Monday, August 31, 2009

Moving Weekend

By Chase Kahn

I apologize for the blog not being updated in the last few days, but this was moving weekend. Which is another way to say that I don't have internet access and even if I did, I wouldn't have the energy or the time to watch/write/review anything.

So I'll just comment on a few post-weekend grab-bag stories.

First off, The Final Destination, a third sequel to the original Final Destination a film saga about the inescapable destiny of death amongst precognitive high school teenagers who wear letter-jackets and Converse shoes, made a nice $28.3 million haul from Friday-Sunday. These films have always been about two things: (a) a really big, gruesome and gratuitous CGI disaster scenario at the beginning followed by (b) a myriad of 18-year olds getting bitten by the reaper in the most unique, dim-witted ways. This adds further fuel to the 3D fire, unfortunately, as The Final Destination played in digital 3D theaters across the country.

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds made $20 million in its second week, a mild drop-off from its $37 million #1 spot last week. Rob Zombie's Halloween 2, a sequel to a shitty remake, made $17 million and came in 3rd. Anybody who thinks that Rob Zombie is somehow the flag-carrier to new-wave horror needs to get their head examined. The man has made four films that have all proven that he's a rabid, fervent horror fanboy who hides behind his facade of eye-shadow, black jeans, and bushels of unkempt facial hair and doesn't know shit about making movies.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Having Tea with an English Lady"

By Chase Kahn

Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938) is one of the man's most underrated films and almost certainly one of the best from his early British days before Panavision and Cary Grant. This period of Hitchock shooting and producing films outside of Hollywood lasted from the advent of sound until Jamaica Inn (1939). The following year, Hitchcock signed with David O. Selznick to direct Rebecca (1940).

The Lady Vanishes is like a The Thin Man (1934) crossed with Agatha Christie. It's mystery plotted conspiracy film in which an engaged playgirl named Iris (the great Margaret Lockwood) is traveling back to England by train where she witnesses the disappearance (or does she?) of a certain old woman. Of course, no one believes her except Gilbert, played by Michael Redgrave, who seems to be more interested in Iris than the vanishing lady.

It's playful, fun, suspenseful -- all while emitting the kind of sure-handedness and patented flair that we would come to know from the director. When a suspense shot or a dramatic moment occurs, Hitchcock dispenses music with a train whistle -- eerily reminiscent of a high-pitched shriek. The interior happenings are cut up with just the right amount of low-angle exterior train shots and the plot is never unconvicingly silly, despite the obvious undercurrent of schtick.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Where's Lo Pan?"

By Chase Kahn

I don't know how I missed it, but John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China was released on Blu-ray two weeks ago and apparently it's a good transfer. Of course, the Kurt Russell Chinese-mythos cult action film is unquestionably a nutty, shlocky B-movie, but it's so damn entertaining and creatively silly that I can't believe there are people who can't enjoy it.

I love the steam-from-the-sewers, musty, grainy atmosphere and the inventive and just plain crazy special effects, makeup, costume and set design that give it its distinctive look. Which is why I was skeptical about a Blu-ray transfer, but apparently, as far as low-rent 80's cult classics go, it looks pretty good -- certainly better than any DVD you'll find.

That first back-alley Chinese gang war that Kurt Russell's Jack Burton accidentally drives into feels like a scene from a Double Dragon game. Plus Lo Pan and his three droogs with their sedge hats and supernatural powers are still legitmately scary dudes. It also features Kim Cattrall before she she appeared as Samantha on Sex and the City and turned into someone, at least in my eyes, more representative of a tore-up whore. Big Trouble in Little China is probably my favorite John Carpenter film outside of The Thing (1982) and Halloween (1978), I never have been a fan of Escape From New York (1981).

Malick on Blu

By Chase Kahn

Terence Malick's The New World (2005), a fascinating, lyrical and poetic historical drama with an appropriate and deserved following is being released on Blu-ray on 09.08.09. Much maligned by many critics upon its release (I still don't know why), the film ran during its original theatrical run about 135 minutes. This Blu-ray, the same as the DVD released about a year ago, is the Extended Cut -- running about 171 minutes.

DVD Beaver just posted a review of the disc today, and it's all raves.

I've never really been emotionally attached to the film the way others are. The biggest problem I have is that I can never get involved or entrenched in this version of the classical romance between John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher), and Malick's obligitory voiceovers don't help matters.

Having said that, The New World is without question one of the most beautifully rendered and artistically composed films of the decade. Essentially a montage of sights and sounds with almost Bresson-ian like performances from the leads (Christian Bale plays John Rolfe in the latter half), it's an amazing experience, although I've never seen the extended 171-minute version.

Monday, August 24, 2009

'Bioshock' Adaptation Up Again

By Chase Kahn

With today's announcement regarding Universal's Bioshock adaptation (based on the hit videogame from 2007) that Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) will helm the picture, apparently the project is off and running again -- stagnant ever since the announcement that Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) would direct over a year ago.

I firmly believe that if any videogame adaptation will stick on the screen, it's "Bioshock". The game's story revolves around a plane crash survivor over the sea who finds solace in an underwater dystopian metropolis (called Rapture) built by business magnate Andrew Ryan in 1946 to escape persecution and political authority. The game takes place in 1960, in which Rapture has now become an extremely volatile and hostile society in which powerful men have turned it into an even stricter and more oppressive landscape than that of which Ryan originally escaped.

I have hopes for a good adaptation because "Bioshock", unlike most failed videogame-to-film projects of the past, isn't an action game. It's reliance on atmosphere, mood, story and role-playing mechanics should lend well to a director willing to see this opportunity as more than a money-grab.

The film, being produced and distributed by Universal Studios, is being slated as a 2010 release, but surely we're talking more 2011 as the high-profile pic hasn't even begun principle production and now sees a completely new director (and subsequent crew) take over the reigns. A videogame sequel, Bioshock 2, is due out in the first quarter of 2010 -- I'm sure Universal will be following sales closely.

'Inception' Teaser -- Upcoming Movies

By Chase Kahn

Christopher Nolan's Inception teaser, which played in front of Inglourious Basterds this weekend, is now online. As I said in my post on 08.21.09, it's a kick-ass, double-take kind of tease that promises to be a sci-fi mindfuck along the line of The Matrix with the composed but complex narrative strands traditionally associated with Nolan and his previous films set outside of Gotham (Memento, The Prestige).

Additionally, about a week or so ago, the trailer for Rueben Fleischer's Zombieland, a full-blown zombie apocalypse comedy starring Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland) debuted. If Zombieland was going straight-to-DVD and Blu-ray, I'd be the first one to check it out and revel in its cheekiness, but since it's releasing theatrically, I may or may not check it out. Waiting on reviews. It will release in the Shutter Island vacancy on 10.02.09 under the Colombia Pictures banner.

Meanwhile, Dominic Sena's Whiteout a non-descript parka-thriller set in Antarctica with the most generic title imaginable apparently has a trailer. Yet, for a film set to release in a little over two weeks (09.11.09), information and promotion has been shockingly sparse, no doubt inevitably resulting in an underwhelming critical and box-office reception. Apparently, the film has been on the shelf for over two years and Warner Bros. is just now being dumped off. My faith in the isolated frozen-tundra thriller has been significantly hampered by the recent 30 Days of Night (2007) and The Last Winter (2006).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Slow-Mo Netflix

By Chase Kahn

While rearranging and prioritizing my Netflix queue today, I realized that just shooting a movie from the bottom to the top was taking an unusually long time to get there. In fact, in order to swap movies around, I have to fight through a 3-4 second delay; seriously.

It forced me to take action, so I just sucked it up, took a breath and dumped the whole thing, started over -- it was like putting your dog to sleep. So now I've gone from 358 DVD's to 15, keeping it manageable. I didn't even know that it chugged this much the more you stockpiled, but I've now ceased going on clicking frenzies.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

'Basterds' Opens Big

By Chase Kahn

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds made $14.3 million yesterday alone at the domestic box office, the biggest opening day ever for a Tarantino film and surpasing the surprise hit District 9's Friday number of $14.2 million last week.

District 9 went on to make $37 million last weekend and early estimates see Basterds raking in $34-35 million through Sunday. Harvey Weinstein just let out a sigh of relief.

Eternal Youth: 'Dorian Gray'

By Chase Kahn

Angela Lansbury has her special dedication tomorrow on TCM's "Summer Under the Stars". One of her showpiece films from early in her career is Albert Lewin's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Based on Oscar Wilde's gothic novel of the same name about a young man who remains eternally youthful in body, but in spirit (depicted in a portrait or picture) his hideous sins and true nature are revealed for all to see, is receiving a modernized take in Lewis Parker's Dorian Gray.
The film is set to play at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and release in the UK simultaneously on 09.06.09.

The Angela Lansbury version (1945) will play early Monday morning (2:00am) so once again, TiVo's and DVR's are in order. Dorian Gray (2009) does not have a U.S. distributor yet but will likely receive attention at Toronto and perhaps released shortly there after or early in 2010 domestically. You can view the underwhelming but interesting trailer featuring Colin Firth and the teen-friendly Ben Barnes (Prince Caspain) here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Review: 'Inglourious Basterds' (B)

By Chase Kahn

When gunfire arises in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, it doesn't just crackle or pop, it explodes. Clothing linens flutter about, shrapnel and sawdust from nearby walls, tables or floors suffocates the air and vivid red blood -- the same red that adorns the iconic Nazi flag -- erupts like a fireworks show's grand finale, abrasively but appropriately deafening.

Preceding the bloodshed is the usual stable of Tarantino's drawn-out, tongue-lashing dialogue that, this time around, is like a hand crank on the world's largest jack-in-the-box, wrung to an excrutiating degree before smacking you in the face.

Of course, Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino's latest effort in his line of niche-genre sendups that started with his Kung Fu double-bill (Kill Bill) and continued with his schlock-house horror talkie (Death Proof), which proved to simply be a platform to unleash Kurt Russell and a ten-minute car chase.

Basterds is many things, but mostly it's a WWII Spaghetti Western dressed up as a Jewish-revenge fantasy where a band of Allied-Jewish soldiers rein terror upon the Germans in Nazi-occupied France. From the opening credits, it's clear that this is a Tarantino flick through and through -- muddy guitar tracks, verbal stand-offs and visual staredowns all contribute the the feeling of watching a work by Sergio Leone or Tonino Valerii.

Sporting visual evidence of an attempted throat-slitting and a unique way with words (a sandwich becomes a "sannich"), Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine is a complete misfire for me. Obviously Pitt is having fun with the role, but it's almost too much the way he elongates words ("the edge of our kniiiivvves") and has a constant, unwavering expression of extreme discomfort that my be intestinal? Physical? Who knows? It's a go-for-broke performance and he's now broke.

Fortunately, most performances in the film are pretty good. French actress Melanie Laurent as a Jewish theater owner in search of revenge and Diane Kruger as a German actress-turned-rebel provide nice additions to the Tarantino canon of strong femme fatales. But the performance that's been praised endlessly (winning a supporting actor prize at Cannes) is that of Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, nicknamed "Jew Hunter". An icon of villainy, he's a one-man regime -- a manipulator with words and a self-described "hawk" -- he's almost good enough to root for.

Naturally, Inglourious Basterds is split up into chapters and weaves multiple narrative threads into one before reaching its combustible and bloody finale at a French cinema theater. At times, Tarantino does appear to be a victim of his own formula (quirky credits, chapter headings and David Bowie's "Cat People", once revolutionary, now trite), but there is no denying that his images pop off the screen. Occasionally, Basterds is a pulpy delight.

In fact, some of it is so good that it makes you wish the whole thing didn't have a turgid air of smug self-satisfaction about it. The problem also remains, as it does for most in regards to Tarantino, that the man has become so buried in this image of tongue-in-cheek perpetrator of homage that all his films do -- at their most fundamental level -- is convince more people that yes, he watches a lot of movies.

Not only is the film itself a genre revival send-up of classical Ennio Morricone proportions, but even Tarantino's characters are blatantly in on it. They talk about movies, star in movies, run movie theaters and even act like they're in one. Both on the surface and in the subtext, Inglourious Basterds is just a big movie-loving orgy; take it for what it's worth.

Teasing "Inception"

By Chase Kahn

If you aren't excited about Christopher Nolan's Inception, you either a) don't know about it yet, b) don't like Nolan's films, or c) haven't seen the teaser trailer that is attached to Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, released today.

First of all, it's appropriately named a "teaser" -- it is, in fact, a tease. It can't be any more than 60 seconds long, it describes nothing about the film and really consists of only one "shot", a hallway duke-out between two chaps in suits. The overall vibe from the trailer promises that it'll be a high-brow, philosophically-tuned, sci-fi mindfuck along the lines of Nolan's earlier work -- think Memento.

Inception is set to release on 07.16.10 through Warner Bros. The film's lucratively splendid cast consists of Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine, Ken Wantanabe and Tom Berenger.

"Shutter" Stunner

By Chase Kahn

Having just gotten back from Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds (more on that later), I am rudely greeted to a stunning development that Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island has been pushed back to a February 19, 2010 release date from its original 10.02.09 date, just a mere 5-6 weeks away.

Specualtion and reports are that it is strictly a money move from Paramount, who is also releasing Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones and Ivan Rietman's Up in the Air and apparently cannot afford to pay distribution, promotion and advertising costs right now and now has just two horses in the 10-Best Picture race.

Almost always this is a barometer for quality, just look at Joe Wright's The Soloist last year, but by all accounts, the film was testing very well in the early stages and buzz was solid. I just hope this isn't Zodiac all over again, where Paramount released David Fincher's masterpiece in a desolate March, all but destroying its chances at catching on with the awards circuit and giving it the proper recognition it deserved.

"Hancock 2"?

By Chase Kahn

Director Peter Berg, of last year's superhero flick Hancock, has offered up some details towards a potential sequel starring Will Smith as the titular recovering crime fighter. Last year the film made $227 million domestically, plus over $600 million worldwide. Needless to say, Columbia will be all ears to a sequel.

Of course, the film was highly criticized for having one of the most dumbfounding, dim-witted and ineptly executed final acts to grace a film screen in quite some time. I have a hard time believing that I was the only person that paid to see Hancock that had a problem with it.

Berg states, in an article with SciFi Wire, that any sequel that is potentially made will delve deeper into the "mythology" of the first -- yippee. If ever lifted off the ground, the project wouldn't come until 2011 or 2012, seeing as how Peter Berg is currently working on adapting Frank Herbert's "Dune" and Will Smith is one of the busiest assets in Hollywood.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Roger Ebert is a Basterd

By Chase Kahn

The much maligned showing that happened three months ago in Cannes is not showing amongst domestic critics this week. Roger Ebert just gave Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds a four-star rating, falling in line with James Berardenelli, The Village Voice's J. Hoberman, Variety's Todd McCarthy and New York Magazine's David Edelstein as supporters of the WWII spaghetti western where a band of Jewish soldiers slaughter and reign terror on the Nazis.
From Ebert's review:

"Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” is a big, bold, audacious war movie that will annoy some, startle others and demonstrate once again that he’s the real thing, a director of quixotic delights."

"And above all, there are three iconic characters, drawn broadly and with love: the Hero, the Nazi and the Girl. These three, played by Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent, are seen with that Tarantino knack of taking a character and making it a Character, definitive, larger than life, approaching satire in its intensity but not — quite — going that far."

Of course, a Tarantino film getting good reviews is hardly news, but with the Cannes reaction and talk of QT himself becoming a washed-up admirer and historian of films but nothing more, it's surprising that the reaction has been positive across the board from major U.S. critics like Ebert, McCarthy, Edelstein and Hoberman.

The New York Times and LA Times will weigh in later today. Basterds of course, opens tomorrow (08.21.09) in 3,000+ screens.

Miriam Hopkins Day

By Chase Kahn

TCM is in the latter half of their "Summer Under the Stars" month, and it's been great so far. Today is Miriam Hopkins day, the blonde actress whose been featured in many Ernst Lubitsch productions like Trouble in Paradise and The Smiling Lieutenant.

Today, I had to mention that William Wyler's These Three (1936) will be airing at 2:45 am tomorrow. This film, starring Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon and Joel McCrea is not available on DVD and is actually the original version of Wyler's own The Children's Hour (1961) starring Shirley McClaine and Audrey Hepburn.

Lillian Hellman's original play "The Children's Hour", written in 1934, was a story about two schoolteachers who are falsely accused of engaging in a lesbian relationship by one of their students.

In 1936, homosexuality was illegal to depict on screen (The Hays Code) and therefore the story was changed for These Three. Of course, by 1961, the code had been significantly dulled by films such as Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. So, with an increasing tolerance for disputable and controversial material, William Wyler made the faithful adaptation that he always wanted to make.

TCM, tomorrow, 2:45 am -- set your TiVo, DVR, whatever.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

'Heaven' Scarce Rollout

By Chase Kahn

IFC Films will distribute Oliver Hirschbiegel's Five Minutes of Heaven, a British/Irish drama starring Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, starting this Friday (08.21.09) with an extremely limited and rare 1 screen debut, presumably in New York.

The film also went up today on IFC's Video-On-Demand service, which appropriately I do not have, and will surely be released exclusively to Blockbuster retailers sometime later this year. Summary from IMDB:

"The story of former UVF member Alistair Little (Liam Neeson). Twenty-five years after Little killed Joe Griffen's (James Nesbitt) brother, the media arrange an auspicious meeting between the two."

Five Minutes of Heaven also played at Sundance in January before airing on BBC Two overseas on April 5th. The German-born Hirschbiegel is best known for his Hitler film Downfall (2004) and the atrocity known as The Invasion (2007), which starred Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.

'Severed Ways' DVD

By Chase Kahn

Over the last few weeks I've heard several things about Tony Stone's Severed Ways, a minimalist Viking film supposedly flooded with heavy metal music that sounds like (and has been confirmed by those who have seen it) a completely whacko, take-it-or-leave-it film without equal for originality.

It's also been heavily bludgeoned by some and only humbly recommended by others for its unique experience. Nevertheless, I'm extremely interested. It was first shown in 2007, but was just now being distributed through Magnet for a theatrical release earlier this year. The DVD came out on 07.28.09.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Up in the Air" One-Sheet

By Chase Kahn

Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, a very promising sounding comedy starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Jason Bateman about a corporate downsizing expert (Clooney) whose profession and way of life is threatened by new-age technology. He's also a frequent traveler, so therefore, his future and his present are both "up in the air".

The film is based on the Walter Kirn novel of the same name. Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman, is an Oscar nominated director (Juno) and Clooney is Clooney. It's one of my more anticipated movies this Fall, sounds very promising. Here's the one-sheet:

Review: 'The Time Traveler's Wife' (C+)

By Chase Kahn

Rarely have I seen a movie that has left me at a loss for words. Robert Schwentke's The Time Traveler's Wife, adapted from the best-selling novel by Audrey Niffenegger, is such a film. Not indescribable in a great/speechless way, mind you, but in the way that nothing stuck with me at all. It's never bad or good enough to make an impact and as a result, it's just a bland, lifeless trip.

Part of the problem is that The Time Traveler's Wife is just flat-out disorienting. Like Henry (Eric Bana) himself, it bounces back and forth all over the place from present to future, young to old and everything in-between. Which is fine with me since it adheres strictly to Niffenegger's novel, or so I hear.

The problem is that the film has no sense of stability. It's just not made well-enough to support this structure -- it feels rushed, hurried and insignificant. At one point, Henry shows up back at his apartment where Claire (Rachel McAdams) has been supposedly waiting for him for two weeks. There is absolutely no evidence of a struggle during that time for either party and this is the main problem with the film throughout.

Most scenes in the film begin and end with Henry -- his travels, his quest for pants, his run-ins with family. Claire is unfortunately left by the wayside, present only when Henry is. It's a shame because she's the more interesting character -- it's too much Time Traveler, not enough Wife.

Monday, August 17, 2009

IFC Hits Criterion

By Chase Kahn

In Criterion's latest round of announcements, Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale and Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah were both announced for release later this year.
Both films were released theatrically through IFC late last year/early this year and have apparently expired in their exclusive deal with Blockbuster, which has first dibs on anything released by IFC, therefore bypassing retailers (Amazon, Best Buy) and going straight to their shelves.

Unfortunately, a Blu-ray release is immenint only for Gomorrah, the sprawling expose on the Naples mafia and one of the better films you're likely to see from the last few years, but just a standard release for A Christmas Tale -- the French family drama/comedy that won it over big-time with critics late last year.

One question, where the hell is Stephen Soderbergh's Che? (Also released through IFC). Gomorrah box-art is on criterion's website here (I prefer the poster above, but, still solid) but none yet for A Christmas Tale.

Catching Up on DVD: 'Wonder Boys' (2000)

By Chase Kahn

In between making early 90’s thrillers (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, The River Wild) and venturing into contemporary Nancy Meyers territory (In Her Shoes, Lucky Me), Curtis Hanson peaked in 1997 with his neo-noir police saga L.A. Confidential. He would follow it up three years later with his 2000 box-office flop Wonder Boys, an exceptional yet underrated and seldom seen film that grossed a mere $19 million domestically.

Michael Douglas plays professor and novelist Grady Tripp, in love with the school chancellor (Frances McDormand) and a mentor to students James Leer (Tobey Maguire) and Hannah Green (Katie Holmes). All the while being hassled by his editor (Robert Downey Jr.) who needs Grady to finish his book as badly as Grady does – for reputations’ sake.

To make matters worse, Grady’s most troubling student – the brilliant but reserved James Leer – has just shot his boss’s dog to death at a party, which now finds its resting place in the back of Grady’s 1966 Ford Galaxy.
Curtis Hanson's Wonder Boys is essentially a darkly comic ensemble film about finding your purpose, taking action and pushing forward to achieve it – don’t sit idle wallowing in your daily routine. This notion is mirrored in Grady’s unfinished novel, which is pushing 3000 pages without an end in sight. Grady doesn’t have writer’s block, as he describes, he just, “can’t stop”.

It’s also very much fundamentally about the relationship between Grady (Douglas) and his most talented yet troubled student James (Maguire). Hated by his fellow students and quietly “spooky”, he makes his home out of a bus station, snacking on cheese sandwiches out of the vending machine for food. One day, while “rescuing” James from his grandparent’s basement, Grady and his editor, Terry (Robert Downey Jr.) run into a freshly typed paragraph still rolled around the typewriter.

“His heart, once capable of inspiring others so completely could no longer inspire so much as itself. It beat now only out of habit,” it reads. Grady isn’t rescuing James, James is rescuing him.

Douglas finds the twisted ironic center of this character and brings real emotion and humor to him. His filthy and tainted pink robe and leathery, wrinkled brows depict the years of stagnant progression, or lack there of, that have taken a toll on his life which is now clearly in its latter half.

Wonder Boys is a hidden gem, a great film widely avoided by audiences and awards alike upon its release.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Early Review: 'Bright Star' (B)

By Chase Kahn

Jane Campion's Bright Star (due in theaters 09.18.09) is a nice little love poem about the three-year relationship between famous English poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), between the years of 1818-1821.

It's a rather slight and minimalist kind of film -- there are only 3 main characters as the entire film takes place at either Fanny or John's place of residence -- and the subject is hardly impervious to claims of unoriginality and treading familiar ground.

However, Campion (The Piano, Sweetie) is such a talented director working with a first-rate crew that Bright Star is quite frequently an overwhelmingly well-polished production. It's shot, cut and composed in a way occasionally becomes levitational -- made all the more memorable by Mark Bradshaw's gentle score matching Greg Fraiser's soft and muted cinematography. The pedigree is never in question, the script is.

Bright Star strictly adheres to the motto, "less is more". Unfortunately, this idealogy also extends to the writing. The original screenplay (written solely by Campion) handles the relationship between Fanny and John at arms-length. The actors do their best, but there's never an authentic believability to the romance and as a result, it's a cold, unemotional trip.

The film features two good performances (Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw) and one great one. Paul Schneider (The Assassination of Jesse James), as John's best friend and colleague, is fantastic. Donning a Scaw-ttish accent, he plays the self-centered intellectual snob without a hitch, one of the more underrated character actors working today.

Cornish (Stop-Loss) as Fanny Brawne, is a refreshingly fresh face. She brings the emotions of her character front and center in an admittedly rather edgeless and underwritten role. Whishaw (Perfume, I'm Not There) is a very interesting young actor who is equally dulled by a character who is mysteriously distant and modest.

John Keats, as portrayed by Jane Campion, was a man who feared that he would die before accomplishing all that he could as an artist. It seems appropriate given that Bright Star is a film that never reaches its potential, even though the results can be intermittently brilliant.

"Bring It On" Saves DVD Sales

By Chase Kahn

This year has seemed rather tumultuous for DVD sales, with rumors that studios are seeing their profits fall to as much a 15% across the board. The reason? Netflix and Redbox, simply -- if customers are renting movies for $1, why would they pay $20? Hence the latest Fox-Redbox lawsuit over 30 day delays between street-dates.

But this story from Variety today tells us that the term "straight-to-DVD" may have more financial weight than we thought. Listen to this:

"In fact, the teen cheerleader pic "Bring It On" and its four sequels have brought in about $300 million in homevideo sales for Universal. Even better, U's seven-picture "American Pie" franchise -- all installments featuring the tireless Eugene Levy -- has generated a total consumer homevid spend of a half-billion dollars, says the studio's homevid production head Glenn Ross."

Yes, you read that right, there have been 7 American Pie movies. I just don't know anymore.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Review: 'District 9' (B-)

By Chase Kahn

Below the hazy, sun-beaten and massively stagnant alien mothership is the slum known as District 9, an area established by MNU (Multi-National United) to segregate aliens from humans – an obvious metaphor for apartheid, the system of legal segregation by the National Party of South Africa from 1948 to 1994.

Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 takes this premise, this politically charged allegory, and makes it into a feature-length science-fiction action film that elicits mixed results. On one hand, its implementation of visual effects into live-action is seamless and inspired, creating a visceral and enjoyable experience. On the flip side, its politics are occasionally hypocritical and its genre elements partly conventional. Call it a wash, an enjoyable disappointment.

When Wikus (Sharlto Copley, think South African Christian Bale), a goofy and unassuming MNU employee, is picked to carry out the eviction notices in order to move the prawns (aliens) into a new facility, he gets more than he’s bargained for – a face full of fuel that implants in himself a large dose of prawn DNA. Wait, what? Ah, just go with it.

Now Wikus, an employed ambassador to the segregation of these filthy and unwanted visitors, these public enemies, is slowly becoming one of them. Through this initial transformation, he becomes acutely aware of the cruelty and inhumanity being lashed down upon the poor prawns and himself.

Of course, Blomkamp is condemning not only the apartheid history of South Afrika, but racial segregation in general, using Wikus as his test dummy – you don’t like these people? – become one of them and find out what it’s like from their point of view.

District 9 opens with a barrage of faux news reports, interviews and documentary footage of Wikus’ journey to the camp in a barrage of tedium. The first half of the film loses steam quick with its apparent need to actively impress us in a bouquet of gimmicks. Fortunately, once Wikus’ transformation is underway, the thing kicks into full-gear – a balls-to-the-wall chase film with political intrigue and action to spare.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to overcome all of District 9’s faults and, in fact, just creates new ones.

While Wikus’ moral and physical journey is thrilling and quite emotional at times, he squares off against a bland, archetypical and predictably bald and chiseled government-hired badass who stays alive just long enough for the film to reach its desired length. Additionally, by portraying a group of militant Nigerians as scarred, ruthless snarling dogs, Blomkamp is inadvertently exposing the kind of racism his film is theoretically divulging.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Catching Up on DVD: '17 Again'

By Chase Kahn

Clearly the demographic for Burr Steers' 17 Again is the same demographic for any variety of shows on the CW or Disney channel, but I still get to take the gloves off and give it a couple of black eyes.

The concept is clearly ripped straight from Big and 13 Going on 30, but this time in reverse. It actually opens up some pretty interesting possibilities (Who wouldn't want to go back to high school intellectually improved, matured and level-headed?). The film mostly explores these avenues, but in a way that's so bubble-gum wrapped and soft-served that it renders it insignificant and slight.

The main problem is that the high school depicted in 17 Again is such a stereotypical, idealized drag -- a mosque of archetypical teen snobs -- that anything set inside it feels like a brightly-lit, modernized episode of "Saved By the Bell".

When Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry) gets his miracle youth warp (into Zac Efron) it's unbearably obvious that anyone with half a brain would recognize him instantly and call him out on it. But no, not his basketball coach, not his wife, nobody. Leslie Mann, who plays said wife, does recognize the similarity at first, but brushes it off even as Mike accidently leaves thousands of clues.
He even calls her by her nickname -- "Hey, my husband is the only one who calls me that?, "Oh, really?", "Yeah, isn't that odd, and you look exactly like him, too, isn't that something!" -- Come on, people!

Zac Efron is actually an actor with decent chops and a good presence. I never have really hated the guy because I think he has a good head on his shoulders and he's going to grow out of his High School Musical phase pretty soon, I hope. Me and Orson Welles, still without a distributor, should prove that further.

Matthew Perry, on the other hand, is so miscast it must have been a last resort, bottom-dollar, we'll take anybody deal, because he looks tremendously out of place. Seriously, they might as well of cast Philip Seymour Hoffman, I mean, really. Zac Efron probably stood there on set going, "So they think I'm gonna look like this dude?"

Review: 'Tetro' (B)

By Chase Kahn

After an inventful and ineffaceable title sequence, Benny (Alden Ehrenreich) is wandering down the desolate black and white Buenos Aires streets searching for his brother’s home. He has the address tucked in his hands, pearly white to match his spotless sailing uniform. In effect, he’s searching not just for his brother, but for his mystified and unattainable life.

His brother is Angelo (played by Vincent Gallo), a mysterious, hotheaded and secretive ex-writer who now goes by the name Tetro. Immediately, Benny wants to know what happened – why hasn’t he seen his brother since he went away oh so many years ago? -- but Tetro isn’t so forthcoming. He tells Benny to leave it alone and drop it because he’s no longer a part of it. But come on, things wouldn’t be so dramatic if he did, and believe me, Tetro is nothing if not overly dramatic.

Francis Ford Coppola’s film is a slightly drawl and trite familial melodrama full of secrets, love, bonding and betrayal. An engaging (if long-winded), mindful and most interesting film, Tetro is an operatic sensationalist drama that wears its heart on its sleeve even as it somewhat wears thin. However, it’s so visually and artistically keen that any faults it may have appear like a faint memory in one of Tetro’s numerous flashbacks.

One day, while rifling through his trunks, sitting high atop heavy armoires and adorned with plastic sheaths, Benny learns that Tetro has written a stage play -- it's based on his life, therefore Benny's childhood. Secrets are uncovered, bonds are broken and formed and the past is brought to life through his play, titled "Wander Lust", which doesn't have an ending yet. Benny is waiting for it so he can finish the story and therefore, his life.

It becomes a potent metaphor through the remainder of the film, bringing to light the fact that Tetro and Benny are both living – and always have been – in some sort of a heavily dramatized play about family, past, belonging and truth.

After all, Tetro is shot in vivid black and white with an emphasis on camera placement and lighting. It’s the film’s defining quality and it's something beautiful to behold. Mihai Malaimare Jr. (Youth Without Youth) lenses the film to Coppola's arresting images and the two create some undeniably indelible compositions. A moth battering around a light bulb and a play of "Fausta", in which Benny, Tetro and his girlfriend Miranda attend, are certainly images and sounds that I can't get out of my head.

Alden Ehrenreich’s performance as Benny left a lasting impression as well, but for all the wrong reasons. He can’t carry the weight of the dramatic scenes, coming off as whiny or squeaky and he can’t bring any subtle charm to the character without resorting to a sly smile repeated on one-too many occasions.

Vincent Gallo as the titular character is a more interesting brew. He displays the brutish and hellish temper of Tetro with shit-storming authenticity as we see his eyeballs steady and his lips tighten, ready to implode. During a key flashback sequence at a mental institution pass-the-mike routine, we can’t help but feel the weight of the image upon his frail existence and unshaven cheeks, of the moth bouncing off the light, making a metallic ticking sound as it does, as if someone was tapping a needle.

Coppola (now 70) has long since resided from his glory days to now being a hermit of independent experimentation. He's in full swing right now with Tetro, a film with a lot of great ideas that ultimately feels fundamentally archaic in its writing. It’s not a home run by any means, but it’s an interesting film by one of our masters of old.

Yuck: 'Amelia' Poster

By Chase Kahn

Nothing about Mira Nair's Amelia -- including this new one-sheet -- tells me that this is something to look out for. Awards-wise or for simple entertainment purposes, it looks like a banal, bland, and yucky biopic.

Hilary "Horse-Face" Swank plays the title role, Ewan McGregor and Richard Gere co-star. Amelia will be released on 10.23.09 by Fox Searchlight. I don't think this will have nearly the success the brand name is looking for.

Catching Up on DVD: 'Push'

By Chase Kahn

Paul McGuigan's Push, a superpowers-versus-government action film, is a flat-out mess. Not a disastrous cluster or anything that would cause you to lose your faith in cinema. I suppose the good news is that part of me wishes that Push was better than it actually is, or rather that the script was more polished and less antsy, because it does do some things well.

The film is captured brilliantly on location in Hong Kong, China, where we get a lived-in, very atmospheric and palpable Eastern Asia vibe. Although it makes no sense as our decidedly white heroes don't exactly blend in to their environment, making that whole, "hiding out from the government" thing rather difficult.

Never-the-less, cinematographer Peter Sova and the rest of the crew have scouted out marvelous locations including a deep red hotel with narrow hallways and an expansive restaurant that looks more like a fun house and serves as a centerpiece for one of the film's main action set pieces.

Push does suffer from over-editing, a very common trait these days, but it's not a travesty. It's just that, when you have a great location like Hong Kong, it'd be nice if we could see it for more than few seconds, as it looks fantastic. Action scenes are complemented by nice visual effects and choreography, but the angry-shouting Chinese bad guys are laughable. This is your superpower? Really?

The main problem here is David Bourla's original script. I hate to bag on it because finally, here's a superhero film that isn't based on a comic book, graphic novel or Hasbro toy-line. Unfortunately, it's such a fundamentally formulaic and underwritten ordeal that Push feels at once like a rushed and convoluted mess, then like a strict genre piece and cheap knockoff between Jumper and "Heroes" the next.

Supporting characters and powers are hardly given an introduction before playing integral parts in the story. There are too many factions and too many villains all going after a MacGuffin, which turns out to be a disappointingly simplistic and head-spinning motivator to justify the path of destruction left in its wake.

Cast members are actually pretty solid with Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning and Camile Belle playing the leads, while Djimon Honsou plays the obligatory black guy hunting down super-powered white people. Samuel L. Jackson is looking for work, by the way.

Korea Submits 'Mother'

By Chase Kahn

Korea's official Best Foreign Language Oscar submission will be Bong Joon-Ho's Mother -- edging out Park Chan-Wook's Thirst, a perverse, erotic, sexually gratuitous, but by all reports, pretty damn good vampire film.

I haven't seen either yet, but Thirst should be playing at a theater near you by the end of August.

By the way, I absolutely dig this poster art for Bong Joon-Ho's Mother, we need more like this, please:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Review: 'In the Loop' (A-)

By Chase Kahn

Essentially a film version, or extension, of director Armando Iannucci's BBC television series "The Thick of It", In the Loop is a scathing, rapid-fire, brilliantly on-point and hilarious satire about political ineptitude, greed and one-upsmanship.

Spearheaded by a five-man screenwriting crew, this decidedly British comedy has enough laughs during its credits reel to stretch out over the running-time, but fortunately for us, In the Loop is the most riotously potent political farce in half a century.

Taking place in the middle of a nationwide conflict in the Middle-East, the films pits a ensemble cast of witless goons (American and British alike) who each have their own agendas and back-alley plans of action in order to better either themselves or their countries -- well, mostly themselves.

It's mainly about the evil villainy and legitimate disdain that government agencies and co-workers have against each other to the point where the matter at hand is hardly relevant. Important and powerful figures are portrayed as either too brutish, too unqualified, too barbaric or too young. It's also about how the media has become an integral, overwhelmingly conscientious part of politics -- even affecting the most fundamental decisions as someones stance on war.

The cast, from Peter Capaldi to Tom Hollander to James Gandolfini is astounding. Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean)absolutely owns the film as the unintentionally stupid and self-consciously compromised Minister Simon Foster, who can't seem to make up his own mind about whether to vote for or against the war. A knowing face, Steve Coogan, even shows up for an extremely funny cameo.

Although, none of the actors would be worth their weight if it wasn't for the brilliantly explosive and ingenious dialogue and direction by director Armando Iannucci and his plethora of screenwriters. It's given its extra weight by the sensational editing of the Anthony Boys and Billy Sneddon duo, who punctuate each line of perfectly delivered dialogue with a transitional cut more reminiscent of a rim-shot. As a result, In the Loop is an absolute breeze and one of the smarter and funnier comedies, not of the year, but of the decade.


By Chase Kahn

I got tired of fighting each and every one of my posts until they looked just right, so I've completely changed my template and color scheme. The other reason was that I looked at my site through Firefox, and it looked like hell. Some posts were short, some long, pictures out of place. I'd had enough.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Third Dimension -- A Madhouse

By Chase Kahn

If you've gone to a cineplex in the last two years, you know we are in the midst of a bona-fide, gold rush-influx of 3D movies. My Bloody Valentine 3D, Coraline, The Jonas Brothers 3D, Monsters vs. Aliens, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Up have all been released this year under the format.

Granted, some of these movies have been extremely successful financially, but what percentage of moviegoers saw them in a digital 3D theater? How about knowingly saw it in a 3D theater? Now I'll admit I exist in the other half of the movie world, the minority. I write a movie blog. But the future of 3D movies scares me -- what if, god help us, it becomes the standard? What if 2D films are looked upon the same way that silent or black-and-white films are now?

First off, let me state my case. I don't absolutely hate 3D -- I think it has a place in this world as an artistic tool (Coraline) or once in a while diversion. In reality, what ends up happening is that a) execs/directors/studios, in an attempt to rationalize their use for 3D, will embellish certain areas of a script/story in order to create visually-oriented sequences (anything by Robert Zemeckis), or b) will apply a 3D sheen as a cover-up for a lesser product (Journey to the Center of the Earth).

Not to mention that 3D viewing in general is a pain in the ass. Viewing angles are limited, the glasses put you into a chronic state of weariness, head-fatigue and migraines and the recycling and re-using of glasses is disturbingly germ-welcoming. Oh yeah, it's also more expensive.

This extra-dimensional movement seems to be lead by Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and Avatar director James Cameron. Every time I hear these guys make headlines claiming that 3D will soon be the standardized form of the medium, I think, "Okay, great. Does anybody actually want this?" I hear more negativity directed towards 3D these days than I do "Michael Bay Sucks" posts -- certainly more than those who approve it.

Which isn't to say that I'm not excited about Avatar, but I'd be more excited for a new two-dimensional Cameron film.

Just throw alliances out the window for a second -- who cares if you like 3D or not -- does every movie need to be demensionalized? Do we need Funny People, Adventureland and A Serious Man in 3D? Of course not, it's madness. Keep the goons and the popcorn-munchers happy with their interactive, digitized fix (i.e. 5-6 pictures a year) and leave the rest alone. I'd like to hear what Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfonso Cuaron and the Coen Brothers think of 3D. I think they'd fall in line with the rest of us.

Classic Rewind: 'Captain Horatio Hornblower' (1951)

By Chase Kahn

Raoul Walsh's epic, romanticized swashbuckler Captain Horatio Hornblower is a classic star vehicle for the great Gregory Peck and one of the greatest swashbucklers ever made -- alongside Michael Curtiz's Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

Originally slated as a star vehicle for Warner Brothers' in-house, chiseled, dreamy and bankable action star Errol Flynn -- David O. Selznick ended up loaning out Gregory Peck to the studio after Vincent Sherman's Adventures of Don Juan (1948), which starred Flynn, was a box-office failure and signaled the beginning of the end for the former heavyweight Warner Bros. icon.

Based on C.S. Forester's novels, starring the fictional and titular Horatio Hornblower, a Royal Navy captain during the Napoleonic Wars, Raoul Walsh's film is a gorgeously produced, sprawling tale of the captain's escapades and cunning judgements and heroics during this period of turmoil at sea.

Filmed in seamless Technicolor and on a stunning transfer by Warner Home Video (DVD released in 2007), Captain Horatio Hornblower looks better than ever, and there's hardly a blemish in Walsh's numerous actions set pieces.

Transitions between sound stage, models, and exterior oceaning shooting is spotless, and the amound of carnage inflicted on screen is palpable, brutal and real. Never-the-less, the film is certainly a Walsh/WB production from start to finish. A predictable forbidden romance (with Virginia Mayo), a likeable, larger-than-life and strappingly handsome hero (Gregory Peck), and a fictional, idealized reenactment of an historic war-time event.

If your a victim for the Warner Bros. romanticized swashbuckler (like me), where the heroes are square-jawed and stoic and the women, even during bouts of yellow fever, are glamorous and good-natured, and the guy always wins the war and gets the girl, Captain Horatio Hornblower is one of the best.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bigelow's New Gig

By Chase Kahn

The critical and mild box-office success of Kathryn Bigelow's fantastic Iraq War drama, The Hurt Locker (and likely a bounty of Academy Awards nominations) has already boosted demand for the 57 year-old director.

She's set to reunite with Hurt scripter Mark Boal on Triple Frontier -- being described as, "a high-stakes ensemble action/adventure project".

"Set in the notorious border zone between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil where the Igazu and Parana rivers converge -- making "la triple frontera" difficult to monitor and a haven for organized crime". Very exciting news -- production set to begin next year.

'Election' Day

By Chase Kahn

I watched Alexander Payne's Election -- a cult-comedy classic from 1999 -- for the first time yesterday and found it adorably funny in a dark, these characters are fucked-up kind of way. Never really "laugh out loud" knee-slapping fun, but a smirk and chuckler from start to finish. (More After Jump -->)

Based on Tom Perrotta's novel of the same name, Election is essentially an ensemble film centered around a three-person election for class president at Carver High School and a history teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who oversees, supervises and takes an active role in the outcome. I'd say a loose ensemble film in that Broderick's Jim is essentially the main protaganist, but when three other characters have their own voiceovers and subplots, it's tough to write it off as such.

It's unique in that nobody wins as a result of their actions -- and I'm not talking about winning the campaign, but rather talking about coming out of the situation unscathed -- that kind of "winning".

The film is essentially saying that no good can come of sinful greed, back-door behavior and all-around snobbery. It's also partly inspired by the 1992 presidential election between Bush and Clinton.

The acting is superb, with Reese Witherspoon playing the conniving, evil-hearted, overachieving, wanna be wholesome straight-A student with an appealing bitch vibe about her throughout. Matthew Broderick is equally exacting as a meandering, unfaithful and unhappy history teacher in the midst of a major mid-life crisis -- and that's before he gets stung in the face by a bee, practically closing up his eye for half of the film.

Probably one of the better high-school comedies ever made, in that it's refreshingly devoid of crude, foul-mouthed gorillas just trying to get some action. Election is like that guy at a party who just sits back and sips his beer and makes no conscious effort to entertain but just does so because he's oozing with coolness -- opposed to the fat guy wearing a football jersey, smashing bear cans into his forehead.

'Franklyn' on DVD

By Chase Kahn

Gerald McMorrow's Franklyn, a kind of fantasy/sci-fi, head-trip drama starring Ryan Phillipe, Eva Green and Sam Riley (Control), will finally hit DVD and Blu-Ray in the states on 11.17.09 -- courtesy of Image.

Summary from IMDB: "The film is a split narrative set simultaneously in contemporary London and in a future metropolis ruled by religious fervor. It's the story of four lost souls, divided by two parallel worlds, on course for an explosive collision when a single bullet will decide all their fates."

Franklyn was never given a theatrical release in the U.S. It was released on 02.27.09 in the UK and will play at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival this August. Surely, it's a mess, but rarely does a film with this kind of cast, wackiness and all around intrigue go straight to DVD.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Review: 'The Cove' (B)

By Chase Kahn

23,000 dolphins are caught every year in Taiji, Japan. Some are are hand-picked to be sold to live in captivity and trains for various reasons while the remainder are wrangled together in a naturally obscured cove, free from public awareness, to be slaughtered and sold for their meat.

Louise Psyihoyos' The Cove is unquestionably an important, maddening and inhumanely horrific expose on a secretive, ritualistic genocide and the political and governmental powers that let it happen.

It's partly a covert-ops operation, partly a heavy eco-friendly activist picture, and also an indictment of the Japanese culture holding on to a misplaced ideal of an historic past as a national empire. In other words, the Japense government and the IWC (International Whaling Committee) want to keep killing dolphins and whales because, a) they always have, b) it's profitable and c) because there is serious opposition against them and they wrongly look to their stubborness and desperate corruptness as a form of cultural preservation.

It's this part of The Cove, aside from the natural repugnance of brutish and venomous Japanese officials and fisherman who take part in the heinous act, that really convinces.

Perhaps the most damning of all the cases the film makes towards necessary involvement in the practice of killing dolphins is the deadly toxins consumed in the sale of dolphin meat to japanese citizens -- most of whom are unaware that their are consuming either poisonous fish or dolphin meat.

However convincing and important the film feels (and make no mistake, it is important) The Cove still doesn't stand as a wholly indelible movie. It's cut, edited, composed and factually dense, providing a strong argument that this is, in fact, a greatly critical story, but it isn't a great "film".
Some viewers and critics are highly overselling the film's appeal as a thriller. I saw something that was very well-organized, undeniably persuasive and thoroughly moving, but still a product with a strong current of activist, eco-friendly and manipulative threads running through it.

Combined with J. Ralph's overbearing musical numbers, The Cove is spliced far-too-often with slow-motion shots of dolphins splashing in the sunset and redundant tales trying to validate their existence as supremely intelligent mammals -- we get it. It's a horrifying, eye-opening story and a topic in desperate need of a remedy. I just wish the film was a "great" showcase for it, instead of a "pretty good" one.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Review: 'A Perfect Getaway' (C)

By Chase Kahn

David Twohy's A Perfect Getaway is a silly, twisty, and manipulative rated-R horror/thriller. An exotic locale, "who's the killer?" kind of deal with a megaton twist more than halfway through, the film is entirely too forthcoming in the last act, explaining every last detail with washed-out flashbacks until it bloodies its way to the finish line, leaving a cloud of indifference in its wake.

Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil) and Steve Zahn (Rescue Dawn) play two newlyweds on their honeymoon in Hawaii. They meet two sketchy jungle-dwellers, played by Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek) and Marley Shelton (Planet Terror) who may or may not be the two killers of a couple from Honolulu -- just recently reported. Meanwhile, Timothy Olyphant (Hitman, Live Free or Die Hard) and Kiele Sanchez ("Lost") are another possible pair of Tarzan and Jane-like lovers who are suspiciously brutish.

Let the games begin, right?

Writer/Director David Twohy (Pitch Black) opens up the floodgates for criticism by making one of the characters (Zahn) a Hollywood screenwriter. Thus, open conversation about stories and facts and details bring about questions regarding the film itself. For example, Olyphant's character talks about a "red herring" -- a plot device or character meant to mislead the audience. Hey, that's his character! I'm catching on, Dave!

In trying to play a game with the audience this way, Twohy inadvertently gives away a bit of his ammunition. He also explains things too much -- at the moment of the twist reveal, we witness about a 6-7 minute flashback sequence that's unnecessarily descriptive. With this tactic he holds the hand of the same audience he's been trying to pull one over on.

What follows is far too rushed, flashy and gory. Twohy becomes manipulative in a different sense: he's forcing faces into palms and groans from disgusted looks with a barrage of gore and flesh dissection. Rather willingly or unwillingly, A Perfect Getaway turns into the same trash that it was trying to expose by citing their trite and cliched plot devices and characters. Well, here's another one.

It's Got To Stop

By Chase Kahn

While seeing Funny People yesterday, I noticed a very disturbing trend -- no not that Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol looks absurd and fuel to the unfortunate 3D fire -- but that Ken Jeong (that asian guy from every Judd Apataw-produced flick ever made) was in not one, not two, not three, but FOUR previews that I saw -- out of six!

You'll see his work in The Couples Retreat, All About Steve, Despicable Me and The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard. Talk about striking while the iron is hot. Jeong, a kind of funny looking middle-aged asian man, has been in everything from Knocked Up to Role Models to the recent smash-hit The Hangover.

He's become, almost overnight, the obligitory rated-R funny-asian-male-wacko-peripheral-character and I've gotta say that I've had enough. It was funny the first time, but it's time to move on, see ya. The guy's schtick is becoming more stale than Will Ferrell when he made Blades of Glory and Semi-Pro. Put it up, we've seen it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Review: 'Public Enemies' (A)

By Chase Kahn

(originally reviewed on 06/30/09) -- Face-to-face are notorious outlaw John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) -- the former behind bars, the latter outside of them -- or is it the other way around? Dillinger upstages him by breaking into Purvis' one weakness: his repugnance and untested psyche towards the loss of human life. "It's hard the first time", Dillinger taunts.

So sets off the fuse to the clash of the titans, the hunter versus the hunted -- who are both played as sympathetic despite their representative factions. Purvis represents the cruel, no-holds, blossoming and slimy system of justice while Dillinger is the gun-toting, mischievious and against-the-system criminal. Both men stand out in their profession, providing targets for audience sympathy and understanding.

Director Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider) is at home here in this battleground of thievery and outlaws taking on lawmen who may be equally as smug and disreputable. The film is flooded with supporting characters who are given maybe a glance or two, but the action and the camera are squarely focused on the film's two leads, plus Dillinger's fresh catch, Billie Frichette -- played exceedingly well and glamorously by Marion Cotillard -- as a defiant and petulant woman who is attracted to the covetousness and protective allure of her outlawed gunman.

Mann's gangster saga is not traditionally filmed -- here he has opted for an ultra-slick, ultra-sharp high-definition digital look that turns Public Enemies from film to stark reality -- period to contemporary. Gunshots looks like strobe lights in the night and bullets visibly skatter and shred through obstacles. It's a bold stroke by an artist pushing the genre and as a result, the film is a visual powerhouse -- an aesthetically arousing portrait of a bygone era and an anchor to the film's almost strict and no-frills narrative.

Public Enemies is decidedly straightforward and narrow -- as I said, supporting characters like Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) and Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) are introduced like extras. Giovanni Ribisi, David Wenham and Carey Mulligan are also bit players. Nor is the film interested in any sort of context regarding the era and the celebrity of John Dillinger. We see briefly that the people love him and we are told in an opening text that it's the Great Depression but we don't see it. Mann is more interested in the thrill of the chase, the lifestyle and personal life of the outlaw, plus the mirrored relationship between cop and robber.

In the film's final act -- which famously and historically depicts Dillinger's last hurrah at a screening of Manhattan Melodrama, the character does an about-face. Throughout the film, his is so recklessly caught up in the moment that -- like the film itself -- he rarely has time to reflect until he catches the gaze of former Hollywood icon Myrna Loy, who has a striking resemblance to his Billie (Cottilard). When a cocky, grinning Clark Gable dares the remaing prisoners in the film to, "die the way you live", it's just icing on the cake. Dillinger has come to terms with his fate in his final hours -- a poignant and moving scene to say the least.

It sets up a conflicted mix of emotions as the "Dillinger Squad" is waiting outside the theater ready to unleash the trap. Bale's agent Purvis has been hesitantly and fearfully noncomittal about the fragile mortality of human life (even in his enemies) and here he find himself exerting his efforts to kill a man who has, until this point, been invincible. It's a fascinating dichotomy and confirmation that this is Mann's show -- a sprawling art film, narrowly focused, minimally scoped and exceedingly well-executed. For once, we have a gangster pic that prefers restraint over deluge.

Integrity Restored

By Chase Kahn

"At the Movies", in a return to humanity and self-respect, has announced New York Times critic A.O. Scott and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips will take over for Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz as hosts of the weekly review show.

So after Richard Roeper, a goon with questionable taste buds, we had to put up with Ben Lyons, who is without equal in the critic world. An insufferable starfucker who spews the most blatantly phony and blurb-worthy sparks of any critic who's ever walked this earth. He once called I Am Legend "one of the greatest films of all-time". I mean, this guy made Pete Hammond look like Armond White.

Phillips and Scott have both filled in for Roger Ebert when the show was still titled "Ebert & Roeper" and did a great job. Scott is -- at first glance -- a stuffy, slouchy kind of magnet for the obscure, but he's actually a critic who plays fair, doesn't appear self-conscious in his reviews and is unpredictable. You listen to what the guy says with your full attention span.

The same goes for Phillips, who is very good on camera and a good writer for the Tribune, if a little on the predictable, more populist side. All in all, it's a good day when the Ben Lyons' of the world get knotched down a peg and people who actually know what their doing in this profession get the gig. Chalk up a victory to the print journalists! Bravo.

Well, They're Kinda Funny

By Chase Kahn

Whatever mumbling or groaning recieved as a result of Judd Apataw's Funny People over the last few weeks is fine by me. The film is not an utter catastrophe in the slightest -- it's slyly amusing here and moderately charming there -- but it's undoubtedly a messy, half-way-there, stench in the air kind of thing.

The film curves this way and that way until it ultimately winds up in nowhereland. There are appreciable characters here and there (mainly played by Jason Schwartzman and Eric Bana), plus a very nice self-parody performance that took considerable guts by Adam Sandler, but I couldn't help but feeling like Funny People was, at the end of the day, a big shot in the dark for writer/director and maestro of new-age comedy , Judd Apataw. Call the result a slight graze.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Review: 'The Hurt Locker' (A-)

By Chase Kahn

Much acclaim has been bestowed upon Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, all of it worthy and entirely necessary. It's part nail-biting suspense thriller and part soldiers-in-distress action film, but it's mostly a character study regarding Sgt. William James, the leader of an elite bomb squad unit, and his unique, indescribable and unquenchable thirst for the thrill.

Bigelow (Near Dark, Point Break), working on a script by former Iraq War newsman Mark Boal on his experiences overseas, have created a visceral, testoterone-fueled environment with calculated, fully realized characters in an episodically paced action-thriller, dense and unforgettable.

Jeremy Renner (William James) plays the lead of the three-man unit with exacting recklessness and tangible schizo-insanity. Even though he ocassionally compromises his squadmates and frequently disobeys orders, he's a sympathetic character and truly cares about his job, which he is by the way, incredibly qualified for. His uncontrollable lust and addiction to the danger of the job and it's quick fix is played out as no different than any common-place addiction to alcohol or drugs. Friends get hurt in the process, family becomes second-place -- valuable only in desperation -- and the addict in question is never at rest until the urge is fulfilled.

Renner (The Assassination of Jesse James, 28 Weeks Later) turns in a star-making performance. Flawed, likeable, but entirely unrelatable for most, he plays the kind of person that viewers simply can't understand yet makes him 100% convincing and wholly legitimate. Anthony Mackie plays Sgt. J.T. Sandborn, James' most aggressively combatant squad member who adamantly opposes his techniques and disobedience, yet comes to appreciate and admire his skills in time. Mackie has two or three indelible moments of his own.

Bigelow and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd film The Hurt Locker entirely with handheld cameras, an intelligent if foreseeable move. As a result, the film is sun-baked, obtrusive and transportive. We feel the weight and the heat on James' body from his massive, intimidating bomb-removal suit. This urgency keeps the film in touch, and away from being inappropriately glossy or inauthentic.

There's a scene with Sgt. William James back at home in which he's facing a wide-angled view of a threatening cereal aisle. It's a stark, albeit obvious, juxtaposition of what truly frightens someone who gets off on fear. This is a deep and incisive study of character, men at work -- dangerous work -- and what makes one of them tick to be so damn unrully good at it. It's a new addition to the classic pantheon of great American war films -- free of political disdain and otherwise harmful digressions -- the first work of an art from the Iraq War.

The End is Near

By Chase Kahn

I am not referring to the year 2012, when the Mayans and Roland Emmerich (among others) predict that the world will end, I'm of course referring to Stephen Sommers' G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra tomatometer, which -- although only 10 reviews in -- is at 80%. Think about that: Eight people actually liked it.

Don't run out to your local supermarket yet, though, stocking up on bottled water and canned tuna. Surely once the stuffy, shirt-and-slacks crowd gets a hold of it, the buzz will level off and the world will be right again. This is what happens when IGN, CHUD, JoBlo and are the only people to review a radioactive, smoldering-hot piece of garbage like G.I. Joe. I mean, otherwise what is there to these reports of Paramount turmoil and extremely low test screening scores?

Except some part of me hopes that this won't be the most notoriously terrible movie since The Love Guru -- if only for the sakes and careers of Sienna Miller and Channing Tatum, may god help them.

Coming Soon: Zach Snyder + High School Musical

By Chase Kahn

Zach Snyder's next project, Sucker Punch, set for release in March of 2011, sounds like the director's most interesting project. Free from the chains and on-the-rails limitations of an adaptation, maybe Snyder, who has fiddled around with a marginal remake of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead to two interesting but deeply flawed graphic novel reenactments - 300, Watchmen - can use his unique and unmistakably keen eye for style and make a film that is completely and wholly his own.

All three of his features have been divisive to say the least, and as much as I despise his fanboy tentpoles of recent years, I refuse to believe there isn't a place for someone like him. Sucker Punch is being sold as "Alice in Wonderland with guns". To put it another way, it follows a young girl named Blondie who is institutionalized by her evil stepfather and uses an alternative reality -- i.e. breaking loose and going 'Leonidas' on their asses -- as a coping stragedy.

Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) will play the lead, an interesting choice to say the least, with Emily Browning (Lemony Snicket, The Uninvited), Jena Malone (The Ruins, Donnie Darko) and Abbie Cornish (Bright Star, Stop-Loss) rounding out the all female supporting cast. Snyder and Steve Shibuya co-wrote the script and stor.

This just sound right to me. Snyder should be the Quentin Tarantino of Warner Bros. His films should be ultra-stylized, green-screen, tongue-in-cheeck schlock fests -- that's what kind of guy he is, and it didn't translate well to the material of "Watchmen". Sucker Punch has real potential to be a gothic, perverse and blood-splattered Pan's Labyrinth. Don't worry about the fanboys, don't worry about the running-time, the studio, the source material, just do your thing and let's see what happens.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Buzz: 'District 9' Impressing Early

By Chase Kahn

Neill Blomkamp's District 9, a science-fiction/alternate-reality film about an alien refugee camp in South Africa is getting wild endorsements across the board from early viewers. Produced by Peter Jackson, the trailers promise the film to be a part hand-held mocumentary action film and part social/political commentary that's compulsively watchable yet above your average crop of late August dump-offs.

Emanuel Levy calls it, "one of the summer's best films" and, "an inventive sci-fi thriller". While the trade papers -- Variety's Justin Chang and Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt -- both fully recommend, calling it, "genuinely original...not letting you go until the final shot, " and that it, "heralds first-time feature director Neill Blomkamp as a nimble talent to watch".

District 9 opens everywhere on 08.14.09.