“The problems with Evan Almighty mostly boil down to questions of scale. The movie warns of an imminent flood, yet delivers only sprinkles of laughter or anything approaching magic. It’s mildly diverting for kids and families in a way that would be perfectly fine as an ABC Family cable project (perhaps before The 700 Club), but sails into the summer anchored to all the baggage and expectations a comedy with an enormous budget invites. Universal has courted church groups and will need them to line up, two by two and then some, to fully recoup on their epic investment.” — from Brian Lowry‘s Variety review.
“Ratatouille is delicious,” writes Variety‘s Justin Chang. “In this satisfying, souffle-light tale of a plucky French rodent with a passion for cooking, the master chefs at Pixar have blended all the right ingredients — abundant verbal and visual wit, genius slapstick timing, a soupcon of Gallic sophistication — to produce a warm and irresistible concoction that’s sure to appeal to everyone’s inner Julia Child.
“Though the latest crowd-pleaser from The Incredibles writer-director Brad Bird arguably reps a harder sell than earlier Disney/Pixar toon outings, the combo of critical excitement, energetic word of mouth and shrewd marketing should make this family-friendly feast a gastronomical success worldwide.”
I was genuinely unnerved last night — okay, somewhat scared — as the heavy-creepy stuff began to happen in Mikael Hafstrom‘s 1408 (MGM, 6.22). Roughly 30 minutes in, and people to the right and left of me were feeling it also. This is good, I said to myself. I’m feeling queasy and anxious and insecure, and I’m generally immune to the crap that scary movies tend to push.
The difference is that 1408 isn’t peddling the usual usual — not your typical torture-porn, anything-goes, too-bad-if-it’s-not-credible shocker stuff, but seriously chilly vibes that are rooted in a believable psychological state that’s eating away at the main character. This, for me, is what makes it all workable and palatable, and that means it’s going to do pretty well. I mean, I’d be really surprised if it doesn’t.
An adaptation of a Stephen King short story, 1408 is primarily a one-set spook show with John Cusack as a paranormal book writer facing all kinds of demons (including his own) inside a haunted Manhattan hotel room. He gives something close to a one-man performance. But one of the things that scared me the most has to do with a roll of toilet paper. I just wanted to say that — a roll of damn toilet paper.
Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman has written that 1408 “doesn’t pretend to be a seismic Stephen King movie like Carrie or The Shining.” Except 1408 is a whole lot scarier than The Shining. They’re both haunted-hotel flicks but they exist in fairly different realms, and I prefer 1408‘s. Save for a few special effects moments, its main order of business is serving up old-fashioned fright. Something being in a room, and nobody knowing when, why or how the thing is going to happen and scare everyone shitless.
Eli Roth would probably be a little bit bored by this film, and I think that’s wonderful.
By the way: King apparently got the idea for 1408 from a real-life experience of parapsy- chologist Christopher Chacon when he visited room # 3502 at the Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, Calif.. He may have encountered the ghost of Kate Morgan, who died in the hotel in 1892 under dark circumstances. Chacon has described his visit to room # 3502 as a “classic haunting.” Using infrared cameras to track magnetic fields, humidity, temperature fluctuations and electronic emissions, he found 37 abnormalities in one day.
Two weeks before its 6.29 nationwide opening, Michael Moore‘s Sicko is grappling with a serious piracy problem, especially now with sites like Gawker and journalists like Ad Age‘s Claude Brodesser-Akner writing openly that illegal downloads on a certain peer-to-peer content site are now happening left and right.
At what point do you admit to mass piracy?
I wasn’t going to say anything and hope for the best as far as Sicko‘s distributor, The Weinstein Co., is concerned, but the Gawker and Ad Age postings have let the cat out of the bag and now it’s running all over the room and knocking over furniture. What am I supposed to do? Pretend this isn’t happening?
This morning I called Sarah Rothman, a spokesperson for The Weinstein Co. She got back to me a few hours later with this statement:
“Health care impacts everybody right in their homes and it is not surprising that people are eager to see Sicko and become part of a larger movement. While virtually every movie released these days faces a similar situation, Sicko is more than just a movie, it is a call to action.” Wait…what does that have to do with digital piracy?
Rothman also said that the Weinstein Co. is “responding aggressively to protect our film but from our research it is clear that people interested in the movement are excited to go to the theater so they can be part of the experience and fight to reform health care.”
I’ve been told that the Weinstein Co. has hired firms that specialize in combating piracy and that it’s “taking a very aggressive approach to protecting the film.”
But can the Weinstein Co. or its security agents do anything substantively to block the illegal downloads (I don’t know how many people have seen Sicko online, but a guy just wrote me saying he just saw it this way), or are they pretty much limited to flapping their wings in the water?
Just to see what would happen, I downloaded Sicko this morning and it’s not a problem at all. I didn’t watch any more than four or five minutes’ worth, but this seems like a catastrophic situation all around for Moore and Harvey Weinstein and their phone-call-averse spokespersons. I went to Moore’s site and he, too, is avoiding any mention or discussion of the problem.
Maybe only a few thousand people are watching the film via pirate sites and it won’t impact the box-office in any significant way….maybe. But a voice is telling me I’m kidding myself. Am I? Reactions, please.
I mentioned twelve classic or very good 1982 films in the review just below of John Patterson‘s Guardian piece about the-year-when-things-started-to-go-wrong. Just for fun I threw together a list of similar quality films that opened 20 years earlier and they numbered 24, including ten bona fide classics — Billy Budd, Knife in the Water, Lawrence of Arabia, Lolita, Lonely are the Brave, The Manchurian Candidate, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Ride the High Country, Shoot the Piano Player and To Kill a Mockingbird.
The 14 also-rans are nothing to snort at either: Birdman of Alcatraz, Cape Fear, Days of Wine and Roses, Dr. No, Hatari!, How the West Was Won, The Longest Day, The Miracle Worker, Mutiny on the Bounty, Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Longest Day, Sundays and Cybele, The Trial and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
24 vs. 12…am I missing something?
The Guardian‘s John Patterson has written a lament about the downturn of commercial cinema that manifested in 1982.
Despite the release of first-raters like Blade Runner, The Road Warrior, Diner, Missing, First Blood, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, 48 HRS., The Verdict, Sophie’s Choice, My Favorite Year, An Officer and a Gentleman and Tootsie, Patterson notes that “one can indeed foresee today’s mainstream Hollywood: special effects; science fiction replacing the moribund western; the rise of serious gore; one-dimensional worldviews and a paucity of powerful ideas.”
1982 was the year in which everyone realized that the move-brat generation “had helped kill off their own 1970s renaissance with big-budget flops that frightened the studios” — Cimino‘s Heaven’s Gate, Scorsese‘s New York, New York, Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now (wait…it’s made $91,383,841since opening in ’79…how could it be consdiered a loss-leader?), Spielberg‘s 1941, Beatty‘s Reds, Altman‘s Popeye, and John Landis‘s gargantuan The Blues Brothers, “a huge flop until video made it a hit.”
This left the field “clear for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to solidify the foundations of the Temple of Dumb, and, well, here we all are today.”
Let it be said again that in 20 years the name “Steven Spielberg” will have far fewer positive associations that it does today. Spielberg deserves respect for being perhaps the greatest hack of all time, but once the memory of his having made truckloads of money for himself and thousands of other people fades, his true legacy will start to take shape. His Duel-to-E.T. surge and Schindler’s List aside, Spileberg’s record is undeniably spotty. Always, Amistad, A.I., Munich….the man has been a “problem director” for too many years.
I’m linked to this before, but Pauline Kael spotted all the bad trends in 1980 in this brilliant New Yorker piece called “Why Movies Are So Bad, or The Numbers.”
Much better looking, high-resolution versions of the No Country for Old Men trailer are now up on Rotten Tomatoes. My comment two days ago about the Miramax marketing guys having “made this marvelous film look like an action-horror flick about a stalking ogre” was, I think, fair. I only meant that the film is obviously upmarket — brilliant, nerve-wracking, melancholy, funny-creepy, meditative and engineered like a Swiss watch. And that the trailer (and I’m not saying this is unwise from a marketing standpoint) is pretty much aimed at the gorillas.
Six years and three months ago — on 3.21.01 — I considered a spate of dreadful early 21st Century youth-market pics like American Pie (has anyone re-watched this thing lately?), Saving Silverman, Head Over Heels, Say It Isn’t So, Tomcats, Josie and the Pussycats and American Pie 2. I then considered the young actors who’d starred in these films, and decided that they’d basically become (or were fated to be) shit magnets. As it turned out, I was mostly (or at least half) right.
My personal must-to-avoids in that pre-9.11 time pocket were Jason Biggs, Freddie Prinze Jr., Chris Klein, Amy Smart, Seann William Scott, Monica Potter, Tom Green, Mena Suvari, Jack Black and Amanda Peet.
Which of these actors has a reasonably vibrant, still-happening career today? One — Jack Black. The others are either marginal, sputtering or fizzled. Why? I think it’s at least partly because these actors made so many shallow/dreary/shitty movies, and people just got tired of submitting. Another reason is that anyone enjoying any kind of career flare-up these days is doomed to succumb to the 15-minute cycle because of the increasing velocity and volume of everything.
Question: which young actors today are cruising for a similar bruising? You see their names on the poster, and right away a voice tells you (however fairly or unfairly, accurately or inaccurately) it’s either so-so or mediocre or an outright stinker. Because of one factor and one factor alone — they’re in it.