Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
SEX & THE CITY is rated R for: "strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and language."
My reaction: Good. This film needed to be rated R.
TROPIC THUNDER is rated R for: "pervasive language including sexual references, violent content, and drug material."
My reaction: Excellent. Early word on this film had pegged it as a hard-R action-comedy and we need more of these types of films getting made these days. Excellent.
IRON MAN is rated PG-13 for: "some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content."
My reaction: sounds like a standard superhero rating to me. Though, I know what they're getting at, but the phrase "brief suggestive content" makes no sense. Suggestive of what, exactly?
MADE OF HONOR is rated PG-13 for: "sexual content and language."
My reaction: I don't care what this movie is rated; it looks like cow shit that has been baking in the hot sun on a 95 degree day on a farm in Ohio.
SPEED RACER is rated PG for: "sequences of action, some violence and language."
My reaction: This film has supposedly been aimed squarely at children and families. The racing action does look cool, in a very different but Nintendo-inspired way. The dialogue and line delivery, however, appears to be atrocious. I am still not sure what to make of this movie...
Monday, April 28, 2008
Sunday, April 20, 2008
"When a group of women are abducted in the wintry hills of rural Virginia, the only clues to their disappearance are the grotesque human remains that begin to turn up in snow banks along the highway. With officials desperate for any lead, a disgraced priest’s questionable “visions” send local police on a wild goose chase and straight to a bizarre secret medical experiment that may or may not be connected to the women’s disappearance. It’s a case right out of The X-Files. But the FBI closed down its investigations into the paranormal years ago. And the best team for the job is ex-agents Fox Mulder and Dr. Dana Scully, who have no desire to revisit their dark past. Still, the truth of these horrific crimes is out there somewhere...and it will take Mulder and Scully to find it!"
Here's a link to the bootleg teaser trailer which I saw over at www.joblo.com:
KISSING JESSICA STEIN, a romantic comedy from 2003 which I just caught up with on DVD, was awesome. A great twist on the modern romantic comedy with two extremely appealing (in more ways than one) performances from Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.
More on both of these when I get back next week from vacation.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
1. INDIANA JONES & THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (dir. Steven Speilberg)
I loved the first three films in this series and I expect nothing but a phenomenal adventure from The Beard and Co. The teaser trailer is rocking, the cast is stellar, and the promise of real/practical effects over a reliance of CGI is re-assuring. Hearing John Williams' score will probably be enough to send me into nostalgia-related tears of joy. I am very, very excited for this film.
2. BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT (dir. Christopher Nolan)
I loved what Nolan did with BATMAN BEGINS and I love the casting of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman. The trailer is sick, Heath Ledger looks possessed as the Joker, and a rumored run time of close to three hours has me foaming at the mouth to check this out. Taking the Batman character and placing him and his adversaries in a realistic setting was key to the revival of this franchise, and THE DARK KNIGHT looks like it will pick up right where BATMAN BEGINS so eloquently left off. The film is getting a release on IMAX screens as well so that should be a sight to see. This and INDY are basically tied for the #1 slot for the summer.
3. HANCOCK (dir. Peter Berg)
Peter Berg is the most underrated director working in the Hollywood studio system at the moment. He's progressed as a storyteller and as a stylist with each film he's made (VERY BAD THINGS, THE RUNDOWN, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, and THE KINGDOM) and this cerebral superhero movie starring Will Smith sounds like a very different take on the superhero genre. The quick teaser that has been released promises a film filled with crazy special effects and offbeat humor. At various points in this film's history both Michael Mann (who is now a producer on the film) and Tony Scott were attached to direct it. The script has long been considered a gem by anyone who's read it. The antithesis of superhero movies like SPIDERMAN and SUPERMAN, HANCOCK sounds like an edgy, subversive action flick. Very curious to see how it turns out.
4. IRON MAN (dir. Jon Favreau)
This looks like a lot of fun. Casting Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark was a stroke of genius on the part of director Jon Favreau. The script has been written by two of the writers of CHILDREN OF MEN, so that's an automatic plus. And the action sequences glimpsed in the trailers are crackling with excellent and seamless looking CGI. I was always a fan of my Iron Man action figures when I was growing up so it will be cool to finally see this character on the big screen. Favreau is class-act all the way and he's really stepping up as a director after the smaller comedies MADE and ELF, as well as his unfairly ignored kid's action-adventure movie ZATHURA. This will be the first instant smash of the summer movie season.
5. PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (dir. David Gordon Green)
A stoner action-comedy written and produced by the team from KNOCKED UP and SUPERBAD and directed by indie favorite David Gordon Green, THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS looks both hilarious and smart. Green, who's earlier film from 2008 SNOW ANGELS is the best film I've seen so far this year, is stepping out of his wheelhouse a bit with this film; it will be very interesting to see him working with a bigger budget and on a decidedly commercial project. The hilarious trailer, which I have posted on this blog recently, promises a wacky movie about the wacky-tabacky. Seth Rogen and James Franco co-star. I have never been a fan of Franco but he looks perfect in this movie/role.
6. THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (dir. Chris Carter)
I was, and still am, a giant X-FILES fan. The show may be off the air but any chance to spend time with Mulder & Scully is fine by me. Series creator/overlord Chris Carter wrote and directed the new film (Rob Bowman helmed the first film back in 1998) and while plot details have been limited, what is known for sure is that it does not directly involve aliens or the alien mythology explored in the show and in the first feature film. This film will apparently be a stand-alone monster movie. While I wish it was centered around little green men, as that was the primary focus of the series, I am still excited to see Mulder and Scully back up on the big screen. Will they finally kiss?
7. TROPIC THUNDER (dir. Ben Stiller)
Ben Stiller's track record as a director is spot on. REALITY BITES, THE CABLE GUY, and ZOOLANDER are all comedy classics as far as I'm concerned. In TROPIC THUNDER, Still stars along with Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Tom Cruise (in apparently one of the funniest cameos ever...), Matthew McConaughey, Bill Hader, Steve Coogan, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, and Justin Theroux, as a group of over-paid, obnoxious movie stars making a big-budget Vietnam movie in the middle of the jungle. When their insane director decides to drop them off in the middle of a real war to give them the proper training for his picture, well, hilarity ensues. The sight of Downey Jr. playing a pompous Australian method-actor who dyes his skin black so he can play a black solider is already priceless. With a hard-R rating, this could be the summer's funniest movie.
8. THE HAPPENING (dir. M. Night Shyamalan)
M. Night needs to rebound after the critical and commercial failure of his last film, THE LADY IN THE WATER, which was indeed a complete piece of shit. Here, he gets really dark with a thriller about an environmental crisis wherein mother nature turns on human beings by unleashing a poisonous toxin that makes people kill themselves and each other. Sounds very Twilight Zone-y and very creepy. Mark Whalbergh and Zooey Deschanel star. I hope this is a return to form for M. Night. For the record, I think UNBREAKABLE is his best film, followed by THE SIXTH SENSE and then SIGNS. THE VILLAGE was silly but enjoyable but LADY IN THE WATER was a turd. With a Friday the 13th release date (in June), I have a feeling this one's gonna be a winner.
9. THE INTERNATIONAL (dir. Tom Tywker)
From the director of RUN LOLA RUN and PERFUME and starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, this thriller has been very quiet over the last few months. I don't know much about it other than the fact that it's a European-set political thriller. The directing, acting, and genre elements of this film immediately make it a must-see for me, even if I haven't seen a trailer, poster, or read a full plot description. With a mid-August release date, I'm hoping that this is the surprise of the summer.
10. SEX & THE CITY (dir. Michael Patrick King)
You know what...I liked this show. I watched every single episode when it aired on HBO and I generally had a good time with the characters and plot lines. I'm not expecting miracles but it'd be nice if there was a solid rom-com with an adult sensibility this summer, and I have a feeling this film will do the trick. Written and directed by series creator Michael Patrick King and starring everyone from the original series, the film is guaranteed to become a blockbuster at the box office and has the potential to be one of the better pieces of frothy, chick-flick entertainment to come out of Hollywood in a while. And it's the one movie that my fiancee is super-excited to see this summer so that in and of itself will be enough to get me out to the theaters to see it.
Runner-up's that I will also be sure to catch are GET SMART (Steve Carrell is hysterical), WANTED (a 1/2 naked Angelina Jolie with guns will get my money any day of the week...), STEP BROTHERS (Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly making each other, and me, laugh...), SPEED RACER (maybe...), RED BELT (I love me some David fucking Mamet), CHOKE (the latest Chuck "FIGHT CLUB" Phalaniuk adaptation), THE MUMMY 3 (maybe...), HELLBOY 2 (I enjoyed the first one so...), and THE INCREDIBLE HULK (not a big fan of the trailer but I love Ed Norton and I like the director's previous work).
The film centers around an older, sexy television producer named Rosie (Michelle Pfeiffer) who starts a romantic relationship with the younger, good-looking new star of her show named Adam (Paul Rudd). Her teenage daughter Izzie (Saoirse Ronan) is also navigating her first romance with a boy in her school. Tracey Ullman turns up playing "Mother Nature," who meddles with both relationships and has a continuing dialogue with Rosie about the pro's and con's of dating a younger man. Along the way are a shit-ton of dated, lame inside-Hollywood jokes with celebrity name-dropping galore, to no end, and with no purpose other than to name-drop. It's all pretty embarrassing. Heckerling also takes shots at plastic surgery, botox, dating life in Los Angeles, the television industry, and the many sexual and emotional differences between young and older women. And every single one of Heckerling's jokes falls flat. Her satire is toothless, there are zero sparks between Pfieffer and Rudd, and the movie is just flat-out ugly looking (Brian Trufano's hideous lighting isn't helped by his lazy compositions). The only thing that's persuasive about I COULD NEVER BE YOUR WOMAN is the notion that Pfeiffer is still one beautiful actress; she's aged like a fine wine. And Rudd, an actor who has been so good so often, simply flounders in this goofy role; it's a career low-point for him.
So why did I even finish watching this disaster? Great question. The answer is that I couldn't turn it off. I wanted too but I couldn't. I just needed to see how bad it would get by its conclusion. Watching bad movies is healthy for the movie-watching soul; not everything needs to be or should be a masterpiece, and watching bad movies can sometimes be fun. But when a film is as pathetic as I COULD NEVER BE YOUR WOMAN, you have to wonder what everyone was feeling and thinking as they were making it. Did Heckerling honestly think that she was making something of any tangible quality? Produced by one of the biggest schiesters in the business, Elie Samaha (go here for a laugh: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0759627/), I COULD NEVER BE YOUR WOMAN is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Truly. I laughed in an honest way maybe three times and there were maybe one or two scenes that legitimately worked. What happened to Heckerling? Where did her bite and sting go? She could have made a great comedy with this material but everything -- and I mean everything -- backfired on this one. The film feels like Heckerling's angry response to a Hollywood culture obsessed with the new and young and fresh, and clearly demonstrates that while she may have been a force 20 years ago, she's no longer a major comedy player in today's movie landscape. I honestly wonder if she'll make another feature.
I just love knowing that shooting has begun on a new Terrence Malick film. Malick, who has only directed four films (BADLANDS, DAYS OF HEAVEN, THE THIN RED LINE, and THE NEW WORLD), is one of my absolute favorite filmmakers. He’s got a style like nobody else and I love the lyrical nature of his work. All of his films are masterpieces in my eyes. His newest film, TREE OF LIFE, reunites him with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezeki (THE NEW WORLD, CHILDREN OF MEN) and production designer Jack Fisk (BADLANDS, THE NEW WORLD, THE THIN RED LINE, THERE WILL BE BLOOD).
This film cannot get here soon enough. It's tentatively scheduled for a 2009 release, though no specific month has been specified.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Last night, I re-watched much of the film, and I am now thinking that with repeated viewings, this crazy movie might improve. It's a challenging movie to be sure, and I definitely think that it's not a movie for everyone. These types of mind-fuck movies are an acquired taste; you have to want to experience them. Watching SOUTHLAND TALES in a passive state will not work.
What struck me after watching SOUTHLAND TALES for the second time is how much easier some of it was to understand. I am not suggesting that I understand everything that Kelly was after in this film, but re-watching it for a second time really helped to distill a lot of the wild plot threads that Kelly created. It's still too long (I'd say 20 minutes could have easily been cut out of its mid-section) and it's too esoteric for its own good. But it's a daring, ballsy movie with big, wild ideas and it feels like nothing that I've ever seen before.
Like DONNIE DARKO, Kelly's previous directorial effort, this is a trippy piece of work that requires a patient audience. However, SOUTHLAND TALES never came together fully the way DONNIE DARKO did (at least for me). I think that with SOUTHLAND TALES, Kelly bit off more than he could chew. But I'd rather watch something with creative integrity like SOUTHLAND TALES any day of the week before some tepid genre entry like PROM NIGHT or FOOLS GOLD or 10,000 BC. The last 20 minutes of SOUTHLAND TALES still blows me away; it's one of the craziest futuristic views of Los Angeles ever put on screen with some truly hallucinatory imagery.
I still think the best thing that Kelly's been associated with was his screenplay for Tony Scott's masterpiece DOMINO, which is probably one of the most underrated movies of this decade. I've been itching to write a formal reivew for DOMINO these last few weeks; hopefully soon I will have the time to write something up.
Kelly's next film is the much more conventional sounding (at least on paper) supernatural thriller THE BOX, which stars Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, and Frank Langella. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kelly injecting his newest film with some sort of subversive undercurrent. Or maybe he won't; maybe he'll play it totally straight and safe. If he ever wants to direct another studio film again, he better make a movie that's more commerical and accessible to mass audiences. I just don't want his creative instincts to become neutered as a result of Hollywood trying to dumb the filmmaker down.
Kelly is one of the film world's most unique talents. His desire to meld aspects of graphic novels, comedy, drama, action, science-fiction, social and political satire, and music-video culture into SOUTHLAND TALES is proof to me that he's someone worth paying attention too.
I'd love to hear some thoughts on SOUTHLAND TALES from other people out there.
Monday, April 14, 2008
The CGI looks weak. But Ed Norton is a class-act (at least in front of the camera) and I like the work of director Louis Letterier (UNLEASHED, THE TRANSPORTER 1 & 2). So, I am cautiously optimistic for this film, but something tells me that this might be one of the summer's underpreformers. We'll see...
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Friday, April 11, 2008
Thursday, April 10, 2008
WALK HARD is basically a spoof of WALK THE LINE, and the musical biopic in general. Co-writers Kasdan and Apatow mimic the through-line of RAY and WALK THE LINE with their fictional crooner Dewey Cox (Reilly) living in a country home and causing the unfortunate death of his musically talented brother. Dewey leaves his home (at age 14), gets married (at 15), and has a gaggle of kids with a few different wives. Jenna Fisher from THE OFFICE shows up half-way through as his June Carter; she's funny as usual and unexpectedly sexy. Dewey explodes onto the music scene with the film taking shots at Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Jim Morrison, and of course, Johnny Cash. But the usual mistakes that popular musicians make throughout their career are all hilariously touched upon. Dewey can't resist the temptation of drugs, with a fellow band member played with lunatic glee by Tim Meadows offering him a variety of controlled substances in a recurring sub-plot. He argues with all the women in his life, with them constantly walking out on him. He makes a few trips to rehab and has a knack for tearing bathroom sinks out of the wall. One stand-out sequence with Dewey destroying the living room of his house in a fit of anger is crazy-funny; never before has the image of a man punching a potted-plant ever been so humorous. He even gets addicted to LSD after being introduced to the drug by The Beatles during a visit to India (Paul Rudd, Jack Black and Justin Long are all very funny in cameos). Throw in some graphic nudity (male and female), some crude sex jokes, and lots of wacky behavior, and you have a comedy that is primed with hearty laughs.
This isn't a realistic comedy in the vein of THE FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN (another Apatow flick) or KNOCKED UP. It's more in line with the comedic sensibility of AIRPLANE and ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY. Kasdan and Apatow go way over the top in a few scenes, which lead to big laughs. But at times, WALK HARD wants to be a real movie, and you start caring about Dewey in a way that isn't common when dealing with main characters in spoof films. Kasdan and Apatow really demonstrate that it's still possible to make a smart yet outrageous spoof movie, without resorting to simpleton gags featured in lame efforts like MEET THE SPARTANS and SUPERHERO MOVIE. Reilly, in an extremely committed performance, sings with gusto (the songs are witty, clever, and filled with double entendres) and creates a character who is funny, sweet, and always likable. Kasdan, who's previous film was the scathing Hollywood satire THE TV SET, has a simple visual style that suits the story nicely, and the all-star supporting cast is filled with tons of familiar faces. WALK HARD is a very funny little comedy with equal parts heart, silliness, and inspired idiocy all wrapped up into one persuasive package. Check it out; I dare you not to laugh.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
David Gordon Green’s SNOW ANGELS (****)
Kimberly Peirce’s STOP-LOSS (****)
Roger Donaldson’s THE BANK JOB (****)
Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES (****)
Matt Reeves’ CLOVERFIELD (****)
Martin Scorsese’s SHINE A LIGHT (****)
Adam Brooks’ DEFINITELY, MAYBE (***1/2)
Kent Alterman’s SEMI-PRO (***)
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
SHINE A LIGHT isn't deep. You're not going to "get to know" the Stones any more than you already do. This isn't a sprawling doc like Scorsese's more ambitious Bob Dylan film NO DIRECTION HOME, and nor is it a timely study of music like THE LAST WALTZ was 30 years ago. SHINE A LIGHT is the ultimate piece of fan-mail that the Stones could ever have received. Just as it's brutally clear that these four guys love making music together (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ron Wood), it's brutally clear that Scorsese idolizes them. So SHINE A LIGHT is just the Stones being the Stones, and doing it really, really well. Shot over a two night period at the Beacon Theater in NYC, Scorsese got his frequent cinematographer Robert Richardson (CASINO, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, THE AVIATOR) to shoot the living piss out of the two shows. Along for the ride came a bevy of A-list camera operators, including Emmanuel Lubezeki (CHILDREN OF MEN, THE NEW WORLD), John Toll (THE THIN RED LINE, BRAVEHEART), Andrew Lesnie (LORD OF THE RINGS), Mitchell Amundsen (TRANSFORMERS), and Robert Elswit (THERE WILL BE BLOOD, BOOGIE NIGHTS), to name only a few. The results are staggering to say the least. Shooting in true IMAX format, the cameras never stop moving, swooshing, circling, and covering the stage, prowling with intensity and energy. David Tedeschi's (NO DIRECTION HOME) dynamic editing allows the film to glide through it's two hour run time. The first fifteen minutes or so comprise of behind the scenes footage of Scorsese and his crew setting up for the show, taking conference calls with Jagger, and trying to figure out what the song list would be. It's all very amusing, especially if you're a Scorsese buff like me. Just hearing Scorsese refer to Richardson as "Bob" made me smile. Then, when the screen fills up for the first time, it's like you're shot out of a cannon. The music explodes out of the speakers and the images singe the screen. In between some of the songs, we get quick cut-aways to old interviews with the Stones; it's a trip to see a baby-faced Jagger talking about the fact that he sees the band lasting only a few years in mainstream music. Ha! But SHINE A LIGHT is mostly about the music, and how much love the Stones have for one another and music in general.
And that's what shines through most in SHINE A LIGHT. Passion. You get to see the Stones in their element, with Jagger prancing around the stage like some sort of Mephistophelean showman. Always moving, always jiving, and always swaying his hips, it's a miracle this guy hasn't had a coronary while on stage. Richards, who in extreme close up looks like a sculpture, gets some big laughs, and has one incredible solo. The fourth-wall is even broken when Watts stares the camera down after a lengthy bit of drumming; it's a priceless moment. And then...there are the songs. The Stones wisely mixed it up, performing some of their biggest hits (Sympathy for the Devil, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Shattered, Start Me Up) while mixing in some older, lesser known tracks (As Tears Go By, Loving Cup). One of the best bits is when blues legend Buddy Guy comes out and sings Champagne and Reefer with Jagger; it's just about perfect. Christina Aguilera even makes an appearance, reminding everyone she's still got a set of pipes worth listening too.
This isn't a film that will win awards, it doesn't re-invent the wheel, and it's not a deeply revealing tell-all of The Rolling Stones. Scorsese wasn't interested in that. It's an exercise in style (the best kind) and an exercise in having fun, something the Stones clearly are having every time they get on stage. My only complaint of the film is that I wished there was more footage of Scorsese. But alas, SHINE A LIGHT isn't about its director as a character, it's about its director as a mood purveyor. Scorsese loves the Stones so much that he'll be damned if you don't love them as much as he does. And the final shot of the film, let it be said, will probably amount to the single finest shot of the year. Without completely spoiling it, Scorsese pays homage to his legendary stedicam shot through the Copacabana in GOODFELLAS with a few added twists. I laughed out loud and clapped. I was tired and sweaty yet physically charged-up after watching SHINE A LIGHT. It's a blast from start to finish, and a further reminder that Scorsese is the film world's greatest entertainer.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Friday, April 4, 2008
Movies about the current war in Iraq have all faced an uphill battle with potential ticket buyers. Whether or not people are ready or interested in stories about our soldiers is a valid question at this point. Last fall, every single film dealing with the Iraq war was met with a cold-shoulder at the box office; critics have been mixed overall. And it's sad for me to report that Kimberly Peirce's blistering new film STOP-LOSS (****) died an undeserved death last weekend at the box office as well. When will people care about what's going on around them? What will it take for people to realize that smart, entertaining films that are topical and important are getting made and being released nationwide? STOP-LOSS is probably the best of the recent Hollywood films about our current war, and that it works as both a stylish piece of entertainment and as a scathing critique of military policy is further testament to Peirce's excellent filmmaking and storytelling abilities. Her first film in almost a decade since she burst on the indie scene with the uncompromisingly raw film BOYS DON'T CRY, STOP-LOSS may not be perfect, but it delivers on many levels and reveals itself to be both a compassionate look at our soldiers while deeply condemning the war in Iraq and one of our governments most absurd policies.
STOP-LOSS begins with an intense battle sequence set in Tikrit. A unit of American soldiers led by Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe, never better) chase their enemy into an alley. His squad, made up of two friends from back home and a group of other young soldiers, are ambushed. A few men are killed, some are horribly injured, and all are deeply affected by what they see and what they have to do. This incredibly visceral sequence of action, shot vividly by the phenomenal cinematographer Chris Menges (THE KILLING FIELD, THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA) and expertly cut by editor Claire Simpson (THE CONSTANT GARDENER), is scary and relentless. It's also necessarily bloody and violent; by immediately thrusting the audience into battle without knowing anything about our characters, the viewer is catapulted into this world without warning. Brandon leads his men eventually to safety and we cut to their homecoming in Brazos, Texas where King and soldiers Tommy Burgess (the excellent Joseph-Gordon Levitt) and Steve Shriver (a brooding Channing Tatum) call home.
Peirce and her co-writer Mark Richard effectively set the scene once the men arrive back home. All of them are hard drinkers, and not without their own sets of personal issues which stem from before they left for Iraq, the men all have trouble adjusting to life back in the states. Tommy is an alcoholic who can't control his marriage and Steve is suffering from a serious case of post-traumatic stress syndrome (he's seen digging fox holes in his front yard because that's the only place he can comfortably fall asleep). But Brandon has a bigger problem. Not home more than a few days, he gets the word that he's been "stop-lossed" by the military. Considered an important and valuable soldier by his superiors, he's ordered to go back to Iraq for another tour, despite having served two tours already. It's in his contract but the option isn't executed for every soldier. Brandon, naturally, objects; he doesn't feel it's fair to send him back to fight, especially now that his opinion of the war has drastically changed. Peirce and Richard's narrative stings of authenticity and I'm not surprised; her step-brother signed up to fight for America as a direct result of 9/11. The men in STOP-LOSS come from military families and are all cut from the same patriotic cloth. Fighting for their country is as natural of a decision as brushing their teeth. But Brandon feels that enough is enough. He goes AWOL and hatches a plan to drive to Washington DC to confront a Senator that welcomed him upon his arrival home. Steve's girlfriend Michelle, the Australian actress Abbie Cornish (pretty but bland), has been life-long friends with Brandon and agrees to accompany him on his trip.
STOP-LOSS then takes the form of a road-movie for it's middle section, where we're shown what life is like for an AWOL soldier. Brandon runs into some other AWOL soldiers who tell him of their life on the run from their superiors, and he's told stories of a mysterious guy in Manhattan who for $1000 can arrange for safe passage to Canada; the trick is you're never able to come back to America. That this is a real life scenario facing some of our nation's soldiers is just despicable. The idea of fighting for your country, bravely and successfully, and then being told to go back after you've served your tour(s) is something I just can't wrap my head around. John Kerry famously referred to the "stop-loss" policy as a "back-door draft," which it basically is. Under no circumstances will I spoil any of the major plot developments that occur in this film. What I will say is that while a little chaotic, the narrative trajectory of STOP-LOSS moves in an interesting way, and while some of the proceedings threaten to turn overly melodramatic, they don't.
There were a lot of aspects of STOP-LOSS that surprised me. First, Ryan Phillippe was fantastic in the lead role. After a string of teeny-bopper roles, Phillippe has worked hard to erase the vapid pretty-boy image that first greeted him upon his arrival as a movie star. His last few films, including CRASH, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, and BREACH, have more than demonstrated his dramatic talents. But his performance in STOP-LOSS should be considered a revelation for him as an artist. Sure, he's still buff and good looking, but there is a somber, soulful quality in his performance that is hard to shake. One scene, in which he's attacked by some local drunks outside of a bar, is unflinchingly intense; the battle scars he received in Iraq come back to haunt him. It's a highly physical yet deeply emotional performance that deserved to be recognized in some way. Tatum, who tore it up in the indie A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS, was also excellent in his role of Brandon's best friend and severely traumatized soldier. Late in the film, Brandon and Steve get into a physical confrontation that was startling in it's believability to witness. Tatum has the square-jawed good looks and fiery inner intensity that spells major stardom. And coming off his strong performance in BRICK, Gordon-Levitt strikes the right notes as a deeply troubled young man who simply cannot get his personal life in order.
Peirce and her creative team also spike the film with cut-ins of the soldiers experience. Taking the form of personal videos shot during combat and downtime, these interludes we're shown enrich the story with a sense of the personal and a sense of the dangerous. Sort of like the little video journals that have been shown in countless Iraq war documentaries, Peirce uses this technique to heighten the scenes set in Iraq, and as a way of bringing the war back into focus during the road-trip sequences. Cinematographer Menges and Peirce use multiple film stocks and a lot of hand-held camera to ratchet up the intensity all throughout the film. It's a visually dynamic piece of filmmaking that constantly surprises on a formal level even during the simplest of scenes. Getting the chance to see a female director cover a big action scene in Hollywood movies is rare these days. During the opening fire-fight, Peirce and Menges' camera covers the action in interesting ways that you haven't quite seen before.
STOP-LOSS is a big, sprawling, slightly messy, but deeply heartfelt film, one that did not deserve to die on the vine at the box office last weekend. After grossing roughly $5 million dollars last weekend, I can't imagine it will last much longer at the theaters. Which, again, in my estimation, is a major problem. When a filmmaker like Peirce delivers an honest, smart, and entertaining film that's important to our societal landscape, what's to be said about the lack of interest on the part of our fellow citizens? It's pretty infuriating to me, and hell -- I didn't even make the film! All I can say is that both entertainment and enlightenment can be found in STOP-LOSS. It's one of the best films of the year.
The set-up is simple. A group of townspeople living in Maine become trapped in their local grocery store after a strange mist forms over their lake town and engulfs the surrounding area. A top-secret military base hidden in the mountains above the town might have something to do with the reports of strange "things" inside of the mist, which seem to be attacking people. Movie poster artist David Drayton (a somber Thomas Jane) is trapped in the store with his 10 year old son Billy (Nathan Gamble). Also inside the store is a bible-spouting Jesus freak named Mrs. Carmody (a hysterical Marcia Gay Harden), David's irritable next-door neighbor Brent (Andre Braugher), a local drunkard low-life (William Sanderson), a pretty blond teacher (Laurie Holden), and a seemingly timid grocery bagger named Ollie (Toby Jones). A variety of other shoppers populate the store but it's this group that THE MIST primarily focuses on. After one of the store's workers is attached by a largely unseen tentacled creature, the people in the store all start coming to grips with the fact that something dangerous is outside the store, waiting to pick them off one by one. Tensions flare inside the store, hasty decisions are made, people get into bloody fights with one another, and a few attempts at escape are tried. Darabont focuses on the animalistic side of human nature that emerges in times of great chaos; I guess one could claim that THE MIST is an allegory of 9/11 and our current climate of terrorism. All of this leads to a shockingly nihilistic ending that is probably one of the ballsiest finales to a horror movie in recent memory. Very dark and brutal, Darabont sheds any of the sentimentality that might have carried over from THE MAJESTIC; this is a horror thriller with ice-water running through its veins.
All of the performances are good, with Jane giving a solid performance as the leader of the group. Harden's character becomes an annoyance by design but it reminds you of how good of an actress she can be. And while Braugher doesn't have that much to do, he reminds you how nice it is to see him on screen. The rest of the acting is solid if unspectacular. And while the film is maybe 20 minutes too long (this should have been a tight 95 minute movie rather than the slightly draggy 2 hour film that it is) and has some odd musical choices towards the end after eschewing music for the first hour and a half, THE MIST is very effective as a creature feature and psychological freak out. The audience does get a potential explanation as to why the mist has appeared and why there are nasty bugs and killer monsters on the loose, but that's not what the film is about. It's more about the scared group of people stuck in the store than it is about the monsters lurking outside. Darabont is a smart guy and a smart filmmaker and he must have been attracted to the story of THE MIST as a way of showing how regular people deal with a set of gruesome, crazy circumstances. While never really scary, THE MIST is suitably strange and ventures into the surreal in the last few scenes. It's some good, bloody fun.
"Werner Herzog will write and direct 'The Piano Tuner,' a lush Victorian-era drama about a Brit's journey to war-torn Burma, for Focus Features. Mandalay Independent Pictures' Cathy Schulman is a producer on the project. Based on Daniel Mason's 2002 debut novel, the story centers on Edgar Drake, a man sent to a remote village in the late 1800s to repair an eccentric military man's piano. Drake falls in love with a Burmese woman and her country, but as the officer wins over locals through music and medicine, things grow treacherous when his troops begin to suspect him of treason. 'Tuner' is right up the intense helmer's alley. Herzog has directed several films about men venturing into exotic locales ('Rescue Dawn,' 'Grizzly Man,' 'Fitzcarraldo'), but this will be his biggest English-language costume drama in more than four decades as a filmmaker. The original screen adaptation by Peter Buchman ('Guerilla,' 'The Argentine') is being rewritten by Herzog. Focus Features executives John Lyons and Kahli Small will oversee the project for the studio."
Sounds pretty f'ing INCREDIBLE to me.
Here's a link to the teaser trailer, which is being hosted by MSN:
I think both CITY OF GOD and THE CONSTANT GARDENER were 4 star films; I am very excited to see the lastest from Meirelles.
A link to Roger Ebert's 4 star review is right here:
Also opening this weekend is George Clooney's football comedy LEATHERHEADS, which has surprisingly taken a beating from the nations critics (56% at Rottentomatoes; 32% from the cream of the crop). I love Clooney, he's a class-act all the way, and the two previous films he has to his credit as director (CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND and GOOD NIGHT & GOOD LUCK) were both terrific. He went for an old-school, screwball comedy mixture of slapstick and witty banter (apparently) and some people have said the film falls flat, while others seem positively delighted by a film of this sort being made in today's movie climate. Truth be told, there aren't many people in Hollywood who'd have the power to get a film like LEATHERHEADS made. And considering how much I tend to enjoy period films and films that Clooney is involved with, I'm hoping that his latest is a fun little piece of entertainment. I suspect I will catch it in the theaters in the coming weeks.
Also, coming from Netflix, is Jim Sheridan's masterpiece MY LEFT FOOT, starring Daniel Day Lewis, who won his first Oscar for his role of a poor Irish man suffering from cerebral palsy. I saw the film once, a long time ago, but my fiancee hasn't seen it and very much wanted too. I'd been wanting to see it again for a while now, and having just seen Lewis as the pulverizing Daniel Plainview in THERE WILL BE BLOOD, I think it's a good time to watch another of Lewis' uncompromising performances. Last weekend I watched some scenes from THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS; he's outstanding in that film as well. The last 15 minutes of that movie are fucking incredible.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
My, how the mighty have fallen. Back in the mid-to-late 90's, the writing/directing team of Peter and Bobby Farrelly were the golden boys of Hollywood high-concept, gross-out comedy. Their first three films were comedy masterworks; DUMB & DUMBER, KINGPIN, and THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. Three hilarious films that set genre trends in motion and were constantly imitated and parodied. My overall favorite of the bunch, KINGPIN, exists as one of the finest screen comedies I've ever seen. And with that one-two-three punch, the phrase "Farrelly Brothers" was instantly cemented into pop culture. Their next film, the wildly underappreciated ME, MYSELF, & IRENE, seems to have been misunderstood when first released. It was the darkest film from the brothers at the time, and it featured an exhaustingly deranged performance from Jim Carrey. It was also the film the showcased Rene Zellwegger as the true fox that she is. Mean, more cynical, and still interested in the gross-out gag, ME, MYSELF, & IRENE was a box office hit but some people really seemed to hate the film. I don't understand why. I laughed a lot.
Then....the low times. OSMOSIS JONES, SHALLOW HALL, and STUCK ON YOU were as lousy as their first four films were fantastic. Sloppy filmmaking techniques began to surface, and their films seemed more to be ideas-in-search-of stories rather than fully fleshed out narratives. They redeemed themselves nicely with FEVER PITCH, a film I should never have loved the way I did (I hate the Red Sox and I am not a fan of Drew Barrymore or Jimmy Fallon). But FEVER PITCH demonstrated a more restrained narrative from the Farrelly's and it showed them trying to be more mature while still telling a funny story. Their latest film, THE HEARTBREAK KID (1/2 *; yes, that's half of one star), is easily the worst film of their career, and should serve as a warning to them both that their time as Hollywood's reigning class clowns might have come to an end. We're in the days of the Judd Apatow brand of humor (KNOCKED UP, 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN) and I am proud to say I'm loving his output.
Now, in fairness to anyone who might be reading this, stop now if you actually want to see this lump of cinematic feces. I am going to spoil some of the plot point, discuss specific gags, and ruin the ending of THE HEARTBREAK KID in this review. Also, in keeping with the crude vernacular tradition that the Farrelly's so strenuously subscribe too, my review will be peppered with profanity (both as a way of accurately describing parts of the film and as a way for me to vent my frustrations over how poorly conceived this film was). It's not every day that I dislike a film as much as this one, and it came to me as a surprise because for the first 30 minutes or so, it was a moderately funny film with some potential. But the film quickly began to fall apart and the last 15 to 20 minutes of the film are some of the sloppiest bits of filmmaking and storytelling that I've seen in a while. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Ben Stiller is Eddie, a guy just turning 40 who owns a sporting goods store in San Francisco. Afraid of commitment and constantly dealing with his horny, foul-mouthed father (Jerry Stiller, wandering around the film asking his son why he isn't out "crushing pussy" or referring to his son as "pussy-dick"), Eddie is looking for his dream girl but is constantly coming up with reasons to dump whoever he's dating. He's got a recently married best buddy named Mac, played with deadpan perfection by Rob Corddry. The only scenes in the film with any genuine humor are between Mac and Eddie, with Mac explaining the rules of marriage and how to avoid problems with the wife. One day while Eddie is walking in the street, he attempts to retrieve the stolen purse of a local hottie named Lila, played with energy and wit by Malin Akerman. Lila and Eddie have their meet cute, they exchange some personal info, and off she goes. The next day she shows up at Eddie's store; some sparks fly. The film then glides over their courtship as Eddie proposed marriage to Lila. He's only known her for a few months but he thinks he's found the perfect woman. However, at Lila's request, they don't consummate their relationship; she thinks that sex can ruin a great relationship and she wants to take it slow.
So, they get married, and then that's when Eddie starts to see a new Lila. The conceit of the film is that Lila is really a basket-case, the ultimate problem-wife, with Eddie not knowing all that's about to happen. But one of the biggest problems with the script is that Lila isn't all that bad. Sure, she sings along to whatever song is playing on the radio on their road trip to Cabo. And when they finally get ready to have sex, Eddie is shocked (and for some reason appalled) when Lila screams "cock me!" during love-making and demands to have sex in highly acrobatic positions (the term "missionary position" is foreign to her). Oh yeah...she's a little ditzy and wants to use mineral oil while sun-tanning, which leads to her getting a horrifying sun burn that develops into disgusting, pussing boils all over her skin (a wink to Chris Elliot at the end of THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY). Eddie starts freaking out over these things and starts thinking he's made a big mistake. He then meets a cute brunette named Miranda (Michelle Monaghan) who is staying at his hotel. Eddie starts making up elaborate excuses as to why he can't hang out with Lila so he can spend time with Miranda. And he never tells Miranda about the fact that he's married. Mix in a few more plot contrivances that I won't even bother re-hashing because they were all so fucking stupid and you get the basic premise here. Eddie needs to ditch the psycho and get with the normal chick.
Sounds like a set-up filled with comedic opportunity. Except, all I felt was sorrow for Akerman's character and contempt for Stiller's character. Lila, worts and all, isn't that bad of a girl. Fine, she's got a deviated septum from a few years of cocaine abuse, but what twenty-something party girl doesn't have a checkered past? And all the crazy sex stuff; I know more guys who would like what she dishes out in the bedroom than guys who would be turned off. Fine, the smacking and hitting of the face during copulation might be pushing it too far, but you get my drift. While Eddie is out sneaking around behind her back, all I did was feel bad for her. And she's then saddled with the terrible sun burn which leaves her in physical pain. Eddie, as played by Stiller, is the most unsympathetic character the actor has tackled yet in these types of comedies. I never liked him, I didn't care to see him win in the end, and his relationship with Miranda felt false every step of the way. I wanted him to get caught by Lila and face whatever wrath she brought down on him. And since the lazy plotting doesn't allow for anything remotely satisfying to happen at the end, the film sputters to the finish line, almost daring the viewer to turn the power off on the DVD player early.
So, in the end, Eddie doesn't get anyone. He loses Lila (she leaves in a huff and isn't heard from at all during the last 25 minutes of the film) and then loses Miranda. There's a horrible sequence where he breaks into Miranda's new house after she gets married to someone else; it's really a pathetic scene with zero believability. The film then cuts forward 18 months to Eddie living down in Cabo and working at the very resort that brought him so many problems. He bumps into Miranda again and asks her out on a date. She says yes and walks away. Then, in the most unnecessary cameo ever, Eva Longoria pops up playing Eddie's newest wife; she gives one or two lines of dialogue which suggest that she's another Lila-type whacko. Eddie turns to the camera, realizing he's about to go through the same exact thing as before, and utters the phrase: "Fuck me," before the film cuts to the directed by credit for the Farrelly's. Gee...how inspired.
THE HEARTBREAK KID wants to have it all ways: crude then cute, funny then mean, gross but smart. The script, credited to five writers (!), veers all over the place both tonally and thematically. What is Eddie's real problem? What is it about guys like him that scare themselves out of being able to commit to one woman? And through it all, the Farrelly's still have the desire to make us squirm from gross-out humor. So we get scenes of a jellyfish latching itself onto Eddie's back and Lila taking a piss on him to cool the sting marks on his back (and in doing so showing off her mound of un-shaved pubic hair...ha-ha). Everything in this film felt stale, forced, and just plain-old tired. And at the end of the day, I just don't get it. I know that every filmmaker is allowed their share of misfires, but how could a team like the Farrelly brothers give us such instant comedy classics like DUMB & DUMBER and KINGPIN and then shit the bed so badly with THE HEARTBREAK KID?
So why am I even giving the film half of one star? Well, for starters, through all of this garbage, Akerman yet again proves that not only is she stunningly hot, but that she has some serious comedic chops. She's also quite willing to take her clothes off which doesn't hurt either. You might remember her from HAROLD & KUMAR and as a seductress on the television show ENTOURAGE. Next year she has one of the lead roles in 300 director Zack Snyder's latest film WATCHMEN. And as I mentioned earlier, Corddry made me laugh out loud a bunch of times. And while Stiller is stuck playing a dick-weed of a character, he still reminds you that he's a funny guy; he brings some laughs to the table. But sooooo much of THE HEARTBREAK KID feels like left-overs from other, better films from the Farrelly's. I don't know what's next on their filmmaking agenda but I'd suggest that the two of them go back to the drawing board. Write something original, do something smaller, and bottom line, make me care about the characters in the way I have in previous films. THE HEARTBREAK KID is a staggering mess.
Here's the link to the PINEAPPLE EXPRESS trailer, which yahoo is hosting:
I am eagerly anticipating this stoner action-comedy from the Judd Apatow factory and writer/director David Gordon Green (SNOW ANGELS, ALL THE REAL GIRLS). Seth Rogen and James Franco play two stoner buddies who get mixed up in a bad drug deal and some serious action-movie shenanigans. Looks like a lot of fun. This, along with TROPIC THUNDER, will ensure that the summer movie season is full of laughs.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
New episodes will begin airing winter 2009. It will still air Friday nights at 9pm. But here's the really interesting info: the show will be exclusive to DirecTV's Channel 101 starting Oct. 1. It will then will be repeated on NBC subsequent to the 2009 Super Bowl.
So, for people (like me) who don't use DirecTV, we're gonna have to be really cautious of spoilers coming out.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Today, April 1, is Roger Ebert's 41st anniversary as film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times (no fooling) -- and he declaring his imminent return to reviewing movies.
I am at last returning to the movie beat. After my current stay at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, I’m looking forward to opening night of my annual film festival at the University of Illinois on April 23, and I will resume writing movie reviews shortly thereafter.
Are you as bored with my health as I am? I underwent a third surgery in January, this one in Houston, and once again there were complications. I am sorry to say that my ability to speak was not restored. That would require another surgery.
But I still have all my other abilities, including the love of viewing movies and writing about them. And at my side I have my angelic wife, Chaz.
The festival is shaping up well. Thanks to festival director Nate Kohn, the schedule, which is already released at ebertfest.com, includes appearances by filmmaker and U. of I. graduate Ang Lee; directors Paul Schrader, Sally Potter, Tom DiCillo, Bill Forsyth, Tarsem Singh, Jeff Nichols, Barry Avrich, Taggart Siegel, Eran Kolirin and Joseph Greco. We are also happy to welcome actors Joey Pantoliano, Aida Tuturro, Christine Lahti; and the Alloy Orchestra.
It was Schrader’s line from his screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” that inspired my acceptance of my bandaged appearance: “I ain’t a pretty boy no more.”
Assisting in the onstage Q&A sessions will be my TV partner, Richard Roeper; my Chicago Tribune colleague, Michael Phillips; my longtime friends, Time magazine film critic Richard Corliss and his wife, Mary, a film expert; Sony Pictures Classics president Michael Barker; film scholars David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson; Professor Eric Pierson; RogerEbert.com editor Jim Emerson; Movie City News editor David Poland; film scholar Hannah Fisher; and U. of I. alum and Sports Illustrated’s Bill Nack.
The longest distance commute to the festival will be Farmer John Peterson, who lives in northern Illinois but will fly in from New Zealand.
I am still cancer-free, and not ready to think about more surgery at this time. I should be content with the abundance I have.
So that’s the latest. I have been so moved by the messages I’ve received from so many of you. Thank you. Now let’s go to the movies.