I recently had a conversation, for Paste Magazine, with tech writer Nicholas Quah about Matthew Modine’s Full Metal Jacket Diary app, adapted from his photo-illustrated memoir of the same name, and the future of so-called “appumentaries” as they pertain to film. It was a pretty interesting chat, I think; to check it out, click here.
The Kickstarter campaign for a Veronica Mars movie, with the “we’re-in” stamp of approval from Kristen Bell and creator Rob Thomas, has as of this moment raised over $1.5 million dollars from just under 23,000 people, or a little over $66 per person, averaged out. This puts them over three-quarters of the way toward their goal of $2 million for a summer shoot, which they will likely pass less than 24 hours after first announcing the possible project. Mark your calendars with this date, because this represents a sea change (and not totally for the better) for studio-controlled niche projects. The only question is which big-name cult-appeal title gets the treatment next… Twin Peaks, perhaps?
The topic of this forthcoming memoir, Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them, actually came up when I interviewed Frank Langella a few years back (he was working on it even then), and despite the obvious relish with which he spoke of delving back into his early years, and various relationships, I confess I’m a bit struck by some of the specific bits (affairs with the much older Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor, plus saucy, suggestive phone conversations with Bette Davis) and news regarding its imminent arrival.
Not unlike William Hurt, Langella is an intellectual heavyweight who can cut an intimidating figure if he so chooses, quoting Shakespeare and other works to test the depth of your reading list, and comfortable arguing a question to test your mettle. In the twilight of his years, he’s obviously been put in a somewhat
reflective position, starting with the in some respects sublime Starting Out in the Evening, as well as Frost/Nixon, which he played on both stage and screen. Langella only dishes dirt on those who have passed, but a lot of folks were in his estimation “a bore,” it seems, which I think again reflects his interests and basic personality. (He has to be a cat person, I’m guessing.) I also don’t imagine there’s a chapter on Cutthroat Island… though I’m sure that would be kind of awesome too, actually, if there was.
A bawdy, non-politically correct comedy that wears its considerable chip on its shoulder with a certain unmitigated glee, Bad Santa may be one of the most one-note comedies of the year, but it’s also one of the funniest, packing three times as many laughs as Elf, a movie too timid to commit to anything beyond the notion of a set-piece. Written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Cats & Dogs) and directed by Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World, the documentary Crumb), Bad Santa is a film whose vulgar insolence is manifest from the start — there’s not so much an arc as a furiously maintained plateau — yet it’s also a strangely involving picture, akin to Michael Ritchie and Walter Matthau’s classic Bad News Bears in its annoyed and lecherous yet ultimately relatable humanity.
A deliciously irritable Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie Stokes, a coarse, washed-up, boozed-up department store Santa Claus whose self-loathing has transformed into a general nastiness and truculence that oozes from every pore. He swears at kids, urinates in his pants and screams down mothers who try to approach him as he eats. The Santa gig is his con, though; together with his increasingly exasperated dwarf partner Marcus (Tony Cox), the two suffer Novembers and Decembers in humiliating costume in order to pull off Christmas Eve heists. It’s worked for eight years running, but when they settle in Phoenix, the doting attentions of a fat, picked-on kid (Brett Kelly, above right) drive Willie even further past distraction.
Those smitten with the softly rhythmic, oddball charms of Zwigoff’s first two films will be largely thrown by his work here; the film seems undertaken more as a curiosity or perhaps to settle a bet. It’s not that smooth most of the time, but it does share a rich and unflinching affinity for damaged characters with those earlier efforts. Zwigoff doesn’t insert any leavening winks, either, to try to let Thornton’s character off the hook, and let audiences know that they’re all in on the joke together.
In interviews, Thornton has described the movie as bringing to bear the sensibility of South Park upon the spirit of It’s a Wonderful Life, and he’s not far off really. Bad Santa is lewd, irresponsible and in its narrative longview perhaps not extremely well sketched. Yet its unrelenting nature, winning supporting players (the late John Ritter, Bernie Mac and Lauren Graham all guest, to bizarrely amusing effect) and consistently hilarious joke writing can’t help but win you over. It’s comedy outside the lines, and it’s absolutely wonderful — a twisted holiday movie for “the rest of us.” (Dimension, R, 93 minutes)
With Adam Sandler’s Funny People looming on the horizon, what better time to revisit the original tonal detour of the most consistently successful big screen comedian of his era, away from the juvenilia that made him wildly rich and famous and into the waiting bosom of a more skewed cinematic sensibility? Ergo, this dug-up review of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, first published in Entertainment Today upon the movie’s original theatrical release in October, 2002. To wit:
It seemed, from the outset, one of the more bizarre film collaborations of recent memory, the unlikely pairing of budding auteur Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) and box office goofus Adam Sandler. Throw in the fact that Anderson wrote the warped romantic comedy specifically for Sandler — and his equally unlikely love interest, Emily Watson — and you seem to have all the ingredients of a classic, drunken, late night laff-pitch session, or at the very least a bet at the expense of some glassy-eyed studio executive. But Punch-Drunk Love won Anderson acclaim and Best Director honors at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and so with its Stateside bow we’re about to find out whether audiences like chocolate in their peanut butter, if you will — whether they’re willing to accept seemingly disparate, at-odds sensibilities for the sake of new, skewed pop art.
The reality is that the film has character and loads of differentiating style, but is also a mixed bag. Anderson uses David Phillips, the Universal of California civil engineer who in real life stumbled upon a frequent flyer promotion from Healthy Choice and then exploited the offer’s loophole, purchasing $3,000 worth of pudding and racking up 1.25 frequent flyer miles, as a loose jumping-off point. Phillips here becomes Barry Egan (Sandler), a quiet, put-upon small businessman with seven sisters who harp on his (many) shortcomings and quirks. Sporting throughout the film a slightly too-tight blue suit that makes him look like the bastard offspring of Austin Powers and Wiry-Haired, Uptight Smurf, Sandler’s Barry is, as a result of this heckling and other circumstances, a beaten of a human being, a textbook case of depression and self-isolation.
Things start to change when, through one of his sisters, he meets Lena Leonard (Watson). Matters are complicated, however, by the fact that just prior to their first date, Barry phoned a sex line, and now finds himself on the receiving end of a campaign of extortion and harassment perpetrated by the operator, Elizabeth (Mary Lynn Rajskub), and her scuzzy boss, Dean Trumbell (Philip Seymour Hoffman). There… is that cookie-cutter friendly enough for you?
A crooked nose of a character comedy, in both the best and worst sense of the phrase, Punch-Drunk Love is full of idiosyncrasies — the protracted phone sex call, with its litany of involved numbers and subsequent spiraling upwards (or downwards, depending on your point-of-view) out of control is particularly hilarious, both random and brilliantly interwoven. Yet it’s also this willful artistic bent — so dazzlingly, “appropriately” on display in Anderson’s two dramatic opuses of disaffected Los Angelenos — that to me bends and distorts the film’s purpose, meaning and clarity. I can appreciate the fact that Anderson wants to branch out, and no doubt saw this in some way as an opportunity to explore a new, much “lighter” genre; Punch-Drunk Love certainly seems his most facile and intuitive film to date. (Apart from its five principal characters, most of the rest of the roles are cast with non-actors.) Yet I’m not sure if Anderson’s methods always align with his final thematic intent; the film’s opening drags tremendously, and certain editorial choices — from simple narrative juxtaposition, cuts and Jon Brion’s far-too-intrusive score — do irrevocable harm.
Sometimes the film’s precious nattering leads to revelations both beautiful and cutting, as when a nervous Barry relates to Lena an utterly banal story about a disc jockey that concludes with, “DJ Justice, man… he cuts you down to size. I laugh and laugh, even when I’m alone.” Too often, however, we get fitful lurches drained of payoff, or even psychological incisiveness. I applaud wholeheartedly the film’s heart, verve and curiosity, and welcome wherever I can find them on the screen many of the qualities Punch-Drunk Love possesses in abundance. It just didn’t stick with me, on the whole. For most other film aficionados, an enjoyment of the quirky means here will easily match or counterbalance the end product. For more casual filmgoers, however, this, alas, won’t be the start of a beautiful new relationship. (Columbia, R, 95 minutes)
Ducking out for the weekend, but I’m seeding a couple entries in lieu of any groundbreaking commentary about the assload of money the newest Harry Potter flick continues to gross, including another pick-up from the way-back Internet archives — this 2002 review of one of the best-named documentaries of the past decade. Does not liking it make me a Nazi sympathizer, though? To wit:
It’s scary but also instructive to witness the way we deify our heroes and demonize and dehumanize our greatest villains. Less than six decades out, it’s quite easy to think of Adolf Hitler as a monster. But when you contemplate the human side of him — as the film Max, a portrait of Hitler’s post-World War I time as a struggling artist and young politico, at least attempted to do, with mixed results — the effect is often mind-boggling, if not downright surreal. Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary has a title that hits you over the head and demands your attention, if only because it makes you stop and weigh the absurd notion of someone taking dictation and chatting amiably with the 20th century’s most murderous, fanatically unhinged totalitarian.
If it’s hard to identify with the point-of-view being offered up here, this 85-minute documentary at least offers some fantastic firsthand insight. In the many years following World War II, Traudl Junge refused to discuss her story, spurning journalists who approached her for interviews and often denying — many times successfully — her role altogether. It was too taxing on her psyche, she explained, and she couldn’t understand “that young, stupid girl” she once was. Almost 60 years later, the octogenarian finally sat for a series of straightforward conversations, resulting in this collaborative project between filmmakers André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer. “I have finally let go of my story, and now I feel the world is letting go of me,” she says at one point, and indeed, Junge passed away one day after the film’s premiere at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival.
What we’re left with in Blind Spot, though, is a fascinating opportunity shoddily explored. Comprised of two interview sessions and shot in extreme close-up throughout, the film is static and shapeless; there’s little sense of continuity, and only occasionally do we get a snippet of a question, or any semblance of a shaping hand. So Junge continually professes her naiveté — not an unreasonable assertion, given that she was a provincial girl barely in her 20s when she started working for Hitler and, strangely enough, never even a member of the Nazi party — and offers anecdotal but hardly probing stories of how Hitler and the rest of his cadre, including Eva Braun, spent their time in underground German bunkers.
It’s here that you quickly realize Blind Spot isn’t a true documentary examination of its nominal subject’s infamous boss, or even Junge herself for that matter. Its complete lack of supporting or achived materials to give Junge’s memories a sense of either scope or specificity is egregious. The film — a monologue, really — might as well be a book or a magazine article, for it would serve exactly the same purpose, and likely fare much better in those mediums. What does emerge from Blind Spot, however, almost in spite of itself, is a sense of Hitler’s cracked twilight welfare. Scared, broken, depressed and paranoid (convinced the cyanide capsules given to him by a general were a part of an elaborate ruse of betrayal, he tested several on his dog, Blondie, who died and, in Junge’s words, left the bunker smelling like “bitter almonds”), Hitler had a pathological aversion to being taken alive.
And maybe that’s a good thing, knowing that Hitler was a big coward, and in his final weeks lived a desolate, darkly reflective existence, apprehending that virtually the entire world was closing in on him, and his grand schemes of a dominant motherland were now nothing more than pipe dreams. But take me at my word: you needn’t sit through Blind Spot to discover it for yourself. For once, in this instance, secondhand catharsis is just as good as the real thing. (Sony Pictures Classics, PG, 85 minutes)
I was trolling Internet archives looking for an old review to reference, link and fold into a new piece I’m writing, and instead of success in that measure I instead came across this piece I wrote on Baise Moi, a gritty French film that saw limited metropolitan release in 2002, as best I can determine from my records. Its own outlier status seemed a thematic fit with some of the discourse swirling around in a recent web chat I moderated on the shock value of Brüno, so I figured I’d throw up this theatrical-pegged review, originally penned during my editorial stint at Entertainment Today. To wit:
The easy hybrid pitch on Baise Moi, a graphic road romp of feminist empowerment, is that it’s sort of a French version of Thelma & Louise meets Natural Born Killers. This isn’t a bad composite sketch by any stretch of the imagination, but the full truth is, naturally, much more complicated. If you’re at all turned off by the aforementioned description, now might be a good time to go ahead and stop reading, because there’s no way to sugarcoat either this film or the unpleasant issues it addresses in any legitimate dissemination of it.
But if you’re not dissuaded by, in fact if you’re even curious about, the above categorization, then you may (read: may) be more inclined to submit yourself to Baise Moi, a ballsy and provocative thrill-kill import of uncommon brutality (the film’s translation is Rape Me, a verb you probably didn’t conjugate much in high school French) that serves as a launching off point for a whole series of questions regarding men and women and sex and violence.
Early in the film, porn actress Manu (Rafaella Anderson, above left, given to wisenheimer chesire grins of eerily repressed malevolence) is violently and graphically sexually assaulted by two random thugs. But she casually dismisses both the attack and her attackers. “I leave nothing precious in my cunt for those jerks,” spits Manu to her fellow victim. Meanwhile, Nadine (Karen Lancaume, billed as Karen Bach, and summoning visions of an older Katie Holmes cast as a strung-out rocker) finds herself wrapped up in a sort of Southern Baptist triathlon of sin, spending most of her time smoking dope (or looking for it), masturbating and swapping sex for cash. United by chance, the two grrrrrrls, like combustible chemical agents brought together in a lab study gone wrong, ignite the subdued rage in one another, and embark on a twisted road trip of rapacious retribution, screwing men, robbing women and killing both.
Co-written and directed by Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi (a former prostitute turned bestselling novelist and a one-time porn actress, respectively — though don’t let those descriptors impugn their credibility), Baise Moi means to willfully shock, and does. To actually see the degrading violence of a (staged, but unforgiving) rape is both sickening — exactly what it’s meant to be — and oddly… instructive? I don’t doubt for a second that if more people saw this harrowing scene (and others like it) instead of many of the flippant, inconsequential and otherwise candy-ass Hollywood representations of rape, from Showgirls to countless lame movies-of-the-week, sexual assault would decrease nationwide.
Coarse, roughhewn and rather unsophisticated, cinematically speaking, Baise Moi nonetheless succeeds largely on its gritty realism. It’s the ultimate deconstruction of a road movie (in one scene Manu and Nadine fret over the dearth of quality wisecracks with which they dispense victims), overcharged with a certain new wave abandon and coursing with a techno-fed, “Smack My Bitch Up” bravado. Still, the denouement of all this mayhem — both the literal ending and the third act as a whole, which finds the duo, on the run from police, relaxing briefly at a stranger’s house — seems a little contrived.
There’s no denying that Baise Moi is powerful, a cinematic jab to the solar plexus. To merely dismiss it as violent and depraved is to ignore the thought and philosophy behind the explicitness, the film’s true raison d’étre, if you will. But at just under 80 minutes, Baise Moi is a bit too truncated to fully address either the complexity of the quick-catch relationship between Manu and Nadine or the various larger questions of subjugated female sexuality that its narrative raises.(Remstar/FilmFixx, unrated, 77 minutes)
In his Big Picture blog, Patrick Goldstein underlines the slow, steady slide of movie newspaper advertising, and the (further) trouble this spells for newspapers, if/when such advertising eventually becomes, as one studio marketing chief predicts, a seasonal expenditure. I know, I know… “the sky is blue, water is wet.” What else is new? If newspapers in general are doomed, from a readership/business model perspective, of course it stands to reason that an abandonment of advertising will be a contributing cause of their demise. Still, there are some interesting details in the interstices. Pam Levine, Fox’s co-president of marketing, gives smart answers about the evolving logic behind print media ad buys, and cites notable exceptions in the form of Slumdog Millionaire and Marley & Me.
Tangentially, I would only take exception with Goldstein’s assertion that Fox is held in high regard for its marketing savvy. Fox Searchlight? Yes, absolutely. Notwithstanding its superb work on Marley & Me, however, 20th Century Fox has taken such great steps toward authoritarian “message control” that they frequently border on all-out suppression; it often seems as if they’re actively attempting to help eradicate film critics once and for all.
Fair game if that’s their druthers, I guess, whatever… except that it doesn’t really seem to be helping their movies at the box office on a consistent basis. Take, for instance, last summer’s almost non-existent critical/ancillary campaign for The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Am I to believe that more aggressive, non-TV-related outreach — including print advertising, to help reach older fans of the TV series, who might now have families, and not be surfing IGN for updates on a weekly basis — couldn’t have helped push the movie’s total domestic haul past $21 million?
A tradition renewed, in thrilling fashion…
So the second season of A&E’s The Two Coreys, assessing the cracked real-life friendship of frequent 1980s big screen costars Corey Feldman and Corey Haim (below left), is underway, and it’s somehow even more of a deliciously awful train wreck than the first go-round. I TiVoed a block of episodes this past weekend and powered through them over lunch one day, boiling out the snow and editing overlaps.
The result is a wince-inducing snapshot of how Hollywood excess puts fragile egos and relationships through the wringer. One of the more jaw-dropping moments comes early on, when a contrived, late-night, face-to-face meeting at a local deli, the first time the pair has seen each other in six months, turns into a game of laid-bare, accusatory/confessional one-upsmanship. Haim lets loose with the best rant, thusly: “You opening up to the world about me having a knife in my pocket, and the reason I wear this (indicating wristband) being to cover some scars I have because I used to cut into myself because it’s a way to feel — you just ripped the envelope, man. So I’ll go you one better. You let me get fucked around in my life, man, raped, so to speak, when I was about 14-and-a-half. And I’m saying this right now — by a guy you used to hang out with. What’d you do when you saw that shit going down and knew about it — besides being his best friend, what’d you do? What’d you do? Fuck all is what you did… lines of cocaine with me. God bless you!”
Rather naturally, one’s mind immediately leaps to Feldman’s very famous “best friend” at the time — singer Michael Jackson. Feldman, who turns 37 on Wednesday, July 16, says that it was his own personal assistant at the time who molested him, and that may well be true, but given sexual predators’ ability to hone in on people who have been previously victimized in their lives, all sorts of creepy questions linger.
The enmity and turbulence on display here is real, just as much as the depth of the original friendship, but of course some of the dressing is for purposes of self-serving pattycake, so Feldman and Haim agree to see a couples therapist together, to help them talk through some of their issues. Apart from learning that the married Feldman hosts poker nights with Matthew Nelson — half of the same-named, ’90s hair-metal-pop band — one also relatively easily gets the feeling that Feldman likes having someone in his life a couple stations beneath him. Perhaps subconsciously, perhaps not. It seems to serve as a measure of positive reinforcement for what he’s accomplished. The harsh truth is that one senses these guys could be sincere, lasting friends again, but never if Feldman were to somehow be “eclipsed” by Haim, either through the latter’s ascension or his own slippage.
Haim picks up on this, on a nonverbal, subconscious level, and it’s often the spark that sets off his powder keg of irrationality. The amount of pain and angsty energy coming off this guy is huuuge, and it warps his decision-making — or at least prevents him from seeing easily forecast possible consequences of his impulsive behavior, like buying an ad of self-touted comeback in Variety. The therapist prescribes Haim a bit of art therapy, and advises him to “paint the pain, not the anger,” the latter emotion of course being tied up in the career that he pissed away. Later episodes find Haim fumbling toward revelation and self-betterment (compiling a lengthy list of people to apologize to, he begins dictating to his assistant thusly: “Todd Bridges, Winona Ryder, Alyssa Milano, Nicole Eggert — just go ahead and put all my ex-girlfriends — Joel Schumacher… probably Richard Donner”), but there’s backsliding during the filming of a cameo in a sequel to Lost Boys, and it’s of the variety that doesn’t give one much immediate hope.
Self-medicating on prescribed anti-anxiety pills, Haim slurs his lines, screws up rehearsal and causes a scene on set. For a while he denies taking any drugs, then cops to having had an extra one the night before filming, to try to settle and center himself. It didn’t work, obviously. And so the shame spiral begins anew, sadly.
I meant to slap this up earlier, a comprehensive DVD review of Oliver Twist originally published on IGN upon its release in 2006, in advance of the HBO debut of the fascinating new documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which will also be receiving a limited theatrical run via ThinkFILM later this summer. Best laid plans, though, you know? So here it is now, in slightly abridged form:
The latest re-telling of Charles Dickens’ classic story of squalor, neglect and adolescent exploitation in 19th century London — the original hard-knock life, yo! — comes courtesy of none other than Roman Polanski, and this finely detailed, impressively mounted Oliver Twist instills in its audience a rooting interest in both its scruffy protagonist and the film as a whole.
Orphaned at an early age, 9-year-old Oliver (a quite good Barney Clark, above) escapes his cruel institutional patronage and receives an apprenticeship with an undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry (Michael Heath). This fortune is short-lived, however, as Oliver is railroaded out by the teasings and provocations of a manipulative older boy, and makes his way to London. There he meets up with a young pickpocket known as the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden), and falls under the sway of Fagin (Ben Kingsley), a warped father figure — conniving and exploitative, but a father figure nonetheless — who serves as the greasy criminal instructor and economic pimp of a gang of kiddie thieves.
Oliver’s tutelage begins slowly, but when he is seen shadowing a scam by fellow pickpockets and mistakenly fingered as the culprit, he’s brought up on charges before a magistrate. The victim, a kindly older gentleman named Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke), takes Oliver under his wing and into his house, but Fagin and his hotheaded, lowlife associate Bill Sykes (Jamie Foreman, suitably slimy) aren’t going to let Oliver slip away so easily, and thus risk the good thing they have going.
Oliver Twist marks the follow-up collaboration of Polanski and screenwriter Ronald Harwood, but just as their Oscar-winning adaptation of Wladyslaw Szpilman’s Holocaust memoir The Pianist was informed by Polanski’s own abandoned childhood in Krakow during the Nazi occupation of World War II, so too does Oliver Twist feel studded with the filmmaker’s own adolescent rootlessness and hardships. It’s mannered at times, as you might expect (it’s one of those films that opens on a finely sketched engraving and fades in from there), but the surprising thing about Oliver Twist is how deeply it resonates.
At a purported $60 million, the internationally financed film has a substantive enough budget to feel expansive in scope, but Polanski never neglects the telling details — be they young Oliver’s bruised, bloody feet and his simple delight at Fagin gracing him with a new pair of shoes, or Sykes’ thuggish sneer and emotional sheep-herding — that constitute a more robust whole. There are dark elements to the film, but mixed in with the larger-than-life trappings of the characters and the more fanciful bends in the story are simple, relatable truths about the human condition.
The casting of young Clark in the title role is one of the film’s more inspired strokes — he inspires with almost effortless, contrasting civility and grace (“Please sir, may I have some more?”) a generous and sincere sympathy. Flagrant sniveling would have been easy, and in many respects serviceable, in this role, but Clark delivers much more. Score aficionados, too, will particularly spark to the work of Rachel Portman (Emma, The Manchurian Candidate), who delivers some wonderful music. The twin questions of necessity and audience do loom in one’s mind — will literature buffs turn out for another variation on this story, and will modern fans of adult film drama find the themes explored here too childish? But Oliver Twist slowly wins you over, sweeping you up in its dramatic stakes and reminding you in the end that everybody’s got a hungry heart, no matter the circumstance.
Housed in a regular Amray case, Oliver Twist comes presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it looks great. The browns, greys and blacks of the movie, of which there are many, are nicely differentiated, and the image is nearly grain-free. Contrasting spectacular vistas, blacks are also appropriately deep and dark in certain interior scenes, as when a passed-out Oliver is plucked from a rural road and given soup by a kindly woman during his journey by foot to London. Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound tracks are available in both English and French on this disc, and are solid presentations if not quite spectacular. While the streets of London offer some sense of realistic bustle, most of the film’s budget was obviously allocated to the painstaking visual replication of Victorian England, and so Oliver Twist‘s sound design is by comparison less dynamic. Subtitles in English and French are also available.
Owing, of course, to his fugitive status in the United States, Polanski is somewhat of a tough interview for most publications, and so he remains a distinctly reserved and removed figure in the modern American filmmaking landscape. The supplemental features here thankfully help abate that, including a large spread of interview material that, if somewhat scattered in its presentation, nonetheless provides a nice overview of Polanski’s interest in the project, and the process of bringing his vision to bear. First up is a making-of documentary that clocks in at nearly half an hour. Smartly blending on-set interviews with the cast with post-production sit-downs with Polanski, screenwriter Harwood, editor Herve de Luze and various other figures, this footage is unfailingly celebratory and self-serving, certainly, but still engaging, particularly when Polanski talks about the universal “sanctional elements” of Oliver Twist‘s narrative that still hold influence.
Two other featurettes complement the production overview. The longer one, at 18 minutes, provides a look at historical presentations of the character and story on film and stage, as well as gives viewers a glimpse at the costumes, cinematography, editing and set construction of Polanski’s version. More slight, but still charming, is a six-minute featurette that looks at the movie from young Clark’s eyes, including narrated passages from his on-set diary and off-camera footage of him performing a card trick and clowning around with a lizard. The only real problem I detected with the disc was a somewhat strange one — that by accessing the main menu out of a subsection of bonus trailers of other Sony films, the menu screen will freeze or disable the selection
buttons, necessitating disc re-start. This happened three separate times, but no other playback problems were encountered. The bottom line, though: Some literature skates by on reputation alone, and some has the truer weight of aptitude and a deep emotional resonance. Oliver Twist is the latter, a timeless story nicely brought back to life here by Polanski and a gifted ensemble acting corps. B+ (Movie) B+ (Disc)
There’s a nice short piece in the Los Angeles Times today, by Paul Davidson, which focuses on costume designer Bernie Pollack (yes, brother of multi-hyphenate Sydney) and his work for the forthcoming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Not surprisingly, the film presented some unique challenges. “The last film was made 18 years ago,” says Pollack. “Everybody that worked on it was out of business. The hat maker was gone. The costumer was gone. So I had to start from scratch. I had to find fabric, find people who could make it. I mean, I’m making an iconic movie. He has got to look as good or better than in the other films in the series. If he looks less than that, I’m an ass.”
All’s well that ends well, of course, and eventually Pollack found his perfectly distressed archaeologist gear, he claims. Of course, as insurance against damage from water, fire, dirt, blood (fake and otherwise), stunts and anything else that might happen, Pollack wanted to play it safe and order in bulk, and the not-quite-cash-strapped production was happy to oblige. The final tally for Harrison Ford’s character: 30 identical fedoras, 30 leather jackets, 60 pairs of khaki pants and 72 shirts.
One day soon we might run out of extreme sports subjects about which to make documentaries, but that day is not yet upon us, so into the pipeline with a heady swoosh! rushes First Descent, a gorgeously photographed snowboarding solicitation. A direct and very derivative descendant of modern genre forebear Dogtown and Z-Boys, the movie traces the story of snowboarding from its roots as a backyard hobby to its current status as a billion-dollar recreation and licensing industry, as well as the staple of the hugely popular, ESPN-broadcast X-Games.
More of a suitably worshipful primer-level celebration than an enduring dissertation, the divertingly entertaining First Descent tracks a motley crew, ranging in age from 18 to 40, of top current freestyle snowboarders and aging legends as they chuck endorsement deals and perfectly machine-carved half-pipes to tackle the foreboding thrills of the Alaskan wilderness.
Lacking a natural arc other than a chronological one (which is apparently deemed too boring for the Mountain Dew generation), First Descent jumps around, mixing together three disparate storytelling strands. The first is a loose history of the sport, while the second is comprised of actual expedition footage from the aforementioned group as they hit the tucked away Chugach Mountain range of Valdez (no drunken Exxon captains in sight, thankfully). The third sketches the personal histories of its participants, which includes impassive 30-year-old godhead Terje Haakonsen, hot teen up-and-comers Shaun White and Hannah Teter, and father figures Shawn Farmer and Nick Perata, the latter of whom opines that it “would really bum [him] out if someone died or got hurt” on the trip, because he views it as being his backyard.
That the footage captured here is breathtaking to laymen is a given. The imponderables of the great outdoors, though, create a whole new set of challenges that it’s interesting to see pro-level snowboarders grapple with, particularly neophytes Teter and White — the latter of whom just scored gold at the Turino Winter Olympics. Still, First Descent can’t compete — and doesn’t try, really — with the psychological self-examination of the skateboarding doc Dogtown and Z-Boys, which was scripted by ground-zero participant Stacey Peralta and had the feel of a wised narcissist coming to terms with his highlight-reel past. It instead pours its resources into the production side of things, capturing the sheer visceral thrill of its sport with ace cinematography from Scott Duncan, Matt Goodman, Mark Hyrma (responsible for some astonishing aerial work) and others.
The relatively sparse narration may be at times overblown (vague, chest-thumping talk of “fighting the establishment” and “battling for souls” and what not), but its interviewees are personable to the man, and you enjoy their company even if co-directors Kevin Harrison and Kemp Curley don’t truly plumb the common threads of their attraction to snowboarding. Such enlightenment is generally left to anecdotal deduction. There’s also a telling glimpse of the fiery rebel spirit of the pursuit when the film details how, in its Olympic debut at the 1998 games in Nagano, the gold medal winner was almost stripped of his decoration for (shock) testing positive for marijuana, and a fellow ‘boarder in turn says he wouldn’t have it any other way for snowboarding’s introduction to the world at large.
The movie works best if one is able to sublimate the desire for academic illumination and instead get off on the vicarious pop kick — including a great collection of vintage clips and tracking handheld material that puts you there on the slopes — of massive plumes of white stuff and contortionist feats of airborne derring-do. It presents a history of snowboarding, but doesn’t ask the important questions of why that in turn inform a greater understanding and appreciation of the sport. To this end, First Descent doesn’t break the new ground its allusive title might like to claim — it’s more ornamental gospel to the unruly choir — but it still gives you slight entr¿e to a different world.
A single disc DVD presented in an Amray case with additional safety snaps,
First Descent‘s supplemental features include a messy clutch of
extraneous material that wins points for its presence but a few
demerits for its formlessness. The movie itself, though, is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the picture — so integral to the feeling and thus success of the movie — is clear, with no trace of artifact or grain, and no compression problems. Given that the film features so many blindingly bright whites, one might suppose there’s a chance of oversaturation, but that’s not the case. A solid English Dolby digital 5.1 track anchors the audio presentation; not only is dialogue ably captured, but the track also impressively highlights the subtle sounds of “cut” snow as White, Haakonsen and others shred the slopes. Some great music by ex-Devo and current Rugrats and Rushmore maestro Mark Mothersbaugh is also put to good use, further engaging you in the proceedings. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French.
As for the bonus material, first up is “AK and Beyond,” a 21-minute, loose-limbed making-of featurette that gives voice to many of the various cameramen working on the project. Of a similar vein is the five-and-a-half-minute “Top of the World,” in which aerial DP Mark Hryma and others detail the gyro-stabilized, 600-pound, front-mounted camera used to capture B-roll footage and topographical establishing shots. This would be more interesting with a little bit more of a divorced perspective, in which perhaps artistic pre-planning was discussed. As is, it’s just more collected footage from the shoot, loosely sorted. The same holds true for four additional minutes of extended snowboarding action (honestly, who hasn’t had their free-form fill after the 110-minute feature?) and two deleted scenes, one of which is more anecdotal and the other of which details the inclement weather that initially postpones one run. Additionally, a five-minute, music-set photo gallery, “A Thousand Words,” rounds things out.
Overall, First Descent isn’t the movie that’s necessarily going to open many older minds to snowboarding, but it is a wonder to behold visually, and those who’ve dabbled in the field — either avocationally or more seriously — will definitely spark to the sights of these legends challenging some of the most dangerous mountain runs in the world. If, for some reason, you want to see the review as originally published and archived at IGN, click here. Though I don’t believe they paid me for it, so why would you do that? Instead, just laugh silently to yourself, and if you’re interested in purchasing the film via Amazon, click here. B- (Movie) C+ (Disc)
In anticipation of the forthcoming birthday of star Paz Vega, I’m re-posting this review of writer-director Julio Medem’s Sex and Lucia, originally published in Entertainment Today upon its Stateside release in the summer of 2002. Visually rich, stylistically bold and erotically charged, Sex and Lucia is a cinematic disquisition on desire, sex, fear and the secrets that the intertwining of the three cause us to keep.
The winner of several Goya Awards — the Oscar equivalent — in its native Spain, Sex and Lucia uses waitress and free spirit Lucia (feted Best Actress winner Vega, above) as chief conduit for its narrative, even though in fact the story is probably filtered to a slightly larger degree through her writer boyfriend Lorenzo (Tristan Ulloa, looking like a sort of vagabond Gary Sinese). After a distraught Lorenzo leaves her, Lucia too takes flight, seeking refuge on a quiet Mediterranean island of special significance, an island where she soon discovers some dark secrets regarding her relationship.
We quickly flash back six years, and see Lorenzo’s fiery one-night fling with a mysterious stranger, Elena (Najwa Nimri), that forms the thinly veiled spine of his autobiographical first novel. Ironically, it’s also the unbridled passion in this book that woos Lucia; we witness their first encounter, in which she takes a winged chance and declares her love in a cafe. Moved by her honesty and bravery, and seemingly nonplussed by the fact that she’s been stalking him, Lorenzo welcomes Lucia with open arms, and the two immediately become a couple.
Some years pass, but consequence comes knocking when Lorenzo, through his agent, finds out that Elena — whose name he never learned — not only became pregnant but also bore him a daughter, now 4 years old. Consumed with guilt and driven by a sweaty, despairing uncertainty, Lorenzo pours his tortured ambivalence into another thinly veiled tome, his third (this after his second effort, an upbeat book, didn’t register with Lucia). He keeps things a secret from Lucia even as he passively tumbles into an “inappropriate relationship” with his daughter’s babysitter, Belen (the beguiling Elena Anaya), a relationship that allows him access to his little girl, named Luna, without giving away his complete identity. More tragedy soon follows, however, leading us back to Lorenzo’s flight from the beginning of the film.
As the title might suggest, Sex and Lucia conveys in powerful strokes both bold and understated the potential consuming nature of raw sexual hunger; as usual, the Europeans get it right while we Americans continue to by and large wallow in shallow titillation. The film never for an instant feels lurid or ridiculous, even though some of the couplings are desperate and/or needy. The imagery of nature also plays a central role in Sex and Lucia‘s narrative (the sun and the moon are recurrent symbols), both on the surface and as an emotional/visual parallel to the characters’ arcs. Certain anglings and tactics of Medem (Lovers of the Arctic Circle), though, reek of both cheap male fantasy (the notion of writer as hardy sex god always screams surrogate screen presence) and writerly overreach when such obfuscation and complication are hardly necessary.
Characterized by a typical European ellipticism, the film is, technically and visually speaking, a marvel, but structurally something of a mess; Medem’s playful linear jumps and interstitial non-sequiturs are more often a hindrance than the dreamy incorporations they’re meant to be taken as. Still, forgiven these minor indulgences and occasional waywardness Sex and Lucia achieves an eerie hold entirely independent of its story proper, and maybe that’s part of Medem’s point. (Palm, R, 128 minutes)
This DVD review was originally penned for IGN, but never used, perhaps because of its use of the words canted, unswerving and artifice. Oh well. Their loss is your gain, arguably. To wit, slightly tweaked and redacted:
Among the many legacies of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction was the twisty gangland
drama’s reintroduction and celebration of a chopped-up narrative — not so much Rashômon-style differentiation in
point-of-view as using the intersected paths and cross currents of various
characters as a way to start in the middle of certain story strands and revisit
other scenes along the way. Sometimes this method works, if the point of entry
into the story and other various points of diversion all tell us something
about the characters’ fates or decision-making processes, however ironic or
doomed. Other times, though, it seems merely a way to dress up a movie in
post-production, to put a hard, canted spin on things as if to then be able to
claim, “Voila — art is born!”
This latter instance of this technique gets quite a workout
in the desperate-to-please Haven,
from newcomer Frank E. Flowers. Filmed entirely in the 100-square-mile West
Indian tropical paradise of the native Caymanian writer-director, the ensemble
crime drama/coming-of-age picture also represents star Orlando Bloom’s producing debut, perhaps automatically raising expectations and piquing the
interest of a mainstream, teeny-bopper audience that would otherwise never
snuggle up to such a cozy little serpentine movie. Either way, though, Haven doesn’t really succeed; younger
audiences will grow weary of the long passages in which Bloom isn’t on screen,
while older audiences will find the attempts at air-quote, artistically pitched
interwoven narrative mostly derisible.
The film explores the murky connections between a number of
people living on or escaping to the
centers around two main stories or plots. First, there’s crooked businessman
Carl Ridley (Bill Paxton) and his semi-estranged 18-year-old daughter Pippa
(Agnes Bruckner), together a step ahead of an FBI raid that descends upon their
Caymans, Pippa hooks up with local bad boy Fritz (Raising Victor Vargas’ lip-smacking Victor Rasuk), a smooth-talking
youth who, when not trying to get into Pippa’s pants, is busy attempting to pay
off a debt to local drug lord Ritchie Rich (Raz Adoti) by passing along
information in ingratiating fashion. Then there’s Mr. Allen (Stephen Dillane),
a corrupt lawyer, in cahoots with Carl, who also has trouble connecting with
his own son Patrick (Lee Ingleby).
This tangled story — of stolen money, shifty motivations and
peddled self-interest — gets interwoven with a reformulated,
quasi-Shakespearean love story between Shy (Bloom) and Andrea (Zoë Saldana), a
pair of young lovers having a romance behind the back of Andrea’s angry older
brother, Hammer (Anthony Mackie), and father (Robert Wisdom), for whom Shy also
works. When they consummate their relationship and are found out, Andrea’s
father insists it is rape. Hammer, then, takes matters into his own hands, and disfigures
Shy by throwing acid in his face.
Haven possesses an
honest man’s dutiful attention to detail, but novelty of setting can only carry
one so far. Pristine beaches and colorful background noise mean nothing when
they’re not in service of a story that we care equally about, and Flowers
evidences no great skill at blending together these elements. Shy’s place as an
older local guy amongst this group is dubious, and Pippa is thinly sketched.
She’s hung up somewhere between rebellious and hurting, and ergo none of her
decisions make concrete sense. As an older brother powered purely by ill-informed
instinct, Mackie actually makes a nice impression. Rasuk ladles on the yo-baby
charisma, which I found irritating but others might take as slyly amusing.
Other actors and performances, meanwhile, seem unfocused and/or untethered to
one another and the movie as a whole, making for a big mess that can’t end soon
Presented on a double-sided, single-layer disc and packaged
in a regular Amray case, Haven comes
with animated menus and a small paper insert touting other Yari
Film Group home video releases, like The Illusionist. In fact, in a throwback to DVD days of yore, it’s the trailer
for that Edward Norton film that starts automatically upon insertion of this
disc. The movie is presented
on a flip-disc that includes a 1.33:1 full screen presentation and a 1.85:1
anamorphic widescreen presentation, the latter of which preserves the aspect
ratio of its original theatrical presentation. The transfer is solid, free from
any obvious digital artifacts. Resolution is consistent and clear, and there
are no problems whatsoever with grain, edge bleeding or artifacting. A decent
portion of the movie unfolds at outdoor locations, and the lighting scheme is
solid, and color saturation constant and unswerving.
Haven is presented
with an English language, Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound mix, but
unfortunately it’s not a very good one at all. Dialogue is clear and consistent,
though the accents of the local dialect make the optional English or Spanish
subtitles worth throwing on almost purely as a precautionary measure once the
action settles in the Caymans. Rear channels are barely used, and the film’s raucous
party scenes are mixed poorly. Surrounding atmospherics are also poorly
handled; whether it’s Shy doing yardwork or meeting back up with his friend
after barely escaping from Andrea’s room after oversleeping one morning, the
film is riddled with examples of on-screen, foregrounded action featuring no
corresponding foley work.
The sole supplemental extra is billed a behind-the-scenes
featurette, but in actuality only runs three minutes and 20 seconds. It’s a
glorified trailer, lifting 10 to 15 second sound bites from each principal cast
member about their character or first introduction to the script, and then interweaving
those with film clips that tell the basic arc of the film’s plot. Either before
viewing the feature presentation or afterward, this is a complete waste of time
— an inclusion only to have something to mention on the back of the cover box. Two 30-second teaser
trailers are also included herein, for Find
Me Guilty and Winter Passing.
That even these don’t get extended-run status is appropriate if still somewhat baffling.
is such a personal story, and produced independently against considerable odds,
it’s puzzling that Flowers doesn’t sit for a commentary track or other
interview material. Whether this augurs a special edition release somewhere
further down the line is hard to say. The film’s theatrical box office
performance certainly didn’t warrant it, but stranger things have happened, I guess.
Bottom line: Haven is pure
artifice, a cynically conceived indie film made to ape the conventions of other
labyrinthine ensemble thrillers. It features no imaginative twists or
sleights-of-hand, however, and though the movie looks decent and has some
novelty of setting, its jumbled narrative interactions are derivative,
implausible, boring, or all three. D+ (Movie) D (Disc)
So I’m filing this slightly tweaked piece on filmmaker Eugene Jarecki’s 2005 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Why We Fight as both a first-run film and DVD review, because the bulk of it was written for IGN, but never posted there. Go figure. To wit: Jarecki was initially inspired to make Why We Fight when, while making The Trials of Henry Kissinger, he stumbled across the farewell address of then-outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower. In the classic speech, Eisenhower, the former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, warned Americans of the dangers of what he called “the military industrial complex,” a term coined to describe the increasing power of abetting bureaucrats and unelected — and thus unaccountable — think tanks and corporations who peddle the big business of war.
Set against the backdrop of a tidal wave of voter dissatisfaction with the current quagmire that is the war in
Why We Fight delves headlong into the apparent realization of that prophecy (America now has a military budget greater than all other 18 members of NATO, and all other discretionary portions of our federal budget combined), and how that connects to and informs the American psyche at large. In assaying American wars dating back to the end of World War II, one finds that all too often there’s a tremendous gulf between what Americans initially think a particular war is about when it’s starting and happening, and what they gradually start to wonder about over time. In a disconnect between public policy debate and more privately held aims, the reasons we’re given for conflict are not necessarily in keeping with what’s been discussed and going on behind closed doors.
It sounds like a pretty damning indictment of the state of democracy, and in some ways it is. Unlike Michael Moore or Robert Greenwald’s films, though, Why We Fight tends to take a less overtly politicized bent. Statistics are meted out, and multiple personal narrative arcs interwoven. Front-line interview subjects range from William Kristol and Gore Vidal to John McCahin the Center for Public Integrity’s Charles Lewis; the opinion is substantive and broader, and the discourse deeper.
The involving result is as much an intellectual mystery — more whydunit than whodunit — as it is a sketch of
Housed in a regular, single-disc Amray case, Why We Fight comes with a robust slate of bonus material that highlights its paramount value as an educational title. The movie is presented on DVD in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which preserves the aspect ratio of its original, limited theatrical exhibition. The transfer is solid and free from any obvious digital artifacts. Color levels are crisp and bright, and Jarecki does a good job of integrating archived material with interview footage shot both indoors and outdoors, making for a streamlined viewing experience from a visual point-of-view. An English language Dolby digital 5.1 audio track anchors Why We Fight, and cleanly and clearly captures the movie’s dialogue and the like. As one might suspect, the aural demands of a doc like this are relatively low key, but a few scant passages focusing on military hardware showcase some of the film’s deeper register range. In addition to the aforementioned track, there are subtitles in French, Spanish and Portuguese.
While the film itself is a knockout, the DVD is driven by more than 100 minutes of special features, starting with a hearty collection of extended and deleted scenes. Most of these are extended interview bits, and no less interesting than some of the material that made the movie’s 100-minute cut.
The bottom line: Why We Fight is about the danger inherent in looking at and talking about all wars in the context of grand, ultimate-good-versus-ultimate-evil struggles, and the dangerous sort of carte blanche that creates. It raises big questions about big themes — the country’s core principles, as well as its massive commitments to such a standing army and attendant infrastructure — but distills them in such a precise and skillful fashion that the movie gets you thinking rather than only making you angry, irritated and frozen by rage. For an interview with Jarecki, click here. A- (Movie) A (Disc)
Jarecki was initially inspired to make Why We Fight when, while making The Trials of Henry Kissinger, he stumbled across the farewell address of then-outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower. In the classic speech, Eisenhower, the former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, warned Americans of the dangers of what he called “the military industrial complex,” a term coined to describe the increasing power of abetting bureaucrats and unelected — and thus unaccountable — think tanks and corporations who peddle the big business of war.
In honor and anticipation of the forthcoming release of Enchanted, I’m reposting this in-depth DVD review of Amy Adams’ breakthrough flick, Junebug, which I don’t believe IGN ever got around to actually running, perhaps because my use of the words meritorious and milieu don’t jibe with their editorial mission. At any rate…
That a single revelatory performance is enough to mask
narrative familiarities or flaws is a point not open to debate. See last year’s
Ray and, more recently, Walk the Line and (most egregiously) Duncan
Tucker’s Transamerica if you doubt.
Still, Junebug is an interesting
case, in that its memorable turn comes within the framework of an ensemble.
The performance of Amy Adams (above), who won a Special Dramatic
Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Festival for her robust, memorable supporting
work, is a prime example of a performance in search of a movie that deserves
its efforts. Scripted by playwright Angus MacLachlan and helmed in a languorous
fashion by commercial and music video director Phil Morrison (a bushy-moustache
ringer for Charles Manson, as the supplemental material reveals), Junebug is the rare movie that achieves
complete authenticity of atypical setting yet still comes across as unrealistic
in almost all of its interactions. It’s a willfully stilted and pandering
cinematic indulgence — original but not meritorious.
Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) is a British-born,
museum curator specializing in “outsider art,” quirky work from unheralded and
undiscovered regional talents. When she gets the chance to investigate a North
Carolina artist specializing in bizarre, Civil War-themed panel painting, she
and her younger husband George (Alessandro Nivola) extend the visit to include
a trip to see his semi-estranged family, which is comprised of prickly mother
Peg (Celia Weston), withdrawn but kindly father Eugene (Scott Wilson), surly
younger brother Johnny (The O.C.’s
Benjamin McKenzie, reaching for indie cred relevance with a performance running
second in petulance only to Jon Heder’s Napoleon Dynamite — except that that
was for laughs), and Johnny’s pregnant and innocently garrulous live-in
girlfriend Ashley (a pitch-perfect Adams, her wide eyes and
tongue-pressed-to-teeth smile a perfect representation of unblinking naïveté).
While George — ever his father’s son — withdraws into a cocoon of reticence
during the trip (perhaps the result of neither MacLachan nor Morrison knowing
what to do with his character), Madeleine endears herself to the extremely
friendly Ashley, and she deeply to her.
A movie of much meandering indulgence (it is the South,
after all, so everything must move slowly), Junebug
grates far more than it illuminates; it’s an indistinct tone poem that falsely wears
its down-dressed rhythms as profundity. Morrison and editor Joe Klotz cut
between scenes in a completely arbitrary fashion, and the various relationships
run so hot and cold — with George disappearing for a vast stretch of the movie
— that we’re never quite sure why anyone is acting the way they are. That George is the made-good brother who
“escaped” is never in doubt (a beautiful church social scene where he’s
recruited to sing a hymnal confirms this), but there’s a marked difference
between discord or strained familial relationships and the extremely sullen and
uncommunicative ones on display here, wherein each character at least once
pauses, turns around and walks away when directly addressed with a “thank you”
or other words of gratitude. Rarely have I seen a milieu so painstakingly
established at the same time ring so inherently false.
Southern compatriots Morrison and MacLachlan seem to be reaching for ephemeral
grace notes more than overarching clarity, but the mesmerizing performance of
isn’t transcendental — it seems to exist in a vacuum independent of the rest of
the film. I liked this movie a bit more the second time around than the first,
and it plays better on the small screen, but honestly, Junebug feels like the filmmakers watched the work of David Gordon
Green (George Washington, All the Real Girls) and tried to
willfully inject it with aloofness and empty quirk.
The film’s indie heartthrob status is further elucidated Junebug
over the course of a nice array of bonus material on this single disc, housed
in a regular Amray case.
is superb, with director of photography Peter Donahue’s uncluttered frames
achieving crystal clarity. There are no problems with artifact or grain, and
while the movie’s overall color palette is relatively subdued, its greys and blues are nicely
differentiated. The film’s use of natural lighting is nice, too, as in the
scene of Madeleine and George’s initial arrival. Presented in an English Dolby digital 5.0 soundtrack, Junebug’s audio is nicely balanced and
for the most part clear and straightforward. Original music by Yo La Tengo is
nicely married to the narrative in a fairly non-intrusive manner, but my only
complaint is that there’s not a lot done with the audio mix in terms of ambient
effects and background noise. While the film visually captures the South, it
eschews much aural effort. The aforementioned church scene is an example of
where this native silence works quite well, racking focus clearly on the sweet,
heart-rending vocals, but for a movie ostensibly about alienation and
disconnect, there are many scenes — Johnny sitting in the kitchen when the rest
of the family rushes out to meet George and Madeleine, for instance, or a
late-act scene between Ashley and George at the hospital — where the audio is
Junebug’s 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video presentation
A billed five-part, behind-the-scenes featurette is actually merely
a collection of actor interviews broken down by character. These are
interesting, but not necessarily material you will revisit, though it does
include outtake footage of Nivola practicing for his hymnal. More intriguing
are two casting session tapes, which provide seven minutes of McKenzie and 13
the achievement of her performance, it’s interesting to see both how quickly
she dialed in on the character and the minor tweaks and revisions that further
shaded her portrayal of Ashley.
snippets, but there’s one that lends even more credence to Johnny’s swallowed
rage. I wouldn’t say it makes McKenzie’s performance markedly better, but it does add a bit more
shading, similar to the scene in which he tries to record a TV show about
meerkats (Ashley’s favorite animal) and flies off the handle when he cannot set
up the VCR in time.
The disc’s piece de
resistance, though, is a joint audio commentary track from Adams and
Davidtz. Recorded together, the two share production anecdotes, recount
Davidtz’s eleventh-hour casting (she’s a friend of Nivola and his wife, Emily
Mortimer) and have fun with pop-up trivia-type tidbits (self-confesses Adams at
one point, “That’s me actually itching a mosquito bite”). Both analytical and
funny (since the film opened opposite The
Dukes of Hazzard, Adams suggests that Ashley’s pregnancy shorts should have
been more prominently featured in the advertising campaign), this offering
dispels the frequently deserved stereotype of boring actor commentary tracks.
Bottom line: Again, Amy Adams is what’s most to love here, though the
degree to which she influences the final judgment between bearable treat and
interesting failure will depend heartily on your threshold for empty quirk.
That Junebug has been hailed by most
critics is only further evidence of the growing culture gap in this country,
and between those that produce and comment on entertainment and those that live
in the interstices of its occasional settings. Again, merely being different
doesn’t always equal good, and unfolding in a place rarely visited doesn’t make
Junebug wise or bittersweet. C (Movie) B+ (Disc)
In anticipation of the November 16 release of the seemingly somewhat similar Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, from Stranger Than Fiction writer Zach Helm, I thought I’d re-post this review of Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, originally published upon its release in 2005. To wit:
In the wake of the death of his semi-estranged father
several years ago, as well as the birth of his own child, director Tim Burton
has had fatherhood on his mind quite a lot. For a filmmaker sometimes accused
of crafting pretty, idiosyncratic but emotionally distant baubles, it has
infused his work with a newfound directness. His most recent previous film, Big Fish, told the
story of a young man trying to come to terms with his tall-tale-telling paterfamilias, and
now, re-teaming with Big Fish
scribe John August, Burton delivers his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
recasting the movie again in a fantastical format as a sugarcoated parable of
familial bliss and dislocation. Colorful and anchored by another quirky star
turn from Burton’s go-to leading man, Johnny Depp, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
is a sort of adult-leaning kids’ movie, but one that also feels hermetically
sealed and a bit predetermined, if always still energetic.
Finding Neverland costar as
Charlie Bucket, a kind and earnest young boy who lives with his parents (Helena
Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor) and extended nuclear family, including Grandpa
Joe (Waking Ned Devine’s
David Kelly), in a lopsided abode in the shadow of reclusive confectioner Willy
Wonka’s towering sweets factory. For years the candy plant has been closed to
the outside world, the result of Wonka’s frustration with corporate spies out
to steal his secret recipes and ideas. One day, though, Wonka sends word that
hidden in his chocolate bars worldwide are five special, golden tickets to
visit his factory.
Pandemonium ensues, and one by one the young
winners come forward, including gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz);
bossy, competitive Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb); bratty,
videogame-obsessed Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry); and over-privileged daddy’s girl
Veruca Salt (Julia Winter). Against considerable odds, poor Charlie secures the
final ticket, and sets out for his one-of-a-kind visit with Grandpa Joe, who
used to work at Wonka’s factory.
Once there, the eccentric Wonka gives his guests a
tour of his whimsical warehouse, which includes an entirely edible landscape
with a chocolate waterfall, grassy overpass and candy-apple trees. All of this
insanity is tended to by the diminutive, mischievous Oompa Loompas (all played
by a 4-foot, 4-inch guy named… Deep
loyal workers whom Wonka pays in cocoa beans. As the other children one by one
befall unfortunate accidents, Charlie moves closer to claiming the special
end-of-visit surprise promised as part of the tour.
Depp’s slightly fey performance as the germophobic
Wonka is a thing of crazy-quilt beauty, made all the more indelible by his Prince
Valiant bob and James Caan bathrobe (he has a nervous giggle, too, reminiscent
of Vince Vaughn). Burton also peppers the film with referential tips of the
tophat to many of his past movies, from Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood to Mars
Attacks! and Planet
of the Apes. But the movie feels like a bit of a put-on. Though
beautifully, painstakingly designed, several passages drag, and glimpses back
into Wonka’s fractured adolescent relationship with his father don’t carry
enough emotional heft to make them seem relevant to the here and now. The
movie’s musical Oompa Loompa numbers, meanwhile, come across as sludgy and
the Chocolate Factory forestalls if not eradicates entirely the memory of
Gene Wilder’s 1971 turn as Wonka — your mind doesn’t tend to be elsewhere
during a Tim Burton movie — but also comes across as perhaps nothing more than
a lively curio. An expensive sweet, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has the capacity to
delight, but it also, for all its authorial authenticity, feels somewhat
isolated. (Warner Bros., PG, 118 mins.)
Stuffing the archives is a slow and sometimes seemingly pointless task, but with Evan Rachel Wood‘s birthday and her new film, King of California, both looming, it seemed the right time for this re-posted review of Pretty Persuasion, originally published upon its theatrical release in 2005. To wit:
Director Marcos Siega’s Pretty
Persuasion has a streak of originality a mile long and about an
inch deep. A sort of forked-tongue, high school mash-up of Clueless and To Die
For, with the respective if disparate quality of each of those films
canceling each other out in a tidal wave of tangy smirk, it serves as a
bracing, in-your-face reminder that creativity and quality need not be mutually
Evan Rachel Wood, above left), a self-involved and casually cruel diva-in-training given to
proclamations like, “I’m tolerant of all races, but I’m glad I was born white.”
The daughter of a successful but zonked and anti-Semitic businessman (James
Woods, chewing scenery in a frequently open bathrobe) with an equally out-there
new trophy wife (Jaime King), Kimberly attends Roxbury High School, an elite
Beverly Hills private institution, and it’s no surprise given her surroundings
and preternatural maturity and influence that she wants to be an actress — or,
more to the point, a celebrity. Orbiting around Kimberly are two satellites,
her dim best friend Brittany Wells (Elizabeth Harnois, above right) and naïve newcomer Randa
Azzouni (Adi Schnall, above center), an Arab girl whom Kimberly takes under her wing with a
To advance her popular agenda, Kimberly hatches a
plot to frame their nebbishy English instructor, Percy Anderson (Ron
Livingston), for sexual molestation. As the accusation moves toward trial, the
scheme ensnares local lesbian reporter Emily Klein (Jane Krakowski) and
Brittany’s boyfriend Troy (Stark Sands) in an expanding daisy chain of
blackmail, double-crosses and back-biting (large portions of the third act seem
nipped from Wild Things).
The young Wood’s work as Kimberly is undeniably the
stuff of a major talent, but it comes in the service of empty vehicle of
flattened emotional affect. Director Siega cut his teeth on music videos and
but never elevates Pretty
Persuasion to anything more than the sum of its arch,
self-satisfied parts. (Incidentally, the music, by Gilad Benamram, is a
straight-up rip-off of Angelo Badalamenti’s work on
This may not always be Siega’s fault. Skander
Halim’s script is a real mouthful; at times delightfully bitchy, it touches on
a wide swath of hot-button issues and topics, and like, say, Donnie Darko, hearteningly
shows the cruel underbelly of adolescent life in a way that mainstream studio
films do not, and also the way that teens craftily exploit one another’s
obliviousness. Any and all sort of relation to the outside world, though, rings
false and willfully strident. The movie likes to “shock” with lewd and
politically incorrect off-the-cuff remarks, 15-year-old Kimberly’s sexual favor
brokering and a scene with Woods diddling himself.
The problem is that this none of this ever comes
across as anything more than superficial. That would be fine were Pretty Persuasion a much
broader comedy. But the movie flails, rowdily and flagrantly, in its efforts to
infuse drama into the proceedings, and by the time a death occurs and
ostensibly genuine tears are shed during the third act, one can barely stand to watch. (Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions, R, 110 mins.)
Well, it’s a quarter ’til one in the morning and I just heard some strange noise outside, so it seems as good a time as any to re-post a review of the recent remake of The Amityville Horror, originally published upon its theatrical release in 2005 by a now-defunct (and deservedly so) publication. To wit:
The curtains billow early and often in The Amityville Horror, a self-serious
fright flick, full of all the familiar genre touchstones, that tries to play up
a classy, non-fiction pedigree, but ironically comes off as more dunderheaded
and wildly implausible than any number of slapdash, generic horror siblings. A
nastily forceful and artless rehash of movies both much better (The Shining) and just as bad (Hide and Seek), The Amityville Horror is a remake of the 1979 film starring James
Brolin and Margot Kidder, and based on a true story — “the true story” the title card trumpets (like it’s a friggin’
chronicling of the Revolutionary War or something). It jabs at the audience
insistently from the get-go, mixing earsplitting sound design and ghoulish and
gory visual smash-cuts picked up off the cutting room floors of various Nine
Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson music videos.
The film is set in 1975 in the
Contractor George Lutz (a buff, bearded Ryan Reynolds) has found love with
Kathy (Melissa George), and with her comes a ready-made family consisting of
three kids — surly pre-teen Billy, young daughter Chelsea and little,
perpetually dewy-eyed Michael — since Kathy’s first husband has passed away.
When they find an expansive fix-’er-upper on the edge of town for a song, they
wonder what the catch is. Come to find out that in the house scruffy, bearded
Ronald DeFeo shotgunned to death six family members — his parents and four
siblings — in their sleep, supposedly under instruction from demons. Never ones
to pass up a deal, however, the Lutz clan rolls the die (wink, wink) and moves
in anyway. Bad idea… George’s grasp on reality becomes more and more tenuous
(as evidenced by Reynolds’ bloodshot contacts), and he starts hearing messages
to kill his family. Chelsea, meanwhile, falls under the dangerous sway of dead
little Jodie DeFeo, for some reason not stopping to ask her about the bullet
hole in her head.
The concept of horror on display in The Amityville Horror is a loose one, applied arbitrarily to
whatever works in the moment, be it a vaguely anthropomorphized house,
apparitions of rotting-faced dead girls or bloody, tortured visages and ripped
open ribcages. Mostly, though, it merely means sound effects editors paid by
the decibel. Scott Kosar’s script never manages to rise too far above
preposterousness, be it in big scenes (separate scenes of confrontation for the
children when Rachel Nichols’ pin-up stoner babysitter meets an unfortunate
fate) or small (a ridiculous expository microfiche headline, “DeFeo kills
family after 28 days,” meant to give parallel urgency to the current
Meanwhile, director Andrew Douglas — yet another esteemed
commercial veteran making his feature debut — doesn’t have the requisite dark,
foreboding flair to match The Texas
Chainsaw Massacre remake, another Kosar adaptation exec-produced by Michael
Bay. The result is a movie with game efforts from Reynolds and George, and a
few early effective passages, but one whose finale is so stupid as to
completely erase any trace remembrances of tangible emotional consequences. The
only lasting horror in The Amityville
Horror is in what it takes from your wallet. (MGM/Dimension, R, 83
With Good Luck Chuck just around the bend, and making such a desperately naked play to position itself as the next Wedding Crashers, I figured it’s time to re-post a slightly redacted version of that film’s original review, originally published in Screen International upon its theatrical release in 2005. To wit:
Jim Carrey remaining devoted to counterbalancing
comedic broadsides with dramatic forays, Hollywood has been in serious need of
a bankable humor infusion. They can call off the search. It’s Vaughn and Wilson who
headline Wedding Crashers, and the
pair deliver a bada-bing smash. A charismatic and indefatigable romp that
strikes just the right balance between well-sketched rudeness and sweetness,
the movie stands poised to dominate the summer comedy sweepstakes.
The story centers on John Beckwith (
and Jeremy Grey (Vaughn), two
divorce mediators who get their off-time kicks posing as brothers or friends
and hopping from nuptial to nuptial. There, they enjoy the free catering,
alcohol and, naturally, love-hungry single women, sweeping the latter off their
feet and into bed. Things change when the guys crash the marriage ceremony of
the oldest daughter of Secretary of the Treasury William Cleary (Christopher
Walken). John falls hard, fast and sincere for youngest daughter Claire (Rachel
McAdams), leaving Jeremy to cope with the amorous advances of Gloria (Isla Fisher), an unleashed stallion of sexual rapaciousness and serial nuttiness. John’s
would-be relationship with Claire is complicated by several obstacles, not the
least of which is of course his phony identity. There’s also Claire’s preppy
jock boyfriend, Sack Lodge (Bradley Cooper).
Writers Steve Faber and Bob Fisher devise a number of clever
ways to extend the joke of Wedding
Crashers beyond the mere hit-and-run pleasures their characters derive,
from having John and Jeremy bet on quoted scripture and ceremonial music (Johan
Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Richard Wagner’s Wedding March Processional, etc.) to
having them bound together by a leave-no-crasher-behind credo with all sorts of
other rider attachments that eventually leads to a cameo by fellow Frat Pack
member Ferrell as Chazz, the sort of mystical patriarch of this culture of
uninvited party-hopping. The writers are careful, too, to paint John and Jeremy as
impish advantage-takers who have a perhaps misguided but nonetheless abiding
love of weddings (and thus romance). This may seem on the surface like
bet-hedging, but it actually works better since the duo’s prevarications are
neither outlandish nor over-the-top. There are real characters here, and the
laughs come from the absurd over-commitment to them, as well as some solid joke
Director David Dobkin does a very good job of blending the
film’s disparate comedic styles, and while Wedding Crashers generally oversells
the smarmy loathsomeness of Sack (making sure to paint him as a philandering
letch so as not to retain any possible vestige of audience sympathy), the
Cleary clan — a nice admixture of Kennedy and Bush lore and speculation — provides a suitably rich backdrop against which John and Jeremy can spin their
wheels. The cast all have a blast and, again, Wilson and Vaughn
deliver fashionably winning performances. But it’s Fisher who achieves breakout
clarity with her portrayal of the borderline bipolar Gloria. In a world of
demure or artificially amusing straightwomen, she’s not afraid to play
gleefully unhinged. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (New Line, R, 113 minutes)
As I’ve mentioned before, the archives here at Shared Darkness will soon swell with past legit reviews and other material. Right now I feel disgusting and disgusted from stuffing my face for lunch (though not a hamburger, mind you), so up goes this review of Morgan Spurlock’s superlative documentary Super Size Me, originally published upon its release in 2004. To wit:
30 days; 2) he must eat three square meals a day, no excuses; 3) he must try everything on the menu at least once; and 4) he will “super size” his meal only, but always, when asked. The only other limitation Spurlock imposes is one of limited physical activity, meaning no formal exercise and only the average amount of American walking per day (a handy pedometer counts the paces).
The results are — for anyone who’s ever gorged themselves into a saturated fat coma rushing between commitments, and that would be all of us — equally astounding and completely unsurprising. Spurlock’s cholesterol jumps 65 points, he gains roughly 25 pounds and his body fat index swells from around 11 to 18 percent. Only a few weeks in, he’s stricken with vague, recurring chest pains, and advised by a doctor at one point that the damage he is doing to his liver is akin to that of an alcoholic who is on the way to drinking themselves to death.
It’s not all mindless gorging, though. In fact, the film isn’t mindless at all. Spurlock’s month-long binge is supplemented with insightful, eye-opening interviews with top medical and health professionals, including former Surgeon General David Satcher,
As a screen presence, Spurlock has an easygoing, immediately charming demeanor, and his film — which chides rather than scolds, energizes and incites more than nakedly provokes — benefits tremendously from this. Super Size Me is a rare breed — one of only a handful of select films that I can recall as being as important as it is entertaining. If you still haven’t seen it, make it part of your cinematic diet, and quickly. Just make sure you’ve eaten healthy beforehand. (Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions, PG-13, 100 minutes)
I meant to re-post this in honor of Karl Rove’s resignation and dissembling appearance on Meet the Press last week, but was waylaid by computer problems. So… you get it now. What’s “it,” you ask? Why, a review of the 2004 documentary Bush’s Brain, don’tcha know. Go ahead, take a trip back in time…
President George W. Bush’s less than spectacular
oratory prowess (he could make any given factoid-friendly middle school debate
team look like a lethal collection of extemporaneous geniuses) and almost
default facial position of mealy-mouthed suspiciousness. But is that an
accurate characterization, of either Bush or his alleged puppet master, Karl
Rove? An illuminating pinprick of behind-the-curtain political choreography,
Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob’s non-fiction film makes a fairly
convincing case that it is.
Based on the book of the same name by Emmy-winning freelance
journalist James C. Moore and Dallas
Morning News bureau chief Wayne Slater (both interviewed here), Bush’s Brain assays the vast (undue?)
influence of political kingmaker Rove, dubbed “the man with the plan” by the
president himself. (Bush also called him “turd blossom,” so go figure.) The movie features a steady, mixed diet of interviews with those
who have worked alongside Rove, those who have opposed him and those whose
lives have been irrevocably altered by the brutal, no-holds-barred technique
from piddling agricultural commissioner races to Bill Clements and Dubya’s
That said, Bush’s
Brain, though left leaning, isn’t a radical, free-swinging document of irresponsible
polarity. Its indictment — to the degree that characterization is accurate
— comes via a calculated cataloguing of its subject’s political absorption and
activism. A born-and-bred politico and avowed Republican (he fervently backed
Richard Nixon’s 1960 campaign against John F. Kennedy as a 10-year-old, and
papered his bedroom walls with news stories instead of popular sports or music
pin-ups), Rove bullied/willed his way to the presidency of the College
Republicans and parlayed that post into a variety of advisory and consulting
positions (he also teaches graduate students at the University of Texas).
adequately chronicles Rove’s divisive specialties (the politicizing of
trivialities, the use of blunt-trauma direct mail operations) and by extension
the scoreboard-mentality “athleticizing” of the political process — the very
modern obsession with not simply securing victory for one candidate based on
issue stance and experience but just as if not more importantly annihilating
and humiliating opponents. The film, however, could use a little more
elucidation of Rove’s formidable political vision and offensive-minded
strategy, especially given that one interviewee accurately deems Rove the
“Bobby Fischer of politics,” for his ability to see many “moves” beyond the
current political landscape. Among the more stomach-churning, reprehensible
segments concerning the latter are a misrepresentative sullying of Senator Max
Cleland (a Georgian Democrat) and the savaging of Senator John McCain in the
crucial 2000 South Carolina primary that has more than a few eerily parallels
to the recent shady “Swiftboat Veterans for Truth” smear campaign against
candidate John Kerry.
Whether this Machiavellian reveal casts mortal blows to
Bush’s credibility is, in the end, in the eye of the beholder, but as
a movie Bush’s Brain stands as an
engrossing and disturbing portrait of the perversion of our political process —
a victim of our collective disdain and disinterest that we let it get dragged
down this far. (Tartan, PG-13, 80 minutes)
War is still making headlines, of course, and with Richard Shepard’s quite excellent The Hunting Party looming on the horizon (more on this soon), I thought I’d re-post this review of 2001’s No Man’s Land. To wit:
Writer-director Danis Tanovic’s film opens with a group of Bosnian soldiers, ostensibly on a relief mission, lost in a thick, soupy battlefield fog. It’s an apt visual metaphor for No Man’s Land, a well-acted, thoughtfully constructed tragicomic exploration of just how murky all-consuming hate can be, even among starkly pronounced enemies.
Set in 1993 during the height of the Bosnian civil war, No Man’s Land takes its title from where its lead characters find themselves trapped. When the aforementioned fog dissipates and the Serbs open fire, reneging on a tentative peace accord, a T-shirt-clad fighter named Ciki (Branko Djuric) survives and manages to make his way to an abandoned ditch in between the two entrenched fronts. When the Serbian commander sends two of his soldiers to check the trench, Ciki hides and they find nothing. Before they leave, the duo set a booby trap, laying one of the dead Bosnian soldiers on a spring mine so that when his comrades find his body and move it, they too will be killed. As they finish the job, they notice that an abandoned rifle there minutes before is now missing; someone is in the trench with them. Cornered, Ciki springs from his hiding place, killing one of the Serb soldiers and wounding the other, a shiny-pated rookie named Nino (Rene Bitorajac). Rather than finish Nino off, however, Ciki spares him, figuring he may be a useful bargaining tool.
Adrien Brody), frustrated by the stultifying inaction of his United Nations superiors, who include the rather obviously named Colonel Soft (Four Weddings and a Funeral’s Simon Callow).
Much more than just an absurdist predicament, No Man’s Land manages to pull moments both light (the soldiers call the UN peacekeepers “smurfs” because of their light blue helmets) and grim — as well as always human — from its set-up. Ciki and Nino’s arguments are at first very straightforward and didactic, but as the film moves away from speechifying and into more illustrative examples of their (assumed) differences, it really gathers steam.
Plenty of films of this type, in which two mortal enemies are confined to specific quarters, have rosy and/or oversimplified worldviews that usually translate into cloying, pat resolutions. If everyone would just get together and talk, really get to know the so-called enemy, these optimistic films tell us, then things would be better, everyone would see how similar we really are to our neighbor. The small but crowning victory of
Given that it’s currently all things Steve Carell, what with the release of Evan Almighty, I really should have re-posted this review of The 40-Year-Old Virgin much earlier. Oh well, here goes, redacted from its original publication on occasion of the film’s release in August of 2005, by an outlet that still owes me (and many others) money, an outlet that may or may not be named Now Playing Magazine, formerly published by Douglas Brisotti. To wit:
Given the rich tradition of comedies of humiliation, it’s hard to believe that until The 40-Year-Old Virgin there hasn’t been a major
Carell stars as Andy Stitzer, an all-around nice guy who works at an electronics store in the
Andy’s dilemma isn’t merely some misogynistic quest, though, as he meets Trish (Catherine Keener), a divorcée and single mother (and grandmother, though there’s thankfully no baby involved), and finds himself falling for her even as Jay and Cal insist that he needs some “starter nookie.” As he wins Trish over, Andy must slowly come to grips with how to break his secret to her.
Not particularly surprisingly, the film feels very episodic and bears the marks of test audience-tinkering. Certain scenes, such as one involving a transvestite prostitute (accidentally) hired by one of Andy’s friends, are over before they even begin, and other sequences — including a bit where Andy gets locked in the showroom with nothing but porn playing around him on all the big-screen TVs, and a scene of self-gratification set to Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” — seem definitely trimmed with an eye toward propriety. That may seem strange for a comedy to all outward appearances bawdy as all get-out, but The 40-Year-Old Virgin is essentially a relationship comedy masquerading as a sex farce.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (think of the diminishing return of Stifler and the grandmother in the dreadful, forced American Wedding). The 40-Year-Old Virgin creates palpably human characters (Rudd, Rogen and Malco are all a treat) and grows the comedy from there. If the film cycles through jokes and scenarios at a clip that’s both inspiring and sometimes frustrating (because it doesn’t fully exploit certain set-ups to their logical conclusion), you at least appreciate its groundedness. Apatow (Freaks and Geeks) proves himself as suited for the big screen as the small, and Carell, taking a cue from Ben Stiller’s propensity for comedic debasement, launches himself into his role with a complete lack of ego; the much-trailered chest wax scene is 100 percent authentic, and achieves a sort of flippant Zen brilliance even though you know what’s coming. (Universal, R, 116 minutes)