Director Eugene Jarecki, who previously delved into the military industrial complex in his award-winning documentary Why We Fight, will go back to war with his next project, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Pairing with screenwriter Jesse Wigutow, Jarecki will executive produce and direct, for HBO Films, Irreparable Harm, which details the personal and publishing history of Frank Snepp, the CIA’s chief strategy analyst in Saigon during the evacuation of American troops from Vietnam in 1975.
Jenna Fischer has been getting a lot of love recently here on Shared Darkness, but I’m sure you don’t have a problem with that. (You’d better not.) The secret to her success? Sure, sure, other than talent and charm? You might be surprised. Then again, it’s mentioned in the title above, so probably not. Here, I’ll let her explain, from a recent interview.
“The audition process for The Promotion was really funny. Jessika (Goyer), the producer, really hates it when I tell this story. I had only been on The Office; Blades of Glory hadn’t come out yet, or Walk Hard. I was in fact shooting Blades of Glory when I went on this audition. I went over and met (director) Steve Conrad and Jessika, and auditioned for the movie, and really felt like I connected with Steve. I was like, ‘I think he liked my work!’ But I didn’t know what was going to happen. So I got a call from my agent and he said, ‘Here’s the thing: they loved you, you’re their first choice, but…'”
“The role is of a Chicago nurse, struggling paycheck to paycheck,” Fischer continues, “so I showed up looking as real as possible. And they said you were great, loved the acting, but we’re not sure if you’re going to pop on camera. Like, are you a movie star? We need you to come back and do the same performance, but look really hot! Eww, right? So I’m on the set of Blades of Glory, and the day we shot the lingerie scene was the day of my callback for this movie, so I had hair and glamorous eyelashes and I wore this low-cut, red blouse that on every audition I wear it I get cast. I was told, ‘Harvey and Bob (Weinstein) are going to watch the tape on their jet while they’re going somewhere, and we’ll let you know if you’re OK.’ And so I did and felt like such an idiot! Because I’m all glammed up, and reading this realistic dialogue about nursing and struggle. But they called and said thank you so much, that was perfect, you have the role, you have the job. So it wasn’t just the audition, it was also my red boobie shirt that got me the role,” which Fischer later confides makes her look “kind of like a sexy Minnie Mouse.” The kicker? “Of course when I made the movie they made me look like a real Chicago nurse,” she says with a shrug. “Sometimes that’s part of it.”
It’s a happy birthday to Vinessa Shaw, who turns 32 today. I had a chance to first meet Vinessa nine or 10 years ago, through
an actor and theater critic colleague, who’d worked with her on a
couple Los Angeles stage productions. She was sweet as the dickens, personable
and accessible in a way that a lot of actors — even before they “hit
it big” with a lot of film or television work — simply aren’t. This was just before Eyes Wide Shut, and when I bumped into her a year-and-a-half later she was exactly the same.
Shaw has since slowly climbed up the call sheets of casting directors, mixing in stage work and appearing in films as disparate as 40 Days and 40 Nights, Melinda and Melinda, The Hills Have Eyes (for which she scored memorably unsettling poster credit) and, notably, last year’s 3:10 to Yuma, opposite Russell Crowe. Most recent for Shaw is the how-screwy-is-Los-Angeles indie ensemble Garden Party (above), in which she makes a very good impression. Next up: the very Judgment Night-sounding Stag Night, co-starring Breckin Meyer, Kip Pardue, Scott Adkins and Karl Geary. Rock on wit’ your bad self, Vinessa…
For reasons that will become much more evident in the coming weeks, I’m reposting this DVD review of 2004’s Man on Fire, originally published, by a now-defunct outlet, upon its release to home video in the summer of 2005. To wit:
Man on Fire is one of those movies which you can use to directly trace Hollywood’s big studio tradition from past to present. When people say they don’t make movies like they used to — which is to say well intentioned, overlong and stamped with a definable, almost maverick-cowboy personality — you can always cite the comfortably bloated Man on Fire as evidence to the contrary. (Of course, all of these movies are now adapted from novels rather than original screenplay narratives, but that’s another story.)
All of the above might sound like a backhanded compliment — and it might well be — but it’s hardly meant to be flippantly dismissive, for director Tony Scott’s feverish film is as searing a reminder as any of his leading man’s last dozen movies that Denzel Washington is not only one of the best actors alive but also probably one of the top five indicators of sheer bang-for-your-buck value working today. Even in middling melodrama like John Q, Washington can coax a genuine tear with his ferocious commitment; give him something special like Training Day and he’ll blow your mind. Like the recent Out of Time, the sweaty, unrepentant Man on Fire is qualitatively somewhere in between those two films, though far less spring-loaded than the previous crowd-pleasing thriller.
Adapted from A.J. Quinell’s novel of the same name by Brian Helgeland, the story finds Washington cast as John W. Creasy, a sullen, highly trained onetime government “asset” whose star has long since faded and whose psychological battle scars have ossified into the steely disaffection a functional alcoholic subcontractor. Then a funny thing happens after Creasy’s friend Rayburn (Christopher Walken, always a breath-of-fresh-air hoot) helps land him a gig in Mexico City as a bodyguard for the precocious young Pita Ramos (Dakota Fanning) — he finds he still has a heart. When Pita gets kidnapped, Creasy sets out to paint the city red with the blood of the complicit.
Dark, jittery, self-involved and indulgent as all get-out, Man on Fire pits Creasy against both his shadow self — his darker instincts — and the cancerous institutional corruption of Mexico City. In a cinematic sub-genre of fuzzily drawn anti-heroes (everyone wants the cool points but little of the baggage), Man on Fire presents a man with a spiritual crisis of conscience, but it doesn’t ladle it on. Right out of the gate, the movie announces that in Latin America there’s one kidnapping every hour, and that 70 percent of the victims don’t survive. (The tourism board tagline virtually writes itself!) The rest of the film is pungently over-directed by Scott with a more grizzled, adult spin of the same swooping-crane excess he brought to Enemy of the State. In significant emotional ways Man on Fire also recalls the similarly flawed Spy Game; both films make correspondingly fresh and awkward use of their intertwined geopolitical density and interpersonal relationships.
DVD extras include two audio commentaries — one from Scott and another surprisingly interesting one with Helgeland, Fanning and producer Lucas Foster. For a movie that’s an over-baked 145 minutes, there are also somehow 15 deleted scenes (other expunged arcs include a fleshed-out affair between Creasy and Pita’s mother, played by Radha Mitchell, plus an alternate ending), a scene breakdown of the abduction sequence, a music video and more. The paramount extra, though, is a superlative, hour-plus making-of documentary that traces the project’s arduous development, casting, production and more. It may be nothing more than a sort of an exotically set 21st century Death Wish in much fancier duds, but Man on Fire sure gives good revenge. B (Movie) A- (Disc)
Woe the randy teenager who places Road Trip or, eventually, the forthcoming College on their Netflix list, and receives College Road Trip by accident. When senior Melanie Porter (Raven-Symoné), who has her heart set on attending Washington D.C.’s Georgetown University, plans a trip with her high
school girlfriends to look at colleges, her overprotective police chief
Hoping to convince her to attend a nearby school, he insists on
accompanying her on the trip, but his over-the-top efforts
to protect his little girl backfire, and automotive mishaps, multiple
taserings and much over-demonstrative acting-the-fool ensues.
Aiming for broad, centrist entertainment for parents and kids alike is fine, but College Road Trip
has no steady, inner throughline. It wants to sell the sincerity of
James’ love for his daughter, but alternates scenes of him tearily
watching home video footage of a young Melanie with slapsticky bits in which Lawrence screws up his face in confusion
and disdain, and rants and raves about the family pet pig giving him “the eye.” Then there’s the matter of Disney Channel staple Raven-Symoné, who overacts with such sheer, unhinged intensity that one might be forgiven for thinking she were auditioning for a high school drama club production of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
This is obviously a paycheck gig for director Roger Kumble (Just Friends), who must be wondering what happened to the trajectory of his career after the moderately warm reception that 1999’s Cruel Intentions — his adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ oft-reworked novel, Dangerous Liaisons — received. Obliging the desultory nature of the material — which opens with a mock-trial centering around the Big Bad Wolf for wannabe-litigator Melanie, and then proceeds to make hyper-literal almost every cliché of pained, awkward teen-parent interaction — Kumble just throws air-quote style at the screen (wow, freeze frames combined with split-screen wipes!), seemingly in the hope that all the extra color and motion will distract audiences’ brains from the lack of any laughs or connection with the movie.
The film’s supporting cast includes Kym E. Whitley as Melanie’s mom Michelle and Donny Osmond, in
full-on enthusiastic goofball mode, as Doug Greenhut, a sort of cross between Ned Flanders, Ned Ryerson and Phil Stromberg. Other Disney Channel bit players, like Brenda Song (The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) and Lucas Grabeel (High School Musical), also pop up and, somewhat surprisingly, are among the least annoying, most restrained characters in the ensemble.
College Road Trip comes housed in a regular Amray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, and the irritation starts almost immediately upon boot-up. Though billed as coming in both widescreen 2.35:1 and full screen 1.33:1, the former aspect ratio is only accessible via the “audio options” tab on the main menu, which seems silly, and mis-labeled. Auto-play start-up, scene selection or the regular “play movie” will all default to the full screen presentation.
Two different audio commentaries are included — one with writers Emi Mochizuki and Carrie Evans, and the other with Raven-Symoné and Kumble, who, among other peppy bits of trivia, points out that the facade of the Northwestern memorial library the production used was named for the movie’s location manager. A three-minute gag reel briefly showcases how they got that pig to jump on the bed (a dude in a green jumpsuit, don’t you know), as well as a toothy Osmond flubbing lines and asking with a huge grin, “Has my career come to this?” (Answer: yes.) There are also deleted scenes with optional commentary from Kumble, plus an alternate opening and endings, unfortunately none of which involve a fiery auto crash that leaves no characters alive. Raven-Symoné’s video diary finds the star bopping about set and chatting with her costars. Finally, if one needs more Raven-Symoné, there’s a music video for the movie’s signature tune, “Double Dutch Bus,” and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the music video. Though mercifully brief at 83 minutes, College Road Trip is one movie you definitely won’t want to be stuck with on a long car ride. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. D- (Movie) C+ (Disc)
I didn’t have high hopes for the straight-to-DVD imperiled-coeds thriller Asylum, based on its fairly wretched trailer, but a viewing of the movie confirmed my overall suspicion of the final product while also departing from my pre-judgment in a number of significant ways. Top-lined by Sarah Roemer (aka the chick Shia LaBeouf ogles in Disturbia), the flick is a sort of cross between Stay Alive and Session 9, with a healthy smear of down-market horror moves copped from ’80s-era DIY flicks that never made it off of VHS.
Written by Ethan Lawrence and directed by David Ellis (Snakes on a Plane, Final Destination 2), Asylum follows a group of six freshman college students as they uncover dark secrets about their new dormitory, which just happens to have once been an infamous mental institution where a demented, lobotomy-loving psychiatrist, Dr. Burke (Mark Rolston), performed all sorts of tortuous experiments on his teenage patients. The central character is Madison (Roemer), who’s had to suffer the suicides of both her father and brother Brandon (Benjamin Daniele), the latter of whom she still has nightmarish visions of, since she’s decided to attend the same university he did.
There’s also the cocky Tommy (Transformers‘ Travis Van Winkle), vaguely sympathetic Holt (Jake Muxworthy), 16-year-old String (Cody Kasch), Maya (Carolina Garcia) and Ivy (Ellen Hollman), the requisite blonde with the “fantastic tits,” according to Tommy. After orientation and a get-to-know-one-another party with some booze passed around, the students eventually find themselves trapped in their dorm, picked off one by one but looking for an escape as the ghost of the deranged Dr. Burke begins “treating them.”
The acting here kind of runs the gamut. Roemer sort of recalls, physically at least, in profile, Amy Smart, though without really any of the bite, sass or personality that (momentarily) helped distinguish her from the rest of her brethren. (For those keeping score at home — and without a subscription to Mr.
Skin — there’s a fleeting glimpse of breast from Roemer, in a sequence
where she hallucinates in the shower, and thinks she’s drowning.) Van Wickle is saddled with a ridiculous, preening character — the coarse jock, squared; he eventually wins you over with some smart, atypical line readings, though, and a back story that at least attempts to explain why he acts the way he does. The real revelation might be Kasch, who makes an impression as the requisite outsider-loner without tipping over into math-lete brooding. The other actors — including Rolston, and Lin Shaye in a small cameo as String’s mother — fail to really impress.
Powering through what was no doubt a compressed shoot, Ellis fails to elevate the material; he shoots the introductions of all the kids in a wide, awkwardly staged master shot, and does the same thing with a couple other group scenes, which are all seemingly covered by a single boom mic. He spends whatever time he presumably saved here indulging in overly affected hallucinatory scenes, with different film stocks and a variety of filters, perhaps nipped from Simon West. There’s too much speechifying by Dr. Burke for it to be scary, though. Other passages, meant to evoke tension, are far too cloaked in shadow and darkness. There’s no codifying visual scheme for this movie — it’s a case of Jackson Pollack-type filmmaking, with different styles just flung at the screen. For a movie that needs a slick packaging to lift up its cardboard-thin premise, that doesn’t do the job.
Asylum presumably comes in a regular Amray case, presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language 5.1 Dolby surround sound audio track, a Spanish language Dolby surround track, and optional English, Spanish and French subtitles; I say “presumably” because the special slip-sleeve review screener I was sent didn’t include its packaging. Nor did it want to play in my regular DVD player either. (It finally worked fine in the PlayStation 2, oddly enough.) At any rate, apart from a few previews that play automatically upon start-up, there are no supplemental features. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. D+ (Movie) D- (Disc)
The new trailer for Body of Lies, Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Washington Post columnist David Ignatius’ globe-trotting novel about terror-hunting gone awry, is online, and it terribly undersells the thing, I’m afraid. I’ve watched the trailer twice now, and it says nothing, really — either in the way of plotting, or moral complexity.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, the movie centers around an ex-journalist turned CIA
agent who starts tracking down an Al Qaeda leader who may be planning a
new attack on the United States, only to get jerked around by his Stateside case officer. It’s easy to see why The Departed
screenwriter William Monahan was brought in for the adaptation, what with all the deep-cover shenanigans and what not, but this trailer — with all its cell phone cross-chatter and vacuous doublespeak — comes across like some dusty casserole of Syriana, Spy Game and Enemy of the State, just with a filmic upgrade. Body of Lies releases October 10 via Warner Bros.
The trailer for Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the same-named celebrated graphic novel, and his follow-up to 300, is now online, and of course attached to The Dark Knight this weekend. All in all, it is what it is, and does what it does — more super-stylized, frame-speed-manipulated action; more brooding, color-saturated posing; more music from Tyler Bates. The effects look pretty cool, though, which will erect tents in the pants of many a comic book geek. Nice use of Smashing Pumpkins, too. Watchmen releases March 6, 2009 from Warner Bros. For more information, click here.
So the first trailer for next summer’s Terminator Salvation, directed by McG (who was honestly once called “McGenius” by an actress I interviewed), is online, but it’s only a teaser thing of franchise callbacks and action mayhem: skulls crushed underfoot, Christian Bale, shit gettin’ blowed up good, robots, etcetera. If Warner Bros. really wanted to play it bold with the Terminator Salvation teaser, it just would’ve been 30 seconds of a bloated, boozed-up Edward Furlong trying to get hold of his agent on the phone, demanding why he couldn’t even get a meeting for the film.
A shruggingly amiable animated tale in which a group of chimpanzees sent to a faraway planet to test its viability for life end up helping to free an enslaved alien populace, Space Chimps is, in terms of plotting, a throwback to the animation of two decades ago, when storytelling lapses could be colorfully papered over and excused as merely part of medium.
After an unmanned American space probe gets sucked into a wormhole and lands on a faraway planet, NASA prepares to send a group of chimpanzees into outer space to try to re-establish contact with it. Engaging the arguable need for greater publicity and a sort of bloodline patriotism, rascally, carefree circus performer Ham III (voiced by Andy Samberg), the grandson of the first chimpanzee astronaut, is recruited to join the mission. Initially indifferent to the assignment, Ham joins up with Titan (voiced by Patrick Warburton) and Luna (voiced by Cheryl Hines), the latter of whom he quickly develops a crush on.
When the chimps land on said planet, they discover Zartog (voiced by Jeff Daniels), who has appropriated the powers of the crashed space rover, and enslaved his peers. Titan is captured, and so with 24 hours until their craft automatically relaunches back for Earth, Ham and Luna must work to thwart Zartog’s plans.
The directorial debut of co-writer Kirk De Micco, Space Chimps feels sketched out in very arbitrary fashion. After a brief bit showing Ham hamming it up in his circus surroundings, notably strange and jarring is the presentation of Zartog and the colorful aliens, which precedes any introduction of the rest of the chimpanzees, or the NASA crew responsible for the wayward probe. It also makes little sense that the space probe becomes a sort of catch-all instrument of torture and harassment — one that Zartog sometimes fully commands, and other times struggles with.
The main stories coalesce sooner rather than later, but the script centralizes conflict, funneling it in awkward fashion through a single Senator, who even school-age children grasp realistically wouldn’t be able to make good on his threats to immediately close down all space exploration. These narrative pendulum swings — at once grand, and totally empty — illustrate, in contrasting fashion, the care, depth and shading given storylines by Pixar, and the creators of other top-shelf animated fare.
In design, some of the color schemes and shading of the movie don’t seem to totally match. Even if there is great inconsistency with regards to opposable thumbs, the chimpanzees are rendered in more or less realistic, slightly cuddly form, with soft shading and rounded lines. Space Chimps‘ aliens are a bit more angular, and rendered in translucent blues, greens and purples; the result feels not merely like a different world, but of a wholly different tone, and film. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (20th Century Fox, G, 81 minutes)
In what surely seems like the set-up for a new movie, or at the very least a Saturday Night Live sketch, Will Ferrell, David Beckham and Danica Patrick are now apparently… the three co-owners of a racehorse, after having been awarded part-ownership as part
of a gift bag handed out at the ESPY Sports Awards in Los Angeles on
Expanding on the darker moods and true-crime instincts of 2005’s Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight cleverly balances its action with an exploration of optimism and decency’s combined power and potential fallibility in a world gone mad, and thus stands poised to leave a substantial summer footprint, both commercially and critically. While anticipation of the late Heath Ledger’s tongue-wagging, lip-smacking turn as the villainous Joker will draw in some new interest, it’s the novelistic density and moral complexity on display here that will drive repeat viewings and help The Dark Knight outstrip its predecessor’s $205 million domestic tally.
Picking up within a year of the events in Batman Begins, the film finds Batman (Christian Bale) and his police department counterpart and ally, Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), having some success in stemming the tide of crime in Gotham City. As the bold, hard-driving new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), works to dismantle the all-powerful criminal syndicates that have long had a stranglehold on the city, Batman and Gordon must determine whether or not they can trust the charismatic idealist.
Proceeding with caution, their partnership proves effective, especially after Batman trips to Hong Kong to make a dazzling extrication of businessman Lau (Chin Han), the accountant to all the criminal sects. Dent ties all the crime bosses together in a 2,500-count conspiracy indictment, and Batman, in the form of billionaire daytime alter ego Bruce Wayne, throws his support behind the district attorney with a dazzling fundraiser, convinced that Dent is the new public face of decency and order. The Joker, though, has other plans, unleashing a reign of terror built on shifting motivations. At first he offers to kill Batman for the city’s crime bosses; later he threatens serial deaths until Batman reveals his true identity. In the end, of course, it’s all a guise for his own games of anarchic indulgence.
Scripted by Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, from a story devised with David Goyer, a co-writer on Batman Begins, The Dark Knight may be the first movie of its kind, or at least the most persistent, to substantively, intellectually address the mythos of classic comic book action in something vaguely resembling the real world. There is a lot of discussion about, and actual action driven by, the symbolic value of Batman, and the limits of what he can accomplish versus the publicly empowered Dent.
In fact, it’s the depth of the latter storyline, of the tragically doomed district attorney, that is perhaps the most surprisingly effective part of the film, thematically speaking. His soul-of-the-city struggle parallels Batman’s quest, and has important implications when vigilantism and law-bending later creeps into play, in an effort to defeat the Joker. The film’s quibbling weak point is that a shift involving Dent’s personality, after he is wounded, is handled in mad-dash fashion, undercutting the sensitivity and care of all this set-up.
Nolan shows a much more refined hand with action here than he did in the first film, though these movies will never compete with the whiz-bang, state-of-the-art thrills of something like the Matrix films, or Wanted. There’s an emphasis on functionality over showsmanship with respect to the action scenes, and Nolan doesn’t pad these sequences with the sort of affected angles, stuffed shots or orgiastic CGI found in something like Transformers.
Bale delivers another solid, brooding performance as Wayne/Batman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is a definite upgrade over Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, the childhood crush of Bruce Wayne, now romantically involved with Dent. Finally, while there is undeniably a bit of a pall cast over the proceedings by the tragic passing of Ledger, it doesn’t last long, so starkly defined is his portrayal. There’s no cackling buffoonery here, just a grimness to match the material.
Other technical credits are superb across the board. The editing is slickly effective, crosscutting storylines and more clearly delineating the action than in Batman Begins. Also, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score for the film again eschews hammy signature tones, instead trading in moods and rhythms; most striking is the theme for the Joker, a processed string arrangement which evokes dread in much the same manner as Jonny Greenwood’s lauded score for There Will Be Blood. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (Warner Bros., PG-13, 152 minutes)
In August of 2006, Step Up, the
$12 million directorial debut of choreographer turned helmer Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses), used a
deft, direct-appeal marketing campaign that included a MySpace.com
contest which let users submit their own dance videos to ring up a
surprising $20.6 opening weekend, part of a $114 million worldwide
gross that included $65 million in domestic receipts. A fresh slate of young performers
combined with energetically staged and photographed sequences that
convey the cathartic joy of dance easily outweigh some of the more
predictable rhythms of formulaic storytelling in Step Up 2 the
Streets, a fun, flirty and engaging teen drama and stand-alone
sequel that serves as the latest entry in a line of pan-ethnic dance
films pitched chiefly at teens and big-city twentysomethings.
Delivering a gender inversion of the
same loose, wrong-side-of-the-tracks narrative of the first film, Step Up 2 the Streets‘
story centers on rebellious, teenage street dancer Andie (Briana
Evigan, above right), a Baltimore-bred orphan on the brink of being sent by her
deceased mother’s friend to live with her aunt in Texas — a fate
akin to permanent exile. Given the opportunity of an audition at the
prestigious but achingly proper Maryland School of the Arts, the
street-wise Andie improbably wins a spot. Her unique talent, as well
as her attractiveness, catches the attention of the school’s hottest
dancer and reigning big man on campus, Chase (Robert Hoffman, above left), whose
older brother Blake (Will Kemp), a legendary ballet performer in his
own right, has returned to lead the school and oversee its artistic
re-shaping. Andie is caught up between two worlds, and the different
rules and expectations that go with each. So when her old friends
abandon her, she joins forces with Chase and a new posse of classmate
outcasts and unconventional types to form a crew to compete in
Baltimore’s big underground dance battle, The Streets.
One of the movie’s great successes is
the sense of scale apportioned its conflicts. Like, interestingly enough, Curtis Hanson’s 8
Mile, Step Up 2 the Streets assays urban tension
and class/race conflict without needlessly getting into gunplay and
all the distasteful and/or stereotypically overwrought chest-thumping
that often stems from that. Just as that former film — a slightly
re-contextualized biopic about rapper Eminem’s rise from gritty
Detroit — featured fisticuffs and a scene with paintball guns which
served to define the ceiling of acceptable violence within the
characters’ world, so too does Step Up 2 the Streets. When
Chase and Andie’s new crew crosses her old gang with a prank they
post on the Internet, retribution takes the form of vandalism, a
“simple” but brief assault by fist and, inevitably,
feverish dancing competition, all in equal measure. This careful
modulation lends credence to the notion of dance as an expression of
(adolescent, not just underclass) frustration, an important
underpinning of the story.
Step Up 2 the Streets is the
feature directorial debut of USC Film School graduate Jon Chu, and he
locates the exuberance and thrill of personal expression in capturing
its dance sequences. If there’s a knock, it’s that several of these
dance-feud and performance set pieces — particularly a climactic
group showcase that moves from a crowded, warehouse-style dance club
outdoors, into the rain — come across as too tightly choreographed
to be truly improvised, and thus undercut some of the loose-limbed
energy present in other sequences.
A lot of the screenplay’s dialogue, by
writers Tori Ann Johnson and Karen Barna, is of the boilerplate
variety, but the cast evidences a warm rapport that masks much of its
awkwardness. Both Evigan and Hoffman, in particular, make strong,
winning impressions. It certainly helps that Chu places an obvious
value on low-key, natural charm. By allowing the characters’
personalities to come forward a bit more incrementally than usual for
such teen-pitched product, one’s identification with their plights,
respective and shared, evolves more naturally.
Housed in a regular Amray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, the special “Dance-Off” edition of Step Up 2 the Streets is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with French, Spanish and English Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio tracks. Eight deleted scenes run a total of 21 minutes, and include introductions by Chu; the most notable addition here is an extended subplot involving an argument between Andie and Moose (Adam Sevani), who tries to protect her from Chase. A nice 12-minute-plus making-of featurette charts Chu’s first-day drive to the set, and includes interviews with his parents (!) and snippets from home movies he made as a kid; executive producer David Nicksay, meanwhile, talks up his Chu’s energy, and says he’s frequently out there mixing it up with the dancers. There’s also a five-minute featurette on the “410” dance crew that comprise some of the bit players and extras, as well as a number of music videos, including for Flo Rida and T-Pain’s smash hit “Low,” featured prominently in the movie. Most amusing, though, is a two-minute prank video in which Hoffman and some colleagues go into a convenience store, freeze in the middle of a purchase, and then start to dance, freaking out the befuddled clerk. B+ (Movie) B (Disc)
Public approval of Congress may be at shoestring levels, but the House
Republican Conference has found at least one way to boost morale among
members — give them “spirit awards” for actually speaking on the floor. Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, vice chairwoman of the Republican caucus, organized an
awards ceremony last week to honor members who expelled the most CO2 on
the subject of energy; each of the seven honorees received a commemorative oil can.
“It’s not a quart; it was like collectors’ memorabilia,” said an
impressed Rep. Joe Wilson, of South Carolina, who was not among last week’s winners. Those who
were: Georgia Reps. Phil Gingrey, Lynn A. Westmoreland and Tom Price;
Indiana Rep. Dan Burton; North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx; Ohio Rep.
Bob Latta; and Pennsylvania Rep. John E. Peterson. “I’ve never won an oil can before,” said Westmoreland. “It’s on my desk, absolutely.” Still, the practice has some Republicans scratching their heads. “The idea that people who are in the House of Representatives need to
give each other awards for talking bullshit, and that’s really what it
is,” one Republican member said before he trailed off in disbelief.
“What kind of a party is that?” For the full read, from Politico, click here.
With increasing frequency, Hollywood studio publicists are asked to oversee convoluted games of keep-away.
These muddied-water campaigns of containment are designed to squeeze as
many dollars as possible from first-weekend moviegoers by nixing
advance screenings for critics and thereby delaying the collateral
damage. This past March, a couple of movies shrouded in mystery were the Weinstein Company’s comedy spoof Superhero Movie and 20th Century Fox’s Asian-flavored horror flick Shutter. Both are new to DVD this month, with respective July 8 and July 15 release dates, and the question that arises (besides perhaps, “Are you
desperate enough to rent either one of these titles?”) is, “Did the end-around on critics work?” The answer, in a word, is yes. Both
films opened in the $10 million range and went on to total domestic
grosses of just under $26 million — not bad for a couple of PG-13 rated
titles that cost next to nothing to make and even less to market. On DVD, Superhero Movie and Shutter are the kinds of
movies with front cover artwork that bypasses the glowing review from a
major (or even minor) critic in favor of big-letter “EXTENDED EDITION”
and “UNRATED” proclamations above the title, and a reminder of the
makers’ previous credits down below. Essentially, it’s all about dangling more
craptastic product in front of hungry genre fans, never mind any nuance or the individual merits of a film. For the full read on this phenomeon as it applies to these flicks, from FilmStew, click here.
Small business owner Wade Porter (Stephen Dorff) lives a modest life with his fiancée Laura (Marisol Nichols) and their three-year-old son. Everything changes in an instant, though, when he’s convicted of killing a man who breaks into his home. Sentenced to state prison, Wade ends up in a hellish facility overseen by a guard (Harold Perrineau) who encourages gladiatorial fights among the inmates. Though wanting to neither “fight or fornicate” (the two delightful options given by one inmate, in slightly saltier terms), Wade eventually yields to the former activity, in a paradoxical attempt to protect himself. When trouble mounts, his new cell-mate, John Smith, (Val Kilmer), a burly, goateed “lifer” with his own dark devastation, provides important guidance, all while ruminatively stroking his own tattoos.
Shot on location in New Mexico State Penitentiary, in hand-held, super-confessional close-up, and on color-saturated Super16 blown up to 35mm, Felon doesn’t have much of revelatory value to say about the nature of violence — indeed, its closing narration seems to endorse whatever-you-gotta-do means. The flimsy, cardboard-thin set-up is meant to only get Wade into prison (he cops to a murder charge since the fleeing culprit was technically no longer on his property?), and the setting is meant to only serve as an excuse for heavily tatted muscle-heads to use gang slang, prison acronyms and flip each other around in gritty, bare-knuckle fashion. See how that works? Still, in this regard, writer-director Ric Roman Waugh’s heavy background in stuntwork certainly pays off, as Felon, with its many boxers-and-sneakers brawls, rivals Eastern Promises in padding-free fisticuffs.
The chief problem is that, despite invested performances by Dorff and Kilmer, and after going to significant lengths to both establish a sense of claustrophobic realism and depict Wade as being punished by an unjust system, for not wanting to stoop to its calibrated levels of further dehumanization, Waugh chucks all this for a contrived, mad-dash finale that requires his protagonist bash in the brains of an “innocent” (a relative term here, I realize) guy to get the proper attention of higher-ups, and secure his release. Part cop-out, part simply bizarre, seemingly concessional flourish, it’s a weird ending for a film that otherwise decently captures the grimness of prison life, and how it corrodes even those ostensibly in charge. One hopes, at least, the stuntmen were well compensated. To view the film’s trailer, click here. (Stage 6 Films, R, 104 minutes)
The remake of a same-named 2004 Thai film, enervated horror flick Shutter
tells the story of a young American couple vacationing in
Japan who cope with a vengeful ghost and try to unravel the mystery of
a woman they may or may not have hit with their car. Listless
performances, overly familiar visual iconography and unimaginative
set-ups render the movie worthy of nothing more than a shrug — even from the less demanding under-15 set for which it was chiefly designed.
Following their wedding, Jane (Rachael Taylor) and Ben Shaw (former Dawson’s Creek star Joshua Jackson, investing wholeheartedly in exactly
one emotion for each scene, and otherwise just letting his stubble shade
the characterization) head straight to Japan, their honeymoon doubling as a work
assignment for Ben, a fashion photographer. En route to Tokyo by car at
night, the pair suffer an accident on a snowy back road; Jane insists
they struck a woman. Plagued by both unnerving visions and spectral
distortions in photographs they’ve taken, Jane and Ben deduce the woman
to be Megumi (Megumi Okina, above right), a translator and former needy girlfriend
of Ben’s from a previous work stint in the country. More havoc ensues,
and Jane, already a bit grabby and needy, begins to wonder if Ben is
telling the full truth about the extent of his relationship with Megumi.
For a fleeting moment or two early on, Japanese director Masayuki
Ochiai (Infection) seems committed to at least crafting a movie with a
definitive sense of style, but a small handful of in-frame effects and
interesting compositions quickly give way to pedestrian framing and
desultory jump-scares. That the film’s signature moments of dread and shock come via another
pale-faced, wet, dark-haired girl — a figure of menace already roundly
skewered by the Scary Movie series, among others — is perhaps
unfortunate, but not an insurmountable impediment to tension. The
sociocultural isolation of the setting could be used to the story’s
advantage, to feed especially Jane’s sense of unease and
discombobulation. Instead, though, Luke Dawson’s script offers up lame set-ups (visits to
a psychic investigator and Megumi’s house) and perfunctory dialogue
that requires Jackson’s character shift back and forth in sympathy to
his new wife. As such, even the nominal twist in the film’s final third
feels tacked on, and silly.
Housed in a regular Amray case, Shutter comes presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, preserving the aspect ratio of its original theatrical presentation, along with Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio tracks in English, Spanish and French, and optional subtitles in English and Spanish. Kicking off a decent slate of supplemental material is an audio commentary track with Taylor, screenwriter Dawson and production executive Alex Sundell. Next up are nearly a dozen deleted and/or alternate scenes, including one in which Jane transforms into Megumi, and an alternate ending set at a mental hospital.
An eight-minute featurette about the Japanese’s beliefs about reikons, or souls, includes interviews with all of the principal cast members, as well as producer Roy Lee and a spirit photography expert who explains that the cultural phenomenon is the “religious expression of a quest to explain something that cannot be explained.” A nine-minute featurette addresses the cultural divide, and challenges and benefits of shooting on location in Japan, with Dawson characterizing Tokyo as a bizarro-world version of New York City, and talking with awe about women in uniform vacuuming the subway. Separate interviews with Dawson (five minutes) and director Ochiai (nine minutes) are also included, as well as a pair of short featurettes on spirit photography — one of which features instruction on how to mock up your own doctored ghostly photo, using PhotoShop or a similar photo editing program. Previews for Pathology and a direct-to-video sequel to Joy Ride are also included. D (Movie) B+ (Disc)
So the second season of A&E’s The Two Coreys, assessing the cracked real-life friendship of frequent 1980s big screen costars Corey Feldman and Corey Haim (below left), is underway, and it’s somehow even more of a deliciously awful train wreck than the first go-round. I TiVoed a block of episodes this past weekend and powered through them over lunch one day, boiling out the snow and editing overlaps.
The result is a wince-inducing snapshot of how Hollywood excess puts fragile egos and relationships through the wringer. One of the more jaw-dropping moments comes early on, when a contrived, late-night, face-to-face meeting at a local deli, the first time the pair has seen each other in six months, turns into a game of laid-bare, accusatory/confessional one-upsmanship. Haim lets loose with the best rant, thusly: “You opening up to the world about me having a knife in my pocket, and the reason I wear this (indicating wristband) being to cover some scars I have because I used to cut into myself because it’s a way to feel — you just ripped the envelope, man. So I’ll go you one better. You let me get fucked around in my life, man, raped, so to speak, when I was about 14-and-a-half. And I’m saying this right now — by a guy you used to hang out with. What’d you do when you saw that shit going down and knew about it — besides being his best friend, what’d you do? What’d you do? Fuck all is what you did… lines of cocaine with me. God bless you!”
Rather naturally, one’s mind immediately leaps to Feldman’s very famous “best friend” at the time — singer Michael Jackson. Feldman, who turns 37 on Wednesday, July 16, says that it was his own personal assistant at the time who molested him, and that may well be true, but given sexual predators’ ability to hone in on people who have been previously victimized in their lives, all sorts of creepy questions linger.
The enmity and turbulence on display here is real, just as much as the depth of the original friendship, but of course some of the dressing is for purposes of self-serving pattycake, so Feldman and Haim agree to see a couples therapist together, to help them talk through some of their issues. Apart from learning that the married Feldman hosts poker nights with Matthew Nelson — half of the same-named, ’90s hair-metal-pop band — one also relatively easily gets the feeling that Feldman likes having someone in his life a couple stations beneath him. Perhaps subconsciously, perhaps not. It seems to serve as a measure of positive reinforcement for what he’s accomplished. The harsh truth is that one senses these guys could be sincere, lasting friends again, but never if Feldman were to somehow be “eclipsed” by Haim, either through the latter’s ascension or his own slippage.
Haim picks up on this, on a nonverbal, subconscious level, and it’s often the spark that sets off his powder keg of irrationality. The amount of pain and angsty energy coming off this guy is huuuge, and it warps his decision-making — or at least prevents him from seeing easily forecast possible consequences of his impulsive behavior, like buying an ad of self-touted comeback in Variety. The therapist prescribes Haim a bit of art therapy, and advises him to “paint the pain, not the anger,” the latter emotion of course being tied up in the career that he pissed away. Later episodes find Haim fumbling toward revelation and self-betterment (compiling a lengthy list of people to apologize to, he begins dictating to his assistant thusly: “Todd Bridges, Winona Ryder, Alyssa Milano, Nicole Eggert — just go ahead and put all my ex-girlfriends — Joel Schumacher… probably Richard Donner”), but there’s backsliding during the filming of a cameo in a sequel to Lost Boys, and it’s of the variety that doesn’t give one much immediate hope.
Self-medicating on prescribed anti-anxiety pills, Haim slurs his lines, screws up rehearsal and causes a scene on set. For a while he denies taking any drugs, then cops to having had an extra one the night before filming, to try to settle and center himself. It didn’t work, obviously. And so the shame spiral begins anew, sadly.
Yep, the band is getting back together. The principal players behind 2003’s School of Rock — director Richard Linklater, screenwriter Mike White and star Jack Black — are reuniting for a sequel, according to Variety. School of Rock 2: America Rocks will picks up with Black’s Dewey Finn leading a
group of summer school students on a cross-country field trip that
delves into the history of rock ‘n’ roll, exploring the roots of jazz,
blues, rap, country and other musical genres. How the first film — freewheeling, both fun and comfortably familiar, and, to a certain degree, family-friendly — failed to crack $100 million domestically is God’s private mystery, but Paramount will now have a second crack at screwing things up.
It doesn’t seem to matter that her movies attract shrugs of indifference like roosters attract junebugs — Kate Hudson has scored a major coup in securing a role in Nine, allegedly besting Sienna Miller and Anne Hathaway, among others, to win the role of Stephanie, a Vogue fashion journalist working in Italy, in director Rob Marshall’s new film.
Not to be confused with The Nines, the movie is an adaptation of the Tony Award-winning 1982 Broadway musical, adapted by Michael Tolkin (The Player) and the late Anthony Minghella, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, composer and lyricist for the original stage production. “We are thrilled that Kate Hudson is joining this group of some of the
most talented and creative actors in film, and it will be an incredible
experience for audiences to watch this cast work under the brilliant
direction of Rob Marshall,” said executive producer Harvey Weinstein in
a statement released today. “Inspired by one of cinema’s most profound
auteurs, Minghella’s dramatic writing and Marshall’s dynamic staging
will provide the actors with a daring opportunity to showcase their
Indeed, Hudson joins a host of Hollywood heavyweights, with Oscar winners Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman and Judi Dench all taking starring roles in the movie, inspired by Fellini’s classic 8 1/2. Described as a sultry and
enchanting musical about a famous film director struggling to find harmony amidst his tumultuous professional and personal lives, the film will star Day-Lewis as said famous director, Guido Contini; Cotillard as his wife, Luisa; Penelope Cruz as his sultry mistress, Carla; Kidman as his film star muse, Claudia Graham; Dench as Lily, his confidant and costume designer; and Sophia Loren as
his mother. The role of Saraghina, described as “the whore from Guido’s
youth,” is yet to be cast, so get those head shots in, ladies! Filming is scheduled to commence in the United Kingdom on October 10, with an expected awards-push release in late 2009.
Writer-director Guillermo del Toro‘s eye-popping, idiosyncratically flavored Hellboy II: The Golden Army owned the top spot at the box office this past weekend, ringing up $34.5 million, or 57 percent of its 2004 predecessor’s total domestic haul. Will Smith’s Hancock, which owned the box office over the July 4 weekend, came in a close second, with $32.1 million, and has now earned around $164.1
million since its sneak debut on the evening of July 1. Brendan Fraser’s Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D opened third, with $21 million. Meanwhile, Eddie Murphy‘s very quietly screened Meet Dave opened to $5.3 million, good for seventh place for the weekend.
Rounding out the top 10, placing fourth was Wall▪E ($18.8 million, $163.1 million overall), the latest collaboration from
Pixar/Disney; fifth was hyper-kinetic shoot-’em-up Wanted ($12 million, $112.5 million overall), starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman; sixth was Steve Carell‘s big screen action-comedy adaptation of Get Smart ($7.2 million, $111.6 million overall); eighth was animated family flick
Kung Fu Panda ($4.4 million, $202.2 overall); ninth was Universal’s Edward Norton-starring reboot of The Incredible Hulk ($2.3 million, $130 million overall); and tenth was Abigail Breslin‘s Kitt Kitredge: An American Girl ($2.3 million in its second weekend in release, $11 million overall). In limited release, Harold, starring Breslin’s older brother Spencer, opened on three screens to $10,578, while Garden Party opened on seven screens to around a single Andrew Jackson more than that tally.
So, his endorsement of John McCain notwithstanding, Arnold Schwarzenegger has indicated he would consider a position as energy czar in an administration of Barack Obama. When George Stephanopoulous asked Schwarzenegger about the idea on ABC’s This Week, and whether he would take Obama’s call, the California governor replied, “I would take his call now, I will take his
call when he’s president — any time. Remember, no matter who is
president, I don’t see this as a political thing. I see this as we
always have to help, no matter what the administration is.” Presumably his coronation would not involve a massive chain of fireballs… but maybe it would, I don’t know. For the full read, from Politico, click here.
I should probably stop mentioning nuts, lest someone get the wrong idea, but My Mom’s New Boyfriend is another one of those movies that summons forth ever-surging levels of exasperation, making you first kind of slap and claw at your face in Stooges-esque fashion, and then eventually want to punch its makers in the balls.
The chief offending party here is writer-director George Gallo, writer on Midnight Run and Code Name: The Cleaner, and producer on Senior Skip Day, most recently. For My Mom’s New Boyfriend he fashions an idiotic roundelay — part caper flick, part middle-aged romance, part wheel-spinning comedy of familial zaniness. Returning from three years on assignment, FBI field agent Henry Durand (Colin Hanks) finds an unexpected problem — it seems his single mother Marty (Meg Ryan) has undergone a radical physical transformation, losing a bunch of weight and developing a dating life of her own. Now, Henry finds himself fending off midnight serenades from lovelorn Italian chefs and watching helplessly as Marty hops on the back of a college dropout’s motorcycle, all of which is enough to almost drive him into therapy. Things get worse, though, when Marty begins dating Tommy (Antonio Banderas), the FBI’s number one suspect in an international art theft ring. Now, Henry, with fiancée Emily (Selma Blair) in tow, is forced to spy on his own mother to foil a sophisticated crime.
Seemingly operating under the philosophy that screen wipes somehow in and of themselves translate into entertainment, Gallo trots out slapstick-y, placeholder physical gags (Tommy and Marty meeting through an accident involving a remote-controlled airplane, Henry returning home and not initially recognizing his sunbathing mother) in lieu of anything approaching substantive conversation. Hanks and Blair aren’t believable in their jobs, mainly because they’re given dialogue that makes them sound like Dawson’s Creek extras. Marginal credit is dolled out for actually avoiding the seemingly inevitable scene where Marty doesn’t believe her son’s eventually laid-bare claims about Tommy, and exclaims, “How dare you!” Yet if Gallo takes the general conceit into less broadly farcical territory than expected (apart from the bit with Enrico Colantoni’s spurned lover serially bellowing on the yard outdoors at night, which is just stupid), there’s no corresponding depth here. Everything is as one expects it, and even the most air-quote serious conflicts are played pat, sunny and on-the-sleeve by all except Hanks (laboring to convey tight-assedness), which makes the film’s third-act plot twist less a revelation than just something else at which to be irked.
Also, the elephant in the room has to be addressed — the Meg Ryan we once knew and loved, the perky gal who effortlessly conveyed the perfect balance of sexiness and cuteness, is long gone, like a turkey in the corn. The plasticized creature that we’re left with (above) is an unrecognizable commodity — phony and unnerving, driven by tics and a seemingly crippling lack of self-esteem. The narrative parallels about personal transformation here certainly don’t help matters, drawing attention to both her looks and the erosion of her carefree charm. Every act now is seemingly mimeographed and choreographed.
Housed in a regular Amray case, My Mom’s New Boyfriend is presented in the viewers’ choice of 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen or 1.33:1 full screen, with matching French and English language Dolby digital 5.1 audio tracks, and optional English, French, Spanish and Chinese subtitles. Apart from previews for Kabluey, Jessica Simpson’s Blonde Ambition, The Other Boleyn Girl, Prom Night and The Boondocks (a weird collection, really), the only supplemental bonus features are a 10-minute making-of featurette — in which Gallo compares his movie to a classic screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, and says that there are “a lot of Blake Edwards bits” in the film — and a clutch of eight deleted scenes running 10 minutes in total, including (sigh) more Colantoni yard-sobbing. For a clip from the film, click here. D (Movie) C- (Disc)
Given that this is the summer of cross-pollinated comic book spin-offs and foreshadowing, with Nick Fury popping up in Iron Man and Tony Stark in The Incredible Hulk, clearly Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy is being set up for his own superhero franchise, what with his cameo in The Dark Knight. For the full read, from New York Magazine‘s Vulture, click here.