Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
Yes, terrorism can be funny
Drew loved "Four Lions" when he saw it at Sundance this year. It still resides in his top ten for the year. He will be interviewing director Chris Morris when he gets back form traveling, in fact, and by sheer coincidence today, we received an email from the publicist containing the the poster and the trailer.
The Film will be opening November 5th, and although this is the first I'm hearing about it, everything about it strikes me as funny. Almodovar cast Antonio Banderas as a bumbling terrorist in "Labyrinth of Passion" back in 1982 who could track down a lover with his elevated sense of smell. Who knew that Almodovar's ridiculousness would get trumped by a man with explosive underpants over twenty years later.
Who steals the film, and who holds it together?
"RED" is not the sort of film that will redefine a genre or shock anyone who goes to see it because of some radical reinvention of narrative. It is fairly familiar stuff overall, based on a graphic novel by Warren Ellis, a low-key mix of comedy and action that works largely because of a great cast that approaches the material with enthusiasm and charm. It's uneven, but in the best moments in the film, "RED" is one of the most enjoyable things I've seen this year, and I would absolutely recommend it.
There are a few familiar tropes sort of mashed together here. There's the main storyline, which deals with Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA operative who has a crush on the woman he deals with over the phone regarding his retirement checks each month. That woman, Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), has developed a crush on Frank as well, and the start of the film really is just a growing flirtation between the two of them, and it's smartly written and smartly played. Mary-Louise Parker has never really been one to just play "the girl," and she brings some interesting colors to play in the way she portrays Sarah. She's a little cynical, a little hopeful, at an age where she knows it's probably too much to dream of being swept away by love but still addicted to the notion of it. She reads crappy romance novels precisely because they are crappy, and she relishes how terrible they are. Frank is smitten by the quirks and rough edges in this woman, and director Robert Schwentke and screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber are patient, letting the chemistry between the two characters gel before they start ladling on the complications.
Complications like, say, a team of assassins who break into Frank's house in the middle of the night to try and kill him.
True-life story doesn't totally work, but a great cast makes it feel like it gets close
It's almost a given at this point that any script that has even the slightest chance of getting someone a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars lands on the desk of Hilary Swank first. It's little wonder she ended up as the star of "Conviction," the true story of Betty Anne Waters, a woman who spent decades trying to prove that her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) was innocent of the murder charges that got him sentenced to life in prison, eventually going to law school so she could represent him as his lawyer. It's a compelling story, and a significant one in terms of precedent, and I can see why director Tony Goldwyn has been drawn to the story for over a decade. I'm just not sure the end result completely works.
In 2005, I saw and quite liked a documentary called "After Innocence," a look at Barry Sheck's Innocence Project, which helped use DNA evidence to free wrongly convicted men from prison. The idea that science reached a point where it was able to start overturning these injustices was quite powerful, and looking at the way the lives of these men were impacted by the work of the Innocence Project was, frankly, inspirational. It's an impressive movie, and the best moments in "Conviction" tap into that same sense of moral indignation. Barry Sheck actually appears as a character in "Conviction," played by Peter Gallagher, and that part of the film is some of the most interesting material in it.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of the movie is fairly slow going. We meet Betty and her brother, and we see how Kenny is a bit of a hellraiser, with a bad local reputation. When a violent murder takes place in town, Kenny is immediately suspected of it, and some very circumstantial evidence is enough to convince deputy Nancy Taylor (Melissa Leo in a severely underwritten part) that Kenny is the killer. Like a slow-motion nightmare, Kenny is arrested, tried, and sentenced, and all Betty can do is watch it happen.
Plus Quint chats up Ernest Borgnine and the ethics of set visits are explored
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Not really sure how long this morning's column will end up being. I'm supposed to be asleep right now, since it's 4:00 in the morning and I'm in a hotel room in Atlanta, where I'm getting up to go on a set visit tomorrow that will occupy my whole day. Insomnia's got me worried that the set visit is going to be a nightmare, and so I figure if I'm awake, I might as well use this time in the wee small hours to put together a Morning Read, and we'll see how much stuff I end up getting to.
I'm excited by Michael Mann's return to television, particularly since it's for HBO, and David Milch is the writer of the project, called "Luck." Geoff Boucher did a really nice piece on the show, and on Mann's involvement in particular. If you're already a Mann fan, it's a nice reminder of why, and if you're not, this may make you reconsider your position.
I give up. I've had my heart broken by George Miller and "Fury Road" so many times that another delay of at least a year before they even start filming pretty much feels to me like an admission that they're never making the damn thing. It's not the promise of a new "Mad Max" film that's got me all worked up, although I'm certainly up for some car-fu any day of the week. No, it's the idea that George Miller can't get a giant action movie up and running that leaves me depressed.
A frank conversation with the quirky star
Jason Schwartzman is one of those actors who arrived in his first film, his persona apparently fully-formed, and since that appearance, he's just continued to refine this great, quirky identity of his, working with great filmmakers, working with great actors, and making the sorts of choices and enjoying the sorts of opportunities that would make any other actor jealous.
Right now, HBO is airing the second season of "Bored To Death," the eccentric comedy-noir created by Jonathan Ames. The series details the adventures of Jonathan Ames (Schwartzman), an author living in New York who likes to moonlight as an unlicensed private detective. He ends up dragging in magazine publisher George Christopher (Ted Danson) and best buddy/cartoonist Ray Hueston (Zach Galifianakis) most of the time, and the show also details the complicated love lives of these characters with painfully wry observational wit. It's a hard show to describe, genre-wise, and it's only getting more eccentric and enjoyable as it unfolds.
This week, Schwartzman called me bright and early one morning, and we ended up talking for a little over a half-hour about his show, his work, and my favorite overlooked film of the year.
Yes… we're going to discuss "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" again. Brace yourself.
Three films in limited release right now are reviewed for you
I saw one of these films at Sundance, one at Toronto, and one was downloaded as a rental to my PS3. They're all open in theaters this weekend, although none of them are what I would call a wide release. I can only really recommend one of them with any real enthusiasm, but I'm guessing they'll all have their audience. It's just a matter of
"Freakonomics" is an all-star line-up of documentary filmmakers, all of them working on separate segments of a film that attempts to illustrate the different principles explained in the book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Alex Gibney, Seth Gordon, Eugene Jarecki, and Morgan Spurlock all worked on the film, and it's expertly made, engaging from moment to moment, and about as unfocused as you'd expect a film made that that many people to be. While I think each of the individual sequences, including "Pure Corruption," "Can A Ninth Grader Be Bribed to Succeed," and "It's Not Always A Wonderful Life," works as an individual idea, I still don't get the overall throughline that makes "Freakonomics" work as a whole. It all plays like an elaborate commercial for the book, all tease and no meat.
Plus the single best animation you'll see all year
Welcome to The Morning Read.
What a morning. Although I haven't seen it yet, "My Soul To Take" is getting some blisteringly bad reviews from even the most forgiving horror fans, and one of the things I keep reading is that the 3D conversion was a particularly wretched example of the process. I have to give real credit to Warner Bros. for issuing the following statements about "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I" just a little while ago:
"Warner Bros. Pictures has made the decision to release 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1' in 2D, in both conventional and IMAX theaters, as we will not have a completed 3D version of the film within our release date window. Despite everyone's best efforts, we were unable to convert the film in its entirety and meet the highest standards of quality. We do not want to disappoint fans who have long-anticipated the conclusion of this extraordinary journey, and to that end, we are releasing our film day-and-date on November 19, 2010 as planned. WE, in alignment with our filmmakers, believe this is the best course to take in order to ensure that our audiences enjoy the consummate 'Harry Potter' experience."
They say they're still releasing the final film in 3D in July of 2011, which now just feels strange, but the idea of a studio saying that they are intentionally backing off a 3D conversion for technical reasons is impressive. I wish more studios would take a hard look at what they're releasing and ask if it really works and if it offers anything to the audience.
King calls it the 'best American horror film in the last 20 years'
Novelists who have their works made into films often have contentious relationships with the resulting Hollywood products. Anne Rice called the casting of Tom Cruise as her Vampire Lestat "bizarre" and that he was "no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler." She made an about face, however, after seeing the film, praising Cruise to the point of saying "Tom's Lestat will be remembered the way Olivier's Hamlet is remembered."
Stephen King was so unhappy with Stanley Kubrick's version of "The Shining" that he produced his own made for TV version with Steven Webber… we'll just leave that at that. The point is that novelists have a very personal relationship with their novels. They are the sole creators of a universe on paper. Films, on the other hand, are a collaboration of hundreds of people, each one with their own internal vision contributing to the final work on celluloid. This often renders that novelists universe unrecognizable to its creator. It is very rare that a writer wholeheartedly embraces a film version of his or her book, and even more unusual for them to embrace two.
Plus Reynolds talks about that amazing Comic-Con 'Green Lantern' moment
I may not have been the biggest fan of "Buried" when I saw it at Sundance in January, but there's no denying how effective the work of Ryan Reynolds is, or how inventive the work of Rodrigo Cortes is. For Reynolds to agree to this film meant knowing that there was no fallback, no parachute, no support system. It's him onscreen from beginning to end, and no one else. And for Cortes, he knew that he was really going to have to do it, shoot an entire movie inside a box, never cheating, never cutting to another location. They had to have total faith in each other.
So it makes sense when I walk into a room at the Four Seasons in Austin, TX and find the two of them sitting together, waiting to discuss their film with me. This was just a few weeks ago during Fantastic Fest, and I wanted to talk to Reynolds a little bit about his appearance in July at Comic-Con as well. I'm still learning how to record audio on my Macbook Pro, which I've only had for a month, and it took me a minute to get the thing rolling. Finally, I managed to hit record and take my seat.
Obviously, this has been the year of the closed-space movies. I just saw "127 Hours" at Toronto, and we've already seen "Devil" and "Frozen". Of them all, "Buried" is the only one that never cheats, that never leaves the claustrophobic space or the hopeless situation. The technical challenge of that is daunting, to say the least, and I asked Garcia if he ever hesitated after reading the script.
Greg Berlanti's parenthood comedy rings false from start to finish
"Life As We Know It" is Studio Filmmaking As We Fear It.
Mechanical, unpleasant, oblivious to the way actual people live, bright and slick and hollow, this is a by-the-numbers affair that manages to make two unlikeable phony genre devices into one unlikeable whole. Josh Duhamel slouches his way though like he's embarrassed by everything going on around him, while Katherine Heigl once again embodies a particularly off-putting kind of modern shrew. The two of them together don't add up to the wattage of one movie star, and they aren't able to transcend the material to make the film work simply as a pleasant sit.
The longer you read my work, the more you're realize that the thing that is most important to me in any film, no matter how outrageous the premise or how mainstream the supposed audience, the one thing that really matters to me is honesty. I just want to see something that I recognize as real, whether it's the way characters relate to each other or the way someone responds to a situation or some bit of behavior or observation. I don't need every film to be a documentary. I love pure entertainment as much as the next person. But when I see something that is just fake and dishonest and mechanical, it really does sit wrong with me.
Eric Messer (Duhamel) and Holly Berenson (Heigl) are best friends to Peter (Hayes MacArthur) and Alison (Christina Hendricks), and the first third of the film is a romantic comedy about two people, thrown together by common friends, who seem to hate each other at first but who are actually drawn to one another to such an obvious degree that you know the film will be about getting them together in the last ten minutes, with nothing but obstacles in the meantime.