Over at the Independent, Robert Chalmers has some self-analytical postmodern fun, but also works it deftly into a wonderful interview with Isabelle Huppert, who would likely be much more well known Stateside were it not for her 1) almost willful inscrutability, and 2) aversion to crap Hollywood studio product. The big scoop? Huppert confesses her only real vice at the article’s end: broccoli.
I don’t know if I’ll make the final cut — I was interviewed briefly at the Two Lovers junket, after an interesting interview — but Casey Affleck’s feature directorial debut on a very strange year in the life of brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix will be released on September 10, as Magnolia Pictures has wrapped up a deal for worldwide distribution rights. Titled I’m Still Here, the movie charts Phoenix’s announced retirement from acting, growth of a crazy prospector’s beard, and launching of a rap career.
Yes, this is real, and not a Saturday Night Live sketch. I saw it with my own eyes, and then proceeded immediately to an emergency chemical wash station. Actually, scratch that… it’s brilliant in its own way. I can admit that. I admire the mind that conceived it and the oral persuasion that went into getting a client to pay (presumably top dollar) for it. I just don’t know about the target audience. I mean, who digs jean shorts, let alone mock-denim diapers? Outside of Kentucky, I mean.
To try to completely distill filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s sprawling sci-fi chessboard action-drama on the fly and in short-form would be something of a fool’s game, so a longer review will likely follow, in some form, somewhere, but suffice it to say that an admiration and understanding of the mind-bending Inception rests largely in one’s appreciation for and tolerance of the idea of esoteric feeling fueling an action film rather than merely corporeal concerns.
Still plagued by the death of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), freelance corporate espionage agent Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) extracts ideas from dreams, tilling his victims’ subconscious for valuable information. Busted by a businessman (Ken Watanabe) who offers him a chance for amnesty by planting an idea deep in the mind of his ascendant rival (Cillian Murphy), Dom and his team plunge deep into a multi-layered dreamscape.
Rangy and intellectually muscular, Inception is flawed in the ways that only a brilliant, overreaching work can be. While almost always involving, it doesn’t have a suitably engaging antagonist, and its grander emotional strokes don’t quite pack the emotional wallop Nolan thinks they do, mainly because Mal remains a cipher, a placeholder of peaceable tranquility rather than a full-blooded character.
What’s most heartening and invigorating, though, is the sheer, staggering theoretical and philosophical ambition on display, and the amount of studio muscle and capital thrown at it, when pablum is so often Hollywood’s default setting. At its core, Inception is a rumination on the very human and appealing idea of utter stability, and arrested happiness. For plenty of film geeks, that will be achieved this summer. (Warner Bros., PG-13, 148 minutes)
Inbred Redneck Vampires has exactly one thing going for it, in the form of its DVD cover, in which a “tramp stamp” Confederate flag tattoo rises alluringly over a pair of jeans, blood trickling down the bare back of its cover model. Unfortunately not even this potentially lucrative one-sheet image is clearly rendered; it’s awash in muddy grey, which is a telling metaphor for the across-the-board failure of what could otherwise be a stupid-fun romp through an exploitative, made-for-video premise.
A micro-budgeted, schlocky 2004 comedy only now receiving a home video
release, the provocatively titled Inbred Redneck Vampires finds sexy vampire Catherine (Felicia Pandolfi) and her lackey/underling Lendel (Werewolf Tales‘ Warren E.B.B., impressively preserving the anonymity of three-quarters of his name) on the run from a ruthless vampire hunter. After stumbling across Billy Joe Barney Bob (Robert Olin), they take refuge in the small rural burgh of Backwash, where Catherine hatches a plan to turn the backwoods folk into an army of vampire slaves. Beer drinking, bean eating, tripe cooking, shower peeping (above), competitive farting, terrible puns, and all other manner of forced line readings and sigh-inducing inanity ensue, leading up to the town’s annual Tripe Days Festival.
The back of the DVD cover box touts the movie as “combining the gross-out and physical comedy of Animal House and American Pie with the country humor of Hee Haw,” but that’s sort of akin to saying Fear Dot Com shares a lot in common with The Exorcist since they’re both horror films. Director and co-writer Joe Sherlock may be a veteran of over two dozen independent features and anthologies, but his work here doesn’t even have any sleazy sexploitation value for avowed fans of off-the-beaten-path regional video. (The movie was shot in Washington and Oregon, with a cast of largely local non-professionals.)
A lot can be forgiven by way of shoddy technical execution if there’s just a little pop to the material — some snarky fun to be had in the tangled weeds of the dialogue, or a performance that’s wild, zonked and/or enjoyably amusing. Inbred Redneck Vampires simply doesn’t have any of those things going for it, however. (There is a dwarf [also above, leering], if that matters to anyone.) The set-ups are mostly flat, the framing and camerawork is atrocious, the performances uniformly cringe-inducing (broad, without benefit of a backdrop and pacing that tonally matches), and the nature of the material unsettled and very much up in the air. Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say. The same applies to shlocky B-movies, if anyone needed a reminder.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Inbred Redneck Vampires comes to DVD presented in 16×9 widescreen, divided into 29 chapters, with an English language stereo audio track. Bonus material arrives by way of 10 minutes worth of bloopers (in which tubby guys reveal some man-cleavage and one gal mock-fellates a microphone), a trailer for the movie, and an 11-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, which reveals the movie’s original title as Bloodsucking Redneck Vampires, and spotlights the nature of DIY indie film production, by way of a wardrobe story involving a panicked run to the nearest Target, one town away. There are nine trailers for other Sub Rosa Studios releases, too, including for movies entitled Ski Wolf and, ahem, Terror at Blood Fart Lake (yes, seriously). A braver critic would have perhaps given due diligence and investigated the latter; I skipped it, alas. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. F (Movie) C- (Disc)
In a newly published essay, Mark Twain assays the art and experience of the interview, while over at PopMatters, Monte Williams takes a flight-of-fancy look at sequels that never were. The latter is of particular interest to me in that I too feel often feel intrigued or interested most by what’s out-of-frame in sequels; I’d love (at least in theory) to see genre pieces spin-off and follow characters in more talky, urbane directions. If you give me an interesting character, I’m perfectly happy to follow them into new terrain. The mathematical studio formula of apportioned excess (e.g., Bad Boys II) makes for some absolutely terrible follow-ups, just on a very basic conceptual level.
A spirited and slickly mounted production that suffers more from sins of omission than commission, Predators gives distributor 20th Century Fox good reason to believe there’s life yet left in their alien hunters franchise.
Directed by Nimrod Antal (Vacancy), from a script by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, Predators opens with Adrien Brody awakening in a mid-air free-fall, dumped from up high on what turns out to be an alien planet, with a parachute that (naturally) barely opens in time. Brody’s square-jawed Royce, it turns out, is an experienced mercenary. In a matter of minutes, he’s soon surrounded by Isabelle (Alice Braga), an Israeli Defense Force sniper, and a set of assorted killers, scumbags and underworld enforcers (Danny Trejo, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Walter Goggins and Louis Ozawa Changchien), with Topher Grace’s wimpy Chicago doctor apparently the odd man out. They quickly squash their beef, this group, rightly assuming that greater dangers lurk not too far around the edges of their strange new environment.
Firefights with boar-like beasties ensue. It seems that these alien predators apparently value the very sport of death-hunting, and having dangerous human game helps keep them on their toes, and adapt to new strategies of defense. At least that’s what the group eventually finds out from Noland (Laurence Fishburne), a cracked veteran they stumble across who’s been surviving on his own. As the predators’ hunt commences, the humans scramble to stay alive, and Royce hatches a long-shot plot to try to locate and commandeer the cloaked alien spaceship.
Other than a token fealty to the variable degrees by which characters’ actions are governed by some sense of human connection instead of purely self-interest, Predators doesn’t offer up much in the way of subtext or nuance. Instead, it’s mostly about action and letting viewers get a (nostalgic, for some) kick from seeing aliens using their heat-signature vision, and making their now characteristic gurgley-clicking noises. Its technical execution is fairly slick, but, damningly, the movie leaves untapped intrigue and tension on the table.
Its characterizations are thin (no great shock there) and its dialogue rarely more than functional, but also, crucially and unrealistically, there’s a level of basic unexamined human interaction to the movie that’s pretty baffling. When Royce and the others, all strangers, somewhat suss out that they’re each familiar with violence, let’s say, to put it euphemistically, no one ever glares at Grace’s character, points, and says, “Hey, what about this whitebread kid with glasses?” They just don’t have the conversation, which could be accomplished in a minute of screen time. Coming on the heels of the conclusion of small screen phenomenon Lost, which similarly made hay out of a group of strangers thrown together into an insane and intense situation in a remote environment, Predators seems especially lacking in this regard — in its steadfast, almost allergic avoidance to any sort of intellectual reasoning regarding the group’s surroundings and who might have put them there. Even if — as correctly ascertained and certainly born out through immediate experience — it’s basically just a survival-hunt obstacle course, wouldn’t all the gun-toting-types recognize the one not like the other, and voice something about that? Part of this, in theory, is to preserve a slight twist near the movie’s conclusion, but it doesn’t pass muster. It’s lame to (exclusively) have characters this plugged-in, reflexively unanalytical and ready to go.
What gives Predators its kick and pull, then, is its casting. The inking of Brody to the film (along with that of Grace) initially drew plenty of raised eyebrows from fans, but he handles the crypto-macho thing with aplomb, and steely nerve. Even though he’s beefed up a bit (20 pounds, say feature interviews, but that seems a bit generous), it cuts against the grain to see a somewhat lean, normally proportioned guy wading into the breach in a movie like this, and it comes off as refreshing. Braga, meanwhile, is solid, in the role that would have surely been given a bit too much sneering surface toughness by Michelle Rodriguez. And then there’s Fishburne, who wanders into the film deep in its second act, and absolutely owns a whispery-crazy scene in which he imparts some of the wisdom he’s gleaned from 10 “seasons” of hunting and being hunted. These three performances — in addition to the creative misfire that was 2007’s Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem — are a shared reminder that while otherworldly hunters may be the slaying stars of the show in the Predator series, humans still matter most in the equation. (20th Century Fox, R, 106 minutes)
The idea of mechanized roving security cameras that go schizoid and start slaying people — perhaps at the behest of nefarious establishment masters, perhaps not — inescapably aligns with surging modern fears about privacy, and technological intrusion. That’s Eyeborgs, in a nutshell. There’s delicious potential here, if it’s in the right hands — someone like Paul Verhoeven, perhaps, or David Cronenberg. But Highlander‘s Adrian Paul and some kid who looks like he might be cast as Robert Pattinson in a high school production of some emo Twilight fiction… well, they’re not the right hands. That’s all I’m saying.
Set in the near future, when the fear of terrorism has escalated into absolute, media-stoked hysteria (i.e., after the next successful Stateside terror attack), Eyeborgs posits a world where, in order to deal with the paranoia, robotic cameras are everywhere — in people’s homes, on the streets, in the workplace — in order to monitor things, and keep everyone safe. But are the cameras really being used to keep America safe… or to safekeep Americans?
Federal agent Gunner Reynolds (Paul, perhaps operating under the assumption that he’s being paid in per-ounce emoting) becomes suspicious of this prowling, precautionary system after a series of murders occur in which the video records don’t seem to align with the physical evidence. Recruiting the help of TV news reporter Barbara Hawkins (Megan Blake) and the President’s punkish, purple-haired nephew, Jarett Hewes, (Luke Eberl), Gunner angles to discover who’s really controlling the eyeborgs, with reclusive political dissident G-Man (Danny Trejo) providing the valuable initial assessment that the little buggers seem to be weaponized.
Eyeborgs might sound schlocky, but the potential for derisible special effects hampering its effectiveness actually ranks far down on the list of problems. Director Richard Clabaugh keeps things moving at a decent clip, and the CGI work is… adequate, at least. Let’s say that. Clabaugh doesn’t succumb to the feeling or need to feature a straight-on effects shot when something a bit more integrated and fleeting might work just as well. And if Eyeborgs doesn’t quite, on an intellectual level, fully dig into the provocative themes that its conceit raises, the film at least amply earns its R rating without dipping too far into over-the-top gore. Unfortunately, the movie’s dialogue is hammy and on-the-nose, and its acting simply not up to snuff. Repeatedly, the movie fumbles away any sense of accrued momentum or suspense, with screwball inflections and other oddly timed freak-outs.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Eyeborgs comes to DVD presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track, and optional English and Spanish subtitles. Special features consist of a small handful of deleted scenes, the movie’s trailer, and a nice, lengthy behind-the-scenes featurette which blends cast and crew interviews, some on-set footage and clips from the film. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. In addition, the film is available via digital download. C (Movie) B- (Disc)
It’s a happy birthday to Alexis Dziena, who turns 26 today. Dziena’s bikini and crotch, variously, made small snatches of Fool’s Gold (above) bearable. Of course, she first came to the attention of curious monkeys courtesy of her full-on nude scene in Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, which I’d wager was Google-searched by more people than actually saw the film.
Movies detailing the lives of corrupt, disinterested and/or tempted New York police officers could and probably should constitute their own subgenre Netflix listing, and that’s where Brooklyn’s Finest, a very masculine, surface-level slice of familiar cop drama, slots. Those inclined to like this sort of thing will find enough about it to like; others will likely shrug.
Unfolding over the course of one chaotic week, the movie centers around three conflicted Big Apple cops whose discrete stories eventually come together in a massive drug sting operation. There’s burned-out veteran Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere), one week away from retirement; narcotics officer and family man Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke), who’s grappling with a gnarly house mold problem (yes, seriously) and struggling to make ends meet for his seven children; and equally stressed-out
Clarence “Tango” Butler (Don Cheadle), who’s been undercover so long his
loyalties might have started to shift from his fellow officers to old
friend Caz (Wesley Snipes), a drug dealer just out of prison. With
pressures bearing down on them, each man is forced to make some tough
decisions that have lasting consequences, both anticipated (to them) and
It’s not a grade-A slur to say that Brooklyn’s Finest
feels entirely constructed from prefabricated parts, or like the
comeback single from a reconstituted band. There’s Fuqua and Hawke,
reuniting from Training Day; Snipes, playing a character who could be a
cousin of New Jack City’s Nino Brown; and Cheadle working undercover, as in
Traitor. Fuqua shoots the film with much style and pop-off energy, but the plotting here is
strictly by the book — except for Gere’s story strand, actually, which
flirts with intrigue in detailing his complicated relationship with a
hooker (Shannon Kane). Unfortunately, audiences can’t dictate which
story of the triptych to stick with, so the finest portions of Brooklyn’s Finest are forced to exist in timeshare lockstep with the more boring portions. That makes even a curious, look-see rental a 50-50 satisfying proposition, at best.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Brooklyn’s Finest comes to DVD presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, with English stereo and Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio tracks, and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Four separate behind-the-scenes featurettes run a combined 25 minutes, and track the film’s 41-day production schedule fairly well. Fuqua is an articulate guy who has a lot of thoughtful empathy for his movie’s characters, and Hawke also has some interesting things to say about how Fuqua has gotten even better as a director since their previous collaboration. Furthermore, screenwriter Michael Martin’s personal biography (he was working as a toll booth operator while penning the script at night, and eventually leveraged a second place finish in a script contest into a production sale) is an inspiration to those that would continue to pursue their dreams against considerable odds. A whopping 30-plus minutes of deleted scenes is also included. There’s also the movie’s trailer, and a small clutch of other previews, including for Pandorum, The Crazies and three other films. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. To purchase the Blu-ray via Amazon, meanwhile, click here. C (Movie) B (Disc)
Lindsay Lohan is going to jail for 90 days, it seems, for having violated the terms of her probation from her 2007 drunk driving case. Sad, but pretty inevitable, no? The best thing she can do now is to junk the air-quote rehab centers of further enablement, and throw herself into some real treatment.
I don’t have to pay attention to any of the specific details of the $100 million libel suit against author and Daily Beast editor-at-large Randall Lane, who in his new book The Zeroes claims diminutive ex-baseball player Lenny Dykstra was secretly paid $250,000 by AVT, Inc. to plug its stock on TheStreet.com, the website owned and operated by CNBC Mad Money host Jim Cramer, do I? I mean, once they come back from the holiday break I can pretty much count on Jon Stewart and company to wrap this one up for me with a bow on top, right?
Christopher Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical novel forms the basis of fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut, an exactingly constructed, mostly well acted period piece drama about a broken man who, in the wake of his longtime gay companion’s death, can scarcely see any sort of future on the horizon. It hangs on a superb performance from Colin Firth, and features a few stirring moments of quiet, aching melancholy — the sort of private, swallowed pain that is infrequently attempted and even less successfully captured on screen in Hollywood studio fare — but isn’t quite a gobsmacked-level dramatic keeper for the ages.
Set in Los Angeles over the course of but a few days in 1962, A Single Man centers on George Falconer (Firth, Oscar-nominated), a 52-year-old British college professor struggling to find meaning after the sudden death of his boyfriend Jim (Matthew Goode). George is consoled, if rather brusquely, by his closest friend, Charley (Julianne Moore), a 48-year-old Tanqueray depository wrestling with her own questions about the future. As George ponders suicide, a young student coming to terms with his own true nature, Kenny (About a Boy‘s Nicholas Hoult, all growed up), feels in George a sort of kindred spirit, and makes it a point to reach out to him.
On a certain level, A Single Man seems to posit that isolation and loneliness is an inescapable and inherent part of the human condition, which makes the performance of Hoult, who communicates in batted eyelashes and seems a little too cutesy-pinup to pull off the necessary emotional maturity required in his increasing flirtations with his teacher, additionally problematic. (George’s chance liquor store encounter with a Spanish hustler, played by Jon Kortajarena, meanwhile, comes across as intriguing but still fairly believable for this very reason — because it’s a fantasy digression from the order, structure and “safety” of his previously settled world.) Mine is something of a minority opinion on Hoult, I realize. His performance was praised by numerous critics, and tabbed for a Rising Star nomination at last year’s BAFTA Awards. But to me, Kenny comes across as an idealized angel ripped from the pages of some Calvin Klein ad, and not someone that George would be interested in, particularly given what we see of his relationship with Jim.
There’s an delicateness to the production; Ford’s fashion sense informs every frame, and Eduard Grau’s cinematography is striking. But there’s also a bit of fussiness in some of the art direction — by the time the third symbolic underwater sequence comes along, it feels a bit much. Still, Firth is absolutely excellent, sublimating some of the bumbling charm that’s made him such a crush of the literate thirtysomething female crowd. In almost single-handed fashion, he makes A Single Man worth seeing.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, A Single Man comes to DVD presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language 5.1 Dolby digital audio track, and optional Spanish and English SDH subtitles. Supplemental bonus features come by of a quite thoughtful audio commentary track with Ford, as well as a 16-minute making-of featurette, which splices black-and-white interview clips with cast and crew with on-set footage and film clips in relatively obligatory fashion. A gallery of trailers for other Sony home video releases rounds out the affair. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) B- (Disc)
An ultra-racy comedy from Danish erotica maestro Werner Hedman, 1972’s In the Sign of Scorpio centers on a secret agent who’s on the trail of a highly coveted roll of CIA microfilm he believes to be hidden in a loaf of bread.
Like fellow Tegn imports In the Sign of the Virgin and In the Sign of the Taurus, this movie blends slapstick action, comedic misunderstanding and dialogue laden with double entendres, along with a healthy pinch (five to eight percent, I’d calculate) of hardcore action. All the usual sorts of adult flick set-ups are here (some hot tub intrigue, an under-the-table encounter), but Hedman has a gift with sustaining a fun, randy tone, and seeds his work, of which this is a top-shelf example, with enough outlandish screwball elements (a dwarf assassin, say) to keep an audience engagingly off-balance.
Hedman was a jack-of-all-trades, serving as his own writer, cinematographer and editor, and his exacting authorial presence is evident throughout, as the production value, costumes and settings aren’t chintzy, and there’s a complexly choreographed ballroom dance sequence that would, were it not for the nudity, likely draw some nice scores and judges’ comments on Dancing With the Stars. Some of the ladies are easy on the eyes, certainly, but also gifted comediennes. Most engaging, though, is Ole Soltoft, whose loose-limbed work as mock-suave Special Agent Jensen Master is a thing to behold. Poul Bundgaard, Gina Janssen, Kate Mundt and Judy Gringer also star.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, In the Sign of Scorpio comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Danish 2.0 stereo audio track and optional English subtitles. The main menu is animated, as is the DVD’s separate chapter menu, which divides the movie into 12 scene selections. The only bonus feature is a two-and-a-half-minute slide show of images from the movie. Werner passed away in 2005, and his frequent collaborator Soltoft died in 1999 from heart complications, making their participation in any sort of retrospective interviews an obvious impossibility, but it’s really a shame that this title and the other Tegn releases from distributor Smirk didn’t include at least some sort of talking-head/critic interviews, because these films aren’t empty masturbatory fodder. Far, far from it, in fact — I’d argue that Hedman had something few filmmakers of his era or any era since have had: a clear and direct connection to conveying, within an otherwise goofy and ridiculous narrative conceit, just how thrilling and fun sex can actually be with the right, engaged type of partner. B+ (Movie) D (Disc)
As fans of the criminally underrated Laurel Canyon can attest, writer-director Lisa Cholodenko knows well of actors, bohemian life and quiet human moments. And she delivers another rich, warm and involving dramedy with The Kids Are All Right, the story of two teenage children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) who, without the advance consent of their lesbian mothers (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), set out to find their sperm donor father (Mark
Ruffalo). When they succeed, what ensues is a series of small conflicts
and adjustments that have unforeseen repercussions.
collaborator Stuart Bloomberg (Keeping the Faith), Cholodenko delivers a
film that doesn’t condescend or strike a single false note, and whose
structure and detail work together in lockstep. There’s a warmth and
perfectly to-scale reactivity to all of the actors’ interactions, and
each character is imbued with a sense of silent yearning and searching — illustrating the uncomfortable truth that so many more slanted, typical
coming-of-age movies avoid: that the path of adolescence doesn’t
generally end with a flash of self-actualization and cast-in-stone
answers, only loose realizations of what lies ahead in adulthood. For this reason, among many others, The
Kids Are All Right is the best American independent film of the year
thus far. (Focus, R, 104 minutes)