July 14, 2006
My Life Truly Is Only Worth an $85 Boost Mobile Phone
It was a Clerks-worthy moment–there I was, putting in my regular hours at my friend’s wireless phone store when I have to deal with a scary, dirty vagrant-looking couple (a dude with a dirty, scraggly beard and skin damage from the sun; his rather scary “woman”–his word–who’s bald, tattooed, and was the biggest instigator) giving me death threats for refusing to replace a stolen $85 Boost Mobile phone–which by virtue of its brand and pre-paid nature, is not insured. While I would normally dismiss such nonsense as the ravings of crazy people, after an incident this past week, I couldn’t help but think that there was a kernel of accuracy in that price appraisal of my life. The efforts of an independent publicist trying to secure my review coverage of a major release this week were thwarted when a representative of the distributor firmly balked that I do not review. And so there it is: going on 17 years of continuous writing, being among the very first to do all of whatever it is I do on the ‘Net (since ‘95)–all of that instantly, completely dismissed out of hand, as this whole time I was deluding myself into thinking I was reviewing. So who am I, then, to object when a psychotic values a pre-paid cellular phone over my life, as what I’ve spent more than half of it doing is not what I believed it was?
And so goes the ongoing delusion that is my life’s “work”…
The most pressing thought I had while walking out of YOU, ME AND DUPREE was how much money a friend received for the prominent use of two hit singles he’d written–not exactly what I’m sure directing duo Joe and Anthony Russo had in mind with this lazy Owen Wilson comedy. Not that the top billed star shows any signs of sluggishness; Wilson’s work as the Dupree of the title is the only real sign of life in this predictable tale of a slacker who becomes an increasingly unwelcome houseguest to his best friend (Matt Dillon) and new bride (Kate Hudson). The typical privacy invasion and crude mayhem ensues, as does the inevitable, improbable turning of the tide when obnoxiousness somehow starts to endear Dupree to others. Wilson’s innate, unassuming sweetness make that latter point somewhat easier to swallow, but what makes the film as a whole less so is that the Russo brothers obviously just let Wilson to his own devices to do his usual thing and hope that all the other assembled elements somehow stick. They don’t–the trio of Wilson, Dillon, and Hudson exhibit very little chemistry in every pairing permutation; and the subplot of Dillon constantly being belittled by Hudson’s father/his boss (Michael Douglas) seems like it was an A-plot in an unrelated script that somehow got shoved in. And that reflects the central problem: the film is remarkably forced–ironic, considering it’s a starring vehicle for an actor whose most defining quality is his laid-back, unaffected demeanor.
Expectations for the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film, 2003’s The Curse of the, were understandably low–after all, its dubious source material was a theme park ride, of all things–but director Gore Verbinski and scripters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio managed to come up with an entertaining, if overlong, throwback swashbuckler whose most distinct innovation was its old-fashioned style. Distinctly fashion-forward, on the other hand, was the film’s ultimate ace in the hole: Johnny Depp’s indelibly eccentric work as rogue pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, which made the film an even more jovial jaunt than it otherwise would have been.
Depp’s Capt. Jack hasn’t mellowed his madness the slightest bit in DEAD MAN’S CHEST, the second of a now-planned trilogy, and while his performance still gives this film the film a kooky kick all its own, there is none of that out-of-left-field shock element attached to it; audiences are now not only expecting but looking forward to more wacky Jackie. But Verbinski and the returning Elliott and Rossio find other ways to surprise. Not that there isn’t plenty of what audiences want and expect; the trio of Jack, dashing hero Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), and plucky heroine Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) again take to the seas for another adventure, this time to search for the “dead man’s chest” of the title, which contains the beating heart of the legendary ruler of the sea Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), to whom Jack owes a blood debt. Along the way, there’s all manner of swashbuckling swordfighting that one comes to expect in–once again–a somewhat bloated two-hour-plus run time.
Verbinski finds giddy new ways of staging the mayhem, though, and an antic Looney Tunes sensibility amps up the two key action set pieces to even greater crowd-pleasing levels. But he doesn’t rest on his popularity-proven laurels; with the character of Davy Jones, Verbinski and his visual effects team break startling new ground. Jones and the crew of his otherworldly ship The Flying Dutchman bear all the ravages of years of undersea damnation–that is, acquiring certain aquatic qualities–and the CG “makeup” done to bring the likes Jones’s tentacled, squid-like head to life defies words much like Depp’s performance in the first film. While computer generated, the effects are remarkably tactile, the most meticulous digital approximation of practical FX to date. But considering such razzle dazzle is expected from big budget blockbuster follow-ups, the most surprising trick up Verbinski and the writers’ sleeve is that this is not a typical sequel rehash but an actual attempt at making a continuation of a larger story, with the film opening with events fully in progress and closing with not only loose narrative ends still dangling but characters at more precarious points in a less predictable overall arc–not exactly what one ever expected from a series of films that is, after all, based on a theme park attraction. But for whatever unusual ambitions, Dead Man’s Chest, like its predecessor, also doesn’t lose sight of those just-for-fun origins; while Verbinski still could stand to employ some tighter editing, it’s the rollicking ride that keeps the audience coming back for more–and will keep them coming back for more when At World’s End concludes the trilogy next summer.
Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans, and director Keenen Ivory Wayans offer up another lowbrow, high-concept comedy with LITTLE MAN, in which a vertically challenged criminal (Marlon) disguises himself as the new adopted son to an unsuspecting wannabe dad (Shawn).
At the Video Store
The utterly unnecessary sequel BASIC INSTINCT 2 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) could have justified its existence if it were the laugh-a-second, sleazy camp-a-thon that its opening scene suggests. Alas, Sharon Stone’s desperate attempt to recapture her former glory as femme fatale Catherine Tramell is one huge bore, with her vain vamping actually taking a back seat to charisma vacuum David Morrissey, who dominates the screen time as a London shrink who gets caught up in Catherine’s seductive games. Both the R-rated theatrical cut and unrated extended cut are available on separate DVD editions, with the latter including deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and commentary by director Michael Caton-Jones.
Pierce Brosnan’s funny, fearless, image-effacing turn as a burned-out hitman is easily the best reason to catch Richard Shepard’s dark comedy THE MATADOR (The Weinstein Company/Genius Products), which also features nice work by an equally well-cast Greg Kinnear as the straight-laced businessman who becomes his unlikely buddy. What begins as something edgy and quirky grows gradually more conventional as it goes along, ultimately succumbing to the Hollywood warm-’n-fuzzy. The DVD includes commentary by Shepard, Brosnan, and Kinnear; deleted and extended scenes; and a making-of featurette.
The French mystery thriller CACHÉ (Hidden) (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) ultimately may not offer the conventional genre satisfactions–its central question is never given a clear, cut-and-dried resolution and explanation, for instance–but so masterful is Michael Haneke’s direction that the film’s captivating overall spell is a richer reward than any blatant answer. Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche play a married couple with child whose seemingly happy and peaceful existence is upended when increasingly intrusive videotapes show up on their doorstep and help unearth the long-held secrets and insecurities. Dense, deliberately paced, yet suspenseful and genuinely involving, as Auteuil and Binoche’s performances lending piercing intimacy to Haneke’s tightly-wound, visually inventive proceedings. The DVD includes two half-hour documentaries, one on the making on the film, and another an interview with Haneke on the film.
…more reviews, including Lady in the Water. As always, for additional reviews and more, check out my home site, TheMovieReport.com .
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