I sent the stuff in, and they don't...here we go again:
Well, the studio wanted a franchise, and I think they might have one. It's obvious that Gunnery Sergeant Bob Lee Swagger(Mark Wahlberg) has the makings of a superhero, and Jonathan Lemkin's adaptation of Stephen Hunter's novel pushes all the right buttons.
We open in the Horn of Africa, where Sergeant Swagger is doing his thing as part of a covert op in the War on Terror, or so he thinks, and is left behind by his platoon. Hoo—ya!
Cut to Montana a couple of years later, where our hero is hanging out minding his own business, when Colonel Isaac Johnson(Danny Glover) of the Secret Intelligence Agency [or whatever] arrives from Washington and says that there's an evil conspiracy to assassinate THE PRESIDENT and only HE, as the best marksman in the known universe, can figure out how to save him.
So being a patriot, he decides to go for it, only to have been set up as the fall guy for the assassination of “The Archbishop of Ethiopia” who was going to make a speech right after the prexy.
So while Swagger is off to Tennessee to get repaired by the beauteous Sarah(Kate Mara), who was the fiancée of his pal who got blown up in the prologue, FBI special agent Nick Memphis(Michael Peña) is fighting the power in the FBI because he was a witness and they want him to cover the truth up.
The politics of the film is the usual left-wing “it's all for oil” crap, but that doesn't really matter. What really matters is whether there's a whole bunch of nifty car chases and stuff gets blown up in abundance. The answer to both questions is yes, and it's done in a way to make it look less gratuitous than usual.
Peña and Marky Mark do a more than professional job, Ned Beatty Elias Koteas and Rade Serbedzija are really sleazy as bad guys, Rhona Mitra, who plays Peña's associate and Mara have really nice breasts, and Danny Glover is Danny Glover. In other words, Halfway decent script, good acting, good chases and stuff gets blown up. What more do you want? Godzilla? Worth the bucks.
The Hills Have Eyes II
It's a law. I think it was passed by the California legislature back in the middle of the 1930s and signed into law by Governor Earl Warren. If a horror film is a hit, there must be a sequel. If that is a hit, IT must be a sequel, and if the producers run out of ideas for sequels, then a remake of the original is required. Wes Craven and his son, Jonathan know all about this, and that is why they wrote a script for the remake of the sequel. I'm sorry. It just had to be done.
The most incompetent brigade in the entire US National Guard [apparently, all fifty states, the three territories, two commonwealths and the District of Columbia refused to let their names be mentioned in this thing] is on a training mission in New Mexico, when they hear a distress call from a top secret base, where, as you remember Emile De Raven and her family were mostly decimated by mutant hillbillies in the previous flick.
So Sergeant Millstone (Flex Alexander) takes his merry band of troopers(Jacob Vargas, Michael McMillan, Daniella Alonso, Jessica Stroup and a few other interchangeable pre-corpses) into the hills where they get sliced up by the remaining mutants or by their own incompetence. Then they go down into the mine in the middle of the mountain, where a couple of more of the group get killed by the magically endowed, though horribly disfigured mutants [They can kill someone with his wallet!].
Think of this as a kind of guessing game, you get a bunch of dislikable morons, and you guess who's going to get it in which order. It's kind of fun and there are a number of genuine scares. The acting is okay, but there's not really much to do besides run, yell and scream through the desert and the soundstage.
Happily, I don't think there's going to be a “III”, but you never know.
In the meantime, don't bother.
Written and Directed
by Bennett Davlin
There are reasons why some films spend years on the shelf. Companies go broke, producers fight with each other over rights, distributors forget where they put the print, and so on and so forth.
Which brings us to Bennet Dalvin's “Memory.” There's nothing actually 'wrong' with this film. The dialogue is actually rather good, in a naturalistic sort of way, and the acting is fine, too, but there was a problem selling it because most of the cast USED to be major movie stars, and people on the way down generally don't attract the attention of distributors and theater owners as well as a cast of shiny unknowns or the hotties of the moment.
The plot is somewhat intriguing, Dr. Taylor Briggs (Billy Zane) and his sidekick Dr. Deepra Chang (Terry Chen) are at a conference somewhere in Brazil, when they are called to a hospital to consult on a strange case of a researcher found in the Amazon jungle, and through a series of happenstances, Briggs finds himself having visions of a serial killer who did his nasty deeds before our hero was born.
Going back to Boston, he is plagued by these visions while he's trying to go on with his life, which means taking care of his mother(Deirdre Blades), who has advanced Alzheimer's, and hanging out with old family friends Max Lichtenstein(Dennis Hopper) and Carol Hargrave(Ann-Margret), with whom he has a loving relationship.
Somehow, he discovers a painting by a certain Stephanie Jacobs(Tricia Helfer), who he woos and starts seeing romantically while he gets more and more into the mystery wracking is brain.
The problem is that the story isn't compelling or believable, or at least when it comes to the supernatural pseudoscience. Zane underplays his character, who is relatively banal, and when he's not conversing with the various other characters about other things, he's downright boring. The problem is that when everyone's doing normal things the actors shine, Hopper especially. The whole thing is rather a waste of talent.
Since it's theatrical run is only a brief stop on the journey to the video counter, save your money and wait until it arrives.
The Last Mimzy
The Christian right has been making inroads into Hollywood of late, and obviously those evil secular humanists have to push back. Call it the “revenge of the New Age.”
This is one of those inspirational kiddy flicks that is supposed to have some sort of cosmic message but doesn't. Instead the viewers are given a mishmash of New Age slop and pseudo-Buddhist mysticism, which isn't nearly as bad as it could have been. That's because the people who made this film, New Line head honchos Bob Shaye, who directed, and Toby Emmerich, who wrote the screenplay with Bruce Joel Rubin, James V. Hart and Carol Skilken Pride are professionals with decades of experience and know that if you want to make a successful kiddy flick, you can't talk down to the kiddies like too many filmmakers do.
Emmerich and company's update of Lewis Padgett's (Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore) 1943 short story “And Mimsy went the Borogroves” begins in the middle of “THE NEW AGE®” where a history teacher is going to telepathically tell her students the story of how the would was saved centuries before…
Noah(Chris O'Neil) and Emma Wilder(Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) are two extremely normal children who live in Seattle, where her mother Jo (Joely Richardson) is a housewife and father David(Timothy Hutton) is a bigshot lawyer. It's Easter Vacation, and Mom takes the kids to the beach house, where they find a mysterious box in the ocean, which, on further inspection, contains a bunch of mysterious plastic things, some green rocks, and a toy bunny rabbit. Clearly, they are either magic or from outer space, and clearly Mom and Dad will take them away if their origins are found out.
The kids develop super-powers, and this is noticed by both the parents [who aren't THAT clueless] and Noah's science teacher Mr. White(Rainn Wilson), who sees a vast improvement in Noah's grades, and strange drawings in his notebooks, which is where the New Age® claptrap comes in.
There's also a subplot concerning the FBI and blacking out half the state of Washington, but since this takes place during the end of the Bush 2 administration, that's par for the course. What's good, is that while the clichés are indeed there, they're not as annoying as they could have been. The action and special effects are actually well integrated, and the kids, while not particularly compelling as actors as are the grownups, Wilson and Naomi Schwartz(Kathryn Hahn, as his wife, are delightfully dizty, and Michael Clarke Duncan is wonderful but underused as the FBI guy.
A workmanlike film, it's effective as a standard kiddy adventure flick, but not anything genuinely brilliant, like that which is advertised. It would have been nice if a real adaptation of the original short story, which is still beloved after more than half a century, had been made, but this is generally harmless and is worth taking the kids.
Reign Over Me
Written and Directed
by Mike Binder
New York can be a very lonely place. This is a film about that kind of loneliness. Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) lost his family during 9/11 and has been drifting along in a daze for five years. Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), who's a wealthy dentist, has been drifting along in a daze to some extent too. His marriage is getting stale and when a nutcase named Donna (Saffron Burrows) arrives and screws up his life, he gets no support from the other members of the practice. It's a midlife crisis in the making.
So when Johnson comes upon Charlie by accident for the second time in as many weeks after not seeing each other for decades, a strange bond begins to grow. Each sees something in the other that they are lacking and as Johnson begins to spend more and more time with Charlie, he finds a kind of freedom and Charlie finds a new companionship that really annoys Johnson's wife Janeane(Jada Pinkett Smith) to no end, which is an interesting conflict. The emotions are complicated than in most comedies, which is understandable since this is most definitely NOT a comedy.
Sandler's violent streak, as seen in previous movies, is used to it's best advantage here, and the otherwise understated portrayal of his usual character, makes up for an unusual performance, and the deadpan and serious performances of the other characters, notably Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler as Johnson's friend and Charlie's shrink Angela, Robert Klein and Melinda Dillon as Charlie's in-laws, and Donald Southerland as the judge in the climax, actually make the film more affecting. This is heavy stuff, and Mike Binder, who has “graduated” from comedy to drama, has shown that he can do it rather well.
This is an Adam Sandler movie for those who think themselves too good for Adam Sandler movies.
The Prisoner: Or How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair
A Documentary Directed by
Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker
In Epperman and Tucker's “Gunner Palace” journalist Yunis Khatayer Abbas and his brothers are taken and detained, allegedly for trying to construct bombs in order to blow up British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Many months later, the documentarians heard that someone was making a film about incident and they decided to take the project over as a sequel to their previous film…and that's exactly what they did.
Using a long interview with Yunnis; outtakes from “Gunner Palace” Yunnis' home movies and photos; an interview with former Abu Ghraib guard Benjamin Thompson and a bunch of animatic illustrations to fill in the visual gaps. The documentarians put together a reasonable reconstruction of the events that took place. The only problem is that they try to do it with a touch of humor about the whole thing, and that takes away from the basic message of the film.
The thing starts with a series of faked home movies of Yunnis with his relations clowning at the lake, where we get to see that he's a nice guy. Then he begins to tell the story of his life, and how he was in the army during the Iran/Iraq war and then was later imprisoned by Saddam Hussein and his disgusting son Uday. How this proves his innocence is problematic. We went to war because they did things like that, and a lot of the insurgents were oppressed by the Baathist regime and worked very hard to keep their oppressors in power, but since this is a personal story, we don't get into that.
Since the filmmakers were there when Yunnis was arrested, we get to see it, and there's footage of US troops discussing it. What we don't get footage is of Yunnis' interrogation, and for that they substitute comic book style animatics, which doesn't work all that well, especially with the lousy choice in background music.
The style of the animatics really hurts the film when Yunnis gets talking about the months and months he spent in the detention camp at Abu Ghraib prison, where the food was inedible, the water unsanitary, and the prisoners alleged allies, the insurgents, would do their best to kill them by bombing them with morter shells.
The interviews with Ben Thompson give more of a balanced picture of the whole sad mess, and in the end the film does it's job in getting the viewer mad at the Bush administration for all the usual reasons. It's a good tool for research, but not something that one would spend eleven bucks on to waste an afternoon.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Written and Directed
by Kevin Munroe
Back in the mid 1980s, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were among the many artists taking part in the comics “black and white revolution” in which all sorts of self-published titles were thrust onto the public and for a brief time, were the forefront of a great creative movement. The corporate media pounced on these artists, and the vast majority, with their exaggerated sense of integrity, pointedly refused to deal with them. The main exceptions were Eastman and Laird, who's “Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles” [fun title that], was turned into a Saturday morning cartoon with all the licensed trimmings. Everyone else, with the exception of Dave Sim's “Cerebus the Aardvark”, vanished into oblivion.
TMNT came and went, and by 2000, when Eastman and Laird finally split up, they had pretty much joined Strawberry Shortcake and He-man, gathering dust in Gen-Y closets. But if something was popular once, it might be popular again, you never know.
So Laird and animation director Kevin Munroe have come up with a revival of the turtles, and with Gen Y now becoming parents themselves [who are called? Gen Z is almost sixteen by now, right?], the “I thought this stuff was good when I was your age” concept, which has rarely worked, is now in action once again.
So, with an omnipotent narrator (Laurence Fishburne) telling the tale of astrological conquest three millennia ago, and updating us as to what's going on with Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor), Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley), Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield), Raphael (Nolan North) and Master Splinter (Mako). It's not pretty.
So, we find Mike in Central America, where he's working as a superhero in the jungle, here he meets former sidekick April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who's collecting valuable antiquities for a mysterious zillionaire named Max Winters (Patrick Stewart), she convinces him to return to New York, where there's all sorts of angst, and personality conflicts, and a major plotline involving the end of the world [isn't there ALWAYS in these things?] and mistaken identities. All things considered, it's not nearly as bad as I feared.
The voice cast is fine, the animation is professionally done, and the script is relatively intelligent. Whether or not the Ninja Turtles will reignite the minds of today's kids is anyone's guess. It all has to do with whether or not the parents are fond enough of the franchise to force their kids to see this or wait until it comes out on video. My guess is the latter, although watching this stuff on the big screen in the dark is always better, but it may not be worth the extra bucks.
The Page Turner
Written and Directed
by Denis Dercourt
Revenge is a dish best served cold, or so says the proverb. Auteur Denis Dercourt certainly thinks so, and he serves it right out of the fridge.
It's the early 1990s, and 11-year-old Melanie Prouvost (Julie Richalet) is practicing for her big day. She's auditioning for a fancy-schmancy concervitory and if she gets in, the tuition is free, something that would greatly ease the financial burden on her working class parents(Jacques Bonnaffe and Christine Citti). But then comes the inciting incident, which ruins that dream. An extra barges into the room where Melenie is in the process of auditioning, and demands an autograph from one of the juges, concert pianist Ariane Fouchecourt (Catherine Frot). This throws Melenie completely off, and she blows the rest of the piece. Her career as a concert pianist is over.
Cut to a decade later, and the beauteous Deborah Francois now plays Melanie. She's got an internship with a major law firm headed by Jean Fouchecourt (Pascal Greggory), who, by a strange coincidence, is the husband of the very person who inadvertently destroyed her dreams all those years ago. So when she discovers that the Fouchecourt's au pare [they have a 12 year old son named Tristan(Antoine Martynciow)] is going on holiday, and offers to replace her for a while. Thus our protagonist is able to worm her way into Ariane's life and destroy it.
Melanie does this in a stealthy way, winning the love of Tristan and Ariane, who gives her an extra duty as the title implies, and starting what seems to be the beginnings of a lesbian relationship. There is also the problem with Ariane's partners(Xavier De Guillebon and Martine Chevallier), in the trio she tours with, and that leads to one of the more delicious scenes in the entire film.
At only 85 minutes, this is a surprisingly leisurely film. Dercourt takes his sweet time, and except for a couple of brief scenes, including that one I mentioned about one of Ariane's partners, there's absolutely no violence. Ms. Francois is passive and for the most part unemotional. She smiles little, except for one scene where she meets a friend, and appears to have the makings of a female Hannibal Lector. The supporting cast is quite excellent. This is one of the better films to come out of France in the past year. See it.
Written and Directed
by Jafar Panahi
There are many people nowadays who are sympathizing with the Government of Iran. They rail against Bush for his naming Iran as part of the so-called “axis of evil” and…guess what? Bush is right.
The Government of Iran is very evil indeed. Fortunately, the Iranian people aren't and there are many talented filmmakers who are willing to take on their fascistic government and expose these monsters for what they are. The filmmaker is named Jafar Panahi and his weapon against oppression is a cheery sports comedy.
One of the lesser crimes against humanity that the Iranian regime has committed is one of misogyny. Women are not allowed to attend public sports matches, and if they try to attend, say, a soccer match, they will be arrested and sent to jail. One would think that in a civilized country that sort of thing wouldn't even be considered.
In the spring of 2005, Iran was fighting Bahrain for a berth on the next rung of the World Cup, and naturally, the stadium was packed. Since being a sports fan is a gender-free occupation, there are plenty of women who are enamored of the sport, and a certain number of the ladies are brave enough to try to crash the party.
The film begins with an old man(Reza Farhadi) flagging down a minibus filled with rowdy [male] fans to try to grab his daughter before she can commit the crime of gate-crashing. She's not aboard the vehicle, but another woman(Sima Mobarak Shahi) is, and this is her first attempt at crashing a game. The boys in the bus are all on her side, but she wants to get in on her own, and this includes getting ripped off for a scalped ticket, and getting frisked by the army, something that gets her caught.
So she's sent to the holding pen, which is occupied by a half a dozen others(Shayesteh Irani, Nazanin Sedighzadeh, Golnaz Farmani and Mahnaz Zabihi) and are guarded by three young army conscripts (Safdar Samandar, Mohammed Kheir-abadi, and Masoud Kheymeh-kaboud) who don't want to be there and actually sympathize to some extent with their prisoners. But orders are orders and everyone has to remain there while waiting for the bus to take the women to the vice squad.
So the results of the situation is a debate over the sexual policies of the Iranian government and whether or not women should be protected from “naughty” language and good ol' fashioned cussing, something that is illustrated when one of the gals(Sadeqi) has to go to the bathroom, and her minder(Samandar) has to clear it of men who have to go as badly as she does. This is the old trick of making injustice look ridiculous, which in this case it is.
The acting is terrific, and had Iran been a free country the gals would be major international movie stars [they might be in Iran, but popular films from over there don't generally make it over here], but there you have it. This is thought provoking and lots and lots of fun. Worth the bucks.
Colour Me Kubrick
They say truth is stranger than fiction, and sometimes we've got evidence for this maxim. Take the con man who spent a number of years impersonating director Stanley Kubrick during the last couple of years of his and Kubrik's life.
This is the story of Alan Conway(John Malkovich) a con man who goes around fleecing innocent artistic types, pretending to be Kubrick, promising his marks the moon, and disappearing when the loans come due. The film begins with two punkers who were thus fleeced harassing some rich shlub demanding that Kubrick pay them the money they lent.
Conway is a flaming queen and a chameleon who changes accents and mannerisms whenever he meets someone new, and he's also a bit lazy, he gets caught by anyone who knows the work of the real Kubrick just a little bit. Apparently, the real Conway never saw any of his films.
The film is basically a one-man show. Malkovich gives the performance of a lifetime, while the hamminess drips out of every pore, there's an honesty in the dishonesty of it all which makes the performance priceless. He's so brazen that he goes up to NY Times film critic Frank Rich (William Hootkins) and his wife Alix (Marisa Berenson) in a London restaurant screaming his displeasure at what the newspapers have been saying about him. This proves the beginning of the end. Rich is suspicious, and so are quite a few others, including the cops.
Meanwhile Conway continues his impersonation, and this time hits real paydirt, a midlevel celebrity(Jim Davidson) who thinks he could make it big in the US. It's a hoot. The supporting cast, which is made up of has-been TV stars are really good.
Anthony Frewin's script is a bit erratic. The film goes on in a hpahasard way for the first half at least, but Malkovitch's perfornace makes up for it. This is a perfect revenge by two of Kubrick's most loyal assistant. Had he lived, I'm sure Kubrick would have wanted to make this film himself.
Written and Directed
by Mark Fergus
Sometimes elaborate plans don't always work. The mystical jigsaw puzzle that is this film doesn't quite fit together, and the characters are a little too skuzzy for any sense of identification with them.
We meet the gratuitous Jimmy Starks(Guy Pearce) bleeding in his car as the radio gives the weather report. This whole thing is technically a flashback from this opening scene. Jimmy has just managed to wreck his car somewhere in New Mexico and is waiting around for the mechanic to finish the repairs, when, as a lark, he decides to get his fortune told. The fortune teller(J.K. Simmons), we soon discover is the real deal, and the end of the fortune, which was withheld, is something we, and Jimmy can rightly guess for ourselves.
Jimmy goes back to his life. That means screwing his live-in girlfriend Deirdre(Piper Perabo) hanging out with his coworker Ed(William Fichtner) and firing another one(Rick Gonzalez) but then there's this figure from his past, an old pal named Vincent(Shea Whigham), who's just out of prison and may want Jimmy's promised demise. This is an illustrated version of famous five steps of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The structure of the film is based on these, conflicted on whether or not the prediction is actually going to happen when the “first snow” of the title finally arrives.
The skulking and the paranoia are what makes this film watchable. Pearce gives a dynamite performance, as does Whigham, who mostly [and literally] phones it in. The penultimate scene is riveting.
It's just about worth a bargin matinee.
Svinuari Obert Gonera
Once again, we have the inspirational heartwarming sports film for children. We've seen them before and we'll see them again and they've long since blended in with each other. Coach X heads off to the ghetto and takes a bunch of impoverished reprobates and transforms themselves into winners with a future, this despite the opposition of the POWERS that BE and the local drug dealers. Also, each and every one claims to be based on a true story.
Each and every IHSPfC has the same plot and villains, only the sport and location change. This time, it's Philadelphia in 1974, where champion swimmer Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard), who cannot get a job as a math teacher because he is Black [the film opens in the 1960s south, where he is arrested for competing in a segregated pool]. The only place he can get a job is at the Philadelphia Recreational Authority, where he's to help dismantle the place as the neighborhood has gone to hell in a hand-basket.
When he gets there, he discovers the situation is worse than he thought, and the only other employee there, Elston (Bernie Mac), does absolutely nothing, and the kids do nothing but play basketball(Kevin Phillips, Evan Ross, Nate Parker, Brandon Fobbs and a couple of others) and are watched over by Franklin (Gary Sturgis), the stock villainous drug dealer. Clichés and stereotypes all the way, but isn't that always the case with these things?
So Ellis discovers a pool in the basement, and for his own amusement, fills it up. With the basketball hoops taken down, the kids just hang around doing nothing, and Elston invites them in and forces them to become a swimming team, something racist back before the day thought Blacks were unable to do.
There are the usual stumbling blocks and challenges, mostly oppostion from Franklin and his thugs on the one hand, and
Councilwoman Sue Davis (Kimberly Elise) [her brother is on the swim team], on the other. Same old same old.
As to the factual basis for the film, the real Elston made a career with the PDR as a swim coach, and what REALLY happened might have made a decent movie, but they had to shoehorn everything into the IHSPfC mold. But this is what always happens. There is usually one or two great sports movies a decade, and this ain't it.
Give it a pass.
Sacco And Vanzetti
by Peter Miller
The best way to get sympathy for the bad guys is to frame them for something they clearly didn't do. That's what happened to two terrorists named Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in the year 1920, and the repercussions are still felt to this day.
“Terrorists?!?” I hear you say, “I thought they were innocent victims” Well actually, they were both, for as the documentary, clearly admits, they belonged to a terrorist organization headed by Luigi Galleani, which was responsible for quite a few murders, and fled with him to Mexico to wait for the fall of the American Government when the first world war started. On the other hand, as the doc also clearly shows, they had nothing to do with the particular murder that they were charged with.
Peter Miller, who was a collaborator the renowned documentarian Ken Burns, goes about telling the story in a workmanlike way. He interviews the usual suspects (Howard Zinn, Arlo Guthrie, Studs Terkel and others of the left) as well as Sacco's niece [one wonders whether his children or grandchildren cooperated or not], and the daughter of the murder victim [one wonders if Miller actually did the interviews or found them in an archive somewhere]. The tone of the film is rather dispassionate at first, being somewhat unsure as to whether or not to depict Sacco and Vanzetti as saints or not. John Turturro and Tony Shalhoub read the letters of the doomed pair, and ones they read tend to the former, while the facts of the case tend to the latter.
However, there's no problem about how to depict the government of Massachusetts. They get the full demonization treatment, and that's something they clearly deserve. The trial was clearly a farce, and so was the cover-up that followed. The whole thing was an embarrassment to both the governments of Massachusetts and the United States as a whole, making the S&V case a cause celeb throughout the world.
With a case of such importance, it's always a good idea to be reminded every now and then as to how things can go wrong, and justice means that just because a person is guilty of SOMETHING, doesn't mean that it's okay for the state frame them for something else. This is worth a look when it comes out on video or PBS.