I caught writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give (Sony Pictures Classics, April 23) last night, and while not perfect it’s a really pleasant, enjoyable thing — a quiet, deceptively simple New York movie that nestles you up against its bosom, and leaves you feeling like you could just trip along wherever with her characters. Like her previous films (Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money), it’s a humanistic/realistic relationship ensemble that evidences a great touch with actors. Not starving for paychecks, Holofcener works plenty in television (Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, et al), but at some point it would likely behoove her to dig into a single-character work, something with a more singular, subjective point-of-view. (And if she did that with frequent collaborator Catherine Keener, look out.) Studios, meanwhile, would be wise to team Holofcener with some of their best drama scribes; it would be a good match.
Over at the Los Angeles Times‘ The Envelope section, Glenn Whipp has a chat with James Cameron in which the writer-director talks frankly about pissing off conservative pundits with Avatar (some of whom, like The Weekly Standard, have lambasted the movie as a “deep expression of anti-Americanism”), and 20th Century Fox’s desire to suppress some of the movie’s environmental themes. Their reaction, from the piece and according to the filmmaker, was: “We really like the story. It’s great. But, well, is there a way to not have so much of this tree-hugging, Ferngully stuff in it? I said, ‘Not with me making it.’ Because that was my purpose in making the film. I wanted to make an environmentally conscious mainstream movie. And to be fair to 20th Century Fox, any of the other studios would have said the same thing. Fox ended up being enormously supportive and wrote this huge check. But they would have been much more comfortable if I had eliminated what they called the ‘tree-hugging’ elements.”
Also, in unrelated linkage, Todd Gilchrist has up a nice wrap/overview of the eighth annual Oxford Film Festival, over at Cinematical.
It’s a happy 30th birthday to Margarita Levieva, who it seems might have shown more in the Ashton-Kutcher-as-gigolo flick Spread than originally intended.
As far as mockumentaries go, Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney has a great set-up, or hook — one that would in theory allow for an exploration of the navel-gazing boomer generation, and how a kissed, chance moment of celebrity interaction can turn one’s world into a hermetically sealed diorama. Unfortunately, however, it never really coalesces in a meaningful way that elevates the movie into something more than a fleeting curio for Beatles-obsessed completists.
The background here is rooted in fact. Ruth Anson, a fresh-faced reporter for ABC television covering teen issues and the entertainment beat in the 1960s, got a chance in August of 1965 to stick a microphone in the face of Beatle Paul McCartney, who jokingly responded to her question about marriage plans by saying he intended to wed only if she would get hitched with him, “right now.” The film replays footage of this moment over and over (and over), but uses it as a launching point for the sunny Anson’s journey of self-discovery. Claiming she’s looking for “closure,” Anson attends a Hollywood pitch session where she talks up a possible film project built around her suddenly awakened desire to track down McCartney and ask him whether or not he was serious — a quixotic quest flick loosely in the vein of Brian Herzlinger’s My Date with Drew, in other words. Director Marc Cushman (who also appears onscreen, playing himself) takes to Anson’s idea, but finds that he and his production team keep hitting brick walls as they try to track McCartney down. Desperate to keep moving forward, he re-contextualizes Anson’s yearning, positioning her at the center of a reality show in which even her friends and family start to think maybe she’s a bit of a nutter.
There’s potential here, and by Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney by and large plays things fairly dry and tongue-in-cheek. Gratefully, it doesn’t tip over into histrionics (even though Anson gets all teary when she’s goaded into visiting a therapist, at Cushman’s insistence), but instead just follows around Cushman’s production team as they try to go about constructing embarrassing and/or air-quote dramatic scenarios for their unaware star. The chief problem is that the viewer gets out in front of the movie. It’s too slow-moving; its conflicts and jokes take too long to develop and then tend to drag on, and certain bits (like a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy-style makeover for Anson, as she preps to try to crash the Grammys with a set of phony IDs cooked up by Cushman) fall flat entirely. There isn’t enough rangy shock value or psychological insight to match the topic, so when the whole thing ends with an interview with porn star Ron Jeremy (since he was putatively able to gain access to the Grammys, and Anson wasn’t), well… one just has to shrug.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney comes to DVD presented in 1.33:1 full frame, with English language 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound and 2.0 stereo audio mixes. Bonus features consist of some touted “Beatles-type songs,” which is almost precisely as painful as that sounds. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) C- (Disc)
Over at the New York Times, Terrence Rafferty manages to work a mention of W.H. Auden into the lead of his interview with Martin Scorsese on Shutter Island, which I’ll hold my water on for now but will be getting into next week.
French filmmaker Luc Besson’s career hasn’t gone the way a lot of people might have expected, which is a fact that in and of itself likely delights Besson. After bursting onto the international scene in the mid-’80s with Subway and The Big Blue, and then making the phrase “French action film” sound not quite so silly with the equally stirring La Femme Nikita and The Professional, Besson dialed back his directorial ambitions just a bit, focusing on writing and producing in a way that would make even John Wells or Dick Wolf nod in admiration, and mentoring a new generation of French directors. While some ofhis latest efforts behind the camera have continued to prove delightfully off-kilter (animated films featuring a voice cast of Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Fallon and Mia Farrow, say), much of Besson’s work as a writer-producer conforms to the expectations of low- and middlebrow genre fare — punchy, hybrid works that trade in kinetic transport and enchantment.
All of which brings us to the Besson-scripted sequel to 2006’s District B13, the movie which first introduced parkour — or spry, urban escape, in which super-caffeinated participants surmount obstacles through perpetual motion — to Nike commercials and Jason Bourne. Directed by Patrick Alessandrin, the movie is a potent slice of cheery hokum, powered by the no-nonsense charisma of its two returning leads. Those inclined to want to see a couple white guys exercise cat-like martial arts moves against a loosely egalitarian sociological narrative backdrop will spark to the movie, and its sloppy embrace of joie de vivre.
A couple years have passed since elite undercover cop Damien Tomasso (Cyril Raffaelli) first teamed up with reformed vigilante Leito (parkour originator David Belle) to save the notorious District 13, a racially charged Parisian slum populated by violent, drug-dealing gangs and vicious killers. Besson dispenses with the conclusion of the first film with some amusingly blunt introductory text (“The government has changed, but little else has…”), and then proceeds to plunge our two protagonists back into a class-tinged struggle for equality, against a cabal of corrupt cops and elected officials conspiring to cook up civil unrest so that the five high-rises in the area in question can be razed and lucrative redevelopment contracts spread around to friends and benefactors.
After three kilos of heroin is planted in his apartment, Damien is incarcerated. He reaches out to Leito, who breaks into prison in order to break him out. Damien and Leito quickly lay hands on some incriminating evidence and then, uniting the slumlord leaders of five disparate gangs (the Arabs, blacks, Chinese, gypsies and skinheads), who rather inexplicably put aside any differences in an effort to stick it to le homme, hatch a plan to reach out to a French president (Philippe Torreton) who appears, on the outside at least, to have a humanistic streak, and sensitivity to the mass displacement and/or murder of thousands of poor.
The plot’s ticking-clock element doesn’t really make that much sense, and the mode of villainous wipe-out (a proposed nuclear air strike!) doesn’t seem all that subtle or practical. But then again, subtlety has never really been Besson’s thing. (The French company standing to benefit from all this is “Harriburton.”) He lacquers on the visual cues fairly thickly here, and indulges a pair of lazy escapes in which a hail of cops’ bullets cannot find their target. Still, even with these transgressions and a subtitled translation that sometimes appears a bit shoddy (“You want us to eat you here or to go?” reads one character’s query), one doesn’t hold too much of a grudge against the movie, since the action really needs no translation, and the actors are likeable enough to carry it along. With his thin, pinched face, the bald Raffaelli resembles a Gaellic, ass-kicking Seth Meyers, and Belle, with his shock of hipster hair, his lithe comrade in deceptively quick kicks to the face. More pitched, personal stakes (as in the first film) work best for these characters, but District B13: Ultimatum is a serviceable re-upping which works OK for those who favor underclass hand-to-hand action. (Magnolia, R, 100 minutes)
Based on the bestselling children’s book by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is one of those movies that leaves you wanting to break out the thesaurus, because the phrase “sheer, unadulterated pleasure” has been sullied by the likes of Joel Siegel’s overuse. Yet that’s what it is, simply and most directly — an engaging, funny and warmly designed animated flick that doesn’t pander to kids or pull a muscle trying to unnecessarily reach up and out to older audiences.
Co-directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the film tells the story of an affable outcast inventor who creates a machine that rains down food on his hungry island town. Ever since he was a kid, Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) has felt out of step and out of sorts with the world around him, and the inability of his emotionally withholding father (voiced by James Caan), a taciturn bait-and-tackle shop owner, to connect has only served to heighten his isolation. Every invention that seems like a breakthrough eventually — and sooner rather than later — comes crashing down around Flint, so when his latest contraption accidentally destroys the town square and rockets up into the clouds, he thinks his inventing career is over.
Then something amazing happens: delicious cheeseburgers start raining from the sky — a godsend to the populace of Swallow Falls, who have subsisted for years on nothing but sardines, and various (unsavory) iterations thereof. With visiting cable weather intern Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) on hand to report Flint’s triumph, the town’s ambitious, appetite-driven mayor (voiced by Bruce Campbell) both sees and seizes on a once-in-a-lifetime tourism opportunity, re-branding his island “Chews and Swallows,” a sort of foodie paradise getaway. When greed gets the best of people, though, the machine starts to run amok, unleashing spaghetti tornadoes and giant meatballs that threaten the world. Flint and Sam must swing into action, to try to find some way to shut down the machine before the world is overrun by giant food raining from the sky.
Hader gives a solid vocal turn as Flint, laced with his characteristic dryness, but also infused with heart. Faris, a delightful comedienne most recently seen to winning effect in The House Bunny, is also pitch-perfect; there’s fun had as well with the character of “Baby Brent” (voiced by Andy Samberg), a now-grown air-quote celebrity from Swallow Falls’ sardine days who’s wrecked by his sudden obsolescence. The writing here is all smart but not showy (there’s a joke that employs “amuse-bouche,” while also acknowledging its throwaway status), and a good bit of delight can be found in keeping an ear pricked for sotto voce or off-camera asides. In the broadest strokes, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs holds allegorical value as a cautionary tale against unchecked rapaciousness. Mostly, though, this is just a well-made movie, with plenty of heart, energy and fun characters.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs comes to DVD in a two-disc version housed in a regular plastic Amaray case with a snap-in tray, and an accompanying cardboard slipcover. In addition to a feature-length audio commentary track with the
co-directors and Hader, there’s also a pair of making-of featurettes
detailing the animation, voiceover work and other behind-the-scenes
aspects of production, plus a clutch of interesting progression reels/deleted scenes with
introductions by visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow. Also included
are a music video and interactive sing-a-long for Miranda Cosgrove’s “Raining Sunshine,” and an amusing “Food
Fight” game where players can help Flint battle against rogue edibles by
navigating his spaceship and avoiding hits from flying pizzas, gummy
bears, ice cream scoops and the like. All in all, a winning film with a great collection of supplemental material. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. A- (Movie) B+ (Disc)
Sometimes, when you’re an actor, you get drafted for silly promotional stunts, as happened to Hot Tub Time Machine costars Clark Duke and Collette Wolfe (far right) at the Air Canada Center in Toronto last night, as part of a “Tub Crawl” promotion at the Maple Leafs hockey game. When it involves ladies and soap suds, though, that’s not a bad thing, truth be told.
Straight from Fox Searchlight, the reactions from Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham to their Oscar nominations today:
Jeff Bridges, Best Performance by an Actor in a Lead Role: “I’m so grateful to have the honor of a fifth Oscar nomination, but to share this with my Crazy Heart colleagues T Bone and Ryan and my amazing co-star Maggie is truly special — this film is near and dear to my heart and theirs. I want to thank the Academy for being so kind to me for the past 40 years. And I want to thank my director Scott Cooper for helping bring Bad Blake to life, and to my wonderful wife Sue for being there for me the past 33 years. Today is filled with blessings.”
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: “I am thrilled… beyond thrilled. I was completely surprised, overwhelmed and overjoyed this morning when I heard about the nomination. I am so proud of this movie. Working with Jeff was amazing. He opened me up and pushed me so far. I’d love to keep making movies with him over and over again. Scott Cooper wrote such a beautiful script, and was so full of love and strength as a director. I am honored and overjoyed!”
T Bone Burnett, Music/Original Song — “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)”: “All of us who worked on Crazy Heart are so proud of this film, and are incredibly thankful that audiences are embracing it, and that reaction from critics and the film industry has been so overwhelmingly positive. To receive an Academy Award nomination, along with Ryan Bingham, Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal, is a great honor and further validates our belief in this film. I am personally very grateful to the Academy for this recognition of our work.”
Ryan Bingham, Music/Original Song — “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)”: “Being a part of Crazy Heart has been the experience of a lifetime, and I never could have imagined when I first started writing ‘The Weary Kind’ that it would have led to such an honor from the Academy. I couldn’t have asked to work with a more amazing and talented group of people on my first film. I feel both privileged and excited to share this Oscar nomination today along with T Bone Burnett, Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal.”
More from a recent interview with director Scott Cooper later in the week.
It’s not part of some design-of-the-day scheme, but in other Olivia Wilde news (she also costars in the film about to be mentioned), kudos to the folks at Disney, who are smartly piggybacking on Jeff Bridges’ no-brainer Oscar nomination for Crazy Heart by pegging the release of a photo from Tron Legacy to today.
Meditative and blue-hued, it doesn’t rank up there with Comic-Con’s Iron Man photo release from a couple years back in terms of sheer pizazz, that’s for sure. But it works in counterbalancing fashion to the sheer volume of effects-intensive promo shots that no doubt await, further down the line. Tron Legacy centers on Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the tech-savvy 27-year-old son of Kevin
Flynn (Bridges), as he looks into his father’s disappearance and finds
himself pulled into a digital world where his dad has been
living for the past 25 years. Together, they embark on a life-and-death journey
of escape across an exceedingly dangerous cyber
universe. The film releases December 17.
A campy, sci-fi, gleefully gross-out adventure loosely in the vein of fellow budget-challenged romps like Feast or Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, Infestation is written and directed by Kyle Rankin, one of the co-directors behind The Battle of Shaker Heights — the final Project Greenlight flick, which whiffed commercially but helped put Shia LaBeouf on the path toward big screen domination on which he now seems to be. It’s not a movie that reinvents the wheel (or in any way, shape or form really desires to), but it is fun, and well done, benefiting from the jocular presence of Christopher Marquette. Genre fans will assuredly dig it.
A mundane office workday takes a sudden turn for the worse when twentysomething chronic underachiever Cooper is rendered unconscious by an earsplitting noise. He wakes up several days later, in a massive cocoon spun by mutant, flesh-eating insects. Upon hooking up with Sara (Brooke Nevin), the daughter of his deceased boss, Cooper unwraps a couple more coworkers at the downtown office park around him, forming a team of strangers to eventually strike out into the great unknown, and fight off the infestation. In addition to gruff, tough-talking Sara, there’s Cindy (Kinsey Packard), plus Al (Wesley Thompson) and his deaf son, a hulking man-child named Hugo (Quincy Sloan). A plan is forged to check on a select handful of loved ones and then work toward safety; Cooper eventually crosses paths with emotionally withholding dad Ethan (Ray Wise), who can’t even sincerely compliment his son for making it across the city, and back to his house.
In movies like Fanboys and the underrated The Girl Next Door, Marquette has provided solid comic relief, but here he anchors the entire film, in winning fashion. Rankin also plays with audience expectation and genre convention in fresh, slightly amusing ways. Sometimes the manner in which he leapfrogs story hurdles is funny right through the fog of shrugs (a character, playing a massage therapy student, uses a home pregnancy test to determine the venomous nature of a captured spider), but a couple times Rankin requires characters to nakedly intuit things that don’t entirely make sense. Efram Potelle, Rankin’s Shaker Heights co-director, scores a visual effects supervisor credit here (a big part of the duo’s short film work, for those who remember), and it’s undeniably true that Infestation‘s giant bugs — a smart, seamless mixture of practical and CGI effects — go a long way toward making one believe enough in the conceit of the film to lie back and just have a good time.
Infestation arrives on DVD presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo audio tracks, as well as optional English and Spanish subtitles. Apart from trailers for other releases, the only supplemental extra is a feature-length audio commentary track from Rankin that is fairly low-key, to the point it could be legitimately described as enervated. Rankin talks some about Wise’s penchant for improvisation, and cops to the fact that the movie’s abortive ending is a naked ploy to set up a potential sequel. In fact, he says, he has a two-film arc sketched out, if Infestation catches on as a viral DVD smash. Hey… far worse things could happen. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) C (Disc)
From The Hollywood Reporter‘s Heat Vision blog, word that Olivia Wilde is deep in negotiations to join Daniel Craig in the sci-fi western Cowboys and Aliens, which Jon Favreau is directing for DreamWorks. Wilde would play a character named Ella, who joins up with mysterious gunslinger in an unlikely uprising against an alien invasion; Craig is playing the gunslinger, taking over the role from Robert Downey, Jr., who dropped out in January to jump into a fast-tracked Sherlock Holmes sequel. This would be good news for fans of alluring eyebrows, no doubt.
For those in the Southern California area, director Arthur Hiller will appear at two separate double-dips of his films at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica — this Thursday’s double feature of The In-Laws and Silver Streak, and this Friday’s double feature of The Out of Towners and Plaza Suite. Both programs start at 7:30 p.m., and tickets range from $9 to $11. The Aero Theatre is located at 1328 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica
It’s a happy birthday to Christie Brinkley, who turns 56 today. She’s no actress, although her appearance in National Lampoon’s Vacation certainly made an impression. Chiefly, though, Brinkley was known to guys who came of age in the 1980s and early parts of the 1990s as a model for Sports Illustrated‘s annual swimsuit issue (her romance with rock ‘n’ roll piano man Billy Joel didn’t hurt in this regard either, upping her profile and keeping her in the public light). No crazy-busty chick, Brinkley and her sunny persona presented a confounding and seemingly at-odds image for plenty of teen and twentysomething guys — the knockout model as relatable girl next door.
And in photos like the one above, the leggy looker (she’s 5’9″) cemented the virtues of bared neck, shoulders and more for a generation of hormonally-charged dudes. Maybe the Internet, with its readily available explicit images, has changed that for the current generation. But movies (and magazines) used to not be above trading in sexiness without any preoccupation with actual sex. The bared female back is a big part of that — a subdued and at times almost startling inversion of what men, in all our visual orientation, most typically focus on. Of course, the ass pear doesn’t hurt either.
As micro-brews continue to surge in popularity, and Americans of a certain age start to become at least a bit more invested in their ale quaffing habits (if not quite to the same degree that they typically are with wine), entertaining and informative glimpses behind the sociocultural curtain like this new-to-DVD documentary will continue to find welcome reception. Clocking in at only an hour, The American Brew doesn’t quite have the contemporary pop of Anat Baron’s Beer Wars, which examined in fascinating fashion how the three (now two) major brewer-bottlers look to trick consumers and put the squeeze on upstart competitors. Still, in exploring the rich and surprising history of beer making from colonial settlers through the present day, this movie offers up sudsy intrigue.
Writer Jesse Sweet and director Roger Sherman share the unique history of America’s favorite beverage (sorry, Coke), charting a history from the Prohibition era right on through the unending success of national breweries. The American Brew explores the evolution of beer throughout the centuries, interweaving compelling personal tales and interviews with industry experts to provide an inside look at brewing innovations, and how those changes have impacted the national palette.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, The American Brew comes to DVD in widescreen, with an English language 5.1 surround sound audio track that more than adequately handles the meager aural demands of the title. Hearteningly, the DVD also features over 45 minutes of bonus footage, including conversations with restaurateur Danny Meyer, premier beer critic Michael Jackson (no, not that guy), and the editors of All About Beer. There’s also a look inside the hidden cellar of New York City’s Prohibition-era 21 Club, Paul Brady’s breweriana collection, and a cheeky short, “Cheese Wars,” which pits wine and beer against one another in an effort to determine cheese’s perfect match. To order a copy of The American Brew directly from PBS, call (800) PLAY-PBS or click here; to purchase the DVD via Amazon, meanwhile, click here. B- (Movie) B+ (Disc)
In entertaining and thought-provoking fashion, Luke Y. Thompson assays the tangled intersection of audience perception, directorial intent and cinematic truth, over at Geekweek; it’s an offshoot of an exchange we had that cropped up after I viewed the director’s cut of Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. Meanwhile, in an unrelated note, Roger Ebert posts some video excerpts from a Friday home visit by Up in the Air director Jason Reitman.
Remember being taught origami in school when you were a child? You were pretty crappy at it, weren’t you? Marvel, then, at those who are far more at home at the intersection of art and math; with this compelling, new-to-DVD, hour-long documentary, PBS gives audiences an amazing look at artists who have abandoned their ordinary, mundane jobs in favor of turning paper-folding into not only art, but also their new life’s work.
Directed by Vanessa Gould, Between the Folds chronicles the stories of 10 fine artists and intrepid scientists who have alternately abandoned their careers and scoffed at hard-earned graduate degrees — all to forge unconventional lives as modern day paper-folders. As these offbeat and provocative characters converge on the unusual medium of origami, they reinvent an ancient art and demonstrate the innumerable ways that ingenuity and expression come to bear.
Delving into the math involved in some of the intricate work, but not to an unpleasant degree, the documentary paints an arresting portrait of the remarkable artistic
and scientific creativity that fuels this ever-changing art form —
fusing science and sculpture, form and function, the old and the new. The creations on display are of course arresting; perhaps most so is MIT mechanical engineering student Brian Chan’s single-sheet mock-up of his school’s seal, complete with blacksmith and hammer on one side, and scholar and open book on the other. Also interesting is a discussion of the so-called “bug wars” that defined public origami showcases of the 1990s, when one competitor’s six-legged beetle was later trumped by spiders (eight legs!) and scorpions (eight legs, plus pinchers). These aren’t tossed-off creations, obviously; the most complex efforts take weeks to design, and sometimes up to 100 working hours to fold into shape.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Between the Folds comes to DVD presented in anamorphic widescreen. Unlike many PBS titles, there’s also a nice smattering of supplemental content, in the form of the program’s two-minute trailer, and a collection of seven deleted scenes. In these, Erik Demaine talks about the future influence of computer programming on the art, and Paul Jackson lays into an analysis of, well, what’s wrong with paper as a medium. There’s also an eight-minute short film, Origametria, which centers around Miri Golan and the Israeli Origami Center, where paper-folding is used as a tool to teach kids geometry’s more abstract principles. American charter schools take note. To purchase the DVD, call (800) PLAY-PBS. Or to purchase via Amazon, click here. B+ (Movie) B (Disc)