January 2010 - Posts

James Cameron's symbolically flowing locks.

When James Cameron showed up at the Golden Globes with hair that billowed in all directions, looking for all the world like a slimmed-down Charles Laughton, it was tempting to speculate about a life that involved so much money you'd never have to cut your hair ever again (who's going to tell him anything about it?). With that in my head, I finally, finally saw "Avatar." That hair! No one told me that the way the Na'vi get in tune with their dragons, which Wikipedia tells me are actually called "Mountain Banshees," is by taking their ponytails and shoving them into an orifice in the creature's head-region, creating a lifelong bond. It's oddly Cronenbergian. Now, I'm not a total idiot. I realize the Na'vi have ponytails for the same reason Wes Studi is cast as the leader of the Na'vi -- they're Native American stand-ins. But indulge me for a...

Presidents on film.

Wednesday's State of the Union address gave the Boston Phoenix's Peter Keogh the chance to contemplate whether Obama's first year in office has changed anything about the representation of African-Americans on-screen. (Short answer: no.) But he also reminds us that Obama's already made his first cameo appearance as President: in "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," glimpsed on a JumboTron in Times Square. And he's shown up as a wuss: We don't negotiate with terrorists. Or robots. The insertion of real presidents in fictional contexts is a fairly recent phenomenon. FDR was in all kinds of World War II movies, but that's the norm for propaganda. Dwight D. Eisenhower had an odd appearance in the Helen Keller documentary "The Unconquered" where she felt his face, but that's a documentary. You certainly didn't find footage of LBJ, Nixon, Carter or Reagan in movies made during their presidencies. "Hot Shots! Part Deux" did...

Scaling the Variety paywall.

This may be a little inside baseball, but in updating our Sundance Cheat Sheet, it's been an interesting thing to watch how different outlets are handling link etiquette, particularly in regard to Variety, which recently put a paywall on their Web site to limit readership to their subscribers. This has led Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay and others to lament not being able to see or have the desire to link to Variety's coverage, which is one of the only places you can find reviews of some of the more obscure titles in the Sundance lineup, whether of a low budget NEXT film like "Bilal's Stand" or a World Cinema documentary like "Kick In Iran." (Oddly, there's a loophole through Variety's specific Sundance page that allows their coverage to be viewed for free, whether purposefully or not.) As you may be aware, Variety and their rival the Hollywood Reporter are having rough...

The megastore movie.

UK megastore chain Tesco (basically the British Wal-Mart) has made a leap so obvious that it's amazing no one got there sooner. They've decided that they'd like to get into the movie business, so they're going to produce their own film, available "exclusively" (exciting!) at the chain. To do this, they've hooked up with Amber Entertainment, a company formed by executives from the now-defunct New Line Cinema, who evidently kept their rolodexes intact. The plan is to produce movies from mega-selling authors whose books can be sold alongside the DVD. First up: a Jackie Collins movie ("Paris Connections"), starring Alain Delon's son Anthony. In the future, the presumably bitter New Line execs will give "The Golden Compass" (the movie that basically sunk their company) a second try, as well as Judy Blume. With the DVD market at least temporarily collapsing, you might wonder at the wisdom of this plan. But...

Drama: A superior form of comedy?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend told me I didn't like comedians; after a little thought, I had concede this is basically true. We were talking about Jane Lynch and Will Ferrell and the day's other leading comic luminaries, all of whom basically grate on me; while they're performing, they give off this air of knowing how funny they are, which bothers me. I was and remain a big fan of a lot of the '70s comics (Steve Martin at his peak, the original "SNL" cast, etc.), but you rarely get that sense of complacency off them. My problem? Sure, but I can't be the only one. I was thinking about this when last week another friend proposed you could measure a dramatic actor's true worth by their adeptness at comedy. I disagree, but it made me think about how most of my favorite comedies star people who aren't...

Who is the new Miramax?

R.I.P. Miramax, indeed. With the news that the shell of a company once responsible for many of those "Down and Dirty Pictures" that Peter Biskind referred to in his entertaining if unreliable book (and soon to be a motion picture), is now officially dead, there was a lot to think about. Of course, even before Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the company's founders, left in 2005, they were more or less out of the business of acquiring and releasing small and deserving films; they were busy trying to resurrect the old-fashioned Hollywood prestige movie, some of which -- "Cold Mountain," "The Aviator" -- weren't bad at all. But you know this, and you surely know of the run of movies they released from the late '80s through the '90s, which reads like a history of indie film during that period. Yet after notoriously picking up "Happy, Texas" for $10 million in...

When did B-movies go from bloody to bloodless?

Having decided that a divide-and-conquer strategy is for wusses, there's a rather sordid and protracted battle going on between Paramount and Lionsgate right now, with the studios poised for a "Paranormal Activity 2" vs. "Saw VII" face-off on October 22nd. Lionsgate decided to get evil on Paramount's upstart franchise by exercising an option they had on "Saw VI" director Kevin Greutert -- who recently signed on for the "Paranormal" sequel - to bring him back for another round, apparently trying to delay "Activity 2." (Greutert took to his blog to complain, but has since removed the post.) It's all very cheap and petty, but aside from being a tacit admission from Lionsgate that it doesn't really matter who makes the "Saw" movies (which we pretty much knew already), it reminds me of something different. Where are our great B-movie directors, the ones ready to use small budgets and freedom within...

No sympathy for Ruffalo's "Delicious."

Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The Lord may work in mysterious ways; "Sympathy For Delicious" does not. The only thing that's mysterious about this unsubtle film about the nature of healing and faith is the thought process behind the raft of bad decisions made by director/star Mark Ruffalo, a great actor making a disappointing directorial debut working from a script by his friend and co-star Christopher Thornton. Despite an intriguing premise taken to some unexpected places and some strong supporting performances, "Sympathy For Delicious" is a gangly mess of a movie. Thornton plays Dean, a.k.a. Delicious D, a paraplegic DJ living on Skid Row. The night after an unsuccessful visit to a faith healer, Dean wakes up with a strange sensation in his hands and soon realizes he's acquired the ability to heal almost anyone with a single touch. Dean doesn't know what to make of his newfound...

3D brings out the glory of "Cane Toads," warts and all.

Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. "Welcome to Avatoad," "Cane Toads: The Conquest" director Mark Lewis told the audience at Park City's Eccles Theater on Tuesday night, not only providing weary copy editors the world over with a readymade headline, but neatly summarizing the mild absurdity of the film's existence. A sequel to his delightful "Cane Toads: An Unnatural History," "Conquest" picks up the story 20 years later, chronicling the toads' alarmingly rapid spread along Australia's northern coast. The new movie, out of necessity, covers some of the same territory as the first: the toads' artificial introduction to the environment as a hoped-for hedge against the beetles preying on sugarcane crops; their utter failure to perform their assigned task; and their rapid-fire reproduction, growing from a population of just over a hundred to an estimated 1.5 billion over the course of seven decades. But "Conquest" adds the eye-popping enhancement...

"Exit Through The Gift Shop": It's a madhouse, this modern life.

At the end of "Exit Through The Gift Shop," a few of us Googled the name of its subject to make sure he actually exists. I'm sure we weren't alone -- "the world's first street art disaster movie" is also the first movie from pseudonymed British art star Banksy, who's never had a problem being playful with the truth before. A web search makes it clear that Thierry Guetta (aka "Mr. Brainwash"), a Frenchman living in L.A. who finds his way into the street art scene, is a real person who ended up having a real 2008 show that earned him a real L.A. Weekly cover story. And even then, some people wondered if he was a phony, a fake or an invention of Banksy himself. But as a wise colleague pointed out, the truth isn't actually that important to this delightful film, which chronicles how Guetta, an effusive guy...

Martin Campbell's short memory about "Edge of Darkness."

The number of Americans who know that "Edge of Darkness" -- this Friday's Mel Gibson-vs. everyone conspiracy actionfest -- is actually a remake of a beloved landmark BBC miniseries is very small; almost no one I've talked to who wasn't working press was aware of it (not even some of the latter knew; then again, I'm one of those pesky Anglophiles). Fewer still, I imagine, will realize that director Martin Campbell directed the original as well, which is some kind of benchmark. There's a few cases of directors tackling their own work again, but generally within the same medium (Hitchcock's two versions of "The Man Who Knew Too Much," the Dutch original and American remake of "The Vanishing"). But this is a whole other animal: the compression of five hours into two, 25 years later. As far as I know, there's no precedent for it. And apparently, it's been long...

The seven strangest faces of Gary Oldman.

When I first saw the trailer for "The Book of Eli," I thought "Wow, that bad guy looks familiar, but I can't place him." It was irritating. Then I looked it up and realized it was Gary Oldman, and the reason I didn't recognize him is because we almost never see his real face. Almost certainly one of the most talented actors in the world today -- one of the few who doesn't make radical transformations for a role as a stunt -- Oldman keeps himself fresh precisely because it's sometimes hard to remember what he looks like when you take off all the makeup and facial fair. His makeovers are like no one else's. Here's seven of his strangest: Drexl Spivey, "True Romance" (1993) Even people like me who don't like "True Romance" too much -- Tony Scott amps up Tarantino's worst aspects, though Tarantino himself was a big...

"Twelve," i.e. "Poor Little Rich Kids, Waanh-Waaaaanh"

Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Joel Schumacher ("Batman and Robin," "The Lost Boys"), "Twelve" is unquestionably the funniest film at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival; if only it had been made with that intention. "Twelve"'s ham-handed ineptitude is part of the joke -- on Schumacher, on audiences and on any distributor brave or foolish enough to pick it up in an attempt to turn this sow's ear into a camp classic. Based on the novel by Nick McDonell, "Twelve" follows a group of poor little rich kids on Manhattan's Upper East Side as they deal and/or do drugs in an effort to fill the emotional voids in their privileged lives. It is not merely that, in the age of "Gossip Girl" (which shares actor Chace Crawford with "Twelve"), the wicked behavior of pretty boys and girls is fairly played out; this stuff was milked dry decades...

"Jack Goes Boating" goes nowhere in particular.

Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Philip Seymour Hoffman loves theater. He got his start in it as an undergrad in NYU, he's an instrumental member of the LAB, he's appeared in Broadway revivals of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and "True West." So it's not unexpected that he chose a play (by Bob Glaudini, who also wrote the screenplay) to adapt for his directorial debut. But I wish he hadn't. "Jack Goes Boating" is packed with all of the issues of the typical play-to-film transfer. Characters drift into monologues, long single location scenes have to be awkwardly broken up, we drop into the middle of conversations in a self-conscious way that would look a lot better if preceded by the lights coming up at the start of Act 2. Things that work well on the stage tend, on film, to look awfully, you know, stagey. The performances are...

Taking a monogamy time out in "The Freebie."

Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. It's impossible not to measure "The Freebie," actress Katie Aselton's directorial debut, against last year's Sundance success "Humpday." The two films share a marriage -- Aselton, who also stars as Annie, is the wife of filmmaker and "Humpday" lead Mark Duplass, who serves as executive producer. They also share a cast member, an editor, a cinematographer, an improvised, rough-around-the-edges feel, and a goofy-sexy hook with underlying seriousness. It's that seriousness that trips up "The Freebie." "Humpday" used its premise -- a pair of thirty-something straight men make a booze-fueled pact to film a porno/performance art video of the two of them having sex -- to get at certain more complicated truths, or Matt Zoller Seitz put it, "The film's true subject is 'normalcy': what it means, whether there even is such a thing, and most of all, the terror of being thought too...
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