July 1, 2004
Werewolves, a (former) Batman, and the Devil: Wherein Josh Jabcuga takes a quick look at Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, David Mametís Spartan, and the Harvey Weinstein-slash-Beelzebub, uh, tribute, PETER BISKINDíS DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES.
I donít want to say too much about HARVEY WEINSTEIN, good or bad. I donít know him personally. Never met him. From what Iíve seen in PETER BISKINDís DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES: MIRAMAX, SUNDANCE, AND THE RISE OF THE INDEPENDENT FILM, I believe Iíd rather do a RIC FLAIR-style strut straight up to SUGE KNIGHT and punch him directly in the yambags than even look at WEINSTEIN cross-eyed.
Frankly, the WEINSTEINíINATOR scares the bejesus out of me, if Iím to believe even a smidgen of what Iíve read in BISKINDís account of Ď90s independent cinema. WEINSTEIN intimidates a lot of people,--directors, actors, especially his own employees. It seems to be pretty effective for him, too.
BISKINDís book is interesting, but whether intentional or not, the book certainly comes across as an anti-HARVEY WEINSTEIN smear campaign that would rival in force one of Miramaxís own Oscar campaigns. HARVEY should be proud of BISKINDís effort, except the book, which at times resembles out-and-out propaganda, mainly serves to take potshots at the last of the old school movie studio moguls.
I guess every good story needs a good villain, though. A believable baddie to keep us turning the pages, right, and BISKIND finds his in HARVEY WEINSTEIN. Iím not sure if BISKIND is out to get WEINSTEIN, if WEINSTEIN is as evil as BISKIND makes him out to be, or if itís a combination of the two.
WEINSTEINís reputation precedes him in any deal or negotiation, so itís not like you arenít aware of what youíre getting yourself into by doing business with the man. Maybe you are essentially making a deal with the devil if youíre selling your film to Miramax. Maybe thereís good reason that HARVEY was labeled HARVEY SCISSORHANDS by directors for his heavy and eager editing hand. Maybe he promised his people one thing and gave them another. Maybe HARVEY had certain favorites in his stable, like TARANTINO and PALTROW, while others saw their projects shelved only to languish in limbo and collect years of dust. Maybe HARVEYís idea of loyalty is only as strong as an artistís next film. Do we really need PETER BISKIND to give us all the gory details?
And maybe HARVEY got the last laugh in the end (besides the fact that heís penning his own autobiography, which will no doubt tell his side of the story). With the constant barrage of anti-HARVEY anecdotes in the book, BISKIND only ends up slighting the book itself, and it keeps his work from reaching the level of importance that its potential might suggest, in my opinion.
BISKIND provides some juicy morsels in his book, which, hey, is fine and dandy; Americans always love some good gossip. I know I do. It just came across as so catty, though. And thatís not to discredit anything, or to say that WEINSTEIN is a likeable lug of a guy after all, which he may or may not be. I just felt it was a little overdone, a little too much. An author can paint a picture without giving the reader a swirlie in the can of paint.
One last thing about this whole negative HARVEY WEINSTEIN fixation that PETER BISKIND seems to be dealing with. HARVEY seems to have a lot of friends and ďyes menĒ who defend their boss or friend by saying, ďOh, heís just really passionate about film, thatís why he acts that way.Ē Shit, we know heís passionate. Itís also probably a pretty safe bet that heís an asshole. So what? In my twenty-seven years of existence, Iíve met, and worked for, bosses and superiors who were capable of far worse than a HARVEY WEINSTEIN, and they werenít half as capable at doing their job.
Maybe being an asshole is an essential qualification for running a movie studio. One would have to believe it would take more than being a major prick to be successful, though, and Iím not sure BISKIND gives WEINSTEIN the props he rightfully deserves. The WEINSTEINS were key players in the tale of the rise of independent cinema in the 90s, and they will always have their place in cinematic history.
DOWN AND DIRTY is not without its own merits. BISKIND does a skillful job of showing how indie film actually became mainstream and part of the Hollywood studio system over the years. Once about spirit and the artistís vision and existing for the sake of art alone, as opposed to commerce, indie film became another well-oiled machine for the suits to cash in on. BISKIND portrays ROBERT REDFORD as an out-of-touch businessman who spends years making deliberate decisions but maybe doesnít possess enough common sense to differentiate between his own asshole and a hole in the wall. Heís shown as someone who is legacy-minded, except his own personal legacy takes precedence over the legacy of something like the Sundance Film Festival. Sundance is cast in a light that suggests it has made shiny millionaires out of grungy film mavericks like STEVEN SODERBERGH and BILLY BOB THORNTON, who sold out in order to buy into the system they once rebelled against.
All of this takes a backseat, though, to the heyday BISKIND has with HARVEY WEINSTEIN, which is fine, if thatís what his goal was. Ultimately, DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES is a good read, but any true insight (and to be fair, there is an abundance to be found here) is overshadowed by BISKINDís damn near infatuation with slamming WEINSTEIN every chance he gets. When all is said and done, Iím sure much to the chagrin of HARVEYís opponents, the infamous mogulís work will speak for itself. Come Judgment day, letís just hope for HARVEYís sake that God is impressed with all those Oscars.
SPARTAN, 2004, written/directed by DAVID MAMET, starring VAL KILMER
What ever happened to VAL KILMER? There was a time when he was poised to be the next TOM CRUISE. Instead, THE SAINT, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, a certain bat-suit with nipples, and alleged bad film set etiquette derailed his once promising career.
This was the guy who did JIM MORRISON better than the Lizard King himself. This was the guy who looked so badass twirling the swords in that RON HOWARD midget vehicle WILLOW. This was the Iceman. Forget Maverick. When my buddies and I saw TOP GUN as kids, we all wanted to be the Iceman. And who could forget REAL GENIUS? Even though KILMER has a memorable part in my all-time favorite movie, MICHAEL MANNís HEAT (and his character is also the only survivor from DeNiroís bank-robbing crew), one still has to believe that KILMERís career never quite reached its fullest potential that was promised in the 80s and early 90s.
SPARTAN is an under-the-radar production from writer/director DAVID MAMENT. It was quietly released to theaters, only to die a quickie death and an even quicker release to DVD.
Surprisingly, what doesnít work in this film is the script by DAVID MAMET, whoís known for legendary work such as GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. Here, the Presidentís daughter is kidnapped, but like in most political thrillers, thereís a big cover-up, tons of double- and triple crosses, and lots of head scratching by the audience. Iím not a fan of this genre, although this film kept me going almost until the end. I donít want to give too much away, and the nature of such a movie makes it difficult to review without spilling some spoilers, but I will say by the third act things did become a little too implausible. The main problem with the script, though, is not this implausibility. Itís that youíre really not given much reason to care for VAL KILMERís secret agent character, or for that matter, the fate of the Presidentís daughter.
There is a deeper message in the film pertaining to the shady side of politics and political campaigning. It might serve as a good companion piece to FARENHEIT 9/11, seriously. If only the movie wasnít missing some type of spark of life.
I watched this film with three other people. Two tuned out about thirty minutes and finally walked away from the film, returning every now and then to see what direction the story had taken. The third person hung on a little longer than the other two but abandoned the film for good about half-way in, never to return or ask about the outcome. Maybe I was more willing to suspend my disbelief than the others. Being the fanboy that I am, I usually have a better tolerance for movies than regular, non fanboy types. Then again, with three out of four people losing interest in this film, itís tough for me to recommend it to anyone.
GINGER SNAPS 2: UNLEASHED: directed by BRETT SULLIVAN, written by MEGAN MARTIN
First things first: You need to see GINGER SNAPS before you watch the sequel. (And it comes highly recommended, the tight little package that it is.) You could probably figure out the GINGER SNAPS 2ís premise without having viewed the first one. After all, itís a film about werewolves, it doesnít take a genius. But why bother skipping out on the first? Youíd be missing out on two of the best straight-to-video releases (at least in the U.S.) this side of DONNIE DARKO (technically not a straight-to-video release itself, but címon, donít try to tell me for a minute that a theater near you played DARKO during its initial run and you were cool enough to check it out).
We donít really need to get too much into plot here, other than A.) Yes, there is a plot and B.) Itís about werewolves. Films about werewolves arenít exactly an overplayed genre, not like, say, zombies or vampires. And what has the genre given us the last couple of years? AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS. The only Paris I want to be in has the last name Hilton. The only film of someone or something hairy and foaming in Paris does not involve any quote unquote werewolves, and unfortunately, it does not involve my Wolfie, so I could care less about seeing it. DOG SOLDIERS? Moody, atmospheric, but it had that straight-to-video taint on it, no doubt about it.
There is nothing about GINGER SNAPS UNLEASHED that would suggest it doesnít deserve a theatrical run. Itís sharply written, witty, with superb pacing, great characters and strong performances.
The first film involved two sisters infected with the werewolf virus. It was funny at times and gruesome and knew how to balance both. The sequel is a highly effective genre piece that centers on Brigitte, sister of the now deceased Ginger (as in the Ginger, the hot KATHARINE ISABELLE from the filmís title), who is mistakenly taken for a junkie and held against her will in a hospital for recovering addicts (Brigitte mainlines an antidote needed to prevent her transformation into a wolf). Sheís also being stalked by another wolf, who it would appear is in heat. The film builds to ahem, a climax, that manages to be both deliberate and somewhat unexpected.
The GINGER SNAPS series is gradually building quite the cult success that straight-to-videos can garner thanks to positive word-of-mouth buzz. There is another GINGER SNAPS film set to be released in the near future, this time a prequel. After seeing how superb a job director BRETT SULLIVAN and writer MEGAN MARTIN did with GINGER SNAPS UNLEASHED, I have a feeling these are two names to keep an eye out for. This is horror the way itís supposed to be done, and SULLIVAN and MARTIN are two promising talents. You donít have to be HARVEY WEINSTEIN to figure that one out.
When not enjoying the beautiful summer weather by spending the day at the local air conditioned multiplex, Josh Jabcuga can be found writing Squib Central, published every Thursday, exclusively at www.moviepoopshoot.com.
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