July 2006

This Week

by Alan Rapp on July 31, 2006

in Film News & Trailers

So what’s out there this week?  Well today we’ll take a look at the films scheduled to be released this Friday which include some animated animal mischief on the farm, Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver “who can only count to #1,” Robin Williams caught up in a “real life” Twilight Zone-type adventure, and a British horror flick about the dark things found at the bottom of a cave.  All that and more; read on…


Here’s what’s scheduled to hit theaters this week.  Want to know more?  Just click on the title for film info including a full cast list.  Want a closer look?  Just click on the poster to watch the trailer.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Will Ferrell and NASCAR, need to know more?  Ferrell goes behind the wheel in the starring role as a great, but dimwitted (what else?), NASCAR driver who gets a run for his money when a French Formula One driver (Sasha Baron Coen) shows up to challenge him.  John C. Reilly stars as the teammate and best friend.  Written by Ferrell and Adam McKay (the pair gave us Anchorman).  This movie’s been promoted non-stop over the past few weeks, but can Ferrell and McKay get the same laughs without the likes of Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, and Christina Applegate?  Check back Friday for the review.

Barnyard: The Original Party Animals

Ever wonder what farm animals do when no one’s looking?  Well here ya’ go.  Animated misadventures of a cow named Otis (Kevin James) and his wacky pals who party and enjoy playing tricks on humans.  That is until the coyotes show giving them much bigger concerns.  The likeable, fun comedy also stars the voices of Danny Glover, Courteney Cox, David Koechner, Andie MacDowell, Wanda Sykes, Dom Irrera, Jeffrey Garcia, Madeline Lovejoy as the adorable Tweety-like chick, and Sam Elliot as the serious leader (and darn good singer) of the Barnard.  Check back on Friday for the review.

The Night Listener

Popular radio host Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams) deals with a recent break-up (Bobby Cannavale) and begins reading a new book about the wild “true” experiences of a dying boy (Rory Culkin).  Gabriel begins a phone relationship with the boy and the woman who takes care of him (Toni Collette), but begins to have doubts about his story and suspicions on the boy’s identity which leads him on a dark journey to find the truth.  Interesting idea even if it doesn’t quite pan out.  The film is directed by Patrick Stettner (The Business of Strangers).  Check back Friday for the review.

The Descent

British horror flick from last year (already available on DVD in the UK) follows a group of young women on a cave expedition that goes horribly wrong when they discover strange people-eatin’ monsters.  Sounds kinda’ like last year’s hysterically bad The Cave, but it did turn out to be a hit at Comic-Con and has some nice press behind it.  Also this new print has a different ending for American audiences.  Shauna Macdonald, Natalie jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Nora-Jane Noone, and Saskia Mulder star as sexy monster food.  The film was written and directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Combat).

Quinceanera (limited)

A big hit at this year’s Sundance (it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize) tells the tale of Magdalena (Emily Rios) who is thrown out of her home on her 15th birthday when her parents discover she is pregnant.  With nowhere else to go she moves in with her uncle (Cahlo Gonzalez) and an estranged gay cousin (Jesse Garcia).  Written and directed by Richard Glatzer (The Fluffer, Grief) and Wash Westmoreland (The Hole, Animus).  The film gets a limited release today with wider distribution in the coming weeks; check you local listings to see when it’s playing near you.

Too Cool For its Own Good

by Ian T. McFarland on July 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

Style in a film is a very fine issue.  On one hand, it always helps to throw in some sparkle to keep the viewer’s attention, plus there’s the whole trying to add artistic merit issue.  But on the other hand, too much of a different feel in a film can alienate a viewer.  Unfortunately, Miami Vice isn’t just the latter, but the director takes it so far that it’s like a spit in the face of storytelling.

Miami Vice
1 & 1/2 Stars

I really wanted to like Miami Vice.  I was the only person in the realm of film critics that I knew who didn’t think it looked like a stinker.  I like Writer/Director Michael Mann, and I like that he took an approach with Miami Vice that few other directors would have the balls to, let alone the creativity.  But after both of the films hours (with change), it’ll wash over you how boring and ungripping the movie is.

The New Don Johnson?

Miami Vice‘s story is easy enough to understand on paper: Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx are detectives narcing it up in Central America hoping to catch a Drug Lord that killed some co-workers.  But on the case Farrell’s character falls for the enemy’s assistant (Gong Li.) 

Only it doesn’t come out that easily in the film.  The actors linger uneasily in the shots as they spew dialogue without any real verbalization, just dropping the lines.  It’s not a sign of bad acting, the characters are just too point-blank to carry any emotion in what few words they say; and because of that it’s difficult to tell what those words falling out of their mouths mean 90% of the time.

Another problem with this innate lack of feeling in the dialogue is the extreme difficulty it presents of relating to any of the characters.  I’m no man of publications such as US Weekly or OK!, But I can honestly say I care more about what the tabloids write-up on Farrell and Foxx than these characters.  Mann’s script just never decides to take a chunk out of character development, or even character creation.

Instead of delivering a fully-developed script, Mann decides instead to go for a visual flair that easily makes more of an impact on the final product than the any of the actors or the story.  But for what it’s worth, it’s damn cool. 

Mann used simplistic, hand-held digital cameras that give off more grain than Farrell’s unshaven face in the movie.  That, in addition to the shaky camera movement, make the film seem more authentic and believable, like just maybe that isn’t actually Jamie Foxx, it’s a real-life cop doing his real-life job on the real-life streets.  I don’t normally like the now-popular technique of shaky camera movement (enough of it on a big screen can upset by stomach,) but it’s used about as well as possible by Mann in Miami Vice.

The only problem is, the cinematography is too cool.  It’s like those iPod commercials: watching a black silhouette groove to the beat over a cornucopia of colors is a great way to spend 30 seconds, but if you had to watch it for over two hours it would become daunting.  The same goes for Miami Vice, the look is just too much and too different to allow the viewers to appreciate anything else in the film.

There are a couple of intense action sequences, and Mann should be commended for trying to do something different; but in the end Miami Vice is just grade-A style vomitted beyond appreciation over a few reels of film.  Too much of a good thing isn’t good.

Brothers of the Head

by Alan Rapp on July 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

A mockumentary about a band where the lead singer and lead guitarist are conjoined twins?  Not your average summer movie fare.  Despite its length and freakish unseemliness, there’s something there.  I didn’t exactly enjoy the film, but it hooked me on how it well was put together and made.  For fans of film, or just unusual types far off the mainstream, this flick might be just up your alley.  It’s a bizarrely fascinating story.

Brothers of the Head
3 Stars

Brothers of the Head is a different film.  It’s not something you actually enjoy, though it has many moments, performances, and aspects you can appreciate.  It’s hard to watch, but it’s so well made and so distinctly different it’s worth a look for those willing to take a chance on something this…different.

Not exactly Spinal Tap

A pair of conjoined twins (Harry Treadaway, Luke Treadaway) are found by a promoter with a dream of putting the pair in a rock band.  After months of training the group is put on stage and finds an audience with their punk rock sound and freakshow look.

The film is presented as a documentary taking place in present time with older actors playing roles of band members and managers.  Mixed with these are interviews with the author of their story Brian Aldiss (whose novel is the inspiration for the film), archival footage from the mid-1970’s including rehersals, fights, and tender moments, and scenes from a pathetically awful Hollywood film version of their story.

What’s most interesting is how seriously the film takes it’s subject and how well it disguises itself as a real documentary.  It comes off as so real that you find yourself wondering if there’s not some hiddent truth somewhere in these frames.  The music of the period, the look of the “archival footage,” and the casting of actors who so resemble their younger/older selves you’ll wonder what kind of film tricks were used. 

The best casting is for the role of Laura, the woman who came between the brothers and crashed the world down around them.  Tania Emery plays the younger version of Laura and Diane Kent plays Laura during present time.  It’s eerie how alike they seem.

The film does play heavily on the freakishness of the conjoined twins at at times is hard to watch.  Also there are points were the film seems to devolve into voyeurism.  That and the length (the story could have easily played out in a 45-60 minute short film) will leave you squirming.

It’s too long, it’s creepy, it’s uncomfortable, it’s bizarre, and yet…  In much the same way the film’s characters exploit the “can’t look away” freakishness of the pair, the film has takes advantage of a story that is so different by surrounding the world with good performances and excellent casting and behind the scenes moves to create something uniquely original.  In terms of look and style there’s much to appreciate for fans who enjoy studying films and how they are put togehter.  In terms of an enjoyable film expereince, it’s nowhere near as successful.  I’m modesly recommending it for the former, though if you’re looking for the later I’d suggest seeing whatever is playing in the adjoining theater.

Here’s the Scoop

by Alan Rapp on July 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

There are a few themes and stories Woody Allen seems obsessed with, murder being one.  Here again he presents a murder mystery that’s much lighter and funnier than his last film, which also starred the delectable Miss Johansson.  Never quite what you’d expect (making it slightly better than Match Point), it’s a clever and enjoyable film.

3 & 1/2 Stars

I called up a friend, who doubles as my Woody Allen expert, to check out Allen’s latest flick.  I enjoy Allen’s films, but to be honest, there are many of his earlier works I haven’t seen.  Ry on the other hand has seen them all, except one I wish I hadn’t – 2003’s aptly titled Anything Else (as in, I wish I was watching anything else but this piece of garbage).

So how does Scoop measure up?  Well it got thumbs up from my expert.  As for me?  As I’ve said before, if you put Scarlett Johansson in a clever, fun film, there’s very little that can go wrong.  Once again my great predictions have panned out.  Tomorrow’s lottery numbers will be 21 – 3 – 17.

Watch out for his adamantium claws, Scarlett!

Sondra (Scarlett Johansson), an American journalism student who often falls for the subject of her interviews, is staying with a friend (Romola Garai) and her family in London.  One night she goes to a magic show, performed by “the great Splendini” (Woody Allen), and her life is never the same.

While alone in the disappearing box, Sondra is contacted by the ghost of a recently deceased reporter (Ian McShane) who discovered, after his death, the identity of the Tarot Card serial killer.  He shares his information with Sondra hoping she can give him one last scoop.

With the help of Splendini, who’s actually named Sam Waterman, Sondra starts dating the suspect trying to find out if Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), the son of Lord Lyman and who she shares a mutual attraction, is indeed the killer.

The film isn’t a laugh riot; in fact for a comedy it’s very subtle and clever.  There are big laughs, but most of the jokes are the short asides we’ve come to expect from Allen.  Here he’s at his best.

I don’t know if he is more comfortable in this role or if it’s mainly written to harness his talents, but this is his best on-screen performance by Woody Allen in years.

He’s equally good on the page and behind the camera providing a wonderful stage for his actors to play out their roles.  Johansson is beautiful and charming, and Jackman provides just the right notes for the man who could be a secretive gentleman or a cold blooded killer.

Perhaps the best joke of the film comes early on where Ian McShane’s character, after his death,  finds himself aboard the ferry of Charon (from Greek mythology, last seen in Clash of the Titans).  In a film that gets most of it’s drama and laughs from more normal oddball behavior (the moments of Sam trying to pass himself off as Sondra’s father are terrific), a few absurdly comic touches like this come off as near genius.

There are a couple of hiccups.  Johansson struggles early on with the timing of Allen’s dialogue, and there are a couple of scenes and transitions that seem rushed (as does the ending).  Still these minor point shouldn’t be too much of a bother for fans of Allen’s work.

The film is so sharp and clever that many of the jokes may take a few screenings to enjoy fully (especially if you’re in a crowded theater where some of the quick replies might get lost in the audience’s laughter).  It’s an extremly small cast;  for most of the film only two or three characters appear on-screen at a time.  Even with such tiny supporting roles Allen does a remarkable job in casting them (for you BtVS fans look for Anthony Head in a small role as a detective of Scotland Yard).

It’s not a top-notch Allen project, but along with Match Point (read that review here) and Melinda and Melinda (read that review here), Allen is proving he can still churn out some pretty good flicks.  With his latest he gives us an enjoyable little film that although is about a search for a murderer, isn’t really a murder mystery.  It’s a comedy about small lies, mistaken identities, and deceptions.  Go check it out for yourself to get the full Scoop.

By No Means a Must

by Ian T. McFarland on July 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

There’s not another genre out there that’s as tailor-made by Studio Execs than the teenage comedy.  This might explain why they’re all the same: teenager sets out on a journey for sex, gets screwed a few times along the way (although not in the way that they hoping for) and finally realize that they should just had sex with their best friend.  In this respect of plot, John Tucker Must Die is a nothing more than a really, and I mean really does attempt to break the mold; but everything else in the movie from its clichéd and stereotyped characters and an ending that you won’t care about exposes its true nature: John Tucker Must Die is just another teenage comedy.

John Tucker Must Die
2 Stars

It just came to me when I was sitting in the theatre.  Our main character was having a heart-to-heart with her mother about boys, and I was enlightened as if it were a fact taught to me in U.S. History.  John Tucker Must Die is a nothing more than a really, and I mean really mediocre movie.  It’s not bad—in fact it can be down-right charming half the time.  But the rest of the running time lacks anything that wants to make you stake out your seat until it all fades to black.

Nobody likes being cheated on; not even when the cutest boy, like, ever is the one cheating on you.  So the obvious way to get back is to try to embarrass him in front of, like, the entire school.

John Tucker Must Die chronicles this exact story, where the cutest boy in the 12th grade is film namesake John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe,) and his victims are the first ladies of their High School cliques- the lead Cheerleader, the new-age vegan and the smarty-pants that’s in every extra-curricular activity.  John, God bless him, somehow managed to date all three of them at the same time; but after the girls find out and get the ol’ heave-ho from their newly-appointed Ex, they decide that he needs a dose of his own medicine.

So they hatch a plot to make John fall head over heels for social nobody Kate (Brittany Snow,) who has a fair share of doubt in the concept of love.  Nothing else happens down the road that you can’t see happening—life lessons are learned and BFFs are made around every corner.

The film’s title promised what could have been an entertaining, black teenage comedy.  Think about it, had the girls taken no mercy as the movie’s name suggests, it would have boosted the film’s value to anyone who doesn’t think the best movies ever are Mean Girls or The Notebook.  They could have gone a lot further, and the idea of extreme revenge in a High School setting has potential, but the script just doesn’t take it there.

The film’s weakest spot is the character of John Tucker himself.  Metcalfe does as decent of a job as is required for the genre, but we never get a very solid idea of who he is—a hotshot asshole in it for the ass or a sensitive boy that hides in his perfect physique and charm.  He keeps switching masks depending on who’s opposite him in the scene, and we never get a final idea of what he is.  This writer would have prefered it if he were a jerk-extroardinaire that was easier to hate than a guy who drowns puppies, but we can’t all get what we want.

But John Tucker Must Die is a movie about young love, and the filmmakers don’t botch the charm of Snow’s character or the sometimes successful humor.  The genre is a weak spot, it makes sub-par stories fun just because everyone in the movie is having it.

John Tucker Must Die is just another teenage comedy.  It won’t knock the pants off of you, and you really shouldn’t go see it.  But if you somehow surf onto a channel showing it in the next few years on TV, it’d probably hold your attention.  Like, I guess.