So with news swirling about studio suitors for Quentin Tarantino’s long-gestating, Nazi-scalping World War II epic Inglorious Bastards, which the filmmaker has of course promised to cast, shoot, edit and have ready to screen by next year’s Cannes Film Festival, I chatted Tuesday with Michael Madsen, the only actor who was ever “confirmed” to appear in the film — in the role of Babe Buchinsky, a part that no longer exists in the most recent draft of the script. A friend and frequent Tarantino collaborator ever since displaying one of cinema’s most enduring psychopathic jigs in Reservoir Dogs, Madsen certainly has the smoker’s growl to play a WWII grunt. But mo’ (studio) money may equal mo’ problems, it seems, at least for Madsen. For the full read, from New York Magazine‘s Vulture, click here.
New York Magazine‘s Vulture craps on August movies, which seems especially appropriate this year since a lot of studios are running up the white flag because of the Olympics. I skipped out on screenings of Swing Vote and The Mummy: Attack of the CGI Wildebeests and Golden Emperor Played by Jet Li (or whatever it’s called), both because they were up against one another and I had another evening commitment, but there’s an extra ring of truth to all this since Lionsgate is currently busy stalling on even communicating to me the Los Angeles theaters in which their new, not-screened-for-critics horror flick, Midnight Meat Train, is opening this week. That’s a good sign.
It’s a happy birthday to Jaime Pressly, who turns 31 today, and could do wonders for Army recruitment, if only the photo below was used, instead of empty, and morally repugnant, threats of arrest.
A native of Kinston, North Carolina, y’all!, Pressly has segued nicely into small screen stardom with My Name Is Earl, but I’ll always hold special place for her original white trash incarnation, in… well, Poor White Trash, a little seen but entirely serviceable indie comedy from 2000. Oh, I guess there was 1998’s Ringmaster, too, but I never saw that. Somewhat interestingly, Pressly’s name is actually her given birth name, too — a semi-rarity in Hollywood.
The ass-baring candid shots of Amy Smart bitch-tossing Corey Haim into cars, from the Los Angeles production of Crank 2, were but the first wave of awesome set shots unleashed by the Jason Statham-starring action sequel. There’s also this between-takes shot of Smart currently making the rounds.
I can’t tell if Smart is drying her nail polish or just keeping it real while listening to Jay-Z, but there’s something deliciously hilarious and kind of mesmerizing about the clash of managed and unmanaged accoutrement and expression in this shot that renders it more than just titillating, and thus keeps me from making any sort of “X marks the spot” joke.
Colossal fantasy adventure series Dinosaur King, one of the hottest new kids’ franchises, is scheduled to make its Stateside DVD debut on September 23. Shout! Factory, in association with 4Kids Entertainment, will release Dinosaur King: The Adventure Begins, on a set that will feature the first five episodes of the series, a special edition trading card and what are being touted as “dino-sized bonus extras.” Based on the internationally renowned arcade and collectible card game, Dinosaur King centers around three young dinosaur enthusiasts whose discovery of some mystifying
artifacts pull them into an incredible world of adventure, danger and
dinosaurs. For the Dinosaur King fan that enjoys videogames, SEGA also intends to release a tie-in Dinosaur King role-playing-game for the Nintendo DS in September. For more information on the series, click here.
More box office records fell to The Dark Knight over the weekend, including the tab for biggest 10-day opening and quickest film to $300 million. In taking in $75.1 million over the past three days, The Dark Knight has now grossed just under $314 domestically, easily besting the comparable-period hauls of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest ($258 million) and Spider-Man 3 ($240 million). That tally was also, obviously, more than enough to hold on to the top box office spot. Adam McKay, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly’s R-rated Step Brothers slotted second, with $30.9 million. A decade since its last big screen outing, and five years since the end of its small screen run, The X-Files: I Want to Believe opened in fourth place, to just over $10 million — a mere third of the debut-weekend take of its 1998 predecessor.
Meanwhile, ABBA-inflected stage musical adaptation Mamma Mia! placed third for the weekend, singing its way to $17.7 million; it’s now grossed $62.6 million overall. Rounding out the top 10, Brendan
Fraser’s Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D placed fifth ($9.7 million, $60.5 million overall); Will Smith’s Hancock placed sixth ($8.3 million, $206.5 million overall); Wall▪E slotted seventh ($6.4 million, $195.3 million overall); writer-director Guillermo del Toro‘s eye-popping, idiosyncratically flavored Hellboy II: The Golden Army finished eighth ($5.1 million, $66.1 million overall); animated flick Space Chimps dropped to ninth ($4.5 million, $16.2 million overall) in its sophomore frame; and hyper-kinetic shoot-’em-up Wanted ($2.7 million, $128.6 million overall) held off Get Smart for the final spot.
It’s been well established that Karl Rove is not exceedingly popular in Iowa, but good Lord, now there are even retired ministers there trying to drop citizens’ arrests on him. A former pastor — presumably not named Barney Fife — and three members of the Des Moines Catholic Workers community were cited for trespassing (by the real police) and released, after accusing Rove of “election fraud and conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States in the time before the Iraq War.”
It likely won’t last long, given that they’re still cutting and this isn’t the official version, but the first trailer* for Oliver Stone’s W. (yep, with a period) is up on YouTube, and offers a confirmative glance at the Shakespearean familial grappling it assays. (*Note: see below.) Starring Josh Brolin as the current President Bush and James Cromwell as his daddy, #41, the film, of course, is a look at the wayward youth and young adulthood of our still-commander in chief, and how he turned things around to, you know, rule the free world.
It’s a brief, fairly simple thing, this trailer, effectively conveying the I’ll-show-you fire that, once lit, powered Dubya out of the wilderness and into the limelight. It ends with a role call of some of the bit players — Laura Bush (Elizabeth Banks), Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton), Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) — that have helped make up the tragicomedy of the last eight years. A couple impressions: the make-up jobs range from spot-on to a bit awkward, but the musical choice of “What a Wonderful World” (nudge, nudge… yeah, I get it) is a cop-out, and only serves to underline and buttress the knee-jerk reactions this film engenders. Also, if Jason Ritter (b. 1980) really is playing Jeb Bush, that’s a bit disappointing, only insofar as it indicates the focal limitations of this pared-down piece; the flaming wreckage of Jeb’s political career, as seen through his eyes or his father’s, would have made for a really good scene or two, flash-forward.
Still, regardless of the probative value as it relates to his presidency, the movie is a pleasure to have exist, if only for the socio-entertainment coverage it will foist upon the MSNBC and CNN reporters (always good for laughs), and the spin that will emerge from the Bushies and their surrogates when they’re dutifully trotted out to nitpick over this detail or that. I’m sure it’ll make for a couple great segments on The Daily Show, too. W. releases in mid-October, from Lionsgate.
* UPDATE, 7/28: The official trailer, running basically the same length, is now online, but the version with slightly saltier language (e.g., #41’s paternal admonition about “chasing tail,” is still available here, and here, if you beat the copyright police.)
Ample evidence of studio largesse arrives in the form of Step Brothers, a stumble-drunk, quarter-sketched, comedy of
beta-competitiveness centering around a pair of doubly emotionally stunted,
live-at-home 40-year-olds forced to share a room when their single
parents marry. The last line of the film? “It’s OK that mine’s not
movie quality,” which could very well describe this entire, wobbly-legged affair, a
weird and not very funny concoction obviously greenlit solely on the basis of its concept and the combined star power wattage of its co-writers and producers. In fact, if my surname were Apatow, Ferrell or McKay, I’d likely just go ahead and send my credit card statement to every studio in town, with a Post-It claiming it as an expense report; odds are it would be paid by week’s end.
Hatched by Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and director Adam McKay immediately following the shoot for Talladega Nights, and produced by comedy everywhere-man-of-the-moment Judd Apatow, Step Brothers tells the story of Brennan Huff (Ferrell), a laid-off Pet Smart employee who lives with his mother Nancy (Mary Steenburgen). A quickie courtship between Nancy and Robert Doback (Richard Jenkins) leads to marriage, and soon Nancy and Brennan are moving in with Robert and his adult son Dale (Reilly), a layabout who fancies himself a drummer, and little else. As their narcissism and downright laziness threaten to tear the new family apart, these two middle-aged, immature, overgrown boys at first butt heads, then are forced to try to find jobs, then team up to form some sort of loosely defined entertainment company — all before going their bickering separate ways and then coming together again, in forced fashion.
It’s easy to see why Step Brothers sold, as a concept. Mirroring each other, in both curly locks, vintage T-shirts and apparent lack of ambition (Dale is a single child whose sense of entitlement has calcified into obstinance; Brennan is henpecked by a younger brother who’s a master overachiever and bully to boot), Ferrell and Reilly are a pleasant, engaging comedy duo. They each have an ability to remain likable, even when doing nasty things to one another.
A funny thing happens on the way to hilarity, though: namely, it just doesn’t happen. Ferrell and McKay, fashioning a screenplay out of chicken-wire and a few loose notions, fail to give us any real insight into these characters that prop them up as anything more than sketch-length ideas. The movie is an odd combination of silliness and foulness. Other bits just don’t follow — Dale has no problem asserting himself against Brennan, yet, in a bit seemingly nipped from Drillbit Taylor, he inexplicably cowers when bullied by neighborhood school kids?
There’s not a consistent tonal throughline here, and so moments that do score (like Dale registering his objection to a woman moving into the house thusly: “Dad, we take riverboat gambling trips, we shit with the door open, talk about pussy, make our own beef jerky — we’re men, that’s what we do!”) are of the self-made, stand-alone variety, and few and far between. Other bits (a prosthetic nut-sack cameo, say) just seem tacked on for effect. The film’s press notes tout “an insane, elaborate plan to bring their parents back together,” but that’s hardly an appropriate description of the plot, which basically amounts to a whole lot of screamed obscenity, with even Steenburgen getting in on the act.
As potentially gratingly one-note as it might have been, Step Brothers would likely have worked better as a straight-up, damn-the-consequences, territorial pissing match between two oblivious man-children. As is, the hate-love-détente arc between Brennan and Dale, while it affords a chance to work Ferrell singing “Por Ti Volaré” into the final product, just isn’t enough to sell the meager delights of this stretched-thin premise, nor are the cobbled together, supporting player familial bits (unctuous yuppie guy, sexually rapacious female) nipped from Wedding Crashers. Stick with your own family, or only hang out with these Step Brothers on a rainy weekend. (Columbia/Sony, R, 95 minutes)
In what has to be considered good news for fans of both weed-sparked humor and Neil Patrick Harris, it’s being reported by Variety that Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who wrote Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, and directed the latter, will return as multi-hyphenates for a third installment in the outrageous comedy series.
Stars Kal Penn and John Cho (above, left to right) will reprise their roles as the ganja-loving duo, and Warner Bros., which absorbed New Line in February of this year, will likely distribute the third flick, to be produced by Mandate Pictures. This is the rare case of a financial no-brainer — the first film grossed $23 million worldwide on a $9 million budget, and was understandably a DVD smash, while the second installment pushed its cumulative haul to $40 million, with only a slip up-tick in cost — that also makes sense from a creative standpoint, given that Hurwitz and Schlossberg took so easily and breezily to life behind the camera. Yes, the movies are at their core basically just lewd, pot-infused, culturally-tweaked re-imaginations of The Odd Couple, but Hurwitz and Schlossberg exhibited a fairly deft touch with both topical political humor and cross-cut comedy of racial expectation, while keeping it all nicely rooted in character. Ideally this movie would be best served by a break of a couple years — allowing a new presidential administration to establish a foothold, and a slightly new tone of the country to be set — but of course the marketplace likely won’t allow that. So we’ll see what happens.
* – and by green I mean weed, see?
The press notes bill the carefully guarded plot of The X-Files: I Want to Believe as being in “the grand tradition” of the groundbreaking television series. In reality, it’s notably of a more recent tradition — of distributor 20th Century Fox’s increasing penchant for secretiveness with respect to almost all of its releases.
In a way, though, this curiously conservative, risk-averse strategy is understandable. For a stretch in the mid-1990s, The X-Files was the Lost of its era — a moody, popular TV show with a cool-factor off the charts and a sprawling, conspiracy-saturated mystery arc that rewarded multiple viewings and deep readings, and kept fans debating its many twists and turns. When stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson tired somewhat of duty, though, new cast members failed to provide much of a dramatic infusion, and the show’s grasp on the nation’s collective consciousness slowly loosened.
A big summer theatrical offering released in the middle of its run, to decent reviews and grosses, but it’s been a decade since that film, and five long years since the show went off the air. To that end, protecting the truth about I Want to Believe — that it’s leaner (20 minutes shorter than the ’98 film) and more straightforwardly rooted in character than its predecessor, and actually just like a self-contained episode of the series, and a fairly pedestrian one, at that — may be a safe bet by 20th Century Fox, if also, at the end of the day, a self-limiting one.
Set in West Virginia in the present day, the film finds both Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) out of the FBI. The latter has returned to medicine; she works as a doctor in a children’s hospital. Mulder, on the other hand, seems to be training hard in the unique triathlon of newspaper clipping, disaffected beard-growing and sardonic quipping. Together, they’re lured back into the fold by a case involving a missing FBI agent.
Father Joe (Billy Connolly), a scraggly-haired priest and convicted pedophile, claims to have visions of said agent, but when he leads the FBI to a severed arm buried in the snow — an arm that shares in common a blood type found at the crime scene — the plot thickens. Before you know it, you have a movie about gay Russian émigré organ harvesters. Yeah, seriously.
From almost the start, I Want to Believe feels like a flimsy excuse for a reunion. Psychic visions and communication, of course, figured prominently in the series, from early episodes like “Beyond the Sea” and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” all throughout its small-screen run. And this storyline would be perfectly serviceable somewhere further down the line in a theoretical, modestly-budgeted series of purely investigatory tales — The Mulder & Scully Chronicles, if you will. But it doesn’t rise to the level of getting-the-band-back-together drama, nor does it match the sort of chaste, intellectual romance — wonderfully embodied by Duchovny and Anderson, who still evince a nice rapport — necessary in a tale that brings these two characters back to a profession that cost them so much, individually and collectively.
It’s all a bit frustrating, really. Clearly, the characters of Mulder and Scully have greater potential than this vehicle allows. It’s not that The X-Files: I Want to Believe is flat-out terrible; it’s absolutely not. It’s just the sort of movie one desperately keeps waiting to get better, and it never does. Hardcore fans will spin this fact, and embrace the movie; others, however, will bear witness to its false promise, and be left only wanting to believe. Ironic, then, that 20th Century Fox’s quiescent sales job may ultimately cost the film the sort of first-weekend box office splash that would have set up a franchise more firmly, and allowed director Chris Carter and co-writer Frank Spotnitz the chance to rectify these problems. (20th Century Fox, PG-13, 104 minutes)
David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as two on-the-lam stoners trying to stay a step ahead of the henchmen of a drug boss after witnessing a murder, will screen in advance of its theatrical opening, on August 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero Theatre. No free doobies will be passed out, but Green will sit for a discussion after the screening.
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.
A wondrous, affecting snapshot of a most unlikely real-life Edward Scissorhands, this documentary centers around Pearl Fryar, a 66-year-old retired factory worker with no sculptural topiary training except a cursory three-minute demonstration. Filling his three-acre plot with plants cast off by a local nursery, and turning an abstract eye on them, Fryar has created a sprawling, personal garden that baffles plant pathologists and enthralls neighbors and art critics alike.
Co-directed by Brent Pierson and Scott Galloway, A Man Named Pearl is a simple tale of pay-it-forward positivism that swells the heart
without ever coming across as manipulative. The son of a hard-working
sharecropper, Fryar oozes basic decency, and it’s easy to see why his work — born of a simple remark, that “black people don’t keep up their yards,” while he and his wife were looking for a home many years ago — has had a
transformative effect on the small, rural town of Bishopville, in
dirt-poor Lee County, South Carolina. While there is plenty of footage of him at work, and discussing the methods that inform his craft, much of the movie is about Fryar’s faith, and affinity for children and service. Featuring beautiful, jazz-inflected original
compositions from Fred Story, this is an honest, feel-good story of
communal embrace, and outwardly expanding ripples of American-style goodwill. For more information, click here. (Shadow Distribution, unrated, 78 minutes)
It’s a happy birthday to rack-tastic Kristin Chenoweth, who turns an improbable 40 today, all 4’11” of her. Small in stature but big in voice and sunny charisma, Chenoweth is a Tony Award winner, and one of the better things in the recent Space Chimps, with her voiceover role as Kilowatt, a big-headed alien who shrieks and whose head lights up when she’s afraid. Which is kind of how I like to imagine her reacting to ex-boyfriend Aaron Sorkin getting pinched with mushrooms.
I don’t want to say that The X-Files: I Want to Believe is about gay Russian émigré organ harvesters… and yet it is. More to soon follow.
David Zucker, the director and writer who helped create Airplane! and The Naked Gun
franchise, has called on Hollywood’s tiny but tightly knit Republican
A-list to help him craft a takedown of Michael Moore in the form of a broad yet unusually right-leaning
political satire titled An American Carol, according to Politico’s Jeffrey Ressner. Zucker and his associates have been keeping the film under fairly tight
wraps for months, avoiding any mention of its political perspective by describing the
movie to Hollywood trades in casting updates as only “a spoof of A Christmas Carol and contemporary American
The low-budget indie co-stars Emmy winner Kelsey Grammer, with Jon Voight, Dennis Hopper, Paris Hilton and frequent Zucker stooge Leslie Nielsen in minor roles. Release is planned sometime by year’s end; the director, a self-described “Sept. 11 Republican,” suggested Friday, Sept. 12, to coincide with the seventh anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. For more from the Politico, including plot specifics, click here.
It’s the last interview of the day for filmmaker Jonathan Levine, just in advance of the opening of his new movie The Wackness, and he’s feeling a bit angsty about having carved lines into the side of his head, what with his haircut now being captured for posterity during television interviews. “I didn’t think that part of it out,” he says,” and I look ridiculous. I haven’t seen my girlfriend yet, but I sent her a picture via text message and she was like, ‘You moron.’”
Levine will more than gladly take a bit of good-natured ribbing to help get his film out there, though, especially after all the curious delays on his first movie, the teen horror flick All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, that have helped render his chronological follow-up his actual big screen commercial debut. As The Wackness — a sensation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award — makes a slow summer crawl across the United States (it’s currently grossed just under $600,000 in major cities), the 32-year-old Levine indicates he’s just happy to finally have a film see commercial release. “It’s cool in many ways,” he says, “and it’s fine for this to be my introduction to audiences because it’s a very personal film for me.”
Never in his wildest dreams did Levine imagine that his script — about an angst-ridden, high school pot-peddler who starts swapping Ziploc baggies of weed in exchange for therapy from an equally neurotic, screwed-up therapist — would elicit an Oscar-winning star to make comparisons to the Bard’s Henry IV. For the full interview with Levine, from FilmStew, click here.
The success of 2001’s Dogtown and Z-Boys, about the rise of the 1970s
skateboarding culture, and the colorful characters who populated it,
kicked off a string of alt-sports documentaries that shone a spotlight
on the new favorite outdoor pastimes of all those X-treme kids glimpsed in
Mountain Dew commercials. Telling a bit more specifically focused story
than the Oscar-shortlisted surf-boom doc Riding Giants, debut
director Jeremy Gosch’s engaging yet somewhat myopic film chronicles a
half dozen golden-skinned kids, Aussies and South Africans, who in the
mid-70s crashed the North Shore of Oahu and, through headstrong force
of will, dragged the more laidback surf culture toward the
multi-billion dollar industry that it is today.
Narrated by Edward Norton, Bustin’ Down the Door features an abundance of prodigious wipe-outs and other amazing footage from the era — shimmering mountains of wave that amply back up the legendary birth-of-a-sport stories from Wayne Bartholomew, Shaun Tomson, Ian Cairns, Mark Richards (above) and others. For water-soaked beachheads, this narrowcast movie is an easy sell. Yet Gosch exhibits precious little skill at or interest in framing this story for outsiders (what with talk of “backsiders dropping into the temple going the wrong way”), and so consequently the movie is a bit of a slow seduction for landlubbers. It takes a while, but the personalities of the various subjects eventually take hold, and win you over. It’s not until two-thirds of the way in, though, that the movie catches its biggest wave, when delving more explicitly into the tension, fisticuffs and even death threats suffered by some of the Aussies at the hands of the “Da Hui,” a native Hawaiian group that felt it had been dissed in cocky media interviews used to inflate the reputations of the outsiders. For more information, click here. (Screen Media Films, unrated, 96 minutes)
If it’s Amy Smart bitch-tossing Corey Haim into cars (well, his extra, with him lurking in the background) that you crave, then Crank 2 is clearly the film for you. If it’s nice candid shots of Smart’s ass, from said production, that you want, then merely click here. Check back later in the week and we’ll do the nipple-taped candid shots…
Mixed martial arts and cage-fighting, as seen in the recent Stephen Dorff flick Felon, are surging in popularity, no longer merely the province of dusty swathes of the middle of the country, or backwater burghs where weekend-bleeders gather to knock the shit out of one another, and cheer on the same. Ergo a collection like Cage Rage: The Superstar Collection, which showcases the best of the best from every fighting discipline — including boxing, karate, kick-boxing, wrestling, tae kwondo, jiu-jitsu, muay thai, pankration and judo — and features a wide variety of takedowns, from big-time knockouts to slick submissions.
Spread out over three discs and comprised of 59 fights in total, from the Cage Rage VII through XI events, this collection features more than six hours of British MMA action. For those interested, the first-disc bouts here are as follows, with all the brawny nicknames removed: Philly San vs. Dave Elliot, Xavier Foupa Pokam vs. Paul Daley, Ricky Andrews vs. Jeremy Bailey, Paul Jenkins vs. Ronaldo Campos, Jean Francois Lenogue vs. Damien Riccio, Samy Schiavo vs. Robbie Oliver, Emmanuel Fernandez vs. Leigh Remedios, Jess Liaudin vs. Matt Ewin, Ollie Ellis vs. Jean Silva, Michael Bisping vs. Mark Epstein, Jorge Rivera vs. Mark Weir, Peter Tiaks vs. Ian Butlin, James Nicholle vs. Suley Mahmoud, Silvio De Souza vs. Mark Epstein, Sol Gilbert vs. Jean Francois Lenogue, Jeremy Bailey vs. Phil Gildea, Matt Ewin vs. Damien Riccio, Ryan Robison vs. Kuljit Degun, Leigh Remedios vs. Ricky Salhan, Matthias Riccio vs. James Kikic, Mark Weir vs. Johil De Oliveira, and Lee Murray vs. Anderson Silva.
The bouts on the second disc are: Brad Pickett vs. Stuart Grant, Mustapha Al Turk vs. Freidoun Naghizadeh, Sami Berik vs. Addul Mohamed, Tulio Palhares vs. Alex Reid, Paul Daley vs. Jess Liaudin, Dave Elliot vs. Robbie Oliver, Ridas Vivada vs. Sol Gilbert, Samy Schiavo vs. Jean Silva, Rentato Sobral vs. Cyrille Diabate, Michael Bisping vs. Mark Epstein, Matt Lindland vs. Mark Weir, Ryan Robinson vs. Ian Freeman, Andy Walker vs. Alex De Souza, Ricky Andrews vs. Dave Lee, Brad Pickett vs. Chris Freebourne, Robert Berry vs. Andy Harby, Daniel Buzotta vs. Andy Costello, Evangelista Santos vs. Anthony Rea, Jeremy Bailey vs. Sami Berik, Jean Silva vs. Leigh Remedios, Melvin Manhoef vs. Matthias Riccio, Alex Reid vs. Jorge Rivera, Gabriel Santos vs. Mark Weir, Curtis Stout vs. Sol Gilbert, and Pierre Guillet vs. Renato Sobral.
The third disc’s bouts are: Atilla Kubilay vs. Richard Bowkett, Tom Blackledge vs. Kuljit Degun, Jess Liaudin vs. Abdul Mohamed, Robert Berry vs. Andy Costello, Brad Pickett vs. Aaron Blackwell, Henrique Santana vs. Hassan Muridi, Paul Daley vs. Paul Jenkins, Ross Mason vs. Damien Riccio, Pierre Guillet vs. Anthony Rea, Evangelista Santos vs. Mark Epstein, Mark Weir vs. Curtis Stout, and Anderson Silva vs. Jorge Rivera.
I didn’t submit to the full menu, but I did throw this on with a meal one afternoon, and in watching for about half an hour or so, several impressions were formed. First, most of the fighters, who get some camera face-time before bouts, were very respectful of one another, doling out seemingly sincere compliments, talking up their hometowns like junior emcees (“You know I’m repping for London, repping for Nottingham!”) and engaging only in light trash-talking (“Unfortunately, Paul Jenkins is like a bad can of beans whose expiration date is up, and so I’m gonna have to knock him out”). There are exceptions, but these blockheads seem to get dismissed fairly quickly.
Almost all of the bouts consist of three five-minute rounds, but it’s interesting how weight classification dictates fighting style to such a large degree, even much more so than in just boxing. Welterweight Brad Pickett comes across as balletic, almost, and other fighters employ what might best be characterized as a spider-monkey assault-style, relying on crab clinches and quick flips to gain the advantage of a physical position that will then enable them to administer punishing head blows. Overall, Robert Berry and Paul Daley seem like quite tough fellows, but one gleans how can easily brute strength, or even foot- and arm-length advantages, be flipped on their end in competitions like this.
Housed in a thick-spined Amray case with a snap-in tray, Cage Rage: The Superstar Collection is presented in full screen, with sparse supplemental features, including some promo tags and other tidbits. The video transfer is only so-so, but the camerawork and other production value of the captured fights is pretty high, with multiple angles and solid ringside commentary that talks MMA neophytes through the action, even if audiences might be left wondering exactly what “mad position” is. For sheer buy-in-bulk value, Cage Rage gets a hearty endorsement for its core constituency. To purchase the title via Amazon, click here. B+ (Collection) B- (Disc)
Per a release announcement today, VIZ Media is launching a Hollywood-based film company to license and produce live-action feature films based on popular graphic novel properties. Bucking the trend of recent boutique rollbacks, this new, wholly-owned company, named VIZ Productions, will also serve as liaison between Japanese creative licensors and Hollywood production houses, and plans to produce or license live action films from a wide range of graphic novel genres. Jason Hoffs will serve as head of production.
More thoughts soon on Andrew Fleming and Pam Brady’s Hamlet 2, which opens in limited release on August 22 and expands the following week, but it’s worth noting that the film features a coarse exclamation that actually made me laugh out loud, as much for the depth of its feeling as its political incorrectness. Steve Coogan, starring as a washed-up actor turned myopic, unhinged Tucson high school drama teacher, encounters opposition to his latest harebrained musical staging, and vents thusly: “I’m so angry! I feel like I’ve been raped… in the face!” The movie later oversells this sentiment in the form of a full-fledged musical number (part of the play within the movie), but it remains a great line.
Warner Bros.’ aggressive push for the record books with The Dark Knight paid off, in the form of a $158.4 million opening weekend that knocked Spider-Man 3 from its brief perch as the biggest three-day debut ever. After its $66.4 million Friday gross was revised upwards to $67.8 million, showings held strong on Saturday at an estimated $48 million, leaving it a gimme putt on Sunday for the record. Hollywood also smashed the overall cumulative revenue record for a three-day weekend with $256 million-plus, beating the $218.4 million haul over the weekend of July 7, 2006, when the bloated Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest opened a week after Superman Returns and The Devil Wears Prada.
ABBA-inflected stage musical adaptation Mamma Mia! placed second for the weekend, singing its way to $27.6 million, while fellow new opener Space Chimps debuted to $7.4 million, good for seventh place. Will Smith’s Hancock,
which owned the box office over the July 4 weekend, held in third place, with $14 million, and has now earned around $191.5
million since its sneak debut on the evening of July 1. Brendan
Fraser’s Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D placed fourth, with another $11.9 million in sales; it’s now grossed $43.1 million in two weeks of release. Writer-director Guillermo del Toro‘s eye-popping, idiosyncratically flavored Hellboy II: The Golden Army tumbled to fifth place, down more than 70 percent off its first-weekend gross, bringing in $10 million and change.
Rounding out the top 10, placing sixth was Wall▪E ($9.8 million, $182.5 million overall), the latest collaboration from
Pixar/Disney; eighth was hyper-kinetic shoot-’em-up Wanted ($5.1 million, $123.3 million overall), starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman; ninth was Steve Carell‘s big screen action-comedy adaptation of Get Smart ($4.1 million, $119.6 million overall); tenth was animated family flick
Kung Fu Panda ($1.8 million, $206.5 overall). Eddie Murphy‘s Meet Dave, meanwhile, fell out of the top 10 after one week, earning a paltry $1.6 million. In limited release, Brad Anderson’s Transsiberian opened to $35,200 on two screens, while Lou Reed’s Berlin cleared $7,650 at a pair of venues. Losing three screens, sophomore holdover Garden Party pulled in only $2,620, pushing its two-week gross to just under $20,000.
Full of doleful glances and glum expressions, Sleepwalking conveys both a whole lot of wintry desolateness and the never-quite-fully-broken cycle of familial abuse that tends to keep a lot of families stuck in problematic situations, or at the very least a socioeconomic rut. Directed by William Maher (not Bill Maher, it must be stressed), from a screenplay by Zac Stanford (The Chumscrubber), Sleepwalking is not a perfect film, or even necessarily a devastatingly affecting one, but it is fairly well put together.
The film centers around an 11-year-old girl, Tara (AnnaSophia Robb, above left),
who’s abandoned by her pot-addled mother Jolene (Charlize Theron) and left with
her undependable uncle James (Nick Stahl), who ekes out a living as a
construction worker. James is unsure of what to do, but with $315, the pair set off on roadie to the old family farm in rural Utah. Returning home with swallowed,
silent expectations, James,
who has a sort of get-along-to-fit-in relationship with his
estranged, son-of-a-bitch father Reedy (Dennis Hopper), fibs and says that Tara is his daughter. He hopes this white lie will soothe things, and allow him to hit up his father for a bit of money. Unfortunately, Reedy is every bit as ornery as when James left, and he’s in no mood to display compassionate, be it as a father or grandfather.
Sleepwalking could just as easily be titled Unstated,
or something of that nature; it’s about what’s unsaid in families, and trying to
escape one’s past without even being able to articulate that journey,
or even perhaps fully realize it. A good bit of the firm, authentic
Midwestern feeling that accrues during its running time, though, melts
away during an act of late-film violence and the film’s pat conclusion
of uplift, which involves one character saying, “Today is the first day
of the rest of our lives.”
With her alligator boots, trashy demeanor
and knack for poor decision-making, Jolene could be a cousin of Amy Ryan’s
character from Gone Baby Gone.
Unfortunately, we don’t get quite enough of her to leave a lasting
impression, so the proxy battles that James and Reedy have about her
seem empty, or at least fraught with a lot less tension than they could
be. There’s a gritty realism to the film’s muted visual scheme that helps sell its relentlessly grim tone, much more than Stanford’s shruggingly vague screenplay. Still, this is fairly standard arthouse-potato drama — familial-discord genre stuff given a blue-collar, down-time Midwestern makeover.
Sleepwalking comes to DVD in a regular plastic Amray case, with an
accompanying cardboard slipcover. It’s presented in both 1.85:1 anamorphic
widescreen and full screen, with an English language Dolby 5.1
surround sound audio track. Bonus features consist only of a 16-minute making-of featurette with cast and crew interviews. A bit more from Stanford and Maher, especially about the look of the movie, would have been welcome. To purchase the movie on DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) C+ (Disc)
Stephen Dorff has cracked skulls, drained blood, cried and dropped trou for his craft, and in his latest film, Felon, he shaves his melon and engages in some prodigious, prison-set knuckle-dusting. The independently financed movie, written and directed by Ric Roman Waugh, stars Dorff as small business owner Wade Porter, whose modest life with his fiancée and their three-year-old son is upended when he’s convicted of killing a man who breaks into his home, sentenced to state prison, and then ends up caught up in a self-perpetuating cycle of gladiatorial violence overseen and encouraged by a crooked prison guard. For Dorff, it was an intense experience, so much so that he even got tattooed by a convict after the production. In advance of the film’s limited theatrical release, Dorff graciously took some time to chat by phone, both about this movie, the nuttiness of Uwe Boll, and the forthcoming Public Enemies, directed by Michael Mann. The conversation is excerpted below:
Brent Simon: When I saw all the prison-yard fighting in Felon, in which you’re wearing very little, and sometimes shirtless… I was reminded a bit of the shower scuffle from Eastern Promises, and in talking to Viggo Mortensen last year he said basically you just have to resign yourself to the fact that it’s gonna hurt like hell.
Stephen Dorff: That’s a cool correlation, because it felt so bare. Obviously not as bare, because I’m not naked, but just in these thin boxers and high tops. That’s what they wore, and it was just intense, because they weren’t fights that we would really choreograph. We wanted to bring in this MMA (mixed martial arts) vibe, because that’s what’s going on in the prisons, as UFC and all this stuff is taking over sporting. I think that’s infiltrated a lot of the prisons, from Ric’s research. So we wanted the fights to be very frenetic, not as staged, no 1-2 punches. All the prison stuff I’d seen, excerpts from Corchran State Prison and some of the shivings and stabbings, they all happen at lightning speed — you come out on the yard and boom!, you get clocked. And I think Ric really stayed true to all that. He wanted them to not feel like big bouts. During filming I even thought, “Wow, are they too quick?” But I think in the end they’re not, because that’s what they are.
BS: So did you have any pads underneath?
SD: Not really. I did most of it myself, but worked with a couple other guys. The only other people that aren’t principals that aren’t actual parolees or guys that have been institutionalized in the film in real life were three or four UFC guys that came out and helped. Tommy Gunn was my double, and did some of the things were I could’ve gotten really hurt — some of the big flips and stuff. He would take some of those hits. It was cool to watch, because I didn’t know what was going on while we were doing it, they’re so frenetic that I didn’t know what was happening. But when I saw it pieced together it was very realistic.
BS: The film is shot in a very hand-held, confessional style, really up close — was that something you talked about with Ric early on, and does that change what you do as an actor?
SD: Ric knew what he wanted. I didn’t have much to do with those choices. I wanted to know who was shooting the movie — I’m always kind of curious, even when I’m just an actor — and he had this guy Dana Gonzales who is just awesome. He shot it on these little cameras, and it had this grain, and a beautiful look, I thought. We had small cameras so we could go into these cells where we don’t have any room. So again, keeping everything realistic, you’d never be able to fit a 35mm camera on some of these sets. I remember when Mike Figgis told me he did Leaving Las Vegas in 20 days in 16mm, and I remember going “Fuck!” To see what what Ric did with Super16 on this movie, and then have it blown it to 35mm, just looks so much cooler. We did the movie in probably 35 days, or maybe less — compared to Public Enemies, where we had 100 days. I knew we made something good, I could feel it, but I’ve been gone for five months and finally got home and [got to see it] and I was really proud of it. I hate seeing movies that I make; even if I like them, I don’t really like to watch myself, but I was so proud of (costar) Val (Kilmer), I thought he knocked it out of the park. I thought Harold Perrineau was so strong too — just all the actors did a really good job.
BS: Shooting at New Mexico State Penitentiary — were there special precautions taken, and had you ever done anything like that before? (Warning: slight spoiler at end of Dorff’s answer to this question.)
SD: No, I never had. We shot most of the film, where the SHU (Special Housing Unit) and the Yard are, in the old part of the prison, which is shut down, and they have shot a couple films there, some of that Adam Sandler football prison movie. They’re actually a little more friendly there, because there are so many movies being shot in New Mexico. The other part of the prison, where the bus pulls in, is a level five or six prison, which is a serious prison, and working and open, there were felons walking around in their jumpsuits. It was weird, and we were the first film, I believe, to shoot beyond those gates. When you have a film crew come into a prison that’s fully running, it’s probably not what they want, but Ric did a great job PR-wise with the warden and the mayor and governor, and worked those angles. We were kind of the underdog movie, and we didn’t have a ton of money to give them. …The actual scene where I come out, at the end, is where they really release prisoners. A guy that’s coming out after 15 years is going to come out through that same room that I came out of, and you definitely feel it.
BS: Throughout your career you’ve worked with some notably intense and/or out-there directors — Bob Rafelson, Tony Kaye, Oliver Stone, Uwe Boll, to name a few…
SD: Wow, that’s funny that you put Uwe Boll in that category. (laughs)
BS: Maybe he’s more of a category unto himself.
SD: That’s probably the best pairing he’s ever had, considering I read an article in some magazine where they called him the worst director of all time.
BS: He’s a real character, though, right?
SD: Yeah, he don’t give a fuck. He don’t give a fuck, I’ll tell you that.
BS: So who’s the most out-there director with whom you’ve worked?
SD: Well, I like artists, so I don’t mind if a director is out there. Oliver Stone is out there, every director is out there. Actors are out there. Creative people in general kind of have their own approach and their own madness, you know? And I don’t really get weirded out by that at all. Someone like Ton
y Kaye I’d been friendly with, because years ago he met me for American History X and I was kind of in between the ages — I wasn’t old enough for the Ed Norton part and I wasn’t young enough for the part of the younger brother, but I really loved that script. And then all the drama happened with him and he went off and just did commercials. But then Black Water Transit came around — which hasn’t opened yet but is going to be a pretty cool movie, I think, since we did a lot of cool shit on that. Michael Mann is pretty intense — great experience, he’s one of my favorites. I’m kind of interested in that even more now, great directors. For a minute there I did a couple films I probably shouldn’t have done, or didn’t want to do, that I made a bunch of money on, and that was fine, but ultimately it’s the director and the actors that I’m working with that I’m the most concerned about, it’s not really the size (of the film).
BS: I’m guessing Alone in the Dark was maybe one of those in that category.
SD: Yeah, I mean, you know, I was friends with Christian (Slater), and they payed me an awful lot of money for two-and-a-half weeks of time. It wasn’t really my movie, I felt like it was more Christian’s, because I wasn’t the lead in that film by any means. But Uwe and I got along great. He’s just what he is — he’s not a real filmmaker, he’s more of a videogame guy. I don’t know how he’s done what he’s done, but he keeps making his movies, so God bless him, you know? I don’t have anything negative to say about him.
BS: In some ways I think he’s the P.T. Barnum of our age.
SD: Yeah, totally. But he is crazy. (laughs)
BS: You mentioned Public Enemies — what was that experience like, and what’s the tone and look of the film?
SD: It was awesome. We just finished last week, and it’s a full-on gangster flick — 1934, the last year of Dillinger’s life, and shooting real Tommy guns and hanging out of cars, having a ball. It was a journey, with a bunch of great actors. Johnny (Depp) was incredible to work with, and very sweet to me. I’ve known him for years, but had never gotten to work with him. And Marion Cotillard is an incredible actress; Christian Bale, the list goes on. There’s so many great actors in that film. I had a really good time with Michael on it. It was long, but I think it’ll be a really good movie. I think they’re talking about a trailer or teaser going up soon, and it’ll probably be out next summer.