I did an interview with producer Keith Barish in 1982 about his latest flm, Sophie’s Choice, and I remember one thing about our sit-down more than anything else. This was Barish saying with absolute resolution that one of his biggest passions was to make a film of D.M. Thomas‘ The White Hotel.
I read the book not long after writing my Barish piece, and it’s certainly a dark and haunting piece — emphasis on the former. And now, 24 years later, Santa Barbara-based producer Susan Stewart Potter and writer-director Simon Monjack have raised $20 million to make their own feature film version. Good for that, but I say woe unto those who would produce a movie after many, many others have been trying to do the same thing for a long time.
There’s usually a reason that movies never quite happen, and that reason usually has something to do with the humanity, or the lack of humanity, in the core material. Terrence Malick, Pedro Almodovar, David Cronenberg, Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch, Hector Babenco and Emir Kusturica have all tried to make this film, or have at least seriously flirted with it. It has a curse on it, this project. The Thomas novel doesn’t want to be made into a film…not really.
L.A. Times Claudia Eller on the exceptionally bad ’06 that Warner Bros. has suffered through so far. The bombing of Poseidon, Lady in the Water, The Ant Bully and ATL “could lose more than $120 million combined for Warner and its financial partners,” Eller reports. And let’s not forget about the under-performing of Superman Returns. “The price of failure is high,” WB chief Alan Horn tells her. “It’s not just the financial cost. It’s reading about it in the newspaper.”
The new dayglo mustard-yellow backdrop of Movie City News is too much. I debated whether or not to say anything, but it’s an eyesore. It’s butterscotch pudding on peyote. There was a lady who lived two or three blocks from our home in New Jersey when I was a kid who once painted her house teal blue, and you needed sunglasses just to look at it. She was within her rights but taste cannot be taught — it’s a result of a thousand distastes accumulated over time, and either you get it or you don’t.
This home video clip shows a younger George Bush — it looks like it was shot in the late ’80s or early ’90s — in a flip party-down mode. The Huffington Post put it up this morning, apparently to remind everyone that he often talks and acts like a shallow frat-boy asshole and that he used to like to drink. This is pretty much the same Dubya who starred in Alexandra Pelosi‘s Journeys with George — playful, goof-offy. I don’t see the big slam factor here. This is who the guy more or less is. Is there anyone out there who didn’t know this?
Laughed Some, Seen Worse
The consensus is already getting around: Snakes on a Plane is sorta kinda tolerably entertaining. As in sometimes hilarious, amusingly cheesy here and there, never out-of-this-world brilliant, fitfully amusing…a guiltless B movie all the way.
Rachel Blanchard in David Ellis’s Snakes on a Plane (New Line, 8.18)
Make that a B-minus. Watching cheeseball thrillers can make you feel like you’ve got a virus of some kind, and this one definitely put something in my blood. But it has maybe seven or eight good laughs (okay, nine or ten), and a good ending with Keenan Thompson (the cool fat-ass in the orange shirt) delivering some funny lines. And I loved it when Gerard Plunkett, playing a snarly-ass middle-aged businessman…I’d rather not spoil. But Plunkett does two things that are quite funny.
It’s significant that Snakes didn’t irritate me all that much. It’s also significant, however, that watching it felt so uneventful that I couldn’t make myself write a review last night after I got home around midnight. It’s hard to get it up when all you have to say is “I wasn’t in pain.”
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I was shaking my head at times at the some of the over-acting and tepid dialogue. The first 15 or 20 minutes (i.e., set-up sections shot on one of the Hawaiian islands) is on the level of, say, a Charlie’s Angels episode from the early ’80s, and that’s pretty damn awful. Byron Lawson’s performance as Eddie Kim, the criminal who arranges for a big crate of poisonous snakes to be unleased on a Honolulu-to LAX jet, is the worst element by far.
The damn thing is overlit for the first 25 to 30 minutes, in the manner of big-studio movies of the mid to late ’60s. Director David Ellis knows, I’m sure, that when planes take off the really bright lights in the cabin (i.e, the ones that are turned on when a plane lands) are never used, and also that most of us know that. But he flood-lights the hell out of these scenes anyway, and this just takes you right out of it.
Samuel L. Jackson, Flex Alexander
But Snakes never turns bad-bad. It’s lazy, goofy and often sloppy. Ellis isn’t a terribly clever action director — not in my book. But he’s not incompetent and the film isn’t horribly crafted. It’s just not very hip.
I just wish Ellis had gone more nutso. I wish that someone had gotten sucked out of the window as the plane is approaching the coast of Los Angeles and that the camera had stayed with this person as he/she splashes into the Pacific…and lives. I was hoping one of the really big snakes would eat the baby. I wanted to see one of the big snakes act like a phallus and sexually invade one of the terrified females. (Elsa Pataky, I was hoping.) Well, why not? This movie isn’t about logic or sensitivity — it’s about pushing the bounds and making the fans howl. As long as we’re talking about snakes-as-penises, why not have one of the fat black guys get anally penetrated by a python?
Most of the snakes are CGI-ed or substandard animatronic. I didn’t believe anyone was being threatened, not for a second. It’s about cartoon snakes on a plane. And stupid sound effects with the snakes hissing and growling and whatnot. A lot of this film is really quite lame.
I would have had a better time if Ellis and New Line has done a shot-for-shot remake of Tobe Hooper and Piers Haggard’s Venom. Seriously — that’s a pretty good deadly-snake exploitation flick. It’s just about a single black mamba and when one of those babies bite you, forget it.
There is one totally brilliant moment when Flex Alexander is chatting up Rachel Blanchard and he’s interrupted by the sound of a guy sitting nearby blowing snot out of his nose. Flex and Rachel look at this guy and we see him wiping his pants with his snot in order to get it off his hands. I usually despise gross-out humor but the absolute lunacy of this bit is inspired. Why show a passenger doing a point- lessly gross thing? The fact that Ellis does it anyway is a stroke of mad genius. He should be proud of this bit…seriously.
Samuel L. Jackson is pretty good, not great — but the moment when he yells out the big line (“I’ve had it with these mothahfuckin’ snakes,” etc.) is very neat. Todd Louiso is a very subtle and gifted actor who’s under-utilized here. (Naturally.) David Koechner and Bobby Canavale…forget it. They’re fine but in a film like this all performances are a losing battle.
I hope Elsa Pataky lands more roles in U.S. films. She’s hot and fetching and I liked her in that Maxim spread. Her eyes say dirty things.
The flatness of much of this film is conveyed in the opening titles. First of all, it’s a mark of mediocrity when a film begins with a helicopter shot of a big scenic locale. It’s the director saying to the audience, “All right, relax…I have no imagination and you’re not the brightest bulbs on the planet for paying $10 bucks to see this thing, but that aside, here’s the scenic area where our story begins.”
Sure enough, Snakes starts with a lame helicopter shot. Sun, surf…breaking waves! Then we see a title card that says “SNAKES” (beat, beat) and then comes the addition of “ON A PLANE” — and as soon I saw this, I knew what I was in for. This, sadly, is the predominant Ellis touch rather than some guy wiping snot on his jeans.
First Warner Bros. said Curtis Hanson‘s Lucky You wouldn’t be going to the Toronto Film Festival. That in itself was a mild uh-oh. Then WB bumped the release date from 9.8 to 10.27. (The latter release date is currently proclaimed on the official website.) Now Hanson’s gambling movie has been bumped to 3.16.07. Obviously there are further concerns. Perhaps the mid-March date — over six months from now– is about allowing Hanson to do some additional shooting and tweaking.
USA Today‘s Scott Bowles is reporting that despite the Snakes on a Plane cult following, “the R-rated movie is tracking softly” and none of the 265 AMC theatres that showed the New Line thriller last night at 10 pm “sold out of [their] advance tickets…fans weren’t exactly camping out to see the first screening.”
I’ve been talking about very high tracking negatives all along (i.e., the “definitely not interested” percentage has been over 20%). I heard yesterday that the positive interest factors had actually downticked, but take this with a grain. The upside is that the movie isn’t bad.
Variety‘s Ben Fritz and Dave McNary have written that Snakes “is tracking like a normal late-summer horror film, which would indicate a bow in the high teens. But studio is hoping all the hype and buzz could translate into something much bigger, possibly as high as the 30s.” New Line is showing Snakes at 3555 situations.
One of my regulars said this morning that Snakes has been tracking like Dimension’s Pulse which opened last weekend in 2323 theatres and took in $8,203.822. (The total to date is $10,557,845.) With Snakes playing in roughly 1200 more theatres, Variety‘s forecast of a weekend total in the mid to high teens seems more likely than a Sunday-night tally in the 20s, much less the 30s.
Another guy says Snakes is doing better than Pulse. which had only teenaged girls to count on. Whereas teen aged males are seriously onto seeing Snakes, etc. I still say mid teens.