Film Archive for April, 2009

New on DVD: Nothing But the Truth

You could argue that Rod Lurie’s Nothing But the Truth, starring Kate Beckinsale and Vera Farmiga in career-high performances, lost out on being an Oscar contender because its distributor, Yari Film Group, declared bankruptcy. And you’d probably be right.
Loosely inspired by the Valerie Plame case, the film focuses on Rachel Armstrong (Beckinsale), a reporter who goes to jail rather than reveal her source for a Pulitzer-prize nominated story revealing Erica Van Doren (Farmiga), another mom at her son’s school, to secretly be a CIA operative.
The film shows us the events as they unfold from the perspective of a reporter who’s willing to stay in jail and lose her husband and son rather than reveal who her source was. And as you’re watching the film, while your sympathies lie primarily with Armstrong, there are points where you wonder, how much is this woman willing to take in fighting for this abstract principle of the right of a journalist to protect a source, even in matters the government considers to pertain to national security? You wonder, if I found myself in her place, would I have that strength myself?

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Review: 17 Again

So, 17 Again. More-or-less your basic body-swap tale, with the slight difference being that we start out with the younger version of the character, Mike O’Donnell (played by Zac Efron), who gives up his college hoops future to stick with his pregnant girlfriend (although the film is never clear on why he couldn’t both stick with her AND pursue his dreams, as more than one college athlete has done successfully).
We flash-forward to 20 years later, where Mike (now played by Matthew Perry) is a miserable schlub who’s spent probably most of the previous two decades blaming his wife and kids for his failure to do anything inspiring, or even to see things through to the finish at all. After an encounter with Brian Doyle-Murray as a magical janitor (hey, at least this time the filmmakers didn’t take the route of it being a magical minority), Mike finds himself back into his 17-year-old body (played by Efron again). The twist here is that he’s not switching places with his own teenage son, or traveling back in time to rectify what he sees as his past mistakes; he’s 17 again, but in the present day, with his adult wife and teenage children still there.

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Scott Foundas Takes on Tyson and Toback

LA Weekly’s Scott Foundas has an excellent interview with Mike Tyson and James Toback. Here’s a teaser:
The Tyson who shows up at Green Valley Ranch seems yet another chameleonic apparition, this one not unlike a T-Rex that has realized its might is no match for the fossilizing tar creeping upwards from its ankles. There is an existential sadness about him now that is partly the inevitability of a fighter who no longer fights but also the Dostoyevskyan disappointment of a man consumed by the thought that all of his achievements may have been for naught. “My whole life has been a waste — I’ve been a failure,” he told a reporter in 2005, eight days before the McBride fight. Not for nothing did Toback name the Tyson production outfit Fyodor Productions.
Excellent, thoughtful piece. Read the whole thing right here.

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Review: Hannah Montana: The Movie

Directed by Peter Chelsom

I actually like Miley Cyrus and her Disney channel television show, Hannah Montana. It’s one of the better shows targeted at tween and teen girls, with a unique concept — average school girl leads a secret double life as the world’s most famous pop star — and it’s generally well-written (for what it is) and well-produced. Unfortunately, this new big-screen version of the Hannah Montana story fails to do either the series or its star justice.

Miley Cyrus, who stars on the show in duel roles as her alter-ego Miley Stewart and pop sensation Hannah Montana, has a natural charm and warmth that makes her enormously appealing and non-threatening to the girls who comprise the show’s primary target audience, and the writing leans heavily on plots that involve Miley and her best friend Lilly (Emily Osment) — and sometimes male BFF Oliver (Mitchell Musso) — getting into various scrapes ala Lucy and Ethel. There tends to be a lot of physical slapstick humor, and Cyrus isn’t too much of a diva to put herself in the center of the jokes.

It’s a cute show, and one that’s been very profitable for Disney when it comes to selling Hannah Montana merchandise and concert tickets — The Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour sold out at most venues within minutes, and ticket scalping became such a huge issue that Disney ended up offering the concert in movie theaters in 3-D, which both appeased heartbroken fans and made the Mouse House an additional $70 million worldwide ($31 million from the opening weekend alone).

So now we have Hannah Montana: The Movie which, unlike the concert, essentially aims to put a 90-minute or so version of the television series on the big screen. Unfortunately, those aspects of the show that the filmmakers attempt to carry over to the big screen don’t play as well within the constructs of the movie, and they overlook the opportunity to take the character of Miley/Hannah to a different level by cramming far too much slapstick comedy (not to mention utter stupidity) into 90 minutes of screen time rather than developing a plot that would have explored the character in more interesting ways.

The basic plot idea they start with isn’t bad: Miley’s dad Robbie (Billy Ray Cyrus — also the real-life father of Miley Cyrus) is fed up with his diva daughter’s attitude. She’s so focused on the Hannah Montana persona the two of them created, he feels, that she’s forgotten who she really is. She’s lost her roots, and dear old dad has just the remedy: he’s going to take his baby girl down home to the small Tennessee town where she was born, in the hopes that hanging out with her small-town Southern family will help get the Beverly Hills attitude out and get Miley back to who she really is.

This idea is executed poorly in a number of ways, starting with the way in which the writers set up the whole “Miley goes back to her roots” idea. First, they have Hannah being ludicrously tailed by an inept British tabloid reporter, Oswald Granger (Peter Gunn) who’s intent on finding some dirt on the world’s biggest pop star. This contrivance leads to Miley being unable to make it to best friend Lilly’s Sweet Sixteen party as herself and having to show up at the party instead as Hannah, which steals the spotlight from Lilly at her own party and threatens the girls’ friendship.

Miley (as Hannah) also gets into a catfight with supermodel/superbitch Tyra Banks over a pair of designer shoes – (captured for posterity in photos taken by Oswald) and wants to ditch her Grandma Ruby’s birthday party to go to New York City to perform at a music awards show. Hannah also has a new publicist, Vita (Vanessa Williams, woefully under-used here) who’s pushing to make the teen sensation an even bigger star than she already is.

Robbie agrees to let Miley go to the awards show, but only if Vita can secure a private jet to ensure that she also makes it to Grandma’s birthday party. Fine so far, except that Billy Ray somehow manages to redirect the private jet to take them straight to Tennessee, skipping the awards show altogether. This is stupid for many reasons. Why would Robbie, who’s his daughter’s manager as well as her dad, and therefore surely aware that Hannah had a contractual obligation to perform at the awards show once he’d agreed to let her do it, jettison the agreed-upon plan (and seemingly have zero repercussions for doing so)?

Once Dad gets her to Tennessee for a two-week visit, various things contrive to make Miley question her values and whether she’s become so immersed in her Hannah Montana persona that she’s lost herself. One of these contrivances is that a real-estate developer (Barry Bostwick) is eyeing Miley’s small, charming hometown of Crowley Corners to build a big mall and apartment buildings, while Miley’s feisty Grandma Ruby is heading up a local effort to raise enough funds to buy the land the developer wants to stop progress from marching through her town. And through yet another contrivance Miley ends up roped in to agreeing to see if Hannah Montana (who she’s claimed to know personally) will come to Crowley Corners to perform a fundraising benefit concert.

This, naturally, will put Miley in the position of having to be in two places at the same time, because no one knows she’s really Hannah Montana. Lending to the forced feeling this whole set up has is the obvious question of why Miley (and her dad), who surely have many millions in the bank courtesy of the success of Hannah Montana, wouldn’t just either anonymously donate the funds to buy the land –or for that matter, why Vita the greedy publicist, who’s always on the lookout for smart PR opportunities, wouldn’t seek to have “Hannah” buy the land and donate it back to the town, with the proviso that it can’t be sold to developers or built on.

There’s also a cute local boy, Travis (Lucas Till) who Miley knew back in first grade, who just happens to now be working for Grandma Ruby, rebuilding the chicken coop so he can sell the eggs from Grandma’s hens. Travis is still harboring a crush on Miley, and within a few short days, Miley is head-over-heels for the nice country boy, and rethinking her life choices. Heavy stuff. Or it could have been, had it been at all well-executed.

The entire plot line with Oswald-the-sneaky-tabloid-guy could have been eliminated entirely, as it adds little to the plot other than serving as a vehicle for blatantly setting up conflicts that would have been better crafted had they arisen naturally from the characters rather than phony plot points (and the way in which the whole Oswald issue is resolved, in the end, stretches the suspension of disbelief well beyond its snapping point).

What makes this movie so frustrating is that there was the seed of a good idea in there, but the plot was so filled with tripe that didn’t need to be there and so poorly thought and executed that whatever good was there to start with got totally lost. The series’ fanbase likes the character of Miley Stewart (and the actress/performer Miley Cyrus). Yes, Hannah the superstar is cool, but it’s Miley the real girl who makes the whole thing interesting, and the creators of this film lost a great opportunity to explore more deeply what’s really the most engaging aspect of the series — the conflict between Miley the girl and Hannah the superstar, which should be so much deeper and more interesting than a series of cheap “she’s got to be in two places at once!” stunts.

It’s too bad the filmmakers stray so far from any ambition to make a movie that delved deeper into that aspect of the series; they would have had a much better movie on their hands, and they would have given Miley Cyrus an opportunity to show that she can stretch her acting chops a bit beyond the realm of a sitcom, instead of saddling her with a plot that’s less well-thought than many episodes of the show have been.

This should have been Miley’s conflict, not one forced upon her by others, and by taking the focus off of Miley in this way, the story cheats both the character and the audience of an opportunity to see a more genuine conflict of personal values that could have been much more interesting. More importantly, the movie badly cheats Miley Cyrus, who does her best to carry the film through its more ridiculous moments; she’s a talented, energetic girl, and she deserved much better.

-by Kim Voynar

Reason #387 Why Austin is a Cool Town

Fantastic Fest badgeholders who thought they were invited to see a special screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan were treated instead to a sneak screening of J.J. Abrams new Trek reboot, with Leonard Nimoy in attendance. Color me jealous …

Movie Manners

Pop Quiz: You want to take your older kids to a free screening of a movie, but you can’t find a sitter for your fussy 9-month-old baby. Do you:
A) Tell the older kids sorry, but we can’t make it tonight. I’ll find a sitter for your brother and take you this weekend when the movie opens.
B) Take the older kids, get them seated with their popcorn and sodas, then sit out in the lobby with the baby and keep him amused for 90 minutes or so until the movie’s over so he won’t disturb others.
C) Take the older kids and stay in the theater yourself, pacing back-and-forth in front of the screen with the baby while he squawks loudly. Let him crawl around all over the dirty carpet and crawl up and down the stairs making loud baby noises, disturbing everyone who’s sitting on the aisle. When he cries loudly (which is often), talk to him in a loud, annnoying “baby” voice about how cute he is, and attempt to engage others who are watching the movie in conversation about how cute your baby is crawling all over the floor and distracting everyone. All during the movie. Nonstop.
Guess which answer the woman sitting behind me at the screening last night chose?

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon