Thursday, August 31, 2006

Release "Method & Red" on DVD!

I feel like the Internet is constantly being used for nefarious purposes, be they Chuck Norris Facts or attempting to get a bridge named after Stephen Colbert or convincing people to see a movie called "Snakes on a Plane."

I have to admit that I attempted to start a campaign myself, a charge to secure fall employment for Mr. Eric Balfour. How did I do? So-so. Balfour isn't on any shows at all this fall, either established or new. That ain't right. But I've made my peace since Balfour will be returning to "24" this winter. Not quite "Mission Accomplished" on my end, but it's something.

Thus today I unveil my newest campaign, one even more doomed to failure:

It's time to get "Method & Red" released on DVD.

Many of you probably don't remember "Method & Red," a somewhat self-explanatory show that ran for nine episodes in the summer of 2004, part of FOX's entirely unsuccessful attempt at year-round original scripted programming. It starred rappers Method Man and Redman as a pair for frequently stoned musicians who moved into a suburban New Jersey neighborhood. Yes, Method Man and Redman were playing entirely sterotypical versions of their own personae, but they were surrounded in their new home by equally stereotypical white folks, including Beth Littleford, as a realtor who they called Neighbor Lady, and Peter Jacobson. Naturally, Method and Red didn't seem to fit in well with their neighbors, but by the end of each episode, with the help of some prime bud, they were all able to learn to get along.

What can you say about a show that introduced the world to legendary characters like Downtown Clowny Brown, evil music critic Keith Debeetham and the frequently incarcerated Chu Chu Hillfong?

Look, "How High" has sold fairly well on DVD. Or at least I'm assuming it has, without any kind of statistical evidence. Why wouldn't "Method & Red" move some copies? The show was being watched by a few million people a week.

FOX has been good in recent years with releasing short-lived shows on DVD. Sure, we may never see "The Ortegas" or "Still Life," but viewers have been able get the entire run of shows like "Wonderfalls," "Action," "Greg the Bunny" and "Keen Eddie" on DVD. If I'm being honest, "Method & Red" isn't as good as any of those shows.

It is, however, better than the fourth season of "Alf," which I got as a screener today. It's better than the second season of "One Tree Hill," which has been out on DVD for a long time. It's better than "Flavor of Love," which seems to be selling OK on Amazon. I'm not 100% sure, but I'm thinking it's better than "Sesame Street: Elmo's Potty Time," currently No. 37 on Amazon's bestsellers list.

It's not as good as the second, third or fourth seasons of "Everwood," which are all in some sort of weird limbo because the first season didn't sell well enough, but I'm sure that there are oodles of "Everwood" fans out there banging the drums for that one.

Thus, I urge any and all readers to join my quixotic quest to get "Method & Red" released on DVD.


Urge friends to sign as well.

Or not.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Wednesday's Red Sox Lineup

I usually opt not to discuss sports in this blog, for whatever reason, but since I've been ranting and raving about it all afternoon, I figure why not rant and rave in blog form...

The gist:

Today's (08/30/06) starting lineup for my beloved Boston Red Sox may well be the worst batting lineup in the history of the franchise.

It went a little something like this:

Kevin Youkilis LF
Alex Cora SS
Mark Loretta DH
Mike Lowell 3B
Gabe Kapler CF
Doug Mirabelli C
Eric Hinske RF 3
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Carlos Pena 1B

Not surprisingly, the Sox lost 7-2, though those two runs (and 10 mysterious hits -- one for every person in the lineup not named Alex Cora) are slightly miraculous. In addition, despite oodles of defensive inexperience, the Sox didn't make a single error today. Odd.

Interesting things about the Sox lineup today:

1)Only three of the players have been regular starters this season -- Youkilis, Lowell and Loretta. Of those three players, only Lowell was playing in his natural position. The batters who didn't/couldn't play for the Sox today include David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Coco Crisp, Jason Varitek, Wily Mo Pena, Trot Nixon and Alex Gonzalez. That's insane.

2)Loretta, an all-star at second, was the designated hitter, which is a bit odd for a second baseman with four home runs for the season. It makes sense, though, when you know that Loretta DHed so that rookie Dustin Pedroia and his .138 batting average could be in the lineup.

3)Mirabelli, the catcher, is a .189 hitter. Of course, the Sox only have Mirabelli because he can catch Tim Wakefield's knuckleball. That's valuable. Unfortunately, Wakefield has been on the disabled list for a long time and, thus, Mirabelli and his .189 average are playing regularly, because the alternative is Javy Lopez, who has no knees. To Mirabelli's credit, he only allowed one stolen base today. Not to his credit? He allowed the opposing team's catcher to steal the base.

4)Best of all: The Sox had two Jewish players -- Youkilis and Kapler -- in the same outfield today. That doesn't happen very often. I'm too lazy to see if Youkilis and Kapler have been in the outfield together at any point this season. I'd still be curious to know when the last time it happened previously.

4a)This has absolutely nothing to do with their respective degrees of Jewishness, but is a Youkilis-Kapler-Hinske outfield the lead coordinated outfield imaginable? Yes. It may be.

This is why the Sox are going to need a miracle to stay ahead of the Blue Jays for third place in the AL East.

It makes me sad. ays for third place in the AL East.

It makes me sad.

And do you want to know the worst part? I still found this freak show more interesting to write about than last night's premiere of "Celebrity Duets."

MovieWatch: "Fast Food Nation"

"Fast Food Nation"
Director: Richard Linklater
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 71
In a Nutshell: For at least its first hour, Richard Linklater's semi-adaptation of Eric Schlosser's muckraking expose about the fast food industry is about as strong as one could possibly hope, given that it's a movie based on a book that's based on statistics and research. With only the barest of plots involving a burger company exec (Greg Kinnear), several illegal immigrants (including Wilmer Valderamma, Catalina Sandino Moreno) at a meat packing company and several high schoolers working McJobs (led by Ashley Johnson), Linklater weaves a story of corporate complicity that goes into more depth and detail on issues of class and race in contemporary America than nearly any studio film I can think of. There isn't much plot, but people keep encountering familiar actors (Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson and Ethan Hawke), who deliver long and politicized monologues. It's clunky, but I was never bored and I appreciated Linklater's commitment to intelligence as a corrective to the glibness of Jason Reitman's over-praised "Thank You For Smoking." It's rare that you can pin-point so perfectly where a movie goes off the rails, but in the case of "Fast Food Nation," it's the moment that Avril Lavigne pops up as a chirpy college activist. She jeopardizes any claim to authenticity the movie may have made and announces an over-plotted attempt to tie everything up by the end. She's so distracting (her character as much as her pseudo-punky Canadian presence) that some viewers may tune out and miss the Killing Floor sequence that so clearly is mean as the Money Shot for "Fast Food Nation." I still appreciated the movie for its politics and its aspirations and also for a number of the performances, particularly those given by Kinnear, Johnson, Willis, Bobby Cannavale and the entirely Fez-Free Valderamma (who is good entirely by virtue of not being an annoying distraction).

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Second Look at "Vanished"

Since I haven't posted to the blog in a week -- a combination of shake-ups on the job and an absence of time in general -- I figured I should sit down with the second episode of FOX's "Vanished" to see if things have gotten any better since the pilot, which I wasn't enthralled by.

The short answer: It hasn't gotten any better. It's still an over-populated kidnapping drama without an iota of urgency, with a bland main cast and a barely-hinted-at mythology that isn't going to be nearly as cool as creator Josh Berman seems to suspect it will be. Since watching this stuff is at least *somewhat* what I do for a living, I'll probably stick with the show for a couple weeks, at least until "Heroes" premieres on Sept. 25. That should coincide pretty well with the end of the show's pre-baseball run on FOX. Folks on The Net are already buzzing with rumors of a "shocking" twist at the end of that episode and I've gotten independent confirmation that the rumors are true. And that's all I'll say about that.

In the interest of generosity, a few things that are improved:

**John Allen Nelson: Maybe this past season of "24" was too fresh in my mind when I watched the pilot, but I didn't give Nelson enough credit. We're not supposed to be sure whether to trust Senator Collins and he pulls of the ambiguity well.

**Esai Morales: It was just a good idea to cast a lawman with a bit of credibility, which Morales has thanks to "NYPD Blue." He didn't have much to do in the second episode, but he seemed sure of himself on screen, which is more than one can say for most of the cast.

Umm... Yeah. That's about it. I didn't mind some of the high tech gizmos the FBI seems to be using and the idea of being able to follow someone through Atlanta via a series of surveillance cameras with various purposes isn't bad.

Some things that still to work:

**It Looks Generic: I don't care how much director Mimi Leder pushes the camera around and how many *whoosh* effects take us through phone lines or whatever. "Vanished" just looks cheap, like the very worst episodes of "24," the episodes where you just know they're trying to save money so that they can blow up Air Force One in a couple weeks. The explosion in the mine-shaft beneath some tunnel where Gale Harold's Agent Kelton sees a flashing red light, we get a close-up on his "Oh No!" eyes and then things go boom was the stuff of syndicated action shows, probably lower in production values than, say, "Xena." There's no personality to the FBI offices, the Senator's home or, frankly, any of the environs. And does anybody out there know Atlanta? Does the show feel like it's really set there? "24" feels like it's set in Los Angeles. To me, "Vanished" feels like it's set in an American Uber-City.

**The Actors Are Generic: Harold is bland, but that's almost a blessing compared to poor Ming-Na. I can't tell if she's done in by the wretched writing in the second episode, or if she just isn't the least bit convincing as government agent. Regardless, her flat delivery is matched only by the Senator's anonymous kids and the slew of undistinguished supporting players working behind-the-scenes in either the FBI settings or on the Senator's staff. It's here that I admit that it took me a very long time to warm up to Carlos Bernard and Reiko Aylesworth on "24." They seemed like flat soap opera rejects to me for more than a season. The difference was that Kiefer Sutherland has always been a magnetic center for "24," while no such center exists on the excessively diffuse "Vanished." The addition of Eddie Cibrian to the cast isn't likely to change this for me. My rhetorical question: How much better with "Vanished" be with Bill Fichtner in the Harold role? Fichtner is an actor with the intensity to do what Kiefer does on "24."

**The "Centuries Old Mystery" Isn't Worth It: A writing mentor, Paul Hendrickson, was prone to using the expression "But is the game worth the candle?" whenever a student put too much effort into a writing flourish that couldn't hold up. So far, the "Vanished" team has done nothing to suggest that the religious mumbo-jumbo is doing anything more than detracting from the already lackluster kidnapping plot.

**It's Humorless: Good writers make sure that there's tonal variation. A well-written wise-cracking sidekick doesn't need to drain tension, but he can keep a self-serious show from drowning in its monotony. Currently, "Vanished" is drowning in its monotony.

**Flashbacks Just Stink: In general, unless you're "Lost," you probably shouldn't be using "Flashbacks." And you particularly shouldn't be doing flashbacks involving Josh Hopkins with a bad Massachusetts accent shot through a greenish-yellow filter. Hopkins isn't the worst of actors, but he probably shouldn't have me thinking about how much better he was back on "North Shore."

I could actually go on with this one, but it's getting late and "Vanished" isn't suddenly getting more worthy of discussion. As I've said, though, I will keep watching it. It's on after "Prison Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" (or "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Prison Break") and I'm sticking with that one for a while too.

Did anybody else watch the second episode of "Vanished"? Thoughts?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sorry to Beat a Dead "Snake"...

It seems only fair to follow up yesterday's "Is 'Snakes on a Plane' Dead in the Air?" query with a solid answer:

Yes. Yes it is.

"Snakes" finished the weekend with a $15.25 million take.

All sorts of websites -- Zap2it included -- are documenting "Snakes" as the weekend's top movie, which I guess it technically is. But that "Snakes" total still includes the $1.4 million the movie made on Thursday night. That's not the weekend in my world. Take that out of the equation and "Snakes" made only $13.8 million, which would have put it second for the weekend, behind yet another frame for "Talladega Nights."

As I noted yesterday, "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid" made only a million less in its first weekend, and if you adjust for inflation and increased ticket prices and all that stuff? Well, there's just no sugar-coating the disappointment. Guess what? With a budget estimated between $35 and $40 million, "Snakes on a Plane" may not make its money back at the domestic box office. Sure, it's still gonna make money down the road. But not much. Who'd have predicted that?

"Snakes" made less money in its opening weekend than "Coach Carter" ($24 million) or "Deep Blue Sea" ($19 million). It made more than "The Man" and "XXX: State of the Union" and "Freedomland" made in their opening weekends. So it's got that going for it.

The simple fact is this: "Snakes on a Plane," despite the months of hype, buzz, magazine covers and endless discussion, did no better than you would expect a Samuel L. Jackson late-summer creature feature to do and may have even done worse.

It could easily be argued that had the Internet buzz never happened and had New Line just made up several traditional trailers of scary snakes, SamJack being authoritative and maybe Kenan Thompson being funny, that hypothetical film might well have had a superior box office performance.

In fact, I kinda made that argument yesterday.

[On a side note: I find it coincidental -- stupider people would probably call it "ironic" -- that this same weekend last year was won by an R-rated movie that initially stirred up interest entirely because it had a goofy, fun name. "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" made more than $21 million and had sufficient legs to carry to $100 million. That's a hit.]

Thoughs? Analysis? Disagreements? Wanna try to tell me that "Snakes" is still a huge hit and I'm just not understanding the numbers?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Is "Snakes on a Plane" Dead in the Air?

Hmmm... So much for that whole "'Snakes on a Plane' Is a Phenomenon'" juggernaut. It was only a few months ago that I cautioned against the bandwagon-jumping mentality that declared "Mission: Impossible III" a bomb after its Friday returns came in lower than expectations. But here I go doing the same thing...

"Snakes on a Plane" has made an estimated $7.5 million since it opened late Thursday night. It's Friday figures were closer to 6.13 million, according to BoxOfficeMojo. If ever a film were designed for a big must-see-on-first-day-or-not-at-all gross, it's "Snakes," so you can figure a three-day weekend total of only $16 or 17 million and you may need to include Thursday totals to make that number.

Why is that a massive disappointment for New Line? Well, for one thing, industry observers were predicting a first weekend gross anywhere between the low $20s and the upper $30s. Nobody had a clue what to expect, but no expert I've read went on record with anything as low as what actually took place. Figure that the movie will take a %60-65 percent drop in weekend two and that's just not impressive.

But would you like a better idea of why it's disappointing? Because back in 2004, two August weekends later (and therefore worse), another film about killer snakes -- "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid" -- was released. An entirely unnecessarily and undemanded sequel to a seven year-old movie, with a budget of only $20 million and no star bigger than Johnny Messner, "Anacondas" took in nearly $13 million. More importantly, there were no magazine covers for "Anacondas," no newspaper articles about how it had changed the face of movies forever, no epic deconstructions of how it became a phenomenon. Nope. "Anacondas" just dropped into theaters and took in $13 million. That fact should cause the New Line marketing department to weep a little, as should the fact that "Snakes" is going to post a lower first weekend than "Step Up." Oye.

In the media and over at New Line, the next week will see a lot of question-asking. And keep in mind that I kinda liked the movie, but here's a few issues that might come up:

Is the Internet a hoax? Well, it sure is when you look to a niche group as somehow indicative of a national sentiment. Duh. The New Line people looked at SnakesonaBlog and the dozens of imitators and confused the "X" number of readers and posters with a mainstream moviegoing audience. I don't know, in that previous sentence, if "X" equals thousands or millions, but whatever the figure is, if you multiple it by the average ticket price nationwide, I suspect you'll get a very similar figure to the first week gross. Similarly, New Line looked at the 7000 people at the film's Comic-Con presentation last month and confused that audience with a mainstream moviegoing audience. New Line spent the last 6 months preaching to the choir and never for a second thought that it was necessary to turn to the congregation. In electoral politics, there's a statistic of people who make their voting decision in the final week before the election. Does anybody track a similar stat for moviegoers? Because I'd wager that the number of people who only decided to see "Snakes on a Plane" in the past week is miniscule.

So who was reading all of those trend pieces anyway? People who already knew about "Snakes on a Plane" already, mostly. Again, more preaching to the choir. On Wednesday, when I announced to a close friend who lives in Chicago, watches plenty of TV and spends a decent amount of time on the Internet that I was seeing a 10 p.m. Thursday show of "Snakes on a Plane," she responded, "Huh?" Apparently the LA Times, Entertainment Weekly and all variety of other outposts were mostly telling "Snakes on a Plane" fans about how cool and influential they were. The stories weren't actually doing a thing to make people outside of the phenomenon feel like they could be part of it. In fact, the stories probably made many people feel like they'd already missed the bus.

Should New Line have screened the movie for critics? This is the biggest no-brainer on Earth. Yes. Yes they should have. Reviews for "Snakes" were largely positive, but that's almost beside the point. If regular folks read reviews anymore, it's people who are deciding on a Friday what movies to go see, undecided theatergoers. Instead, New Line decided those viewers weren't important and actively told them so. Everybody affiliated with the movie who did the talk show circuit announced that the movie wasn't screening for critics because it was for "the fans." That classing of "the fans" excludes anybody casually interested in the movie and alienates them.

Should the movie have been marketed differently, as something else? I've heard several people saying that they couldn't tell from the advertising if "Snakes on a Plane" was a scary movie or a comedy. The same confusion helped kill "Slither" this spring despite excessively positive reviews. The commercials I saw made "Snakes" look like campy fun, which it kinda was, emphasizing the changes made for fans, particularly The Line delivered by Samuel Jackson. Nobody ever tried convincing horror fans that "Snakes" was scary. "Anacondas," if you actually see it, is plenty campy. It was marketed as a scary movie. I'm just sayin'...

Should "Snakes" have been released sooner? Did the "Snakes" buzz peak too soon? Did "Snakes" cease to be cool sometime between April and August? Probably. The party line has always been that "Snakes" couldn't have opened any sooner because there wasn't a free weekend, there was too much competition. How much worse could it have done? There's also the issue of perception. If "Snakes" opens to $16 million in mid-April, it's a surprise hit. If you set up four months of hype, suddenly that isn't so good. I'm not saying I commented on this back in April, but I commented on it back in April.

Should "Snakes" have stayed PG-13? I loved The Line and I enjoyed the boobs and I'm sure the extra violence was a treat. But was it worth the time and the money? Was it worth the lost ticket sales for younger viewers? Once again, those changes were only beneficial to people who would have seen the movie with or without them.

"Snakes" may shock everybody by having legs (that may be an evolution joke... I'm not sure). People may go back multiple times and tell their friends and it may have a long life as a midnight movie. It's almost certain to do well on DVD and New Line isn't going to lose money on this.

But I can't help but feel like somebody should have made more money, that this was an opportunity lost.

Any thoughts? Was the media just overestimating the interest in snakes on planes? Was the media just overestimating its interest in itself?

MovieWatch: "The Last Kiss"

"The Last Kiss"
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Fien Print Rating: 60
In a Nutshell: "The Last Kiss" -- based on the 2001 Italian film of the same name [only in Italian, of course] -- continues the EMO-ization of my generation, a process largely perpetuated by "The O.C." creator Josh Schwartz and by Zach Braff. Although Braff only stars in "The Last Kiss," he also supervised the soundtrack, which flavors the movie so completely that it could almost be a sequel to "Garden State," which will be a positive for some viewers and a negative for others, of course. While Paul Haggis is credited on the screenplay, he was just collecting a paycheck here. The film goes plot point for plot point with the original, almost beginning to end. It's still a male melodrama, a weepy story of guys on the cusp of turning 30, who ought to be men, but refuse to give up being boys. It's the kind of brazenly sentimental, but still masculine, movie that American directors really have difficulties with, and I say that as a big fan of Ted Demme's work on "Beautiful Girls." Goldwyn has serious problems with both the tone and pacing of the movie, though he ties the movie together decently by the ending. For my money, "The Last Kiss" would have been a far better movie if Zach Braff and Casey Affleck had swapped roles, as Casey's hangdog earnestness would have better suited the film's lead than Braff's perpetual edge of irony. Several supporting actors stand out, particularly Jacinda Barrett (suggesting, for the first time, that she's more than just the star of "Real World: London"), Rachel Bilson (melting hearts and suggesting that she should be able to have a big screen career after "The O.C.") and Eric Christian Olsen (suggesting that he can do more than just sitcom mugging). Points also for Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson, representing the older generation.

Expect a real review on Zap2it on September 15.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Snakes on a Zap2it Review

Just back from my evening adventure at "Snakes on a Plane."

Since it's 1:30 and since my review is already posted over at Zap2it, you can check it out.


All you really need to know is that if "Snakes on a Plane" seems like a good idea to you, you might as well go see it. But see it this weekend, when the fans are still out. If it seems like a bad idea to you, don't bother. It doesn't suddenly become brilliant in its execution.

And now... Bedtime.

Monday, August 14, 2006

MovieWatch: "Idlewild"

Director: Bryan Barber
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 57
In a Nutshell: You can't accuse Big Boi and Andre 3000 (Outkast, to any spectacularly out-of-touch readers) of taking the easy way out with their first big screen pairing. "Idlewild" is a sprawling mess of a movie, a pell-mell assault of visual and thematic ideas so complicated to process that it isn't hard to figure out why the movie has been sitting on the shelf for around a year. On one hand, writer-director Bryan Barber throws up a basic scenario -- two friends, one withdrawn and one flamboyant, deal with gangsters and musicians at an anachronistic speakeasy in 1930s Georgia -- so banal that the film lags in for long spells. To combat that morass, Barber goes with a restless visual style that includes animated sequences, black-and-white pictures that come to life, slow motion to showcase dancing and accelerated motion to facilitate comedy. It's also a musical, not that anybody ever settled on what kind of musical it is. Occasionally the characters break into song in private moments, lip-synching along. Occasionally the songs are showcased in performances at the central club. Occasionally the songs just play over the top, explaining the emotions of the scene. Some of the songs are modeled after jazz and blues standards of the period, but most of them are simply Outkast-style romps, complete with profane lyrics and references that are (and here's the word of the day again) anachronistic. Big Boi and Dre sing songs in the movie, which makes sense, but then there's confusion of a leading lady (the lovely Paula Patton) who has songs, but doesn't do her own singing, mixed with the presence of Patti LaBelle and Ben Vereen who are on hand to act, but not sing. The Outkast guys are fine when they're on stage working the crowd, but neither is a compelling leading man (Andre Benjamin has been fine in supporting performances in other films). Put opposite pros like Terrence Howard or Ving Rhames and you forget the leads are there are all. "Idlewild" is a movie that shouldn't be dismissed and will probably be overpraised in some circles for its audacity, but aspirations don't equal results in this case.

A review will be up on Zap2it on or around Aug. 25.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

MovieWatch: "Invincible"

Director: Ericson Core
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 68
In a Nutshell: In case you've been snoozing, Disney has made a cottage industry out of these quickly produced real-life underdog sports sagas. On the sliding scale of recent Mouse House offerings, I put "Invincible" -- the story of walk-on Philadelphia Eagle Vince Papale -- in the solid middle ground between the highlights of "Miracle" and "The Rookie" and the generic lowlights of "Remember the Titans" and "Glory Road." Interestingly, "Invincible" -- which has been stuck with an atrocious title that suggests a superhero movie more than anything -- is the least ham-handedly manipulative of the lot, which will probably take away some of its audience. Marky Mark Wahlberg's Papale is a fairly miserable sort -- he's unemployed, his wife leaves him, his factory worker friends are all similarly depressing -- and even when opportunity presents itself, he greets it with skepticism, rather than optimism for nearly two hours. In short, he responds in the way an actual person in his situation might. Thus, it's hard to see how he inspires his fellow sad-sack Eagles and it's even hard to see what he brings to the team, beyond grim determination. That kind of darkness struck me as an interesting departure from the formula. Yes, we're accepted to believe that Vince Papale gave Philly the lift it needed when the entire city was down -- just like the 1980 US Hockey team helped us conquer our dependence on foreign oil and the Texas Western basketball team single-handedly ended racism in this country -- but there's no comic relief, only token romance (Elizabeth Banks, who still has yet to find the right vehicle to make her the semi-star she may be capable of being) and the fat offensive linemen don't pause mid-story to do a sing-along to a Motown number. There will be quibblers. Wahlberg looks like an athlete, but he looks like a tiny athlete, when the real Papale was an NFL-sized player, if nothing else. The football action isn't particularly well-staged. And until I hear otherwise, I'm very very skeptical that Veterans Stadium had a quarter-mile track around the football field, as seems to be the case in several overhead shots. But still, as folks who know me are aware, I just movies like this one a single criteria: Do they make me get misty-eyed? This one did.

The full review will be up on Zap2it at some point. Aug. 28, maybe?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

MovieWatch: "Miami Vice"

"Miami Vice"
Director: Michael Mann
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 36
In a Nutshell: I don't often shell out money to see movies this days and yet *this* is what I have to pay my 10 bucks for? Sigh. There's this long-held myth in Hollywood that with a few exceptions (Renee Zellweger in "Bridget Jones" or Gwyneth Paltrow here or there) American actors embarrass themselves when they attempt to do British accents, but British actors can come Stateside and do American accents with ease. Anybody who believes that should take a look at Michael Mann's adaptation of his own '80s television franchise. The movie is undone by Mann's sluggish writing, by the pace-challenged editing and by its general absence of purpose. But more than anything -- for my money -- it's undone by actors who are concentrating harder on getting their words out than on giving performances. Exhibit 1 is Colin Farrell, who broke out in "Tigerland," as critics raved that with his solid Southern accent, they never knew he was Irish. Since that movie, Farrell has yet to do an even vaguely convincing American accent and it's not a coincidence that he's always had problems connecting with viewers on-screen, even if his off-screen persona is interesting. I'll give anybody a nickel if they can tell me the exact geographic origin of Farrell's Sonny Crockett (bonus points for a logical explanation for his long hair and moustache). In several scenes, he sounds a bit Southern, in others he may be Southern Irish. At times he uses a generic flat uber-accent, but at others, he doesn't even bother. It's a Razzie-worthy performance, but it's no better than whatever Naomie Harris is doing. Another fine thespian from the Empire, Harris may or may not be affecting a New Yawk dialect. I accepted Harris' quirky voodoo patois in "Pirates 2," but perhaps a real life Caribbean Witch Doctor would like to chime in and let me know that she stunk at that. And worst of all is the lovely and talented Gong Li, who may be one of the world's finest actresses when performing in her native tongue. In "Miami Vice," I don't think she understood a single word she said and she gets to be blunderful in both English and Spanish. I wrote a Zap2it column on this very subject late last year. Was there not an American actor with the charisma and machismo to play Sonny Crockett? Was there not a mysterious and exotically ethnic actress in the entire world capable of doing Li's part and comprehending the dialogue? Maybe with somebody better to play off of, Jamie Foxx wouldn't have shifted into autopilot for the entire movie. And yet I continue to admire the things Mann is doing with digital video and as bored as I felt throughout, I often got caught up in the director's depiction of Miami at night. That alone would have been worth the price of admission if I hadn't had to actually pay the price of admission.

Oh and in case you're curious, here are the links to my Zap2it reviews of "The Descent" and "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

MovieWatch: "Step Up"

"Step Up"
Director: Anne Fletcher
Fien Print Rating: 28
In a Nutshell: So, um, I *think* the movie I saw last night was called "Step Up," but I may be confusing it with "Stick It." That brings me to today's pitch... It's the story of a beautiful gal from the suburbs whose father loses everything in a shady real estate deal (thing Ione Skye in "Say Anything"). The family has to move to the ghetto somewhere -- her life goes from a pop soundtrack to something with a pounding bass beat. She's a fish out of water. As a result, she loses her sense of self-worth. In the ghetto, she meets a young hood who does convenience store robberies. She sees his swagger and wants to recover her mojo. After one botched robbery, she thinks she'll never be a good thief, but he encourages her not to give up, to never give up. In the end, they fall in love and she uses the proceeds from her heists to buy the family home in the burbs back. I call it... "Stick It Up." As my co-worker Rick observes, it's "Save the Last Dance" meets "Bonnie and Clyde." I'm prepared to quit my job tomorrow to write this one for the right deal. Any takers? Oh... What did I think of "Step Up"? Well, it's impressive how few cliches they manage to miss in the course of a 99 minute movie and also impressive how little chemistry leads Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan have. The fact that both actors are, indeed, attractive, athletic and physically gifted and the fact that both seem to be able to dance, doesn't mean that there are any sparks when they do it together. Also, both leads are 25+ and they both look EXACTLY their ages, which makes the idea of either of them being high school students seem really really really funny at times. And only Rachel Griffiths and her agent know what she's doing in this movie. Tis a mystery. I was also really disappointed that at no point did any character urge another character to "Step Up!" I assure you that in "Stick It Up," characters will constantly be telling each other to "Stick It Up!"

There may be a review of this one up on Zap2it on Friday, Aug. 11, but it may not be worth it.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MovieWatch: "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"

"Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"
Director: Adam McKay
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 60
In a Nutshell: "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" is, I think, a more cohesive film that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's earlier collaboration, the equally cumbersomely titled "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." I'm not sure if that's necessarily going to be a selling point for the terrifying percentage of the populace capable of quoting whole scenes from "Anchorman," a practice that is, if nothing else, much less annoying than the dweebs quoting "Napoleon Dynamite." But anywho... What I mean is that "Talladega Nights" actually seems to have a plot, rather than just a series of events joined together by absurdist plot digressions and clearly improvised scenes that McKay just couldn't bring himself to cut. "Talladega Nights" is an underdog sports movie through-and-through and it follows most of the rules of the genre and most of its plot points, but even if it seems a bit more structured, nobody will ever confuse the movie with having had a shooting script. The improvised moments shamble along, as Ferrell banters with actors who obviously can keep up with his free-wheeling approach (John C. Reilly, Gary Cole and Sacha Baron Cohen are the obvious standouts) and those who can't (Leslie Bibb is hot, but wooden and Michael Clarke Duncan is, regretfully, a sight gag except for one wonderful explosive moment). There are always winners and losers in an improv-heavy movie like this and I'm assuming that Cole's utter brilliance meant less screentime for folks like David Koechner, Andy Richter and Jane Lynch, which is a pity. I'd also have gladly watched much, much more of Amy Adams, who certainly is one of my very favorite actors of the moment. The most important thing -- after last summer's "Kicking & Screaming" and "Bewitched," the Will Ferrell people used to like is back.

There'll probably be a review on Zap2it for Friday, Aug. 4. Probably. I need more time.

MovieWatch: "The Descent"

"The Descent"
Director: Neil Marshall
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 76
In a Nutshell: You'll have to forgive Lionsgate is you haven't heard of "The Descent." The company knows how to market films about sadistic game-playing serial killers (the "Saw" films), sadistic WWE wrestlers ("See No Evil") and sadistic international backpacker killers ("Hostel"), but the minute a film comes out that's genuinely scary, rather than sadistic, it becomes hard to get the word out. "The Descent" is by far the scariest movie of the year and it's probably the scariest movie I've seen in several years. A group of five interchangeable, but attractive, women decide to go spelunking in an unmapped cave in the mountains of North Carolina and they come face to face with some freaky, freaky stuff. It's very much like "The Cave," which came and went last August without making a ripple. The only difference is that director Neil Marshall builds the film to a point of impressive terror, creating a symphony of moods, easing viewers in with the banal banter between the ladies, turning the screw as things get a little bit hairy in the caves and finally going utterly haywire as the cave's long-term residents come out to play. The movie is full of sufficient brutal gore to satisfy the fans of sadistic torture, but it plays on more primal fears, claustrophobia, individual grief, the darkness. For a film with such an inevitably low budget, the special effects (makeup, mostly) are phenomenal. The creatures in the cave are actually able to stand up to close-ups, which is more than you can say for whatever was lurking in the shadows of "The Cave." While pleasing to the eye, none of the actresses are necessarily Shakespeare-worthy, but they're committed and they scream their heads off. It would make me sad to live in a world in which the stylish, brain-dead "Hills Have Eyes" remake could make more money than this piece of true horror, so I hope people turn out.

There may be a full review of this one up on Zap2it on Friday, Aug. 4. But maybe not. It's a busy week.