I didn’t think that my feelings of dread regarding College Road Trip, the forthcoming air-quote comedy starring Martin Lawrence, could get any more sharply defined. Then I saw television ads for the movie, which conclude with a little pet pig doing backflips on a bed… because he got into the trash, and its coffee grounds. Sigh…
A full review will soon follow, but this weekend’s heavily hyped Vantage Point is basically something like 1996’s Executive Decision — a malarkey genre picture masquerading as something slightly more “topical” and nuanced. Imagine my bemused surprise, then, when I found that that film’s director, Stuart Baird, actually served as the editor on Vantage Point. Unfortunately, this flick doesn’t really even have the purebred, ridiculous popcorn enjoyment of Executive Decision. Dennis Quaid tries quite hard, and a no-doubt-well-paid Forest Whitaker, William Hurt, Matthew Fox and Sigourney Weaver (in a very small role) are tossed in to try to give the appearance of something smarter and classier than what we really have. The deal-breaker is the script, which isn’t much more than thumbnail-deep, and has an ending with a ludicrous grasp at mock-chilling, conspiratorial hoo-ha.
So Lindsay Lohan has bared all for New York Magazine and photographer Bert Stern, who snapped the last pictures of Marilyn Monroe, six weeks before she was found dead. To that end, the shots — taken February 5, at the Hotel Bel-Air — are a recreation of those photographs, with Lohan posing with little to nothing, save see-through fabrics and strings of diamonds, like the photographs below.
In the interview accompanying the spread, penned by Amanda Fortini, Lohan dismisses talk that the pictures are part of a gambit to restore any shine to her big screen career, after last year’s lackluster grosses of Georgia Rule and I Know Who Killed Me, and a couple well-publicized run-ins with the law and stints in rehab. Rather, the actress offered a more straightforward explanation: “I didn’t have to
put much thought into it. I mean, Bert Stern? Doing a Marilyn shoot?
When is that ever going to come up? It’s really an honor,” she says.
In laying out some of the particulars of the air-quote closed-set shoot, Fortini delivers a compelling thumbnail sketch of the “celebrity industrial complex,” but also raises questions about who is giving Lohan advice, if anyone. Part of her rationalization, given the next day by phone (“Here is a woman who is giving herself to the public,” says Lohan about the Monroe photos, “she’s
saying, ‘Look, you’ve taken a lot from me, so why don’t I give it to
you myself?’ She’s taking control back”) doesn’t really pass the smell test, particularly when Lohan has to battle newly forged ridden-hard-and-put-away-wet tabloid problems largely of her own creation. It’s great for the hornball set, naturally, these pictures, but what does it accomplish, other than remind folks, “Oh yeah, I guess we haven’t really heard anything about Lohan the past eight or nine weeks?” Does it help make her one iota more bankable, or land a film of gimme-put substance, either commercially or artistically? No, it doesn’t; it merely reinforces the notion that she’s only suitable for wild-child and/or other dinged, reckless parts.
Every once in a while, a heretofore unknown little indie flick punches through and does its job so well that it simply puts a big smile on your face. Such is the case with co-writers Mike Wilkins and Stephen Kessler’s The Independent, a smart, savvy, funny and colorful send-up of indie-world angst and elbow grease as filtered through the story of an aging producer-director.
Produced in 2000 but just finally released on DVD by Allumination Filmworks, The Independent stars Jerry Stiller as Morty Fineman, a wildly prolific and equally headstrong director known for cranking out “social message” flicks (Twelve Angry Men and A Baby, Bald Justice, The Man With Two Things) that blend exploitative and/or commercial elements with from-the-heart if on-the-nose sentiment. From his debut movie, The Simplex Complex (“the first film about herpes the Army ever made”), on through 427 productions, Morty has lived, breathed and eaten movies, even using a promotional gimmick contest attached to one of his productions, Diaper Service, to name his then-newborn son. (The unfortunate result: “Rat Fuck” Fineman.)
When his latest production, the euthanasia-touting Mrs. Kevorkian (starring B-movie queen Julie Strain, lampooning her own reputation), is shut down, though, Morty finds himself broke, so he and his longtime assistant (Max Perlich) turn to Morty’s semi-estranged daughter Paloma (Janeane Garofalo) to try to help find a way to save the company. The bank through which he finances his movies offers Morty a deal on the rights for his library (“$8 a pound…”), reasoning that television is a meat grinder, and Fineman makes decent enough sausage. Morty, though, balks. He’s an auteur, and his movies are his babies. Convinced that he’s just one begged-favor festival slot away from redemption, Morty plugs ahead, the prime example of underdog persistence.
The Independent bills itself, not unjustly, as being in the tradition of Bowfinger and Waiting for Guffman, but what’s perhaps most pleasing is the manner in which its makers’ obvious affection for the indie filmmaking world shines through. Yes, the movie is filled with interviews from Morty’s celebrity friends and clips from his 30 years of films, and told in a cinema verité style which follows Morty and Paloma as they try to find the money to help him complete his latest work. For lesser creative minds, this could mean cut corners galore — merely a phony “cure-all” for a lack of money. But The Independent makes smart use of different film stocks when dipping back in time, and generally features great on-the-fly production value; the clips of Morty’s old movies, meanwhile — films like the biker-chick flick Eco Angels, or the anti-war Brothers Divided, about conjoined twins drafted to serve in Vietnam — are both overwhelmingly hilarious and dead-on in their referential aping of cinematic vocabulary and tropes, better than a few of Grindhouse‘s skeevy mock trailers. Even the movie’s throwaway dialogue (“How could the check bounce, I
signed it?!”) is clever and of a piece, feeding the grand-scheme
assessment of Morty and the rest of the movie’s characters. Powered by great performances and filled with plenty of recognizable faces (everyone from Karen Black, Peter Bogdanovich, Nick Cassavetes and Ron Howard to Billy Burke, Bob Odenkirk, Fred Dryer, Andy Dick, the younger Stiller and the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten), it’s hard to figure out why The Independent got hung up so long in home distribution hell, let alone why it labors in anonymity. Regardless, it’s a great little find now, though.
Housed in a regular Amray case, The Independent comes presented in anamorphic widescreen, with optional Spanish subtitles. Stiller sits for an engaging audio commentary track with co-writers Wilkins and Kessler, the latter of whom also directs, and Kessler also submits to a more technical-minded commentary track with editor Chris Franklin. There are also seven deleted scenes with introductory title cards, including a different version of the movie’s opening, featuring Monte Ash and Maria Ford, that had to be re-shot due to what’s deemed first-day tensions from union bickering. The other half dozen scenes feature the late Ted Demme, Laura Kightlinger (who invites a Stiller boob grope, then berates him), and a spot-on send-up of ’70s-era imprisoned-women flicks, with legendary Russ Meyer starlet Kitten Natividad cameoing as a warden. The final supplemental extra is a five-minute segment that takes a look at the recording of Nancy Sinatra’s breathy, 007-ish theme song for Morty. Kudos to all the behind-the-scenes material; it gives The Independent an extra sheen of class, something of which Morty himself would surely be proud. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. B+ (Movie) A- (Disc)
The trailer for Prom Night, releasing April 11 from Sony/Screen Gems, and starring Scott Porter, Brittany Snow, Dana Davis and Jessica Stroup, among other fresh-crop budget-leasers… err, sorry, up-and-comers, is online, and it naturally looks very When a Stranger Calls and latter-day Last Summer-ish, befitting the feature debut of someone like Prison Break and episodic television director Nelson McCormick. The movie has the benefit of a nice, graphically simple one-sheet image (askew tiara and glamorous scream, all tinted grey), but then the trailer goes and seemingly pretty much kills any spell of optimism that might induce, with all the standard stalking cinematography, jump-cuts and aural bludgeoning.
Unless I missed him, Johnathon Schaech isn’t glimpsed in the trailer, so I guess he’s the loafer-clad killer, maybe complete with a scene that plays off his smooth, perfect-jaw smile? Also, cover version or no, who’s rockin’ out with the Cyndi Lauper tunes these days? Something with more uplift would’ve been a better prom tune than “Time After Time.” Oh well. To win a chance to attend the premiere, though, or score a private screening of the movie, click here.
Stating the obvious, the United States is clearly unhappy with the
state of its union. An unpopular war of seemingly ill-conceived choice
grinds on, deflecting resources and attention away from that other war
we started, in Afghanistan, to try to ferret out the people actually
responsible for the events of September 11. Privacy concerns, as well
as lingering questions of endorsed torture and basic governmental
competence take turns owning the headlines alongside economic and
environmental anxiety, while the race for the White House, and who will
replace President George W. Bush, seemingly intensifies with every
America is paying attention again, and talking. We’re poised on the
precipice of a historic election, no matter the eventual course
selected. So perhaps it’s not ultimately quite as surprising as it is
at first blush that a seemingly throwaway February romantic comedy like Definitely, Maybe could potentially end up as a talking point on MSNBC.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher and Rachel Weisz (along with an unbilled Kevin Kline), the movie tells the story of a young father who shares with his daughter (Abigail Breslin) the story of the three great romances of his life, leaving her to guess which one is her mother. Reynolds is Will Hayes, a Manhattan advertising executive go-getter who’s on the eve of his divorce finally becoming official. To satiate his daughter Maya’s inquisitive mind, he finds himself recounting his more idealistic youth as a campaign scrub during then-candidate Bill Clinton’s campaign for the presidency. Temporarily leaving behind his college sweetheart Emily (Banks), it’s then that Will meets copy girl April (Fisher), a spunky and apolitical Nirvana fan who’s treading water, occupationally speaking. He also meets Summer (Weisz), a brilliant writer who challenges his mind, as well as his preconceptions. Each woman intrigues and completes Will in some way, and as Will tells Maya the story, she flashes back and forth on who she believes is her mother… and who might eventually be right for her dad.
It doesn’t hurt that Definitely, Maybe has the extremely personable Reynolds as its anchor, and the film also makes the most of Fisher’s charms. It’s easily her best performance since Wedding Crashers. Anyone who’s a big city singleton or knows some of the same gets these characters pretty quickly; they’re witty and energetic, wry and intelligent. In an era when most studio scripts settle for merely “good enough,” this one, from writer-director Adam Brooks (who also penned Practical Magic, Wimbledon and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) has an extra bit of shine and polish.
Mostly, though, the rich background detail in Definitely, Maybe — conspicuously absent in its marketing — is a large part of what most heartily recommends the movie. It’s not just empty or incidental set dressing; as the film charts Will’s personal struggles with love, fidelity, duty and connection, it parallels his professional life in politics, as well as some of the travails of then-President Clinton. After the bloom of his relationship with Emily fades, Will goes on to work on the gubernatorial campaign of a tough-on-crime Democrat felled by favor-brokering. Later, when the Monica Lewinsky affair unfolds during Clinton’s second term, Will finds himself alone, downhearted and disillusioned. While his diehard Democratic friends and colleagues steadfastly defend Clinton (“I’d vote for him again if I could,” says one), Will recognizes the disappointment of what might have been. After witnessing Clinton’s famous deposition, and parsing of the English language (“It depends on what your definition of the word ‘is’ is…”), a disgusted Will spits to his friends, “What happens if next time they give him a hard word — like truth?”
Definitely, Maybe isn’t an overtly political film by any stretch of the imagination or generous definition. It’s a well-shaded romantic comedy with a bit of heartstring tugging built in, courtesy of the flashback conceit and character of Maya. Still, in an election cycle when the question of political dynasty and the Bush-Clinton double-helix that the national political scene has been in the grip of for the past two-plus decades (a Bush or Clinton on one of the national tickets every presidential election since 1980) has been thus far deftly suppressed by the campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton, the film cuts to the heart of this potential for dysfunction in a rather breathtaking way. The specifics of writer-director Brooks’ political leanings (the film gets in a shot against the current President Bush, too, showing footage of him awkwardly campaigning for his father in 1992), or those of the characters, is essentially irrelevant, because the movie isn’t advocating anything specific. By trading in metaphor and parallel structure, though, Definitely, Maybe makes a compelling allegorical statement about just how stuck in a rut we collectively feel our nation is; it’s ingrained in even the most fleeting entertainment, and that’s everything. For the full original review, from FilmStew, click here.
The behind-the-scenes, off-screen story of writer-director Amy Heckerling’s I Could Never Be Your Woman is a long and winding one. How a film from the director of Clueless, and starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd, sat on the shelf for years and couldn’t win theatrical distribution — even after last year’s warmly received Hairspray, Stardust and Knocked Up helped put the two actors back on the public radar — is hard to believe. And yet it’s all true — a convoluted tale of botched financial assessments, scotched release dates and swapped capital involving the movie’s original backer and domestic distributor, indie upstart Bauer Martinez.
The movie itself, thankfully, is far less messy and angst-inducing. Probably as of yet the only film in which Pfeiffer can be glimpsed sporting an Iron Maiden T-shirt, I Could Never Be Your Woman‘s narrative is obviously to at least a small degree autobiographical, centering as it does around a successful, respected entertainment industry pro facing struggles both creative and personal. Pfeiffer plays Rosie, the head writer/show runner on You Go Girl, a teen-flavored, Saved By the Bell-type sitcom starring the decidedly non-teenage Brianna Minx (Clueless alum Stacey Dash). In her 40s, Rosie’s a loving mother to a smart, middle school-aged daughter, Izzie (Saoirse Ronan, of Atonement), and has a good if sometimes exasperated relationship with her ex-husband Nathan (Jon Lovitz). When Rosie becomes smitten with Adam Pearl (Rudd), a newly cast actor much younger than herself, though, she finds her world turned upside down.
As Rosie and Adam fall into a relationship and a reticent Rosie then pulls back, Heckerling sets up some of the traditional air-quote rom-com complications (a meddling secretary, Jeannie, saves a saucy picture of Adam’s costar as the wallpaper on his cell phone) and then seemingly breezes past them, only to arrive back at the same sort of core, nagging doubts regarding the age disparity between the pair. The plotting itself here is nothing new, and Heckerling doesn’t till much new psychological ground. That hardly matters, though, given her gift with dialogue and the quality of actors appearing here. (In addition to the aforementioned main players, Fred Willard costars as Rosie’s perpetually distracted boss, while Tracey Ullman is Mother Nature, who shares a few pointed conversations with Rosie.)
Owing to its industry backdrop, the movie has plenty of Los Angeles in-jokes, some of which are hilarious (Izzie and her friend crank call celebrities from Rosie’s Blackberry, which leads to a scene involving Henry Winkler reading Jean-Paul Sartre), and some of which fall flat (rescuing Izzie from being bullied, Rosie spits to the offending kid, “Hey Noah, I heard Brad Pitt‘s firing your dad’s law firm”). Rosie’s constant battles with network censors are also amusing. There’s some connective tissue missing, yes, but I really fell for this Woman; it’s wry and spirited, and Pfeiffer and Rudd are a truly great match.
Presented in a matted widescreen format with an English Dolby digital 5.1 audio track and optional Spanish and English subtitles, the PG-13 rated I Could Never Be Your Woman comes housed in a regular Amray case with snap-shut hinges, which are always a nice touch. In addition to a trailer for the movie, there are also three deleted scenes, two of which — centering around a conversation between Rosie and her daughter about blowjobs — obviously confirm an R-rated cut of the movie, if an early, poorly dubbed sequence with Jeannie didn’t already properly arouse suspicions. Heckerling also confirms some of the autobiographical inspiration in a droll, slowly paced joint audio commentary track with producer Cerise Hallam Larkin, citing specifically as ripped from real life a scene in which Willard’s TV exec is busy playing computer solitaire while taking an in-person meeting. Other tidbits and tossed-off asides — concerning everything from Lovitz’s late replacement of another actor to bon mots like, “When you do a spit take, you have to make sure the liquid is backlit, otherwise you miss how well the person is able to project” — are endearing and amusing. Most interesting, though, may be the fact that due to its British financing, the film had to shoot for six weeks in London at Pinewood Studios and only three weeks in Los Angeles, as well as cast a significant number of English, Australian and Canadian actors. Maybe that fact gave Beyonce Knowles pause in approving a song Heckerling wistfully mentions as perfect for Pfeiffer’s first post-coital work arrival. Thankfully, Will Smith had no such qualms; he approved use of his skip-to-the-loo “Switch” at a discounted rate, which makes for plenty of fun when Rudd drops some mad dance moves. B+ (Movie) C (Disc)
The Crystal Light beverage brand has partnered with actress and musical artist Mandy Moore to launch uPumpItUp.com, a new social networking Web site that will allegedly “help women harness the power of the Web” by encouraging them to empower, inspire, challenge and sustain each other to achieve unique personal goals.
Chaired by Moore, uPumpItUp.com invites women to embark on a series of fun and engaging challenges in four wellness areas, supported by fashion guide Bobbie Thomas, entertainment guru Erika Lenkert, celebrity yoga instructor Mandy Ingber and award-winning journalist Cynne Simpson. Moore welcomes women to uPumpItUp.com with a video message, encouraging them to visit the different wellness areas. Once there, they can choose from one of the recommended challenges or create their own. “Finally, there’s a place for women to turn to that allows them to focus on the things that are personally important,” said Moore. “uPumpItUp.com is specifically designed to help women truly better themselves, as opposed to just learning how to dress better or lose more weight. It’s a place where women can visit when they need some ‘me time’ — and not feel guilty about it. Women will feel celebrated and rewarded, and I’m honored to be part of this endeavor.”
Winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, 1960’s The Apartment is one of legendary writer-director Billy Wilder’s crowning triumphs, a scathing and satirical humanistic masterpiece that expertly commingles comedy and drama without shortchanging either.
Jack Lemmon stars as C.C. “Bud” Baxter, an ordinary if a bit lonely life insurance salesman who provides the perfect cover and black-market “service” for his philandering bosses, by loaning out his New York apartment for their extramarital trysts. Currying favor in such fashion, Bud wins a series of promotions not entirely deserved. When he meets head boss Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, smartly cast against grain), Bud thinks the gig is finally up. It turns out, though, that Jeff is very much like all the other men in the company, carrying on an affair with elevator operator Fran Kubilek (Shirley MacLaine, above right). Things get wildly mixed up, however, when Bud — without knowing she’s Jeff’s latest gal — falls for Fran, who’s disconsolate over Jeff’s unwillingness to leave his wife.
The general encroach of more social realism and the Hollywood relaxation of narrative restrictions in stories dabbling in matters of infidelity greatly benefits The Apartment, which — obviously without anything ever approaching graphic content — balances light comedy and much darker drama (without giving anything away for those who haven’t seen the movie, there’s a twist that one can’t fathom making it past a second-tier studio reader in the modern-day development process) in a deft, breathtaking fashion. A perfect team, Wilder and frequent co-writer I.A.L. “Izzy” Diamond are skilled with dialogue, character and surrounding physical detail, and the result is a cinematic classic, through and through — a movie that captures all the wild swings and ebbs and flows of emotion in real life.
Housed in a regular Amray case, this special collector’s edition of The Apartment is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, and comes with English 5.1 Dolby surround sound and mono audio tracks, as well as Spanish and French mono audio tracks. Film historian and producer Bruce Block sits for an engaging feature-length audio commentary track, and he seemingly has an anecdote for just about every bit character actor in the movie. The chief supplemental feature, though, is a fantastic half-hour making-of featurette, which is powered by all sorts of astute interview contributions — from On Sunset Boulevard author Ed Sikov, executive producer Walter Mirisch, co-writer Diamond’s son Paul, and others — and delves into everything from the inspiration for the movie (David Lean’s Brief Encounter) to its casting, production and release. This material wonderfully helps frame and contextualize the film, which came on the heels of Some Like It Hot, also starring Lemmon. When USC film professor Drew Casper recalls Wilder’s description of his movie’s bustling office set (“This is our chariot race”), it makes total, if amusing, sense that Wilder would see comparison with the Oscar-winning Ben Hur, from two years prior. There’s also a separate 12-minute celebration of Lemmon, with interviews from the late actor’s son, Chris, as well as biographer Joe Baltake and Wilder Times author Kevin Lally. These bits are all great, especially from Chris Lemmon, because they give a real sense of the in many ways unlikely Hollywood rise (he was wasted during a brief contract stint at Columbia) of the simple son of a baker, and how that informed Lemmon’s lifelong humbleness. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. A (Movie) A- (Disc)
A fresh slate of young performers
combined with energetically staged and photographed sequences that
convey the cathartic joy of dance easily outweigh some of the more
predictable rhythms of formulaic storytelling in Step Up 2 the
Streets, a fun, flirty and engaging teen drama and stand-alone
sequel that serves as the latest entry in a line of pan-ethnic dance
films pitched chiefly at teens and big-city twentysomethings.
In August of 2006, Step Up, the
$12 million directorial debut of choreographer turned 27 Dresses helmer Anne Fletcher, used a
deft, direct-appeal marketing campaign that included a MySpace.com
contest which let users submit their own dance videos to ring up a
surprising $20.6 opening weekend, part of a $114 million worldwide
gross that included just under $49 million in international receipts.
The movie was just the latest underdog hit in a consistently viable
new subgenre; 2001’s Save the Last Dance kickstarted the
nascent trend, catching fire with a $23 million domestic opening en
route to over $130 million in cumulative receipts. The more
aggressively urbanized You Got Served danced its way to $40
million Stateside in 2004, while Stomp the Yard opened to $21
million en route to a $61 million domestic gross in last year’s first
Delivering a gender inversion of the
same loose, wrong-side-of-the-tracks narrative of the first film, Step Up 2 the Streets‘
story centers on rebellious, teenage street dancer Andie (Briana
Evigan, above right), a Baltimore-bred orphan on the brink of being sent by her
deceased mother’s friend to live with her aunt in Texas — a fate
akin to permanent exile. Given the opportunity of an audition at the
prestigious but achingly proper Maryland School of the Arts, the
street-wise Andie improbably wins a spot. Her unique talent, as well
as her attractiveness, catches the attention of the school’s hottest
dancer and reigning big man on campus, Chase (Robert Hoffman, above left), whose
older brother Blake (Will Kemp), a legendary ballet performer in his
own right, has returned to lead the school and oversee its artistic
re-shaping. Andie is caught up between two worlds, and the different
rules and expectations that go with each. So when her old friends
abandon her, she joins forces with Chase and a new posse of classmate
outcasts and unconventional types to form a crew to compete in
Baltimore’s big underground dance battle, The Streets.
One of the movie’s great successes is
the sense of scale apportioned its conflicts. Like, interestingly enough, Curtis Hanson’s 8
Mile, Step Up 2 the Streets assays urban tension
and class/race conflict without needlessly getting into gunplay and
all the distasteful and/or stereotypically overwrought chest-thumping
that often stems from that. Just as that former film — a slightly
re-contextualized biopic about rapper Eminem’s rise from gritty
Detroit — featured fisticuffs and a scene with paintball guns which
served to define the ceiling of acceptable violence within the
characters’ world, so too does Step Up 2 the Streets. When
Chase and Andie’s new crew crosses her old gang with a prank they
post on the Internet, retribution takes the form of vandalism, a
“simple” but brief assault by fist and, inevitably,
feverish dancing competition, all in equal measure. This careful
modulation lends credence to the notion of dance as an expression of
(adolescent, not just underclass) frustration, an important
underpinning of the story.
Step Up 2 the Streets is the
feature directorial debut of USC Film School graduate Jon Chu, and he
locates the exuberance and thrill of personal expression in capturing
its dance sequences. If there’s a knock, it’s that several of these
dance-feud and performance set pieces — particularly a climactic
group showcase that moves from a crowded, warehouse-style dance club
outdoors, into the rain — come across as too tightly choreographed
to be truly improvised, and thus undercut some of the loose-limbed
energy present in other sequences.
A lot of the screenplay’s dialogue, by
writers Tori Ann Johnson and Karen Barna, is of the boilerplate
variety, but the cast evidences a warm rapport that masks much of its
awkwardness. Both Evigan and Hoffman, in particular, make strong,
winning impressions. It certainly helps that Chu places an obvious
value on low-key, natural charm. By allowing the characters’
personalities to come forward a bit more incrementally than usual for
such teen-pitched product, one’s identification with their plights,
respective and shared, evolves more naturally. Only a few scenes of
artificial headbutting between Andie and her surrogate guardian ring
false or strident. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here.
When it first came out, I noted that Feast of Love was engaging enough in piecemeal fashion — a Midsummer Night’s Dream-type,
dramatic-leaning ensemble piece about relationships. The truth is, though, this is a movie made without concession to modern convention, and as such it’s out of step — in ways both good and awkward — with what we’ve come to expect from big-screen entertainment. It plays a bit better on the small screen, in other words, even if the redone cover art for the DVD release somewhat ridiculously oversells/misrepresents the film as a feel-good adult romancer.
the Michigan setting of Charles Baxter’s novel to Portland, Oregon, the film, scripted by Allison Burnett and directed by Robert Benton, centers around a retired college professor, Harry (Morgan Freeman), and his friendship with coffeeshop owner Bradley (Greg Kinnear), a hopeful (read: perhaps too naive) spirit who sees his first wife, Kathryn (Selma Blair), leave him for another woman, and his rebound relationship with emotionally walled-off real estate agent Diana (Radha Mitchell) become complicated by her preceding affair with the married David (Billy Burke). Rounding out the romantic roundelay are young lovebirds Oscar (Toby Hemingway) and Chloe (Alexa Davalos), who work at Bradley’s beanery.
Freeman is Feast of Love‘s central hub, a quasi-omniscient narrator for whom the other stories in the movie serve as thematically interrelated spokes. This is in and of itself OK, but at the same time movies with Freeman as an earnest, world-weathered voice of free-floating reason seem to be rapidly comprising their own subgenre, and there are times here when one wishes the artifice (which is a big part of the novel, and admittedly downplayed here) were stripped down even further, to just straight drama. What most recommends Feast of Love is that it’s a frank movie, and about adult problems, but it still has a sheen of positivity to it, which will baffle those looking for American Beauty-style conclusions about suburban malaise. Benton and Burnett aren’t afraid to present all the ridiculous highs and lows of love and loss, which is what life is all about. Those who dig more starkly defined contrast and conflict won’t take to this Feast, definitely, but I personally liked submitting to Benton’s masterfully wound-down rhythms.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen and housed in a regular Amray plastic case, Feast of Love comes with only a nominal supplemental inclusion — a 12-minute making-of featurette that includes interviews with Benton, producers Gary Lucchesi and Tom Rosenberg — who talk about the casting of Freeman, and how that drew the attention of other actors — and cast members. Legendary filmmaker Benton talks about his movies as a “platform” for actors (“I’d like to think they don’t work to please me so much as to please themselves”), and confesses that when he auditioned Alexa Davalos he initially thought she was “a very pretty girl, but not right for this movie.” A few trailers for other 20th Century Fox releases are also included. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) C (Disc)
Dining last night with some friends, including one in the know, there was some information gleaned about The Wolf Man, the Andrew Kevin Walker-scripted project, starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt, from which director Mark Romanek walked away. While he indeed quit over budget concerns and considerations (he refused to commit to a production kitty that had already ballooned from $100 million to around $120 million-plus), Romanek was also on the verge of being fired before he chose to walk. Universal called in the director over the weekend several weeks back, in a last-ditch, ass-covering effort to get him to toe the line; by quitting, he voided his contract, and made things a lot easier.
Jurassic Park III and October Sky helmer Joe Johnston has already officially been tapped as The Wolf Man‘s new director, as announced by Variety last week, but this after both Brett Ratner (who of course jumped into the driver’s seat on X-Men: The Last Stand when Bryan Singer abandoned the franchise he originated to take the reigns on Superman Returns) and Frank Darabont (who most recently directed The Mist, an adaptation of Stephen King’s source text of the same name) were each given hearty consideration. One of those names is entirely expected, one decidedly less so, in my opinion…
Written and directed by Julie Delpy, 2 Days in Paris is a valentine to some of the more freewheeling, open-hearted work of French New Wave directors like Eric Rohmer and Jean-Luc Godard. At its core is churned-up moral inquiry and self-reflection about all matters sexual, romantic, social and artistic. All the packaging, though, is hand-crafted and loosely bound.
Though she’s made her mark in the States as an actress (most recently in The Hoax), Delpy has a varied filmography and skill set. She’s perhaps best known here for the charming, alluring Before Sunrise/Sunset pictures, costarring Ethan Hawke and directed by Richard Linklater. It’s less well known, though, that Delpy’s off-screen contributions to the movies — particularly the second film, which she co-wrote with Linklater and Hawke — were absolutely integral to their success.
Another tale of romantic turmoil, albeit more comedically inflected, 2 Days in
Goldberg, above right) and French-born, alpha-female
photographer Marion (Delpy) — as they attempt to re-infuse their relationship with romance on the
end leg of a European vacation. The combination of
offbeat parents (played by Delpy’s real-life folks, Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet) and a seemingly endless supply of her flirtatious ex-boyfriends, along with the
natural language barrier (Jack doesn’t speak French), all make for choppy waters.
The movie is rooted in fancifully re-imagined biography, given the fact that Delpy and Goldberg used to be an item, and it’s driven by the same sort of philosophically introspective patter found on display in many of Linklater’s films, including the aforementioned series, an obvious antecedent. The angst here, though, is lot more cheery and soft-edged. Delpy keeps things moving briskly, and her offhand style is a nice match with the material. Part of the point, and a rather radical one, that Delpy seems to be making is that love can be a fickle thing, not for every season. It can last for years, then dissipate into a fog in the span of a few weeks or a month. Does that make it less important or valuable… or more?
Housed, one presumes, in a regular Amray case, this watermarked screener disc was presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 audio track and optional English and Spanish subtitles. DVD extras consist of a 16-minute chat with Delpy about the origin of the idea and production of the film (for which she also did some of the music), as well as five extended scenes running just over a dozen minutes in total. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) B- (Disc)
The movie title College Road Trip conjures up pleasant memories of Amy Smart in Road Trip (and maybe not so pleasant memories of a rail-thin, underwear-clad DJ Qualls getting squashed in the same flick). So why is that moniker the title for a G-rated Disney flick about a clingy father and his college-bound daughter, costarring Raven-Symone Pearman, late of The Cosby Show and recently of That’s So Raven?
The trailer for the movie, opening March 7, finds (both wildly and characteristically, in equal measure) Martin Lawrence acting the fool, despite the fact that his character is a… police chief? Right. Nice. Look, I don’t begrudge Lawrence the right to make a living, and I think he’s actually not an untalented guy, but he’s lazily coasting on fumes in down-market material like this; when Donny Osmond (!) pops up in enthusiastic goofball mode and Lawrence screws up his face in confusion and disdain, he might as well just go ahead and exclaim, “White people?! They’re different!” That’s the level of comedy for which this movie seems to be aiming.
This is obviously a paycheck gig for director Roger Kumble (Just Friends), who must be wondering what happened to the trajectory of his career after the moderately warm reception that 1999’s Cruel Intentions — his adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ oft-reworked novel, Dangerous Liaisons — received. His involvement means at least the set-ups will be somewhat professionally handled, but not much else looks worth recommending this showcase of pantomiming. After all, in just over two minutes in the trailer, they also find a way to work in not one but two taserings. Well done, though I’m not sure how Andrew “Don’t Tase Me, Bro!” Meyer feels about that…
Well, we’re back online now — huzzah! — but not without a few more wrinkles to iron out, what with oodles of software to re-download, a few strange, possibly unrelated hiccups to wrestle to the ground (the lack of a fully operable version of Microsoft Word, the disappearance here of certain DVD reviews and other postings of musing) and all sorts of other curveballs. What’s that expression about when life gives you lemons — use them to squeeze juice into the eyes of your enemies? What happens when so many of your enemies seem to be inanimate objects… or protected by distance and telephone lines? Maybe next week’s Jumper will provide me with answers…
I’ve battled technological hobgoblins before, and the hits just keep on coming. The latest? A complete operating system reinstall… oh yeah! Don’t ask, lest you risk a punch in the neck. Certain pre-slotted review posts of the past several days have been interrupted, but the good news is that they’re suspended in the ether… kind of like that mosquito in Richard Attenborough’s cane in Jurassic Park. With fingers crossed, things should be back and cracking Thursday, though maybe late tomorrow.
The online trailer for The Signal, a low-fi horror flick releasing February 22 from Magnolia Pictures, is an effective piece of genre rib-nudging. Like Pulse and the recent One Missed Call (and The Ring, before them), The Signal is a film that channels and wraps the current anxiety of our times around a techno-phobic premise. When a garbled television transmission makes half of all those who see it turn into stark-raving-mad killers, all bets are off. Like the recent Cloverfield, the movie seems to revolve around a couple of young lovers trying to navigate their way through the madness and reunite safely. It may not have the marketing muscle to punch through, and heck, it may even be crappy in the final analysis, but the trailer does its job, evoking dread in decently effective fashion.
Director John Ford made an astonishing 50-plus films at 20th Century Fox, and it’s one of his earliest works, 1924’s The Iron Horse, that kicks off a special retrospective of his work at the Egpytian Theatre February 7 through 10, playing as part of the 85th anniversary series of films that originally premiered at the legendary Hollywood venue. Boasting several screenings with new 35mm prints, as well as the rare, pre-release version of My Darling Clementine, the series includes Young Mr. Lincoln, Prisoner of Shark Island, The Grapes of Wrath and Ford’s first color film, Drums Along the Mohawk, among several others. While the retrospective proper ends on February 10, a special screening of 1952’s The Quiet Man will be held on Valentine’s Day at 7:30 p.m.
Egyptian Theatre is located at
information on directions, show times and the theater’s upcoming schedule,
phone (323) 466-FILM, or visit
the Cinematheque’s eponymous Web site by clicking here.
Johnny Marr and Morrissey got most of the ink for The Smiths, and perhaps rightly so. But Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, the rhythm section for the legendary band, were no slouches either, and the musical documentary Inside the Smiths builds its captivating trip down memory lane from almost entirely their recollections.
Spanning two continents and over three years, the movie opens by setting the scene of Manchester during the era of the band’s inception, and amply points out how a lot of The Smiths’ music was in marked contrast to “tunes about clothes and status,” as drummer Joyce puts it. Though only together for five years, The Smiths had a big impact on fellow musicians, and Buzzcocks member Peter Shelley, Suede’s Matt Osman, Kaiser Chiefs frontman Nick Hodgson and more, including New York City critic Casey Wilder, all provide nice contextual analysis of the group’s work. (Peter Hook, meanwhile, talks about a bit of the group’s rivalry with New Order.) Mostly, though, Inside the Smiths is an openly reflective document that charts the life of the band, from formation to flame-out. Bassist Rourke talks candidly about the heroin addiction that cost him a spot in the band, and almost his life as well (“I had more money than I had sense…”), and Joyce fondly recalls how he convinced his parents to get him his first drum kit, pointing out that it would cost less than replacing the couch he’d taken to practicing upon.
Mixing color and black-and-white footage, Inside the Smiths is a great time capsule, but at under an hour in length, it’s a bit slim. It’s hamstrung, too, by music clearance rights, which means when they’re talking about the creation or reception of tracks like “Hand in Glove,” “Meat is Murder” or “I Want the One I Can’t Have,” you don’t get the benefit of hearing their efforts borne out. Sometimes the movie veers off into meandering, heavily accented
recollections of youthful indiscretion (in particular I’m thinking of
Rourke, with his talk of “scallies”) that isn’t directly related to The
Smiths, but for the most part this is a lean, fascinating slice of rock
‘n’ roll non-fiction. It gives viewers a telling snapshot of Morrissey’s passive-aggressive nature, and it builds to a break-up, over fish and chips, that still seems to confuse both men today.
Presented in full screen, Inside the Smiths is graced with seven supplemental extra featurettes, which help counterbalance the short running time. In addition to deleted scenes and three minutes of outtakes (chiefly Rourke flubbing a bunch lines), there’s also an interview with “fifth Smith” Craig Cannon, which is pretty interesting. To purchase the title via Amazon, click here. B+ (Movie) B+ (Disc)
The young-lovers-in-crime sub-genre gets another rowdy little entry in the form of Jimmy and Judy, a very familiar and strained conceit that skates by thinly on the strength of its committed performances.
On its packaging, the film bills itself as a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde, and touts blurbs calling it the movie that Natural Born Killers wanted to be, or should have been, and, yes, the whole lusty us-against-the-world theme is there, and ripely explored. Yet a better point of reference might well be Ben Coccio’s 2003 independent flick Zero Day. In that film — an only loosely serialized mock-up of the Columbine tragedy — as here, the real issue under the microscope is teeth-gnashing teen alienation, no matter the gender trap or romanticized obfuscations.
Co-written and directed by Randall Rubin and Jon Schroder, the movie centers on social misfit/amateur video enthusiast Jimmy (Edward Furlong) and the impressionable Judy (The Ring‘s Rachel Bella, above), a young pair of spirited, new teen lovers who leave behind their comfortably numb suburban community in search of a better life in… rural Kentucky? (Bad choice, kids.) Sort of wildly naked in its willful provocation (Judy tonguing a shotgun barrel, for instance, and James Eckhouse cavorting about in S&M gear), Jimmy and Judy doesn’t exert a whole lot of effort in coming up with new triggers and circumstances for our teen antiheroes’ acting out in increasingly criminal fashion, nor does it work psychologically plumb these situations in many new or interesting ways.
So yes, that means on-the-run hair dying and head-shaving ensues, along with diatribes about “conformist crimeless virginity,” and how no one can understand Jimmy and Judy like one another. (William Sadler also costars, in loony cameo fashion.) What sells this well-worn plot to a small degree is Furlong, who gives an unhinged turn. I’d love to say it was darkly mesmerizing or revelatory, but that’s not really the truth about this performance; it works because Furlong, bloated and bleary-eyed, is obviously a young man given to certain excesses in his personal life, and this fact helps blur the line between fact and fiction for Jimmy and Judy. Oh, and though she’s not a great actress, for the prurient, the movie does feature Bella, from behind, running naked in a field, as well as other assorted bits of topless nudity.
Housed in a regular Amray case, Jimmy and Judy comes presented in anamorphic widescreen, with two different versions (rated and unrated) of its trailer, and a feature-length audio commentary track in which co-directors Schroder and Rubin are joined by cinematographer Ben Kufrin. Together, they recount the movie’s hometown location shoot (Schroder and Rubin are Kentucky natives), and shrug off any embarrassment over a scene in which someone in the background is seen taking a picture of Furlong on their camera cell phone. The undeniable high point of the commentary, though, comes when the filmmakers talk about Furlong’s drunken attempt to free lobsters from a local restaurant, and the fact that the police officers who arrested him in real life play cops in the movie, and do the same as extras in an early scene in the film. Thirteen minutes of deleted scenes are also included, the longest of which features the uninterrupted single take of Bella shaving Furlong’s head, replete with all sorts of asides and ad-libs. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C (Movie) B- (Disc)
From 1982’s First Blood to its third entry in 1988, Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo films
collectively pulled in $615 million worldwide. The fourth film in the saga, the
forthrightly titled Rambo, opened to
$18.2 million this past weekend, good for second place behind 20th Century
Fox’s latest first-quarter spoof flick, Meet
For an action franchise out of the public eye for almost two
decades, and starring an actor eligible for AARP solicitations, that’s not
necessarily a bad haul. A lot of box office reportage, though, took potshots at
the cobbled-together, $50 million-plus production, and particularly its
multi-hyphenate leading man, characterizing Stallone as more or less washed up
— a fading analog star in a new digital world. The cruel, hard kernel of that analysis may or may not be true, but what does it say about Stallone and the
Though generally (and not incorrectly, it must be stressed) rejected by critics (at
last check, it sported a Rotten Tomatoes fresh score of a dismal 36 percent), this
dismissive response toward Rambo can’t
all be judged by the reaction to the product itself. After all, Meet the Spartans was saddled with a
fresh score of 3, yes 3 percent, and
it’s been generally given the free pass equivalent of a what-are-you-going-to-do? shrug. Similarly, 2006’s Rocky Balboa, Stallone’s final chapter
of the other signature cornerstone franchise of his career, actually won
significant critical approval, with a 75 percent fresh rating.
At the crux of the dismissal is some scorn for and derision
toward the man himself; Stallone has always been a figure of hearty
contradictions — a mumbling, muscle-headed guy’s guy almost as likely to quote
Dickens as give a monosyllabic, rambling reply. Though twice Oscar-nominated,
and embraced early on for the ways in which his own rise to prominence mirrored
that of his pugilistic protagonist in the original Rocky, Stallone still was never taken very seriously in superseding
years because the bulk of his choices were seen as lazy.
Cretinous would be too harsh of a word, but his movies and
characters were all too frequently and undeniably set aside as pandering
populist trash. The rep on Stallone reflected that of a star athlete with a very
dodgy work ethic. (In that regard, he would mirror another adopted son of
Allen “We’re talkin’ about practice?” Iverson.) The disbelief was clamorous when
writer-director James Mangold rolled the dice on Stallone for 1997’s
raised their head at a recent press conference in advance of the release of Rambo, where sample questions included,
“Are people surprised by your artistic motivations since the characters are so
physical?” and “So how did all the various production companies come in?” The
questions themselves are innocuous enough, but their oblique meaning comes
For Stallone, now 61, Rambo is a bit of a legacy project. “The ponderousness that comes with aging, the
sense of weight, the sense of knowledge, of knowing too much, the lack of
naiveté, which happened in my life — all that sort of set the stage for me,” he
says. “I wanted Rambo to be heavier, bulkier. That’s why his first line in the
movie is pretty negative; he’s given up, he has nothing. The other Rambos I felt had a bit too much energy,
they were a little too spry. I’m not trying to run myself down, but there was
much more vanity involved: tank tops, it was all about body movement rather
than just the ferocity and commitment of what he was doing. This character, to
me, is much more interesting. I like First
Blood and I like this one, just like the first Rocky and the last one, Rocky Balboa. Everything in between was kind of trying to figure out what I should
For Stallone, that meant setting out to make a movie that
was “just man against man, [about] their intolerance of each other.” He
rejected ideas that put Rambo in the middle of more fanciful conceits,
insisting that real-life strife was the proper backdrop to bring this franchise
full circle. (That’s why Rambo opens
with actual images from the quelled pro-democracy demonstrations in late
September of last year, protests which were met with brutal force.)
That led him, along with a crew of roughly 570, to shoot on
under arduous conditions. “There are 165 different snakes in
90 [of which are] poisonous, so we lived with the constant problem of people
being bit,” says Stallone. “There are centipedes the size of your shoe being
found in your shoes. It was rough,
but welcome to action films. You know what it actually reminded me of? I was just
watching the making of David Lean’s The
Bridge Over the River Kwai, and how much they just had to chuck, and use
brutal manpower to get inland. There’s nothing glamorous about it.”
If there’s little glamour, there is plenty of violence,
however, something that attendees of the press conference were certainly abuzz
about. “I did have a caveat with the MPAA,” explains Stallone. “I said, ‘Guys,
this is happening today. If we’re ever going to do something responsible where
art has the ability to influence people’s awareness and impact the lives of
these people, don’t dilute it, don’t water it down. It’s got to be uncomfortable.
It is uncomfortable — it’s miserable,
it’s distasteful, it’s horrifying. But [to] do violence light, it’s just wrong.
Don’t cut away too soon. Just let it sit in. I want people to feel it.’”
diminishing with his age, but they seem to still feel it.
journalists, on the other hand, are another matter…
For the full, original feature, from FilmStew, click here.
The trailer for Will Ferrell’s new flick, Semi-Pro, is online, and though Andre Benjamin is definitely underused and I just kind of smiled the first time I saw it, it’s something that’s undeniably growing on me. The absurdity quotient is high (ergo the “tender meat” comment at the end), enough so to summon generally pleasant memories of Anchorman, and the “basketball trance” bit reminds me of the classic Saturday Night Live “Palm Beach” sketch, in which Ferrell’s impression of an attention-deficit-challenged President Bush devolves to the point of him playing with a ball of yarn, like a kitten. Also, I just can’t stop singing/saying, over and over, “Get the funk outta my face… get… the… funk… outta my face!” Again, click here for the full trailer.