting on this… oh yeah, maybe because Babylon A.D. was originally supposed to release this weekend, and has now been pushed to August 29. That’s what sparked all this. Sigh…
I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and while flying through Washington’s Dulles airport, stopped to snap these admittedly too blurry photos from a presumably duty-free gift shop.
The first, above, celebrates the end of George Bush‘s presidency. Not that Dubya would have occasion to ever glimpse it, but it has to be somewhat weird when the city in which you live (when you’re not clearing brush) has racks of T-shirts calling you out and celebrating your scheduled departure.
The second is more of the celebratory-populist vein. The natural, consumerist extension of the get-on-the-love-train affection for Barack Obama I somewhat get (“Barack & Roll,” it says above), but… referenced in the form of an AC/DC visual gag? Very strange, indeed. Oh, and not pictured, from the same storefront walkway: the 16-inch, disturbingly lifelike Hillary Clinton nutcracker. (Seriously.) When I think about China manufacturing stuff like that, and what sociocultural conclusions they must draw from it, it amuses me to no end.
The American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre presents a limited engagement of all of this past year’s Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning live action and animated shorts, in two separate programs, March 6 through 13. The winners for Best Live Action Short Film, France’s The Mozart of Pickpockets, and the winner for Best Animated Short Film, the UK/Poland co-production Peter & The Wolf, screen alongside acclaimed nominees from Canada, Russia, Denmark, Italy, the United Kingdom, Poland, Belgium and France. The engagement kicks off on March 6 with both programs in the 616-seat Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre; on all other dates, the programs will take place in the 83-seat Spielberg Theatre. The live action shorts will screen at 7:30 p.m. each night, followed by a 10 p.m. program of animated shorts. The historic
Egyptian Theatre is located at
Tickets for all scheduled screenings are available through Fandango, but for 24-hour recorded information on tickets,
directions and more, phone (323) 466-FILM or visit the Cinematheque’s eponymous
Web site by clicking here.
The latest from the Democratic campaign trail? She’s playing a dangerous game, Hillary Clinton, but damned if she isn’t doing it with some intelligence. After playing almost exclusively nice with Barack Obama in person at the last Democratic debate — saying how “honored” she was to be sharing the stage with him — Clinton then immediately turned around and ripped into the Illinois senator on Saturday, crying “for shame!” over a piece of direct-mail correspondence from his campaign that questioned her health care plan.
OK, well played — Clinton gets that she’ll have to slug it out in the trenches if she wants to ignite a comeback, battling over issues and using contrast to decry contrasts drawn with her. Well… maybe not. In a Rhode Island campaign appearance Sunday afternoon, she mocked Obama’s hopeful rhetoric, declaring it not the answer in fighting entrenched interests. “I could stand up here and say, ‘Let’s just get everybody together, let’s get unified, the sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect,'” Clinton said, as people cheered and laughed. Again: bad idea, this mocking of hope and optimism, especially for a candidate whose husband ran as “a man from Hope.” I don’t doubt that Clinton has a perfectly serviceable sense of humor, but it’s been evidenced repeatedly that she’s demonstrably awful with a jab. Repeated use of this technique will unleash a world of hurt and spurned “third-way” voters, even if she were to rally and win the Democratic nomination.
It’s a happy 42nd birthday to smokin’ hot Téa Leoni, whose superbabies with husband David Duchovny will be smart, hella-attractive, effortlessly funny and also doubtlessly great interviews, should occasion arrive. We can only hope that they’ll be benevolent rulers of our world as well.
While one can’t presume to know exactly how the couple will celebrate, at least one thing can be eliminated with relative certainty; Leoni won’t be having freaky sauna sex tonight.
The Sherman-esque march of No Country for Old Men over There Will Be Blood was tipped with Javier Bardem’s Best Supporting Actor win and the Coen brothers’ victory for Best Adapted Screenplay, but there were plenty of other emotional and/or surprising moments at this year’s Oscar ceremony, well moderated by Jon Stewart. The latter category includes Diablo Cody’s Best Original Screenplay win for Juno and Tilda Swinton’s Best Supporting Actress win for Michael Clayton, while the former includes Cody’s teary speech (ended with parachute-ripcord abruptness), a sincerely overwhelmed Marion Cotillard’s acceptance of the Best Actress statuette for La Vie en Rose, and Freeheld co-directors Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth’s acceptance of the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject. The classiest/best feel-good moment of the night, though, hands down, has to be the smart audible call to let Markéta Irglova, a Best Original Song co-winner for the wonderful Once, come back out for her own words of acceptance. It was a nice gesture, and one returned with a moving and well-articulated speech of appreciation.
It’s not a super-big deal, but to my mind the Oscar victory of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room director Alex Gibney’s Taxi to the Dark Side for Best Documentary over Charles Ferguson’s slightly favored No End in Sight does indeed signal that there’s an agitated liberal voting bloc in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Who knows the exact size — Taxi to the Dark Side is a fine film, it must be said, with its own merits — but the personal is the political is the personal all over again. The former film focuses on an innocent Afghan taxi driver who died after being imprisoned and tortured in Iraq; the latter movie, which assays with surgical precision the post-war bungling in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, drew some criticism from the far left for not being an explicit enough critique of the Bush doctrine that led us to war in the first place.
Given the vast amount of money Columbia Pictures has spent marketing
the film — and the fact that apparently a decent portion of the
audience at this week’s Los Angeles media screening still weren’t aware
of its split points-of-view style, and the somewhat ironic nature of
its title — it’s worth pointing out, as two-thirds of film critics are
wont to do, that Vantage Point is a “Rashomon-style” political thriller in which eight strangers with eight different viewpoints try to unlock the single truth behind an assassination attempt on the president of the United States.
The easy, and perhaps fun, critical tack would be to turn this same sort of filter back upon the film and its participants, assaying in sequestered fashion the component parts (screenplay, direction, acting, editing, photography, etcetera) that make up the whole. The truth is that Vantage Point doesn’t merit quite that much consistency of analytical effort. There are some good parts, but the movie is an enterprise hamstrung from early on, and thus its faults can be traced quite easily and non-fussily back to the major cornerstones (writing and directing) of its rendering.
Set in Salamanca, Spain, the story unfolds at a summit of world leaders at which the American president (William Hurt) is set to unveil a bold new anti-terrorist measure. Assigned to protect him are Secret Service agents Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox) and Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), the latter of whom is a recently returned-to-work hero who’s already taken a bullet for his boss. When President Ashton is shot on stage in a large, public square, chaos ensues. A bomb explodes outside the walled-off venue, and then another larger explosion rips through the main platform. Among those present are a reporter (Zoe Saldana), a local cop (Eduardo Noriega), three mysterious, whispering bystanders (Said Taghmaoui, Ayelet Zurer and Domino‘s Edgar Ramirez) and an American tourist, Howard (Forest Whitaker), who thinks he might have captured the shooter on his camcorder while videotaping the event for his kids back home.
Vantage Point feels very much like what it is, which is to say a screenplay written by television development executive turned debut screenwriter Barry L. Levy. Vantage Point‘s conceit affords the audience an aerial view of matters, but there’s no significant investigative mooring (apart from two bits that Barnes glimpses in camera footage, which apparently tells him everything he needs to know) to make the forward-push of the narrative matter, so upon the fifth rewind of the event in question, an exasperated audience member let loose an, “Oh, God!”, which was promptly met with nervous laughs of increasingly sympathetic identification.
Director Pete Travis has previous experience with political violence; his debut film, Omagh, focused on a 1998 bombing in Northern Ireland, and picked up a few festival prizes, though no Stateside distribution. Here, though, he’s given a script that substitutes whiz-bang car chases and cheap emotional gambits (a child imperiled, standing in the middle of a busy road) in place of anything slightly more interesting. That means, as the movie wears on, more and more jittery, Bourne-style-lite mayhem, with edits every one-half to one-third a second.
Vantage Point is essentially a single, episodic set piece of an episode of 24, stretched like taffy into a mad-dash exercise in button-pushing exploit-ainment. The air-quote explanation of the entire plot basically distills down to the line, “This war will never end,” which is offered up in a raspy, death-rattle confession by one of the complicit terrorists. The motivation (religious fanaticism? political disenfranchisement? old-fashioned greed?) is never really explained, though we’re led to believe it’s perhaps elements of all of these, as well as… blackmail? Sorry, that just doesn’t pass the smell test.
To render all this carnage in PG-13 strokes seems additionally ludicrous, and requires that Travis and editor Stuart Baird cut away from and otherwise “stunt” (including a slight, stuttering-frame effect) more than a dozen gunshots that are by implication lethal. Poor Dennis Quaid tries, and is as much of an anchoring presence as the story will allow. Vantage Point, though, has no unifying vision of purpose — either of its own, or the world at its center. For a slightly tweaked version of this review, from FilmStew, click here.
I previously mentioned a Russ Meyer triple-feature here in Los Angeles earlier in the month, and more of Meyer’s trademark buxom mayhem unspools with a screening tonight, at 10:30 p.m. at the Silent Movie Theatre, of 1975’s freewheeling, referential Supervixens. In a career defined by careening excess, this may be Meyer’s most hyperactive film, boasting as it does over 1500 camera
setups. Meyer’s Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, meanwhile, screens next Friday, February 29, at the same time. For more information, click here.
Winner of the Best First Feature prize at the Independent Spirit Awards, Rocket Science isn’t jet-propelled, that’s for sure. The very loosely autobiographical narrative feature debut of writer-director Jeffrey Blitz, the helmer of the Academy Award-nominated documentary Spellbound, this criminally under-appreciated little gem from last year is a slow-burning comedy of coming-of-age frustration. Like its predecessor, it’s also a work interested in the weight of words, and the power attached to them — especially by adolescents.
The quick wit of lanky high school introvert Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson, above left) is masked by his stuttering problem, which dooms him to outcast status. Ambitious, hyper-articulate Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick, above right) senses something in him, though, and recruits Hal to the school’s high-powered debate team. A warped romantic awakening ensues, though Ginny eventually manipulates Hal to her own ends, leading him to team up with an older, brilliant dropout — Ginny’s ex-partner, Ben (Nicholas D’Agosto) — in an effort to wow the judges at the New Jersey state championship.
The supporting characters around Hal — from his snarling, obsessive-compulsive kleptomaniac brother Earl (Vincent Piazza), to his fractured mom’s new boyfriend (Stephen Park), the judge father of a classmate — are all terrifically sketched, and the underplayed exchanges with them give the movie the feel of a slowly developing Polaroid; it grows more substantial and rewarding as it goes along. Blitz has a deft touch with dialogue, and realizes that in life, but especially adolescence, everyone is the star of their own story, and motivated by self-interest.
Canted tales of adolescent angst like these are a festival circuit staple (see Thumbsucker, The Chumscrubber, et al), but what Rocket Science most has going for it is its own strong sense of style and identity and a great, inviting deadpan lead performance from Thompson. Tossing aside the typical pat conventions and rigidly defined solitary motivations of such stories, Blitz conjures up a rich world of pubescent bewilderment and ecstatic agony. The flip side of something like Superbad, which presents its young characters as walking bags of surging hormones, Rocket Science doesn’t completely shortchange hormonal hijinks and acting out. (At one point Hal gets drunk and tosses an instrument through Ginny’s window, leading to the hilarious, shrugging mock-confession, “There’s a cello in your house now.”) But it does more fully present the awkwardness and uncertainty that go hand in hand with teenage years, and shows how those emotions as often as not inform impulsive decisions and behavior that, on the surface, isn’t necessarily sexual.
Housed in a regular Amray case, Rocket Science comes presented in letter-boxed 16×9 widescreen, with English 5.1 and Spanish 2.0 Dolby audio tracks, and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. Apart from a paper insert touting other Picturehouse/HBO Films DVD releases, and a three-minute music video for Clem Snide and Eef Barzelay’s “I Love the Unknown,” the only supplemental bonus feature on the DVD is a 13-minute making-of featurette. While this behind-the-scenes production sketch — including interviews with Thompson, Kendrick, Piazza, D’Agosto and Aaron Yoo, as well as Blitz — is nicely done, and packed with solid information from a cast who, collectively and individually, really get the material, even more from Blitz would have been warmly welcome. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. A- (Movie) C (Disc)
Is this for real? Shouldn’t they just get the email addresses of anyone that would “enroll” for this, and instead send them a deed to some beachfront property in Nebraska?
Casting an eye away from the big screen, I’d hate to be the one to break this to the Clintons, but — barring some sort of top-shelf political faux pas, nay, utter flame-out, or the sudden disclosure that Barack Obama secretly funded Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring — Hillary’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency is all over but the shouting. Like a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” novel of yesteryear, she can pick the gracefulness and specifics of her exit, but it’s no longer a “numbers game” in which she holds any sort of advantage.
Obama’s string of 10 straight primary and caucus wins, and the average, crushing margin of the victories (an astonishing 33 percent), means that Clinton would have to notch 60-plus percent of the vote in delegate-rich Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio — unreasonable gets, to say the least. This virtually guarantees that Obama will hold a significant lead in pledged delegates, states won and total votes (of which he’s picked up one million more than Clinton since Super Tuesday) upon the completion of the main primary cycle.
Of course no politician of substance gets to where they are by just packing it in. But Clinton no longer has any semblance of an effective message to match her iron will. Initially missing the boat on the electorate’s hunger for change is one thing, but the Clinton campaign is now pursuing an equally tone deaf strategy in trying to reverse Obama’s momentum and “drive up his negatives,” in inside-the-Beltway parlance. Since her experiential trump card isn’t working, she’s taken to (understandably) ignoring voting outcomes and (less understandably) treating hope as a piñata in her recent stump speeches.
“When I think about what we’re really comparing in this election, you
know, we can’t just have speeches, we need to have solutions for America,” Clinton said in one speech in Ohio. “It is time to get real — to get real about how we actually win this
election and get real about the challenges facing America,” she said in another speech. “It’s time
that we moved from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound
solutions. Americans have a choice to make in this
election, and that choice matters. It’s about picking a president who
relies not just on words, but on work, on hard work, to get America working again for all of our people. We
need to make a choice between speeches and solutions.”
Parsing and attempting to highlight this distinction is something that requires a deft touch — a pinch of good-natured wheedling and a very conciliatory tone. Needless to say, these are not traits that Clinton possesses in abundance. Ergo, this tack, and the repeated use of the phrase “Get real” (10 times in one speech yesterday) is like dumping gasoline on a fire. It’s an argument that doesn’t really hold sway with undecided independents, and it does nothing except piss off and further agitate many of those leaning toward Obama — Democrats, so-called “Obamacans” or otherwise unaffiliated voters — because you’re essentially calling them stupid, questioning the value and judgment of their feelings. And that’s a problem, because a feeling is much stronger than a thought.
The poster for Michael Haneke’s memorably tense Funny Games (Warner Independent, March 14), an English language remake of his 1997 French film of the same name, is a striking, effective thing, I think mostly because we rarely see such rubbed-raw emotion captured in one-sheet form.
There are plenty of ways to convey this, of course, but the above one-sheet gets at the off-kilter, uncomfortable artfulness of the picture. The simple, small text of the poster’s sole half-proffered explication
of its story (“You must admit, you brought this on yourself,” a line
uttered chillingly by one of the psychopathic home invaders) catches one’s attention only because of the centering of the text. What we mostly get — via Watts’ disheveled hair, tear-stained “ugly cry” face, and tightly framed, flush-to-bottom visage — is a sense of the teased anxiety the movie has at its core.
Smarter-than-her-years Sarah Polley certainly doesn’t need my help securing work, but John Horn’s recent feature piece, from February 17’s Los Angeles Times, proves that the actress turned director, Oscar nominated for her adapted screenplay for Away From Her, gets it, and is no one-flick fluke behind the camera.
In discussing her preparation for the movie, Polley makes remarks that are illustrative of why (really smart, attentive) actors often make good
directors, for many of the same reasons that catchers make decent
managers in baseball. “I’ve spent a lifetime working with disorganized first-time filmmakers
who don’t get the support of their crew because they feel they are
wasting their time,” says Polley in the interview. “And I knew how badly I needed their
support. You know as an actor so acutely what destroys morale, what
creates complaints, and that can be good and bad, because when you’re
directing you can become hyper-aware of that. I think that what
a lot of first-time filmmakers don’t realize is that they are the least
experienced person on that set. Everybody else has been doing their job
for years, so the whole act of playing the filmmaker, playing the
person in command, is a charade. So the best you can do is work your ass off and admit what you don’t know, and ask for help when you need
it.” Succinctly put, and spot on.