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Happy Feet November 11, 2006

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November 11, 2006

Viewers weary of the increasing similarity of most animated films have a tonic at hand in “Happy Feet.” Likely to be affectionately dubbed “March of the Penguins: The Musical,” George Miller’s long-in-the-works dive into full-blown computer animation drapes a relatively conventional story, about a young penguin’s struggles over being “different,” in striking visuals, invigorating songs and lively characterizations. Although the film might prove a bit too different for a minority of parents, general reaction is likely figures to be one of jaw-dropping amazement, sparking merry B.O. through the holidays and further abundance in home entertainment incarnations. Extensive simultaneous Imax engagements will be particularly popular.

There is no mistaking “Happy Feet” as anything but the work of a real filmmaker; in terms of composition, camera movement and editing, the pic is conceived as a “real” movie, and emerges as one of the very best directed animated films on record. Not surprisingly from the force behind the “Babe” movies, the attention to detail is phenomenal, the humor ample.

But the story is inescapably serious on both personal and societal levels. While countless moppet-targeted films have taught the lesson Happy Feetthat the oddball shall prevail and that everyone is gifted in a particular way, looming over everything here is the specter of aliens — human beings, that is — who leave ominous traces of their comings and goings on the icy wastes of Antarctica and impinge upon the penguins’ supply of fish. The environmental themes are familiar, but Miller superbly manifests the threat in a manner both tactile and hauntingly poetic.

Fine while up and flying, pic has trouble with both takeoff and landing. Intro of emperor penguin society consists of a virtual assault of mostly soulful R&B tunes. Initial seg, in fact, reps a recapitulation of “March of the Penguins,” as the moms lay eggs, hand them off to the dads and head off for distant feeding waters while the males face the bitter, months-long night of incubation.

Conformity reigns as this community’s highest value, with strict compliance enforced by wizened elders, wonderfully craggy figures who look like they were chiseled by Rodin. It’s expected emperor penguins will have beautiful voices. Newborn tyke Mumble can’t put two notes together, but the little bugger sure can dance; he’s born tapping, with speed and moves the equal of tapmaster Savion Glover, who provided the motion-capture terpsing for the furry bird.

Mumble’s mom (voiced by Nicole Kidman) doesn’t mind her son’s eccentricity, but his dad (Hugh Jackman) complains that “it just ain’t penguin.” Despite the great song-and-dance potential exhibited by Mumble (voiced after infancy by Elijah Wood) and his dazzlingly voiced pal Gloria (Brittany Murphy), Mumble is eventually exiled by the high priest (Hugo Weaving).

And so begin Mumble’s wanderings, riddled with unknown dangers. In the first and most child-frightening of three big-action set pieces, each more dazzling than the last, Mumble is attacked by an unusually toothsome seal, only to be taken under the wing of a bunch of small, Mexican-accented penguins fronted by Ramon (Robin Williams).

Mumble is embraced as “Big Guy,” and begins to see there’s more to the world than the rigid realm of Emperor Land. In another fantastic action scene, Mumble and his five buddies go careening like so many live toboggans down a vast run of slopes and bowls and cliffs at breathtaking speed until they are caught up short by the sight of an alien visitation.

The band of wayfarers enlarges again with the addition of rockhopper penguin Lovelace (Williams again, in soulful mode), a self-styled guru. The odyssey briefly reunites Mumble, who retains his immature gray feathers throughout, with Gloria and his emperor brethren. But with food in diminished supply, Mumble sets out for the Forbidden Shore, where elephant seals (including one voiced by the late Steve Irwin) warn him he’ll encounter the dreaded annihilator aliens. He also crosses paths with two killer whales in a scene of eye-popping choreographed action.

Mumble’s close encounter with Earth’s dominators and the detritus of their activities, powerfully imagined from the bird’s point of view, proves thoroughly sobering; following logically, pic would end on a quite dire note. Given this impossibility, Miller and fellow screenwriters John Collee, Judy Morris and Warren Coleman contrive a way to deliver a relatively upbeat ending, one that doesn’t completely dismiss the peril but still seems concocted.

While having been nimbly edited for momentum and flow, “Happy Feet” employs long takes and the moving “camera” considerably more than do most animated films. Result is a film of heightened elegance and precision as well as a strong sense of space; the widescreen frame can barely contain the vast landscapes, as well as a bulging cast of happy-footed “extras” that would have turned Busby Berkeley green with envy. Pic reps the most ambitious and successful use of the motion-capture technique to date.

Musical elements, overseen by composer John Powell, are extraordinarily diverse in style. At times, the familiarity of song selections proves tiresome and overbearing. At others, however, freshness of the covers and novelty of the contexts are genuinely funny, among them a Spanish-lingo version of “My Way,” an ironic rendering of “Leader of the Pack” and some Beach Boys-backed surfing unlike anyone in Malibu has ever done.

A Babel’s brew of accents comprise the spirited voicings, with Williams doing fine double-duty in focused funny mode. End credits, which contain more than 1,000 names, may be the longest on record.

Source: Variety.com

James Bond has a new face November 10, 2006

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For once, there is truth in advertising: The credits proclaim Daniel Craig as “Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007,” and Craig comes closer to the author’s original conception of this exceptionally long-lived male fantasy figure than anyone since early Sean Connery. “Casino Royale” sees Bond recharged with fresh toughness and arrogance, along with balancing hints of sadism and humanity, just as the fabled series is reinvigorated by going back to basics. The Pierce Brosnan quartet set financial high-water marks for the franchise that may not be matched again, but public curiosity, lack of much high-octane action competition through the holiday season and the new film’s intrinsic excitement should nonetheless generate Bond-worthy revenue internationally.

Bond made his debut in “Casino Royale” when it was published in 1953, and while theJames Bond novel was adapted the following year for American television (Barry Nelson played Bond) and in 1967 became a lame all-star spy send-up featuring Peter Sellers, David Niven and Woody Allen, it remained unavailable to the Eon producers until now.

As refashioned for this 21st series installment, the novel’s focus on a high-stakes cards showdown doesn’t kick in for an hour. But Craig’s taking over as the sixth actor to officially portray the secret agent on the bigscreen (not including that first “Casino”) provides a plausible opportunity to examine the character’s promotion to double-0 status, which is neatly done in a brutal black-and-white prologue in which he notches his first two kills.

After the pic bleeds into color, Bond pursues a would-be suicide bomber in a madly acrobatic chase through an African construction site, at the end of which he happens to be filmed killing an apparently, if not in fact, unarmed man in images instantly disseminated on the Internet, to the enormous embarrassment of MI6. Welcome to the 21st century, Mr. Bond.

Doubling the displeasure of his boss M (Judi Dench happily back for her fifth turn) by surreptitiously entering her flat, Bond ignores her reprimand by high-tailing it to the Bahamas, itself a nice throwback to the film series’ origins in “Dr. No.” Following a cell phone trail of potential terrorist bombers, Bond tracks one, then another in Miami, where an evening that begins at a “Bodyworks” exhibition ends with a high-speed tarmac battle in which the fate of the world’s biggest new jetliner hangs in the balance.

Even by this early juncture, the pic has emphatically announced its own personality. It’s comparatively low-tech, with the intense fights mostly conducted up close and personally, the killings accomplished by hand or gun, and without an invisible car in evidence; Bond is more of a lone wolf, Craig’s upper-body hunkiness and mildly squashed facial features giving him the air of a boxer; 007’s got a frequently remarked upon ego, which can cause him to recklessly overreach and botch things, and the limited witticisms function naturally within the characters’ interchanges.

As matters advance to the Continent, elements even more unusual in the Bond world of late, comprehensible plotting and palpable male-female frissons, move to the fore. Bond’s enemy is not a Mr. Evil type plotting world domination, but a financier of international terrorism, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), who needs to make financial amends by winning a big-pot poker game at the casino in fictional Montenegro. Bond plans to break Le Chiffre for good at the gambling table, and to this end he is fronted $10 million delivered by a most alluring messenger, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), assigned to keep tabs on the coin.

Their initial meeting on board a Euro fast train fairly crackles with a sexual undercurrent as they perceptively size one another up. But Vesper intends to maintain a professional distance from her temporary colleague, whose contest of wills and luck with Le Chiffre in the hushed confines of a private gaming room is repeatedly interrupted during breaks by spasms of violence and attempts on Bond’s life.

Yarn does tend to go on a bit once it sails past the two-hour mark, but final stretch contains two indelible interludes crucial to defining this new incarnation of Bond. Constrained nude to a bottomed-out chair, Bond is tortured by Le Chiffre who repeatedly launches a hard-tipped rope upon his nemesis’ most sensitive area, and Craig once and for all claims the character as his own by virtue of the supreme defiance with which he taunts Le Chiffre even in vulnerable extremis. Later, the startling, tragic turn in Bond’s relationship with Vesper provides a measure of understanding for his rake-like tendencies down the line.

Script by series vets Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, along with Paul Haggis, hangs together reasonably well and is rewarded for its unaccustomed preoccupation with character by the attentiveness to same by director Martin Campbell, back after having helmed the first Brosnan entry, “GoldenEye,” 11 years ago. Dialogue requires Bond to acknowledge his mistakes and reflect on the soul-killing nature of his job, self-searching unimaginable in the more fanciful Bond universes inhabited by Brosnan and Roger Moore.

Shrewd and smart as well as gorgeous, Vesper Lynd is hardly the typical Bond girl (she never even appears in a bathing suit), and Green makes her an ideal match for Craig’s Bond. Danish star Mikkelsen proves a fine heavy, an imposing man with the memorable flaw of an injured eye that sometimes produces tears of blood. Giancarlo Giannini has a few understated scenes as a friendly contact in Montenegro, and while Jeffrey Wright has little to do as CIA man Felix Leiter, he does get off a couple of the film’s best lines, and one can hope he may figure more prominently in forthcoming installments. Sebastien Foucan does some eyebrow-raising “free running” stunts in the African chase.

“Casino Royale” is the first Bond in a while that’s not over-produced, and it’s better for it. Production values are all they need to be, and while the score by David Arnold, in his fourth Bond outing, is very good, the title song, “You Know My Name,” sung by Chris Cornell over disappointingly designed opening credits, is a dud.

Variety.com

Saw III October 31, 2006

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With his new apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the puppet-master behind the cruel, intricate games that have terrified a community and baffled police, has once again eluded capture and vanished. While city detectives scramble to locate him, Dr Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) is kidnapped by the deranged Amanda and taken to a macabre warehouse where she meets Jigsaw, aka: John Kramer (Tobin Bell), who’s now bedridden and on the verge of death. Lynn is forced to keep the madman alive for as long as it takes Jeff (Angus Macfayden), another of his victims, to complete another deadly game. Lynn and Jeff struggle to make it through each of their vicious tests, unaware that Jigsaw and Amanda have a much bigger plan for both of them …

SAW IIISaw III is certain to give audiences pulp-itations, sending their blood coursing rapidly through their veins as the terrifying games deliver a healthy (?) quotient of blood and grue (as in gruesome). It’s a film that keeps its promise and fulfils expectations in this sub genre of the horror film, reconfirming that horror is indeed back; the film was No. 1 at the US box office on opening weekend with a massive US$34 million. No longer do studio executives try to peddle horror films in commercial shame as psychological thrillers.

This is, not surprisingly, the best developed story of the franchise (still defying much logical or rational analysis, of course) and we spend considerable time with a terminally ill Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) who has been constructed as a somewhat misguided moral snob wishing to instil good – in this case forgiveness – in his victims’ souls. And we can’t argue with forgiveness as a Good Thing. The dying man’s motivation gives the film a nicely twisted moral playground, as we see-saw (ooops) between primitive responses to the vicious tortures inflicted on the captives.

If you found Hannibal’s brain cooking scene a tad too much, you will want to avoid Saw III; but if you are a fan of the gory versions of horror, this will be an iconic essential. Technically the film is admirable, and while there are a few perplexing moments as the back and forth structure whizzes past, the film holds up well as an ever-moving, ever-engrossing, seat-squirming experience. It will be a doozy on DVD, when the flash-by torture scenes can be slowed down by the devoted fans of film gore.

The Lord of The Films October 10, 2006

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October 10, 2006

Wearing his trademark khaki shorts, purple T-shirt and no footwear, it’s this relaxed disposition that suggests a director simply interested in being himself and not worrying about the rest of the world – least of all Hollywood. This is why he makes it a point to shoot all of his work in his native New Zealand. That’s the way it’s been and the way it will be.

Peter JacksonPeter JacksonWe’ve had the honor to interview Peter Jackson, who talked about what inspired him to be a filmmaker and his future projects.

“Well, the original King Kong inspired me to become a filmmaker, absolutely, to such a profound effect that I saw it on TV when I was nine on a Friday night in New Zealand. That weekend, I grabbed some plasticine and I made a dinosaur and I got my parents’ super eight home movie camera and started to try to animate the plasticine dinosaur. So really it was a moment in time when I just wanted to do monsters and creatures and ultimately led to becoming a filmmaker. I didn’t really know what directing was when I was nine, but more about the monsters at that stage. The original King Kong to me is just a wonderful piece of escapist entertainment. It has everything that’s kind of really cool about movies, such as a lost remote island and a giant ape and dinosaurs. It also has this wonderful heart and soul with this empathetic creature who when I was nine, made me cry at the end of the movie

when he was killed on the Empire State Building. That moment of shedding tears for him has stayed with me and to me that level of emotional engagement and just pure escapism as well. People go to the movies for different reasons. For me that’s a great piece of escapist entertainment, the original King Kong.”

During the interview, the director of “The Lord of the Rings” and “King Kong” talked about his upcoming film “Warcraft”, based on the popular videogame released by Blizzard Entertainment back in 1994.

“I’ve had a lifelong passion to make a fantasy adventure film, because when I was younger I loved stuff like Jason and the Argonauts and the original

King Kong. I’ve always had a desire to make one of those fantasy adventure type films, and they don’t do those movies any more, because fantasy is a strange genre that has always been treated with huge suspicion and contempt by Hollywood, and certainly they lack confidence with fantasy, and because they lack confidence they always make them a little campy or a little over the top, or they get over-designed and it all becomes about production design and not about the story, and the characters, and the characters are usually very clichéd. Videogames these days have an awesome and deep storyline, and Warcraft is not the exception. I’ve been interested in this game for a while, now that all the legal issues with Blizzard have been solved, I have green light to start working on it. Currently, the script is being worked upon and there is no telling when the filming will begin, though.”

The Wicker Man September 15, 2006

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September 15, 2006

What sounded like one of the year’s most ill-fitting and head-scratching projects — Neil LaBute and Nicolas Cage (of all combos) getting together to remake Robin Hardy’s 1973 chiller The Wicker Man (a true cult classic if ever there was one) — ends up being a half-compelling, half-goofy and half-redundant piece of remake revisionism. (Yes, that’s three halves, but it’s that weird a movie.) That’s not to say you won’t find a few really strong components in LaBute’s (ultimately pointless) revisit … but it’ll take a straight face and a eagle’s eye to find the good stuff. And even then, the only people who should bother with the remake are the ones who simply can’t be hassled renting the original because it’s old and British.

The Wicker Man
Cage stars as state cop Ed Malus, a hard-working and noble sort of everyman hero, whose story begins with a mysterious, deadly roadside explosion and the malaise that comes only when a cop loses two civilians … and the bodies are never found. After stewing around in his misery juices for a few days, Ed receives a letter from an old lover: She needs him to make the trek out to a private and very isolated island off the coast of Washington because her daughter’s gone missing and there’s nobody on the island who can help.

After bribing a local pilot and mildly butting a few heads upon his arrival, Edward settles in with the meat of the mystery. But the off-kilter community of Summersisle, which is composed almost exclusively of unfriendly females, indentured males and billions of bees, does not take too kindly to Eddie’s arrival. (It probably doesn’t help that he has the word “male” as part of his last name.) Indeed, most of The Wicker Man consists of Cage flaccidly interrogating a series of very sneaky women before the mystery is laid bare with a finale that (thankfully) hasn’t been monkeyed with too much.

Basically a forest-based whodunnit with a crafty ending and a strong collection of actresses, LaBute’s take on The Wicker Man places significant emphasis on the paganism of its Mother Nature-y female characters. The flick has numerous slow spots and obvious plot holes, but there’s still enough in the plus column to prevent it from being a downright disaster. I still contend that the remake didn’t need to be made, but then we’d be robbed of a few really colorful turns from the likes of Leelee Sobieski, Ellen Burstyn, Frances Conroy and the wonderfully lovely Molly Parker. (It’s a little ironic that the actress with the largest role (Kate Beahan) is the one who leaves the least impression.) Cage might be the anchor of The Wicker Man (and he acquits himself pretty well, all things considered), but this movie belongs to the ladies — and all the actresses seem to be having some good fun with all the deviousness and duplicity.

To his credit, LaBute presents Summersisle as a locale that’s both pastorally beautiful and quietly creepy: Forests are crawling with mute men, willowy young women and dozens of untrustworthy eyes. Cage stands out like a neon sign that’s been dropped into a fairy-tale forest, and LaBute seems to delight in portraying the culture shock that accompanies a ‘normal’ guy who’s been trapped in the company of, well, women that seem a whole lot like witches.

One could also choose to jam a lot of socio-political subtext into the proceedings, with Cage as the American gun-waver who invades an alien culture and (almost) forces his enemies to adhere to his will. And those who love to delve into the arena of sexual politics and the place of “mother” nature in our society should find a few choice nuggets to chew upon … but ultimately the flick’s still six kinds of unnecessary.

Aside from the cast and LaBute’s fresh infusion of freaky-type feminism (not to mention a warm batch of (frequently unintentional) comedy), there’s very little in this new version that’s different (let alone superior) to Hardy’s original film. It doesn’t seem like the filmmaker had a “fresh new approach” to the material as much as he had an “affection for the original” — and simply wanted to remake The Wicker Man because he happens to like it. LaBute goes way off-base a couple of times, too: A physical brawl between Cage and Sobieski is that special kind of hilarious, while the thru-line to the big finale is laden with goofy make-up and silly animal costumes. To his credit, though, LaBute is able to make the ending sing. His version of The Wicker Man manages to telegraph its surprises more than the original did, but the last few minutes still manage to pack a pretty powerful punch. Hell, all things considered, remake-wise, I’m shocked they even left the ending intact.

But then they go and lessen the impact by adding an epilogue that feels like it was borrowed from the Friday the 13th series, for cryin’ out loud.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby August 15, 2006

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August 15, 2006

Simultaneously teasing and loving a subject doesn’t make for easy comedy, but writer-star Will Ferrell and director/co-writer Adam McKay pull it off with good-ol’-boy good nature in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” NASCAR and its colorful melding of larger-than-life characters and action appear an ideal fit for Ferrell’s onscreen persona, translating into terrific summer B.O. as fans of the left-turn-only circuit have a movie they can call their own.

The Ballad of Ricky BobbySpoofing network affiliate news programs and officious, coiffed anchorpeople proved facile and obvious a targetin Ferrell and McKay’s previous “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” but it appears the pair may be on to something in “Talladega.”

NASCAR champ Ricky Bobby, like Burgundy, is at the top of his game and so egomaniacally aware of it, he’s just asking to be brought down; he needs to have everything fall apart to realize what’s worth living for. Ricky’s collapse from glory may not quite add up when scrutinized too closely, but his scramble back to the track is flecked with enough humanity that it feels like a light ode to the idea that lives really can have second acts.

Urged on as a kid by his ne’er-do-well dad Reese (Gary Cole, magnificently crusty) with the motto, “If you’re not first, you’re last,” Ricky finds himself in the pit crew of the Dennit racing team with buddy Cal (John C. Reilly), led by pit chief Lucius (Michael Clarke Duncan). When the blase Dennit driver refuses to let racing get in the way of a bathroom break, Ricky volunteers as replacement and wins the race in an upset.

In a swift montage, Rickey’s legend takes off; he racks up wins and collects a fortune, along with obviously gold-digging trophy wife Carley (Leslie Bibb). It’s too much too soon for Ricky, who’s becoming as much of a monster as the two sons — Walker (Houston Tumlin) and Texas Ranger (Grayson Russell) — he and Carley are raising.

Trouble starts with the be-bop sound of Charlie Parker’s “Segment” blaring out of the jukebox in Ricky’s favorite dive — the record of choice for champ Formula One driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), who enters like a Gallic hipster gunslinger and brazenly tells Ricky he will soon rule NASCAR like he’s ruled “Formula Un.” Girard throws a left hook into the movie just when it needs it, and Cohen’s insanely funny dialect is inspired.

Ricky loses his mind, imagining, he’s burned up in a crash and paralyzed from the waist down. With fear and defeat getting the best of him, Carley goes over to the enemy, leaving Ricky with the bratty boys and — inexplicably — no money. Taken in by his mom Lucy (Jane Lynch, about the only funny thesp in the cast with little to do), Ricky is made to confront the long-absent Reese, who tells his son to make fear his friend.

Girard is a comic character even Francophiles can enjoy (he peruses a Gallimard paperback edition of Camus’ “L’etranger” while racing) and he’s the worst nightmare for Ricky, a win-at-all-costs hick. But Ricky admirably overcomes his worst traits and learns to drive fast once more, even if Reese’s methods to restore his son’s nerve call for Ricky to drive with a live cougar in the passenger seat, illegal drugs under the engine and pursuing cops on his tail.

The new pic particularly laps “Anchorman” in characterization, with Ferrell and his supporting cast enjoying several scenes in which they can limn people beneath the funny banter. Ferrell takes a risk in pushing Ricky’s most noxious aspects, with the reward that he also earns audience affection by playing a man who’s humbled.

Reilly reveals Cal Jr. to be a quieter version of the ambitious Ricky, which is why a last-minute twist doesn’t work for his character. After a deceptively discreet entrance, Amy Adams’ shy assistant unleashes a stunning monologue that revs Ricky’s inner engines. Duncan, Bibb and Greg Germann as the overcompensating heir to the Dennit racing biz brings NASCAR types to life. (In fact, several NASCAR stars have cameos in the film, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.)

Not only does McKay display a strong grip on his actors and camera, he gets the grit, heat and feel of NASCAR racetracks with a near-documentary sensibility. This is perhaps the pic’s most surprising dimension, aided by Oliver Wood’s ace widescreen lensing, and CG racetrack and car crash effects. It’s enough to make Jerry Bruckheimer envious.

Kevin Carlson – The Movie Center

You, Me and Dupree July 15, 2006

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July 15, 2006

Entertainment gossip trackers shamelessly debate an actor’s chosen sexuality in much the same way that baseball fans discuss a player’s stats. Is he gay? Is she bisexual? Some even make broad assumptions that everyone in Hollywood bats for the proverbial “other team.”

Such a proclamation borders on absurd, and yet it’s becoming more difficult to entirely refute the claim. This year, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain earned sweeping critical praise and a handful of Oscar nominations, losing a tight Best Picture race to Crash. Even during the summer, when audiences typically are lured to theaters by testosterone-soaked summer blockbusters, it’s Johnny Depp’s fey, ambiguous, and decidedly swishy Capt. Jack Sparrow who has sailed to the front of the box-office pack.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to quote Jerry Seinfeld’s popular defensive stance. Still, even the healthiest attitude toward same-sex relationships will not prepare an audience for You, Me and Dupree, a mainstream comedy which clings to a love triangle constructed between one woman and two men, and owes as much to Brokeback as it does to There’s Something About Mary.

The bonds of brotherly love are forged early and often. On the eve of his wedding, Carl (Matt Dillon) walks a moonlit Hawaiian beach and fondly reminisces – not with his fiancee, Molly (Kate Hudson), but with best friend Dupree (Owen Wilson). This could be the end of their 25-year relationship. Carl’s about to run off and play house – going so far as to work for Molly’s demanding dad (Michael Douglas) – while Dupree will drift like a parasite until he finds another worthy suitor for his undying affection.

Or will he? Fate’s cruel twist (and the screenplay’s lazy plotting) strips Dupree of his possessions. He loses his job, his company car, and the cot he sleeps in at his favorite watering hole. He tumbles into Carl’s open embrace, much to Molly’s chagrin. But the supportive wife forces a brave smile (recall Michelle Williams of Brokeback), ignores the obvious, and stands by her man. Once embedded in their suburban abode, Dupree proceeds to gnaw at the foundation of the couple’s marriage the way a termite would chew on a wet 2 by 4.

Remove the suggestive elements, and Dupree ends up being as contrived as comedies come. The film stumbles from one predictable catastrophe to the next, and we tick away long minutes waiting for tired punch lines milked from flat situations. Carl has problems at work, all of which are bogus. He’s angry at receiving a promotion that chains him to his desk. He’s upset that his primary project got a green light after some major tweaks. And he balks when his father-in-law suggests he hyphenate his last name.

At home, the shoulder Carl chooses to cry on is Dupree’s. In one odd scene, Carl and Dupree invite the guys over to watch football, and half the men end up sitting around in their undershirts. Later, when Molly needs advice on how to break through Carl’s emotional barriers, she too turns to the helpful, bleach-blonde slacker for personal advice. Finally, when Carl needs helping saving the job he flushed away, it’s Dupree who rides to his rescue.

Moviemaking remains a fickle field. Something that sounds good on paper can lose all fizz during execution. Wilson’s shaggy charms infuse the intentionally annoying Dupree with the same harmless tenderness he brings to every character, but screenwriter Mike LeSieur stopped creating tangible jokes beyond his easy premise. Dupree goes on one job interview before that subplot fades away. He agrees to one blind date, though the lady remains off camera and the joke goes nowhere.

Dillon is an odd choice for Wilson’s foil. Wherefore art thou, Ben Stiller? At least we know those two would have some chemistry together. Both leading men are routinely upstaged by an underused Seth Rogen (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), the film’s only bright spot.

Kevin Carlson – The Movie Center

Dia de los muertos July 7, 2006

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July 06, 2006

Tim Burton on the Appeal of the Dead: Burton’s been dealing with the subject of dead people (and animals) since his 1984 short, “Frankenweenie.” Why is the subject so fascinating to the filmmaker? Burton says, “Well, I think dealing with the undead comes from growing up in Burbank, sort of a suburban kind of feeling of like ‘Night of the Living Dead’ during the day with the bright sunlight. No, I don’t know. I just always liked monster movies. I was always sort of fascinated by [them].

Growing up in a culture where death is looked upon as a dark subject and then, you know, living so close to Mexico where you see the Day of the Dead, where the skeletons and it’s all humor and, you know, music and dancing and a celebration of life in a way. And that just sort of always felt more [like a] positive approach to things, you know? So I think I always responded much more to that than this dark unspoken cloud in the kind of environment I grew up in.”

Tim Burton Shares His Views on the Afterlife: “You know, I have no idea what happens. But like I said, I do respond to other cultures that treat life with a much more positive approach. I think this other form teaches, especially when you are a child, it teaches you almost to be afraid of everything and feel like something bad is always going to happen. Whereas that other way seems like a much more spiritual and positive approach. That’s as far as I go because I really have no idea what will happen.”

Tim Burton and the ‘Outcast’ Qualities of His Actors: Burton says that’s something he specifically looks for. “Yeah, of course. Like Johnny, I think that’s one of the reasons I responded to him when I first met him on ‘Edward Scissorhands.’ He is sort of looked upon as this handsome leading man but I don’t think in his heart he felt that way. That’s why he wanted to do ‘Edward Scissorhands’ was because he understood that story of being perceived as one thing and being something else. Does that same thing hold true when it comes to Helena Bonham Carter? “Same thing. If you read the London papers she’s one of the worst dressed people in the history of Britain or some sort of posh aristocrat, you know? She is completely misperceived. It maybe bothers her a little bit but once you get labeled, there’s really not much you can do about it. But there’s something about it I’m sure she feels.”

Tim Burton’s future projects: “Well, I’m currently working on Sweeney Todd, which will be released in mid-2007. After that, I’m gonna start working on a new script that was sent to me recently: Grim Fandango. It sort of follows the style of The nightmare before Christmas and Corpse Bride. It’s about a surreal land of the dead, some sort of purgatory where everyone goes when they die. In that place, dead people have to make a four-year transition before they can rest in peace for all the eternity. I still don’t know when we’re going to start filming this, though.

Kevin Carlson – The Movie Center

Jennifer vs Vince June 9, 2006

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June 07, 2006

There are very few certainties in Hollywood. A fortnight ago, however, at least one thing was for sure: The Break-Up, the latest in a series of Hollywood romantic comedies made by real-life Hollywood couples (others including the Affleck/Lopez abomination Gigli, and the Madonna/Ritchie disaster Swept Away), was going to bomb so hard that there would be a mushroom cloud over Los Angeles.
Many predicted that The Break-Up would be the final humiliation for Jennifer Aniston — the 37-year-old former Friends star (and former Mrs Brad Pitt) — who had the lead female role in the film, opposite her new boyfriend Vince Vaughn.

If The Break-Up failed at the box office, they said, it would be her fourth project in a row to sink — following Derailed, Rumour Has It and Friends with Money. Little reassurance was provided by Hollywood’s early-warning “tracking” system, which measures the public’s awareness of forthcoming films through polling: most respondents seemed indifferent. By last month some pundits began to come out and say it: the Friends star was finished. Never again would she be able to charge the $5 million she was reportedly paid for Along Came Polly in 2004, in which she starred with Ben Stiller.

“With only 12 days to go before opening, that means the game is pretty much over,” sniffed Jeffrey Wells, on his widely read blog Hollywood Elsewhere. “Aniston is probably one or two steps away from competing with Helen Hunt for HBO roles.”

Then something extraordinary happened.

When The Break-Up opened last weekend, everyone went to see it. In total, the movie took a remarkable $38.2 million at more than 3,000 cinemas across the US, making it the third most lucrative romantic comedy debut – behind only Will Smith’s Hitch ($43.1 million) and 50 First Dates ($39.3 million). It was as if Team Aniston had taken on Germany and won the World Cup. The Break-Up will arrive in British cinemas on July 21.

So what happened? Well, it certainly was not the critics. Roger Ebert, columnist of the Chicago Sun-Times, whose “thumbs-up” recommendation is a meaningful (yet not always reliable) mark of approval, had this to say: “Watching the movie is like being on a double-date from hell . . . dreary and sad.” As for A. O. Scott in the The New York Times, he described the film as “dull and trivial . . . . mediocre”.

All of which suggests one of two things: that the critics were needlessly harsh, or that audiences were so caught up in Aniston’s public life (in a post-Pitt interview with Vanity Fair, she had to keep taking sob-breaks) that they felt compelled to see the film. The latter explanation seems obvious, but has been disproved by other tabloid-fuelled movies that nosedived: Gigli made less than $4 million during its opening weekend in 2003, at the height of “Bennifer” mania.

The film’s success also confirms the old Hollywood approach to micromanaging “office romances”. For The Break-Up, a deftly orchestrated campaign (in stark contrast to Pitt’s pan-African honeymoon) culminated in a recent Aniston and Vaughn cover in Entertainment Weekly, boasting the first studio pictures of the couple happily posing together.

Having seen The Break-Up for myself — at a late morning screening with two others in the cinema, both of whom guffawed throughout — I suspect that many critics simply enjoyed opening fire on a slow-moving target. And yet it is still a disappointment.

I can understand how the The Break-Up sounded good when pitched to Universal Pictures as a counter-intuitive romantic comedy — all wit and no heart. It’s the kind of thing Katharine Hepburn would once have loved. Unfortunately for all of us, Aniston is no Hepburn. And The Break-Up no Philadelphia Story.

Vaughn plays Gary, a quick-minded but stubborn Chicago tour bus operator who woos the unbearably cuddly/sexy Brooke (Aniston) at a sports game. They fall in love, buy an apartment together, and then . . . well, they start to bicker. What follows is neither comedy nor drama, nor, to be honest, entertainment.

Vaughn has none of his usual warmth — and without it Gary’s moan about not havinga pool table in the dining room comes off as depressing, not funny. Brooke is initially more sympathetic — their big tiff comes after Gary refuses to prepare the table for a dinner party, or help wash up afterwards — but her refusal to ditch him completely becomes implausible, especially when she turns down a dinner date with a wealthy and dapper art collector.

I suspect that the writers of The Break-Up had The Office in mind when developing some of the more toe-curling scenes. Someone got nervous, however, and tried to tick the boxes next to at least a few of the conventions of the romantic comedy genre. This means that we get a predictably wacky ensemble of extras, including a gay a-cappella singing brother (his dinner-table rendition of the 1980s rock radio hit Owner of a Lonely Heart should be a highlight, but isn’t) and an art gallery owner who, in an unforgivable Hollywood cliché, is inspired by the Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

The best of the bunch (still a cliché, mind you) is a shameless estate agent who offers to sell Brooke and Gary’s apartment.

Kevin Carlson – The Movie Center

The Holy Grail of summer blockbusters June 9, 2006

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May 28, 2006

Famed symbologist Professor Robert Langdon is called to the Louvre museum one night where a curator has been murdered, leaving behind a mysterious trail of symbols and clues. With his own survival at stake, Langdon, aided by the police cryptologist Sophie Neveu, unveils a series of stunning secrets hidden in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, all leading to a covert society dedicated to guarding an ancient secret that has remained hidden for 2000 years. The pair set off on a thrilling quest through Paris, London and Scotland, collecting clues as they desperately attempt to crack the code and reveal secrets that will shake the very foundations of mankind.
RON Howard’s splendid “The Da Vinci Code” is the Holy Grail of summer blockbusters: a crackling, fast-moving thriller that’s every bit as brainy and irresistible as Dan Brown’s controversial bestseller. After being kept under close wraps by Sony, the hotly anticipated film was finally screened for critics yesterday before its premiere tonight at the Cannes Film Festival and its worldwide opening on Friday.

It’s the best thing that either Howard and Tom Hanks – perfectly cast as Brown’s hero, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon – have done since their last collaboration, “Apollo 13,” a decade ago.

While most summer movies ask to check your brains at the popcorn counter, “The Da Vinci Code,” which opens with a bizarre murder in the Louvre, requires you to follow an increasingly elaborate series of puzzles and double meanings.

They all lead to a centuries-old conspiracy that one character labels “the biggest cover-up in human history.”

Even those who haven’t read the book know that conspiracy involves Opus Dei, a real-life prelature of the Roman Catholic Church, which has condemned the novel as libelous and blasphemous.

While the movie doesn’t seriously deviate from Brown’s premise, sometimes that premise is held at arm’s length: “We’ve been dragged into a world of people who think this stuff is real,” as Langdon puts it.

While we’re not going to reveal major spoilers, the few people who haven’t read the book might want to stop reading now if they want to derive the fullest enjoyment from seeing “The Da Vinci Code.”

After being fatally wounded by a flagellation-loving albino monk named Silas (Paul Bettany), the man in the Louvre has stripped himself naked and elaborately arranged himself as a replica of a famous sketch by Da Vinci.

The victim, the chief curator, failed to keep a date with Langdon, so our hero is summoned to the museum by a French police captain (Jean Reno) who suspects him of the crime. But Langdon is whisked away in a clever chase sequence by cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tatou), the dead man’s granddaugher.

She works with Langdon to decipher other clues left by the old man, including the phrase “So Dark the Con of Man” and a code device in a bank vault.

Pursued by the police and Silas, the fugitives enlist the help of the enigmatic Sir Leigh Teabling (the splendid Ian McKellen), a former mentor of Langdon’s.

Teabling relates a fantastic plot (rendered in lavish flashbacks and backed up by clues in The Last Suppper) to cover up the explosive historic truth about Jesus Christ – and Mary Magdalene.

The exciting pursuit of nothing less than the Holy Grail – whatever that may be – takes Langdon and Sophie across France, England and Scotland.

Howard keeps the narrative taut, and Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay is a model adaptation that hews closely to the essentials of Brown’s already cinematic novel without being slavish.

And this lavish production almost entirely avoids the schmaltz that Howard and Goldsman ladled over their previous collaborations, “A Beautiful Mind” and “Cinderella Man.”

At the movie’s heart is Hanks, who is sympathetic, funny and immensely watchable as the rumpled Langdon.

He’s well matched by Tatou, who in a difficult role shows the most screen presence since her breakthrough performance in “Amelie.”

“The only thing that matters is what you believe,” Langdon tells Sophie at one point.

It’s also the creed of “The Da Vinci Code,” which is far more interested in being a rare summer movie that you won’t forget an hour after leaving the theater than questioning the basis of anybody’s religious faith.

Kevin Carlson – The Movie Center