In honor of the 25th anniversary of The Princess Bride, Alamo Drafthouse is launching a limited line of signature wines entitled The Bottle of Wits, on February 14. What does this mean? Two varietals: “Inconceivable Cab” and “As You Wish White.” For more information, click here.
A deeply vapid movie which puts no sincere care or thought into how its slapdash story choices interact with the real world, One For the Money fancies itself a spunky action comedy with a spitfire heroine and a will-they-or-won’t-they romance at its core. Instead, it’s inane (and unfunny to boot) wish fulfillment of the most dreadful variety — an utterly phony tale of empowerment whose leading lady is repeatedly rescued and enabled by men. Starring Katherine Heigl, this mishmash defies logic as an adaptation of author Janet Evanovich’s first in a series of bestselling novels, so across the board tone-deaf is it. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (Lionsgate, PG-13, 91 minutes)
Six discrete stories of varying levels of effectiveness come together in The Theatre Bizarre, a macabre horror anthology that eschews the laborious weirdness of something like Christopher Landon’s Burning Palms, and instead focuses more forthrightly on crafting and sustaining a mood of uneasiness. The main commingled narrative ingredients are genre staples — sex, compulsion, paranoia and obsession — which work well for a movie that doesn’t shy away from gore, but is generally interested in more psychologically rooted fear. If, in the end, The Theatre Bizarre suffers from the same main problem that plagues so many anthology efforts — a couple weak entries weighing it down — it still compares relatively favorably to the qualitative mean established by Anchor Bay’s “Masters of Horror” series from a few years back. For the full review, from ShockYa, click here; for The Theatre Bizarre‘s trailer and more screening information, meanwhile, click here. (W2 Media, unrated, 111 minutes)
French actress Isabelle Huppert, nominated for a record 13 Cesar Awards, has made a career out of playing nervy characters with all manner of sexual foibles or secrets. In Special Treatment, she’s a high-class prostitute with dormant issues fueling a desire for a career change. The eighth feature offering from cult filmmaker Jeanne Labrune, this generally well sketched and set-up drama cashes in too soon on its early intrigue, though, abandoning darker overtones for rather wan interpersonal revelations. Those seeking kinky erotic drama of the sort found in early David Cronenberg will be sorely disappointed.
The story centers on Alice Bergerac (Huppert, above right), a well-to-do fortysomething who serves up high-end sexual fantasies for her clientele, from schoolgirl submissiveness to S&M dominance. Neurotic psychologist Xavier Demestre (Bouli Lanners), meanwhile, is stuck in a marriage in which he and wife Helene (Valerie Dreville) can no longer conceal their distaste for one another, lobbing open attacks in front of mixed company at a party. When a friend recommends Alice to Xavier, he gives her a call, just on the heels of Alice suffering a nasty incident with another client. They meet, and she explains that she only offers bundled packages of a minimum of 10 sessions, and so they embark on a professional relationship in which Alice gamely tries to coax out of Xavier his preferences, and get to the root of his unhappiness. In doing so, each party learns a little something.
Special Treatment is at its best when it’s mapping out and concentrating on the parallels between psychoanalysis and prostitution — the discreet locations, the exchange of money, the promise of anonymity, the establishment of rules, and specific time limits. Never mind that its inciting incident for Alice’s occupational second-guessing feels relatively tame, and for a moment seems a part of her extended role play. Once it settles into a more standardized groove of interpersonal blossoming, maturation and desired occupational flight — no matter how elliptically sketched, in achingly European fashion — the movie is considerably less interesting, because its big-picture plot movements and character decisions all feel staked out and predetermined. Alice will feel increasing frustration with Xavier’s inability to articulate his sexual wants, and Xavier will recognize her latent unhappiness and eventually start taking steps to try to help Alice ease out of prostitution.
Director Jeanne Labrune, working from a script co-written with Richard Debuisne, also does a fairly risible job of explaining the holes or conflict in Xavier and Helene’s marriage. If it were merely or only a matter of sexual incompatibility or stasis, the film could still exist fine as is, but the sheer glee with which Helene attacks Xavier in certain scenes raises all sorts of questions that go largely unanswered. As it moves toward its painfully French finale (it gives away nothing to say that the movie ends with a character staring off into the distance in reflection), awkward symbolism — in the form of an antique angel sculpture — is also visited upon the story, a sighing reality which seems remote in the quite solid opening act.
Through it all, Huppert has a sly technique, and an endlessly fascinating face. Ergo, Special Treatment never slips in holding one’s attention when she is on the screen. Unfortunately, the film’s intrigue unravels with each passing minute. There’s great promise in this premise — of a dissection of the value of arguably substitutive experiences, and how long they can or even should last — but this Treatment falls short, and delivers no special and lastingly memorable catharsis or insights.
Labrune’s film comes to DVD housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 2.0 stereo audio track. The transfer is a polished and clear one, if somewhat muted in color, absent any hiccups with edge enhancement. A shame, though, that there are no EPK interviews with Huppert or Labrune, or any other on-set or behind-the-scenes material. For more information, click here. C- (Movie) D+ (Disc)
Relations between the countries of Iran and the United States may be ill at ease, but Iranian cinematic import A Separation — just off its Golden Globe Best Foreign Language Film win and a Best Screenplay feting by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the first such honor from the organization for a foreign film — is deservedly capturing the hearts and minds of plenty of American cineastes. The movie is a multi-layered familial drama about a married couple (Peyman Moadi and Leila Hatami) attempting to resolve elder care issues, their teenage daughter’s needs and the potentiality of a divorce when a misunderstanding turned legal problem with their new maid renders these problems secondary. Sophisticated and yet immediately knowable, the rapturously engaging A Separation belies cliched notions of how a foreign film must connect with American audiences in staid, formal tones. I recently had a chance to sit down one-on-one with writer-director Asghar Farhadi, to discuss (with the assistance of a translator) his award-winning movie, as well as life in general and his personal filmmaking future in Iran. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
Nominations for the 84th annual Academy Awards are out today, and apart from being thrilled at the lack of recognition for the dreadful Hoodwinked Too!, I’m heartened by the deserved love for Moneyball. A few other quick thoughts — it’s nice recognition for A Better Life‘s Best Actor nominee Demián Bichir, Best Documentary nominee Hell and Back Again, and particularly Best Original Screenplay nominee A Separation. Massively bummed about the lack of kudos for Drive and Martha Marcy May Marlene, though. Interviews with A Separation‘s writer-director Asghar Farhadi and Pina director Wim Wenders, also a Best Documentary nominee, coming later today. Hosted by Billy Crystal, the Oscars will be broadcast on February 26, live from the Kodak Theatre, on ABC.
Post-South Carolina, Andrew Sullivan tees one up and smashes it out of the park, playing the world’s tiniest violin for what is called the Republican establishment — which now consists of Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, Roger Ailes and their mainfold products and creations run amok — and a political party that is “angry at the new shape and color of America, befuddled by a suddenly more complicated world, and dedicated primarily to emotion rather than reason.” This is what happens when you habitually enable, and indeed encourage, gamesmanship for the sake of gamesmanship, and politics as war.
The light and whimsical blueprints and inventions of husband and wife Charles and Ray Eames — American designers whose influence stretched into modern architecture, graphic design, furniture and fine art, as well as film — left a mark in both the United States and abroad, spawning a famous namesake chair and much more. Directed by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey, this documentary provides a solid look-see at both the couple’s creative instincts and collaborations as well as their sometimes tortured love for one another.
Narrated by James Franco, Eames: The Architect and the Painter is — like Vidal Sassoon: The Movie, L’Amour Fou and a good handful of other nonfiction titles that have, as of late, lifted up figureheads of fashion, perfume, architecture and culinary design — a movie with a somewhat thinly prescribed demographic of inherent heightened interest. And yet Cohn and Jersey make enough concessions to a general audience to keep things fairly lively for viewers of all levels of familiarity with any of the Eames’ story. Clips from their many educational, experimental and promotional filmstrips are interspersed throughout here, with enough of a mooring to the world around them that even those interested in post-war boomer and ’60s culture will find it pretty interesting.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Eames comes to DVD presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 2.0 stereo track. Supplemental extras consist of a clutch of bonus scenes and tidbits, which add further color to the Eames’ unusual and varied lives. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here; for more information or to purchase the title directly via First Run, click here. B (Movie) B- (Disc)
A paint-by-numbers, underdog-made-good, coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of junior circuit tennis, 16-Love is a wholesome movie of modest ambitions, shaggy and sunny personality, and middling execution. For tweens looking for something to while away the time between Twilight flicks there may be some small measure of entertainment, but nothing else here particularly merits a glance for older audiences. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here.
Viral pandemic drama takes a backseat to fraternal fisticuffs and gunplay in The Viral Factor, an enjoyably sprawling if completely scatterbrained action movie from director Dante Lam, starring Jay Chou (above) and Nicholas Tse. A nervous tendency to flit to and fro between characters prevents the movie from successfully gaining much of an emotional foothold, and its two-hour running time renders vast swathes of its action theatrics redundant. But there’s still enough expressive investment in the two leads to mark The Viral Factor as a slightly stronger than average genre piece for foreign film fans. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (China Lion/Emperor Motion Pictures, R, 122 minutes)
Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire opens this Friday, January 20, so it’s time for another tip of the cap for MMA fighter Gina Carano, who damages the skulls of Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor and others in Soderbergh’s at once lithe and bruising revenge film. I first saw this movie about a year ago, but for my review of it from its AFI Festival presentation last fall, click here.
Unabashed shlock-fest Piranha 3D raked in a bunch of money in 2010, and even though most of its $83 million worldwide gross came from overseas, Hollywood took notice and immediately tried to wring extra dollars out of the watery, imperiled teenagers subgenre, passing off basically the same general concept to stuntman turned director David Ellis in the hopes that some of his magic touch with teen-friendly material (The Final Destination, Snakes on a Plane) might somehow elevate Shark Night, which was dutifully released in theaters last autumn in the 3-D format, to something passably entertaining. Oops, that didn’t work.
When Tulane University student Sara (Sara Paxton) and her friends arrive at her family’s remote Louisiana lake house for a weekend of fun in the sun, they’re expecting that the maximum craziness will be imported with them, in the form of some booze. Soon, however, they discover that the lake is infested with hundreds of flesh-eating sharks (and a few equally dangerous human predators) that turn their killer vacation into a bone-crunching battle to stay alive.
From almost start to finish, Shark Night fails to elicit much in the way of audience engagement, either honestly or in a campy fashion, a la something like Lake Placid or even Deep Blue. Its characters are cardboard thin, its dialogue largely inane, and its scares and violence all so completely telegraphed as to remove any jolts of tension. Damningly, too, despite the picture above, the PG-13 Shark Night is fairly tame for the waters in which it’s trying to swim, which means that hardcore gorehounds will find this movie a yawn, as will those with more prurient interests.
Shark Night comes to DVD on a dual layer disc, presented in 1.85:1 widescreen with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 audio track and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Special features consist of a shark-footage reel that clocks in at under six minutes, and a thunderously inessential four-minute featurette that touts the directorial prowess of Ellis. Lacking even a look at the movie’s blend of animatronic rigs and digital special effects work, this disc matches the boring nature of its feature presentation with equally uninteresting bonus material. In that respect, if not many others, it’s a good fit. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. D (Movie) D+ (Disc)
A description or listing of all the recombinant parts of drama Angels Crest — the plot here feels like a Law & Order episode, more or less, and the movie itself seems like a boozy, downmarket hybrid of The Shipping News and Gone Baby Gone, with a pinch of Northern Exposure — runs the risk of making it sound more interesting than it actually is. An adaptation of a missing-child novel by Leslie Schwartz, director Gaby Dellal’s wintry indie is a not very subtle and generally unpersuasive stab at tapestral grief-as-elegy. If cinematic skill lies partially in making an audience feel things they’ve felt before, but in new and different ways, Angels Crest, starring Thomas Dekker, Lynn Collins and Jeremy Piven, is a highlighted, underlined, out-of-date textbook, dogmatic about its presentation, no matter how overly familiar it is. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here.
Updates and postings here have been and will continue to be a bit sporadic, at least until the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards dinner on Friday is in the rearview mirror, and I have collapsed and caught up on sleep. Them’s the breaks, unless someone has some cloning technology or one of those remote controls from Click that they’d like to share, although I’d really prefer to leave Christopher Walken out of this if at all possible.
Possessing crack comedic timing, beauty and yet still a sympathetic visage and demeanor, Lindsay Sloane exudes girl-next-door goodness, a quality which has kept her steadily employed in a variety of mostly sunny roles in both movies and television. It’s exactly these traits which writer-directors Peter Hyuck and Alex Gregory wished to deploy in subversive manner by casting Sloane in their bawdy comedy A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, just out on DVD last week. I had a chance to sit down and chat with Sloane about the uniquely titled ensemble movie, as well as her off-screen thoughts on its subject matter and what exactly the “orgy cut-off number” is that makes her uncomfortable. She also drops a Bad Boys reference, which is pretty damn cool in my book. For the full read, over at ShockYa, click here.
Actor Michael Biehn has had a long and varied career, but to hear him tell it, his experience shooting his new film The Divide and other events surrounding its production may have marked a change in his professional attitude and outlook. In addition to starring as ex-firefighter turned survivalist Mickey in the post-apocalyptic thriller, which finds a group of New York City neighbors trapped together in the basement of their apartment building in the aftermath of a possible nuclear strike, Biehn has also turned his attention to life behind the camera. With Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, his wife and producer/costar, Biehn’s recently completed directorial debut, The Victim, just sold to Anchor Bay Films, and will now see a release later this year. On Friday, I had a chance to participate in a press day for The Divide, talking with Biehn about his instincts for “polishing a turd,” his reasons for finally jumping behind the camera, and the incredible on-set tension on The Divide. Oh, and ousted Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi also came up. The interview is excerpted over at ShockYa, minus Biehn’s thoughts on the current state of hip hop, so click here for the full read.
An unwieldy, frequently baffling piece of claptrap that careens wildly to and fro in its efforts to serve many different narrative masters, gospel-tinged Joyful Noise aims for many different marks, and misses on almost all of them. By turns a musical competition drama, a blue-collar homily, a forbidden coming-of-age romance and a tale of familial reconciliation, the movie tries to use noisy, open-hearted effort to mask its narrative deficiencies, but it comes across as phony — a duet of prefabricated sentimentality and self-satisfied impudence.
The performances are things of volume and homespun sass; in short, these aren’t characters, they’re vessels for wan moralizing and sometimes snappy, mostly tired rejoinders. Ladled across all of the hokum is a bunch of convoluted, cornpone metaphors. Special note should go to hairstylist Cheryl Riddle, though, who creates a mesmerizing special effect and the movie’s most lasting reminiscence in the form of Dolly Parton’s towering, teased-upwards hairdo. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (Warner Bros., PG-13, 118 minutes)
For adventurous cineastes seeking “a dreamlike visual statement” (in Steve Dollar’s words), Sophie Fiennes’ Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow opens in two local Laemmle theaters this Friday, January 6 — in Pasadena at the Playhouse 7, and in Santa Monica at the Monica 4-Plex. Again, for my previous review, from last fall, click here.
The absurd title of writer-directors Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck’s movie — with its blend of the lewd and sweet — could be an indicator of watered-down comedic cop-out, but this romp about a group of longtime pals who decide to get horizontal with one another is the real deal, delivering amply on every level in which it chooses to engage. Powered by palpable chemistry amongst its many co-leads, an affable sense of purpose, and plenty of smart timing and whip-smart humor, this sex farce amusingly showcases both the titillation and wild discomfort of its perhaps farfetched concept.
The story centers around Eric (Saturday Night Live‘s Jason Sudeikis), an amiable thirtysomething New Yorker who doesn’t much care for his job, and instead lives for the summer, when he can repair to his father’s house in the Hamptons and throw elaborate weekend theme parties with a group of longtime friends that includes Mike (Tyler Labine, above left), Adam (Nick Kroll), Laura (Lindsay Sloane), Alison (Lake Bell), Sue (Michelle Borth), would-be musician Doug (Martin Starr) and his girlfriend Willow (Angela Sarafyan). When Eric finds out his dad (Don Johnson) is selling the house, he’s bummed out, but decides that the gang should go out with a bang — literally, in the form of a Labor Day weekend orgy.
Slowly, one by one, the friends come around to the idea, each for their own reasons — because of a recent break-up, an unresolved intra-group crush, general horniness, or the belief that lingering body issues could perhaps be set straight in a group setting. This decision comes after the summer nuptials of a pair of purposefully excluded, long-engaged friends, Glenn and Kate (Will Forte and Lucy Punch), who also have a baby together, and is eventually additionally complicated by Eric’s growing feelings for real estate agent Kelly (Leslie Bibb).
A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy, though, doesn’t morph into some weak-kneed romantic comedy wherein Eric experiences an epiphany and calls the whole act off. If it’s a goofy, ambling and loose-limbed beast throughout, the movie is also fairly honest (albeit in an exaggerated fashion) about the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty that it summons up in its characters. This makes the film — the directorial debut of former The Larry Sanders Show and King of the Hill scribes Huyck and Gregory — true-hearted and sincere, while also quite strong in the jokes department.
The cast, too, is a good match. There are faces that are more recognizable than others, certainly, but everyone seems to fit well together, and there is no sense of gamesmanship or grandstanding to any of the scenes — a too common problem in a lot of shock-oriented comedies, where whether because of star cameos or scene-chewing instincts many set pieces tilt over into the improbable, and spoil any sense of rootedness to the story. This Orgy remains true to itself — immature and embellished, but never wildly unrealistic.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy comes to DVD in a 98-minute unrated version, presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with English and French language Dolby digital 5.1 audio tracks that more than adequately handle the title’s straightforward sound design. Optional English, French and English SDH subtitles are also available. Bonus features are anchored by a chatty and amusing feature-length audio commentary track from Gregory, Huyck and Sudeikis, in which the latter points out that “the Steven Soderbergh version of this same story starts at the morning-after breakfast.” Ten deleted or trimmed scenes run a total of just over 16 minutes, and finds Borth’s character advising Punch’s character to give her husband anal sex in order to make their wedding night special. There is also a scene with another character breaking news of the orgy to her Bible study group, a subplot completely removed from the theatrical version of the movie.
A behind-the-scenes featurette runs a tad over eight minutes, but features loads of on-set production footage from the movie’s Wilmington, North Carolina, shoot, and manages to work in nice and genuinely thoughtful interview clips with the filmmakers and a broad cross-section of the cast (including some bit players, like Lin Shaye and David Koechner). The phrase “gag reel” could mean something quite different for a title like this, but it does feature flubs and improvisations run amok after all; in butt-less chaps, Forte crashes one of the orgy scenes, Labine opines about “crocodile blowjobs,” and Sudeikis threatens nut flicks, only to have his bluff called. Previews for Drive, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Bucky Larson: Born To Be a Star and the grim-looking third installment of the Hostel franchise round things out. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B+ (Movie) B- (Disc)
For my latest DVD/Blu-ray column, over at ShockYa, I take a gander at the Fright Night remake, a couple documentaries, Stephen Dorff and Maria Bello’s Carjacker, Nick Di Paolo’s new stand-up comedy special, and a movie in which Bruce Willis gets to hold forth with a monologue about how much he loves pecans. Oh, and the new Blu-ray release of 1988’s cult flick Maniac Cop, starring Bruce Campbell. Again, it’s all over at ShockYa, so click here for the full read.