In honor of Halloween, and of special trick-or-treating note for locals, J. W. Ocker takes a stroll down A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s real Elm Street, Genesee Avenue, over at Odd Things I’ve Seen.
There’s a voiceover monologue about talkers versus doers that opens Troy Duffy’s Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, underneath some requisite gunplay, and it plays like a salty, metaphorical direct-address from its maker, a rebuke of all the swirling, extracurricular chatter and lawsuits that rose up and stalled for a decade if not completely swallowed his just-budding cinematic career. Duffy, you see, is a thick-necked, heart-on-his-sleeve doer — a blunt dispenser of commingled fact and opinion in life, and an equally forceful and straightforward peddler of reconstituted “cool” on the screen. Fitting, then, that the sequel to his 1999 shamrock shoot-’em-up The Boondock Saints is a bit more comedic, a bit more convoluted and a bit more everything than its predecessor, which is a heady thing for eager fans of the stillborn cult flick, and fairly irrelevant to just about everyone else.
Boondock Saints II continues the tough, stylized saga of the MacManus brothers, Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery, above right) and Murphy (Norman Reedus, above left). Since the events of the first movie, the two avenging angels have been in deep hiding with their father, Il Duce (Billy Connolly), in the quiet valleys of Ireland, far removed from the violence of their past lives. When word comes that a beloved priest has been gunned down by someone from deep within the mob, and in a manner seemingly constructed to frame them for the murder, the brothers return to Boston to mount a bloody and, naturally, theatrical crusade to bring justice to those responsible. In transit (by cargo ship, no less), the pair hook up with a new partner in crime, Romeo (Clifton Collins Jr.), who’s heard tell of their legendary slayings, and wants to join forces with them.
Connor and Murphy give Romeo some razzing, but eventually relent in the face of his puppy dog insistence, and upon touching down in Boston the trio start trying to get to the bottom of the criminal syndicate of Concezio Yakavetta (Judd Nelson, playing a caricature of Judd Nelson), a paranoid mobster whose father was executed by the brothers MacManus in the first film. Meanwhile, three cops (Brian Mahoney, Bob Marley and David Ferry) who in the first movie conspired with Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) to aid the MacManus brothers in flight worry that a sexy new FBI operative, Special Agent Eunice Bloom (Julie Benz), may unravel their complicity in events. Bickering and bloodshed ensues.
First off, some sincere and significant credit must be given to Duffy for making a big play, narratively speaking. Not content to merely lazily plop the brothers down in another ramshackle, discrete vigilante set-up, he constructs an elaborate, interwoven tale — complete with flashbacks to 1958 New York — that attempts to tie together a modern-day mystery plot and all sorts of glass-shield subterfuge with the elder MacManus’ own backstory and falling out with a shadowy ex-friend and colleague known as The Roman (Peter Fonda). Duffy swings for the fences, and that’s a heartening thing, because it shows how much he cares about both his story and his own second chance. If there’s an “A” to be awarded for effort, though, the movie’s reach exceeds its grasp, especially in late, third act strands that draw The Roman into the proceedings and speculate, conspiratorially, how diminutive Italian shooter Panza (Daniel DeSanto) could have been smuggled into the country in the wake of September 11 security measures. These bits are unsatisfying, and honest or interesting attempts to pay service to them are sacrificed in the name of balletic squib fixes, even with a running time of just under two hours.
The main problem, though, is that Duffy’s constructionist sensibilities and visual aesthetic are so typically rote — the notable exception being a vividly imagined sequence in which Eunice, in guns-blazing cowgirl get-up, talks her colleagues through her interpretation of the MacManus brothers’ siege on Concezio’s lair — as to induce snoozing. When Duffy isn’t busy trying to wildly tie together all the players of the Boondock universe, the rest of the movie plays out like any number of other generic, C-grade, straight-to-video actioners, and the hand cannon mayhem is cut together in a choppy, music video style that pays no particular respect to spatial constraints. For all the first film’s putative focus on religious right, and notions of properly meted out vengeance, Boondock Saints II is a movie that just seems inexorably stuck in late-’90s, post-Tarantino interpretations of indie cool, when guns held at cocked angles and saying some badass shit was catnip to young, hard-toiling guys with dreams of making their own movie. A lot of guys like Troy Duffy, actually. (Apparition/Stage 6, R, 117 minutes)
A celluloid mirror is held up to many December family gatherings in the form of Nothing Like the Holidays, a lively, well cast dramedy that captures both the grey-cloud exasperation and silver lining of time spent cooped up with blood relatives who remain outside of driving distance for the rest of the year. Set amongst a sociable Puerto Rican-American family in Chicago’s Humboldt Park area, the film leans on a strong ensemble cast to easily trump its narrative familiarity and pat, sometimes awkward dramatic hurdles.
The story centers on far-flung members of the Rodriguez family who converge at their parents’ home to celebrate Christmas. There’s wounded Iraq War veteran Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez, above left), who arrives with rekindled feelings for an old flame (Melonie Diaz), now a single mother. Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito, above right) is an actress who has been chasing Hollywood dreams for years, and is hopeful of good news on a recent audition. Eldest brother Mauricio (John Leguizamo, above center), meanwhile, struggles to bridge the cultural gap between his high-powered executive wife (Debra Messing) and the rest of his family, most particularly his mother Anna (Elizabeth Peña), who doesn’t hide her dismay that they haven’t yet delivered her a grandchild. Matters are thrown into disarray when Anna shocks her children by announcing that she’s divorcing their father Edy (Alfred Molina), whom she suspects of having an affair.
Director Alfredo de Villa (Adrift in Manhattan) has a writing background as well, which helps him locate the authenticity in this tale: what’s endearing about a sibling one moment can also become suddenly irritating. He achieves this primarily though a lot of jokey, barb-filled crosstalk, but there’s some smart visual detail too, like the photo of Puerto Rican Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente that hangs in the background on the wall of Edy’s modest bodega.
The script, by Alison Swan and Rick Najara, keeps most conflict at arms’ length, defined only enough to generate momentary drama that never really seeps out of any single, self-contained scene. Owing to this, the movie also has trouble balancing some of the more emotionally charged moments with its seemingly natural instinct to inject comedy, as in a sequence where Mauricio attempts to mitigate the conflict between his parents by inviting over the neighborhood priest, who’s only too happy to stuff his face with Chinese carry-out food. Still, the combined effect of all this voluble engagement is greater than the sum of all its parts, certainly enough to merit a shrug of good-natured acquiescence.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, Nothing Like the Holidays comes to DVD presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. A warm, engaging feature-length audio commentary track with de Villa, producer Robert Teitel and actor Rodriguez alights on all sorts of production anecdotes, and a 12-minute making-of featurette, a whopping 15 minutes of bloopers and on-set flubs, and the film’s theatrical trailer are also included. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B- (Movie) B (Disc)
Pulsing with a brash and seductive visual style but hamstrung by its ADD-riddled plotting, caffeinated travelogue Fix represents the directorial debut of multi-hyphenate Tao Ruspoli, and the first cinematic creative collaboration between he and real-life wife Olivia Wilde. After driving south down the coast from San Francisco, documentaryﬁlmmakers Bella (Wilde, below) and Milo (Ruspoli) spend one unwieldyday racing all over Los Angeles in an effort to get Milo’s bailed-outbrother, Leo (Shawn Andrews, of Dazed and Confused), from jail to court-mandated rehab before an 8 p.m. deadline, lest he be sent to prison for three years.
In a hand-held, self-operated fashion that strains credulity and also rather quickly grows tiresome, the trio (mostly Milo) documents their trip from a suburban police station in Calabassas through Beverly Hills mansions, East Los Angeles chop-shops, San Fernando Valley wastelands and Watts housing projects as they attempt to raise the required $5,000 admittance fee to get heroin junkie Leo checked into the rehab clinic. Along the way they encounter dozens of colorful characters, each with their own anomalous perspective on Leo’s larger-than-life personality and style. Most also have their own excuse for why they can’t help, the notable exception being Carmen (Megalyn Echikunwoke), a can’t-keep-her-little-model-hands-off-me crush of Leo’s who professes an equal infatuation with him, despite the fact that she has a boyfriend. With her assistance, Milo and Bella make a late push at securing the necessary cash.
Working from an idea rooted in real-life experience (his brother was a charismatic drug user who required habitual ferrying about), and a script co-written with Jeremy Fels, Ruspoli succeeds in crafting a movie that has the benefit of passion, and a soulful investment in its material. If only that were enough. Fix is gorgeously photographed, by Ruspoli (who operates the camera much of the time) and Christopher Gallo, and it also makes effective use of some nice music, including songs from Ima Robot, Simon Dawes, Beautiful Girls and Nico Stai. But the human drama at the core of the premise ultimately feels a bit underdeveloped; with montages galore, the movie becomes a slave to its insistent artiness.
The story proper, meanwhile, comes across as a series of laboriously stitched together air-quote moments, from Leo getting his car out of impound by convincing Bella to sign hers away, and collecting on a debt by stealing a restaurant-quality cappuccino machine to buying a bulldog that he insists is “police-trained,” and exchanging fist-bumps with motorcycle-riding gang-bangers. It’s too self-consciously cute by about half. By the time the film settles on the ironic, wink-wink, nudge-nudge premise of the group selling $2,500 worth of pot in order to fund Leo’s rehab, it’s already squandered much of the goodwill that Andrews’ affable, loose-limbed performance engenders.
In the end, Fix, which has been long delayed on its journey to the big screen, is through and through a festival film, as both its many special exhibition credits and thematic similarity to something like the recent Passenger Side attest. This means that while it focuses to a certain degree on fringe-dwelling characters, there’s a knowing distance kept from conventional dramatic plotting and payoff, and, in this case too, a lacquer of hipness applied to the proceedings. The milieus feel authentic and gritty, even if the characters’ actions — Bella’s understandable, quite relatable exasperation and frustration melt necessarily away into enabling acquiescence — keep an audience from becoming truly transfixed by Leo’s plight. For more information on the film, click here. (LAFCO/Mangusta, R, 90 minutes)
Make a note on your Golden Globe song ballot now; Paul McCartney has penned an original tune, “(I Want To) Come Home,” for the upcoming Everybody’s Fine, starring Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell. Written and directed by Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine), the film tells the story of a widower who embarks on an impromptu holiday road trip to reconnect with each of his grown children, only to discover that their lives are far from the picture perfect ideals he’s been peddled in their infrequent updates.
Collaborating with composer Dario Marianelli on the orchestrations, McCartney tackled a song the evening he first viewed the film, and crafted an intimate tune that complements the themes of the movie and serves as a final grace note to its moving story, according to a Miramax press release. Reflecting on his reaction to the film, McCartney said, “I could
definitely identify with Robert De Niro’s character because I have
grown-up kids who have their own families.”
The film’s trailer hints at some melancholy, but the font for the title and credits — not to mention the preview’s closing song choice — ultimately convey that this isn’t awards-type fare, but rather peppy, Hallmark-sentiment, minor-chord, emotional string-plucking. No shame in that game… I’m just saying. Miramax Films releases Everybody’s Fine nationwide on December 4.
The oldest known written recipe in the world is a formula for beer scratched out on a clay tablet, part of an epic poem devoted to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of mood-altering liquids. Yet if you’re anything like me, regardless of which lagers you enjoy either at home or out with friends, you haven’t necessarily spent a whole lot of time thinking of your beer purchase as representing a dollar-for-dollar vote in some larger, sprawling corporate crusade for sociocultural dominance. Anat Baron’s Beer Wars is the movie to change that. An eye-opening, wildly engrossing documentary about how corporate beer giants work to intimidate, silence, swallow up and sink independent brewers, this no-holds-barred exploration of the American beer industry reveals the truth behind the label of your favorite beers.
Somewhere there exist fuller, complete notes on Beer Wars, bristling with deeper comparative insights regarding this movie. At least that’s what my gut tells me. But the truth is I cannot now find them, so I have no proof of such claims. So was I drunk when I watched this DVD? Am I drunk now? Both? Like Brittany Murphy in Don’t Say a Word, I’ll never tell. But I can definitively say that Beer Wars exists at the intersection of overall topical interest and quality, deftly interwoven third-person human interest stories, which is a sweet spot not many documentaries hit.
An industry insider (albeit an unlikely one, given that she’s allergic to alcohol), Baron is the former general manager of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which she joined early in its existence and helped quickly move up in the market, to over $200 million in annual sales. Baron is neither a Michael Moore-style crusader who impresses her personality upon every frame of her movie, nor a deep-tissue massager of newly unearthed, difficultly won facts, but her movie sheds light on what are now the two mammoth beer corporations — Anheuser-Bush and MillerCoors, the latter of whom merged late in production on the film — who continue to push out and squash the American dream of the small business brewers, whom Beer Wars unabashedly argues have a deeper interest in taste and quality. A small handful of original animation interstitials by David Stone and
Casey Leonard, meanwhile, are peppy and engaging, even if they come off a bit like
a page ripped out of the playbook of The Kid Stays in the Picture or some Moore film.
Interwoven with some noodling around by Baron herself, this story of status quo protection is told chiefly through two of these entrepreneurs battling the financial might and dodgy tactics of Corporate America. Sam Calagione (above) is the personable founder and CEO of Dogfish Head, a Delaware microbrewery, and a guy whose ambition doesn’t seem to outweigh his zeal for a quality product; he’s into smart, modulated growth, which means not taking his company headlong into some harebrained public offering. Meanwhile, Rhonda Kallman, a former executive and co-founding partner at Samuel Adams, has dreams of introducing a caffeinated beer into the market, and works individual storefronts and bars in Boston and the Northeastern corridor to try to make her dream a reality. They’re each great subjects — interesting and relatable.
In trying to understand how unbalanced the beer industry is, Baron discovers an incredible connection between beer and politics, which leads to an explanation of the three-tiered distribution system, established after Prohibition, and why the big players are so intent on preserving their 75-year-old monopoly. This is probably the most fascinating part of the film, and one that could have used a bit more investigative muscle, or naked provocation. The issue here isn’t about the protection and integrity of laws governing underage possession and consumption; it’s that the biggest players seek by hook and by crook to leverage their already ridiculous competitive advantage, pressing for even more favorable legislation (over 37,000 laws and counting) even though the current distribution method basically obliges micro-brewers (who can’t sell their products online, obviously) to use delivery trucks bought and paid for by Anheuser-Bush and MillerCoors, who can then directly limit and otherwise blunt the impact of their competitors’ market penetration. This wouldn’t fly in any other industry; free market proponents would have an absolute shit fit.
Beer Wars comes to DVD presented in a 16×9 aspect ratio, with a nice array of supplemental features, including deleted scenes, extended interviews and a post-screening (if I recall correctly) chat with Baron and her subjects moderated by none other than Ben Stein. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B+ (Movie) B (Disc)
Although I typically loathe anything that would give IGN any additional traffic, five minutes from the opening of the sequel to Troy Duffy’s 1999 shoot-’em-up The Boondock Saints is now online, definitively proving its actual existence. More later in the week regarding the movie, which is… something. Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day opens on October 30 in limited release.
Stan Helsing is written and directed by Bo Zenga, an executive producer of Scary Movie, a producer of Turistas and the writer of Soul Plane, which is a list of credits that may not inspire much in the way of qualitative expectation. But, somewhat surprisingly and definitely pleasantly, his well cast comedy lampoons contemporary film audiences’ familiarity with the horror genre without ever stooping to senselessly overloaded referential gags, like Disaster Movie or Superhero Movie. Coming off a brief theatrical engagement in select cities, and now out on DVD, the movie stands as a perfectly acceptable Halloween weekend treat for those who like their spook-season entertainment vacuumed mostly free of fright.
The film centers around the misadventures of hapless, hands-off video store clerk Stan Helsing (Steve Howey) and his three pals — ex-girlfriend Nadine (Diora Baird), Teddy (Saturday Night Live‘s Kenan Thompson) and dim bulb massage therapist Mia (an exuberant Desi Lydic). During what should be a routine delivery before heading out to a Halloween evening party, Stan and company find themselves stranded in a mysterious residential development known as Stormy Night Estates. There, Stan learns of his true destiny as a descendant of the legendary monster hunter Abraham Van Helsing, and engages in a battle against evil in the form of character parodies of a half dozen movie monster icons — Jason, Leatherface, Freddy, Michael Myers, Pinhead and Chucky. The big dramatic wrap-up involves double entendres, mock-dream endings, a karaoke showdown… and comedy legend Leslie Nielsen in a small role as a waitress. Yes, a waitress.
Zenga elicits winning performances from his main cast, but also smartly divvies up lines so that the burden of this most excellent adventure is shared, with everyone having a stake in its harebrainedness. Some amusing if inessential early sight gags and jokes rooted in familiar stereotypes of ethnicity (video store customers returning copies of The Ring all drop dead in a pile, while African-Americans dissect The Blair Witch Project and hypothesize this is why black people don’t go camping) eventually give way to comedy of a slightly higher degree of difficulty. Yes, this movie features three bathroom sequences, and some foley fart work, but its dialogue is also funny and, more importantly, consistently true to character. When Terry talks about the phenomenon of “urban mirages,” or when Mia queries a hitchhiker who claims to have been wrongfully incarcerated, “So, how is it that you got invited to prison in the first place?,” it stems reliably from their own warped worldviews. That matters, giving the movie a sense of rooted sincerity that not many of its spoof brethren can match. And it doesn’t hurt, certainly, that Baird spends the entire film in a skimpy Indian costume, while Lydic cycles through three different sexy costumes, for reasons poked fun at within the story.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, Stan Helsing comes presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional English SDH subtitles. Bonus features are anchored by a feature-length audio commentary track with Zenga and actors Thompson and Lydic, in which the trio discuss the movie’s Vancouver night shoot, Thompson’s driving skills and penchant for improvisation, as well as Baird’s prodigious rack (“We all wanted to touch them,” says Lydic). There’s an 11-minute making-of featurette in which Howey rails in mock-anger against Zenga for his wig-and-bandana combination (which Baird points out makes him look like Bret Michaels, “which isn’t a good thing”), while a half dozen extended, alternate and excised scenes — including, yes, “deleted doll rape” — run a total of eight minutes. The movie’s theatrical trailer and a clutch of photographic stills and storyboards, in two separate scrollable galleries, are also included, along with five minutes of outtakes in which the cast members accidentally destroy a wooden four-post bed that their characters are meant to simply push out of frame. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B- (Movie) B (Disc)
Oscar-winning writer-director Paul Haggis has gone and broken up with Scientology, it seems. Meanwhile, Jennifer Aniston will presumably have to wear more than strategically placed neckties if she really is to host a weekly small screen talk show with Oprah Winfrey starting next year.
Before Slither or even Killer Klowns From Outer Space, back when VHS genre hits were truly built on word-of-mouth, there was 1986’s horror comedy Night of the Creeps, a camp classic about a small college town ravaged by killer slugs from outer space. Out this month on DVD for the first time ever, the movie arrives in a special director’s cut with its original, never-before-seen ending and over an hour of bonus features, in the form of deleted scenes and six all-new behind-the-scenes featurettes which include examinations of the movie’s effects and creature work; cast members Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall and Jill Whitlow reminiscing about the making of the cult classic; a special look at beloved genre star Tom Atkins; footage from a June 2009 cast reunion screening at The Original Alamo Drafthouse Cinema; and more. Two separate audio commentary tracks are also included. In advance of the movie’s DVD and Blu-ray release, I spoke with writer-director Fred Dekker; the conversation is excerpted below:
Brent Simon: What’s it like to have the opportunity to revisit the movie and give something back to fans, given that there hasn’t been a commercial home video release in so long?
Fred Dekker: It’s awesome, and in the case of Night of the Creeps it’s an opportunity to finish a painting that I literally didn’t finish however many years ago. The ending of the movie in the screenplay was not the ending that we ended up releasing, because of a disagreement between the studio and myself. So when Sony came to me and asked if I wanted to remaster it and do a bells-and-whistles DVD, I said, “Great, can I put the ending back on?” and they didn’t bat an eye. So that, for me, is the real prize — that this is the version of the movie that I wanted to release originally.
BS: How much longer is the director’s cut, or can you address some of the differences therein?
FD: Well, let’s just assume that spoilers aren’t involved, and that the movie is old enough where if you haven’t seen it by now, it’s your loss. It’s not that much longer, but spiritually — or maybe that’s too prosaic and pretentious a word — or in terms of intent it’s quite different. And in fact we did a transfer from an interpositive for the feature, which looks unbelievable, but we could only find the ending as a three-quarter-inch videotape, so we had to really finesse that ending in order to make sure that you don’t notice that we’re going to a slightly degraded image. But I’m thrilled that it’s the movie that I intended it to be.
BS: What were your inspirations for the film, and what do you think of some of the other movies that it perhaps in turn inspired, from the Chiodo brothers’ work to something like Slither?
FD: The obvious ones are the George Romero Dead movies; at that point there were only three of them, Day of the Dead being my personal favorite. I’m so clearly taking a page from George’s book. And Alien is obviously an inspiration in terms of the parasite that gestates inside the body. And then there’s a whole handful of references from the 1950s, visually and plot-wise, from B-movies like It Came From Outer Space, Plan 9 From Outer Space. And the other big influence that I’ve come to realize and appreciate only in the wake of his death is what an impact John Hughes had on the movie in terms of the tone of the characters and their relationships and dialogue. …I’ve never been a horror-movies-only kind of guy, and I realized in resurrecting this movie that it was an early example of a mash-up.
BS: And yet when someone comes out of the gate and has any degree of success or notoriety within the horror genre, it seems like they maybe have a harder time breaking out of that mold.
FD: I’m glad you said that, because it’s absolutely true, and if I’d had my druthers I probably wouldn’t have elected to do a horror movie as my first film. But one of the things that you’ll hear quite a lot from directors is that when they get their first shot they try to put in the kitchen sink, and so one of the things that I attempted to do with this movie was to do as many different kinds of movies in one as I could, just in case I never got another shot. So there’s a film noir element, a detective story in there. There’s at least one romance — actually two romances in there. There’s some horror, some comedy, some science-fiction. There isn’t a western sequence or a musical number, but pretty much everything else is reflected there.
BS: You mentioned your disagreement with Sony — what was the nature of the conflict regarding the ending, and do you have regrets about how you handled it?
FD: Long story short, as people will see in the director’s cut and hear about in the DVD extras, is that the ending rests on an optical effects shot, and in those days there was no pre-visualization or CGI, where you could just sort of put it together in rough form. So what I had was a matte painting, a miniature and a whole bunch of elements that were ultimately going to be superimposed together. But I made an enormous mistake — and I have to take the hit for it myself — and I showed the studio, and I even showed it to an audience, unfortunately, the effects before it was finished. It had a galvanizing, negative effect on everybody, they said, “Oh, well that sucks.” And I explained to them, “Well, no, the effects aren’t finished.” But they kind of just dismissed it. And this was also the ’80s, where at the end of Carrie Brian DePalma does a wonderful scare that was hugely influential. Sean Cunningham stole the idea and had a cheap scare at the end of Friday the 13th. So it was kind of the era of the cheap scare, and at their urging I [followed that lead]. So the [ending of the] theatrical version has always had this kind of dumb, cheap scare I’ve hated. So now I’ve been allowed to rectify that mistake.
BS: Prior to recording the commentary track, how long had it been since you’d seen the movie in whole?
FD: I’ve been lucky enough with a fan resurgence over the last couple of years, so I’ve actually been lucky enough to show it a few times — in Toronto a couple of years ago, and just earlier this year in Edinburgh, Scotland. So I’ve seen it a couple times, on and off, in the last couple years. There was a fallow period in the 1990s where I’d run across it on television and avert my eyes and run away. But I’m beginning to appreciate it more than I used to.
BS: So why do think Night of the Creeps holds up and still connects with fans? Or, for that matter, why so many horror films do?
FD: Horror is a wonderful metaphor for high school. We all go to high school terrified, and to take those terrors and turn them into vampires and zombies and stuff like that is not much of a stretch. In making Night of the Creeps I didn’t have a political or personal agenda, I was just making something that I thought was fun. But in retrospect it was a really smart move, if I can pat myself on the back, to superimpose the fact that the movie takes place in 1986, rather than say present day and have everybody with the big hair and shoulder pads and that awful color palette, because by saying it’s 1986 it makes it a bit of a period piece, and it also calls to mind an era when everything was very shiny and happy and Reagan was the president, but underneath, I think, was a great sense of, “What the fuck?” And I think that’s kind of the movie — it’s colorful, fun and catchy, but there’s this undercurrent of being headed for something b
BS: When did idea first take hold, and was the screenplay something you slaved over?
FD: Oh God, no. I’ve told this story before: I was having trouble sleeping and the line, “Thrill me,” came to me, and I thought what a great way to introduce a character, to set up a guy who doesn’t give a shit. So I got up and wrote the first scene of Detective Cameron waking from a nightmare and talking to a police sergeant about a body that had been found, and I hammered the rest of it out in maybe three weeks.
BS: Do you have any other projects definitively lined up?
FD: It’s been a tough road for me, because it’s taken my movies a while to find their audience. Probably my most successful movie financially was RoboCop 3, which everybody hates. So it’s been tough. I’ve been developing [things] for three years. But in my day job, I just turned in the script for the sequel to Cliffhanger, which I had a lot of fun writing. It’s a big, smash-’em-up, fun, popcorn action movie. And then I’m developing, with producer Curtis Burch, a very low-budget drama based on a documentary film about a playwright named Oakley Hall III — a really charismatic, interesting guy in upstate New York who in the 1970s fell off a bridge and suffered brain damage. And the film is about his resurrection and redemption, and finding his way in the world. No zombies or explosions, monsters or gunshots, it’s just people.
BS: So would the Cliffhanger sequel bring back Sylvester Stallone?
FD: I cannot comment on that at this moment.
Greg Giraldo is most widely known, along with Jeffrey Ross, as arguably one of the top two comedians who rips apart everyone from Flavor Flav and Bob Saget to Pamela Anderson and Joan Rivers on Comedy Central’s regular roasts. In his stand-up special Midlife Vices, though, Giraldo lets loose less on people than on more whimsical topics, and the result is every bit as side-splitting and delightful.
Recorded in front of a raucous hometown crowd in New York City, and new to DVD, Midlife Vices is a worthy follow-up to Giraldo’s amazing debut CD, Good Day To Cross a River. Giraldo has a stage demeanor that, unlike a lot of comedians, doesn’t ooze either anger or neediness; this allows his mood and delivery to shift more naturally with the tone and tenor of the material, conveying bewilderment when he’s digging into the innate ridiculousness of some unspoken rule of dating, or agitation when he’s shifting gears into more of a rant.
Giraldo’s choice of material, too, is wide-ranging. Unlike many comedians, he doesn’t necessarily “pre-sort” his topical assaults through the filter of a single, immovable personality, so there’s a genuine sense of gleeful surprise when he bounds from the political arena and talking about the energy crisis into a discussion of koala bear sex. While overt political statements aren’t part of his main agenda, Giraldo does get into the 2008 election and talk interestingly about coded campaign language, which is something in which I have a specific interest. He also makes points in roundabout fashion, as when he launches into a dissection of homosexuality by saying both that “there’s a certain level of gayness that seems a choice,” as well as, “Discriminating against gays seems stupid, because it’s not a choice — just like I don’t choose to be attracted to women, that’s just the way I am. And it sucks, because it means basically every 10 years or so I have to give away all my stuff and move out.”
Midlife Vices is a rangy title, with Giraldo touching on everything from obesity in modern children (“You aren’t supposed to be winded when you’re 9 years old and on flat ground”) to peanut allergies and the craziness of texting, as embodied by the problem of accidentally sending messages to the wrong people, like his mother. He also relates an anecdote about a group of homeless a capella guys he recently saw, and wondering how they met. Other objects that feel the burn of Giraldo’s ire include Obama‘s cessation of smoking, the uproar over Michael Phelps’ bong shots, and a rastafarian audience member who falls asleep in the third row during his set. One of the rare comedians of his age (he’ll be 45 next year) who can get away with both lowbrow and highbrow humor with equal, matching grace, Giraldo is far less well known than he should be. Give his Vices a spin; the vicarious thrills and naughtiness will likely do you good.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case with two snap-shut hinges on the inward spine, Midlife Vices comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a 2.0 stereo audio mix. Bonus features consist of a 22-minute installment of the revolving comedian serial Comedy Central Presents, featuring a bit leaner Giraldo from 2000, as well as the never-before-seen pilot for a sex-centric show called Adult Content, with Giraldo as its smirky emcee. A bit more backstage or behind-the-scenes stuff would have been a nice touch, but the hour-long feature presentation more than carries the day. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. A- (Concert) B- (Disc)
I’m not inclined to want to see Channing Tatum hugging people (and that’s why I skipped this summer’s G.I. Joe, I tell myself), so I come to the trailer for Dear John from a fairly skeptical or inwardly sighing place. And yet I have to say, despite director Lasse Hallström only recently breaking out of movie jail with 2007’s slick, enjoyable The Hoax, and despite Dear John on the surface seeming to share much in common with his most treacly American studio output, the trailer honestly works.
Based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same name, Dear John centers on a soldier who falls for a college student (Amanda Seyfried) from a conservative family while home on leave. I’m not totally sold on Seyfried as a romantic lead, but in movies like Fighting and Stop-Loss,
Tatum has proved his chops as an able peddler of sullen and/or swallowed charm. And I don’t
mean that as a put-down. I totally get his appeal; he comes
across as a guy’s guy, and someone that girls can fix/save/win over,
all while rubbing his pecs. Mostly, though, there’s an integrity to the quiet emoting here, as well as something not often glimpsed in movies — an honest kiss, seeded with apprehension. Ace usage of Snow Patrol’s “Set the Fire to the Third Bar” certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Sony’s Screen Gems releases Dear John on February 5, 2010.
Nick Swardson started stand-up at the age of 18, and was chosen early
to perform at the prestigious U.S. Comedy Arts festival. In 2000, he
hit a milestone when he taped his first Comedy Central half-hour
special at the age of 22 — the youngest comedian to do so. His career
really benefited from the championing and guidance of Adam Sandler, though; after bit parts of a string of films produced by and/or starring Sandler, Swardson co-wrote and starred in the Happy Madison films Grandma’s Boy and The Benchwarmers, a pair of reliably goofy, varying-by-degrees naughty comedies (one R-rated, the latter PG-13) that helped cement his status as goofball inheritor to the throne of crass juvenilia upon which Sandler made his name. So it’s no surprise, really, that his latest comedy DVD arrives under the moniker Seriously, Who Farted?
This hour-long set from Swardson’s sold-out concert in Austin, Texas earlier this year features plenty of material built around guy comedian staples — sex, bar life, videogames and Las Vegas debauchery. Swardson starts out by copping to the fact that many folks know him first and foremost from his effeminate guest-starring role on Reno 911 — as hot-shorts-sporting, roller-skating gay prostitute Terry — and thus think he’s homosexual. From there the comedian segues into a dissection of how fast food tastes differently depending on one’s state of intoxication (it’s the “food of the gods” with enough liquor in the system, he asserts), and the hits to one’s self-esteem that online videogame playing delivers. Swardson also cycles through segments on the cockiness of drunken women, his love for brainless blockbuster movies like Transformers, and how he looks forward to getting old, if only because it allows for getting away with saying and doing pretty much anything. Somewhat surprisingly, there’s more than a pinch of nervousness to Swardson’s set, which somewhat dampens the impact of his otherwise impeccably timed anecdotes. The material here isn’t driven by thunderously original insight, but Swardson’s affable persona is warm and inviting, which makes up for a lot.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Seriously, Who Farted? comes presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a 2.0 stereo audio mix. Supplemental extras consist of eight minutes of the show’s opening act, Beardo and Dirt Nasty, followed by a commercial for a mock holiday album from his aforementioned Reno 911 character and a soused parody trailer for 28 Days Later entitled 28 Drinks Later. A seven-minute mock profile of Swardson connects best, featuring the comedian in all sorts of different incarnations, spanning the 1920s to the present day. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B (Concert) B- (Disc)
The trailer for the dark comedy Serious Moonlight, written by the late Adrienne Shelly and helmed by Cheryl Hines, in her feature directorial debut, has dropped, and it neither rankles, connects nor particularly registers as anything more than a mid-level femme-programmer. The film centers around a career woman (Meg Ryan) who
kidnaps artfully detains her husband (Timothy Hutton) when he tries to leave her; Kristen Bell is the other (younger) woman, and Justin Long is a scuzzy interloper of some sort.
No harm, no foul, but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of real, churned-up emotion here. This is just a sort of frothy domestic revenge fantasy for the white equivalent of the Tyler Perry set, no? With maybe a pinch of the arthouse crossover audience that helped make 2007’s Waitress a respectable hit for Fox Searchlight. And all the AARP-ers that keep Henry Jaglom employed. Not judging, just saying. I actually enjoyed The Deal, but it’d be more interesting to see Ryan navigate away from unlucky-in-love roles and tackle something really nasty — a bitch on wheels like Kevin Spacey’s character from Swimming with Sharks, say. Otherwise, there’s only small degrees of difference that separate this from more desultory tripe like My Mom’s New Boyfriend, which couldn’t escape a direct-to-DVD sentencing despite the presence of Ryan, Antonio Banderas, Colin Hanks and Selma Blair. Which brings us back to this film’s release pattern… Serious Moonlight will be available to 50 million households through Magnolia’s Ultra VOD program in early November prior to its December 4 theatrical bow.
Author and “friend of the program” Telly Davidson contributes this insightful look at ABC’s late, maybe-not-so-great (except in adventurous spirit) cop drama Life on Mars, new to DVD in collected form:
The subject of how we perceive the reality (or is it reality?) of the days of our lives has been the stuff of legend ever since the birth of religion and storytelling. And the thought of time travel in a serious context is also rife with philosophical questions that stumped the likes of Sartre and Einstein, though happy-go-lucky adventures like Back to the Future and comic books have superficially taken the edge off. In more recent times, filmmakers like Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman and Jean-Luc Godard, and novelists like Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut, made careers out of it. There is also the documented phenomenon of people “remembering” detailed past-life situations from seminal events in history (the Civil War, Cleopatra’s Rome, the Holocaust), even though the people doing the remembering were born decades if not centuries after the events described took place.
Still, taken seriously, the possibility poses challenges to the core beliefs of both religious right fundies and no-intelligent-designers like nothing this side of Darwin himself. Could there be an alternate reality where the Inglourious Basterds did stop Hitler, where John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Heath Ledger are all having a party, where JFK never got shot and Mohamed Atta got shot down? (No, the National Enquirer doesn’t count.) Reincarnation at least postpones a belief in instant-karma heaven (or hell or purgatory), and obliterates the atheist (dis)belief in permanent midnight.
Scott Bakula’s signature Quantum Leap was the first solid, long-running hit about a man who came unstuck in time, and since then there have been other one-season wonders jaunting their way through network prime on their inexorable journey to rerun marathons on SyFy. The latest was ABC’s Life on Mars, starring Jason O’Mara (above right) as a 2008 New York cop named Sam Tyler who, following a car accident that may or may not have been intentional (while pursuing a lead in a serial killer case), finds himself warped back in time 35 years, to the spring and summer of 1973. Strangely, he finds himself working as a cop in much the same precinct (minus computers, cell phones, fax machines, DVDs and DNA, natch), with a crew of 1970s cops who seem to have always known and worked with him.
The fact that he is at first confused by his surroundings and doesn’t remember them lead the group to tease him as “Space Man,” and leads Sam to wonder — could 2008 have just been a dream? Is 1973 where he was from after all? And why 1973, anyway, other than it being the title of a groovy James Blunt song? (The title “Life on Mars” refers to a Velvet Goldmine-era David Bowie hit.) Sam was born in 1969, so it wasn’t to revisit his birth — though both ominous events in his own childhood and the serial killer case he was investigating when he was struck in 2008 both date back to that fateful year. And like a comatose victim, Sam sometimes hears faint voices and hallucinates “visions” of 2008, beckoning him to come back — or to go end-of-watch forever.
The show boasted one of the most A-level casts in recent network series TV, with Michael Imperioli and Harvey Keitel (above left) as the politically incorrect cops in Sam’s precinct, and Gretchen Mol as a possible 1973 love interest, and the only female cop in the squadroom (her semi-affectionate nickname: “No-Nuts”). Based as it was on a BBC miniseries, original stars Philip Glenister and John Simm were approached (strangely, the lead actor in Life on Mars seems to have been intended to be significantly less famous than his costars) but they turned it down, though eventual lead O’Mara is also a son of the United Kingdom.
As someone who has felt severely lost in time for most of his life, this was a guaranteed attention-grabber. Though the show is consistently interesting, it begins to feel like a forced march as it progresses from here to eternity. And its episodic plots, which already have to be contrived to some degree by the nature of the very premise, turn downright gimmicky. CBS’s reliably popular (and superior) Cold Case already covered the theme of contrasting today’s comparative freedom with the stifling racial, sexual and class morays of the ’40s and ’50s (and the boundary-free liberated excess of the 1960s, ’70s, and go-go ’80s) — in far more memorable and emotionally haunting fashion. (While Cold Case can have a heavy hand, Life on Mars hits with a trash compactor.) Without the time-travel MacGuffin, this show is just yet another innumerable wannabe spin-off of original-recipe CSI, Law & Order or NYPD Blue — let alone quirky, flawed, instantly buzz-worthy sleuths like Monk, House and The Mentalist — and without most of those shows’ literate storytelling stylishness.
While I won’t spoil the series ender, it has a fittingly spaced-out final explanation — although, like Dallas‘ notorious “dream sequence” or the autistic-child’s-fantasy ending to St. Elsewhere, the Life on Mars denouement also reduces all the drama and emotional investment in the characters to a mere space oddity. Unless handled with home run brilliance, any reductive explanation of such an outlandish premise is bound to disappoint, though the show at least deserves an “A” for effort in trying, rather than just leaving the viewers hanging once the 17 episode orders ran out. But for a considerably superior — and far more provocative and stylish — small screen look at altered states, one need look no further than your TiVo, for Eliza Dushku and Joss Whedon & Co. on Fox Fridays, with Dollhouse.
Housed in clear plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, Life on Mars comes presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, enhanced for 16×9 televisions, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional Spanish and French subtitles. Bonus features include four episodic audio commentary tracks interspersed throughout the series, as well as 10 deleted scenes, a short gag reel, and a 15-minute behind-the-scenes featurette comprised of EPK-style interviews with cast and crew. Somewhat bizarrely, there’s also a brief featurette in which The Six Million Dollar Man‘s Lee Majors tours the Life on Mars set with O’Mara. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Show) B (Disc)
Hollywood’s search for the next “It Girl” is perpetual, almost humorously unending, and occasionally it leads them down strange paths, but if I had to lay money on the staying power of a female up-and-comer outside An Education‘s Carey Mulligan, I’d most likely turn eyes to the 25-year-old Zoe Kazan, the cherubic-faced granddaughter of Elia Kazan, and daughter of screenwriter-directors Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord. More Amy Adams than Rachel McAdams, Kazan made an impression in a small but pivotal role in last year’s Revolutionary Road, getting bedded by Leonardo DiCaprio (which, hey, boded well for Elizabeth Banks in Catch Me If You Can), and she’s an absolute airy delight in Richard Linklater’s Me & Orson Welles, which hits screens in late November. She only figures in three scenes, as part of a loose framing device for the larger narrative proper, but she creates a whole-bodied character who spills over into its frames, and makes you wish there was some spin-off companion piece. Now comes word that indie distributor Oscilloscope has picked up the North American rights to Bradley Rust Gray’s The Exploding Girl, for which Kazan won Best Actress honors at the Tribeca Film Festival. So… check back in two years; Adams and Zooey Deschanel can’t hold down all the ingenue roles.
I was discussing R.J. Cutler’s The September Issue with a friend and colleague recently, and the idea that clothes say more than words, or even body language (their assertion). I disagree, but it’s undeniable that there are some for whom fashion is a religion… or a church, let’s say. High-end or designer clothes provide not just a status symbol, or stamp of outwardly reflected, au courant modernity (though that’s it for some, sure), but a sense of actual order. Their understanding and engagement with the outside world is funneled through the external packaging. I know this because I’ve seen it in the askance glances or judgments on harmless professional attire of mine — shirts matched with ties, or jeans and Oxford button-downs — and I think I’m a fashion zero, more or less, tidy enough to look nice, but generally unadventurous enough to avoid attention. (Except when it comes to some novelty and/or hand-altered T-shirts.) I know many more women like this than men, but it’s not at all uncommon, and it’s not merely a social snobbery thing either. Part of the success of The September Issue, I believe, stems from the manner in which the movie embraces that enormously self-serious reverence, while also showcasing the capriciousness of its tastemakers and the all-too-familiar pettiness of its office rivalries. At any rate, something to ponder. To view the film’s trailer, click here.
German filmmaker Wolfgang Buld is chiefly known for his early work covering the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Stranglers, Boomtown Rats, Rough Trade, Killjoys, Jolt, the Jam, Subway Sect, Anonymous Chaos and other hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll acts, so the remastered version of his 1978 magnum opus, Punk in England, is a welcome DVD gift for thrashers of yesteryear.
The second part of Buld’s roughly fashioned trilogy on the wild music scene of the United Kingdom, circa the mid- to late-1970s, records the suburban sprawl of the punk movement, as it bleeds from London’s tiny, grubby, packed clubs to more open expanses, where punk-inspired kids would take notes on the energy of the movement and use it to experiment with new wave, ska and so-called rude boy music. Interviews galore stud this 90-minute title — including with Ian Dury and members of the Clash, the Specials, Secret Affair, Madness and more — but of course the main attraction is the music itself. A good thing, then, that Punk in England delivers some full-throttle live clips, no matter how roughly captured. Prima facie historical documents aren’t always neat and proper, ya know?
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Punk in England comes to DVD on a region-free disc, presented in 1.33:1 full frame, with a relatively meager English language mono audio track. A few trailers for complementary Buld releases Punk in London (1977) and Reggae in a Babylon (1978) are also included, as well as a brief documentary on women in rock, which includes interviews and live performance clips with Siouxsie, The Slits, Girlschool and other seminal groups. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) C+ (Disc)
Over at The Wrap, Steve Pond chats with cinematographer Gordon Willis, a honorary Academy Award recipient this year, who dances and ducks his share of questions, but does share his thoughts on being excised from the main Oscar ceremony, and working with Francis Ford Coppola.
Two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank can’t give any lift to Amelia, a soggy, unengaging biopic of Amelia Earhart, the American aviatrix who rose to fame with her transatlantic flights in the 1930s but disappeared in a later attempt to circumnavigate the globe. An attractively packaged but dramatically inert hagiography, the film feels so utterly designed not to offend, shock or confuse any potential age group that it ends up saying nothing of consequence about its subject. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (Fox Searchlight, PG, 111 minutes)
For the Extreme Makeover set and other fans of human uplift in general, the world’s best hero-themed movies will be honored next month at the My Hero Short Film Festival. The fifth annual festival takes place November 21 at 7 p.m. at the University of Southern California’s Norris Theater. Finalists include narrative, documentary and animated films, as well as music videos. Among them are:
- Biblioburro: The Donkey Library, an inspiring film by Valentina Canavesio about a Colombian teacher who brings books to rural communities that have no access to libraries
- Home Is Where You Find It, a touching film by 16-year-old AIDS orphan Alcides Soares, who received a movie camera from an American television writer and movie director, and who journeys to find a family and make a new life in his native Mozambique, a country ravaged by AIDS
- Iqra: Read, an eye-opening film by Fauzia Minallah, about the creation of a mural painted by Afghan and Pakistani boys in a settlement in Islamabad, which promotes the education of girls
The trailer for Toy Story 3 , which opens next summer, June 18, has dropped, and does it look like a winner? Yes, yes it does. The first half of the trailer works on two levels — using flashbacks to both establish the passage of time integral to the story within the movie and also remind filmgoers of their own nostalgic attachment to the first two Toy Story films. This is the sort of honest swing in adolescent feeling — wild joy laced with melancholy — most children’s movies don’t attempt to conjure, but that Pixar typically does so well. The second half of the trailer is more antics-oriented, and characteristic of what’s used to bait the LCD set. Still, it’s a nice blend.
It’s been a decade since the last film in the series, but given Pixar’s esteemed track record and the heavy rotation of the huge stack of DVDs they sold, I don’t see how this entry does any less than previous movies ($361 and $485 million worldwide, respectively), only more. Eschewing any sort of long-lead tracking or impression mumbo-jumbo, I’d peg its earnings at $550 million, about evenly split Stateside and internationally.
Can’t decide if it’s more charming or weird, the phone interview where the subject interrupts his/her own answer to ask, “How do you think this interview is going?”
Whether it’s Matthew McConaughey in A Time to Kill, Sandra Bullock in Speed, Edward Norton in Primal Fear or Ryan Gosling in The Believer, every so often there’s a feeling one gets watching a movie that the career of a young performer is about to explode into the stratosphere. The stand-alone or lasting quality of the film isn’t the most important thing, but rather the manner in which the actor or actress pops off the screen, and commands your attention in a variety of ways, large and small. A perceptive, engaging coming-of-age tale adapted from Lynn Barber’s memoir by About a Boy author Nick Hornby, An Education is just that sort of film for 24-year-old Carey Mulligan (below).
She stars as Jenny, an intelligent, headstrong, 16-year-old British girl itching to shake off the constraints of her suburban, all-girls-school upbringing circa 1961. Jenny swoons when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), a dapper guy twice her age who knows about art and wine, and has jet-setting pals, Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Helen (Rosamund Pike). Her friends are equally agog and her practically minded parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) surprisingly open to the courtship, so no matter the disapproval of her teacher (Olivia Williams), Jenny decides to celebrate her impending 17th birthday by losing her virginity with David.
The fact that An Education has to be described even to the degree above is somewhat regrettable, because the prescribed path of its narrative motivations are artfully obscured for a good bit of its running time, which actually benefits the movie. The more one experiences it wide-eyed and nakedly, like Jenny, the deeper the identification. There’s a fantastic exchange late in the film between Jenny and her headmistress (Emma Thompson) in which the young student eschews a glass-ceiling life of modulated expectation, instead making a case for stridency and a life lived through experience, no matter the pain: “Just an education isn’t good enough anymore — you have to tell us what it’s for,” she says, registering just the right blend of anger and exasperation.
While some of the film’s cross-purposes casting (notably Pike, who’s mostly traded previously in ice princess roles, but delivers quite winningly as the happily unaware Helen) work quite well, Sarsgaard doesn’t seem to fully embody David’s silver-tongued charisma. Of course, it’s ultimately not his show, so in the end it doesn’t much matter, or at least not to a degree that sinks the film. In her performance, Mulligan locates both the braininess and restless hormonal energy of an adolescent who’s blooming before most of her peers. Bearing witness to her education, in all its naiveté, brashness, passion and pain, is illuminating. (Sony Pictures Classics, R, 100 minutes)
Adam Goldberg wears a furrowed-brow scowl of perpetual distrust and discontent; even in screen romances he seems unhappy, or at least convinced that the world is basically a dreadful place. So in theory he could be the perfect guide for a piece like (Untitled), a loose-limbed comedy that casts a skeptical eye on the contemporary New York art scene, as seen by and experienced through a pair of quietly competitive brothers. In reality, though, Goldberg is let down by the material.
Josh (Eion Bailey) is a commercially successful painter, even though his work is sold discreetly to corporate clients out of a gallery’s back room. Self-important composer Adrian (Goldberg, above), meanwhile, fronts a performance art trio who peddle atonal, disharmonious works involving buckets, chains, duck calls and crumpled paper. When gallery owner Madeline (Marley Shelton) attends Adrian’s concert, she commissions a work from him and a weird quasi-love affair ensues, even though Josh had earlier introduced Madeline as his girlfriend.
Almost from the start, (Untitled) seems conflicted about what sort of agenda to pursue, or perspective to advance. Is it a satiric send-up of the modern art world, a wry debunking of avant-garde sensibility in general, or just a very specifically rendered comedy of upward social mobility? Where (Untitled) really drops the ball is in not getting into the brothers’ relationship in a more substantive way. With Madeline, there’s ostensibly a love triangle here, but director Jonathan Parker and his co-scripter, Catherine di Napoli, never plumb any deep conflict from it. Perhaps most damningly, Adrian embraces experimentation in the realm of music, yet has disdain for every other artist in the film, whom he regards as fraudulent, insincere, untalented or a sell-out. That’d be fine if the movie at least had Adrian self-justify his point-of-view, or argue about it with Josh, as they grapple with contrasting notions of success. But he doesn’t, so (Untitled) itself comes off as fuzzy and false.
Zak Orth quietly steals scenes as a collector (“a guy who did something with a computer and got rich,” as one character describes him) given a personality infusion by art, and Shelton gives an invested performance. True, too: there are bits and pieces of the movie — an inquisitive woodwind score, a few fun zingers, Madeline’s penchant for noisy clothes — that give it some punch. But the characters here don’t ring true, and a problematic ending only further sullies what comes across as a rich concept unconvincingly explored. (Samuel Goldwyn, 96 minutes, R)