Sunday, July 31, 2005

Hollywood's Death Spiral

Again, Edward Jay Epstein comes through. If you're interested in movies and you haven't already subscribed to Slate's RSS, I highly recommend that you do. This guy has more insight than I ever was able to get while working for three of the studios.

The Forgotten

As you undoubtedly have discovered, cheesy horror, action, thriller flicks are usually at the top of my list to see. The Forgotten was one that I had wanted to see in the theater but was very skeptical about (not unlike White Noise).

Guess what? That skepticism was right.

This is yet another one of those movies where a bunch of big name actors (Julianne Moore, Gary Sinise, Anthony Edwards) somehow end up in a movie that should be showing on the Sci-Fi channel starring Bruce Campbell (nothing against BCam, of course, I love that guy). I don't know much about how actors' salaries work out, but in the case of a movie like this, I've got to guess that it works something like:
  • Gary Sinise wants to do cheap-ass arthouse flick.
  • Studio says, "Hey Gary Sinise, we know you're into doing cheap-ass arthouse movies, but we all need to make a living somehow. What if we quintupled the size of that money bag if you do this chintsy horror flick as well"
  • Gary: "Well sure!"
And that explains how Robert DeNiro ends up in approximately 4 shitty movies to every 1 decent movie he's in.

Back to "The Forgotten." After reading the Tivo blurb ("Woman [Julianne Moore] has psychologist [Gary Sinise] tell her dead child never existed"), you basically figure there are three ways this can end up: (a) She's nuts, (b) There's some kind of trickery/government plot going on, or (c) supernatural.

Actually, I won't give too much away, but it ends up being all three. And there are a couple of awesome surprises that you won't ever see coming (the third time they try to surprise you, it's old hat by then). This movie comes in at almost exactly an hour and a half.. and in my firm believe that all movies are too long, this movie is too long. It had basically 60 minutes of material -- it probably would have been a pretty kick-ass episode of the X-files. As 90 minutes, it just ends up being dull.

So thank god I saw it on Starz! It's worth watching if you're semi-interested. On the other hand, this movie's missing something that Boogie Nights delivered on: there's not nearly enough nudity coming from Julianne Moore's corner. I wish she had played a psycho woman who's missing her child and loved to take her clothes off.

Monday, July 11, 2005

How Hollywood Works: The Hedge Funds

I've learned a lot about how Hollywood works over the years, but this guy Edward Jay Epstein knows more than I do. I want to read his book sometime.

Today's entry of his in Slate describes the hedge fund technique Hollywood has set up to work with investors.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Ladykillers (2004)

What do the 3 following movies have in common:
  • Man who wasn't there
  • Intolerable Cruelty
  • Ladykillers

They're consecutive movies created by the Coen brothers that didn't quite live up to their past work.

My question: what's up with the Coens? Since "O Brother," they just haven't blown me away. It's almost as if they've started to believe the thing that made their prior movies great was the quirkiness, not the story. Ladykillers is a decent movie by anyone else's standard. By the standard of the Coens, it's absolute shit.

Another consecutive movie streak to mull over:
  • The Hudsucker Proxy
  • Fargo
  • The Big Lebowski
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou

Four of the greatest movies ever made. So what the hell happened?

I think the Coens decided that quaint things like weirdos in the South were what made their movies great. Ladykillers tries desperately to be "O Brother", but fails where the first one excelled. The movie ends up being a lot of talk, not much story, and not much humor.

Oh, and a word about the original (which I haven't seen, of course). The original movie had Alec Guiness and Peter Sellers. I'm sorry, but just based on paper alone, if you're remaking a comedy with those two great actors in it, you should have your head checked.

For one thing, this movie has no idea what era it's supposed to be in. Unlike "O Brother," which clearly understood its era, this movie has some characters that think they're in the 20s, some in the 40s, and some in the 2000s. Instead of being quirky, it's just dumb. I think "Intolerable Cruelty" actually suffered from this a bit. I liked that movie better than Ladykillers, but the movie wanted so desperately to be a romantic comedy of the 40s/50s that it didn't work out.

The thing that makes Fargo great--as well as Hudsucker and Lebowski and every movie they did before Man Who Wasn't There--is that the characters are portrayed with seriousness and honesty. The characters in every movie they've done since that point have been to ridicule. About 15 minutes into this movie, E said "Is this the freak's Ocean's Eleven or what?" Exactly. The Coens classically make their characters one-dimensional and humorous. The problem with this movie is that the characters are so one dimensional that it's just annoying, not funny.

Rating: If you get past the first 20 minutes, there are a few funny things.

Friday, July 01, 2005

White Noise (2005)

One could easily say that Michael Keaton's career is over because he was in this and the Herbie "Love Bug" remake. I won't say that because I have a lot of respect for him as an actor, and because if doing two bad movies indicated someone's career was over, Robert DeNiro's career wold have been over years ago. I prefer Keaton's humorous movies like Night Shift, Multiplicity and Mr. Mom. Night Shift is a must see if you haven't. It's Ron Howard's directorial debut, Michael Keaton's movie debut, and is just an all around hilarious movie.

Live Review!

Wow. Watching this makes me realize I am a true sucker for supernatural type movies. I say that in the present tense because I'm starting this review about 10 minutes into the movie. So welcome to the first Live Review on Joel Schumacher Sucks -- writing the review as the movie unfolds. Stay tuned.

Anyway, I say "true sucker" because that's how obvious it is that I spent 4 bucks I shouldn't have to watch this on PPV -- but hey, at least I saved $6 by not seeing it in the theater.

Before watching it, I knew "White Noise" was about getting messages from the dead through the static on untuned radios and shit like that. I pretty much thought Keaton's character would just be listening to the radio one day and hear a message from her. But actually, something just happened in this movie that I really liked. He hears from some dude who says he's been getting the electronic messages. Now this makes more sense in reality. No one comes up with this on their own, it takes some nutball to plant the seed in a sane person that they're receiving messages through the static on their radio.

Oooo -- he just received a mysterious call from his wife's cell phone. Why didn't he answer to dispel the mystery here? Instead he runs home to see her cell phone is turned off. Then he receives another call from her cell phone! When he answers, it's static on the line!

So, as usual, they've taken some phenomenon that regular people believe in and made it even more ridiculous than it's treated in real life. Did I mention that at the start of this movie, they had some quote from Thomas Edison about recording the dead? That's how you legitimatize something dumb, you take a quote from someone famous and smart and make it sound like it actually proves they believed in it.

Ok, I'm thinking there's got to be a plot somewhere in here. I'm going to take a guess that his dead wife is trying to tell him that someone actually murdered her. I'm going to guess it's the guy who Michael Keaton (an architect), is making a building for. Let's see what happens.

A few hours after the movie ends...

Ok, so I was too depressed for having spent $4 on this movie to continue the live review. However, I was pretty close on the plot. He discovers that his dead wife is trying to tell him about accidents that are happening to people she had contact with. There was someone perpetrating murders--I won't give away who (I was wrong, but close)--but they were doing it because the ghostly voices told them to.

This movie really reminded me of The Mothman Prophecies (remember "Chaaapstiiick?"). The original book reported on how this crazy Mothman appears near disasters. The movie takes one of those real life disasters and makes it ridiculous. Similarly, this movie takes this EVP thing that some people believe in and makes it ridiculous. When "White Noise" was being advertised, they were pushing it with this website ( If I was serious about this EVP thing, I would have been embarrassed by this movie. It makes them all look like nuts (which they are, but at least they're probably not as nuts as the movie portrays).

Oh, probably lamest thing in this movie was the cheesy piano music whenever he thought of his wife. What a craptacular idea... cheery music whenever he thinks of his wife. How not-cliche.

Anyway, what I've realized is that I should write some EVP analysis software and sell it to these bozos.

Rating: USA Up All Night movie at best.

Assault on Precinct 13 (the remake)

This movie confirms 3 things:

  1. Maria Bello is hot
  2. Hollywood will remake an obscure B movie from the mid-70s long before they create any original new content.
  3. In spite of (2), remaking John Carpenter flicks can yield something pretty good.

I do NOT agree with the main comment on IDMB about this movie ( It is not a typical action film. Whoever made this movie understands what Carpenter is about, and has remade this movie true to the spirit of his films.

Granted, I actually haven't seen the original "Precinct 13," which is shocking considering I'm probably Carpenter's biggest fan ever. This movie sounds pretty different than the original. However, as I've often said, "John Carpenter is the last working man's director in Hollywood," and it appears the creators of this remake understand him. Carpenter loves to blur the lines between people and things society has demonized (mostly drugs) vs. what we should consider truly evil -- things like oppressive authorities and random psycho killers (symbolizing totalitarians, of course). The junkie with a gun becomes your best friend when Michael Myers is outside the door trying to kill you, for example. That's the genius of Carpenter.

Rest assured, I'll be waxing poetic about Carpenter on this blog a lot in the future, so let's get to this movie.

It's very well done. When Precinct 13 comes under siege, the cops inside have to join forces with their prisoners to fight them off. I was pretty surprised at the amount of violence shown in this movie. I know that sounds weird, but I was expecting mild A-Team type violence. Instead of just seeing the end of a gun barrel or a shot and a person drop out of frame, we see a lot of execution-style shootings. Though pretty much everyone who gets shot and killed gets a single shot in the middle of the forehead, which is kind of the milder way to tell you "They are dead." One thing they do to try to reduce the feeling of violence is put the guys perpetrating the siege in combat uniforms with helmets and masks. It's a bit less human to see those guys get shot.

Missing from this remake is that Carpenter Trademarked feeling of desolation. If you've ever seen "The Thing", you know what I'm talking about. But he also has achieved this feeling in the middle of cities, like in "Prince of Darkness"... a church in the middle of Los Angeles! While the snowstorm in this movie really helps give you that feeling, the filmmakers felt the need to add visual effects (a long pullback from the remote Precinct to show it alone in the snowstorm) to reinforce a feeling of desolation that just comes naturally to Carpenter.

They got a pretty good number of recognizable actors in this. Though I'm not sure how people can take Ethan Hawke very seriously as a cop that has a depression and drug problem. I do like Maria Bello (obviously) as the very OCD police shrink. Gabriel Byrne plays his typical brooding Usual Suspects-like character. Ja Rule is pretty good and John Leguizamo is at his least annoying. Larry Fishburne--sorry, LAURENCE--steals the show as the arch-criminal Marion Bishop.

My rating: if you like action movies that have a bunch of misfits ganging together to fight the oppressive authority during a snowstorm in Detroit -- which I like very much -- then it's definitely worth a look on DVD or PPV.