May 19, 2010
Review: ''No One Knows About Persian Cats''
There's a terrific, crowd-pleasing musical nestled within the Iranian import No One Knows About Persian Cats. The movie won the Audience Award at this year's Miami International Film Festival and has accrued similar honors on the international-festival circuit. But it opens with an ominous title card informing us that it was "based on real events, locations and people," a notice immediately followed by a brief, blurry shot of a bleeding man being wheeled into a hospital. That image quickly evaporates from memory when the film begins, but it will make an unfortunate and misplaced return by its end.
For much of No One Knows About Persian Cats, which was shot on the fly in a scant 17 days without the official sanction of the Iranian government, director Bahman Ghodabi presents an energetic, at times exuberantly comical tale of two indie rock musicians (Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad) trying to find guitarists and drummers to round out their band and then secure the illegal visas and passports they need to perform outside Iran, where their brand of music is illegal.
Their quest hinges on the help of Nadar (Hamed Behdad), a fast-talking promoter and bootlegger of American movies on DVD. Nadar, who has connections to the underworld, listens to the rockers' music and decides to help, introducing them to various musicians from all genres - thrash metal, Persian rap, nightclub crooning - and to a pair of shady businessmen who specialize in forging passports and visas at steep prices.
No One Knows About Persian Cats has a droll sense of humor about the realities of modern-day life in Iran and its endless restrictions (there's a terrific scene in which Nadar talks himself out of a bootlegging charge in front of a stern judge). At times the film is explosively funny: the passport forger rants about the lovey-dovey movies Nadar has been using to bribe bringing him (he only wants to watch action movies with "100 killings and no romance.") The movie has no shortage of memorable characters, such as the heavy-metal guitarist who practices with his band on a remote farm so as not to annoy his neighbors but whose ear-splitting music so upsets the cows that they go on a hunger strike and moo vociferously with displeasure.
The film also turns its plentiful musical numbers (all diverse and insanely catchy) into videos depicting the vibrancy of Iran's youth, respectful of their cultural tradition but eager to break free of the restrictions it imposed. The similarities between these young people and American teens are striking and surprising. Unfortunately, Ghodabi doesn't trust his film to convey the message that has already been clearly and entertainingly spelled out, and No One Knows About Persian Cats ends on a sudden note of tragedy that almost ruins the exuberant spirit of everything that has preceded it.
The movie falls into the trap of underlining the obvious, and the heavy-handed finale is so completely at odds with the rest of the film that you're baffled why it wasn't left on the cutting-room floor. The best way to enjoy No One Knows About Persian Cats is to leave five minutes before it's over and conjure your own ending: Whatever you dream up is better than the one the movie gives you.
No One Knows About Persian Cats (**1/2 out of ****) opens at the Cosford Cinema and Miami Beach Cinematheque on Friday May 21.
May 18, 2010
Review: ''Shrek Forever After''
Shrek Forever After, the fourth (and, by all accounts, final) installment in the hugely popular series about the personable green ogre, dispenses with many of the hallmarks of the franchise. Considerably toned down are the endless pop-culture references and in-jokes to other movies. There are no Ricky Martin musical numbers this time; there is no re-creation of the bullet-time camera work from The Matrix. For this last chapter, the filmmakers play things relatively straight, resulting in the best Shrek movie to date (or at least the first one I've enjoyed).
Using It's a Wonderful Life as an obvious inspiration, screenwriters Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke pick up where Shrek the Third left off, with the eponymous hero (voiced by Mike Myers) living happily ever after in the company of his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz), their three precocious children and his trusty sidekick Donkey (Eddie Murphy). Shrek's life is idyllic - so blissful that he's become a tourist attraction for humans in the land of Far Far Away.
Shrek starts to long for the wild days when he could still scare the townspeople with his roar, and when the mischievous powermonger Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) offers him the chance to spend 24 hours as his old self, he seizes on the opportunity. But there's a big string attached. Shrek Forever After was directed with an emphasis on characterizations by Mike Mitchell (Surviving Christmas, Sky High) and uses 3D to subtle but enveloping effect as Shrek is stranded in an alternate universe in which he once again must win Fiona's hand. He must also make allies of former friends (such as Puss in Boots, voiced with the usual gusto by Antonio Banderas) who no longer recognize him.
The story is constructed in a way that requires no previous knowledge of the series, and the movie manages to find fresh humor and sight gags in its storybook universe, from the disgusting things ogres eat to the army of witches obviously patterned after The Wizard of Oz's Margaret Hamilton. The movie is big-hearted and peppered with juicy throwaway bits: I liked the way the Gingerbread Man had to turn around one of the Three Blind Mice, who was cheering in the wrong direction, or the line by the ogre cook (Craig Robinson) about the need for a chimichanga stand on the battlefield, because everyone's going to be starving after waging war. Shrek Forever After isn't essential, but it's breezy and likable and doesn't overstay its welcome - the first summer movie thus far to deliver on its promise to put on a good show.
Shrek Forever After (*** out of ****) opens in South Florida on Friday May 21.
May 16, 2010
Shia LaBeouf admits the last ''Indiana Jones'' movie was a dog
During a session of interviews at the Cannes Film Festival to promote Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, actor Shia LaBeouf told the Los Angeles Times that even though Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull grossed nearly $800 million worldwide, he's well aware the movie far fell short of its precursors.
"You get to monkey-swinging and things like that and you can blame it on the writer and you can blame it on Steven [Spielberg, who directed]," LaBeouf told the paper. "But the actor's job is to make it come alive and make it work, and I couldn't do it. So that's my fault. Simple."
LaBeouf said he wasn't the only cast member who felt the movie was a disappointment. "We [Harrison Ford and LaBeouf] had major discussions. He wasn't happy with it either. Look, the movie could have been updated. There was a reason it wasn't universally accepted."
As to whether his frankness will get him in trouble with Spielberg, who has cast him in several films (and is executive producer on the Transformers franchise): "I'll probably get a call. But he needs to hear this. I love him. I love Steven. I have a relationship with Steven that supersedes our business work. And believe me, I talk to him often enough to know that I'm not out of line. And I would never disrespect the man. I think he's a genius, and he's given me my whole life. He's done so much great work that there's no need for him to feel vulnerable about one film. But when you drop the ball you drop the ball."
LaBeouf's honesty is refreshing - and somewhat shocking in an era when no one ever admits one of their previous box office hits was not all it could have been. Now if only Michael Bay would man up and admit Armageddon and Bad Boys 2 have been major contributors to the decline of modern civilization, global literacy and simple human decency, that would be real progress.
May 14, 2010
Roman Polanski accused of sex with a minor for a second time
People magazine is reporting that Charlotte Lewis, a British actress who appeared in Roman Polanski's 1986 flop Pirates, held a press conference today alleging the director "forced himself" on her when she was 16 years old in a Paris apartment.
"[Polanski] sexually abused me in the worst possible way when I was just 16," Lewis, 42, announced to the press in the Los Angeles office of her attorney. "He knew [how old I was] when he met me and forced himself upon me in his apartment in Paris. He took advantage of me and I have lived with the effects of his behavior ever since it occurred. I've traveled to the U.S. at my own expense to make sure that justice is finally done and that Mr. Polanski gets what he deserves. All I want is justice."
Polanski, whose most recent film, The Ghost Writer, was released in February, is currently under house arrest in Switzerland fighting extradition efforts by L.A. authorities. Polanski fled the U.S. in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor.
In response to the new charges, Polanski's lawyer issued the following statement: "We don't have any information about statements made at a Gloria Allred press conference today, but we do know that the District Attorney continues to refuse to provide the Swiss government with accurate and complete information relevant to the extradition issue."
The zombie epidemic finally reaches Cuba
Herald TV critic Glenn Garvin, who many of us in the office suspect of being a zombie, alerted me to this story in Variety that claims filming is set to begin in September on Cuba's first-ever zombie movie.
Filmmaker Alejandro Brugues (Personal Belongings) will direct Juan of the Dead, about a Havana slacker who makes a nice little business hiring himself out to people who need to dispose of their relatives after the dead start to rise from their graves on the island. The movie is budgeted at $2.7 million, which is the Cuban equivalent of a Transformers picture.
Brugues told Variety more than half of the budget is coming from Spain and that the film is not a political satire, even though the Cuban government initially dismisses the zombie epidemic as the work of dissidents.
Although vampires far outnumber zombies at the movies these days, the undead refuse to lay down for good. George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead is due in theaters next month (alas, it is easily his worst zombie picture to date - worse than Diary of the Dead) and Hollywood continues to circle Max Brooks' novel World War Z, which I believe could result in the greatest zombie movie ever, if done properly.
But the idea of Cuban zombies is rife with possibilities. For example, will the undead still crave pastelitos and plantains to go with their human entrails? Will the zombies be limited to how many people they can eat per day by their libretas? And just how old is Glenn Garvin, anyway?
Harry got a gun
On the surface, Harry Brown appears to be a British counterpart to Gran Torino -- another tale about a solitary widower and former soldier living in a crime-infested neighborhood who gets fed up and decides to clean up the streets in ways the police cannot.
Many critics have drawn comparisons between the films since Harry Brown opened in U.K. theaters last November and has been gradually opening around the United States (and in South Florida today). But filmmaker Daniel Barber, making his feature-length directorial debut, begs to differ.
``Gran Torino is really about race. It's not about the true problems of youth, which is what Harry Brown deals with,'' Barber says. ``Gran Torino is also a much softer and more sentimental film, which is probably why a lot more people went to see it. It's also somewhat comedic as well, with Clint doing all that grunting and his groaning.
``The reason why they're being compared so much, I think, is because the actor at the helm of both films is an elder statesman. Michael Caine is the British Clint Eastwood. In England, we grew up with Harry Palmer [The Ipcress File] and Jack Carter [Get Carter] the way Americans grew up with Dirty Harry and The Man With No Name. Both actors have an iconography that they carry around with them and is used effectively in both films.''
But unlike Gran Torino, in which Eastwood's character figured out how to put away a gang of street thugs without firing a shot, Harry Brown fights violence with violence, shooting and stabbing his way through the packs of hooligans that terrorize the citizens of a depressed London suburb. Harry does what the police are legally prevented from doing: He doles out justice the way the protagonists of Death Wish, Rolling Thunder and The Outlaw Josey Wales did, mowing down bad guys -- many of them teenagers -- with abandon.
Unlike the giddy kick you felt watching Uma Thurman embark on her ``roaring rampage of revenge'' in Kill Bill, though, the violence in Harry Brown is ugly and horrifying, even when committed for the common good.
``I like to play old men who are proactive, instead of just sitting around having people feel sorry for them,'' Caine says about his decision to star in the film. ``This was a very good script with a very good part for me. But the film also felt like a wake-up call to England and the authorities. This is where we are, and this is where we're going. There's never been an actual case of an old guy killing young people like this. But if you don't do something, it will come to that.
``I had seen a lot of documentaries about old people living in these estates [Britain's equivalent of housing projects] and how they're afraid to leave their homes. Little old ladies can't do their shopping, because they're afraid to go out. Eighty percent of the people who are living in these areas aren't out to hurt people: They're afraid of being hurt.''
Read the rest of my story on the making of Harry Brown here.
May 12, 2010
Review: ''Robin Hood''
What compelled director Ridley Scott to train his formidable sights on another Robin Hood movie? Scott already tackled the Crusades in the underrated Kingdom of Heaven, and he collaborated with Russell Crowe on the epic Gladiator, with its giant battle scenes in which arrows rained down like thunderstorms. Why go back and repeat yourself? Why bother with Sherwood Forest again, after even Mel Brooks has trampled there?
The answer lies in the script by Brian Helgeland, which differs from all other Robin Hoods. This one is a prequel. This is the story of how Robin Longstride (Crowe) met and fell for Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett) and how he made an enemy out of King John and how he befriended Friar Tuck and Little John and put together his band of Merry Men and why he started stealing from the rich to give to the poor. The movie ends with the title card "And so the legend begins." The film is over just when the story starts to get good.
Scott is a diehard history buff, and he's fond of telling interviewers "I don't make movies. I create worlds." You can see why he would have been lured by the opportunity to place a mythical folk hero into a complex plot about a 13th century French conspiracy to invade England. With Robin Hood, Scott gets to reimagine the past and fixate on the fine details he adores, such as the blob of wax that seals a tiny scroll carried by a messenger pigeon, or the ornate metalwork on the stirrups Marion uses to ride her horse.
Robin Hood is certainly a grand-looking picture. For a film that's filled with CGI effects, there isn't a single shot that looks artificial, and the production design is tremendous. But it's a hollow, boring spectacle. Crowe usually commits to his roles with a ferocious intensity, but he doesn't really seem to believe in Robin. When you look into his eyes, you see an actor trying to remember his lines. And the performances around him run the gamut. Oscar Isaac amusingly hams up the petulance of King John, who becomes a bratty bully the second the crown of his late brother Richard I touches his head, while William Hurt looks on the verge of REM sleep as a royal advisor whose purpose consists primarily of spouting exposition.
Blanchett's Marion is more flinty and less prone to requiring rescue than previous incarnations, but her romance with Robin isn't given enough screen time to develop, so their relationship, which should form the movie's heart, instead feels like a tacked-on romantic subplot. Robin Hood only comes to life in the climactic sequence, a prolonged battle in which the French army disembarks on the British shore. The carnage is strongly reminiscent of the Omaha Beach invasion that opened Saving Private Ryan, only with swords and arrows instead of rifles and grenades.
The rest of Robin Hood, which runs an excruciating 140 minutes, is as dry as a geology lecture. When Max Von Sydow, as Marion's kindly, blind father-in-law, takes Crowe aside and says "I think I have much to tell you about history," my eyes started darting frantically for the theater exits, because I was pretty certain someone in the audience was going to spontaneously combust from boredom. Scott has directed some dull, long-winded pictures before (1492: The Conquest of Paradise), but he's never made one this pointless. Robin Hood achieves something you never would have thought possible: it makes you nostalgic for Kevin Costner and Bryan Adams.
Robin Hood (*1/2 ouf of ****) opens in South Florida on Friday May 14.
Review: ''Harry Brown''
Harry Brown opens with a hair-raising sequence: On grainy handheld video, the sort you'd see on YouTube, some boisterous kids get high and rile themselves up, brandishing a gun at the camera and bragging "This is how we roll!" Then two of the punks get on a motorcycle and start circling a mother pushing a baby stroller through a park, the woman cringing as the thugs repeatedly shoot at her - until they finally strike her in the head. As she drops to the ground, mortally wounded, the teens race away and drive straight into the path of an oncoming truck.
Harry Brown hasn't even got to its opening titles, and you're already horrified. First-time director Daniel Barber and screenwriter Gary Young want to provoke the audience and immediately put us in a state of fear, so that the unlikely tale that follows feels more plausible. In an environment this violent and unpredictable, a protagonist such as Harry Brown (Michael Caine) doesn't seem that far-fetched - a former marine and widower who decides to take on the neighborhood perps who terrorize and eventually murder his best friend (David Bradley).
Harry is in his late 70s and wheezy from emphysema, but he hasn't forgotten his military training, and he has the element of surprise on his side. In one of the film's best and most unsettling sequences, he visits the den of two creepy drug dealers with the intent of purchasing guns. But when he realizes they are keeping a young woman as a sexual slave, he springs into furious action on the spot and discovers that his combat experience has not abandoned him.
Harry Brown uses an economic storytelling style that reveals a lot about its characters without spelling out everything (through a quick shot of a photograph and a glimpse of a tombstone we deduce that Harry had lost a daughter decades before). Caine plays the character at an intriguing slow-burn - you can't always anticipate what he's thinking, but you always understand his motivation - and the film gives voice to the frustrations of a police department hampered by bureaucracy and politics via a detective (Emily Mortimer) who starts to suspect Harry is moonlighting as a murderer.
Unlike many other films of its kind, in which the lesson is that violence can only beget violence, Harry Brown argues that vigilante justice is a possible solution to a world in which the bad outnumber the good. That brazenness could have rendered the picture as a broad provocation, but the sadness and despair in Harry's eyes temper the argument: Here is a hero who finds little satisfaction in getting even and whose death wish may really be aimed at himself. Harry Brown is a mean and exceedingly well-made little B-picture, but the questions it raises are far too complex to answer with a gunshot.
Harry Brown (*** out of ****) opens Friday May 14 at South Beach and Intracoastal; in Broward: Gateway.
May 11, 2010
Blu-ray reviews: ''Bigger Than Life'' and ''Summer Hours''
Imagine the bracing shock movie audiences, used to the comical and heartwarming depictions of suburban domesticity of Father Knows Best and I Love Lucy, must have felt in 1956 when they encountered Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life - a lush, Cinemascope vision of a seemingly sane man (James Mason) who gradually becomes a monster to his family.
One of Hollywood's first - and darkest - cautionary tales about the spiritual blankness of cookie-cutter suburbia, Bigger Than Life (The Criterion Collection, $40 DVD and Blu-ray) understandably flopped and has never before been available on home video. Today, the film strongly recalls The Shining, another story about a man driven by his failings to try to murder his wife and son. Instead of ghosts, though, the demons that possess Mason are steroids, used to treat a mysterious illness that racks his body with pain.
The drugs work, but Mason soon starts to abuse them, and the pills give rise to the rage and frustration he suffers while living up to his responsibilities as a father and husband on his measly schoolteacher's salary. Ray, who was coming off the biggest hit of his career (Rebel Without a Cause), and Mason, who had been nominated for an Oscar for 1954's A Star is Born (and also produced Bigger Than Life), proved natural artistic partners, using a deceptively simple tale to explore prescient themes of the implosion of the middle class, the darkness lurking beneath Norman Rockwell's America and the unexpected consequences of our increasing reliance on prescription medications.
Bigger Than Life looks positively striking on Blu-ray, the high-def image showcasing Ray's bold, widescreen compositions and ingenious use of light and shadow. The disc includes several substantial supplements, including a half-hour interview with novelist Jonathan Lethem (Chronic City), whose enthusiastic, intelligent appraisal of the film reveals subtle subtexts (such as the apparent, unspoken homosexuality of the family friend played by a young Walter Matthau). There is also a vintage 1977 episode from the TV series Camera Three in which Ray is interviewed by a visibly nervous, awestruck host about his career.
* * *
Leisurely paced but as gripping as a relentless action thriller, Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours (Criterion, $40 DVD and Blu-ray) is a moving, compassionate look at three generations of a French family dealing with the death of their art-loving matriarch. Unlike most American pictures about ordinary people, which often anchor their plots around some sort of contrived situation or heightened drama, Assayas refrains from histrionics, allowing instead for the relatable humanity of his characters to carry the show.
The film opens with a long sequence in which the three grown children of Helene (Edith Scob) gather with their families at her sprawling country estate to celebrate her 75th birthday. Helene's kids (Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling and Jeremie Renier) clearly adore their mother, but they've also long grown busy with their careers and families - two of them don't even live in France any longer - and the birthday celebration captures the easy rapport and occasional awkwardness of family gatherings among relatives who feel vaguely guilty about not being nearly so close as they once were.
The rest of Summer Hours follows what happens after Helene dies, and her children must decide whether to respect her wishes and maintain her estate as a family heirloom or sell it off in pieces to museums and divide the money. The differences of opinion and bruised feelings that result are handled in a subtle, empathetic manner by Assayas, who uses his story to explore the ways in which cultural values and traditions among family members are sometimes diluted, if not lost entirely, over succeeding generations. The film's astonishing closing sequence argues that prevailing tastes and attitudes might change with the times, but certain things - including the way we look at the world - are infused into us by the people who raise us, never to be completely lost.
The disc includes a half-hour interview with Assayas, in which he eloquently expounds on the story's themes and the ideas he was trying to express, as well as a 25-minute making-of featurette, comprised of footage shot on the set and including interviews with Berling and Binoche.
May 06, 2010
Top ten reasons why Connie Ogle is so awesome
Connie Ogle, the Herald's indefatigable book editor/Weekend editor/part-time movie reviewer, is so awesome, she has agreed to review the following ten summer movies, which speaks to her impeccable character and dedication.
Here are the films, in order of release date:
(Is it just me, or does this movie look absolutely terrifying? Has Carrie Bradshaw become some kind of futuristic fem-bot programmed to do nothing but shop and eat at expensive restaurants?)
Top 7 summer movies I am anticipating the most
The 2010 summer movie season offers such slim pickings, I could only come up with seven movies I'm really looking forward to instead of my usual 10. But I guess seven is better than nothing. In order of release date:
Toy Story 3: Any Pixar movie automatically makes my must-see list, but I'm particularly curious about this one, since the film is the company's first "Part 3," which means the script must be extra-special. Plus, the 3D looks wonderful, and the whole Barbie-meets-Ken subplot looks hilarious in the trailers.
The Killer Inside Me: I'm a hardcore devotee of Jim Thompson's pulpy crime novels, and although this one has been turned into a film before, I really like the inspired casting of Casey Affleck as the small-town sheriff with homicidal tendencies. The film's graphic violence scandalized audiences at Sundance in January, but everyone knows Sundance audiences are a bunch of wusses.
Inception: Not to put too many expectations on director Christopher Nolan, but I am counting on this sci-fi thriller - about a man (Leonardo DiCaprio) with the power to pluck dark secrets from people's dreams - to create a brand-new genre, the way The Matrix did. I believe in you, Nolan. Please don't let me down.
Dinner For Schmucks: Francis Veber's French-language comedy The Dinner Game was hilarious, and the casting of Paul Rudd and Steve Carell in this Hollywood remake - probably my two favorite comic actors working in movies today - inspired great confidence. Plus the presence of director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers) doesn't hurt, either.
The Expendables: If you grew up in the 1980s, the premise of an all-star throwback to the cheesy action flicks of the era starring Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Jason Statham and Mickey Rourke - plus cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger - is an offer you can't refuse. If you do, you're a giant girly-man.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: There's been a gradual backlash building against Michael Cera, unfairly based around the criticism that he's always playing the same character - a socially awkward, hyper-intelligent guy trying to blend into the world around them. But Cera's choice of film projects has been consistently good (Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist and Youth in Revolt deserved bigger audiences) and this comedy in which Cera must do battle with his would-be girlfriend's seven jealous ex-girlfriends in order to win her hand has considerable potential. Another bonus: Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) has yet to make a movie that didn't make me cry from laughing so hard.
Piranha 3D: I dare you to watch this trailer and tell me this movie does not look awesome.
May 05, 2010
Top 5 summer movies I am dreading the most
My annual summer movie preview is running in Friday's Weekend section, so I decided to make a few lists over the next couple of days to advance what I'm looking forward to seeing - and what I'm hoping will screen on the same day I have to be rushed to the hospital and can't make the screening.
First up: The top five summer movies I am dreading the most (in order of release date). The good thing about such low expectations is that the films won't have to do much to impress me. A brief running time will also be a big plus.
Shrek Forever After: I'm a big fan of animation, but the Shrek movies have irritated me from the first installment - lazy, unimaginative pictures that pass off pop culture references and dance numbers to Ricky Martin songs as entertainment. I'm clearly in the minority, since the series has grossed more than $2 billion world wide. I'm also a big fan of Antonio Banderas' Puss in Boots, who is fortunately back for what DreamWorks Animation is promising will be the last entry in the series. For the love of God, please don't break that promise.
Sex and the City 2: In the eternal words of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, this movie looks really, really good - FOR ME TO POOP ON! God bless the brave and intrepid Connie Ogle.
The Karate Kid: I get it, I get it: There's a whole new generation of youngsters who never saw the original, so why not do it again and rake in a fresh new audience? Here's a better idea: Why not just rent the original on DVD and save yourself a trip to the theater? Also, there's something a little sad about the great Jackie Chan taking over for Pat Morita.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: The talented filmmaker Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey, Dreamgirls) has signed on to direct the final installment in the series, Breaking Dawn, which will be split up into two films. The novel is reported to take some pretty nutty plot twists, so I must confess to being curious about that one. This one, though, looks even cheesier and more insufferable than New Moon. But like the Transformers series, the rabid fan base will turn out in droves, regardless of whether or not the movie is any good.
Step Up 3D: The 3D craze hits a new low with this third installment in the Step Up series offers more acrobatic New York City street dancing and romance, only this time it's in your face. God bless the brave and intrepid Connie Ogle.
Tomorrow: The summer movies I am anticipating the most (yes, there are a few of them).
Review: ''Iron Man 2''
The previously infallible rule about comic-book superhero movies assumed that if the first film is good, the second would be even better. With all those pesky introductions out of the way, filmmakers are free to play with the universe they have created, liberating their characters from their original stories and delving more fully into their world. Part I establishes the ground rules. Part II gives permission to play on a broader, more complex canvas.
This formula has applied to every successful comic-book franchise I can think of - Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman, Batman - until the curious case of Iron Man 2. All the main players are back (with the exception of Terrence Howard, who was replaced by Don Cheadle), the budget is bigger, and the somewhat irreverent tone of the first picture remains intact, courtesy of Robert Downey Jr., who remains funny and engaging as Tony Stark, the billionaire with a bad ticker and a super-cool suit of armor.
The main problem with Iron Man 2 lies in the script by actor-turned-screenwriter Justin Theroux (he played the temperamental director in Mulholland Dr.). Instead of amping up the stakes and furthering the relationships among the characters - such as Stark's simmering flirtations with his trusty personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has been promoted to CEO of Stark Enterprises - Iron Man 2 recycles most of the elements from the first film, to dwindling returns. You keep waiting for the film to kick into third or even second gear, but it never happens.
Once again, Stark must squirrel away into his lab to build a replacement for his weak ticker (the one he built in the first film turns out to have had toxic side-effects). Once again there is a baddie, Ivan Vanko (a wasted Mickey Rourke) who wants to build a robot evil enough to turn Iron Man into scrap metal. Aside from Vanko, the film's chief villain is a weapons manufacturer (Sam Rockwell) who wants to do what Stark won't: Supply the U.S. military with the technology Stark wants to keep for himself.
Director Jon Favreau, who continues to get better at big-budget gloss, keeps the film interesting on a visual level, but there's only so much he can do with a screenplay saddled with more dialogue than a Merchant/Ivory picture about repressed British people sipping tea and munching on crumpets. Iron Man 2 is one seriously talky movie: With the exception of an early scene in which Vanko disrupts a car race with his electrical whips, which can slice through anything like light sabers, there is no action whatsover - I mean none - until the climactic 20 minutes (and even that is stolen from the leading man by a fantastic Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, aka The Black Widow to Marvel Comics fans) .
But unlike Avatar, which rewarded your patience with a stupendous action setpiece, the wait this time simply isn't worth it. I'm all for movies that take their time developing their characters, but this is ridiculous. Iron Man 2 is more of a set-up for the upcoming Avengers picture than a stand-alone adventure - a puzzling and unexpected disappointment, considering how fresh and entertaining the first picture was. The summer movie season gets started with a fat dud.
Iron Man 2 (** out of ****) opens Friday May 7.
Spoiler note: If you sit through the end credits, you'll be rewarded with a brief coda (SPOILERS AHEAD!) in which Thor's hammer makes an appearance. The scene is not worth the wait.
April 30, 2010
Stephen King's ''The Dark Tower'' to become a film trilogy - and a TV series, too
I've been a faithful Stephen King reader since the age of 12, when I first read The Shining. I've read every book he's ever published since, good and bad, with the exception of his seven-volume magnum opus The Dark Tower. I enjoyed the first three books in the series, but when I got to the fourth installment, Wizard and Glass, and realized it was going to be a 750-page flashback, I set it aside and never got around to finishing it.
But now that deadline.com is reporting The Dark Tower is going to be made into a film trilogy and an eventual spin-off TV series, I'm going to start again from the beginning and give the books another try. The first three novels were fantasy adventures stuffed with action and suspense and tinged with horror - a natural fit, in other words, for the movies. The character of Roland Deschain, the gunslinger on a quest for the eponymous tower, would also make a great, stoic hero.
The only thing that is keeping my excitement in check is that the trilogy will be directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva Goldsman. I've never been a fan of either man's work, and with the exception of Cinderella Man, I haven't liked the films they've made together (A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons). But what I've read of The Dark Tower would be pretty hard to mess up on film. King has already done the hard work: Howard and Goldsman just have to follow his template and the trilogy should be a knockout.
I still wish someone like Spielberg was tackling this, though. Oh, how I'd love to see a Spielberg adaptation of The Talisman!
Miami filmmaker Ali Codina wins big at Tribeca
Monica & David, a documentary about a couple with Down syndrome directed by Miami homegirl Ali Codina, won the Best Documentary Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival yesterday. The award carries a $25,000 prize.
In honoring the film, the jury stated "Monica & David takes an incredibly intimate situation and beautifully translates it in a way that makes you think about your own life. It's a clear and observant look at a family and the purity of love, fueled by an organic sense of the sadness, joy and everyday humor that fill this epic journey that is life."
Codina (pictured above, left, with her film's co-stars) previously worked as a programmer for the Miami International Film Festival and had spent the last few years working on the movie. HBO has already bought the rights to the film, which will air in October. A Miami premiere is tentatively scheduled for September. Congrats, Ali!