I am filled with shame.
It turned into a big crazy week, and I ended up with this edited podcast sitting here on my desktop waiting to be posted, and I just plain never got around to it.
Now, hopefully, you'll still enjoy the contents this week since it's not tied to a particular release date. We discuss this week's new releases a little bit, but since I was still embargoed on "Apollo 18," you won't really hear me work up a full head of steam about how much I hated it. Lucky you.
Instead, we spend a good chunk of time talking about the dreaded demon of "overhype," and the way it can kill a good film by the the time an audience actually gets to lay eyes on it. It's on my mind right now as we gear up for the release of "Drive," a very good film that my critical brethren are in danger of destroying for the general public because they're pumping it up as the single greatest thing to ever happen in a movie theater. Which it's not. And I worry about this when I'm crazy about a new movie like "Attack The Block," and always working to strike a balance so I don't make you hate something by the time I'm done talking about it.
I am filled with shame.
The last time Steven Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns collaborated, the result was "The Informant!", a film I quite admire. I love how the film manages to walk the fine line between silly and honest, somehow seeming to be both at the same time while telling a very strange story overall. Now, based on the evidence of "Contagion," their new collaboration, I think it's safe to say that they can do whatever they want when they're working together, and I hope this is the beginning of a long relationship.
In other words, Mr. Soderbergh, we do not accept your retirement. You can knock that talk off right now.
One of the reasons I love Soderbergh is because he's a great filmmaker who doesn't feel the need to impose one style on everything he shoots. Instead, he lets the material dictate what he shoots and how he shoots it, and in the case of "Contagion," he's outdone every virus movie I've ever seen by making the actual transmission of illness into the main character of his movie. The script by Burns juggles a fairly sizable ensemble with ease, but the way Soderbergh, working as Peter Andrews, shot the film is a study in tension and paranoia. It's incredibly smart stuff on all fronts, and considering how horrible the film made me feel, it is a true pleasure to watch something made this well.
When I left the house this evening to take in a midnight screening of "Shark Night 3D," I did so after pressing publish on my "Apollo 18" review, and I was worried that I was walking into the same experience all over again since Relativity decided not to screen the film for critics at all.
Why was I worried? After all, David Ellis is a reliably enjoyable maker of self-aware trash, and the film is called "Shark Night 3D." That's one of those things that seems pretty hard to screw up. Then again, Ellis is the guy who fumbled the should-have-been-hilarious-fun "Snakes On A Plane," so there's always the chance something like this won't work. Thankfully, this is "Final Destination 2" David Ellis this time out, and the result is nothing I would call brilliant, but it is indeed heaps of intentional fun.
It's too late for me, but if you're considering a weekend viewing of "Apollo 18," might I suggest you head out to a theater showing "The Caller" instead?
I am flustered by how awful "Apollo 18" is. And I am going to have a hard time fully describing it's ineptitude if I can't indulge a little bit in spoilers. Since the film really only has one card to play, the mere mention of what that card is effectively gives away everything you'll see, but that's not the fault of the critic. It's a built-in issue with a meager idea that absolutely can't support a full-length horror film, as well as a creative team that seems to have no idea what tension means. "Apollo 18" is that special kind of awful where it's not fun because it's too boring, it's not scary because it's too stupid, and it's not funny because it's too sincere. This is not so bad it's great. It's so bad it's just bad, and I pity anyone who gets rooked into a viewing this weekend.
I know this will make the second time I've been reduced to "Twilight" terminology in the last couple of weeks, but I can't help myself after conducting this interview and seeing her work in "The Help" and "The Debt"… I am resolutely now a member of Team Chastain.
And why not? Yes, she's a pretty strawberry blonde, and yes, she's crazy talented, but what did it for me was seeing her range demonstrated so clearly in such a short period of time. That and sitting down to chat with her to how she's feeling these days and realizing she's preposterously well-adjusted and cool.
After all, for her, this is not an immediate thing. She's been working on all the films we're just now seeing for a while now, and she knows how diverse those experiences have been, but for many of us, she's having that moment that happens occasionally where someone simply happens overnight, where we turn around and see them in a half-dozen films suddenly. In this case, Chastain was discovered by Al Pacino for a stage production of "Salome," and his word-of-mouth praise for her work got her hired by Terrence Malick, John Madden, Ralph Fiennes, and more.
When I was watching the first few episodes of "True Blood," one of the thoughts I kept having when Ryan Kwanten showed up onscreen was, "Seriously… screw this guy." And not in the sure-to-get-ratings-for-HBO way, either. More in the how-much-work-do-you-think-went-into-his-abs sort of way.
Over the course of the wildly uneven and occasionally ridiculous series, though, Kwanten has demonstrated a strange, boyish vulnerability that makes me like him more, and the more of his work I see, the more I'm convinced this guy's an actor worth watching. It would be easy to use a show like "True Blood" to immediately make the jump to big-budget Hollywood movies, but Kwanten hasn't done that yet unless you count his voice-only appearance in "Legend Of The Guardians." Instead, he's got an interesting list of small indie films to his credit, and it seems like many of them are Australian films. The neo-Western "Red Hill" that was released last year was a solid little film, and a nice showcase for a very different side of Kwanten, and now the same can be said for Leon Ford's "Griff The Invisible," an interesting take on the real-world superhero genre that has emerged over the last few years.
I can't believe I made it through five whole minutes with John Madden without asking him a single football question.
Madden's biggest hit and highest pop-culture profile came in 1998 with "Shakespeare In Love," and it seems like some film nerds have never forgiven him for beating Spielberg's big movie that year. I think the hard part about having a hit like that is the way it sets up expectation that you'll match that success every time out, and Madden isn't a guy whose career suggests that he'll be in the Oscar hunt every time out. He had something like fifteen years of film and television work under his belt before he made "Shakespeare,'" and for the most part, he's always been drawn to small-scale intimate material. He's got a sense of dramatic restraint that comes through clearly in films like "Golden Gate," "Mrs. Brown," and even his TV work like "Theseus & The Minotaur," one of the episodes of Jim Henson's groundbreaking "The Storyteller."
Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck wrote one of my very favorite episodes of one of my very favorite TV shows, "The Larry Sanders Show," and if the only thing they ever produced would be the script for "Putting The 'Gay' Back In Litigation," then I would consider that a more than triumphant filmography.
After several different TV gigs, the guys have made the jump to features with their new ensemble comedy "A Good Old Fashioned Orgy," and while I think the film's a mixed bag, there's enough of it that works that I would recommend it. More than anything, it suggests that Gregory and Huyck want to do something with some weight, that they aren't content to just go for the joke. While "Orgy" is a comedy first and foremost, it does offer some genuine insight into the way relationships and friendships change over time, and it's got a big ensemble cast that has great easy chemistry, making it easy to watch even when it doesn't quite work.
You have to hand it to the team behind this first teaser for "American Reunion," the latest sequel to 1999's "American Pie," it's perfect.
In a so-simple-it's-genius concept, it evokes nostalgia for the original film, as well as the original films era, and piques the interest for the next movie.
It's a series of photo-booth style pictures of the original gang including Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Sean William Scott, and even Dad Eugene Levy, accompanied by Matt Nathanson's soulful cover of the song "Laid," originally performed by the band James (making it even more nostalgic for those who know the original version from the early 90's.)
Seeing the the original cast, all now well into adulthood, presented in such a way evokes our memories of the characters instead of the actual characters. Most likely we remember them fondly, as we do anything over ten years ago. So by letting the audience wax nostalgic, they've hooked them without showing anything from the film whatsoever.
John Moore is entirely competent.
Having said that, I am not sure why 20th Century Fox loves him the way they do. They've given him more chances to fail than I can comprehend, and he has risen to the occasion over and over. "The Omen" and "Flight Of The Phoenix" are both remakes that make the originals look brilliant by comparison, but they are masterworks compared to his strange and nearly incoherent "Max Payne."
All told, he's made four films for the studio so far, and to me, he seems a great example of what happens when you take a commercial director and throw him into feature films without him having to prove he has real narrative skills first. Yes, film is a visual art. Yes, the ability to make a pretty image is important, and in advertising, there is no skill more highly regarded. But in feature filmmaking, when you're supposed to be telling stories, there has to be more than just a pretty picture. Moore went right from directing Dreamcast commercials to making "Behind Enemy Lines," and it feels like each of his films gets worse, not better.