He’s already teaming up with Werner Herzog for a remake of Abel Ferrera’s dark, druggy, schlong-baring Bad Lieutenant, but Nicolas Cage may also be joining forces with director John Carpenter to explore life behind bars. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the pair are in final negotiations to team up for a prison thriller titled Scared Straight, produced by Avi Lerner and others. The movie centers around a delinquent teenager who’s sent to prison for a short period of time as part of the same-named crime-prevention program, which angles to deter wrong-track kids from a life of crime. While the teen is there, a riot breaks out and prisoners take him hostage. A lifer, to be played by Cage, is forced to help the young man out. Let’s hope the title reaches and applies to this guy, too.
Conspiracy, which certainly wouldn’t please John McCain as an emblematic filmic greeting card for his home state of Arizona, is the latest movie in a new trend — straight-to-video works of formerly bankable (or at least consistently employable) leading men stars. The top-liner here is Val Kilmer, who gives his thousand-yard stare a workout as a stoic former Marine who helps bring justice to a small, burgeoning border town. A Walking Tall-type story co-penned by Debra Sullivan and director Adam Marcus, the movie doesn’t necessarily score very high for originality, and neither do the dusty, budgetary constraints work much in its favor. Still, Marcus elicits good work from his cast, and for the most part resists pressing and pulling all the story levers with too much force.
The story centers around “Spooky” MacPherson (Kilmer), a broken ex-military man who worked as an embedded contractor in Iraq. After he’s wounded during combat, MacPherson reluctantly agrees to join a fellow soldier, Miguel Silva (Greg Serano), in Arizona, and help him get his ranch in small, up-and-coming New Lago in shape. But when MacPherson arrives, his friend has mysteriously disappeared, and no one will admit to even knowing him. When he discovers that a corporation named Halicorp (yep, very subtle) is running illegal aliens out of town by any means possible, MacPherson becomes determined to find out the truth, and he will not be stopped until all those involved are punished.
As John Rhodes, a self-styled patriot-businessman loosely in the mold of real-life Blackwater founder Erik Prince, Gary Cole displays some fine ambling and unctuousness; he hits just all the right loathsome notes as the white-collar sleazeball that gives this movie its good-ol’-boy heart of darkness. Jennifer Esposito’s single mother, Joanna Hollis, is more problematic — shoehorned in to provide an awkward love interest (she’s reluctantly dating Rhodes, but of course finds MacPherson’s quiet nobility a huge turn-on), she’s an idea, not a realistic, fully dimensional character. Much of Conspiracy‘s intrigue lies in its first half to two-thirds, in the slow-played set-up. Once its trigger-wire is tripped, and shotgun-style revenge comes into play, it’s a lot less interesting. Still, there’s no denying that the setting and sociopolitical content of the movie reflect an undeniably modern anxiety about security, family and community in an increasingly diverse (read: “browning”) America, and for that reason, as much as Kilmer’s dispassionate glare, Conspiracy mostly holds one’s interest.
Housed in a regular Amray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, Conspiracy is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a decently crisp transfer free from grain or edge enhancement. Apart from bonus trailers for other Sony releases, there are unfortunately no other special features. What?! I thought for sure there would at least be a detailed explanation of how the writers came up with the name Halicorp. To purchase the DVD, via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) D (Disc)
John McCain has concluded a strange week of brush-back pitches against Barack Obama, dropping three different attack ads, each seemingly designed to scare up as much mainstream news coverage as anything else. The first, a blistering rebuke of Obama for failing to visit wounded troops at Landstuhl Air Force base during the return from his European swing, is undercut by, you know, a lack of facts on the ground.
The second ad — a weird poke at Obama’s celebrity, visually comparing him to both Paris Hilton (whose parents, ironically, are max-donors to the McCain campaign) and Britney Spears, i.e., “an empty vessel” — seems to suggest it’s a bad idea to support an American leader who might also be able to capture the imagination of anyone overseas. (Picking up on this assault on optimism, advocacy group MoveOn.org responded with an ad buy of their own, directed by actor Rider Strong, which mockingly presented hope as a communicable disease.)
Upping the strangeness quotient even further, McCain’s latest ad, titled “The One,” features out-of-context clips of Obama talking up his campaign as part of a movement greater than him, and then closes with a comparison to Charlton Heston’s Moses from The Ten Commandments, ceding, “Obama may be ‘The One,’ but is he ready to lead?”
To me, this isn’t so much a “kitchen sink strategy” as it is the farcical, kids movie version of this scheme, where plastic toys, sofa cushions and a blanket are thrown at a rampaging sibling in an effort to slow his or her momentum. The first ad was a bit scummy (though still fairly mild by the Karl Rove-ian standards of recent electoral politics), but mainly it’s just stupid; this belies the claims of high-road, issues-oriented outreach, and kind of underscores the arm’s-length disdain and condescension with which the McCain campaign has treated the Obama campaign. I know this, though: Treating hope as a piñata, and mocking or questioning as somehow insincere or dubious the optimism and sort of desperate desire to reconnect and repair that a lot of people — many of whom haven’t given two shits about a national political election in decades, if their lifetimes — feel is on a very basic level a bit despicable, and probably a bad political play, too. I know they’re running behind and don’t have the advantage of many intangibles, but this tack didn’t work out very well for Hillary Clinton, in case the McCain camp didn’t notice.
On August 7, 1974, a wiry, 24-year-old Frenchman named Philippe Petit climbed out on a cable extended between the as-yet-unfinished, 110-story World Trade Center towers, 1350 feet above the ground. With no harness or safety net, he pranced about for 45 minutes, crossing back and forth across the chasm eight times, even pausing to lie down on the wire and feign a nap.
In chronicling this audacious sociological art prank, the thrillingly engaging documentary Man on Wire pulses with the brio and whimsical bravado of misspent-weekend adolescence, when outrageous things were attempted “just because.” Powered by Petit’s sly charm — a strange, mischievous mixture of caginess and circus clown showmanship — the movie has the spirit and soul of a noir-soaked, flashback thriller, in which much is already given, and the roughly five percent mystery is chewed over in tantalizing fashion.
Director James Marsh — an eclectic filmmaker who’s given audiences both the trippy, non-fiction Wisconsin Death Trip and The King, a Southwestern American pastoral of dormant menace, starring Gael Garcia Bernal — interweaves dramatic reenactments with both amazing home video footage from the era and present-day interviews. Even these latter bits aren’t straightforward, though; a high emphasis is placed on image (a la Errol Morris‘ moody, artistic recreations), and even the recruited crew member who flees the scene has a theatrical recounting of Petit’s feat.
Winner of both the Audience Award and Grand Jury documentary prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Man on Wire (not to be confused with Man on Fire) is structured like a heist film, and that to a certain degree we know the outcome — because here’s Petit talking to us, quite alive — paradoxically only colors and deepens the experience. The scene set, a bit of early biography gives way to an introduction to all the players, and several of Petit’s other feats of high-wire derring-do, like walks between towers at the Notre Dame Cathedral and Sydney Harbor Bridge. In New York, Petit and a few acquaintances — one good friend, really, and a haphazardly recruited bunch of pot-smoking loafers — began conducting reconnaissance and surveillance work that would of course these days be taken as terrorist advance scouting. Figuring out a way to game the site’s security measures was only the beginning, though; there were also mathematical calculations to account for wind variables, for which exacting replica models helped.
With these and all sorts of other outrageous details, Man on Wire‘s tale somehow becomes even more jaw-droppingly unlikely. Forget about the act itself. Between the years-spanning research, hiding quietly from guards for hours on end, and using a bow and arrow to launch a mono-filament wire across the 200-foot chasm between buildings, so that the cable could then be reeled across… well, it’s downright tiring, and makes you appreciate the view from the ground even more. For more information, click here. (Magnolia, unrated, 94 minutes)