Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review of THE FAIRY (2012)

- Not Rated but should be rated PG13 for fleeting nudity, although the MPAA would most likely rate it R cause they're dumb.  But it's PG13 style nudity.
- Starring Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon
- Written and Directed by Dominque Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy
- Running time: 1hr 34min.

I have not heard of these filmmakers before seeing this French comedy, but after watching it, I will be keeping my eye on them with great interest, as well as checking out their first 2 films.

A lonely hotel clerk named Dom meets Fiona, who enters his place of work looking for a room.  It looks like she just escaped some sort of mental hospital (which she did), but she claims to be a fairy and grants Dom 3 wishes.  He doesn't really think anything of it, but when he almost chokes to death, Fiona comes to his rescue.  He then wishes for a scooter and unlimited gas, and he wakes up the next morning with a scooter in the middle of the tiny hotel lobby, and a key to a gas tank.  The rest of the film is a series of vignettes as Dom and Fiona encounter a variety of zany characters, including a man who (not so secretly) sneaks a dog into the hotel, a nearly blind restaurant owner, 3 illegal immigrants, and a few people from the insane asylum.  Dom and Fiona fall in love and must try to find a way to be together when the fairy is taken back to the asylum.  And what about Dom's last wish?  You'll just have to see.  heh heh. 

I don't even know where to begin here, honestly.  I think I'll just start gushing now.  This has to be one of the most imaginative, articulately planned, strange, wacky, whimsical, unique and flat out hysterical films I have seen in at least a few years.  I haven't laughed this hard in a very long time.  Comedies today just don't impress me much as most of them have a bunch of Saturday Night Live alumni improvising their way through a sketchy story.  It gets old really fast.  I'm frankly getting tired of it.  But THE FAIRY is such a breath of fresh air.  Everything is carefully planned out with perfect comic timing.  Everything happens for a reason of this.  This is very much in the tradition of a classic silent comedy and the films of Jacques Tati.

There are so many memorable set pieces here.  I don't want to give them all away, but I'll tell you a few.  The film starts off low-key as Dom's bike chain breaks on a rainy day on his way to work.  Once there, he makes a sandwich, accidentally putting the cap to a ketchup bottle in it.  Then every time he is about to take a bite, there is a call at the front desk.  This happens several times, and it's just so perfectly built up that when he finally bites into his sandwich, I was anticipating it with comedic suspense.

The scene I laughed at the most (until I was crying) was when the owner of a restaurant (Bruno Romy) is serving Dom and Fiona beer, and he can hardly see anything.  He keeps running into walls, and almost spilling drinks on the two lovers.  Romy's timing in this is exceptional here, and has wonderful body language.  In fact, all the leads have wonderful body language and it left me thinking that maybe they had some training in performance art, cause it certainly feels that way as they gracefully move through the movie.

Both Fiona and Dominique are terrific comedians.  They create wonderfully infectious characters that are extremely likable.  Sure, they're eccentric, but they are so delightful.  And they both do this without hardly saying a word.  There are many sequences without any dialogue, which definitely gives it that silent comedy feel.  I've seen some filmmakers try this and actors try to emulate classic comedies, but many of those attempts turn out flat.  But Fiona and Dom are so graceful and talented that I almost feel like they were born in the wrong time period.  They would have been right at home making films in the 1920's.  Even their direction is minimal, just like those movies.  So many comedies today are overdirected with too much coverage.  But here, the camera is mostly static, the action in perfect frame, and just lets the actors do their thing.  It takes guts and lots of confidence to be able to just let the camera sit there.  It's simple, but most effective.  There's not much character development here, but that's not what this movie is.  It's ABOUT the comedy.  Not the characters.  Which is what the Farrelly's didn't realize when making their 3 STOOGES movie. 

I can't get many of the film's great moments and images out of my head: a marvelous dance number under the sea with Fiona being eaten by a giant clam, a dog thrown into sewer, a flying hospital patient, Dom trying to ride his scooter for the first time, Fiona's kleptomania, a human alarm system, Fiona immediately becoming pregnant and her delivery... there's just so much to talk about.  But no matter what I say, I cannot do this film justice.  You just have to see it!

This is a wonderful movie about 2 souls getting together as they go on a wacky journey through silliness.  Filled with old-fashioned humor, wit and charm.  Just about everything about the film's comedy and humor is perfect.  THE FAIRY is a refreshing jolt of comedic genius.  This is how comedy used to be done, and by no means should it be stopped.  This may not be everyone's cup of tea.  It's pretty strange and you have to be patient for the comedy to pay off.  But if you're a fan of classic comedy, whimsical tales, or just odd films, you will not want to miss this!  It's perfect!

**** (out of ****)

Review of HYSTERIA (2012)

- Rated R for sexual content.
- Starring Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Rupert Everett
- Written by Stephen & Jonah Lisa Dyer (Based on an original story by Howard Gensler)
- Directed by Tanya Wexler
- Running time: 1hr 38min

I had no idea what this movie was about walking into this, so the story sort of surprised me.  If you want to walk in cold, don't read any further.  The plot is talked about in every other review and in the trailer, but I just didn't know about it, which was kind of cool.

The story takes place in Victorian London.  Dr. Granville (Dancy) is a poor physician with a big heart.  He gets a job assisting Dr. Dairymple (Pryce) treating women with "Hysteria".  Pretty much back in this time period, any woman who showed signs of what we now call anxiety or depression were diagnosed with Hysteria.  And to treat them, Dr. Dairymple services them.  By servicing them, I mean he has his patients lay down, spread their legs and massages their... um.... well, I'm just going to say it.  He fingers them!  I guess this was a common practice.  Dr. Granville is finally trained in on this and he's very successful.  But then he begins suffering from arthritis.  He can't perform to his boss' (and patients) standards no longer.  Then Granville's roommate Edmund (Everett) invents an electronic devise, a Dustbuster.  But Granville gets an idea from it.  What if he can use an electronic device to treat his patients.  Hence, the vibrator was born.

But this is all just a backdrop for the heart of the story, which turns out to be a traditional romantic comedy.  Dairymple has 2 daughters.  One is quiet and reserved, Emily (Felicity Jones) who Granville has affection for.  The other is Charlotte (Gyllenhaal) who is "a Chinese firecracker", as one character calls her.  She is a feminist and is against her father's practice.  She's also trying to raise money so a shelter for poor people won't shut down, which her father doesn't approve of.  But something funny happens.  Dr. Granville, once he gets to know Charlotte, starts to grow fond of her, but he's already engaged to Emily.

This could've easily been a one-joke movie, but the script is deeply layered with drama, screwball comedy, and fluffy romance.  A film with a potentially raunchy subject matter is handled with taste and elegance.  Even though it's about the invention of the vibrator and has absolutely riotous scenes of women orgasming, it was done in such a manner that I would feel comfortable taking my mom to this.

And those "pleasuring scenes".  The first one had me in stitches as a proper British lady (Georgie Glen) is yelling at Dr. Dairymple as she's orgasms.  And she does a great horse bit too.  Yes, there's plenty of sex jokes but it also has some well timed situational comedy.  It is all so well balanced, making this a very sturdy film.  There is also a social commentary about the rich and poor that was handled with kid gloves.  I'm glad it wasn't preachy.  The romance isn't overdone either.  It takes it's time and you actually see chemistry between Charlotte and the young doctor.  Every character in this, whether it's a lead actor or a a heavyset woman singing opera style as she's being pleasured, are fun and likable.

The acting is terrific all around.  Hugh Dancy has the perfect British everyman look, and is just wonderful in the lead.  Now, it's been no secret that I'm not a big Maggie Gyllenhaal fan, but that's just because I have a tough time looking at her.  She often gets cast as the young romantic lead, but I always felt like she looks at least 10 years older than her actual age.  But I've always thought she was a great actress, and she fits the character wonderfully here.  She should be doing nothing but period comedies and dramas, as she flawlessly does a convincing British accent.  Her performance is full of verve and confident energy, but she's also sweet.  Jonathan Pryce is good as always as the head doctor.  And man, is it nice to see Rupert Everett in a movie again.  He has some of the film's best lines as Dancy's roommate, delivering smart comments with a slight, tight smirk on his face.

The art direction is marvelously authentic, and the costumes spot on.  The whole movie just has a great tone to it.  Director Tanya Wexler has crafted a wonderful, edgy, but surprisingly commercial (and that's good) lighthearted comedy.  If I had one complaint, it would be that a certain development in the last act felt a tad rushed.  But the rest of the film is so enjoyable that it's a minor quibble.

I know some viewers tend to dread costume dramas or comedies, but this has a real nice swift pace.  It goes by real fast, and you'll be sad when it's over, cause it's just a joy.  I never thought I would say a movie about the vibrator would be delightful.  But it is!  HYSTERA is absolutely delightful!  If you loved movies like SENSE AND SENSIBILITY or EMMA, this is in the same league.  And even if you're not a fan of those, I have a feeling you'll still have a good time. 

***1/2 (out of ****)

Also, check out my interview with the film's director, Tanya Wexler. 


- Rated PG13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality.
- Starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Clafin, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Sam Spruell
- Written by Evan Dougherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini
- Directed by Rupert Sanders
- Running time: 2hrs 7min

It was just over 2 months ago that MIRROR MIRROR with Julia Roberts came out to the theater.  That was a lighthearted take on the Snow White story, while this movie is a lot darker and aimed at older teens and fantasy loving adults.  I didn't hate MIRROR MIRROR, though it had problems.  I liked the look and some of the tone, but it wasn't as focused as it should have been.  After seeing many trailers for SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTMAN, I began getting pretty pumped as it looked bad ass.

If you know the traditional story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, forget it.  This is quite different.  The movie begins with the origins of the evil Queen (Theron).  She seduces the king of a mighty kingdom, and then marries him before brutally stabbing him in their bed.  Fearing that the King's daughter, Snow White (Stewart), will take revenge, she locks her in one of the castle towers.  Over the years, the kingdom has fallen apart.  The queen is growing older but the magic mirror tells her that if she has Snow White's heart, she will become immortal.  The queen's brother attempts to kill her, but she escapes. 

Meanwhile, there's a gruff but handsome looking huntsman (Hemsworth) who is a drunkard because his wife passed away.  The queen hires him to find Snow White, but of course that's not how it all goes down.  The huntsman eventually helps the princess.  They meet a band of dwarf thieves who decide to help out as well. There's also a prince charming story line involving Snow White's childhood pal thrown in cause I guess there wasn't enough plot to begin with.  Everyone joins up to destroy the evil queen and to put Snow White on the throne where she rightfully belongs. 

The look of this film is pretty cool.  It's evident that a lot of time, effort, and imagination went into this.  The concept of a darker, more violent Snow White story is something to get excited about.  However, the execution is not.  I really wanted to like this one guys.  Sorry.  It starts out promising, with the shocking murder of the King (this PG13 movie doesn't cut away from the violence), but then it takes awhile for it to get going.  I found the pacing rather sluggish, as every scene felt like it could have been cut down by 15 or 20 seconds.  It also struggles to find the right balance in which to juggle it's many characters.  Prince William seems like an interesting character, but then the movie forgets about him.  I guess he's just not as popular as Thor, huh? 

The second half is definitely better and more exciting.  Once the Dwarfs arrive, life is finally injected into the story, though the way they're used is pretty much ripped off from LORD OF THE RINGS (even the way they filmed them was the same, by having normal sized actors made to look short with special effects).  Their interaction is a lot of fun and that's when the movie also has it's share of some (not a lot) of humor.  Too bad this film wasn't just about them.  The queen was all over the first half, but she's hardly in the second when the focus switches to Snow White.  This approach doesn't allow the character to be fully realized and developed.  Most of the time she's just reacting to creatures and people trying to attack her as the Huntsman and Dwarfs save her.  Then, in the supposedly big epic battle at the finale, she puts on armor and becomes a full fledged hero, leading her people to victory.  There was absolutely no transition!  When did she get the confidence?  When did she learn to sword fight?  When did she become the main character?  Whatever.  Oh yeah, and they try to shoe-in a love triangle that doesn't feel warranted.  It just felt the filmmakers wanted audiences to choose between team Huntsman or team Charming.  It was pretty pointless.

The acting is kind of all of the place.  Kristen Stewart has gotten a lot of shit for her portrayal as Bella, and this won't change people's minds about her.  I personally didn't think she was awful here, but her character is such a blank slate.  There's nothing there.  Hemsworth is fine as the huntsman, but again, the character isn't developed.  Charlize Theron gives an unrestrained performance as the Queen that is wildly inconsistent.  Sometimes she is quietly menacing, but when she shrieks and her eyes get as wild as silver dollars, it's unintentionally funny.  Probably my favorite performance was that of Sam Spurell as the Queen's brother. He has a bowl cut that would make Jim Carrey's character from DUMB AND DUMBER jealous, but he portrays the part with terrific menace.  His confrontation with the huntsman was a highlight of the film.  The dwarfs were mostly good all around.  Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, and Toby Jones deliver fun performances.  Bob Hoskins is the only one who I found to be a bit flat.  He just looked like he was up for three weeks straight and wanted to take a nap. 

The effects are great.  The sets and art direction, though not very original, look fantastic.  There were some nice creative flourishes here.  There was a troll who attacks Snow White that was super cool looking.  There were some demons made out of glass that I thought was incredibly imaginative.  The scene in the dark forest when people hallucinate nightmarish images was horrific fun.  My favorite moment (and my daughter's) was the scene when the dwarfs take Snow White to a place of sanctuary, which was inhabited with all kinds of fantastic creatures, like mushrooms with eyeballs, sprites, fairies, and other magical beings. 

But the movie is only as strong as it's story, and that's where the movie falters.  First time director Rupert Sanders seems to have taken on more than he can handle.  He's fine when helming scenes of wonder and amazement.  But his action scenes are just so-so, edited in a very standard, generic fashion.  Even though building up to them was exciting, the actual fights and battles were kind of dull.  If a true visionary director (like Peter Jackson, Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese) would have been handling this, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTMAN could have been something really special. 

Though there are moments that are visually interesting to gaze at, the characters are severely underdeveloped, the direction generic, and the pacing kind of slow.  It's frustrating, cause this had all the ingredients to be a classic fantasy/adventure.  But it tries way too hard to be like LORD OF THE RINGS, and it pales in comparison.  My daughter liked it a bit more than me, but not much.  This isn't a disaster, but I never thought I would've rated this lower than MIRROR MIRROR. 

** (out of ****)

Review of FOR GREATER GLORY (2012)

- Rated R for war violence and some disturbing images.
- Starring Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria, Oscar Isaac, Bruce Greenwood, Ruben Blades, Peter O'Toole, Bruce McGill, Catalina Sandino Moreno
- Written by Michael Love
- Directed by Dean Wright
- Running time: 2hrs 22min

Based on a true account of the Cristeros War in Mexico from 1926-1929.  The Government was against Christianity and this is about how the Christians banded together to fight the system.  There are many characters (too many) in this film.  To be honest, I saw this movie about 2 months ago and I'm trying to remember who everyone was.  For some reason, I don't remember Eva Longoria in this at all.  Whoops!  I know Andy Garcia plays Enrique, a born leader who is an atheist, but ends up taking charge of the Christians cause his wife is religious.  I think that's who Longoria plays, his wife.  Yeah, I think.  Anyway, then we have Oscar Isaac as El Catorce, a sort of lone gunman who's a bad ass.  There are also a few kid characters who want to fight for the cause that Enrique grows attached to.  Rueben Blades is appropriately sinister as the head of the Mexican Government, Calles.  The first half of the film is an introduction to it's many characters, building up to the war that makes up more of the second half. 

I had no idea what type of movie this was going to be, so I was surprised when it turned out to be an action film.  That would be the film's greatest strengths.  Director Dean Wright knows how to properly stage and execute battles.  The best ones were the smaller and more sustained gunfights, usually involving El Catorce, who has a kick ass introduction as he takes out some baddies.  The bigger battles at the end were also riveting.  If you like epic war movies, you might like it. 

Unfortunately, I need a bit more than just some swell battle scenes.  The film is nearly 2 and a half hours, and it hurts it in more ways than ones.  It tries too hard to tell several stories, but some are more developed than others.  The most interesting character for me was El Catorce, but after the first half, he's not in it a whole lot.  They build him up to make it seem he will be important to the plot later, but he isn't.  This movie either needed to be longer, to expand the storylines that were lacking, or shorter, cutting all the stories and characters that weren't fully developed. 

Andy Garcia does solid work here as Enrique.  He's a fine actor and it's nice to see him dig into a meaty role here.  Oscar Isaac is terrific as the lone gunman who felt like a great western legend.  There are a few other known actors in smaller parts, like Peter O'Toole as a doomed priest, and Bruce Greenwood as an American Ambassador who can't seem to help out the Mexican people. 

The direction is good, but the script really needed to be shopped out.  There are moments that I enjoyed quite a bit, and the story is worth telling I think.  The action scenes distracted me from it's weaknesses from time to time, but not enough for me to fully recommend the film.  It's a nice try, but it doesn't quite make it.  Well crafted technically, too bad it has a scattershot script. 

**1/2 (out of ****)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Exclusive: Interview with Director of HYSTERIA, Tanya Wexler!!!

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking (in person) with Tanya Wexler, who is a filmmaker whose romantic sex comedy about the creation of the vibrator called HYSTERIA is releasing this month.

I met her at the Foshay Tower downtown Minneapolis, and sat down in some pretty comfy lounge chairs to chat with her.  I must say, interviewing her didn't really feel like interviewing her.  It felt like I was just hanging out with a friend, jibberjabbing about her latest accomplishment.  It was very casual.  She was very loud and boisterous and I mean that in the best way possible.  An absolute pleasure to talk with!

TW (Tanya Wexler): Hi!  I'm Tanya.

AK (Austin Kennedy):  Austin.  Austin Kennedy.

TW: How are you? 

AK/TW (same time): Nice to met you.

TW: If you have a bunch of stuff (to ask)... I just basically kind of non-stop talk, so you should just "neeeeeer", cut me off and steer me around or...

AK: Okay. 

TW: I won't take it personal.

AK: First of all, I saw the movie a few weeks ago and loved it. 

TW: Aww, thank you.  Thank you so much!

AK: What was funny was that I didn't know...

TW: You didn't know what was coming?

AK: Well you usually (at screenings) I don't know about what the movie is about.  I just get invited and am like "Oh, cool".  So I didn't know anything about it.

TW: (laughs) Were you like, "What the fuck?"

AK: Well about halfway through the movie I was like... "Wait a minute!  Is this.... is this about... the vibrator?

TW: (laughs)

AK: Cause I didn't know where it was going cause they finally talk about the vibrator about halfway through the movie. 

TW: Yeah! It's late.  Cause it's really about hysteria in many ways.

AK: But I was like, "wait a minute!" So I thought it was really cool and it surprised me

TW: (laughing and clapping)  That's awesome.  I've only met  a few people who saw it kind of cold like that.  Cause it's almost impossible to not hear what it's about...

AK: Well with so many mainstream popular movies it's hard to stay away from what it's about, so when there's an independent movie like this, I don't want to know anything about it.  

TW: But also with this topic it's sort of hard to keep it (a secret).  Cause most people are like, "Oh! The vibrator movie."

AK: If I would've heard something about that before seeing it, I would've had preconceived notions about it.  So it was kind of nice going in cold like that.  So I had a  different perspective on it.  

TW:  Yeah yeah.

AK: So this is your third film?

TW: It is.  I made 2 little teeny weeny small films.

AK: And that was awhile ago?

TW: Yeah.  I had 4 kids.

AK: Oh! O.K.!

TW: So I was in my kidland for quite awhile.  Then this took a long time to get going too, so I can't blame it all on the children.  I can blame a lot on my children but not that.

AK: How did the script get to you?

TW: It was a two page treatment and I brought the writers on board.

AK: How did you find the treatment?

TW: A friend of mind said, "I know what your next movie is."  And I was like "you do? "  And she said "a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England".  And I was like, "YES!".  ME!  Done!

AK: So it was just a treatment?

TW: Just a treatment.  Yeah.  A treatment about the treatment.  (laughs)

AK: Did she write it too?

TW: No. No. I knew the writers.  I brought it to them.  I was like, "we have no money".  And they're like, "what's the idea?  Okay we'll do it!".  It was just like that.  The people who GOT IT, got it right away and were passionate about it.

AK: Did you have a lot of input in the script?

TW: Oh yeah, I mean we worked together.  So it's a husband and wife team, and the husband produced my first 2 movies.  And they were moving away from producing cause every time we went into production he'd start smoking again.  And I think he'd die if he produced another movie.  And he was a good writer and both knew how to produce.  And they started writing a lot, and they were figuring out what to write next, and something we wanted to do together.  And I brought it to them, and they were like "Oh my God, it's the best idea I've heard in a year".  They just wrote it on spec.  It took a lot of time to get it right.  Like a year and a half. two years just to get the script right.

AK: Was it just the tone or...

TW: Yeah, and there's a lot in it.  There's a lot of different storylines and subplots and characters and we want them to be real and three dimensional.  And to get all that in an hour and a half and follow ... what is it?.... six characters really.  It's tricky cause you need enough for each one to feel like something, but you need to keep your main story going.

AK: And probably the balance of tone of broad humor or (is it) too raunchy...

TW: Yeah!  We didn't want to make a sex farce.  We thought the movie about the vibrator was just a 15 minute sketch.  So we had to figure out what it was about.  They had to find a plot.

AK: About Hysteria.

TW: Yeah!  They ultimately found it in the screwball comedies of the 30's and 40's.

AK: I love those.

TW: Yeah, so it's kind of like that Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn vibe.  So once they got that done we needed to bring on some producers.  We teamed up with a British producer whose done 12 amazing period pieces.  MRS. BROWN, ENGLISHMEN WHO WENT UP A HILL BUT CAME DOWN A MOUNTAIN....

AK: I love that movie.

TW: Just tons of stuff.  RUN FATBOY RUN with Simon Pegg!  She's just great.  And the producer of CRAZY HEART, Judy Cairo came aboard too.

AK: That wasn't the hard part?

TW: It was very hard.

AK: Was it hard to get it funded?

TW: It was really hard.  Hard to get it cast and funded.  A lot of that is getting around and through to certain people.

AK: How was it hard casting?

TW: The volumes of material actors get sent is tremendous.  The volume of material I get now is tremendous, and I'm still not anybody anyone's ever heard of.  But there's so many people trying to make so many scripts.  The way things kind of get through that kind of noise is because someone knows someone.  You know, if a famous director is attached, then another famous actor is attached.  Or if the producer has a big reputation.  So it was helpful we had a producer who had made these 12 films, and Judy who had just made CRAZY HEART.  When we first started, we didn't have Judy and CRAZY HEART was still a twinkle in her eye.  But for a director that was not known in my case,  I mean I made 2 little films that proved that I knew how to but a camera somewhere and work with actors but I wasn't known.  So there's an education.  And first you get someone to read the script, then you have to do the education.  You have to build the pieces so that someone starts paying attention.  But to get those first pieces was hard.  So we ended up casting Jonathan (Pryce) first.  And then Rupert... and then building an ensemble.

AK: Jonathan came first, huh?  How was it working with him?  I love Jonathan Pryce.  BRAZIL's one of my favorite movies.

TW: Me too! And I got to meet to Terry (Gilliam)!

AK: Oh really?
TW:Which was the coolest thing in my entire life!
AK: Super cool!

TW: Jonathan's great!  We've become family friends.  He's only friends with me because I have a guest room in New York.  (laughs).  But he's great and tremendous.
AK: Was he helpful on the set?
TW: I mean they're all helpful.  And they want the movie to be good.  And they want to seem good in it.  So people worked very hard and they cared a lot.  And they were passionate.  It can make you crazy sometimes cause it is the stuff of art and emotions that you're playing with and working with and I don't mean it to be high-minded but lot of it's intangible.  And a lot of it's subjective.  So people get their feelings hurt.  But our actors... our group got along really well.  It was a good ensemble.  Our team got along really well.  It was as harmonious as it gets.
AK: So how did you get to Maggie?  What did she think of the script when she finally read it? 
TW: That's what convinced her to do it.  She got it from her manager (through Judy who worked with her on CRAZY HEART), and Maggie just laughed and said "I can play this!!  I know how to play this part".  She said in a lot of interviews: "You get a lot of scripts that are good, but you know there is going to be a rewrite or a polish.  But this one was done!"
AK: Cause you worked on it for so long. 
TW: Cause I knew that the education was going to be about me as a director and if I was going to stay on, I had to tell them why things in the script needed to be the way they were, even though I wasn't the writer.  We should only have writer/directors.  But, we basically said we won't send it out until it's perfect.  And that's the difference when you don't walk in with a studio or a bunch of money or known director.  You have to walk in with something that you can't get anywhere else.
AK: I have to talk about the first scene when Hugh Dancy is servicing (the old lady).  Who is that actress?  The first one.
TW: The first one, when Jonathan and Hugh are together?
AK: Yes yes!

TW: I know! Everyone loves her.  Georgy Glen.  Really tall and skinny.  And that horse bit?  She's brilliant.  She's been in the UK in every BBC thing.  She was in MRS. BROWN and was in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE.  She had a smaller part as lady in waiting.  But she's brilliant.  And she came into the audition, and I wasn't even going to go do that bit in the first round of auditions because I was going to see a lot of people.  So just do the dialogue bits and the people I'm calling back, if they want to try the orgasm bit, then we'll do that.  And she said (in a proper British accent), " Oh, do you mind if we read this one too?".  And we were like, sure!  She said, "Do you mind if I get on the floor?".  It seems fun to them and most of these actresses got it and were passionate.  Actors are very game to try stuff if they feel safe.  I've got a lot of questions about if it's different cause I'm a woman director.  And I just say that I have no clue.  But, the 2 things that might be different are that maybe the actresses felt more comfortable that I was there.  Not that a guy couldn't have done it.  But they just knew that I wasn't going to be exploitative, not that I think most guys would either.  The only other person who really had the experience of going into it cold, was a producer who was looking at me for another film.  She didn't know what my film was about.  And the first treatment scene is like 15-20 minutes into it.  She said she turned around to her husband and was like "They're not. Oh my God! What?"  But since she knew it was a female director that she just sat and relaxed.  Cause she knew it wasn't going to go somewhere that was going to make her uncomfortable.  And I never thought about it that way.

AK: So how did you get the actresses comfortable during those scenes?

TW: (laughs)  Like I said, they kind of came into the audition fairly comfortable.

AK: And the actors too.

TW: Yeah, We had a sandbag.  That's what the actors were actually manipulating.  So they had a privacy sandbag.  You know it's funny we got an R rating.  Let's see... there's no nudity, there's no language.  I mean the chicks are wearing hats for God's sake.

AK:I was thinking of that too because... you've seen PLEASANTVILLE....the scene when Joan Allen services herself, and it's PG-13. 

TW: But I guess it's not "about" (masturbating)...

AK: It wasn't about that but it was pretty...
TW: Intense.

AK: And she's in the bathtub.  and the tree goes on fire and everything.

TW:  Yeah yeah yeah. 

AK: And then you get something like this which is more clinical.

TW: And you have a movie about 12 year olds murdering each other and that's PG13. 

AK: But I never really pay attention to the MPAA. 

TW: It's fine.  I don't think we're expecting 13 year olds to come out to this movie anyways.  But it's fascinating to know what exactly is the most disturbing thing here, if you really think about it.  But that's kind of the big joke.  Right?

AK: Right.

TW: The denial.

AK: I really liked watching Rupert Everett again. 

TW: Yeah, he's great.

AK: I mean, he was huge for awhile, like in the late 90's with MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING and AN IDEAL HUSBAND.  And then he kinda disappeared for awhile. 

TW: He says it's cause he came out of the closet.

AK: Oh really?

TW: He says when he came out the roles dried up, cause they were kind of touting him to be the next big leading man.  And then he wasn't.  You don't know if it's true or not,  and it was a different time then.  I don't think there's a big "out" leading man, but you know there is, um, what's his name from HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER... Neil Patrick Harris.  And he's playing a straight guy and everyone knows he's out.  So it's probably a little better now.  But I think the good thing for Rupert is that he's such a comedic genius that there's a whole other chapter in his career, and he's amazing.  He's irrepressible.  And he just does all sorts of crazy stuff on the set, and gives you so many choices.  It's like shoot!  He did this funny bit on take 2 and this funny bit on take 3, and they're at the same moment, and I have to choose!  And that's the hardest thing with him.

(At this time the publicist has informed me that I need to wrap it up.  I acknowledge her and ask if I can ask Tanya one more, and she said yes)

TW: Wow.  Everyone here is polite.  You're nice (talking to the publicist) and he actually listens to you.  You go to L.A. and they're like "yeah yeah yeah, I'm going to keep asking questions.  (laughs)

AK: What's next?

TW: That is the question.  What's next?  I'm developing something with Paula Patton.  Kind of this Woody Allen-ish adult style romantic comedy.  I have a bio-pic I'm working on that I can talk about in a couple weeks.

AK: So you got a couple things coming up.

TW: Yeah.  And then I have a kind of dramedy I'm co-writing.

AK: So you're definitely not taking a long break like you did before.

TW: No, I had the children...

AK: And now it's time to play?

TW: And now the children can take care of themselves.  I want to crank out a lot of movies.

AK: That's good.  That's good.  I'm excited to see what you're doing next. 

AK & TW: Thank you so much. 

TW: Great to meet you!

AK: Great to meet you. 

TW: Take it easy.

AK: Yeah, you too.

As you can see.  She was a blast to talk to.  And definitely check out HYSTERIA, out in theaters now.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 31 - JESUS' SON (2000)

- Rated R for graphic drug use, strong language, sexuality and some violent images.
- Starring Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton, Jack Black, Denis Leary, Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper, Michael Shannon
- Written by Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia & Oren Moverman (Based on the book by Denis Johnson)
- Directed by Alison Maclean
- Running time: 1hr 47min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!) 

Back in the late 90's, I was really into Indie films just for the sake of it.  I was an aspiring (still am) filmmaker and I loved anything that was different.  It took me until I saw the underrated DONNIE DARKO that I grew out of this rebellious filmmaking phase.  If I re-watched at least half of the weird pretentious movies I loved in the 90's, I probably wouldn't dig them so much anymore.  Reviewing lots of films over the years I have discovered one true thing.  Tastes change.  Constantly.  When I saw the trailer for this back in 1999, I thought it looked amazing.  For some reason, I never made my way to the theater to see it.  Being my last film chosen for the movie challenge, I was really looking forward to finally watching it. 

Billy Crudup plays Fuckhead.  Yup!  Fuckhead.  He's a drifter in the 70's (I think?) that meets a hippie named Michelle (Morton).  They hit it off, I guess.... but they're always on again and off again during this fucking trainwreck.  Sorry.  Usually I wait until I finish the synopsis to reveal what I thought about the film, but I just can't contain myself.  This movie is painful artsy dreck!.  So yeah, Fuckhead and Michelle are junkies and they keep splitting up.  Every once in awhile Fuckhead will wander around, getting in wacky adventures, like working at an emergency ward in a hospital with Jack Black, or volunteering at a rehab center (when he gets sober).  He also meets an older widow played by Holly Hunter who he bangs and then she completely disappears for no reason.

Sorry, I can't really explain the structure and plot of the film, cause there is none.  It is told completely in flashbacks, but it's all over the place that I just stopped trying to follow it.  The characters take a lot of drugs, swear and yell at each other a whole lot, and then try to have meaningful discussions.  This is the type of movie that I would expect from some pretentious film school graduate.  Everything has to be experimental.  Director Alison Maclean is so determined to make this film not like any other film that all of the experimentation takes the movie completely over, as it just spirals out of control. 

The only saving grace is Samantha Morton, who gives a heart wrenching performance as a drug taking bitch.  She's definitely one of my favorite actresses, I just wish she would have had a well written character.  Everyone tries so hard to be offbeat and strange.  Crudup is a lost mess here.  Jack Black was still in his annoying "look at me" phase before he became a star, as he gave distracting performances that stood out, and not in a good way (like in MARS ATTACKS and THE JACKAL).  I would have liked to see more Dennis Hopper in what was a criminally small cameo, though I guess I'll just watch EASY RIDER 50 more times instead.  Michael Shannon wasn't a good actor yet (honestly, I've only liked him in 2 films, BUG and TAKE SHELTER), Denis Leary has a pointless character, and Will Patton is wholly unnecessary. 

Director Maclean has made sure that every cheap arty filmmaking gimmick was thrown in so we wouldn't be confused that this was a Hollywood film.  When an indie film tries this hard to think out of the box, it makes me ashamed that I am a part of this.   When I'm making a film, I just want it to be good.  But I don't over-think it, and force it to be something.   A film should come about naturally.  But this is about as natural as a Cheerleader at a gutter punk rock show.

JESUS' SON is bottom of the line trash that wants to be art.  Full of self important crap, tedious performances, and embarrassing experimental flourishes, this is a movie to avoid at all costs.

1/2 (out of ****)

Monday, May 28, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 30 - BLACK MASK (1999)

- Rated R for strong violence including martial arts combat, some sexual content and language.
- Starring Jet Li
- Written by Tsui Hark & Hui Koan and Teddy Chen & Jo Ma
- Directed by Daniel Lee
- Running time: 1hr 36min.

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!) 

I still haven't seen that many Jet Li movies.  I mean, I've seen some of his American films like KISS OF THE DRAGON (which I love), but I think I've only seen FIST OF LEGEND when it comes to his "real" movies, and I only thought it was okay.  BLACK MASK was made in 1996, but didn't come out to the US until 1999, re-dubbed for the American public.  I have a really hard time judging a movie properly when it's dubbed, so I watched the original version in it's native language.

So.... well, this is where I normally would tell you what the story was about, but I had a really hard time understanding what was happening during the whole thing.  It starts off with what I think was a flashback.  Jet Li is in some sort of program with a few other guys with certain powers that make them strong or something.  While on a mission he's almost killed and disappears.  He then hides as a librarian where this annoying slutty chick tries to ask him out.  Anyway, a few scenes later, Li is wearing a black "Kato" mask beating up a bunch of thugs.  I guess he's moonlighting as some type of vigilante.  Li is good friends with a cop who may or may not know his secret identity.  The villain is also super strong and is just mean looking.  According to a synopsis on IMDB, Li is supposed to be battling old teammates from his special forces unit, but I didn't really get that connection.  And there's some girl who knows kung fu that Li is hung up on for some reason.

I'm not sure what the hell happened here, but this movie didn't make any fucking sense.  As you can see, I thought the plot was completely incoherent.  It also didn't help that the filmmaking was also incoherent, making it very difficult to comprehend what was actually happening in front of my eyeballs.  Poorly lit, crooked camera angles (that didn't match one shot from the next) make the film nearly unwatchable.  About halfway through, I just threw up my arms and gave up trying to make sense of this mess.  The movie is so bad that I was surprised that it was actually picked up for American distribution.  How can anyone see this and think it's marketable.

Okay, Jet Li is tremendously talented, but you wouldn't know it from this movie.  In order to appreciate someone's martial arts ability, the filmmakers should shoot the action scenes with many mastershots with minimal cuts so that we can see just how awesome of a fighter he is.  Instead, there are too many close-ups, rapid camera movements and slapdash editing.  By the way the film was made, they could have easily just cast someone who doesn't know Kung-Fu from knitting.  The whole purpose for getting Jet Li to be in your kung fu movie is to have the fight scenes look genuine, but when you cut the fighting to shreds like this, it's absolutely pointless.  I could've been The Black Mask for Christ's sake!  I guess that some of the fight choreography and stunt work had some inspired moments.  There were a few fights that amused me, like Li flying through the air throwing slinging around some sort of electrical tube or chord or... whatever.  But it's all pretty moot.

I think there is a really good martial arts film that could be made from this premise.  I love masked vigilantes, and with the casting of Jet Li, this could've been a classic.  But director Daniel Lee should have never been let behind a movie camera.  He's absolutely dreadful.  That and the script had no semblance of an actual plot.  I'm sure there's many other examples that can better present Jet Li's abilities, cause this just doesn't cut it.

* (out of ****)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 29 - LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND (1998)

- Rated PG -13 for brief strong language, thematic elements and some sexual content.
- Starring John Hurt, Jason Priestley, Fiona Loewi, Maury Chaykin
- Written and directed by Richard Kwietniowski
- Running time: 1hr 33min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!)

Remember Jason Priestley?  He was on a show in the 90's called BEVERLY HILLS 90210.  He was kind of a teen idol icon for awhile before he was forgotten about forever.  He never really made the transition from the tube to features though.  Besides CALENDAR GIRLS, he tried his hand in independent films like COLDBLOODED and this quiet little film. 

Sir John Hurt (if he's not knighted, than he ought to be because he's so bloody British) plays a hermit of an author named Giles De'Ath (pronounced "dee-oth").  He lives in England and is completely out of touch with the modern world.  In fact, he hasn't been out of the house in years.  On an impulse, he buys a ticket to the cinema and accidentally walks into the wrong movie (an awful juvenile frat boy comedy).  As he is about to exit the theater, one of the actors in the film catches his eye.  He sits back down, and even though the young man is not a good actor, he is somehow intrigued by him. 

Giles finds out that the actor is Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley).  Up until then, his life has been meaningless, but he ends up becoming obsessed with Ronnie, cutting out pics from teeny bopper magazines and renting all his films.  Eventually, the love struck author travels to Long Island to find him, meeting his girlfriend first.  He charms his way into their lives, not confessing his true reason for being there, as he tells him that he is a writer interested in making a vehicle for Ronnie.  The 2 men become friends, but how long will Giles keep his secret. 

It's an offbeat premise to be sure, and if this was handled by a mainstream Hollywood studio, this probably would have been a broad comedy in the same vein as IN & OUT.  But instead, it's a quiet, low key character study.  To put it bluntly, this is John Hurt's film.  His Giles De'Ath is unforgettable.  He has no clue how to function in society and it was sort of fascinating to see him discover what a video tape is, or when he goes to the microwave section looking for a video player.  Hurt gives a tremendous performance, nailing all of the character's many emotions he goes through. 

Unfortunately, Hurt is so good that almost everyone around him pales in comparison.  Priestley just doesn't have the acting chops to play in the same scenes with him.  Not that Priestley is a terrible actor, it's just that Hurt is on a completely different level here and it becomes distracting.  The only actor that fares well with Hurt is Maury Chaykin as a restaurant owner.  The small bit part actors were also distractingly self conscious.  They felt like "actors", not characters.  John Hurt was so real, but everyone else was so phony. 

This was frustrating to me because the script is pretty good, and has some amusing satirical jabs at Hollywood films.  There are a few fake movies that Ronnie stars in that made me chuckle.  They poke with great fun at mainstream cinema.  But finale seems a bit rushed, and some characters did things that I didn't buy. 

If you love John Hurt, then you'll probably want to give this a look, cause he gives a terrific performance here.  I just wish writer/director Richard Kwietniowski would've cared about all the other characters and story elements just as much as he cared about Giles De'Ath. 

**1/2 (out of ****)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 28- VEGAS VACATION (1997)

- Rated PG for sensuality, language and thematic elements. (But the MPAA would probably give it a PG13 today for the exact same reasons.  Pussies!)
- Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid, Ethan Embry, Wayne Newton
- Story by Elisa Bell & Bob Ducsay;  Screenplay by Elisa Bell
- Directed by Stephen Kessler
- Running time: 1hr 34min.

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!) 

I have a certain fondness for the VACATION movies.  I saw the first one many times (edited for television) growing up.  I still laugh at parts when I see it on the tube, but haven't actually sat down and seriously watched it in a long time.  EUROPEAN VACATION I liked when I saw it in the move theater when I was.... wow, 9 years old.  I thought I was older than that.  Huh.  Anyway, I saw CHIRSTMAS VACATION at least 2 times in the theater, and I had fun with it.  Though I did watch it about 5 years ago and felt that it didn't hold up too well.  When VEGAS VACATION came out, I was done with the Griswold's.  That and I just didn't want to see a rated PG VACATION movie.  So this was my first time watching it.

The movie opens amusingly with Clark (Chase) singing to the Beach Boy's Good Vibrations, which is kind of funny since he can't hit any of the high notes.  This is the Clark I remember from the first films.  Anyway, he goes home to his family (Ellen, Rusty and Audrey), and tells them about his big bonus.  This means they can go to Las Vegas, but his family isn't too thrilled until he mentions that they he and Ellen are to renew their vows there.  Pretty much like any other VACATION movie, things don't go as planned.  Instead of bringing their family closer, they grow further apart.  Clark becomes addicted to gambling, Ellen goes on dates with Wayne Newton (who is love with her), Rusty gets a fake ID so he can gamble, and Audrey learns how to pole dance from cousin Vicky.  And of course, cousin Eddie (Quaid) is back to annoy Clark and audiences alike. 

Actually, compared to the other films in the series, this one is pretty tame.  I hate movies that show strip clubs with the girls fully clothed.  If you're going to have the balls to write gags about a strip club, at least have the balls to show nudity in your movie.  Sheesh!  The jokes lack bite, instead coming across like typical sitcom fare.  Every once in awhile I would chuckle at something Chevy Chase does, who for the most part stays true to the Griswold character.  Beverly D'Angelo seems to have gotten way hotter through the course of the films, which just seems wrong.  But she's fine here.  The kids aren't very good though.  Ethan Embry plays Rusty like he's got some kind of mental deficiency, and Audrey I thought was just bland.  If you liked Randy Quaid's Eddie in the other 2 films he was in, you might like him here.  Personally, I thought he was the worst thing in the previous ones, so I found him just as annoying here.  Wayne Newton seems to be having fun in a glorified cameo, but it's one-joke premise wears thin. 

The humor doesn't really work here.  Most of them fall flat. Like Clark getting lost at the Hoover Dam and winding up climbing it.  At a Segfried and Roy show, they seem to be building up to a joke when Clark joins them on stage, but then the scene just ends.  No joke?  Okay.......  Didn't see the point in that one.  It was nice seeing Christie Brinkley reprising her "hot chick in a car" role, even though the gag doesn't go anywhere.  And by the end of the movie, they try to make it all schmaltzy and about family.  Who cares?  I just want to see some funny jokes.

Despite Chevy Chase's decent effort trying to revive the Griswold franchise, VEGAS VACATION is just a big disappointment.  This one could have just premiered on TV, as it resembles that sort of mediocrity.  Uninspired, tired and boring.

*1/2 (out of ****)

Friday, May 25, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 27 - SMALL WONDERS (1996)

- RATED G but the word "pissed" is used.
- Directed by Allan Miller
- Running time: 1hr 17min.

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!)

This Documentary was the basis for the Wes Craven film, MUSIC OF THE HEART (1999) starring Meryl Streep (who got a nomination for it).  It follows Roberta Guaspari, a violin instructor who specializes in teaching young inner city kids in New York the violin.  The movie shows kids from the ages of 5 to 17 learning how to play.  There are interviews with the kids and Roberta as well as footage of her teaching the kids.

I won't deny that this subject is important.  I think it's essential to teach kids productive and artistic things.  Roberta comes across as stern and caring, but a bit egotistical if I'm being honest.  Some of the little kids almost look as they were forced to play the violin by their parents.  But most seem to enjoy it.  This is also a bit of an important subject to me because I had private violin lessons from ages 5 to 15 (but then traded my fiddle in for a Bass Guitar cause it was 1992 and that was the thing to do back then I guess).  I even was humming along to some of the tunes that I used to play.

Unfortunately, the Documentary is not put together very well.  The cameraman never seems to know where the focus is, and the editing couldn't be more amateurish.  The transitions are piss poor, often fading out right in the middle of when someone talking.  I guess what they were saying wasn't important, huh?  Dumb.

The movie builds up to a big charity concert at the end with the kids playing with some of the most established fiddle players, but the movie is put together in such a sloppy fashion that it wouldn't even be acceptable for a PBS special.  I'm shocked that this was nominated for best Documentary by the Academy, and HOOP DREAMS was not.  Weird!

** (out of ****)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 26 - BULLETPROOF HEART (1995)

- Rated R for a strong graphic sex scene and for language.
- Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Mimi Rogers, Matt Craven, Peter Boyle
- Story by Mark Malone;  Screenplay by Gordon Melbourne
- Directed by Mark Malone
- Running time: 1hr 37min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!) 

I saw this one when it first came out on Home Video back in 1996.  I remember thinking it was pretty original, and liked it.  But tastes change throughout the years, and I feel that it's important to re-watch movies as time goes on.

Anthony LaPaglia plays a killer for hired named Mick.  He is comfortable with his job, but because of it has turned him into a bit of a cold hearted bastard.  He doesn't have the ability to feel, as is evident in a scene when a hot call girl fails to arouse him.  His boss George, played by Peter Boyle, hires Mick to kill a femme fatale, Fiona (Rogers), who ripped him off.  The weird thing is, it was Fiona's idea to be killed off, and is looking forward to it, which baffles George.  Also along for the ride is Matt Craven's Archie, who is a bumbling thug who wants to prove himself a worthy helper after botching Mick's last job. When Mick meets Fiona, something unexpected happens.  He grows attached to her, getting to know her before he rubs her out.

LaPaglia is an underrated actor and I think this could be his finest work as Mick, giving him a sort of alienated, tough guy vulnerability.  Mimi Rogers shines as the femme fatale, who is completely fucked up in the head.  Matt Craven gives the film it's much needed lighter touch as a goofball who wants to be a killer.  Peter Boyle is expectedly solid.  The script by Gordon Melbourne is quite good.  The premise is pretty low key and not a whole lot happens.  But it's more interested in character interactions than action and suspense.  Conversations between Mick and Fiona are the movie's best moments, as they talk about life and their personal problems which is littered with colorful dialogue. The have good chemistry together as they fall for one another. 

Unfortunately, the movie suffers from poor production values.  It actually became distracting for me.  I think Mark Malone was going for a sort of film noir look, but with the budget he was given the movie ends up looking like a late night softcore Cinemax movie that was often seen in the 90's.  The sleazy and amateurish score doesn't help either.  I also think the movie needed to be opened up more, the world it takes place in feels awfully small, even though it's set in New York City.  The movie just feels cheap and will take most people awhile to get into it, if at all.

That's too bad, cause this movie is smarter than it's production values.  It's pretty sophisticated when it comes to it's characters, but lazy in it's filmmaking aspects.  It's not bad by any means, and way better than it should be, but it could have been a great movie with the proper execution.

**1/2 (out of ****)

Review of CHERNOBYL DIARIES (2012)

- Rated R for violence, some bloody images and pervasive language.
- Starring Devin Kelley, Jonathan Sadowski, Jesse McCartney, Olivia Dudley, Dimitri Diatchenko
- Written by Oren Peli and Carey & Shane Van Dyke
- Directed by Brad Parker
- Running time: 1hr 25min

This horror film is trying to ride the wave of recent found footage movies like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY... at least that's what the marketing wants you to believe.  It's actually NOT a found footage movie filmed with a video camera.  It's an actual work of fiction, with the action carefully storyboarded and set up.

Yes, there are characters in this, but they don't really matter.  We have a pair of brothers, Chris (who lives in the Czech Republic) and Paul, Chris's girlfriend Natalie, and Natalie's friend Amanda.   Chris and his bunch are visiting Paul, who has a killer idea to go on a (not quite legal) tour of where the Chernobyl nuclear reactor was, and all the buildings nearby.  They are led by a shady tour guide named Uri in a big van, and are also joined by another couple.  Once they arrive, things aren't quite right as they find a dead mutated fish, and a big bear that almost mauls them in one of the buildings.  They are just about to leave when, of course, the van won't start.  Whoops!  Now it's a real horror film!  With mutant wolves and zombie like creatures roaming about, they must try to survive and escape this horrific place.

Just like any other horror film, the plot is pretty basic offering nothing original what-so-ever.  The acting is not that great.  Sadowski is pretty irritating as the know-it-all, Paul.  McCartney is a whiny pud.  The girls are much better, especially Devin Kelley as Amanda, who ends up pulling herself together and is kind of the heroine of the whole piece.  She does some solid acting.  I also liked Diatchenko as Uri, who is just the right amount of creepy as the tour guide.

The first 20 minutes or so were a bit rough as I really didn't want to hang out with these characters as we got to know them.  It doesn't help that the writers have only given the actors pretty standard dialogue to work with.  But once they get to the site, director Brad Parker is able to generate some real tension.  He films everything with a handheld camera.  It's not headache inducing, but it moves just enough to create an uneasy feeling, which is effective.  There were many long takes that just follow characters as they're being chased by creatures, which amped up the tension.  I also did like that bear moment, which came out of nowhere.  I jumped a bit there.  I like that a lot of the horror stuff like the creatures and violence were mostly off screen.  We see glimpses but then the camera turns away, leaving our imagination to fill in the gaps.  In a world where the motto seems to be "the gorier the better", this was a refreshing approach.

The ending is typical for a horror film, and it was a fitting one.  However, during the finale I began getting bored because I didn't have any emotional investment in these characters.  I didn't care who lived or died.  And that's too bad cause I actually thought the direction was quite good, and there were a few real scary sequences that worked.  Overall, I can't quite recommend it.  I can see the average horror junkie looking for some cheap scares and are more forgiving to generic horror movie conventions digging it enough.  I just would've liked to see this promising premise followed through with some worthy characters.  Since it's just a horror film, is that too much to ask for?  It might be.

**1/2 (out of ****)

Review of TONIGHT YOU'RE MINE (2012)

- Rated R for language and some sexual material.
- Starring Luke Treadaway, Natalia Tena, Matthew Baynton, Alastair Mackenzie, Gavin Mitchell
- Written by Thomas Leveritt
- Directed by David Mackenzie
- Running time : 1hr 20min

Shot in just five days during the 2010 "T in the Park" music festival in Scotland, this movie is about 2 musicians, Adam (Treadaway) and Morello (Tena).  They are both in different bands that are playing at the festival.  The first time their groups meet backstage, they get in a slight feud which ends with a spiritual security guard handcuffing Adam and Morello together, before he magically disappears.  The two spend much of the festival looking for him so they can get the key to release them.  To further complicate matters, each of them have a significant other that they must explain their situation to.  This causes a series of problems which include Morello's band performing with Adam still cuffed to her, sleeping situations (which has the 2 couples sleeping together), and going to the bathroom.  But something surprising happens when the two begin to grow affection for one another in just 24 hours. 

The movie, which is shot with a crude looking digital camera,  opens with Adam and his bandmate Tyko performing a song in the back of a moving car for an amateur filmmaker's documentary.  It ends with a confrontation with Morello's band as they shake the car up while they're still filming and singing.  Then, the intriguing premise is brought upon us in pretty unrealistic way.  It felt weird that this dude just handcuffs them together.  It seemed a bit off.  I also didn't like Adam's tour manager in these opening scenes, as he felt as phony as carbless Cheesecake.  I was really prepared to hate this.

But them something interesting happened.  The main characters began to grow on me and that's mainly do to the convincing work of Luke Treadaway and Natalia Tena.  Both do a great job and share a genuine chemistry with one another.  You really felt that they were falling for one another as the film went on.  I liked Matthew Baynton as Adam's bandmate Tyko.  He's kind of the comic relief but he was likable enough as to not being annoying.  I also liked Sophie Wu as the filmmaker in a small role. 

Another reason why this eventually worked for me was because of the atmosphere.  I have been to several music festivals, and apart from Documentaries, I have never seen them properly captured on film.  The vibe felt right.  I suppose it helped that they filmed while an actual festival was happening.  It definitely made it feel authentic.  The music is also really good, especially Morello's band.  In one of the film's highlights, I really enjoyed the moment during Morello's concert when Adam was cuffed to her, and he starts playing the keyboard, incorporating the song "tainted love" into their song.  That was clever.  This movie made me nostalgic for the mid-90's music fests that I attended.  Shooting it in digital really added to the authentic feel.

It took a bit for me to get into it, but the characters eventually won me over.  It's a very small film, but I really enjoyed the romance between Adam and Morello.  I think it was mostly ad-libbed, and it works.  The actors really did a good job creating little character details and interactions with each other that felt real.  And the music was good.  If you love music fests and low key romances, I would give it a try. 

*** (out of ****)

Review of HEADHUNTERS (2012)

- Rated R for bloody violence including some grisly images, strong sexual content and nudity.
- Starring Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnove Macody Lund
- Written by Lars Gudmestad & Ulf Ryberg (Based on the novel by Jo Nesbo)
- Directed by Morten Tyldum
- Running time: 1hr 40min

This nail-biting thriller from Norway is about an art thief named Roger.  Even though he works as a headhunter (recruiting people for various companies) he makes his real money by reprinting famous paintings, finding the original, and then replacing them to sell the original on the black market.  Roger also has a gorgeous wife who runs an art gallery.  Through her he meets an art collector named Clas, who owns a rare original painting.  Roger plans on stealing it with his partner, but one thing he didn't count on was that Clas used to be a special agent in the Military with excellent tracking and assassination skills.  Also, the thief discovers that his wife is having an affair with Clas.  Now, after taking the painting, Clas is hot on Roger's trailer.

That plot description does not do the movie justice.  This is quite possibly the most purely entertaining film I have seen in quite some time.  Man, I don't even know where to begin.  Let's see....  The movie starts with a quick list of rules to follow during a robbery with rapid fire editing and prominent images.  This brief opening sequence told me that I was in the hands of a director who knew what he was doing.  Then we get to know Roger, who is kind of a prick.  A cold and calculating individual who likes all the expensive superficial things in his life.  He even cheats on his barbie doll wife.  But for some reason we end up rooting for him by the end of the movie.  That's because his character begins to change as his life falls apart thread by thread.  He realizes he hasn't been the best person, and you actually believe that he would change if he lives through all these events.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.  The big reason why this movie works is because of the structure, which is basically a clear cut thriller.  This movie isn't necessarily groundbreaking and original, but the way it builds suspense little by little as the tension slowly escalates that eventually it becomes nearly unbearable (in the best way possible).  As Roger is being hunted by Clas, the situations he keeps getting in get worse and worse.  The filmmakers find many ways that Roger can either die or get caught, and it always seems like they're impossible situations to get out of.  I kept thinking, "How the hell is he going to get out of this one?"  And everyone of these set pieces end with Roger getting away in clever and suspenseful ways.  I guarantee you will be on the edge of your seat with unbearable tension and absolute disgust as Roger hides in an outhouse.  There's also an exciting scene with an attack dog.  I don't want too many other specific things, since the whole fun of this movie was to see what other obstacles the filmmakers were going to throw at Roger.  Also, this film has some pretty brutal violence that's as graphic as any horror film, which was a plus for me.  Really added to the danger of the film. 

Director Morten Tyldum is a director with a clear vision.  Every shot appears to be expertly storyboarded and thought out.  Lots of obtuse angles, and perfect editing.  He knows how to properly pace a tension filled scene.  It's movie manipulation at it's finest.  The acting is excellent all around with Aksel Hennie highlighting the film as Roger.  It's a great performance that resembles the acting of Paul Bettany.  In fact, I could see him playing this role if this was remade, which I really hope it isn't.  It's perfect the way it is, and probably couldn't be improved upon.  The script is first rate.  And nothing is ever what it seems, as Clas might actually have more on his mind than just his painting. 

If you love suspenseful thrill rides.  You WILL NOT want to miss this!  This is the first "MUST SEE" movie of the year and easily the most satisfying.  There are so many great moments in this that I lost track of them about halfway through.  HEADHUNTERS is an exhilarating thriller with great visual flare, top notch acting, and a story that will have you so involved that you will possibly have no fingernails by the end of it.  DO NOT MISS IT!!!

**** (out of ****)

Review of MEN IN BLACK III (2012)

- Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content.
- Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alice Eve
- Written by Etan Cohen, David Koepp, Jeff Nathanson and Michael Soccio
- Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
- Running time: 1hr 45min

It does seem rather odd that 10 years after an unwanted sequel to the blockbuster MEN IN BLACK, that we're getting a third movie.  I don't think anyone was asking for another one.  I liked the first one enough as fluffy entertainment, but thought the 2nd one was terrible.  But since I only saw each one once in the theater (and also with my daughter never seeing either of them) I bought them for 5 bucks a piece at Target and we watched them last weekend.  The first one still holds up, and enjoyed it possibly a bit more, but the 2nd one is still a tired excuse for a sequel.  Now that I got all caught up, I was ready to see the third one, with my expectations being quite low.

The new one begins with J (Smith) and K (Jones) still working together as special agents who monitor aliens living on planet Earth.  J is still bothered by K's lack of passion and his unwillingness to be close friends.  Meanwhile, a super villain, Boris The Animal,  escapes an alien prison on the moon and comes to Earth looking for K, who shot his arm off 40 years ago.  Boris gets a hold of a time travel device and goes back in time to kill K.  He succeeds, as J finds out when he goes into work and no one knows who K is.  Learning from his boss, he discovers what happened.  J then goes back in time to 1969 to stop Boris from killing his partner, and in order to do so, he teams up with a younger agent K (Josh Brolin).

The movie opens with a pretty rousing prison break on the moon, introducing Boris as possibly the most menacing of all the MIB villains.  It's also more violent than I thought it was going to be as Boris shoots spikes out of his hands into victims heads.  It was a good way to start the movie, but then it slows down just a bit.  At first I felt that Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones lacked the energy from the first 2 films, but then I realized that's because they've been Agents for so long, so this approach fit.  We get another fun action set piece set in a Chinese restaurant as K and J battle a smorgasbord of strange creatures.

But the real fun is when we go back to 1969.  The production crew did a great job re-creating the 60's.  And of course, Josh Brolin effortlessly impersonates Jones' K.  His facial expressions (or lack there of) and vocal influctuations are spot on.  He appears to be having a great time.  It's also during these scenes that Will Smith's performance gets more energetic.  There's the typical fish-out-of-water stuff, but it works well enough.  I was also surprised at the strong story arc, at least for an MIB flick.  I read that they began shooting without a finished script, which doesn't really show at all.  If you would have told me that about the second one, I would've believed you cause that was a mess.  But this has a solid story.  It really focuses on the friendship between J and K and why they are who they are.  And there's a great reveal in the film's finale that brings everything from the first movie into full circle, which was really quite touching.  I wasn't expecting that.

Jones is starting to look pretty rough in his old age, but it fits the worn out character.  Smith takes awhile to find his footing, but eventually does.  Brolin is a hoot.  Jemaine Clement is a great villain with his perfectly enunciated snarls.  Emma Thompson has a couple funny moments as the new boss, however Alice Eve is kind of wasted as her younger version in a subplot that doesn't really come together.  The real find of the film is Michael Stuhlbarg (A SERIOUS MAN) as an alien psychic who helps out J and K in 1969, who plays his part with hilarious eccentricity.

The CGI heavy special effects haven't really progressed since the 1997 original, but that's okay.  It gives the movie a kind of retro vibe that keeps it consistent with the series.  Actually, I would say the effects are better than the second, which were embarrassing.  Also, the 3D in this wasn't terrible.  In fact, some of it looked pretty neat and fit with the sci-fi theme of the series.  The post conversion looked better than THE AVENGERS I thought.  Though I'm still not sure it's worth the extra surcharge.  The creature design is pretty amazing as usual, especially when there are scenes with several aliens roaming around, which makes one want to see it again to view all of the different types of monsters.  The action scenes are fun and well crafted.  Liked those cool circle cycle things.  And it was neat to have the finale set at Cape Canaveral.

This isn't nearly as satisfying as something like THE AVENGERS, but it's not trying to be.  Just like the first MEN IN BLACK, this is a breezy popcorn movie that's supposed to entertain you while you're in the theater, then return to your normal lives when it's done.  It's not a movie that will have you thinking about it long afterwards.  Just a nice diversion.  This should satisfy most fans of the series, thought I'm not sure 15 years later if the fan base is that big anymore.  Most kids weren't alive when the first two came out, so it's up to cool parents to get them up to speed before bringing them to this.  My expectations were very low, so I was kind of surprised that I had as much fun as I did.

*** (out of ****)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 25 - WITH HONORS (1994)

- Rated PG-13 for language and brief sensuality.
- Starring Joe Pesci, Brendan Fraser, Moira Kelly, Patrick Dempsey, Josh Hamilton
- Written by William Mastrosimone
- Directed by Alek Keshishian
- Running time: 1hr 42min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!) 

This one never interested me much.  I was 17 when this came out and I was heavy into the grunge scene.  The last thing I wanted to see was a bunch of yuppies whining about how bad they have it at Harvard.  But now that my mind is more open now, I gave it a look (also because Jessie Hoheisel picked it for the challenge).

Brendan Fraser is Monty, a student at Harvard.  He lives with 3 other students (that could be from MELROSE PLACE) in a really nice old house on campus.  Courtney (Kelly) is just one of the boys since she just likes to sleep around.  Everett (Dempsey) is supposed to be comic relief (I think) playing a disc jockey.  Jeffrey (Hamilton) is a conservative snob that is somehow friends with these easygoing people.  Monty is working on his thesis, so he's very stressed lately.  One day, he accidentally drops one of his thesis folder and it falls through some kind of crevasse and ends up in the basement of the campus library.  He sneaks in and finds that a bum named Simon (Pesci) is throwing pages of his thesis in the fireplace.  Monty gets him to stop, but Simon won't give him back his work.  But the bum makes a deal with the yuppy:  He will give him a page a day for food and shelter.  Eventually, Simon stays with Monty and his roommates (despite the disapproval of Jeffrey).  Of course, Monty and Simon become friends, while the bum wins his roommates over.  And it wouldn't be a feel good Hollywood movie without Simon actually being super smart and teaching the students lessons in life.

It must be because the time it was made, but this felt like a really bad spinoff of those awful twentysomething TV shows from the mid 90's like PARTY OF FIVE and MELROSE PLACE.  I hated those shows because non of the characters felt like real people.  Same fucking thing here!   Monty is not such a bad character, but his roommates are.  Every one of them felt like a cardboard cut out, hoping that a laugh track would follow every time they said a smart ass line to one another.  Yeah, I get it.  They can joke around with each other.   However, non of the dialogue felt natural or genuine.  So I already thought this movie was a stinker just when they introduced the 4 students.

But then Joe Pesci arrives!  Probably one of the most painfully cliched characters to be put on the big screen!  Every thing he says has some sort of homeless bullshit wisdom.  I didn't buy that Monty would ever be friends with him, I didn't buy that his roommates would grow to love him.  Come to think of it, I didn't buy anything in this phony movie.  There's a scene during the middle of the movie that tries to get us to root for Simon by having him outsmart a professor, but it just seems so ridiculous.

Fraser is okay,  but I never thought of him as a great actor as he was just kind of the "flavor of the month" for some of the 90's.  Moira Kelly is fine I guess as Courtney, but she's written so poorly.  And the romance between her and Monty couldn't have felt more force fed if you rammed it down with a jackhammer.  Patrick Dempsey is pretty damn bad here as a sort of goofball.  His character is probably the most underwritten and one dimensional.  Josh Hamliton is just a walking movie cliche as Jeffrey.  His character is so unlikable that you eventually get the idea that he was only added to the mix to cause friction, not because these people would actually hang out with him.

But the real travesty here is Pesci's God awful performance.  When he's dramatic, he's way too sappy, trying harder than he should to emote.  And then there are several moments when he tries to be the funny, goofy (but charming) character.  Isn't it charming to see a bum take a shit in the bathroom?  WOW!  I don't know what the hell Pesci was thinking or going for, but his line deliveries are downright embarrassing.  It sounded like he was trying to emulate the vocal pattern of W.C. Fields in many scenes, and it came across jaw droppingly bad: like I couldn't believe a filmmaker would let him do that!  He should've got the Razzie that year for worst actor.  He definitely deserved it.

This movie is predictable from scene one, though that wouldn't be a problem if it had a good script, good performances and solid direction.  But it doesn't.  And the ending!  Oh my God!  I hate it when a movie tries too hard to make you cry.  It's like the filmmakers are putting a gun to your head saying, "Cry!  This is sad Dammit!".  Well, yes it is sad.  But not because the movie is sad, but because the movie is garbage.

1/2 (out of ****)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 24 - THE GOOD SON (1993)

- Rated R for acts of violence and terror involving a disturbed child (but really should have been rated PG-13.  Non of the violence is graphic and Kevin from HOME ALONE just says the F-word once).
- Starring Elijah Wood, Macaulay Culkin, Wendy Crewson, David Morse
- Written by Ian McEwan
- Directed by Joseph Ruben
- Running time: 1hr 26min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!) 

When I was 17, this was kind of a big deal.  I mean, the kid from HOME ALONE is playing an evil kid and he says "fuck"!  Awesome!  For some reason, I never got around to seeing it.  Though I was curious, at the time, I just hated these kinds of movies.  Never found a taste for these B-grade thrillers, but my moviegoing mind is more open now, so I finally gave it a legitimate chance.

As much as the studio would like you to believe (with all the marketing and advertising), Macaulay Culkin is NOT the main star. That would be played by Elijah Wood as Mark.  He just lost his mother and must stay with his Aunt, uncle, and 2 cousins Henry (Culkin) and Connie while his father travels to China for 2 weeks on business.  At first, everything seems normal.  Mark and Henry seem to get along like best friends for the first couple of days.  But every once in awhile, Mark notice's some odd things about Henry.  Like when Mark almost falls from a tree house, Henry grabs a hold of him as says, "If I let you go, could you fly?".  But Henry does pull Mark up and the two laugh about the situation.  Then Henry does the worst humanly thing possible: He lights up a cigarette.  Oooooh!  What a bad kid!  Henry does finally do some pretty bad things like shooting a dog with a steel bolt, intentionally whipping his sister Connie toward the thin ice while ice skating, and hinting that he may have purposely drowned his little brother.  Mark tries to tell his aunt and uncle these things, but of course they don't believe him.  He even tries to tell his shrink but Henry has already gone to her turning the tables on Mark, having everyone believe he's the disturbed Child.  Mark must stop Henry before he ends up killing someone.

Yeah.  It's definitely B-grade, which doesn't automatically make it a terrible movie.  In fact, it's possible to make a trashy story like this work with the right ingredients.  Elijah Wood was already a talented actor by this point (being in AVALON and the very underrated RADIO FLYER), and he turns in a solid performance here as Mark.  He's very easy to like and conveys all the appropriate emotions this kind of role requires.  David Morse is good (per usual) as Mark's father, but he's not in it much.  The rest of the cast fits the B-movie bill, with cheesy acting.

Joesph Ruben keeps the picture movie swiftly with fast past direction and slick camera movements.  Lots of overhead and crane shots here.  It definitely has a good visual style going for it.  The script is typical of the genre, as it hits all of it's marks predictably.  However, the movie doesn't work for one main reason.  Macualay Culkin.  He is NOT good in this, delivering every line with absolutely no conviction.  I think he was trying here, but the approach was all wrong.  Instead of scenery chewing, Culkin downplays his performance by saying his lines almost monotonous.  I get that they were trying for a kind of "quiet creepy" thing but it's all wrong here.  I guarantee you this would have been 100% more effective if Wood and Culkin switched roles, as the former has far more range than the latter.  Culkin just doesn't have the experience (or the talent) to pull this kind of part off just yet.

I had fun with some of the set pieces in a fun B-movie kind of way (love the kids rolling along the edge of a cliff fighting each other) and there is a satisfying comeuppance.  However, the movie ends almost too abruptly, making it feel incomplete.  This wasn't a disaster, just disappointing knowing that this could have been something fun.  Instead, the studios wanted to cash in on the novelty of having Culkin play a real bastard of a child.  I guess it got some asses in seats, but that doesn't mean that it was a good final product.

** (out of ****)

Monday, May 21, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 23 - CAPTAIN RON (1992)

- Rated PG-13 for elements of sensuality and for some language.
- Starring Martin Short, Kurt Russell, Mary Kay Place
- Written by John Dwyer and Thom Eberhardt
- Directed by Thom Eberhardt
- Running time: 1hr 39min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!) 

I saw this film twice in the theater when I was 16.  Not that I loved it that much or even really liked it.  No.  I saw it a second time because this girl I liked wanted to see it and thought maybe I'd be able to get to hold her hand during it.  No such luck.  Still, I don't recall the movie being too painful, if not memorable.  So now, 20 years later, I'm giving this one a third look.

Martin Short plays Martin (original), a bored office worker who is so excited when his uncle leaves him a historic boat that's worth millions.  He convinces his wife (Mary Kay Place) to bring their son and teenage daughter to the Caribbean in order to retrieve the boat.  The catch is, they must sail the boat back so that an expert can determine the exact value.  Since Martin knows nothing about sailing, he hires a local to take them on their journey, Captain Ron (Kurt Russell).  He's a little rough around the edges, I guess.  He wears his shirt open (when he's wearing one), he drinks beer, has an eye patch, and speaks his mind.  Ooooh.  Sounds like a nightmare!  Martin hates him, but before you can say "WHAT ABOUT BOB?", his entire family falls in love with him during their 5 day voyage.

This is Hollywood Formula at it's purist.  You know exactly what's going to happen almost every second.  Yes, of course Martin Short and Kurt Russell are going to clash.  Of course Captain Ron is going to teach the family valuable life lessons.  Of course Martin and Ron will have a falling out before respecting each other at the end.  That wouldn't necessarily be a problem if the film were actually funny, but it's not.  At all.  I guess it could pass as something harmless to have in the background while you're folding laundry or something, but when I watch a movie I want to see something awesome.... or something awful.  CAPTAIN RON is neither, it's safe, mediocre fluff.  And to me, that's the worst a movie can be.

Martin Short is seriously miscast as the straight man.  Why would you want to put a normally funny actor as a stuffed shirt bore?  He seems very uncomfortable here trying to act like a normal family man.  It just doesn't work.  This was a role Charles Grodin was born to play, but "no, let's get Ed Grimley to NOT be funny."  Stupid!  Kurt Russell looks to be having fun, but he doesn't have anything funny to do.  He just grunts his lines while Short looks at him with disgust. Mary Kay Place isn't terrible as Martin's wife, and doesn't look too bad naked for being in her 40's, but unfortunately the plot won't let her rise above being a one dimensional character. 

So Captain Ron is supposed to be this extremely rude, crude and outrageous character, but he comes across surprisingly tame.  I mean, the worse thing this guy does is give Martin's son a beer.  Granted, that's bad, but in movieland, it's nothing.  He should have been more wild.  And the movie just goes on an on.  Every situation seemed like it was from a mid-90's sitcom, which means not funny.  Isn't it funny to put apparently normal people into crazy situations like almost being flooded in a shower?  Not really.  And just like any other mediocre comedy, they try to shoe in an adventure plot with some pirates that completely comes out of left field.  And how did Martin know the name of the pirate?  Some sloppy writing here.

Director Eberhardt does nothing to elevate this from being anything other than a boring TV movie, and I'm sure if Kurt Russell wasn't in it, that's exactly where it would have premiered.  I know that this has a bit of a cult following, but for the life of me I don't know why.  This is an extraordinarily ordinary film.  Yaaaawwwnnn......zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz......

* (out of ****)