*½/**** Image A Sound B starring John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Elizabeth Allen, Jack Warden screenplay by James Edward Grant and Frank Nugent directed by John Ford
by Walter Chaw One of legendary director John Ford's last films, and his final collaboration with John Wayne, Donovan's Reef is, like much of Ford's later work, a derivative amalgam of his earlier successes. Curmudgeonly and vicious, it's a lighter-than-air farce with a black heart that feels suspiciously like the mad rantings of an old soldier describing his vision of a bucolic Valhalla to which he one day hopes to return. Released in the same year (1963) that saw Sidney Poitier become the first black man to win an Oscar in a major category (for Lilies in the Field), Donovan's Reef is a shockingly, unapologetically racist and misogynistic film about braggadocio, therapeutic rape, and belittling the natives. In other words, John Ford apologists need to work overtime to dig their favorite auteur out from under this surreal bilge.
**/**** Image B Sound B Extras B starring Clint Howard, R.G. Armstrong, Joseph Cortese, Claude Earl Jones screenplay by Joseph Garofalo and Eric Weston directed by Eric Weston
by Bryant Frazer Consider the pig. Pork is damned near a gourmet food these days. Celebrity chefs will serve you layers of pork belly wrapped around potatoes, figs, even pineapple. They'll dip bacon in chocolate, infuse it in vodka, or drape it across an ice-cream sundae, resplendent in its brown glory. Your local organic market probably sells artisanal bacon cured with dark, fine-grained muscovado imported from Mauritius and flavoured with angel farts and faerie dust. The recent cinema has also celebrated the pig, via two excellent Babe movies and a decent adaptation of Charlotte's Web. It wasn't always that way, though. No less an authority than God Himself went Old Testament on pork back in the day, and it took the famous and completely disingenuous "Pork: The Other White Meat" campaign to rehabilitate swine for the U.S. market. What I mean to say is that the 1982 horror movie Evilspeak, in which a trio of crazed, Satan-possessed porkers burst into a bathroom and disembowel a nude woman taking a shower, couldn't have done the humble pig's reputation any favours.
½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos screenplay by Larry Ferguson and John Pogue directed by John McTiernan
by Walter Chaw When John McTiernan's Rollerball was scheduled for the summer 2001 movie season, it boasted of a full-frontal Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and some graphic violence. What it didn't have was the confidence of MGM, who pushed the release of the film into the doldrums of the new year and presided over the cutting of the only two possible reasons (the nudity and the gore) that anyone would have for seeing the film in the first place. Doubtless the rationale was to garner a PG-13 rating and the expanded pre-teen first weekend box-office it confers; they'd better hope for a whopper opening, because no one is seeing this turkey twice. It strikes me as telling that a major studio would have so little confidence in a film that it is deemed somehow too prurient and also not "good" enough for a summer audience. Rollerball proves the truism that a studio often doesn't know if it has a winner--but almost always knows when it has a stinker. Saying that Rollerball is better than the simultaneously released Collateral Damage is likely the only praise it will garner this weekend.
ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES ½*/**** Image C Sound B Extras B starring Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio screenplay by Pen Densham & John Watson directed by Kevin Reynolds
WATERWORLD ***/**** Image B Sound B starring Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino screenplay by Peter Rader and David Twohy directed by Kevin Reynolds
by Walter Chaw In the "careful what you wish for" sweepstakes, here's Kevin Costner, fresh off an Oscar victory for his naïve idyll Dances with Wolves, spending his hard-won Hollywood currency indulging best buddy Kevin Reynolds in a trilogy of pictures (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rapa Nui, Waterworld) he produced for the express purpose of giving Reynolds more than enough rope. If you're in the sport of charting the positively Greek decline of the late-'80s box-office king, mark 1991 as Exhibit A, as his sad attempt at an English accent for Robin of Loxley was notoriously overdubbed in post-production after being deemed the stuff of legend in initial cuts. Aside from providing schadenfreudians endless fodder, it was the first real evidence that the Golden Boy's tragic flaw was the belief that his charm was based on something other than Gary Cooper's mantle of Everybody's All-American Doofus.
½*/**** starring Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Robert Fyfe, Jim Broadbent screenplay by David Titcher and David Benullo & David Andrew Goldstein, based on the novel by Jules Verne directed by Frank Coraci
by Walter Chaw I've spent all the bile and disappointment I'm going to spend on Jackie Chan and what's become of possibly the biggest star on the planet since his relocation to Hollywood. The rumour that this iteration of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days is to be Chan's American swan song fuels the suspicion that even folks unfamiliar with the stuff that once earned Chan comparisons to Buster Keaton have begun to wish, like any majority culture member towards any outcast in any community, that they would stop taking the abuse and just go home. There must be a breaking point for Centurion scourers when pity (revulsion?) overtakes zeal for punishment, and the lengths to which Chan has voluntarily subjugated himself in the role of sidekick, comic relief, and yellow Stepin Fetchit have progressed beyond paternalistic bemusement into the raw area of salt into an open wound. The old Jackie Chan would have done this film and taken the role of Phileas Fogg--new Jackie Chan is content to be Kato. (Burt Kwouk's, not Bruce Lee's.) I was one of three Asians in a large high school in the middle of one of the whitest, most conservative states in the Union, where Chan bootlegs provided by one of South Federal's Vietnamese groceries were among my few lifelines to a positive Chinese media role model amidst all the Long Duck Dongs, Short Rounds, and Ancient Chinese Secret launderers. For me now to feel more apathy than outrage at Chan selling out--dancing, singing, and acting the fool for the charity of the dominant culture--represents a death of a lot of things essential about me. It happens this way: the tide of ignorance wins out not with a bang but with a whimper.
Image A- Sound A Extras B- "Who Are You, Really?," "The Sun," "You're No Good," "At Last," "**** the Pain Away," "Don't You Feel Me," "In the Evening," "Dead Meat," "Life Matters," "Radioactive"
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. The penultimate season of "True Blood" was fraught with behind-the-scenes turmoil. Creator-showrunner Alan Ball had departed the series and his replacement, Ball's old "Cybill" cohort Mark Hudis, was himself replaced partway through the season by long-time "True Blood" scribe Brian Buckner. (Ball has a history of tapping out after five seasons and being notoriously difficult to replace--"Six Feet Under" ended when it did because he couldn't convince anyone to take over.) Whether this directly contributed to an abrupt plot development that effectively cleaves the season in two, the truth is that "True Blood" weathers these personnel changes invisibly enough as to affirm it is either on autopilot by now or, to be less generous, was already something of a runaway train that had only ornamental use for a conductor. Whatever the case, the show's sixth year represents a marginal rebound--though at this point in my "True Blood" journey, I'm just a masochist ranking the instruments of torture.
ZERO STARS/**** starring Eric Christian Olsen, Derek Richardson, Luis Guzmán, Eugene Levy screenplay by Robert Brenner & Troy Miller directed by Troy Miller
by Walter Chaw Harry (Derek Richardson) and Lloyd (Eric Christian Olsen) are imbecile best friends played by two young actors doing their best (which is pretty good) Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey impersonations. Meet-cute'ing in a high school being bilked by an evil administrator (Eugene Levy) and his lunch lady squeeze (Cheri Oteri), the pair tick off the litany of Farrelly-inspired gross-out gags with neither the heart nor the timing. Asians are made great sport of in an antiquated sort of way that isn't so much offensive as slack, scat-like material is smeared all over a bathroom, Bob Saget gets a paycheck, and Mimi Rogers makes out with Rachel Nichols in a Hef grotto. On the plus side, its entendre-laden script isn't actually worse than Down With Love's.
**½/**** screenplay by Don Rhymer and Ash Brannon & Chris Buck & Chris Jenkins directed by Ash Brannon & Chris Buck
by Walter Chaw I guess it's fair to say that Ash Brannon (Toy Story 2) and Chris Buck's mockumentary Surf's Up is a successful send-up of the Endless Summer-style documentary recently revived by Stacy Peralta's Riding Giants--but its triumph as such is relegated to so microscopic a genre that its usefulness as satire is negligible. It might delight a few guys who revere Bruce Brown's waterlogged hagiographies or, closer to the vein, the handful of folks who'll actually recognize that surf legends Kelly Slater and Rob Machado make cameos--but we're a long way here from a roomful of toys coming to life when their owner is gone, and while it's tempting to laud Surf's Up for being ambitious, it's frustrating that the picture has to dedicate a tedious amount of time to the usual slapstick gags just to apologize for its obscure premise. Far from condemning it as the next Shrek, though, I'd say the worst thing about Surf's Up is that it's clever enough to leave you expecting more--and inoffensive enough (unless scenes of a primitive tribe of cannibal penguins can somehow be traced back to Native-fear flicks or intolerance towards Polynesians) to leave you wishing some of the "nuggets" its anachronistic Chicken Joe (Jon Heder, in the first performance of his career that didn't leave me wanting to punch his mother) mentions were in more obvious display in the filmmakers.
½*/**** starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt screenplay by Zak Penn and Edward Harrison directed by Louis Leterrier
by Walter Chaw Pretty much the unmitigated disaster its trailers predicted it to be, Louis Leterrier's noisome The Incredible Hulk is a cacophony of bad CGI, bad acting, and gravid serio-melodramatics that leaves only the disturbing image of Liv Tyler's acres of bangs standing in the aftermath of its absurd wreckage. It's a vanity piece for Edward Norton (as if Norton is ever in anything else these days) that washes out as one of the more puzzling examples of such, in that the only thing anyone's there to see is Hulk smash. Maybe not so puzzling upon further reflection; I heard someone describe Jim Carrey at a certain point in his career as the six-hundred pound gorilla--find Norton at the apogee of his own ego bloat in The Incredible Hulk. Rumoured to have rewritten wide patches of Zak Penn's script (and credited here as, tee hee, Edward Harrison), Norton strikes me as a player/coach in the mold of Sylvester Stallone but unburdened with Stallone's sense of temporal place and popular self-awareness. Norton's acts of persona-construction are involved with painting himself as more romantic and smarter (The Illusionist), more romantic and moral (The Painted Veil), or more romantic and mysterious (Down in the Valley) than the average bear (tragic Monsieur Curie Bruce Banner the amalgam of all three, of course), with little room in his Nietzschian self-regard for human frailty or much complexity. He's an actor capable of astonishing nuance, making it doubly frustrating that he seems to resent that in the Fight Club food chain, he's Edward Norton and not Brad Pitt. The Incredible Hulk is the hundred-pound weakling flexing in the mirror and answering the ad on the back of the comic book.
**/**** starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Betty Buckley written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
by Walter Chaw The number one, indisputable, biggest surprise of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening is that it doesn't entirely suck--followed fast by the stunner that the director-writer-producer-demiurge doesn't appear anywhere in the film as Christ on a chariot. After his self-aggrandizing cameos in Signs (as catalyst to the story's existence and outcome), The Village (as star of the "twist" in the film's most complicated lighting/camera set-up), and Lady in the Water (as author of the Bible), it seemed that was the next logical step. Instead, The Happening is a Larry Cohen-esque thriller along the lines of God Told Me To, delivered with a heavy hand, to be sure, but full of some of the most delicious misanthropy to hit screens since Julia Roberts was making romantic comedies. Shyamalan, if we follow the auteur theory as closely as he claims to, hates his fellow man enough so that a coda revealing a blessed pregnancy is framed in such a way as to suggest that mankind is spelling its own doom with this urge to procreate. By extension, it's tempting to see it as a criticism of pictures that end in Spielberg town, with marriages and babies and a cabin in the woods for the precogs. If Shyamalan is to the point where he's actively flipping the bird to audiences and expectations, eschewing his life-support systems for twists and protracted takes in favour of ugly, flat, uninspired action sequences and blighted implications, then I might actually at this point be looking forward to his next one. Meaning, at the end of the day, that's the biggest surprise of The Happening.
½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras D starring Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Anson Mount screenplay by John W. Richardson & Chris Roach and Ryan Engle directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
by Walter Chaw Furthering the all-signs-point-to-yes idea that the greatest threat to national security is an ill-informed white guy with a grudge of some kind, Jaume Collet-Serra's execrable Non-Stop is the latest stop on the Liam Neeson winsome-badass tour. In this one, he plays alcoholic air marshal Bill Marks, grieving the death of his daughter and about to get one last chance to make right with the universe. At this point, it's fair to ask if Neeson is exploiting the tragic loss of wife Natasha Richardson for added gravitas in shit like this or genuinely drawn to these roles from an insensate expression of pain. Whatever the case, as this is not much different in feel and quality from his soon-to-be-completed Taken trilogy, it might be time for him to find a different agent. Lucky for Bill, sharing the fateful flight essayed in the film is an adorable moppet he can pretend is a version of his daughter and save from death, as well as a middle-aged but exactly-attractive-enough woman, Jen (Julianne Moore), he can pretend is the mother of his dead kid and quasi fall in love with. It's all so gratifyingly tidy.
****/**** Image B Sound B Extras B starring Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden, Brian Aherne screenplay by George Tabori and William Archibald directed by Alfred Hitchcock
by Walter Chaw Just the visual beauty of Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess speaks volumes for its inclusion on the short list of the master's masterpieces. This is one of the most astonishing-looking films in all of black-and-white cinematography, its palette of greys a veritable vice press on the already-quailing Montgomery Clift. A late, breathtaking montage wherein Clift, walking the streets of Quebec (filmed on location by the great Robert Burks), crosses a silhouette of a statue of Christ on His last walk to Calvary defines by itself character and theme: Hitchcock's wrong-man obsession clarified as Catholic guilt transference. The power of Hitchcock's best films is a potent mixture of audacious cinematic genius and the suspicion that original sin makes mistaken identity merely the intrusion of cosmic judgment. (It's inevitable and you must have done something at some point to deserve it, besides.) There's something greater at work in Hitchcock's films, the presence of the director asserting itself always--and a connection is struck in I Confess between that directorial control and a sort of implacable karmic omnipresence. For Hitch, filmmaking is Old Testament stuff, and I Confess is a little of that old-time religion.
½*/**** starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Peter Stormare, Ice Cube screenplay by Michael Bacall and Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
by Walter Chaw The smart parts are unbelievably stupid and the stupid parts are unendurable, making 22 Jump Street, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's follow-up to their well-regarded The Lego Movie, one of those things like Shrek that should do pretty well. Itself a sequel to a reboot of a cult television show about twenty-something cops pretending to be teenagers, the film finds buddy-cop heroes Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) going undercover in college, the better to bust some drug dealer. They have a tough-talking superior in Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube), who, this time out, gets a glass office someone refers to as a "cube of ice." Get it? There's much acknowledgment that sequels are often terrible, inflated things deficient in new ideas and reliant on amplification, and it's delivered with this exhausted, arch air. At least that's how I read it. I didn't even crack a smile.
June 5, 2005|There's perhaps no better illustration of the generation gap between Chinese persons who've grown up in the United States and their immigrant parents than sitting down at a table in the conference area of Denver's Hotel Monaco with Joan Chen, crowned the "Chinese Elizabeth Taylor" at the tender age of 14, and Alice Wu, the young former software engineer making her writing/directing debut with the lesbian ethnic sitcom Saving Face. Resplendent at 44, Ms. Chen has a deliberate way of speaking that's almost as intimidating as the fact that she never once met my eyes, while Ms. Wu, talking fast, using her hands, addressed me in a way forthright, almost aggressive. I felt admonished more than once by Ms. Chen as she talked about the creative arts as essentially selfish, and I felt challenged a time or two out of the blue by the irrepressible Ms. Wu, who chose to take adversarial positions on a few occasions where there wasn't any kind of natural polarity. Two different ways of approaching conversation, both instantly recognizable from my own experiences with a Chinese mother and father and the women with whom they would occasionally set me up before I did the near-unthinkable and married a white girl. Blonde, too. You could hear the screams back in Nanking--and Cape Cod, come to think of it.