The Los Angeles Film Festival today announced that Walden Media and New Line Cinema’s Journey to the Center of the Earth will make its world premiere with a special 3-D screening as part of the festival’s annual Family Day celebration on Sunday, June 29, at 3:00 p.m. at the Mann Village Theater. One of the festival’s big summer blockbuster premieres (others include Wanted and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, as noted here) the Journey debut is open to the public. Directed by Eric Brevig, the film stars Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson and Anita Briem.
The festival’s popular Family Day celebration, sponsored by Playhouse Disney, will take place on Sunday, June 29 from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Broxton Avenue in Westwood. The one-day event features free screenings, games, booths, live stage performances, pony rides, a petting zoo and more. The Playhouse Disney Tent will host activities throughout the day, including a tentatively scheduled appearance by Handy Manny; there will also be DVD giveaways of Nim’s Island and Her Best Move, plus the Geffen Playhouse’s “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment” activity booth. Family Day will also feature a screening of Walt Disney’s beloved classic Peter Pan, as a tribute to the late Ollie Johnston, whose death in April truly marked the end of an era — that of classic hand-drawn Disney animation. The last of the studio’s original “Nine Old Men,” Johnston worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, Pinocchio and The Jungle Book, among countless other films.
The Los Angeles Film Festival runs from Thursday, June 19 through Sunday, June 29. Over the course of 10 days and 11 nights, the public is invited to take advantage of world premieres including independent films and major studio releases, as well as tribute screenings, outdoor movies, celebrity-filled red carpets and more. Festival passes are now available; individual tickets are available through phone and online sales beginning June 2. For more information, click here.
At the time I didn’t really think I’d yearn for the comparative high entertainment value of a woman accidentally crapping on the stairs of Public Enemy hypeman Flavor Flav’s house, as happened early during the second season of his VH-1 dating show, Flavor of Love. Little did I know that was probably the last moment before this series jumped the shark. Later, Flav’s spurned flame from season one, the comically over-confident bitch-on-wheels nicknamed New York, was brought back, and the hijacked show became a vehicle of her own outlandish self-promotion.
All of which brings us to the recently concluded Flavor of Love 3, now available on DVD. If catty antagonism and a near-endless mangling of the English language — including frequent invocations of the word “romantical,” and the fact that, when faced with drama between two ladies, Flav says, “I confronted all two of them!” — is your idea of high entertainment, then you’ll likely love Flavor of Love 3; others, however, are advised to skip it, or at the very least utilize the series as some sort of communal drinking game.
It wasn’t just the shock value of seeing a (rap star? professional jester? convicted felon?) inimitably zonked celebrity like Flavor Flav shack up with a bunch of bickering skanks looking for a hand-out young women looking for love that made the first iteration of Flavor of Love, and part of the second, so compelling. Remember, he’d already done several other reality series — a season of The Surreal Life and then a couple Twilight Zone-esque romantic spin-offs with Brigitte Nielsen. No, part of what was so fresh about the original incarnation of the show was the shrieking class collision it produced, with women tripping over one another to lap up the material run-off of his fame, and the genuine befuddlement all this seemed to set off in Flav.
Now, after several seasons, the formula is busted and bleary-eyed, and the seams all show. Part of it is that Flavor of Love has been co-opted by similar series like Rock of Love, yes (and it certainly doesn’t help that co-creators Chris Abrego and Mark Cronin have had a hand in almost every single one of these VH-1 shows since 2005’s Strange Love), but no amount of screwball interstitial commentary from Flav can hide the tire tracks of previously visited terrain. More group family dinners where someone says something awkward? Check. Countless scenes where girls sidle up to Flav and impart some back-stabbing information in cooing fashion. Check. Really… another bit where the ladies react with disgust to having to clean bathrooms and showers in advance of family visits? Yawn.
It’s perhaps like criticizing the sun for not being the moon, I guess, asking or expecting new tilled ground from a piece of anarchic, decidedly of-the-moment entertainment like Flavor of Love 3. Still, one would like to think there’s been at least some emotional growth or development, at least on par with what a viewer has experienced. Here, there’s not really that; we just get re-hashed scenarios and for the most part unenlightening confessionals. The sole moment of creativity may be a phony dating show (“The Neverwed
Game,” I believe) in which contestants’ exes are dragged out and asked
a series of questions. We do learn, too, that Flav really loves to bowl. And he may have been wearing his Viking helmet too long, because he manages to rock a twisted braid/horn look that really shouldn’t be worn by anyone older than 4, let alone a man.
The Flav-nicknamed contestants are largely the usual assortment of silicone-enhanced pin-up models, desperate single mothers, conniving up-traders and starry-eyed would-be entertainers, with a few notable exceptions, headlined by a set of twins, Thing 1 and Thing 2. After narrowing things down to a final four ladies — consisting of Black (because she’s white… ha!), Thing 2, the refined Seezinz and the scheming Sinceer — Flav brings in their families to meet his mother, who could pass for Yoda in a pinch. Trimmed to three and then two, the shoe heads to Paris, where the drama gets even more “dramatical” and, after suffering elimination, one contestant offers these words to her erstwhile competitor turned rooting-favorite, without irony or sarcasm: “You better use your thizzle fo’ shizzle, and keep it fuckin’ real.” Errr… OK.
Housed in a sturdy cardboard slipcover that holds four discs in three plastic, slimline cases, Flavor of Love 3 comes presented in full screen, which of course preserves the aspect ratio of its small screen origins. The stereo audio track, meanwhile, easily captures the meager aural demands of the series, which of course makes liberal use of both placed and on-person microphones to ensure no bitchy quip goes uncaptured. A touted “super-trailer,” an extended piece of promotional goosing, kicks off the supplemental extras, which also includes a casting special a highlight-reel-type featurette entitled “Flav Filosophies” (read: him saying crazy shit) and several other featurettes. “Girls Gone Flav” offers up viewers highlights of the women’s (frequent) arguments, and extra footage of Flav’s Parisian dates is also included. Points for sheer volume, I guess. More entertaining, though, might be the series’ hour-long reunion special, in which Sinceer shows off her boob implants and another woman, a Hooters waitress named “Ice,” sums up how her life has changed as a result of the show: “The tips have gotten a lot more better.” Niiiiiiice… To purchase the set via Amazon, click here. D (Show) B+ (Disc)
It’s a happy birthday to bodaciously chesty Jennifer Ellison, who turns 25 today. Yeeaaaahh… wait, who, you ask?
Look, with a picture like that, are you really in any position to be asking questions? Seriously, though, British import Ellison made somewhat of an impression (in that I at least remember her) as Meg Giry in The Phantom of the Opera, opposite the much-hated Emmy Rossum. And she also has a seriously foul-mouthed and memorable role in the strangely comedic horror-thriller The Cottage, opposite Andry Serkis. I gather she was a judge, too, on the British reality show Dirty Dancing: The Time of Your Life, about which I have absolutely nothing to say. But the fact remains that, her estimable dance background aside, Ellison… oh, who am I kidding? I can’t even do any serious career analysis. Just enjoy, hornballs…
The trailer for City of Ember makes it seem a moderately cool thing, as if sunnier, disparate elements of Dark City, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Bridge to Terabithia and Journey to the Center of the Earth were somehow all mashed together into one adolescent-leaning adventure smoothie. A Walden Media and Playtone co-production based on Jeanne Duprau’s best-selling novel, and releasing October 10 through Fox Walden, the movie is the directorial follow-up of Monster House helmer Gil Kenan, who was juggling doctors’ appointments that would allow him to travel internationally when last I interviewed him.
Starring Saoirse Ronan (Oscar-nominated for Atonement, but also very good in the under-appreciated I Could Never Be Your Woman, her first film role), City of Ember is set in an underground city where, for generations, people have flourished. With its once-powerful generator failing and the great lamps that illuminate the city starting to flicker, though, that time-tested “race against time” subsequently ensues, with citizens searching Ember for clues that will unlock an ancient mystery of the city’s existence before permanent darkness falls. Tim Robbins, Bill Murray, Martin Landau, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Liz Smith, Mary Kay Place and Toby Jones also star. For more on the movie, click here.
An exercise in purebred, string-pulling craft, debut director Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers is an effectively grim, exceedingly well made horror thriller. Wringing atmospheric tension out of the familiar set-up of a besieged young couple, the movie compares favorably to recent genre cousins, mixing pulse-pounding scenes of more explicit menacing with passages of stalking more rooted in sustained dread.
Opening wide this week as goosing, modestly-budgeted counter-programming to the big screen version of Sex and the City, The Strangers won’t be able to pull in the sort of younger teen audiences that made a $48 million domestic hit out of 2006’s remake of When a Stranger Calls. Positive word-of-mouth, though, should give it some Stateside repeat-business staying power, especially given a lack of direct genre competition.
After a narrated textual introduction that frames the movie, somewhat dubiously, as “inspired by true events,” The Strangers unfolds over a period of several hours, almost exclusively at night. After leaving a friend’s wedding reception, Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) head to a relatively secluded country home that once belonged to James’ parents, for their own supposed night of celebration. Not long after their arrival in the dead of night, however, they’re visited by a woman creepily asking only if “Tamara” is there. After politely responding in the negative, James and Kristen are later attacked by a trio of mysterious, masked strangers — two women and one man — who take an unarticulated psychosexual delight in toying with their intended victims.
The story itself here, also penned by Bertino, is perhaps slim, but between the exacting care paid to its execution and a certain amount of subtext, there’s certainly enough here to make a convincing case for the film as a metaphor. It’s not an explicit self-critique of cinema like Michael Haneke’s recent remake of his own Funny Games, but rather a more general commentary that, in its own way, takes the temperature of these nervous times.
As with Nimrod Antal’s Vacancy, Bertino shades the material somewhat interestingly by having the young lovers at his story’s center begin quite apart from one another; Kristen has turned down James’ marriage proposal, at least for the time being. This choice, along with strong, dialed-in performances from both Tyler and Speedman, help quickly create a shared sympathy for the characters in what is otherwise a fairly streamlined tale.
By being unafraid to trade so heartily in silences and tension rather than solely crashing thrills, Bertino crafts a work that easily outstrips the typically baser impulses of so much like-minded fare. It’s not merely about keeping one guessing with story choices; as with the best, most unnerving thrillers, there’s a parallel sense of unease that comes from not knowing exactly what a film wants from you as an audience member. The Strangers works in this vein because its antagonists are physically unknown and also driven by unexplained impulses that extend beyond “just” killing.
For the most part eschewing desultory jump-scares, Bertino favors wide-angle compositions and floating, hand-held camera work, from cinematographer Peter Sova (Donnie Brasco), that help give the movie a fantastically accumulated sense of unease. This care extends to the film’s soundtrack, too, which makes fine use of crackling fire and record player pops in the background. For the full review, from Screen International, click here. (Universal/Rogue, R, 85 minutes)
Jonah Hill is now out and The Office‘s Rainn Wilson is in, albeit in entirely different roles, on the just-underway sequel to Transformers, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson will play a college professor to LaBeouf’s new undergrad in Michael Bay‘s bombastic action follow up to last summer’s biggest commercial hit. Filming began in Los Angeles a couple weeks
ago, will move to Pennsylvania next month, and then head overseas; release is set for next summer.
A sort of spiritual sequel to the touchstone adolescent cinema of the 1980s, The Lather Effect is a wistfully engaging ensemble flick about the emotional grappling of the generation that grew up on MTV and the Rubik’s Cube — like the characters of a John Hughes comedy getting back together for one last meeting of the breakfast club and finding out things aren’t what they use to be. The cinematic equivalent of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” it’s a movie about fond reminiscences as well as the receding tide of the big-haired new wave — a bunch of friends and part-time rivals coming to grips with social and familial responsibilities and the fact that the best times of their lives might still be in front of them, if only they could stop looking over their shoulders. So why isn’t Eric Stoltz in this movie? Oh wait… he is? Awesome!
Written and directed by Sarah Kelly (above right), the movie is centered around the hung-over morning after a wild, back-in-time theme party (“Come as you were!”) thrown by Valinda (Friday Night Lights‘ Connie Britton, above left), who decides she wants to reunite all of her high school friends. Confronting unresolved romantic feelings toward her ex-flame Jack (William Mapother), who went on to marry close friend Zoey (Ione Skye), Valinda is forced to face down her current reality, which includes the possibility of starting a family with uptight husband Will (Tate Donovan), who wishes his wife would stop letting what he views as petty teenage nostalgia rule her daily life.
Also thrown into the mix are Valinda’s 25-year-old, weed-dealing brother Danny (Peter Facinelli); the prim and proper Claire (Sarah Clarke); sexually promiscuous Katrina (Caitlin Keats), now a doctor; Corey (David Herman, of Office Space), a former star who’s crashed and burned via drugs and alcohol, and recently discovered that he’s a father; and Valinda’s ear-ringed, party-crashing neighbor, Mickey, portrayed by the aforementioned Stoltz. It’s a retro-bash reunion fueled by some of the most memorable music of the decade (hits by Billy Idol, the Ramones, Simply Red, A-Ha, Night Ranger and Elvis Costello all get a workout, along with many others), a chatty flick that unabashedly stands on the shoulders of past movies like The Big Chill, Some Kind of Wonderful, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything and of course all the iconic Hughes films of the era.
And yet it’s not just a rip-off or retread; The Lather Effect is more than just a nostalgic trip back to the days of checkerboard Vans, Cutting Crew and Atari videogames. The film works as a backwards glance for those who lived in the era, certainly, but in similar fashion to Dazed and Confused — another movie very specifically rooted in time — one needn’t have grown up back then to recognize the strivings and yearnings of the characters, which are examined sincerely and amusingly. Kelly, whose only previous directorial credit is the From Dusk Til Dawn documentary Full Tilt Boogie, has a romantic streak that doesn’t tip over into the mawkish, and creates a convivial atmosphere where even familiar characterizations come off as more or less fresh. The ensemble cast, meanwhile, all mesh together beautifully, and give one the realistic sense of the thrill, anxiety and tedium such a reunion brings.
Housed in a regular Amray case, The Lather Effect is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and comes with English language Dolby digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 stereo audio tracks. Supplemental features kick off with a warm, open-hearted audio commentary track featuring writer-director Kelly (who points out the Monica Keena cameo), editor Darren Ayres and actor/associate producer Stoltz. A well produced 16-minute making-of featurette includes interviews with Kelly and almost all of the cast, as well as The Big Chill co-writer Barbara Benedek; it opens with Kelly playing the assembled crew a special shout-out from Los Angeles deejay Richard Blade, and features a lot of talk about both the specific players and general nature of ensemble pieces. Herman in particular assays the back-stabbing competitiveness of most such group-focused gigs, but says that this experience has revealed, for him, “positivism and unicorns.” Donovan, meanwhile, (jokingly?) talks about how “it’s funny to see all these actors from the ’80s, kind of washed-up… like me.”
Twenty minutes of deleted scenes are also included, many of which feature legitimate laugh-out-loud moments, as when Herman’s character accidentally visits the bathroom with Britton’s character in the tub, and talks about his “crowning” bowel movement. Two other small but funny featurettes, meanwhile, shed additional light on the bonhomie of shoestring-budgeted independent filmmaking. First is the five-minute “The Importance of Being an Earnest Production Assistant,” in which Kelly recounts her personal experiences on Gettysburg and Killing Zoe and talks — along with others — about how P.A.s are instrumental to a movie’s success, but also a great learning ground. Next up is the seven-minute “The Cameron (Crowe) Effect,” in which Kelly, after having connected in writing with the Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire writer-director through Stoltz and a pair of Los Angeles Times editorials about the role of music in film, anxiously awaits a potential set visit from her spiritual artistic mentor, and talks about his influence on her work. He doesn’t come during production, alas, but there is a happy ending, which is fitting for this poignant, nicely fashioned, light-touch dramedy — a state-of-the-union postcard from a generation never much for emotional self-examination. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. B+ (Mov
ie) A- (Disc)
It’s regionally specific as all get-out, but the line that cracked me up most, by far, in Danny McBride’s The Foot Fist Way comes when his philandering, kinda trashy wife explains her transgressions at an office party thusly: “I got really drunk… like, Myrtle Beach drunk.” For those who’ve never ventured to the South Carolina beach town, it has a not entirely unearned reputation as sort of a dodgier, even more neck-burnt Fort Lauderdale — ergo its embrace as a preeminent spring break nesting spot for gum-smacking North and South Carolina high schoolers.
Is there a reason for this terrifying picture? I’m going to say it’s in honor of this week’s release of Sex and the City. Yeah, that’s the ticket… because when I’m e-harangued by friends, there’s a decent chance I’m going to respond in petty, juvenile fashion.
Director John Carpenter gets honored with an in-person tribute June 13 through 18, at the Aero Theatre
in Los Angeles. The esteemed genre maestro will sit for Q&A discussions between sets of double-features, kicking off on Friday, June 13 with The Thing and The Fog. The next two evenings will feature Escape from New York and Escape from L.A., and Halloween and Christine, respectively. Wrapping up the series, on Wednesday, June 18, will be Big Trouble in Little China and Assault on Precinct 13. The Aero Theatre
is located at 1328 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica
information on directions and the Aero’s upcoming schedule,
phone (323) 466-FILM.
Simply put, America does not much like itself right now. There are myriad domestic and economic issues at play in this anger, anxiety and depression, of course, but almost every interpretation begins with a look overseas, at the $12 billion a month being spent in Iraq, and the outlay for long-term military involvement in that country, and Afghanistan, that will cost the United States $1.7 to $2.7 trillion by 2017.
The long, seemingly endless slog of the war in Iraq, as well as re-litigation over the reasons for its launch, and a prosecution by the Bush administration beset with moral scandals (e.g., Abu Ghraib), corruption and waste (just a few days ago, CBS News revealed that $8 $8 billion was paid to multinational contractors with little or no oversight, in some cases lacking even basic invoices explaining how the money was spent), have taken their collective toll. If, as recent polling suggests, more than 80 percent of the country thinks we’re headed in the wrong direction, it’s safe to assume that number is even a bit higher in the left-leaning Hollywood creative community.
All of which brings us to John Cusack’s War, Inc., a lumpy political satire being loosely, if misguidedly, pitched as in the same general vein as Grosse Pointe Blank. The latest in a string of movies — a list that includes Brian DePalma’s controversial Redacted, Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs, Gavin Hood’s Rendition and Kimberly Peirce’s Stop-Loss — to put America’s war policies under the microscope for analysis, the film is set in the fictional country of Turaqistan, a nation occupied by an American private corporation run by the recently retired vice president.
The filmic equivalent of a bleating, hot microphone — all crossed wires and misfunneled energy — War, Inc. apparently came together via the draft. Co-screenwriter Cusack, a fan of absurdist author Mark Leyner, pulled him into the project, wanting to write about the privatization of war. Also a fan of 1998’s Bulworth, Cusack rang its writer, Jeremy Pikser, and asked him to join the tea party. The strange seams of this unusual collaboration show, with supporting characters (including a sexy, hard-charging liberal reporter played by Marisa Tomei and an outrageous Middle Eastern pop star played by Hilary Duff) jammed in at unusual angles and certain situations seeming to have no realistic bearing on others.
While beset with different problems, the aforementioned films, all commercial busts, were arguably each in some small way, to degrees, felled by their inability to reconcile their makers’ personal anger or irritation with the current administration’s political choices with basic tenets of good drama. Similarly, though more wryly than stridently, War, Inc., too, summons to mind Benjamin Franklin’s quotation that “whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.” It’s a satire, and clearly aims for interlocution just by flinging out different concepts and riffing on them (journalists “feel” the war by partaking of a battle simulator ride, apolitical local wedding videographers compensate for a drop in business with porn and insurgent be-headings), but War, Inc. doesn’t even have the tasty advantage of flinty, anger-fueled wit. Its exasperation and resentment with the current political clime has merely hardened, like oatmeal left out overnight, into something sludgy and almost unrecognizable. For the full review, from FilmStew, click here. (First Look, R, 106 minutes)
Oscar-winning filmmaker Sydney Pollack, who last year bowed out of helming the just-released HBO flick Recount for health reasons, passed away Monday evening at the age of 73 from cancer. Very sad, all the way around, as Pollack — who acted in the Oscar-winning Michael Clayton and whose last two films behind the camera were 2005’s The Interpreter and the documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry — was one of the industry’s true nice guys, and a good, thoughtful interview to boot. He had varied interests, but also a real love of films in general, as evidenced by the fact that you could hold an interesting conversation with him about movies in which he was not involved.
Not all music history is about the Beatles and Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and James Brown, as Dancing in the Street, which gathers a quartet of respected artists who combined for more than 100 hit songs, amply demonstrates. A 90-minute, rare “lost” concert that was part of a roadshow that toured 21 cities in the summer of 1987, as U2’s The Joshua Tree lit up the airwaves, this disc throws a welcome spotlight on Mary Wells, David Rufflin, Martha Reeves and Eddie Kendricks.
Shot during the second show of the series at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles — the former home of the NBA’s Lakers, during the “Showtime” era, ironcically — this title holds a sadly nostalgic value apart from its separate, standalone musical merits: Wells, Rufflin and Kendricks would all die within five years, and this would mark their last public tour. Wells sings “You Beat Me to the Punch,” “Two Lovers,” “The One Who Really Loves You” and “My Guy,” while also dueting with Curtis Womack on “Wonderful World,” “He Will Break Your Heart,” “Shout,” “Bye Bye Baby” and “Chain Gang.” Reeves, meanwhile, gives the following tunes a workout: “Ready for Love,” “Come and Get These Memories,” the classic “Nowhere to Run,” “I’ll Have to Let Him Go” and the equally inimitable “Jimmy Mack” and “Heat Wave.” The energy here is high, and the musicianship certainly fantastic as well. Housed in a regular Amray case, this region-free disc comes with Dolby digital stereo surround sound, animated menu screens, artist biographies and discographies, a photo gallery and a small clutch of interviews. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B+ (Concert) C+ (Disc)
I really should go ahead and christen a special category here at Shared Darkness, so strangely cinematically flavored are my dreams. Last night’s REM special — or one of them, at any rate — involved a labyrinthine scenario by which Lindsay Lohan kept trying to date me… no, not because I’m irresistibly attractive, funny and rich, but chiefly in order to stay away from her mother. (Umm, apparently I had a car?) I think this entire thing owes to the fact that I caught five or six seconds of a promo of Living Lohan on E! yesterday, after popping out a disc I was screening for review. Still… what?
Kevin Spacey toplines the ensemble cast of HBO Films’ Recount, debuting tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern time on the pay cable channel. Directed by Jay Roach (Meet the Parents), the film revisits one of the most riveting and controversial moments in American history, recent or otherwise — the razor-close, disputed 2000 presidential election in Florida — and in exploring the story behind the headlines during the 36-day tactical battle to determine who would become the 43rd President of the United States, churns up beautifully bitter feelings of partisanship all over again, even by merely innocuously, and correctly, highlighting the differences in philosophy that informed the Republican and Democratic approaches to the conflict.
First, all the characters: Spacey (above right) portrays Ron Klain, former chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore. Tom Wilkinson portrays James Baker III, Bush family consigliere, and recount ring master for Dubya. Denis Leary (above left) plays Michael Whouley, national field director during the Gore campaign. Laura Dern portrays Katherine Harris, the Florida Secretary of State who never met a rouge stick she didn’t like. Bob Balaban portrays Ben Ginsberg, national counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign in the 2000 election. John Hurt plays Warren Christopher, former Secretary of State to President Bill Clinton. Bruce McGill plays Republican lobbyist Mac “the Knife” Stipanovich. Paul Jeans plays Ted Olson, who represented George Bush before the Supreme Court. And Ed Begley, Jr. portrays attorney David Boies, who represented the Gore campaign before the Supreme Court.
Culled together by screenwriter Danny Strong from several books about the crisis, with CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin, ABC’s Jake Tapper, Time‘s Mark Halperin and David Von Drehle and Newsweek‘s David Kaplan all additionally hired on as special consultants, the movie both benefits and suffers from its (relative) rush to the screen in time for the end of this primary season (and its doubtless rerun in the even more emotionally fraught fall). Klain is essentially Recount‘s featured player, which gives the movie an air-quote Democratic focal point, but in the bluntest terms there’s not a left-leaning bias here (situating it from the hard-charging point-of-view of the “losers” in the contest just plainly gives it more of a dramatic punch), and in reality the film, the political narrative equivalent of an account of a palace coup glimpsed from the grimy, ground-floor servants’ quarters, is more about feeling than anything else. In fact, I’d argue that this is what it even needs a bit more of, actually.
While Klain’s increasing exasperation and consternation are well chronicled, there’s an awful lot of ground to cover, and crucial communicative links — like Gore’s explicit directions to his team, and Bush’s orders to his — are lost in the fray. Small but important details (18 of 67 counties in fact conducted no initial machine recount, in direct opposition to Roberts’ orders) are interspersed throughout, but easily glossed over, and the legal drumbeat of the narrative — while exacting — sacrifices some of the juicy mania that no doubt existed in each camp’s hermetically sealed bubble.
Wilkinson’s well-oiled Baker, previously Secretary of State to President George H. W. Bush, comes across as perhaps too smooth and stalkingly efficient by about a third; the roots of his familial allegiance are nicely highlighted in a later scene, but there’s a reason Baker was chosen, along with Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, to head up 2006’s much touted (if ultimately ignored) bipartisan Iraq Study Group, and it’s because he isn’t driven by the same grim desire for exsiccation of political foes that drive the Karl Roves of the world.
Spacey’s performance as Klain is boilerplate — good stuff, but pretty much what we’ve come to expect from him in anything dramatic since American Beauty, which is to say sardonic, fitfully impassioned and graced with one of those moments of shutdown sadness. Dern’s portrayal of Harris, on the other hand, is thing of careening awkwardness from which you can’t quite avert your eyes. It’s brassy, and maybe (read: definitely) a little bit out of step with the rest of the movie, but it captures, I think, her warped sense of call to duty
Perhaps most amusing is Harris’ assertion — I’m assuming based likely on sourced information from the real-life Stipanovich or Director of the Florida Division of Elections L. Clayton Roberts, whose characters are present for the conversation — that she “felt like Queen Esther,” and felt that she was sacrificing herself for the Jews.
Watching Recount, as a political junkie I was immersed in its reenactments. Yet I also felt like it probably warranted an extra two hours. Heck, you could even split perspective, doing one film from both the Gore and Bush camps! That might have been just the prescription for the eight-year headache this debacle still conjures up. (HBO Films, unrated, 119 minutes)
Uwe Boll is a filmmaking machine. In the shadow of the turbulent theatrical release of his latest flick, the videogame adaptation Postal, he has a couple more flicks on the horizon for this year — maybe two, maybe three, maybe four. The tally should definitely include, however, the horror movie Seed (which Boll previously lectured me on here, saying that under U.S. law if one survives three executions they have to be set free) and Boll’s Vietnam war flick, 1968 Tunnel Rats (yes, that’s the actual name of the movie). I interviewed him recently, and these are some more of the odds and ends:
Brent Simon: Running over a list of your future projects, what’s set to see release next, after Postal?
Uwe Boll: Yeah, Seed and 1968 Tunnel Rats, the Vietnam war movie, are both done. Seed will be a direct-to-DVD movie only, coming out unrated. We didn’t get an R rating so I dropped the idea for a theatrical release, because I don’t want to cut it. I think it only works if it’s so hard, how it is. It will be out later this year. And 1968 Tunnel Rats, we tried to get a theatrical release going — it’s a very intense, bitter war movie. And I think it turned out very good because all the young actors went to South African boot camp before we shot, and it wasn’t a boot camp like a film boot camp or something, it was real mercenaries who had just fought in Congo. And they took our actors into the jungle for 10 days and they were all, like, completely freaked out.
BS: Err, wait — are you sure this wasn’t Tropic Thunder?
UB: No, it was not fake. This paid off, because in a way the guys were really mentally trashed, and then we started shooting. The movie is very horrific, and for the actors it was hard, because when you go around the corner there’s a booby-trap with a grenade or there are snakes and spiders and trap-doors where you can fall down, and tunnels you can get drawn (into) and get flooded with water and gas and everything. So it was very hard for these actors to do this movie, and the boot camp was unbelievably important to bring everyone into character. I think it’s a very intense war movie that shows you never win in a war — even if you survive, you lose. I think this comes across.
Based on a simple plot description, it sounds, of course, like another “down-market,” slapstick-laden comedy — a movie perhaps destined to play as part of a late-night, cable TV double feature with 2006’s drab Employee of the Month, which starred Jessica Simpson as the mutual object of affection for a pair of feuding retail warehouse workers played by Dane Cook and Dax Shepard. But The Promotion, in which two assistant managers of a supermarket chain vie for the position of manager at a newly constructed store in a hip area of Chicago, is — pleasantly, if to its own potential commercial detriment — the exact opposite of the overly demonstrative goofball comedy that it easily could have been, especially if handed over to the likes of a director like Fred Wolf (Strange Wilderness) or Steven Brill (Drillbit Taylor).
Previously titled Quebec, it ignores farcical broadsides, shots to the groin and contrived dashes through aisles of precariously balanced glass bottles in favor of swallowed awkwardness and lingering customer service issues, and the result is probably one of the most low-fi movies about masculine competitiveness and existential crisis ever put to film. The feature directorial debut of Steve Conrad, the writer of The Weather Man and The Pursuit of Happyness, The Promotion is about both the momentary awakening and eventual, shrugging receding of an alpha impulse in two otherwise beta males.
The story centers on Doug (Seann William Scott) and his young wife Jen (Jenna Fischer), a nurse, who share an apartment with paper-thin walls, and all the frustration that brings. Doug is the ranking assistant manager at a nearby grocery store, and his boss (Fred Armisen) seems to agree that he’s a shoe-in for the head spot at a new location. But when the slightly older Richard (John C. Reilly) arrives, new to the area with his family, from Canada, those odds take a hit. Subtle jockeying and gamesmanship ensue, with each man trying to impress the company’s board while not seeming to totally denigrate his competition.
As his previous writing credits suggest, Conrad has a certain way with masculine malaise. Here, Doug and Richard are each in their own way felled by pride, yet the movie as a whole takes just about every inwardly held expectation one might have about the concept and subverts it. This means no elaborate, unrealistic schemes of sabotage, no over-the-top physical comedy. Conrad instead parcels out a number of outlying character details which at first seem to be bluffs designed to give Doug and Richard some measure of false insight and confidence over the other. There’s also a shrewd sense of detail; Doug bemoans being a “short-sleever” for life, so Jen’s gift of long-sleeve dress shirts favored by more senior management triggers a quiet tidal wave of guilt over his lie to her that he’s already received the promotion. Everything here is perfectly to scale, and the fibs and actions both guys make and take have realistic consequences.
The Promotion isn’t necessarily for all tastes, but it deepens as it keeps unfolding, and never stops finding small and meaningful ways to surprise its audience. In a summer of explosions and desultory set pieces, its quiet grappling is a welcome, witty diversion. (The Weinstein Company/Dimension, R, 86 minutes)
I took in some pre-code cinema at the Egyptian Theatre last night, and it was amazing, in the multiple senses of the word. The very unfocused, less-than-thrilling documentary Why Be Good? Sexuality and Censorship in Early Cinema, executive produced by Hugh Hefner and directed by Elaina Archer, kicked off the triple-feature. Though it has the advantage of brevity, its problem (well, one of them, at any rate) is that it never can figure out its point of entry to the era. Is it about the trailblazing leading ladies of the time (Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Louise Brooks, Mae West, Greta Garbo), and their rise, or plight? Is it about the formation of United Artists? Is it about the Hays Production code, and the years leading up to it? Archer is never quite sure, and the result is manic and messy, though inclusive of some incidentally fascinating interview clips, particularly from the outspoken Brooks. There’s a truly great documentary waiting to be made about this era; this isn’t it, though.
Thankfully the pre-code films themselves were much more rewarding. Frank Capra’s Forbidden, from 1932, is a crisply plotted, beautifully acted melodrama starring Barbara Stanwyck as Lulu Smith, a small town librarian who vacations to Havana, meets cute with a mysterious man named Bob Grover (Adolphe Menjou), continues their affair once they return Stateside, moves to the big city and then discovers that he’s a married man. Years pass, during which she has a secret love child. All the while, hard-charging newspaperman Al Holland (Ralph Bellamy) keeps wooing Lulu, even as he rises the editorial ranks and tries to expose what he suspects, but can’t yet prove, is Grover’s hypocrisy.
If there’s a slight failing here, it’s perhaps that the film never explicitly deals with the lead duo’s age difference (Stanwyck is 17 years Menjou’s junior), which seems a bit weird, or something that would at least inform and color Lulu’s stand-by-your-man mentality. There are a few slight tonal swings here, but the dialogue — by Jo Swerling, from a script co-written with Capra — is whipsmart and the performances top-shelf engaging. It’s a credit to the movie that you see the light, vibrancy and substantiveness this secret relationship brings to both parties, even as you see how it degrades them. Streamlined and never for a moment less than entertaining, Forbidden is a little pre-code gem.
Cecil B. DeMille’s Madam Satan, meanwhile, is a topsy-turvy affair — part unhappy domestic dramedy, part musical, part bizarro disaster epic. Only DeMille’s second talkie, the 1930 flick is an unchecked mash-up in the manner of more than a few films of its era, when competing interests led to a shrugging, toss-everything-in philosophy. The first half of the film is a too-long bedroom farce focusing on wealthy Angela Brooks (Kay Johnson), as she patiently deals with her playboy husband Bob (Reginald Denny) and his rebrobate pal Jimmy Wade (Roland Young). Before long, Angela has had enough and decides to become a sexy siren to try to counteract Bob’s all-too-frequent extramarital flings.
This leads to the second half of Madam Satan, or the film within the film — a masked costume ball (Eyes Wide Shut, anyone?), set on a zeppelin, that eventually culminates in a huge air
disaster. Powered by art deco affectation, date auctions for the costumed ladies and strange, surreal musical numbers (an ode to electricity and oil, starring Mr. Electro?), DeMille goes balls-out. As men go ga-ga over her, Angela sort of wins Bob back over. The supporting performances here are the best; Young’s dithering comic timing is sparkling, and Lillian Roth, as Bob’s flame Trixie, gives a fun little spitfire turn. Madam Satan sags early, and often, truth be told, but it’s a weird, nutty and eminently discussable artifact. Neither Forbidden (Columbia, unrated, 83 minutes), to which I believe Sony owns the rights, nor Madam Satan (Warner Bros., unrated, 116 minutes) is yet available on DVD, so if interested keep one’s eyes peeled for future repertory screenings.
With the beginning of pre-production on The Hobbit in sight, executive producer Peter Jackson and director Guillermo del Toro will answer fan questions during a live, one-hour live web chat tomorrow, May 24. Fans with an interest in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings should click here to register and submit questions in advance. Del Toro and Jackson will select and answer the 20 most common questions, so forget about all those weight-loss queries. Or, I don’t know… stack the deck — totally your call.
I didn’t really much care for Bloodline, the documentary that examines one of the theories promulgated by The Da Vinci Code, that Jesus Christ had a decidedly Earthly relationship with Mary Magdalene, and bore human offspring, but over on A Critical Moment, ace scribe Brad Schreiber has up an interesting interview with said film’s director, Bruce Burgess.
For a 16mm movie shot in three weeks on a shoestring budget of credit
card financing and $30,000 in savings, The Foot Fist Way has paid huge
dividends for ascendant funnyman Danny McBride, even though it hasn’t
yet grossed dollar one from audiences.
The movie was accepted into competition at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, where it was embraced by a legion of comedic heavyweights, among them Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. Surprised it wasn’t acquired at the festival, the pair later snapped up the movie, via their Gary Sanchez Productions shingle, for distribution through Paramount Vantage. It’s had a long and winding path to release, but the movie quickly conferred “made man” status upon McBride, helping him land memorable supporting roles in Andy Samberg’s Hot Rod, Ben Stiller’s The Heartbreak Kid, Owen Wilson’s Drillbit Taylor and two of this summer’s most highly anticipated comedies, Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder. “It’s been pretty insane,” says McBride of his at-once-quiet-and-quick career trajectory. “I live in Virginia, and every time I would come back out to L.A., I would suddenly hear of all these other people who had seen the film.”
“When we were in college, we would just sit around and drink beer and watch the same movies over and over again,” continues McBride, who will also topline the forthcoming HBO series Eastbound and Down. “And when we made this film, we wanted it to be something that could have that sort of lifespan — something that some other guys in college would sit around and drink some beers to and enjoy. Now I’m running around with Will, and running from dinosaurs in Land of the Lost. It doesn’t seem real.” For the full interview, from CityBeat‘s summer preview issue, click here.
The theatrical release of his big screen adaptation of Postal is in limbo, but that doesn’t mean a tranquil slip into the twilight for its writer-director. So here’s more on Uwe Boll, if you need it, from CityBeat.
In the late 1950s, as the post-war rise of Abstract Expressionism became the new wave of painting in the United States, a small but determined band of California painters, curators and collectors exercised impulse over calculation, and in the process created their own scene. Eschewing the trickle-down influence of the New York City set, and battling an apathetic public and L.A. Board of Supervisors who derailed citywide arts fairs under the rationalization of communist infiltration (at one point claiming a painting of a sailboat nefariously concealed a hammer and sickle), these headstrong Left Coasters brought a new and vigorously American slant to contemporary painting, as this lively new documentary details.
Director Morgan Neville has to his name a smattering of excellent serial biography small screen credits, and had a hand as a writer-producer in the excellent tele-doc The Night James Brown Saved Boston, about a Beantown concert following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Here, he imbues The Cool School with a style at once engaging and unpretentious. Using the late Walter Hopps, co-owner of the influential Ferus Gallery, as its
nexus, the film shows how art of the time came to be informed by the
laid-back, anything-goes culture of the Southland, and particularly
Venice Beach. Similar in perspective to Stacy Peralta’s Dogtown and
Z-Boys and Riding Giants, which documented the origins and rise of
skate and surf culture, respectively, The Cool School is a fascinating,
well-packaged and artfully told story of outsiders cracking the
mainstream. Jeff Bridges provides the narration, and interviewees
include critic Peter Plagens and dozens of notable artists, as well as
scenester benefactors Dean Stockwell and Dennis Hopper. (Arthouse Films, unrated, 86 minutes)