Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sunday Document Dump....Easter edition

Since none of the reviews have been put up by the GVG this week, here they are. However several have been published elsewhere.

Are We Done Yet?

Directed by
Steve Carr

Here's a high concept idea: Do a remake of one film that is very old and nobody remembers anymore, and turn it into a sequel to a bad comedy which made some money and nobody really hated that much. “Are We There Yet?” was insipid, but it made quite a bit of money, and 1948's “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” is a classic which is only seen on Turner Classic Movies about two or three times a year. Hey, it could work.

When we last met Nick Persons (O'Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson), he had just reconciled with his fiancée Suzanne(Nia Long) and her two demonic kids (Aleisha Allen and Philip Bolden), and were about to live happily ever after. Well, two years have passed, the kids have become slightly less demonic, and there's no room left in Nick's bachelor pad. So, as parents usually do in such situations, he moves to the suburbs, where he does battle with the local wildlife and a demon who controls them. Not exactly what Cary Grant and Myrna Loy did, but it's close enough for our purposes.

So they get what's a beautiful old house that's a major steal, and except for the fact that the daughter misses her friends, everything seems fine, that is until the house starts to fall apart, and the only person who is authorized to fix it is the Chuck Mitchell(John C. McGinley), the devil who sold them the place in the first place. That is because he's also the building inspector, and the only contractor who's authorized by the person who's authorize such things [himself, natch]. So within moments, he's taken over the lives of Nick and his entire family, something only Nick seems to object to.

This being a family comedy, it's a bit over the top and Nick has to reconcile with evil rather than defeat it, because it's better to make love not war. That's the problem, while Nick and Chuck are interesting characters, Suzanne isn't and to make things worse, her attitude is one that makes one wish that Nick had left those little brats, who are much less interesting this time out, in the train station in the middle of the last film, or even better, they had actually did a relatively faithful update of the original.

But no, the cringe to laugh ratio is about 60/40 cringe. It's watchable, but just barely. Give this a pass.

Black Book

Written and Directed
by Paul Verhoeven

World War II is a perfect backdrop for a movie. The good guys are the good guys and the bad guys are the bad guys, and you can do just about anything except maybe launch a spaceship [and that might have been done, I'm not sure]. Here Paul Verhoeven, who's made many a Hollywood movie in his time, and co-writer Gerard Soeteman, rethink with genre, and come up with one heck of a thriller.

We start in Israel in 1956, where a Dutch tourist named Ronnie(Halina Reijn), vacationing with her husband, comes upon an old friend from back home teaching school in a Kibbutz. Rachel Rosenthal(Carice van Houten), is happy to meet her old pal, and when Ronnie leaves, Rachel sits down by a lake and goes into flashback mode, where she remains until just before the end of the movie.

It's the Netherlands: September 1944, and , Rachel Stein, as she was then is hiding out with some ultra religious fundamentalists, who are actively trying to convert her to Christianity. When an allied bomb blows her hiding place to smithereens, she's at a loss as to what to do, but a fighter with the resistance named Van Gein (Peter Blok), has a plan to get her out, but that turns out to have been a disaster, and everyone on board the barge that was supposed to take her and everyone else to safty is attacked by a Nazi gunboat led by Gunther Franken(Waldemar Kobus), who loots the corpses and pockets the proceeds.

Rachel then hooks up with the Resistance herself, taking the name Ellis de Vries, she takes a job at a food cannery run by Gerben Kuipers(Derek de Lint), and is soon working on various missions, culminating in the seduction of Col. Ludwig Muntze(Sebastian Koch), head of the local Gestapo and one person we'd think is a real baddie. Not exactly so, for deep down inside, he's really a nice guy. However, everybody else in Nazi headquarters isn't, except maybe Ronnie, who's only there for the sex. What's interesting is that many in the resistance are just as bigoted as the Nazis, and there's several traitors lurking about and while we generally root for Rachel and the resistance, we don't know exactly what to expect when the you-know-what finally hits the fan. The excitement isn't over when the war ends. When the Canadians occupy the town, everything unravels and we don't exactly who was the traitor. All we know is that it wasn't Rachel, and someone is going to try to sneak away with all that loot taken from those dead Jews.

The thrills and chills are nonstop, and one extremely long movie manages to flash by in no time at all. This is one of Verhoeven's best movies in years and years and years. See it.

The Hoax

Directed by
Lasse Hallström

In his quasi-documentary, “F For Fake,” Orson Welles focused on the famous art forger Almir Omar, and in some of the footage, a fellow who claimed to be writing his biography is seen to be following him around.

The guy's name was Clifford Irving, and between the time the footage was originally shot, and the time Welles got enough money to finish the picture, Irving had gone on to other things, and the great eccentric auteur was more than glad to add some newsreel footage of what exactly those other things were.

In the world of great hoaxes, the biographer had outdone his subject, for while Almir became famous for painting fake Picassos, and Welles scared the country silly by faking an invasion from Mars on the radio, Irving had nearly gotten away with faking an autobiography by reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, and bamboozling the entire publishing industry.

The film begins with a semi-traditional flash-forward opening, where Irving(Richard Gere)and his editor, Andrea Tate(Hope Davis),
are on the roof of the McGraw Hill building, waiting for Hughes' helicopter to show up. It does, or does it? We flash back to the beginning before we find out, and Tate is telling Irving that they're going to publish his new novel.

He starts spending money like water, celebrating with his wife Edith(Marcia Gay Harden) and his assistant and old pal Dick Susskind (Alfred Molina), until the thing falls apart at the last minute [that happens more often than most of us writers would like], leaving Cliff in lots of debt. Then he has a brainstorm.

As W. C. Fields once said, “You can't cheat an honest man,” and Tate and the other suits at McGraw Hill [Stanley Tucci is understated but brilliant, as president Shelton Fisher], clearly are so enamored kof the money, they're willing to allow themselves to be snookered.

While you have all sorts of side characters taking up space, the film is dominated by Molina, Gere and Harden, who give the performances of their lives, and Halstrum brings a light touch to the film which makes the proceedings a lot more fun then it might otherwise be. The era of the Nixon administration is brilliantly recreated, and while the story and it's ending are well known, we still have to root for Cliff and Dick in their audacious endeavour.

The Oscar® race has begun!

The Reaping

Directed by
Stephen Hopkins

Just what we need, a born-again Christian Passover movie! Either the Devil or the Lord has no real imagination, they keep on doing variations on the same script over and over again. If not the exact wording of the book of revelations, then something from the old Testament, say, the twelve plagues. Yeah, the perfect thing for Passover, JeeeeeeeeeZ!

Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) is a former minister who's lost her faith and has become a debunker of miracles. She and her assistant Ben (Idris Elba) go around the world checking things out, and always finding a scientific explanation. Oh these poor, deluded fools! That's why God HIMSELF has sent a message to Catholic priest(Steven Rhea), who was a friend of hers back in the day when she had faith, and a husband and a daughter, who were sacrificed to Baal or someone like that in the Sudan. [This is the first time I've ever seen such an excuse for the genocide in Darfur, but I'm sure it wasn't intentional].

He of course calls to warn her [The Omen], she hangs up on him, and right about that time, she gets a report on a little village out in the Bayou where the river has turned to blood. This was right after a little girl named Loren(AnnaSophia Robb) has allegedly killed her brother. They obviously think the little tyke is the Devil, and local bigwig Doug Blackwell (David Morrissey) wants Kat and Ben to debunk the “miracle” before poor Loren gets lynched by a bunch of yokles with torches.

Of course the writers of the film go down the list, frogs, flies, locusts etc, and the special effects are pretty good, and the attempt at misdirection is relatively successful, but still what's the point?

Why can't someone do a theological disaster film where they know the difference between atheism and Classical Satanism,[i.e. orthodox Catholics who've chosen the other side.] “You're not a Catholic or a born-again Christian? then you must be a Satanist!”

Parts of the film make sense, but why bring the Priest into it? Why would the infernal or divine powers care about this guy to send a message to HIM? It's totally stupid and doesn't fit in with the rest of the film. Some day, someone's going to do an ORIGINAL Armageddon film. Till then, let's just hope Hillary Swank remains too big to do a #2.

The TV Set

Written and Directed
by Jake Kasdan

Write what you know. Except for science fiction or cheesy romance , that's the first rule of fiction. Jake Kasdan has been in and around show business all his life [his father Lawrence is a big shot honcho] and he's done TV, including a pilot that never was picked up. So he knows what he's talking about.

Kasdan's doppelganger is Mike(David Duchovny) a writer with a vision. He's doing a thing called “The Winslow Chronicles” about the adventures of guy recovering from his brother's suicide. The script's gotten past gate, so to speak, and it's actually going to be produced. This is exiting news indeed, but there are other factors involved that are going destroy the pure vision Mike originally had.

Lenny(Sigourney Weaver) is the number two person in the network, and she wants as much input on the series that Mike has, but doesn't want him to actually think that. Her number two is Richard(Ioan Gruffudd), who's marriage is in trouble because his wife hates LA. Slightly different visions lead to conflicts, and since Lenny is paying the bills, Mike generally loses.

Not for want of trying. He and his assistant Alice(Judy Greer) try to force the hands of the powers that be by getting a bad actor named
Zach Harper(Fran Kranz) to go against the person he wants for the job, so Zach gets it instead, of course. This sort of thing happens for the entire film and by the time it gets picked up, it's completely different than what was originally pitched.

This is the writer's protest against the suits who destroy creativity in the TV business. If the writers had been left alone with their vision would the world be a better place? Dunno. But the film is funny, and everyone in the film is fighting on the same side for truth, justice and the American way. Writing for TV is compromise anyway, so nobody should really have all that much to complain about. This is inside baseball and is only going to be popular with the people in the biz.

G.I. Jesus

Written and Directed
by Carl Colpaert

As the war in Iraq goes on and on, the anti-American propaganda becomes more vicious and vicious. This is as brazen as it can get for a dramatic film and is a lousy movie to boot. Hate oozes out of every single frame of offensive piece of shit.

Corporal Jesus Feliciano (Joe Arquette) is coming back from the war, traveling first class, of course, and when his plane arrives at LAX, he's greeted by his wife Claudia(Patricia Mota) and daughter Marina (Telana Lynum), who are thrilled to see him. They're driving an expensive SUV and when they get to the trailer park, the crappy trailer they live in is full of hyper-expensive, state-of-the-art entertainment stuff. Apparently, there's this guy named Fred(Wes W. Thompson) who's very rich and Claudia isn't all that faithful.

As Jesus begins to reintegrate himself to life back home, he encounters all the standard off-the-wall conspiracy theories that the far, far left likes to spew in flyers distributed at commie-instigated antiwar rallies. Did you know that the 1973 CIA coup in Chile was instigated in order to sell Pepsi cola? No, then you're in good company; neither do PepsiCo or the CIA.

While Jesus is winding his way through long-winded expositions on how truly evil America and everything it stands for, he's haunted by a mysterious man named Mohammed(Maurizo Farhad), who cheerfully condemns poor Jesus for murdering him and his innocent family. After all, Saddam Hussein and his government never would hurt a fly, and oh yeah, I forgot to mention, Jesus and his family are illegal aliens, and if he does anything besides what he's told, he'd be deported back, along with his American-born daughter and Dominican wife back to Mexico.

Not only is the story preposterous, the acting is some of the worst seen in any movie this year. This film is definitely in “Plan 9 From Outer Space” territory. This is an embarrassment for all involved, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

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