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E-MAIL THE AUTHOR | ARCHIVES By Christopher Stipp

September 23, 2005

SOME DEAD HORSE FUN

One of the things that mystifies me about the new production of X-MEN 3 is the quantity of mutants that will be crawling around the screen looking for a little time in front of the camera. So many odd choices have been made to flesh out the mutant landscape it almost begs whether the phalanx of hearty X-Men who will be fighting for screen presence will be used as puppets to show or tell.

What I mean by this is that there seems to be, with all the announcements of who will make it into the final cut, some issue as to whether this will be a movie predicated on the displays of multiple humanoids with powers or whether there will be a story behind it all. I think if you look back at what made the first X-Men and X2 so great was that there was a concern for the essence of what the property so valuable in the first place.

I bring this all up, not that anyone needs my additional .02 into the matter as the poop is being flung like it’s Fiber-Con Day in the monkey house on the Internets, because I see some real talent which could be put to good use being put at risk by someone who is better off directing the next piece of milquetoast cinema he feels will help perpetuate the notion he is good at what he does. I realize that’s a little harsh and it is. If we’re going to be civil about this we really should take an honest look into the mind of the man who unleashed THE FAMILY MAN, AFTER THE SUNSET and a cadre of Mariah Carey videos unto the world. Even that’s being unfair as I am, I admit, consciously overlooking the star wattage of MONEY TALKS, which was good, I admit, for the first 10 minutes before I realize I was watching a Brett Ratner movie, and RUSH HOUR. I’m sure the latter was made because Brett just knew even a busted clock has to be right at least twice a day, right?

And I do hope you realize I’m trying to be comedic about this? I don’t need a bunch of peeps flooding me with emails telling me how awesome and teh cool RUSH HOUR or RED DRAGON was, I appreciated both on a semi-conscious level for exactly what they were, and they made the studio system millions. The guy knows how to bring a mass audience to the trough to gobble his vapid slop up as he creates it. Where I take some contention, though, is some who say that it’s far too early to be able and criticize the man before he has a chance to prove what he can do with the calls to arms he has been making as of late; you’d think he’s trying to recruit soldiers for Iraq with the numbers he’s been showing for the mutant army. I call bullshiat on that. If I’ve seen his work, disagree with the way he makes films and think that his static style of directing and even weaker employment of story (Care to read the script for MONEY TALKS?) causes nerves to prickle at the thought that this is the guy who people trust to make a flick worthy to be put on the shelf next to Singer’s creations. On a side note: you must go check out Singer’s production diaries with regard to his work on SUPERMAN. I have no idea how good that will be but, as an informed consumer of his films, just as I am of Ratner’s films, I somehow, for some odd flippin’ reason, don’t have a care in the world about how SUPERMAN will turn out.

Somehow, and this may seem crazy to some people, but I know what Singer is capable of, how he comes to work and brings it on a daily basis to give a solid finished product that looks like it was baked with love, not tempered in dog shit like some other directors I know; Uwe Boll, sorry Bro, this does include you. If I was a suck ass employee and I did a half ass job with everything I’ve done, followed the corporate line and did everything in my power to make a final product which was more about placating stockholders and less about innovating and everyone knew this was my modus operandi, how would you feel if I came in today and became your boss? You’d probably be worried. I’m worried if for no other reason than you have a cast who deserve a lot better, a woman, as nuts as she is, who has an Oscar and a leading man who deserves more than the Tony and Emmy Award he has to prove that not only does he have the chops but he’s waiting for his close up. Too bad it’s going to be in a Brett Ratner movie.

Seeing Hugh this week on the Emmy’s just bursting with joi de vie at winning an award for basically being himself just proves what many already know: the guy is bottled lighting. The man is poised, and is winning recognition for, to do great things in the talkies. The prospect of seeing him being mashed and molded to fit a Ratner lens is troubling when you compare it to past work. It’s just like hearing a train whistle way off in the distance, seeing the smoke and just looking down and thinking, if you had to bet your life, if the track was laid down by Ratner and you had to make a guess as to whether this guy is going to make another blockbuster with a soul full of nothing or a flat crapfest which will signal the death knell for many a superhero flick which side of the tracks would you stand on? I’m thinking, just based on past experience, I might as well get struck by the Ratner Express as maybe that way I can just have this be a quick and easy release. No, I’m not a big fan of this man’s work but I do think this argument departs the normal tract of thinking insofar as I have hope. I want X3 to be a nerdish delight which will prove me wrong. I so badly want to be wrong about all of this and I am trying to reserve judgement until I can see whether it was all for naught.


GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN’ (2005) Director: Jim Sheridan
Cast: 50 Cent, Terrence Howard, Bill Duke
Release: November 9, 2005
Synopsis: A tale of an inner city drug dealer who turns away from crime to pursue his passion, rap music. Loosely based on the life of 50 Cent. Used to be titled “Locked and Loaded”.
View Trailer:
* Medium (Windows Media, QuickTime)

Prognosis: Negative. Ok players, 100 people were interviewed and the top 5 answers are up on the board. Give me one good reason why the man who directed IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, MY LEFT FOOT and IN AMERICA would make a movie that glorifies an asshat rap stylist who has been shot 9 times and wants you to party like it’s your “birf-day” with some Bacardi in a movie about a good for nothing thug who has a yearning to become an entertainer on the stage?

BUZZ! “How about ‘I’ve got nuthin’?”

Damn, seriously, how do we go from IN AMERICA to this piece of 8 MILE/HUSTLE AND FLOW melodrama tripe?

I don’t think a trailer has set me off in such a rage than this one right here. I honestly believe this is a joke because there is no way I could imagine matching up the guy who is a walking billboard for misogyny, violence and mindless excess (much like if Whitesnake or Winger got their own films in the late 80’s) and who does nothing but want to reflect on letting us know how bad he had it in the streets but wants nothing to do with the obvious implications of what it means to be a spokesperson for this kind of lifestyle. But, whatever, right? Give the people their circuses and bread!

So, we start off with a view of a city at night. It doesn’t matter what city in America it is because we all know that in every small urban hamlet there are people racing down the streets with guns in their hands and firing up into the sky at rooftops like they’re effing Jack Ryan in CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, trying to evade the Cali Cartel.

And then, before I have a chance to really goof on how the producers of this film, as throughout this trailer the marketing angle here is to try and imply that 50 or should I say Fiddy, as is the parlance, is somehow the protagonist when, by implication and his own admission, he is clearly and simply the antagonist of his own making. But, who gives a crap as long as he’s rocking his do-rag like a bad ass.

Bill Duke comes in and, for a moment, I am actually impressed. Duke plays the lord of all that is street crime for wherever part of New York this is taking place in and I admire his throaty voiceover about how these mean streets work; it’s all very blown up but I have to give it up for his pimp bowler hat. Plus, I liked him enough in PREDATOR and so he, at the very least, gets a pass just for his delivery of the phrase “Turn around…” to Carl Weathers. Bill Duke fan club member #608 right here, peeps.

We go from the initial set-up to Marcus, or Fiddy, chatting up some young lady when she asks what he does for a living. He says he’s a gangsta. Now, at this point, the boys Fiddy has around him all start to laugh nervously at this admission and even Fiddy has a little drunken giggle happening. I don’t know what this is supposed to imply but it’s almost as if no one is really should to know he’s a gangsta; I thought that’s what builds cred on the street but living on the mean streets of Downtown Chicago don’t compare I guess to New York.

Now, we go from the admission and subsequent protestation of his gangsta past to the actual act of an old-fashioned stick-up with guns. Apart from Fiddy’s bravado in not wearing any disguise and that he initially planned on not shooting anyone I am confused at how we move from his actions as a thief to one of the sympathetic victim who feels the need to leave his criminal life behind. It’s almost as if we’re going to treat his past actions like bankruptcy court and just forgive the debt. And what kind of dumb-ass holds a place up and doesn’t wear a disguise? Haven’t any of these dudes seen HEAT?

So, we move from the thuggery to the fact we discover he has an innate ability to rap over some beats. Now, like I said before, this smacks an awful lot of HUSTLE AND FLOW yet I am conflicted about why I feel these two stories are divergent. Oh, that’s right, one story is about a pimp trying to make it by following his passion and the other is about an assclown who loved to terrorize people. My mistake.

I get excited, again and for the last time, when Bill Duke, in all his scary glory, lets Fiddy know there is no escaping the thug life when he all of a sudden thinks that rapping is so much better than the life of shooting and robbing people. The resulting drive-by where Fiddy gets himself shot trying to leave this lifestyle is depicted as a very sad time where everyone wants him to rise above his nadir, both personally and physically. I was hoping for a dramatic death right there on the operating table but like everything else about this guy we’re not lucky enough for that to happen. And that’s when I see Terrence “HUSTLE AND FLOW” Howard.

Sigh.

I don’t know what role he’s playing in this film but I guess he figures that the story he was in was too good to only do it once. The resulting montage of Fiddy’s evasions of the thugs who come after him for rapping despairingly about them is a bit much. When he’s walking around in a bulletproof vest because there is so much lead being pointed at him I am reminded of Lloyd from DUMB AND DUMBER who asks Harry about what would’ve happened if the guy who shot him had done so in his face. It’s all very dramatic, I get it. His white do-rag around his head, his shirtless body only covered by a bulletproof vest, some dopey ass gloves which he feels the need to wear I guess to make his fingers kissably smooth to the ladies, I get where we’re going. I’m just not sure of how we got here.

This thing ends and I am feeling like Fran Drescher when Weird Al says he’s the new station manager. He slaps her desk and rumbles with an annoyed fury that she has to go through this process. I am just annoyed with this trailer.


NORTH COUNTRY (2005) Director: Niki Caro
Cast: Charlize Theron, Sean Bean, Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek
Release: October 21, 2005
Synopsis: A fictionalized account of the first major successful sexual harassment case in the United States — Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, where a woman who endured a range of abuse while working as a miner filed and won the landmark 1984 lawsuit. Formerly the “Untitled Niki Caro Project”.
View Trailer:
* Medium (QuickTime, Windows Media)

Prognosis: I’ll be at home washing my hair that night. Question for the group: Is there need for more movies where a woman’s plight to be equal with her male equals is the center of the film’s ethos?

I would argue there is, to a point, but that this one looks a little more interesting than the Lifetime Original movie of the week. Plus, above all else, Sean Bean is in this one so all definitely has to be right with the universe.

I wasn’t expecting much from the trailer, I’ll say that from the outset. When you see that this movie is rated R for “sequences involving sexual harassment” it seems unnecessarily inappropriate. I would think scenes involving sexual harassment is closer to the reason why you would want to have this movie play to audiences and not restrict people from seeing the crazy crap women have to put up with.

“Minnesota 1989, Inspired by a true story”

Anyway, the trailer opens up fairly innocuously. There is a delicate xylophone tinkering in the background doesn’t really give an idea of what this movie is about based on the first few seconds. Usually we, as an audience, get an idea a little quicker but the thrust of the trailer keeps pace with what’s expected for a flick that’s dealing with themes like this. Charlize does the voiceover work and that’s fab because we get the fact that she’s fresh of a divorce and she needs a job.

Like an angel from the sky who bequeaths the well-deserving some sort of earthy prize, Frances McDormand reprises that Minnesota FARGO-ian accent/role which makes it a pleasure to watch that movie over and over again. She plays the best friend part to Charleze and we understand that she is about to head into some rough work. When we see a whole lot of ground being blown up, a la ERNEST GOES TO CAMP, mining seems to be the name of the proverbial game.

I don’t know exactly what her job will be but we are all introduced to her new boss who says she must look, “Darn good under those clothes.” There is a moment where my nads crawl up my scrot, waiting for Charlize to twist this man’s nuts off but he laughs and says that all the women need to have a sense of humor.

Next you get the Charlize scene with her kids as she’s nearly crying, saying she’s going to make it work and that they should stick together and that family is what’s important, something to this effect, and you begin to ally your sympathies with her. It’s natural, manipulative but it’s effective. That’s why, in the next scene, when one of the male scrubs says he needs a body to help the other dudes, doing dude things, he winks and says that body shouldn’t be a fatty. Cue nad crawl.

I see where things are going.

The devolution of the working conditions only get worse as you see the men depicted as sexualized pigs in need of power to flex over the helpless ladies. You get Charlize depicted in a port-o-john as she’s being rocked back and forth before being, um, expelled out the front door when the other dudes tip it over. Charlize, of course, wants to rally against the institutionalized harassment. She wants to go tell the honchos at the corporation’s HQ. Of course some of the uglier ladies aren’t happy with her doing it as it means she’s going to be rocking the boat of complacency.

The response from the whiteys is obvious: they don’t care.

Charlize wants to do something and we get her emotional response to the events with a whole lot of crying. A whole lot. A lot. It’s a lot.

Somehow we get Woody “Hemp King” Harrelson involved as the lawyer who is going to go against these men, he obviously tells her that she doesn’t have a good chance of winning and that no woman will testify with her, etc…

The accompanying voiceover about how big the company is and the implications of a win are nationwide are to be expected as is more tears from Charlize when she says all she wants to do is to go to work.


WALK THE LINE (2005) Director: James Mangold
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick
Release: November 18, 2005
Synopsis: He picked cotton, sold door to door, and served in the Air Force. He was a voice of rebellion that changed the face of rock and roll. An outlaw before today’s rebels were born – and an icon they would never forget. He did all this before turning 30. And his name was Johnny Cash. WALK THE LINE explores the early years of the music legend, an artist who transcended musical boundaries to touch people around the globe. As his music changed the world, Cash’s own world was rocked by the woman who became the love of his life: June Carter.
View Trailer:
* Large (QuickTime)

Prognosis: Positive. I’ll be honest, I was taken in by the visual splendor of this trailer.

Not that I think the cinematography is anything special, because it’s honestly nothing to write home about, but the trailer opens with no voice over, no people and it glides you into this world like two hands cupped beneath you.

“Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame…”

The quiet din of an audience thirsty for something can be heard over the sound of a guitar. A prison in all its grey glory stands erect, cold, silent.

The guitar continues to play its singular note as the other notable achievements in Johnny Cash’s life dissolve by images of the insides for what is the place where Cash really brought down the house. The imagery of hands slapping down on the backs of chairs, the pogoing of them, reminiscent of THE BLUES BROTHERS all bring back that momentous time in history.

Then, we have a long piece of film. It’s odd to have a single take moment in a trailer, as I’m sure there are people that want to see more of the man himself, but the man who is talking to Johnny clearly defines what it is that Cash’s music was all about. The moment is perfectly captured and it’s at that point where the gates open and Phoenix lets loose.

There’s such a muted wickedness about Phoenix that it seems so right that a dude who I couldn’t have cared less for as a dramatic actor, sure I dug the crap out of him in SIGNS but that ostentatious performance in GLADIATOR was uncalled for, really strikes a chord deep inside me, no pun intended.

I do have to say, though, that the one thing that is steering this rolling train down the tracks is none other than Reese Witherspoon herself. Yeah, I know directors love her because she is so cool and teh awesome and there’s a female contingent that will see her come and crap on a phone book if that’s what her next performance is but I didn’t appreciate her distractions. She is and everyone here knows it so feel safe in echoing that when you see this trailer unfold.

I do like everything about the weight that Phoenix gives this performance. If I was a betting man, and I am but I just don’t have the means, I would have to say this trailer is right on par with the one crafted for RAY last year. There are thematic elements which pop up in both of them but what I really like about this trailer is that, just like in the RAY trailer, the music that plays in the background jingles at just the right rate.

Every angle and facet shown of Cash, in this trailer, just sings with emotion. Phoenix is undeniably slick in the black that made Johnny an original but I just hope he can channel the spirit of what made him the most dangerous man to hold a guitar who ever walked a line.


BEE SEASON (2005) Director: Scott McGahee, David Siegel
Cast: Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Kate Bosworth, Flora Cross, Max Minghella
Release: November 11, 2005 (limited)
Synopsis: Eliza Naumann (Flora Cross) has no reason to believe she is anything but ordinary. Her father Saul (Richard Gere), a beloved university professor, dotes on her talented elder brother Aaron (Max Minghella). Her scientist mother, Miriam (Juliette Binoche), seems consumed by her career. When a spelling bee threatens to reaffirm her mediocrity, Eliza amazes everyone: she wins. Her newfound gift garners an invitation not only to the national competition, but an entrée into the world of words and Jewish mysticism that have so long captivated her father’s imagination. But Eliza’s unexpected success hurls the Naumann family dynamic into a tailspin, long-held secrets emerge and she is forced to depend upon her own divination to hold the family together. BEE SEASON is based on the nationally best selling Myla Goldberg novel of the same name.
View Trailer:
* Large (QuickTime)

Prognosis: Artificially Sweetened. Can anyone tell me if I am wrong if said that for every spelling bee that the newspapers print the entire list of possible words before the competition ever happens and that it’s really a matter of memorization than it is a kid’s inspired knowledge of Latin roots and meanings?

We’ll just assume for the benefit of this trailer that this little girl who’s teh cool speller is really a progeny, ‘kay?

So, Richard Gere seems to be taking the pole position in the family as the one who is really taking this whole spelling thing as a talent that needs intense nurturing. If I could point out one glaring fact about this family, though, is that they’re all great-looking people. I figure you would want to work the whole commonality angle but I’m not the one footing the bill so forget what I think about anything.

All photogenics aside, although their beauty wattage is hard to look away from, it’s like a beacon of hawtness which demands your attention, this family seems really effed up.

You’ve got the one son in the family doing a voiceover, and they’re really trying to make it dramatic here, folks, with the suicidal/emo guitar plucker in the background sounding all ready to blow his head clean off his shoulders, as the kid tries to define a word for the young spelling prodigy. It’s all very innocuous before Juliette gets involved and tells Richard, after he slights his man child for being a dumbass, essentially, he’s a bully.

This is not Family Ties I guess.

Even though I knew it was coming, I get it sooner than expected: The man child pulls a bombast on us and berates his green corduroy jacket wearing father inside the house. There are some tears being held back and there is most defiantly the promise of a physical altercation. All we get to see, though, is Richard turning in a dramatic twist of his Oh-I-Am-An-Ass-Aren’t-I neck.

There is a sweet visual, though, that I am going to give credit for which follows soon after. The spelling prodigy of the house does her own voiceover and explains her talent for being able to spell out words. There is a real HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS close-up of a pencil scrawling over a piece of lined paper, I have real crappy handwriting myself, and the camera gets closer and closer. All of a sudden you see the graphite shifting like it was being shook in an Etch-A-Sketch and you can eventually make out that it is a big alphabet soup with letters sliding and diving everywhere. The child still talks about how she does what she does when we see a close up of her at a spelling function. Letters dance and bob around her head. It really is deserving of a golf clap.

Here’s where things get a little manipulative.

The emo man’s voice goes away as Richard has his own Voiceover. He talks about making the world a better place, blah, blah, blech. And as he talks about peace, love and Free Tibet beads we get the montage of a whole slew of images which are only designed to make your chick who cries at that one Maxwell House Christmas commercial when Peter comes home, you all know which one I’m talking about, to grab you by the nads and say, “We are so going to see that show.” You get Juiliette bawling her nuts off, Richard is obviously the Earl Woods of the family with regard to his little girl, the girl herself is being hoisted up for winning something or another and you even get Richard crying like a little bitch too. Geez, people, there is way too much bawling going on in the movies.

Oh, and I downloaded the song that plays in the trailer. It’s called “I’ll Be With You” by a band called Matter. I absolutely hate myself for it but I figure when I need to let loose for a good weep I’ll know help is as close as my iPod. It’s wicked good for a quick pop fix but it’s like slamming 8 lime Pixie Stix: it’s good for the first minute or so but then you regret for having done it like last Saturday night’s slump buster or maybe that’s just me.


TWO FOR THE MONEY (2005) Director: D.J. Caruso
Cast: Al Pacino, Matthew McConaughey, Rene Russo, Jeremy Piven, Armand Assante
Release: October 7, 2005
Synopsis: TWO FOR THE MONEY is a drama of high stakes set in the adrenalized world of wheeler-dealers whose fortunes are won and lost betting on sports. Matthew McConaughey stars as Brandon Lane, a former college football star whose uncanny ability to predict the outcome of a game introduces him to an unexpected new career when his gridiron glory is sidelined by a crushing injury.
Brandon’s talent makes him a prime candidate for recruitment by Walter Abraham (Pacino), the head of one of the biggest sports consulting operations in the country. Walter hires the small town ex-athlete and grooms him into a shrewd front man. Brandon soon begins to enjoy his status as a Manhattan golden boy and finds himself growing comfortable with Walter’s high-rolling lifestyle. The surrogate father/surrogate son relationship fattens Walter’s business and personal accounts…until Brandon’s golden touch begins to falter at the same time that Walter’s manipulation of his protégé crosses the line. With millions of dollars on the line, Brandon and Walter engage in a deadly game of con versus con, each one trying to maintain the upper hand while everyone in their world, including Walter’s wife, Toni (Russo), are drawn into the escalating duel-where ultimately everything isn’t what it appears to be.

View Trailer:
* Large (QuickTime)

Prognosis: Hilarious. You almost got me. Almost. I was inches away from really being excited about this movie and then, as I watched the trailer roll on, I saw that not even Matthew McConaughey’s electric whiteness, nee His Teeth, could save this one.

Yeah, I liked BOILER ROOM. I still go back to it as one of those character profiles which really captured one of those kinds of professions whose legitimacy borders on illegal. This seems to be the same kind of flick but without the Vin Diesel or Ben Affleck edginess.

The trailer starts like a shot of electrolytes to a thirsty man’s belly. It really gets you going. You’ve got a drum beat just thrusting your pulse forward, think of the into to Disturbed’s “Down With The Sickness,” and you’ve also got the same kind of grey, washed-out cinematography which really gives you a sense of place. Matthew’s one of those guys you see on Saturday mornings, usually on USA or one of your local channels who promise you the best line on sports bets, usually college or pro football, for one $25 call.

Matt does it and he’s good at it.

The trailer is great at capturing the thrill of the bet, the reality of how this profession still exists without being under the purview of government officials. Matt looks all dingy and dirty, the obvious set-up is that he’ll be transformed by the malevolent force being embodied by Al Pacino, but he’s good at what he does and the “Inspired by a True Story” even gets a greater buy-in from me.

It downturns, though, when the inevitable occurs, he moves on up to the East Side to a penthouse apartment in the sky. Pacino chimes in, turns our ruffian into a slick snake, takes over the voice-over duties, making it sound like he’s taking Matthew under his wing to make him a big star in a business that doesn’t have starts but annoying loud-mouths, and I and further frustrated when Renee Russo butts in for no good reason at all.

I am delighted, though, by the appearance of Jeremy Piven, his role, it seems, like a rehash of his Ari character from Entourage, as he scoffs at Matt’s new place as one of “them.”

What’s curious to state about this trailer is that we’re shown this man’s downfall. We’re actually privy to his meltdown as a sports speculator and, for the life of me, can’t understand why I should even care about this dude’s rise and fall. Just like in BOIILER ROOM we get the call from the one guy who put all his speculatatory eggs in one basket, loses it all, and then calls to whine about it and we even get Matt’s eventual Nietzschian, philosophical questioning of the direction in which his life is headed.

Good. You know what? That’s why they call it gambling, ‘Tard.

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