Sunday, July 30, 2006

"Miami" trumps "Caribbean"

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” finally, FINALLY got knocked out of the top spot at the box office this weekend by Michael Mann’s infinitely better “Miami Vice.” The latter grossed a little over $25 million dollars this weekend, which isn’t bad but pretty much destroys the notion of the movie making any sort of profit. The rumored $150 million budget is going to be nearly impossible to reach, even with tremendous word-of-mouth (which sadly, the demanding flick is unlikely to have). This was one of the best surprises of the summer and it’s a shame it won’t come close to reaching the heights of significantly lesser films.

“Pirates” added another $20,492,000 to the bank for a total of $358.4 million. Meh. Moving on.

In the #3 slot was the teenage revenge comedy “John Tucker Must Die” whose biggest “name” is 28-year-old Jesse Metcalfe (playing 17) from “Desperate Housewives.” I don’t know quite how this movie managed to make $14 million this weekend, but I chalk it up to the aggressive marketing and its MySpace campaign. Seriously, I don’t quite get this success… but whatever, I guess.

“Monster House” took a surprisingly sharp drop of 48.2% for an okay $11.5 million weekend. This confounds me as well—I’d swear this strong kids movie would’ve had better legs than this. Maybe too much scariness caused poor word of mouth among overprotective (and likely Christian) parents?

Bombing hard in the #5 slot, “The Ant Bully,” which boasted the voices of Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Nicolas Cage and Paul Giamatti, made a scant $8,145,000. This has been a rough month for Giamatti—two bombs in a row. Even that impressive voice cast couldn’t supercede the movie’s awful trailers.

“Lady in the Water” and “Clerks II” took sharp plunges of 61% this weekend—one from poor word-of-mouth, one due to most of the fanbase showing up last week. “Lady” is at $32 million right now and might have difficulty reaching 50. Huuuuge bomb for Shymalanadingdong. “Clerks” on the other hand will find its way to about $25 million, more than 5 times its budget.

Woody Allen’s “Scoop” made a little over $3 million in a moderate-wide opening in 538 theaters, for an average of $5,581. Most box office reports are calling this opening “good,” but I’m not sure. It’s certainly not bad, but in this few theaters, this really should’ve done better. Time will tell though, as will if the movie expands or not. Better performance than Allen’s last few comedies, but it doesn’t quite look like it’ll match “Match Point’s” success.

On the other hand, “Little Miss Sunshine” had a fantastic limited bow as expected. Opening in only 7 theaters, “Sunshine” grossed $357,000, a stunning average of $51,000 per theater. The Fox Searchlight crowd-pleaser boasted mostly sold out shows over the course of the weekend, and the opening was on par with the openings of “Thank You for Smoking” and “I Heart Huckabees.” However, while those films were successful, Searchlight will be mighty disappointed if “Sunshine” doesn’t exceed those movies’ $15-25 million grosses. Given “Sunshine” is more of a crowd-pleaser than those films and the marketing dollars being pumped into it, I would imagine Searchlight is hoping for something more along the lines of $50 million. We’ll have a better idea in the next few weekends, as the movie opens wider.

If you like George W. Bush, you'll LOVE "World Trade Center"

The following is an excerpt from an article on called "Calming D.C.'s Movie Critics" about "World Trade Center" being screened for right-leaning politicians in Washington (,0,1616355.story?coll=cl-movies):

Some conservative activists who got an early screening say Stone surprised them.

Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, called the film a masterpiece.

And syndicated columnist Cal Thomas called it "one of the greatest pro-American, pro-family, pro-faith, pro-male, flag-waving, God Bless America films you will ever see."

"Whatever one thinks of Oliver Stone," he wrote, "the man knows how to make movies."

Do we need further proof that "United 93" is a far superior film to "World Trade Center?"
"United" left people somber, moved, upset and provided a visceral impact. "World Trade Center" has people leaving the theater proud to be an American.

As I've stated before, it's not a bad movie, it just is a hack job by Oliver Stone that tries (when you boil it down) to put a smiley on the most horrific day many of us have ever experienced. I'm not at all opposed to telling the positive survival stories of that day as part of a greater whole, but it just felt odd watching an "uplifting" film about 9/11. The first 20-30 minutes of the film are near-excellent (i.e.: the attacks), but then the script really kicks in.

Bottom line: there's a lot of people who are going to love this movie, and understandably so. I'm not a hater-- all I'm saying is, you know something fishy when the conservative groups are pushing it. Last time that happened we all had a dying, crying Jesus shoved in our faces.

OH! and speaking of Mel Gibson, has everyone heard about his drunken anti-semitic remarks? If so, PLEASE click here and link it to everyone you know:

Friday, July 28, 2006

quick thoughts on "The Descent"

Sorry I haven't updated in a few days. This is easily the busiest week of my life and I've been exhausted. There likely won't be any updates this weekend either as I'll be in the midst of the Upright Citizens Brigade Del Close improv marathon from today at 5pm thru Sunday at 10pm.

But in the meantime... I saw the british horror flick "The Descent" on Wednesday. It's about six chicks who go spelunking and encounter cave-dwelling creatures who intend to eat them. Basically, imagine a genuinely scary version of "The Cave."

This is a pretty workmanlike horror movie, doesn't reinvent the wheel or anything of the like, but for a change, it's a horror movie that's pretty fucking scary. I jumped more than a few times (which I don't do), and there's a GREAT scare about halfway through that had me shaking for about a minute aferwards.

As with all movies of this type nowadays, the first half is pretty much all exposition and getting to know the characters you're about to watch die. While it works for the most part, I'll admit a bit too much time went by before said creatures made an appearance. By the way, I know some people like it, but I HATE this film's poster-- I just think it's rather stupid and gimmicky.

That said, this is a really effective little horror movie, and anyone who likes a good scare (and I'm not bullshitting-- this movie is fucking scary) and can stomach a plethora of pretty graphic gore should go and have a good time.

Had another screening of a film last night through work that I'm not allowed to talk about. My apologies... also, sorry to be so brief, things are very busy. I'll do my best to start regular updates again on Sunday night or Monday at the latest. Word to your mother.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Let the "Sunshine" in

It’s been nearly three months since I saw “Little Miss Sunshine” for the first time at a “secret screening” at the Maryland Film Festival and signed a waiver not to discuss it. Given that the film opens tomorrow, I’ll assume the statute of limitations have run out.

Every year, there’s one big acquisition at the Sundance Film Festival. Sometimes they’re relatively cute audience pleasers that don’t connect with critics or big box office (“Happy, Texas”); other times they have the quality and the good reviews, but fail to connect with audiences in the way the acquirers had hoped (“Hustle & Flow”). That film at this year’s festival was “Little Miss Sunshine.”

Riding a heavy wave of hype, “Sunshine” is the real thing. It’s a warm touching, hilarious quality flick that is bound with connect with a wide audience. Ever since I saw it, it’s been the one thing I’ve been able to recommend to virtually everyone I know. To be fair, if there was ever someone who'd embrace a movie that's so celebratory of loserdom, it's me. But lest you think it’s just that I’m an easy lay, check out Rotten Tomatoes—critics are digging this thing as well. describes it as: “motley six-member family treks from Albuquerque to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, California, to fulfill the deepest wish of 7-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin), an ordinary little girl with big dreams. Along the way the family must deal with crushed dreams, heartbreak, and a broken-down VW bus, leading up to the surreal Little Miss Sunshine competition itself. On their travels through this bizarrely funny landscape, the Hoovers learn to trust and support each other along the path of life, no matter what the challenge.”

Those six members are (1) Olive, (2) win-at-all-costs dad Richard (Greg Kinnear), (3) exasperated mom Sheryl (Toni Collette), (4) gay Proust scholar Frank (Steve Carell), Sheryl’s brother, who’s moved in following his failed suicide attempt, (5) Dwayne (Paul Dano), 15-year-old son taking a vow of silence and (6) foul-mouthed, heroin-snorting Grandpa (Alan Arkin).

It’s the rare offbeat crowd-pleaser (an often deadly term) that manages to never feel cheap or forced or have any baity sentimental moments. (Almost) every character has an arc that’s believable and touching—some more than others.

Lest I make this sound like a “Family Stone”-esque heart-warmer, I must emphasize: “Little Miss Sunshine” is fucking hilarious. While it takes the time to develop its characters and build out relationships with them, it manages to pack in more laughs than close to any movie this year. And the laughs aren’t “Tristram Shandy” highbrow or “Meet the Fockers” lowbrow. The jokes strike just the right balance that there’s plenty here for both smarts and stupids alike to appreciate.

I don’t want to spend this whole piece on the performances, so I’ll give a quick rundown:

--At first, I thought to myself ‘we’ve seen Kinnear play this role before,’ but by the film’s end, I was convinced this and “As Good As It Gets” are the best things he’s ever done.

--Collette, as always, is terrific. She imbues so much subtle warmth and frustration into Sheryl, even if one gets the impression that much of her depth was left on the cutting room floor.

--Dano does a fine job here, especially considering he doesn’t speak for much of the movie.

--Arkin is hysterical as Grandpa, and he’s given a slight, really touching scene with Kinnear inside the Volkswagon.

Far from the requisite “cute kid” she was in “Signs,” Breslin gives one of my favorite child actor performances ever here. You can’t help but fall in love with this girl, and she has a couple scenes that just break your heart. She just feels like a real kid, and I don’t care about the shit I might get for this: 9-year-old Breslin deserves an Oscar nomination.

Lastly, I’ve got to make special mention of Carell. I’ve always loved the guy, but who knew he was capable of this? He’s funny as hell here, but he gives Frank the kind of sadness and humanity that I never could’ve imagined based on “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

When I recommend the movie to people, they’re relatively unaroused by the plot—“dysfunctional family road trip, eh?” “Kiddie beauty pageant, eh?” But take my word for it, “Sunshine” transcends the seemingly clichéd plot elements and well-worn classifications. And despite some plot elements (and one major set-piece) reminiscent of it, this couldn’t be farther from “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

With movies like these, it’s always hard to tell to what extent they’re going to catch on, but I hope people turn out in droves for this. I really can’t imagine it not appealing to any demographic. The movie is R-rated, and frankly it should be considering all the profanity and drug use, but barring kids under 13, “Little Miss Sunshine” is perfectly suitable for families (albeit somewhat liberal ones).

When I interviewed “Thank You for Smoking” director Jason Reitman back in February, he told me “Little Miss Sunshine” was “The ‘Sideways’ of this year.” I don’t know if I’d go that far—“Sideways” is a pretty tough act to match—but it certainly has much of what made that film so successful. It’s the rare film that I can promise people they’ll like it.

There’s no way of getting around it—“Little Miss Sunshine” is easily one of the 2 or 3 best movies so far this year, and frankly, I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t make it onto my top 10 list at year’s end. For those who haven’t gotten the picture yet, just fucking go see it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In the Company of Wicker Men

A trailer that’s been around for a few weeks now but has gotten virtually no attention is the one for “The Wicker Man,” an upcoming horror/suspense film from Neil Labute (“The Shape of Things,” “Nurse Betty,” “In the Company of Men”) and starring Nicolas Cage. Most horror trailers tend to be effective, but this looks like it has potential to be terrifying.

It’s a remake of a 1970s film that I’m told is one of the most bizarre, fucked up movies of its kind. I really respect Cage for counterbalancing every “National Treasure” with at least two smaller, offbeat movies like this, “Lord of War” and “The Weather Man.”

Also, Labute’s already a master at psychological horror movies (see “In the Company of Men”) so I can’t wait to see what he does with the real thing. Expect this one to be, at the very least, an unsettling experience. Check out the trailer at and let me know what you think.

My second time trudging through "Pirates"

In the last week, three friends I consider to be smarter than myself told me they had seen “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and really enjoyed it, thought it was a lot of fun, etc. Given this, and that my schedule was empty yesterday, I decided to check out the movie a second time. “Maybe I should’ve been a bit more open-minded,” “maybe seeing it at midnight lessened my enjoyment,”—a plethora of scenarios, so I ventured to the multiplex to give it a second chance.

Don’t worry, Jerry Bruckheimer got none of my money—I went to go see “A Scanner Darkly” again (just as good the second time, and added a bit more clarity), and snuck into “Pirates” after.
Anyway, let’s not make any bones about it: if anything, I was too easy on this flick the first time around. I made a point of saying I didn’t hate it in my first review; well, I certainly did this time around. This movie just piles on everything it can think of—be it cannibals, incomprehensible voodoo ladies, unnecessary minor characters from the first movie (e.g.: Norrington), toenail necklaces, uninteresting fish-mutants or a three-way swordfight on a big wheel.

It’s also a movie that just takes forever—at the one hour mark, the story hadn’t begun yet, and by the credits, not much had happened plotwise other than Jack Sparrow being eaten (and doubtlessly resurrected in the opening of the third movie).

There’s just so fucking much here, and very little of it is interesting or has the semblance of making sense. This is a rambling, incoherent movie that left me exhausted, and I don’t mean excited, I mean worn out and exasperated.

Again, the one thing I genuinely enjoyed was anything involving Davy Jones—a great villain if there ever was one. However, 2nd viewing made me further realize how little there is of him. He doesn’t make his first appearance until the 70-minute mark and is in the film for a grand total of 15 minutes (I timed it).

Regardless of what I say, this will be one of the biggest movies of all time. Whatever, I just wish Americans had better taste.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Movie theater camera cell phone snapshots!

A pretty clever "Snakes on a Plane" standee I hadn't seen before... sorry you can't really read the small type-- damn cell phone cameras.

Is it just me or is this fucking ridiculous? I mean, I guess the 3-D version of "Monster House" is worth the extra money but c'mon-- $9 for a matinee? This isn't fucking IMAX.

Is "Accepted" acceptable?

I don’t know how many of you are aware of this upcoming teen-targeting flick “Accepted,” starring Justin Long and Lewis Black (and opening August 11th). It’s about a fake university (with the cleverly-acronymmed name ‘S.H.I.T.’) that Long and his buddies create to fool their parents into thinking they’re really at school—sort of exactly the same premise as the oft-forgotten “Camp Nowhere.” Long is hysterical in the upcoming “Sasquatch Dumpling Gang,” but here, he looks like he’s doing his typical boring “I’m a cool nerd/slacker/whatever” routine.

Anyway, for those of you who have seen the trailer, you probably know that the movie looks bad. Really bad. However, some things have the skill tipping on the positive side of my radar. I had the opportunity to see “Accepted” back in early-March but opted out of it for another screening (if I recall, I think it was “American Dreamz”). But this in conjunction with my recently received screening invites for the flick have me wondering—for a movie that looks bad, Universal sure isn’t hiding the movie. They’re screening it like crazy and trying to get people to see it.

Granted, this doesn’t always mean much—“Failure to Launch” had screenings up the wazoo—but the more and more TV spots I see for this thing, the more I think it could be a pleasant surprise. The plethora of screenings paired with the involvement of Lewis Black and the hilarious Jonah Hill (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Grandma’s Boy”) have me wondering.

Then again, the screenwriters’ only other credits are “Herbie Fully Loaded,” “The Country Bears,” “New York Minute” and the upcoming “Untitled Brett Ratner Project.” Hm.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

jesus fucking christ... when will "Pirates" stop....

A pretty eventful weekend (for better or worse) for box office this weekend, with four new movies debuting, but none able to dethrone “Pirates 2” in its third week. With a third week gross of $35,049,000, and a totally of $321,733,000, it's looking like this thing is going to hit $400 million... sigh. Meanwhile, “Superman Returns” is doing slightly better than people had been saying lately ($7,460,000), but still it’s unsure if it’s going to hit $200 million—it’s currently at $178,427,000.

How’d the four new flicks do? Pretty-good-to-awful. The fun-as-hell “Monster House” opened in the number two slot with $23 million which isn’t bad, no matter what opposing studios will tell you. Especially considering this is one that’s going to benefit from positive word-of-mouth, $23 million is pretty solid.

#3 was Shymalanadingdong’s “Lady in the Water” with a disappointing $18,210,000, likely on its way to about $50 million at the most. In all likelihood three things contributed to people’s waning interest: (a) the confused marketing materials—what is this movie?, (b) the bad press surrounding Night and negative reviews, and probably the most deadly, (c) how fucking much people hated “The Village.” It sucks though—I’d really been rooting for Giamatti to finally be in a blockbuster.

Kevin Smith’s climactic opus “Clerks II,” a movie which has relatively small appeal (the “II” in the title probably didn’t help matter), opened with $9,625,000, another number which is better than some might tell you. Considering (a) the flick’s budget was only $5 million, (b) the first “Clerks” topped out at $3 million, and (c) the movie will make a shitload on DVD, an opening weekend close to $10 million won’t have Smith sweating it.

Ivan Reitman’s first movie in 5 years, “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” starring Uma Thurman and Luke Wilson, all-out flopped with $8.7 million. I don’t know if people were just turned off by the horrible trailers or just that “Clerks II” and “Lady in the Water” were targeting the same audience, but for whatever reason, this is just awful. In every crowded weekend, there’s always at least one casualty.

In the “surprise summer sleepers” category, “An Inconvenient Truth” is quickly approaching the $20 million mark, and fuckin’ good for Al Gore. Also, “The Devil Wears Prada,” which David Poland predicted would top out at $35 million, should hit the $100 million mark by the end of the week. Who woulda thunk it? Certainly not me.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Woody Allen's "Scoop".... my lips are (mostly) sealed

Tonight I saw Woody Allen’s latest comedy “Scoop” starring the Woodman himself, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane (amazing on “Deadwood”) and the frustratingly well-liked Scarlett Johansson.

I’m not going to give a full review on this movie. As some of you know, I’m interning at Focus Features for the summer and considering that “Scoop” is the latest Focus release and a lot of my work has been involving the film, it would be a conflict of interest of sorts to really review it.

All I’ll say is it’s cute, entertaining, not Allen’s best or worst, and Scarlett didn’t annoy me as much as the trailer led me to believe she would (though she’s still easily the film’s weakest link). Jackman is suave as ever, Woody’s the same old reliable, funny jew and McShane has fun with extremely limited screentime. There, that’s all you’ll get out of me.

P.S.: I’ll try to finally, FINALLY add my “Little Miss Sunshine” review this weekend.

Even MORE kickass trailers?!?!

In addition to the “TMNT” one, a handful of other ridonkulously awesome trailers premiered today that you MUST watch. I didn’t realize so many awesome movies came out this fall. Both these movies, Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” and Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” should be great, but “Fountain” in particular looks astounding.

“The Fountain:”

“Children of Men:”

Friday, July 21, 2006

"Clerks II" second time around

This afternoon, myself and a co-worker attended the 2:40pm showing of “Clerks II” at Loews Lincoln Square. He hadn’t seen it yet and I was eager to check out the flick for a second time. I’ve gotta say, the movie really holds up on repeat viewing. If possible, I liked it even more this time and I really think it’s one that’s going to stand the test of time.

I laughed in all the same places, got choked up in the same spot and just thought it was satisfying on every level that one could ask for. I know the reviews have been mostly positive but there’ve been some haters. I could totally see this movie not being everyone’s cup of tea, but I can’t imagine someone really hating this movie unless they’ve hated all of Kevin Smith’s movies preceding it.

There’s 4 wide releases this weekend—“Clerks II,” “Lady in the Water,” “Monster House” and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend”—and much to my surprise I’ve enjoyed all four of them (what can I say, I’m easy). However, if I could stress to you one movie to see this weekend, it’d be “Clerks II,” regardless of if you’ve seen the first one. The supremely fun “Monster House” would rate a close second, but second nonetheless.

I’m not saying all will love this movie, but it’s one of the safer bets around for anyone with an ounce of hipness or sense of humor—I plan on checking it out again tomorrow night with a packed crowd, the way it’s mean to be seen.

Side note: the 2:40 show contained about 60 people (yes, I counted) and even with that sparse a crowd, it still garnered pretty unanimous applause at the end. People are really going to dig this movie.

Heroes in a half shell in trailer form!

I don't really have much interesting to say about this, but the new trailer for the upcoming CGI-animated "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" trailer is out, and well... frankly.. it's fucking awesome. I've always loved the turtles and my excitement for this movie is just through the roof.

I'm not quite sure if "TMNT" is the official title though... I hope not.

Check it out at

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What did I make of Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center?"

So, I saw Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" tonight. To cut to the chase, I wasn't crazy about it. I know the two films weren't going for the same thing, but I felt Paul Greengrass's "United 93" exceeded this in every way. Most notably, while this film is quite sentimental and "United" was free of sentiment, I found the latter much more emotionally affecting. Where "United" is easily the best movie I've seen so far this year, "WTC" earns about a 2.5 out of 4. Sadly though, this will likely quadruple "United 93's" grosses as it's more of a relative "crowd-pleaser."

This isn't a bad film in any respect. There's plenty of respectable things about it. It appears to (probably) be made with good intentions and there's more than a few moments that completely work on an emotional level. Hell, it's impossible not to be moved by this story. But ultimately, that's part of the problem-- the movie relies on the true story (and not a very cinematic one either) to generate emotion and feeling, hoping people won't notice how weak and cliched the script is.

I saw this movie in a theater filled with Port Authority workers and firefighters, so needless to say, an interesting experience. I'm not going to delve anymore because (a) I'm exhausted, and (b) frankly, this movie doesn't open for three weeks, so I don't feel too obligated to run through it all NOW. I'll probably expand tomorrow or in the next couple days. For now, I'll just give you some likes/dislikes.

The acting by the leads, especially Nicolas Cage
The Camerawork
The Score
Many of the emotional beats
The opening 20-30 minutes

The 'Jesus with a bottle of water' sequence
The Script
Maria Bello's contact lenses
The relatively unspirited direction
The closing sequence/monologue

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Get to know "Edmond"

So I arrived at the Loews 84th street theater yesterday to find out my “Miami Vice” screening had been cancelled. I was disappointed I didn’t get to see it again, but hey, no sweat off my nuts, I can wait till it opens.

Instead, on a rebound, I swung by Lincoln Plaza Cinemas to see Stuart Gordon’s “Edmond.” If you’re up for adventurous cinema, make it a point to check this out—it’s one of the most fascinating, challenging movies I’ve seen in quite some time.

“Edmond” is based on one of David Mamet’s least popular plays and stars William H. Macy (in possibly the best performance of his career I must say) as the title character.

Here’s the synopsis:
From acclaimed playwright David Mamet, "You are not where you belong," says the fortuneteller, and Edmond (William H. Macy) begins his descent into a darkly funny yet horrifying modern urban hell in this compelling film, written by David Mamet and directed by Stuart Gordon.

The encounter with the fortuneteller has caused bland businessman Edmond to confront the emptiness of his life and marriage. His wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) complains that the maid broke a lamp, and this seems to be the last straw, prompting him to flee the safe boredom of his home for the vortex of the dark streets of the city.

The strangely liberating act of leaving his wife tilts Edmond into a free-fall that he mistakes for freedom, although he certainly now feels alive. Stumbling into a local bar, Edmond meets a man (Joe Mantegna) who convinces him that sex is what he needs to solve his problems and points him in the right direction.

To Edmond's surprise, hookers are expensive, the pimp (Lionel Mark Smith) he encounters is violent, and the guy running a three-card monte game on the street is a cheat. Still, he wanders the streets, encountering big-city night crawlers, until finally he is robbed and beaten and left bewildered. "We live in a fog, we live in a dream," he declares. Screeching racial hatred, Edmond finds a kind of peace in living in that moment.

Feeling freed, he goes home with a waitress, Glenna (Julia Stiles), but their riotous sex play leads to some very deep conversation. The two engage in a discussion about the meaning of race, death, life, and honesty. When the honesty topic is explored, Glenna refuses to engage, causing Edmond intense turmoil. He asks her, begs her, to rely on honesty, but instead pandemonium ensues.

As Edmond spirals on towards personal disintegration, his racism and homophobia emerges – and he freely expresses it. "Every fear hides a wish," he discovers.

There, that saves me the embarrassment of my own exposition. Though it’s based on a play, “Edmond” never feels too stagey and I never had any idea where it was going. It takes some dark, upsetting turns and allows Macy to turn standard expectations of him on their head. Odds are you won’t leave “Edmond” in a great mood, but you’ll leave with a shitload to talk about afterwards.

"Lady" update

So, yeah.... like I predicted, M. Narcissist Shymalan's "Lady in the Water" is getting destroyed full throttle. It actually may end up being the worst-reviewed major release of the year (it's currently at 09% on Rotten Tomatoes). The only reviews I've read that seem to align with how I felt about the film are the ones posted on Who knows if this will effect the box office or if "Lady" is relatively review-proof-- I'm betting on an opening in the mid-20's.

Me? I still can't defend some of it's bigger problems, but I stand by my opinion. For what it is-- a true "bedtime story" or "fairy tale" if you wish, it's creative, entertaining and always interesting. A big step up from "The Village" if you ask me.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Lay "Lady" lay

I often worry that I may like too many movies. That perhaps I should actively attempt being more critical and nitpicky. But I can’t help it. I don’t try to cut movies slack, I just genuinely like a lot of what I see. Movies this summer that I’ve been criticized for recommending include “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “The Break-Up,” “Nacho Libre,” “Click” and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend.” I completely understand why each of these movies may not be the cup of tea of some/many, but I stand by my reviews (and take comfort in the fact that I’ve disliked many of this summer’s big movies such as “Poseidon,” “The Da Vinci Code,” “Cars” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”).

But when it comes to M. Night Shymalan’s latest, “Lady in the Water,” this becomes especially troubling. “Lady” has received advance thrashing unlike anything else this year. Virtually all reviews I’ve read thus far has destroyed the movie, calling it a disaster of epic proportions and saying Shymalan’s ego got the better of him (Variety chose “ponderous” and “self-indulgent”). So naturally, upon entering the theater, I feared the worst.

I saw the movie tonight at Muvico Egyptian 24 in Maryland, and had to drive home to New York immediately after the screening. I spent the entire four hours of the drive second-guessing the fact that I liked “Lady.”

What could I do? The movie worked for me. I tried to think of anything I could to not embarrass myself and proclaim like and admiration for a movie that will undoubtedly continue to be bashed. But I could only think of one aspect I truly disliked (more on that later) and it wasn’t enough to tip my analysis into the ‘overtly negative’ realm.

“Lady” follows sad, lonely building superintendent Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) after he rescues a mysterious young woman, Story (Bryce Dallas Howard)—actually a “narf” or sea nymph—who has arrived with a purpose, but longs to return to her “blue world.” Cleveland, along with help from his fellow tenants, is forced to work to help Story in any way he can, and protect her from “scrunts,” evil creatures who are trying to prevent her from returning home.

Early trailers, notably the one attached to “Harry Potter,” and posters pegged the film as “A Bedtime Story.” However, in the last few months, the studio—observing little to no traction—has shifted their marketing campaign to sell it as a typical Shymalan scary movie. Most of these materials emphasize the “scrunts,” the dog/wolflike creatures with fur like matted grass.

If the studio wanted to go with truth in advertising (though when do they?), they would’ve stuck with the “Bedtime Story” angle. That’s really what this thing is. While the “scrunts” are frightening in their minimal screentime, “Lady” really plays like a strange, creative fairy tale for the most part. This is an extremely light PG-13, and most definitely a “fantasy,” not a “thriller” or “horror.”

This isn’t a knock: kids are more likely to be frightened by “Monster House” than “Lady in the Water.”

I think a main reason early reaction has been poor is due to the movie’s incessant strangeness/ridiculousness and out-there story elements; this is easily the filmmaker’s weirdest movie. What makes “Lady in the Water” different from his other films is that this doesn’t play with fictional creatures whose realities we’re familiar with, such as ghosts, aliens and superheroes. Here, he invents his own and people might not be able to accept that. I could, and I dug what he was doing for the most part.

With “Lady,” Shymalan has created his own mythology and creature names—like “narf” and “scrunts”—and some audiences may find this to be a bit too weird for them. You need to make a decision early on if you’re going to go with the movie’s self-invented mythology (including some malarkey about a giant bird) and buy into it or not. Those who don’t will be put off from the get go and I would imagine many understandably aren’t so willing. I was willing to give Nighty Night the benefit of the doubt and just went with it.

This isn’t a movie to be taken too seriously—there’s a suspension of disbelief necessary, such as a scene midway through where Cleveland goes for a swim and is underwater for an unfathomably long amount of time. Perhaps it’ll be mostly young’n who completely buy into the story and let themselves enjoy it, but I wish more filmmakers had the strength of their own convictions and make movies a little “off” from the mainstream.

I’m really not sure how audiences are going to respond to this. I doubt reaction will be very positive—it’s probably far too strange and bereft of scares—but I don’t think “Lady” will be widely loathed like “The Village” was.

Well, not by audiences at least. A major critic, from one of the top publications in the mid-Atlantic, who sat next to me commented after the movie, “Maybe ‘Little Man’ wasn’t so bad,” so I’m guessing the critical drubbing will continue. It’s almost as if people/critics have been waiting for the supremely arrogant Shymalan to slip up, and this is their chance. To be fair, it is a fairly easy target, as it’s by far the auteur’s most self-indulgent film.

Speaking of critics, there is the much-discussed character of Mr. Farber, a recent resident of The Cove. Farber is a film critic, and Shymalan uses him as a device to get “revenge” at the critics who gave him (deservedly) negative notices for “The Village,” causing him an apparently bruised ego. Shymalan’s need for this character, a know-it-all, arrogant asshole, proves the depths of his immaturity, ego and bitterness. That said, the character is pretty funny, but it’s unsure if most critics will appreciate the joke or not.

It’s almost redundant to praise a Giamatti performance, but as Cleveland, he really is terrific. He gives an understated, nuanced and actually very moving performance here, and takes what was on the page and turns it into something special. He even pulls off Cleveland’s stutter believably, not the easiest thing to do. Were this not in a movie about narfs and scrunts, it would merit Oscar consideration.

Howard does a fine job as the titular character, but she’s actually not in the film terribly much. This is Cleveland’s story, and there are long stretches when he leaves her and the movie stays with him. Story spends much of the movie nakedly crouched in a shower, is mostly quiet, soft-spoken and prone to vacant staring. Nonetheless, Howard does what’s required of her, if not making as strong an impression here as she did in “The Village.”

“Lady in the Water” follows “The Break-Up” rule of casting its supporting characters with almost incomprehensibly strong actors. The various residents of the Cove are played by the incomparable Jeffrey Wright, Tony winner Bill Irwin, Mary Beth Hurt, Jared Harris and Freddy Rodriguez (“Six Feet Under’s” Federico) as one of the strangest characters you’re likely to see in a film. None of them are given enough screentime, but each make strong impressions and do more with them than many actors could have.

A major early criticism has been that all the Cove residents believe Cleveland’s far-fetched tale immediately without questioning it, but I found it charming and thought it in the spirit of the rest of the movie. It’s all the tenants ability to work together and find their own purpose in Story’s to the blue world that makes parts of the movie more endearing than they probably should be.

However, there is one Cove resident who completely rubbed me the wrong way—the aforementioned thing I hated: the resident played by Shymalan himself. If you recall, Shymalan cast himself in each of his earlier movies in small roles, but here he’s given much more screentime. The problem lies not only in that Shymalan is slightly less skilled at acting than Quentin Tarantino; it’s that he’s cast himself as a writer who figures prominently in the story and is ultimately destined to change the world. This story element seems to justify rumors of Shymalan’s wildly inflated ego and his consistent buying into his own hype. Thankfully the film’s creative, interesting elements and other performances helped me forgive this misstep.

As you can probably tell, “Lady in the Water” is far from a perfect movie. It occasionally suffers from long-windedness and over-indulgence. However, for the most part, I appreciated what Shymalan was doing here. I found the originality of the film refreshing and was happy to see the filmmaker step away (for the most part) from his former restrictions of “scary movies” and twist endings. He just needs to be careful about how highly he thinks of himself before he truly jumps the shark.

The Passion of the Clerks

There’s a few things you should know about me before you take my thoughts on “Clerks II” to heart. First off, I love Kevin Smith—as a guy, and as a filmmaker (though I’m mezzo-mezzo on “Mallrats” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”). Secondly, I saw “Clerks II” a little over six weeks ago as a part of Vulgarthon, Smith’s mini-film festival he holds every year for his fans in New Jersey. So, as such, I saw it among about 150 or so Smith fanboys, many of whom had feasibly waited their whole lives for this movie.

Now that that’s out of the way, I feel confident in telling you that “Clerks II” is easily in Smith’s top 3 or 4 films (though many at Vulgarthon declared it THE best Smith film). I don’t think it quite reaches the heights of “Chasing Amy” or “Dogma,” but it certainly some of the heft of those films paired with the hilarity of the first “Clerks.”

The new film finds our heroes, Dante and Randall, from the first movie relieved of their positions at the Quick Stop (thanks to a Randall-caused fire), and working at fast-food joint Mooby’s (introduced in “Dogma”). Like “Clerks,” this installment mostly consists of random musings—such as a debate on “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings”—and set-pieces throughout their day. Making this an especially important workday is it’s Dante’s last day before moving to Florida with his obsessive fiancé.

Added to the mix are Rosario Dawson as Dante’s boss and potential love interest, and Trevor Fehrman as the hilariously naïve Elias, whose strange quirks come paired with a deep love for “Lord of the Rings,” Jesus and “Transformers.” Dawson is charming (and gorgeous) as ever, and like in “Rent,” she seamlessly ingratiates herself among an already established group. Ferman MAY give the funniest performance in the movie, is a participant in most of the movie’s most memorable moments (“pillowpants”), and I personally, would love to see a spin-off film.

Cameos by Jason Lee and Wanda Sykes are among the high notes, and ones by Smith alums Affleck and Ethan Suplee seem obligatory though no one will be complaining.

“Clerks II” has its fair share of hilarious scenes, like the previously referenced debate, an impromptu dance number set to “A-B-C” and Dante’s unexpected bachelor party. But what makes it stand apart is the level of heart contained therein. This movie clearly deals with issues very near and dear to Smith, and some may be surprised at the level of emotion prevalent late in the film. Nothing lame or unearned like a sentimental death scene or a tearful goodbye, just honest, sincere stuff that that gives “Clerks II” a bit more resonance than you might expect from a movie with prolonged discussions about “ass-to-mouth.”

Though most newbies will probably be scared off by the “II” in the title, I think this totally works as a movie on its own, and I could conceivably imagine those who’ve never seen a Smith movie finding it hilarious.

Smith plays it smart here, not giving Jay and Silent too much screentime due to their popularity—they’re in it just as much as the first “Clerks.” As it should be, the stars here are Dante and Randall.

Like all his films, it’s Smith’s writing that makes “Clerks II” as entertaining as it is, and nary a minute goes by without at least one really funny line of dialogue. It’s a worthy ’10 years later’ revisitation that, despite questions about whether it was necessary, I’m glad Smith decided to take and should satisfy all but the most stubborn of “Clerks” fans. And those new to the View Askewniverse will find what is, on its own, one of the funniest (and best) movies of the summer.

Monday, July 17, 2006

"Little" the lesser of two evils...

Yes, fellow moviegoers, I’ve climbed Everest. I’ve braved the treacherous peak. I’ve seen the Wayans Brothers’ “Little Man.”

I’m sure most of you are aware by now, in this atrocity to cinema, Marlon Wayans (the ugliest and most annoying Wayans brother) plays a midget criminal—his face is digitally grafted onto a little person—who must pretend to be a baby to retrieve a diamond he stole. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but I think that’ll suffice.

I think you all know all you need to know if this is a movie you’re going to see or not. From the trailer, “Little Man” looked monstrous, awful, offensive and evoked a strong sense of “I can’t believe this a real movie.” This is dead on for the most part, but not nearly as torturous as I imagined.

Okay, yes, “Little Man” sucks ass—much like the Wayans’ last box office hit, “White Chicks.” But as much as it sucks, it’s never boring. And I laughed two or three times. Say what you want about the Wayans (and I say much), but at least their movies go for something and try to be different and unique—even if offensive and awful as well. Which is a lot more than you can say about this weekend’s comedy dud, “You, Me & Dupree.”

To be clear, I wouldn’t recommend either movie. They’re both prime examples of what I hate about Hollywood. However, “Little Man” offers a strange sort of watchability and fascination, if only because of its outlandishness and absurdity of its premise. Like I said, I was never bored watching it, and my (obviously all-black) audience ate it up. “Dupree” on the other hand is just a bland, bleh exercise in tedium and unoriginality.

Yes, “Little Man” gives us jokes about a dog pissing on a midget’s face, and no less than a dozen hit-in-the-nuts jokes, but at least it’s trying to be something, and putting itself out there, for better or worse. “Dupree” just lies there.

Once again, neither movie is worth seeing. I would rate “You, Me & Dupree” one star out of 4, while “Little Man” has a slight edge with a 1.5. But yeah, you’re better off skipping both and waiting till next weekend for “Monster House,” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” and “Clerks II.”

On my horizon: tonight, I have to watch my screener of “The Quiet” so I can be prepared for my phoner with Elisha Cuthbert tomorrow afternoon. Tomorrow evening I have a screening of M. Night Shymalan’s supposed car-wreck “Lady in the Water” and then driving back to NY. Tuesday, I’m checking out “Miami Vice” again, and Wednesday, I’m hopefully attending a way-early screening of Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center.” Hopefully my next post will be my “Clerks II” review, but if I don’t have time tomorrow, I’ll try post that and my “Lady” reaction by Tuesday.

Friday, July 14, 2006

CHUD gets an early look at "The Fountain?!?!"

Hmmm.... somehow, Devin Faraci over at the delightful got a waaaaaaay early look at Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain." For those who don't know, "The Fountain" is Aronofsky's apparently trippy, complex time-traveling follow-up to "Requiem for a Dream," starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. As far as I know, the movie doesn't come out till October or so, and is easily one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Devin loved it, and has me even further anticipating it. Honestly, I have no idea how he landed this one.

Here's a taste of what he had to say:
"I know that I’m using lots of superlatives here. I would like to tone the rhetoric down, but it’s not rhetoric. It’s reality. I don’t want to create unreasonable expectations, but for me the question about The Fountain isn’t “Is this one of the best films made in decades?” but “What are the handful of films in my lifetime as beautiful and profound as this one?” "


Check out the full review:

Welcome to "Miami," where the heat is on...

Michael Mann is regarded by anyone who knows anything about film—if not the mainstream public—as one of the all-time greats. He’s directed some of the best (“The Insider,” “Manhunter”), most iconic (“Heat,” “Collateral”) films of our time, and even his rare supposed “failure” (“Ali”) is better and more interesting than most lesser directors’ efforts.

His latest, “Miami Vice” (opening July 28th), the film version of the classic 70s TV show, seemed a strange choice at best. The brilliant, innovative Mann doing what was, by all accounts, a big dumb summer movie starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as the titular vice detectives. Why was Mann squandering his talents on what promised to be a mess of a movie? Even worse than preconceptions were the highly publicized troubled history of the movie. Numerous reshoots, numerous re-edits and all sorts of production and post-production havoc plagued the movie, and those who saw early cuts (some of which were reviewed on said there were moments of brilliance, but for the most part, it was an inconsistent mess.

I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong to doubt Mann. “Miami Vice” is one of the best surprises of the summer, and it’s just about the furthest thing from a dumb action movie. Not only would I not dare to classify it as a simple “action movie,” it’s a complex, immensely smart, thoroughly demanding moviegoing experience that’s going to catch a lot of people off-guard (for better or worse). The first two-thirds or so is all set-up and half-comprehensibles and “hmms?” and vaguely fascinating things that draw you in, and the last third is the payoffs and the majority of the ‘exciting’ scenes from the trailer. It’s an unexpected structure, but it totally works.

I didn’t all-out LOVE this movie. There’s a few minor things that didn’t work for me, and it doesn’t hit the emotional buttons of many of Mann’s other masterpieces, but my expectations were just so far exceeded, I can’t help but gush at the moment.

I’ve never seen the television show upon which the movie is based, but from what I’ve been told, it perfectly captures the mood/tone, but apart from that, little else is similar. I won’t delve into the plot for a couple of reasons. First off, the story goes in numerous unexpected directions that just delving into it would be considered somewhat of a spoiler. The other reason is, frankly, I had a lot of trouble following this thing. I wouldn’t call “Miami Vice” convoluted, it just takes a little while for the audience to bring themselves up to the movie’s speed. I don’t want this to sound like a criticism, because this is one of the things I really liked about it.

This isn’t an origin-of story, or some cookie-cutter conventional three act structure where we’re given memorable introductions to the characters and the filmmakers are just concerned about setting things up. We’re just dropped into this world and left to fend for ourselves. We soon realize the vice team (headed by Farrell and Foxx) is attempting some sort of drug bust. Farrell receives a frenzied phone call from John Hawkes (of “Identity,” “Deadwood” and “Me and You and Everyone We Know” fame) and that sets the story going.

We spend the film’s first 30-60 minutes (depending on your quickness) slowly figuring out exactly what’s going on, rather than being treated to long scenes of exposition. While some may find this confusing, and as a result hate what they’re seeing, it instead has the amazing result of making us forget we’re watching a movie, instead we’re in it (please excuse the cliché), trying to adapt to our surroundings.

In more respects than just the story, this is a really demanding movie, and it requires more of its audience members than many might be willing to give. Still, I don’t think this will be a big enough roadblock for the movie not to do very well (if not coming close to its rumored $150 million budget).

What sets “Vice” apart from the standard cop movie is its terrific script (by Mann). This isn’t just a perpetual series of Mexican standoffs and explosions. There’s a fascinating, complicated storyline and the dialogue is pretty wonderful. Every character has motivations and does what they must, not what the movie requires they do. Not only has Mann written a way-above-average script, his typical fantastic direction dominates every frame.

Even without thorough character development, they’re very well defined and Mann perfectly establishes their relationships (especially between Foxx and Naomie Harris, and Farrell and Gong Li). We actually care; the stakes are high; our attachments become liabilities.

Which reminds me: the film looks beautiful. Most people going to see “Miami Vice” might not care much about the visuals, but the cinematography is stunning. Like “Collateral,” Mann has shot this in all digital and it lends a crispness to it unlike anything I’ve ever seen. At night, the picture often appears a little grainy/gritty—which totally works for enhancing the movie’s feel—but during the daytime sequences, the colors and look of the movie are nothing short of astounding. Many in the industry are resistant to the idea, but this easily deserves a best cinematography Oscar nomination. In addition to the writing, the camerawork lends the movie an immediacy that results in a “you are there” feeling.

I’m pretty outspoken about not being a fan of Foxx or Farrell. Foxx is capable of being a good actor, but all too often is lazy and comes off as EXTREMELY arrogant at public events. Farrell’s only screen performance that’s impressed me was in his homemade video with Nicole Narain. However, they’re both very, very good here. They hit exactly the right notes, just the right amount of intensity, and neither of them ever “movie stars” it up. These guys feel real—there’s not really any action hero moments or potential Oscar clips. Believe it or not, I came away from this movie with a deeper respect for both of them as actors. I also particularly loved Farrell’s greasy, unshaven dirty look in this movie. It’s never entirely explained, but it just feels right.

Farrell and Foxx are also both to be commended for participating in notably frank sex scenes with their female costars. Not only do these scenes also feel justified, they actually contain at least a few interesting and/or touching moments, not inciting the usual uncomfortable laughter that most onscreen sex scenes usually do.

Gong Li also, it must be noted, gives her best performance yet in a western movie. Gone is the stilted broken English and overacting from last year’s miserable “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Li is really going to impress a lot of people here, and probably win more than a few new fans among the teenage boy sect.

I’ve already stated this isn’t an action movie. It’s more of an intense, gripping drama. However, when the action happens, it matters. It’s almost always in short bursts, it’s brutal, intense and makes an impact on you—not just “woo, guns!” There’s at least three violent moments in “Miami Vice” where I muttered to myself “holy fuck.”

I made the mistake of seeing “Miami Vice” after a full work day and having been up since 6am. I did okay, but this is a movie one should really be at their most alert for. It’s not a casual half-paying-attention Friday night. Like I said, I did fine but I was a bit slow on the uptake. I see the movie a second time on Tuesday, so I’d imagine I’ll be a little quicker this time around.

To quote the man Jeffrey Wells: “Drink a strong cappucino and be well rested before you see this thing -- you'll need to pay close attention. All good movies are calibrated to stay a wee bit in front of what you think you know is going on -- if this isn't done boredom sets in. But my feeling during the first half (and I'm describing this with respect) was along the lines of "whoa, wait a minute...what'd he say? Is this Haiti or...? Rewind those last two lines...oh, I get it...well, most of it."

Otherwise, I can’t think of what else I can say about “Miami Vice” other than it completely took me by surprise. Despite Mann’s involvement, I had little to no interest in it beforehand, but I was completely drawn in. It’s very unclear for me how this movie will do in any respect, all I know is, it’s one of the movies most worth checking out this summer, and I can’t wait to see it again.