**½/**** starring Colin Hanks, Schuyler Fisk, Catherine O'Hara, Jack Black screenplay by Michael White directed by Jake Kasdan
by Walter Chaw The director of five episodes of the late, lamented television series "Freaks and Geeks", Jake Kasdan, with screenwriter Mike White (a scribbler on that same show), produces a surprisingly (or, perhaps, not so surprisingly) tender and observant commencement comedy with Orange County. It's After Hours as filtered through the sensibility of a young, pre-suckage Cameron Crowe, and though it's extremely uneven and clearly hacked to bits (the film feels clipped at 86 minutes), the end result is a cameo-laden piece that for the most part resists the cheap, exploitive garbage that indicates most of the teen comedy genre. While I expected more from the young man who debuted as writer-director of the brilliant Zero Effect (and from White, half of the creative team behind the overrated but intriguing Chuck and Buck), Orange County is a good film--particularly, I suspect, for those anticipating just another teen movie.
January 11, 2004|I reread Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s Two Years Before the Mast in the days leading up to a chat with Campbell Scott regarding his new film as director, Off the Map. It is the book that Off the Map's matriarch (Joan Allen) reads by lamplight throughout the picture, one that transfers its philosophy of nautical reflection to not only the picture's rhythms but also a visual scheme that re-imagines Dana's vast deeps as the smothering doldrums of the New Mexico desert. Scott's fourth film behind the camera, Off the Map is surprisingly sticky, offering up echoes for days after a viewing and displaying a confidence of voice and purity of spirit of an artist hitting his stride in the last couple of years as actor, director, and sometime producer. So I went to the underground grotto of Denver's Magnolia Hotel with the intention to talk to the generous Mr. Scott about tranquility, Zen and the art of filmmaking if you will--to take a peak into that treasure chest that has offered forth, in addition to Off the Map, one of this year's best films in The Secret Lives of Dentists, and one of last's, Rodger Dodger.
Image B- Sound B Extras C "The Emerald Heart," "Falco," "Treasure," "From Beyond the Grave," "Blood Wind," "Grotesquery," "New Acqaintance," "Natural Enemy," "Spirit of the Swamp," "Legend of the Swamp Maiden," "The Death of Dr. Arcane," "The Living Image," "The Shipment," "Birthmarks," "The Dark Side of the Mirror," "Silent Screams," "Walk a Mile in My Shoots," "The Watchers," "The Hunt," "Touch of Death," "Tremors of the Heart," "The Prometheus Parabola"
by Ian Pugh In many ways the anti-Darkman, Wes Craven's Swamp Thing also saw a comic-book scientist irrevocably transformed into a monster at the hands of hoodlum saboteurs. Alas, unlike Sam Raimi with his masterpiece, Craven is unable to strike a balance between seriousness and silliness, falling too far in the latter direction before the picture finally collapses under its own snarky weight. It is, however, the film that enlightened me as to why B-movie anti-appreciation is such a worthless endeavour, since Swamp Thing never bothers to pretend that it's anything more than a couple of dudes in rubber suits wailing on each other. When you're making a movie in the "MST3K" mindset, as Craven appears to be, you don't really have a movie in mind, per se--you're just positioning actors as they recite lines from a script.
Image B Sound B Extras B "My First Adventure," "Passion for Life," "The Perils of Cupid," "Travels with Father," "Journeys of Radiance," "Spring Break Adventure," "Love's Sweet Song"
by Ian Pugh It's important to understand that Indiana Jones didn't make history cool, but even more important to understand that history didn't make Indy cool, either. "The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones" (formerly known as "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" and henceforth "Young Indy") purports to portray the daring archaeologist's early years as he travels around the world with his father (Lloyd Owen), meeting famous figures and going to great pains to teach the young'ns in the audience a thing or two about the artists and revolutionaries of the early twentieth century. Because the attempt to educate binds itself to a down-to-earth approach, the series completely ignores the fact that Indy's franchise appeal lies in a careful collision of the mundane and the fantastic, of reality and fantasy. It's one thing to demythologize the romantic violence often attributed to the Old West but quite another to try to demythologize something so immersed in theology and the supernatural that to abandon them is to lose something inextricably vital to the concept. Imagine if Raiders of the Lost Ark had ended with the Ark of the Covenant revealed to be an ornate box full of dust, sans the wrath of God, and you'll understand the basic problems that plague "Young Indy".
***/**** starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana screenplay by Peter Berg, based on the book by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson directed by Peter Berg
by Walter Chaw Peter Berg is a great action director. He does it with verve, a good sense of space (which is increasingly rare these days), and a sense of both weight and humour. He has excellent timing, as well as an understanding of what's meaningful visual information in there among the dross of motion and impact. Moreover, he seems obsessed with working through issues surrounding what it means to be a man--how too often, it means your social interactions are limited to violence, threats to your sexuality, and hazing rituals dangerous and bestial. I'm a huge fan of his debut feature, Very Bad Things; visually, I think it's wrong to underestimate how influential is his romantic rack-focus gimmick from Friday Night Lights. I love Berg's Hancock, the movie that Man of Steel aspired to be (and if we're talking secondary influences, Zack Snyder owes much of his cinematic vocabulary to Berg). I love The Rundown, and while Battleship is inarguably a misfire, it's also less of a misfire than it could have been. With Lone Survivor, based on the memoir of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the titular lone survivor of a botched four-man special forces mission in Afghanistan, Berg's examinations of the masculine take their logical turn from bachelor parties to football to superheroes to military action. And for long moments, Lone Survivor is fantastic.
HANNAH MONTANA: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON Image C Sound C+ Extras D+ "Lilly, Do You Want to Know a Secret?," "Miley Get Your Gum," "She's a Super Sneak," "I Can't Make You Love Hannah If You Don't," "It's My Party and I'll Lie If I Want To," "Grandma Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Play Favorites," "It's a Mannequin's World," "Mascot Love," "Ooh, Ooh Itchy Woman," "O Say Can You... Remember These Words?," "Oops! I Meddled Again," "You're So Vain, You Probably Think This Zit is About You," "New Kid in School," "More Than a Zombie to Me," "Good Golly, Miss Dolly," "Torn Between Two Hannahs," "People Who Meet People," "Money for Nothing, Guilt for Free," "Debt it Be," "My Boyfriend's Jackson And There's Gonna Be Some Trouble," "We Are Family--Now Get Me a Water!," "Schooly Bully," "The Idol Side of Me," "Smells Like Teen Sellout," "Bad Moose Rising"
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS ½*/**** Image B- Sound B- Extras D+ starring Jason Lee, David Cross, Cameron Richardson, Jane Lynch screenplay by Jon Vitti and Will McRobb & Chris Viscardi directed by Tim Hill
by Ian Pugh Contemplating the factors that pushed Hannah Montana into the limelight is automatically more interesting than devoting the least amount of attention to the eponymous Disney sitcom that introduced her to her gullible constituency. The concept behind the show, a kind of rock star wish-fulfillment that teaches its tweener audience that if you tell enough people you're famous, you'll get there eventually, has proved the foundation on which to make a mint. But sit down to watch "Hannah Montana" itself and you won't see much more than the same episodic drivel from the Disney Channel--standardized junior-high antics cushioned by lame slapstick. Any significance you cull from a deeper reading invariably leads back to the construction of the carefully-groomed personality that serves as its centrepiece. Flanked by her best friends (Mitchel Musso and Emily Osment) and supported by her manager/father (Billy Ray Cyrus) and brother Jackson (Jason Earles), Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) divides her time between a typical teenage life and a tour through fame as bubblegum diva Hannah Montana. What she actually does with that time hardly matters.
ZERO STARS/**** Image A- Sound B Extras C starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Courtney Driver, Jessica Biel, Matthew Lillard screenplay by Kevin Falls and John Gatins directed by Michael Tollin
by Walter ChawSummer Catch bulges the already-overcrowded shelves reserved for appalling Freddie Prinze Jr. vehicles that no one saw in theatres and, predictably, no one is renting given a second chance. Determining which of Prinze's performances and films is the worst is an exercise both diverting and daunting; to that end, I'd have to say that Summer Catch falls squarely in the middle: it's physically impossible to sit through the whole thing without a lengthy break or some sort of medium-bore narcotic, thus making it inferior to the stolid water-torture of I Know What You Did Last Summer (that film's relative enjoyability no doubt owing a great deal to Jennifer Love Hewitt's oft-invoked bustline). Still, it has going for it that it doesn't cause your eyes and ears to bleed with the consistency and volume of Down to You or Wing Commander.
Les yeux sans visage ****/**** Image A Sound A Extras C starring Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, François Guérin, Edith Scob screenplay by Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Jean Redon and Claude Sautet, based on the novel by Jean Redon directed by Georges Franju
by Walter Chaw Five films changed the conversation in 1960. They were the fire, though the embers were stoked in the years leading up to them. Looking for signposts in the Eisenhower Fifties, you find the juvenile-delinquent cycle, plus the outré horror flicks of England's Hammer Studios, or Japan's tokusatsus, or France's Nouvelle Vague. More directly, you find a pair of films based on works by the team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, Diabolique and Vertigo. But in 1960, there was this quintet, each the product of parallel genesis, each proof after a fashion of a Jungian collective unconscious, perhaps, certainly that things long-simmering inevitably boil over. There's an idea in my head, put there by Ethan Mordden's Medium Cool, that everything that happened in the arts in the United States throughout the Fifties points to what was about to happen in our culture in the Sixties. Mordden is the source of my favourite teaching point when it comes to the two eras: that in the Fifties, if you didn't listen to Mother, society was doomed; and in 1960, if you listened to Mother, you were Psycho.
CHILDREN OF MEN ****/**** starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam screenplay by Alfonso Cuarón & Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby, based on the novel by P.D. James directed by Alfonso Cuarón LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA ***½/**** starring Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase screenplay by Iris Yamashita, based on the book Picture Letters from Commander in Chief by Tadamichi Kuribayashi and Tsuyoko Yoshido directed by Clint Eastwood
by Walter Chaw Stop on any single frame of Alfonso Cuarón's remarkable war idyll Children of Men--a film that's rarely in repose, sometimes seeming composed of one long, frantic shot--and I suspect the sharp-eyed, educated viewer would be able to cull a reference to modern art, most likely one about men reduced to their base animal nature. For me, the two visual landmarks come in the form of a cue to the cover design for Pink Floyd's 1977 "Animals" when hero Theo (Clive Owen) goes to see his industrialist cousin Nigel (Danny Huston) for help and a re-creation of Richard Misrach's remarkable series of 1987 photographs documenting, among other things, a dead-animal pit in Nevada purportedly used to dispose of victims of a plutonium "hot spot." Both share a space with surrealism in the positioning of animals (artificial or deceased) in industrial spaces (London's Battersea Power Station is the iconic backdrop of the "Animals" cover) as mute commentary, perhaps, on man's destructive relationship with his environment--a read that jibes comfortably with the thrust of Children of Men, in which we're told that one day in the not-too-distant future, humans suddenly stop reproducing. (Fertile ground for science-fiction, this obsession with progeny (see: everything from Frankenstein to I Am Legend).) The picture opens with a Fleet Street terrorist bombing, a little like Terry Gilliam's dystopic Brazil--though rather than take the easier route of satirizing our current state of instability and free-floating paranoia, Children of Men makes a serious attempt to allegorize it.
Image A Sound A- Extras D "The First Laugh," "Working It Out," "The United States of Insanity," "It Was The Best of Times...," "Determined and Injured," "Competitively Speaking," "Beginning of the End," "Back in the Day," "The Curtain Call"
by Ian Pugh It's not that I don't get Dane Cook. In fact, it's difficult not to occasionally chuckle when looking over his repertoire, as in ruminating on the general inconvenience of having the Kool-Aid Man burst through your wall and the fact that no one can ever finish a game of Monopoly, or wondering who would write racial epithets while sitting on the toilet, he represents a strict literalization of that old sarcastic summation of stand-up comedy: "He's sayin' what we're all thinkin'!" It's not that funny, but we all laugh, anyway, partially for Cook's enthusiasm, partially because he's a reflection of us at our most vulnerable (that is, at our stalest creative moments), proudly transcribing the idle thoughts and half-attempts at wit that pass through our minds on a daily basis. We laugh, painfully, because we've all contemplated what Cook has to say.
**/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+ starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Danny McBride screenplay by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg directed by David Gordon Green
by Walter Chaw I'm willing to concede that I don't completely get it, but I'm still game to think about it because Pineapple Express has a peculiar pedigree. It boasts David Gordon Green as its director and his regular DP Tim Orr is in charge of shooting the gross-out gags and stone-faced stoner riffs. The union makes the most sense if we read the film as a throwback/homage to the seventies cycle of grindhouse exploitation flicks (doobies and dismemberment), thus explaining the old-school wipes and funkadelic soundtrack, the mote-flecked cinematography, the cruel violence, and, if it's even possible, the air of reality throughout. Otherwise, the picture feels like a cynical patchwork stitching together this new comedy genre with a sensibility specifically designed to mock it. When über-stoner Saul (James Franco, in his Spicoli/The Dude breakout) runs through the dark woods, the flash I get isn't to Cheech & Chong but to the convulsive opening of Green's Undertow. And during an ending in an abandoned government research facility-turned-subterranean pot greenhouse, I couldn't shake Green's odd relationship with Asian stereotyping (remember the Feng Shui character from All the Real Girls?) in a troupe of black-clad Asian assassins clearly established as objects of derision. In truth, however, I don't know if the derision is levied at Asians or at the criticism levied against Green's perceived derision of the same.