Ali Larter turns 33 today, and across the nation Cool Whip enthusiasts celebrate, in commemorative fashion…
Rife with its own rich backstory, including a complicated development history and copyright infringement lawsuit involving several Hollywood heavy hitters, Zack Snyder’s sprawling adaptation of the ground-breaking 1986 graphic novel Watchmen arrives in theaters with perhaps the loudest buzz of any spring release. A vividly re-imagined Cold War-era drama about a group of former masked crimefighters grappling with intrigue against a backdrop of the soured American dream, the film is an instructive lesson on the perils of overstuffed big screen translation. A thematic Whitman’s sampler that fitfully touches on a variety of complex issues, but never entirely satisfyingly so, Watchmen is shockingly devoid of natural narrative pull — a beautifully constructed rocket that never gets off the ground.
Nevertheless, the rabid, sizeable fan base for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ respected, award-winning graphic novel, combined with the boutique allure of IMAX presentations should guarantee Watchmen a successful theatrical run, with steady repeat business among its core demographic. Snyder’s ultra-violent, hyper-stylized 300 was a worldwide smash, grossing more than $450 million, and given his nascent cachet and the source material’s pedigree, it’s hard to fathom another R-rated film in 2009 with more of a primed, built-in audience.
A lot of what made Watchmen a landmark achievement in the comic book realm — its imaginative density, philosophical grappling and embrace of different modes of storytelling, including faux primary documents — helps make the film feel bloated and unfocused. David Hayter and Alex Tse’s script seems faithful to a degree that handcuffs any substantive exploration of the chief narrative dilemmas, and the curious result is an exercise in tension-free antics and alt-noir styling. The film’s performances are also uneven. Billy Crudup, working mostly through a flattened voice, wonderfully conveys the melancholic nature of his character, while Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach (above), an unchained id, gives Watchmen a growling, vengeful heart of darkness. Malin Akerman and Patrick Wilson, however, fail to register — problematic since their characters share a love story — while Matthew Goode comes across as too arch. For the full review, from Screen International, click here. (Warner Bros., R, 162 minutes)
In the spring of 1997, a beer slinger/bouncer named Troy Duffy hit the aspirant-filmmaker lottery when he sold his gritty screenplay, The Boondock Saints, for $300,000 to Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein, who promptly attached Duffy to direct, agreed to let his band do the soundtrack and, as a goodwill bonus, even offered to buy and throw in co-ownership of the Melrose Avenue bar where Duffy worked. If Schwab’s was the old symbol of Tinseltown discovery, this was a radical new overhaul for the post-Tarantino age of underclass, videostore-fed auteurism.
Cutto a couple years later. After enduring months of Duffy’s boorish, bizarre behavior, and all manner of contretemps over casting and budget, Miramax put the film — about two avenging angel Irish brothers and the Latin they intone before blasting various criminal-types in the head — into turnaround, and dumped it back into the marketplace, mortally wounded in reputation. It would eventually get made on a relative shoestring budget, suffer an ignominious, deservedly bashed New York/Los Angeles theatrical release and find on video a small, drunken audience addicted to a surfeit of late ’90s, indie-style crime flick posturing. All of which brings us to the special new Blu-ray release of The Boondock Saints, ostensibly prelude to a not-nearly-long-enough-awaited (direct-to-video?) sequel.
The story centers on Murphy and Connor MacManus (Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery, respectively, left to right), blue-collar Irish twin brothers who work in a Boston meat-packing plant and experience a religious awakening that leads them to believe they’ve been chosen to rid the world of evil. No, not with good works, mind you — this is a movie! — but with bullets, of course. As they unleash a brutal stream of retribution on various tubby, Russian underworld criminals, FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe), leading the investigation into the assailants behind these bloody murders, comes closer and closer to cracking the case. Surprisingly, Smecker finds himself torn between busting the vigilantes and joining them.
An orgiastic assemblage of genre clichés you’ve seen hundreds of times before, from balletic gun shoot-outs and slow-mo deaths to block-headed, epithet-fueled dialogue exchanges, The Boondock Saints does score some minor points for making Smecker gay, an interesting character choice that sets him apart from most lawman-types in movies of this ilk. But its story is a bunch of blarney, and its rendering both garish and amateurish. Some films develop a cult following based on their actual inherent appeal and the skill with which they’re crafted; other films are labeled “cult hits” because they tap into the aspirant impulses of the lowest-common-denominator crowd to which they cater. The Boondock Saints is an instance of the latter.
The film comes to Blu-ray in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen 1080p, with an English language DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track, and optional English and Spanish subtitles. Both the movie’s theatrical cut and its unrated director’s cut — really amounting to a handful of frames of excised violence, nothing radically different in terms of story content or even overall tone — are included here, and the pictures on each offer up strong colors, free from artifacting or any edge enhancement.
The rest of the content is imported from the title’s special edition director’s cut release. Most notable, of course, is an audio commentary track from Duffy that is at times borderline contrite, but also willfully abstruse when it comes to specifics about the project’s fall from grace. Hardcore devotees of the title may find tidbits about the haphazardness of the movie’s set detail and construction interesting, but Hollywood rumor junkies will feel largely unfulfilled by this track. Duffy can be amusing, as when wryly recalling a two-page letter from the archdiocese of Toronto calling him “the spawn of Satan,” but he showcases his functional unawareness of production savvy when confessing first choices for various musical cues came from the Beatles, the Doors and Led Zeppelin, and then expressing surprise at their cost. He’s also amazingly myopic; Duffy still blames the Columbine shootout for scuttling the movie’s chances at a wider distribution pick-up, and claims it was “literally blacklisted” from American screens, like it was some sort of international smash. Co-star Billy Connolly, who plays enigmatic assassin Il Duce, also sits for a separate audio commentary track, but his remarks deteriorate rather quickly into generalized observations about low-budget, independent filmmaking. A clutch of deleted scenes runs just under 15 minutes, and a small batch of outtakes and the original theatrical trailer round things out. The disc is also D-box motion control capable, for those interested. To purchase the Blu-ray via Amazon, click here. D (Movie) B+ (Disc)
The awkward, morning-after realities of a one-night stand get dragged out into the light of day in writer-director Barry Jenkins’ quiet, festival-circuit tone poem, a shoegazing arthouse romance marked by naturalistic performances and a commitment to the beauty, tenderness and on-tenterhooks hope of everyday reality.
First-time feature director Jenkins’ fresh, breezily compelling reverse-romance — shot in gorgeously muted fashion, with only the faintest, intermittant whiffs of color — follows two San Francisco African-American twentysomethings, Micah (Wyatt Cenac, a fellow correspondent of Aasif Mandvi on The Daily Show) and Jo (Tracey Heggins), who slowly become reacquainted the day after they drunkenly meet at a party and have an uncomfortable one-night stand. As they ride bicycles around “the city by the bay,” flirtingly arguing about whether blacks go to museums, or the term “mixed-race” really can adequately describe an indie rock scene that they remain forever on the fringe of, the young couple waver between friendship and romance — the uncomfortable reality of Jo’s out-of-town boyfriend always lurking in the background.
With the movie, Jenkins has been rightly tapped as a talent to watch, named one of Filmmaker Magazine‘s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. It’s easy to see why, since his film has a keen sense of place, a naturalistic blend of character and plot and an unhurried pace. In fact, the first three minutes unfold without any dialogue, and the character to break the reverie is never to be seen again, lending credence to the notion that these characters would perhaps prefer to each slink away, or, even later, shift no higher conversationally than third gear.
Although they’re really otherwise very little alike, Medicine for Melancholy shares the same fetishistic celebration of place that also characterized Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It. It’s drained of Lee’s film’s verve and willful eagerness to please, however; like David Gordon Green’s hypnotic and affecting debut film, George Washington, Jenkins’ movie is very much at once about both the inner struggles of its characters and the complicated relationship that they have with the city in which they live.
It’d be a bit glib, though not entirely inaccurate, to label the movie Garden State West, powered as it is by emo-style noodling. It’s not “heavy,” really, though discussions of gentrification and racial identity do make their way into the mix. And the movie isn’t funny, per se, either, but it allows for small, telling flashes of personality, as when Micah boasts of winning a “Cosbetition, part chili cook-off, part Bill Cosby impersonation competition.” In short, Medicine for Melancholy is a low-yield, very humanistic film. All told, there could stand to be a bit more meat on the bone here, either in the form of pressing intellectual, give-and-take engagement, or more immediate outside conflict. But Jenkins proves himself a master of middle-ground uncertainty, bringing to mind a lyric from Dashboard Confessional’s “Vindicated” — “Hope dangles on a string/Like slow-spinning redemption/Winding in and winding out/The shine of it has caught my eye.” For the trailer and more information on the film, click here. (IFC Films, unrated, 88 minutes)
Don’t know what it is, but title renderings which invoke waxing/waning/eclipsed heavenly bodies as a substitute for the letter “O” just turn me off, in gut level fashion. It’s not awe-invoking or intriguing anymore, if it ever was. It feels cheap or desperate, especially for a movie not actually set in outer space. There was some TV series/project not too long ago which played the same card as the poster for Knowing, and I immediately lost all interest. Also, it may just be the taint of Andrew Niccol’s Simone, which dropped a bunch of 1s and 0s in its title and advertising campaign, but I can do without the numeral as well. Mainly, though, it’s that eclipse that has me inwardly sighing.
After sinking its teeth into a successful first season, Liberation Entertainment is set to release the complete second season of The Lair, the gay vampire spin-off of Dante’s Cove, and a staple of the evening line-up on here!, America’s premium gay cable television network.
Combining the horror, vampire and GLBT genres with just the right balance of camp, The Lair is created, written and directed by Fred Olen Ray, the
schlockmeister behind such cult films as Bad Girls from Mars and
Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. The show centers around a haven created by a sexy pack of vampires as an erotic playspace to satisfy their desires for the finest flesh. Naturally, being gay vampires, they don’t always play so nice, so the Lair is now the stage of a frenzied battle for total domination. Featuring heated performances by Peter Stickles, (Shortbus), Dylan Vox and Colton Ford (Naked Fame), the second season of The Lair is billed as laying bare the boundaries between pleasure and pain, with more masculine grinding and even deeper bite.
Available on DVD this week, The Lair: The Complete Second Season features over two hours of bloodsucking additional content in a two-disc widescreen set. Special features include a behind-the-scenes featurette, actors’ commentary and a special, very shirt-challenged photo gallery. For more information, click here.
Clearly the makers of Duplicity got some sort of sunglasses endorsement deal. Hey, I don’t judge… it’s a hard-knock economy, and look what it did for Ray Bans, and their Wayfarers. Hell, Don Henley probably still gets a free annual pair of the latter, if he still has any assistants worth their weight in wrangled goodies.
The third installment in the ongoing Donald Strachey franchise, starring Chad Allen as a gay private investigator, hits DVD this week in the form of On the Other Hand, Death, co-starring Margot Kidder.
Directed by Emmy nominee Ron Oliver, On the Other Hand, Death begins with Dorothy Fisher (Kidder) and Edith Strong (Gabrielle Rose) asleep in each other’s arms on the second floor of their long-time farmhouse. Downstairs, a shadowy figure breaks through the glass door. When Edith goes to investigate the noise, she discovers hateful graffiti sprawled across the walls: “dykes go home.” After speaking with the neighbors, Donald discovers that Dorothy and Edith recently rejected a developer’s over-priced bid for their property. Everyone else in the neighborhood wanted desperately to sell their houses (though in this economy, I’m not sure who’s buying), and Edith would have sold as well, but Dorothy wanted to keep her home of nearly 40 years rather than merely make money for corporate profit.
As professional things heat up with regards to such hate crimes, and similar difficulties faced by the LGBT community, personal matters also get complicated when Donald’s partner Tim (Sebastian Spence) gets a surprise visit from his sexy and charming ex-boyfriend Andrew (Damon Runyan), who also happens to be a good friend of Dorothy. Andrew makes a pass at Donald, and challenges Donald’s loyalty to Tim. Andrew’s very presence thus puts the pair’s commitment to the test.
On the Other Hand, Death is presented in 16×9 widescreen, with Dolby digital 2.0 stereo and Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio tracks. For more information on the film, click here; to purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here.
Kevin Pollak has discovered Twitter and YouTube, and the world may never be the same…
Michel Gondry is in final negotiations to jump into the director’s chair for The Green Hornet, according to a Sony Pictures Twitter update from several hours ago. Good times… I’ll have to ask him about it when I interview him later this week. It’d certainly be his most outwardly commercial cinematic leap to date, and if they give him carte blanche on the visuals it could prove interesting.
His big screen studio debut, Superbad, made huge bank, but anyone who ever saw Greg Mottola’s The Daytrippers can attest to his skill with less broadly observed humiliation, and this spring’s Adventureland marks his return to auteurish roots — his first writing credit since his 1996 debut. The trailer is up online, and color me pleasantly engaged, and leaning forward a bit, for now.
detest have a negative gut reaction to star Jesse Eisenberg in ways that I can’t fully explain — it’s just something about his face — but his presence alone hasn’t, in the past, stopped me from enjoying movies he’s been in, and I acknowledge that he’s not without good shoegazing, dweeby wallflower comic timing. Kristen Stewart is a sweetheart, and just the right sort of fit for this type of film, especially before multiple Twilight sequels forces her into more yawning, conventional films, roles, clothes, attitudes, etcetera. Having Ryan Reynolds on board for some disapproving-mentor-comedy certainly doesn’t hurt either, and SNL-ers Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig look to actually have somewhat fleshed out characters to play around with, which must come as a joint relief to them as they serve their mandatory five- to seven-year big screen apprenticeships.
It works because we’ve all had shitty jobs that we felt a bit too big for, and the period detail, if maybe a bit twee and Juno-ish, looks faithfully of a piece, and also because so much of the comedy seems rooted in circumstance, and reality — the notion of saving up five-minute bathroom breaks, for instance. And don’t diss the hurled corndog. As someone who once had a taco thrown at them, I can tell you that food-based assaults are more common than you might think. Adventureland opens March 27, from Miramax.
Hopelessly busy today, so not really any time for any sort of in-depth Oscar analysis. I think it’s obvious, though, that Hugh Jackman ruled; he emceed with grace and charm, and presided over some nice song-and-dance bits. And the five-for-the-price-of-one introductions for the acting nominees was inspired — a cool touch. It’d be interesting to see that extended to the screenwriting and directing categories at some point down the line. Also, Kate Winslet’s terribly myopic Best Actress victory for The Reader was totally preordained, of course, but AMPAS voters’ selection of the beautifully shot but ploddingly obvious Toyland as the best live action short film only underscored the hard-boiled truth of the joke about how they’re such unremitting suckers for anything Holocaust-themed; Toyland was without a doubt the least interesting of the five finalists.
From 2000 to 2002, Christopher Titus had a brief cup of coffee at the network level as the producer-star of his own eponymous sitcom, based on his dysfunctional adolescence. But Titus the show didn’t fully showcase the comedian’s fierce, if demon-derived talents. Instead, that’s best left to his all-new Comedy Central stand-up special, Love is Evol, new to DVD this week.
A tour de force on all things love, Love is Evol is a hilarious and unflinching look at dating, romance, marriage and especially heartache and divorce — the “psychological barbed wire” of relationships. Building on the same sort of very personal material explored in 2004’s Norman Rockwell is Bleeding and 2007’s The 5th Annual End of the World Tour specials, Titus plumbs dark places for some genuine, slack-jawed laughs, without the gimmickry of empty shock through manufactured coarseness. There’s a lot of material about his parents — his father was an emotionally abusive heavy drinker, his mother a manic-depressive schizophrenic alcoholic who eventually killed her second husband, but also showed up at her son’s high school graduation in “white, thigh-high go-go boots and an Army jacket, looking like the commander of a stripper battalion.” Titus confesses that this tumultuous upbringing has resulted in a permanent mocking inner monologue, a feeling of always being one step away from screwing things up.
He doesn’t shy away from also turning the fire on his ex-wife, though. While Titus assays the process of divorce harshly (“I’d rather be majority stockholder in a chain of Alec Baldwin daycares with Britney Spears as the CEO”), he argues that the June 6, 2006 filing date of the end of his marriage was an ironic gift from God. If your loved one comes from a screwed up family background but you think they got out sane, think again, Titus advises — they’re more likely just “a psycho Tylenol gelcap.” Jealousy seems to have been a big issue in Titus’ marriage — he claims he was accused of sleeping with people he hadn’t even met — so that issue gets plenty of workout. In broader, slightly less personal, or at least less psychologically penetrating, areas of focus Titus also advises against Capri pants for ladies, and says that women can believe a man really loves them if he goes to the mall with them. “At the mall,” Titus says, “men are always thinking, ‘I wish I was doing something productive — like cleaning out the gutter, coming up with life goals or inventing a car that runs on shattered dreams and lost faith in myself.'”
While the hard-hitting personal material may on the surface seem an odd match with some of the more generally observant comedy that rounds out the last leg of the show, Titus finds smart ways to interweave the two. It helps, too, that he’s not afraid to tag the harshest of his jokes with small, puncturing laughs of self-evisceration, making his own foibles and perceived inadequacies always part of the punchline. It’s this tack — the never vain, shrewdly perceptive ability to mine truth from personal angst — that helps elevate Titus’ material from merely funny to both amusing and painfully insightful, in its best passages.
Housed in a regular Amaray case, Christopher Titus: Love is Evol comes to DVD on a single disc, presented in full screen. Bonus materials include over 40 minutes of material not aired from the show’s Valentine’s Day premiere on Comedy Central, as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette on the photo shoot for the special, man-on-the-street interviews with fans and “Countdown to V-Day,” a segment in which Titus gives love advice. To purchase the DVD via Comedy Central, click here; to purchase it via Amazon, meanwhile, click here. A- (Concert) B (Disc)
Plying their trade with deep-cut albums that allowed for maximum mood-noodling, Vanilla Fudge first came to prominence in 1967, and recorded a number of albums over a course of three years. Originally formed by Carmine Appice, keyboardist Mark Stein and bassist
Tim Bogert, the group added guitarist Vince Martell and enjoyed success in the American singles chart with a slowed-down arrangement of the Supremes hit “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” before finally parting ways in 1970. Now they’re back, on a concert DVD from five years ago.
Recorded in 2004, Vanilla Fudge: When Two Worlds Collide features core members Bogert and Appice alongside newer members Teddy Rondinelli, on guitar, and Bill Pascali, on keyboards. In this performance, the band run through key Vanilla Fudge songs including “Take Me For a Little While,” “Season of the Witch,” “She’s Not There” and, of course, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” An orchestral opening gives way to “Good Livin’,” and other tunes here include “Ain’t That Peculiar,” “People Get Ready,” “Shotgun,” “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” “Need Love” and “You Can’t Do That.” There’s also a cover of the Rod Stewart Hit “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” which seems like a weird cheat until you realize that Appice wrote while a member of Rod Stewart’s band during the ’70s.
In truth, though, this isn’t the greatest showcase for the group. The direction is overly processed, powered by too many cuts, and this undercuts the otherwise solid amount of close-ups that comprise the show. Apart from these misguided editorial choices, it’s also just a weird presentation of the music, to be honest. Pascali sports three stick-on diamonds on his face, under his mouth, and there’s faaaaar too much jam-band instrumental noodling for these tunes to take hold, even if it is mixed with some admittedly nice contributions from a sit-in orchestra.
Housed in a clear plastic Amaray case, Vanilla Fudge: When Two Worlds Collide comes presented on a region-free disc in 1.33:1 fullscreen, with an entirely adequate Dolby digital audio track. A too-long, literal-minded (look… it’s two planets… and they’re colliding!) animated set-up that can’t be force-stopped gives way to the main menu screen, where viewers can play the concert in its entirety or jump to specific tracks. Other bonus materials consists of an optional commentary track on the main concert, a nine-minute photo gallery with commentary from Appice and Bogert — probably the highlight of the disc, given some of their wry reminiscences — and a five-minute mini-documentary on the group comprised of interviews with all the players. Oh, there’s also five minutes of festival footage of the band performing the Back Street Boys song “I Want It That Way.” Yes, seriously. To purchase the disc via Amazon, click here. D (Concert) B (Disc)
A good number of Steven Seagal’s films over the past half dozen years can be enjoyed as comedies by right-minded (and possibly intoxicated) genre fans, owing to their, umm… how to put it, streamlined production values, and penchant for hilarious ADR throw-aways during various bad guy beatdowns. Against the Dark, which actually holds some intrigue on a certain level — inserting its star into a supernatural genre that he’s thus far scrupulously avoided — unfortunately doesn’t even really offer much of a kick on that level. It’s just bad. Baaaaaaad…
The back cover of this straight-to-video release describes the film thusly: “Katana master Tao (Seagal) leads a special ops squad of ex-military vigilantes on a massacre mission. Their target: vampires. On the post-apocalyptic globe, sucked dry by bloodthirsty vampires, a few remaining survivors are trapped in an infected hospital. Tao is their only hope and he knows the only cure is execution. Now it’s time for the last stand against the flesh-eating vampires, and there’s nothing left to lose but the last of humanity.”
Yes, seriously, that’s exactly how it reads, “post-apocalyptic globe” and all. Now, for the specifics. Given how little he appears in the film, viewers wouldn’t necessarily know until late in the movie that Seagal’s character is named Tao, unless perhaps they’d read the back cover box. Most of the movie actually centers on two different groups of survivors, including Dylan (Daniel Percival, of Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj), Dorothy (Jenna Harrison), Morgan (Danny Midwinter) and young Charlotte (tyke Skye Bennett, looking baffled by the amateurishness around her), supposedly holed up in this “safe” hospital, which seems to house an awful lot of marauding vampires.
They all come together and then spend an inordinate amount of time talking about how they have to make it to an exit passageway “before the generator shuts down” and locks them in. (Nevermind that one couple has been chilling there for a couple weeks, just biding time.) Intercut with this main arc is a story strand — with Keith David and Linden Ashby — about an ordered military strike on the sector that houses the hospital, and Seagal’s Tao wandering about with his group of hunters.
Against the Dark was written by Matthew Klickstein (Dinner Time) and helmed by first-time director Richard Crudo, a seasoned cinematographer whose two most interesting credits — as director of photography on the original American Pie, and camera operator on Donnie Darko — are counterbalanced by the vast amount of cruddy straight-to-video product that otherwise litters his resumé. Neither scribe nor director shows much convincing imagination, and the dialogue is howlingly bad. In the “cold open” action sequence that kick-starts the movie, when there’s some modest bickering about the ensuing course of action, and where to next go, Seagal ends debate by growling, “We’re not here to decide what’s wrong or right, we’re here to decide who lives and dies.”
I’m not really sure what that means. But, worse, when they meet up, none of the other characters glom onto or even treat Tao as a heroic figure (or thank him for saving their lives, in the one or two instances he does), and even in scenes without Tao it seems as though large swatches of dialogue were assigned randomly, with no premium placed on the words spoken by other characters, either before or after it. Adding insult to injury, the film’s vampire hunting action is pretty lame, and even when Seagal is on screen most of the heavy lifting is left to Tanoai Reed, a cousin of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who previously smashed heads on TV’s American Gladiators. He plays a character named Tagart (a shout-out to Fire Down Below?), the sole member of Tao’s crew that could be defined as anything more than a glorified extra. The other two? Chicks who don’t speak (perhaps because they can’t speak English?), which leads to an awkward mock-emotional moment where a grimacing Seagal silently eulogizes a character the audience doesn’t really know.
Housed in a regular Amaray plastic case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, Against the Dark is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language 5.1 Dolby digital audio track, and a French language Dolby surround track. Optional English and French subtitles are included, and the only supplemental material comes by way of a short featurette, “Fighting the Shadows: Behind the Scenes of Against the Dark,” that showcases much more production savvy than the actual film itself. Including interviews with a solid array of below-the-line players and a few cast members — Crudo talks authoritatively about having worked with Seagal before, never mentioning
that it was only as a cinematographer, while Seagal,
lounging in his trailer, coughs up a few monosyllabic plot-point recaps — this eight-minute-ish tidbit makes a convincing case that the in-house featurette folks should be given their own production fund. Oh, there’s also an amusing tidbit where the stunt coordinator talks about reworking action blocking with Seagal on the fly, and incorporating the producer-actor’s thoughts. There’s no bitterness or acrimony to his recollection, though; dude just seems to recognize it’s all part of the paycheck on a Seagal movie. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. F (Movie) D+ (Disc)
Shorts International, the world’s leading short film entertainment company, has announced the release of this year’s Academy Award Best Short Film nominees, in both the live action and animation categories, on iTunes in the United States and the United Kingdom. A collected program of the short films continues to enjoy a successful run in U.S. theaters, where its opening weekend broke the record at New York’s IFC Center for the highest weekend gross ever on a single screen, at $24,006. “Even the New York Times has noted that this year’s hottest Oscar nominees are the live action and animated short films,” said Carter Pilcher, Chief Executive of Shorts International. “We’re thrilled to be iTunes’ partner in this endeavor.”
A passably engaging claustrophobic horror thriller that a little more
than halfway through reveals the limitations of its mode of
storytelling and visual scheme, Quarantine is told entirely via
hand-held footage shot by one of its characters. The story — about a
television reporter who accompanies a group of firefighters and emergency responders into a Los
Angeles tenement building, only to get sealed in after encountering a
virulent, mutant strain of rabies — works for a while as a goosing
stylistic exercise before descending into nonsensical confusion,
hamstrung by aggressively panicked camerawork, a lack of spatial
clarity and a clumsy attempt at backstory explanation.
A remake of Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza’s 2007 Spanish thriller [Rec], Quarantine
skips any introductory credits, opening with human interest news reporter
Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter, above) and her cameraman, Scott
Percival (Steve Harris), on a shadow assignment and on site with a Los
Angeles fire department crew. Two firemen (Jay Hernandez and Johnathon
Schaech) are assigned as their guides for the evening, and some
flirting and good-natured chiding ensues between Angela and the guys.
Eventually responding to a late-night call with Angela and Scott in tow, the firefighters, as well as some policemen, come upon an elderly woman who bites one of the officers. When they attempt to get medical help, Angela and the first responders
find that they have been sealed in the building. They try to get out, but are repeatedly unsuccessful. With no power, cell
phone reception or immediate answers about their predicament, panic
mounts. Soon some of the rest of the residents — including a
veterinarian, an accountant and an immigrant couple — succumb to bites from both infected animals and humans, setting off a mad dash by
survivors to try to barricade themselves away from the frenzied,
In similar fashion to The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, Quarantine posits itself as an exercise in found footage. Director John Eric Dowdle
does a good job blending lurking, corner-of-one’s-eye mayhem with some
in-camera effects (one memorable sequence finds Scott using the camera
as a blunt-force weapon), but the script has trouble establishing a
clear timeline as it relates to the infected, so many times its switch-overs come across as cheaply dramatically convenient. Also, somewhat fatally, there’s never a keen sense of space established within the building. This renders much of Quarantine‘s shaky-cam action especially unclear and unsatisfying. Finally, a finale which attempts to further clarify the origin of the strain of rabies comes across as very puzzlingly conceived, and entirely at cross purposes with the adrenalized nature of the entire rest of the story.
Housed in a regular Amray plastic case with a cover shot that, quite curiously, is its own sort of spoiler, Quarantine comes presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and a French language Dolby surround sound track, as well as optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. A feature-length audio commentary track with writer-director Dowdle and writer-producer Drew Dowdle, who previously collaborated on The Poughkeepsie Tapes, kicks off the supplemental features, but the brothers don’t talk very much about the source material, and how it inspired and interested them, or how they might have diverged from it. A trio of short EPK-type, behind-the-scenes chat-fests serves as the crux of the bonus material; there’s your standard 10-minute making-of featurette, a special look at one of the movie’s stunts and also an eight-minute featurette on the movie’s make-up design, which showcases Robert Hall’s work. He’s one of the more interesting figures interviewed here, so kudos for the breakout recognition. Trailers for other Sony home video releases round out the affair. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C (Movie) C+ (Disc)
How do I know that Watchmen, its release problems now settled, is going to print mad money when it opens March 6? Because I saw it last night and its screenings — and when various industry players get to see the film — have become referendums on reputation, power and pull. It’s achieved hot-shit status to folks who wouldn’t know the graphic novel source material from Batman. Director Zack Snyder killed it with 300, to the tune of more than $450 million worldwide, and that accrued cred plus the Internet geek factor give Watchmen some Dark Knight-type momentum; even at two hours and 42 minutes, it should be the biggest R-rated grosser of 2009, easy. And no, none of the above is directed at any of my pals screening the film this evening; just more of a general realization-type thing, after overhearing various studio suits and chest-puffed-out below-the-liners. More soon…
The fabulous Jen Yamato has raised a good question by wondering out loud if Fired Up! screenwriter Freedom Jones actually exists. No bio in the press notes, a stub page with no other credits on IMDb… is Freedom Jones the new credit of disavowal, a la Alan Smithee, or merely a pseudonym for the writing tandem of Paul Wolfowitz and Stephen Hadley?
Despite lots of hate, director Uwe Boll continues to crank out films at a prodigious clip. For his planned latest movie, however, he’s seeking a couple thousand “co-producers,” in the form of online donors, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Yes, for terrorist disaster tale Blackout, Boll hopes to raise $18.5 million, $50 bucks at a time, through the film’s web site. I’m imagining that rolled coins will also be accepted…
For a piece in today’s Calendar section about actresses and nudity in Oscar-winning roles, the Los Angeles Times‘ Rachel Abramowitz talks to Marisa Tomei about her on-screen nudity in both Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and The Wrestler, and the well-toned actress pooh-poohs talk about a new direction for her career: “I happened to get offered The Wrestler after I did that movie,” she says. “It’s not like I’m in my nude phase now.”
Standard stuff that, somewhat refreshingly, mostly rises above knee-jerk claims of sexism, except for the factually incorrect assertion that, “Every day, actresses such as Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson and Eliza Dushku seem to be swearing off nudity like teenagers joining abstinence clubs.” Dushku in fact appears briefly nude in The Alphabet Killer, a recent DVD release.
British tabloid The Sun reported yesterday that filmmaker Guy Ritchie had been told to reshoot five weeks’ worth of footage after studio bosses were unhappy with an early cut of Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Kelly Reilly and Eddie Marsan. But in a statement last night, The Guardian reports, Warner Bros. said executives had not yet seen the movie, which was “still early in the production process.”