Depending on your political or religious persuasion this film is either a straight-forward portrait of the evangelical movement in America or really freakin' scary. I've never hid my political leanings in my reviews because that would be disingenuous. However, this film is such a lightning rod that I'm afraid that it's nearly impossible to review without injecting your point of view somewhat. So the most even-handed way I can think of to review it is to just describe some of its key characters and scenes and present the questions that it brought up in my mind. Even those questions will probably tell you my feelings, but at least it prevents this movie review from spiraling off into a political rant.
David Fincher, director of SEVEN and PANIC ROOM, adapts Robert Graysmith's books on the notorious unsolved case of the Zodiac killer who plagued Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s. The straight-forward procedural focuses first on the police investigation into the crimes and then how Graysmith, a cartoonist at the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, took it upon himself to hunt down the killer when the case went cold.
The film begins with one of the Zodiac's killings and sets the unease tone of the entire film. Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) is a young cartoonist at the time and floats around Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr., WONDER BOYS) as the lead reporter investigates the murders. Graysmith is very interested in the Zodiac's cryptic messages, which he helps give Avery some incite into. So as Avery pokes his nose into the case, detectives David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards, TV's E.R.) begin their investigation.
This might not be a film for everyone, but those who like challenging hyper-cool cinema will rejoice. When your plot deals with a black bluesman in the South chaining a nymphomaniac white girl to the radiator in his house, you're skirting the edge of good taste. But Craig Brewer, the director of the wonderful pimp to rapper flick HUSTLE & FLOW, knows that his exploitation premise is really just the framework to tell an iconic redemption story.
Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson, PULP FICTION) is a former blues singer who farms to make a living. His wife has just run off with his brother. The local preacher R.L. (John Cothran Jr., THE CELL) is keeping an eye on him so that he doesn't stray too far of the path of righteousness due to his anger and bitterness over the break-up of his marriage. One morning, he finds the young white girl Rae (Christina Ricci, PUMPKIN) lying in the street by his mailbox, beaten severely and only wearing a short top and panties. He takes her back to his house and watches over her as she fights fever. When Lazarus learns that she is a nympho who has been sleeping with every Tom, Dick and Harry in town since her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake, ALPHA DOG) went off to the army, Lazarus decides to chain her to his radiator and cure her of her sinful ways.
Skip this movie and just watch the trailer online for free. You'll get all the funny jokes, less of the homophobia and not waste your freakin' time. This tired, slapstick CITY SLICKERS wanna-be is a career low for William H. Macy, who I hope received a nice paycheck for his effort. Tim Allen, John Travolta and Martin Lawrence have all been in worse, but that's not saying much is it.
The set-up is simple. Four middle-aged men want to reclaim some of their youth and manliness so they set out on a motorcycle road trip. Doug Madsen (Allen, CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS) is a dentist with high-cholesterol who finds rebellion against his family's wimpy opinion on him by eating a stick of butter. Woody Stevens (Travolta, BATTLEFIELD EARTH) is some kind of rich businessman who is married to a swimsuit model, who is actually in the process of losing it all. Bobby Davis (Lawrence, BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE 2) is a henpecked plumber who took the last year off to write a how to book. Dudley Frank (Macy, FARGO) is a clueless computer programmer who barely knows how to ride his bike, which is a fact that is reinforced over and over again.
So on the road, the foursome run into embarrassing moment after embarrassing moment until the plot final arrives in the form of Jack (Ray Liotta, GOODFELLAS) and his bar full of cliché, mean bikers, who are severely offended by the mere presence of these suburban biker posers. As the trailer informs us, Woody accidentally blows up the biker's bar and they hit the road after them. At their next stop, Dudley falls for a pretty diner owner named Maggie (Marisa Tomei, MY COUSIN VINNIE) and the foursome decides to stay in town for the chili fest. But Woody worries that the bikers will catch up with them and he hasn't been too honest with the others about what really happened when he went back to the bar.
This is an interesting crime drama in that it presents various scenarios for its main crime, doesn't confirm positively any one of them, yet still finds closure for its overall story. It does this by paralleling the tales of its lead character and its lead subject.
Louis Simo (Adrien Brody, THE PIANIST) is a two-bit private eye, who mainly works cheating spouse cases. He gets a tip that Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith, THE MINORITY REPORT) wants to hire someone to look deeper into the death of her son — SUPERMAN actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck, GOOD WILL HUNTING). The police are ruling it a suicide, but rumors point to foul play.
As Simo investigates the crime, we get flashbacks into Reeves life. Before he hit it big, he started an affair with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane, UNFAITHFUL), the wife of Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins, MONA LISA), the general manager of MGM. Because Eddie has his own flings, the affair is not an issue… or was it. When Reeves lands the role of Superman, his agent Art Weissman (Jeffrey DeMunn, THE GREEN MILE) tells him to just take the paycheck, because no one will ever see it. But that wasn't the case — Reeves became type cast as the superhero, which in those days was a joke. As Reeves struggles for legitimacy, he grows apart from Toni and falls for the sexy younger woman Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney, TV's PRISON BREAK). This devastates Toni.
Director Richard Linklater goes back to the animated rotoscope effect, where animated graphics are applied over live-action performances, which he used on his film, WAKING LIFE. The choice seems both stylistically geared toward the drug-fueled material and also practical in that it was a cheaper way to do the sci-fi tale rather than in live-action with visual effects. The result is a hit or miss affair, which is more a story problem than a stylistic one.
Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves, THE MATRIX) is an undercover drug cop who is trying to find the top supplier of the deadly and highly addictive drug called Substance D. Two druggies named James Barris (Robert Downey Jr., CHAPLIN) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson, NATURAL BORN KILLERS) live with him and ramble on and on about their paranoid theories. Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder, DRACULA) is Arctor's supplier, but he has fallen for her, yet she refuses to sleep with him. Their friend Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane, DAZED AND CONFUSED) is completely gone on Substance D, suffering from delusions. When Arctor is at the police headquarters, he wears what is called a scramble suit, which covers this body with shifting images of various humans thus covering his identity. Outside of the police doctors, no one else on the force knows what he looks like. So when Barris turns Arctor in, how will they know that he's really a cop?
LAND GIRLS commits the greatest crime that any romance can commit — it makes us root against the intended lovers. The title is a reference to the British Land Army, which was comprised of women who went to work jobs that were vacated by the men when they went off to fight in WWII.
The story begins with Stella (Catherine McCormack, DANGEROUS BEAUTY), Ag (Rachel Weisz, THE CONSTANT GARDENER) and Prue (Anna Friel, GOAL!) arriving on a farm in Dorset, where the farmer John Lawrence (Tom Georgeson, NOTES ON A SCANDAL) believes it’s a lark to send women out to do men's work. Turns out the young women have been trained quite well and take to their work very quickly, leaving ample time for them to set eyes on the farmer's son Joe (Steven Mackintosh, UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION), who dreams of being a pilot. Prue is the first to set out and shag Joe, followed by Ag, who doesn't want to be a virgin when she gets married. Stella, who is engaged to the rich sailor Philip (Paul Bettany, A BEAUTIFUL MIND), watches Joe from a distance, trying to hold back her feelings for him. I mean, he wants to fly and she wants to fly… so they must be destined to be together.
Do not go by the ads and trailer for this film; it's not a CHRONICLES OF NARNIA wanna-be. If you're familiar with Katherine Paterson's award-winning young adult book, then you know the story is a coming-of-age tale about friendship, which happens to include some fantasy elements. It's more akin to MY GIRL than NARNIA.
Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson, ZATHURA) is a tween whose family is very poor. He's subjected to not only the ridicule of having to wear hand-me-down sneakers, but having to wear hand-me-down sneakers from his older sister. Jesse is a bit scared of his imposing and gruff father (Robert Patrick, TERMINATOR 2), who seems to treat Jesse's youngest sister May Belle (Bailee Madison) with more friendliness and kindness.
Another addition to the superior group of films about the plight of Africa, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND is a social drama with the tension of a thriller and is capped with a tour de force performance from Forest Whitaker. This historical biopic puts a fictional protagonist in the center of real life dramas surrounding the rise and fall of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy, CHRONICLES OF NARNIA) is a recent medical school grad who doesn't want to stay in Scotland and go into boring family practice like his father. So he heads off to Uganda to make a difference as well as have some fun. General Idi Amin (Whitaker, THE CRYING GAME) has just come to power and his pro-poor rhetoric is quickly making him a national hero. Nicholas couldn't imagine the poverty and need that he encounters when he comes to serve at the rural hospital with Dr. Merrit (Adam Kotz) and his wife Sarah (Gillian Anderson, TV's X-FILES).
Overcoming some clunky moments, Sony's first foray into fully animated features is charming and fun due to its likeable central characters and beautiful visuals. Boog (Martin Lawrence, BAD BOYS) is a performing bear who was rescued as a cub by forest ranger Beth (Debra Messing, TV's WILL & GRACE). One day Boog helps free Elliot the deer (Ashton Kutcher, TV's THAT '70S SHOW) from hunter Shaw (Gary Sinise, FORREST GUMP), which sets in motion a series of incidents that ends in Beth deciding to return Boog to the woods. With little natural survival skills, Boog enlists Elliot to take him back to town before open hunting season begins. Along the way Boog and Elliot will have run-ins with Scottish warrior squirrel McSquizzy (Billy Connolly, MRS. BROWN) and alpha male buck Ian (Patrick Warburton, TV's SEINFELD) along with a host of other woodland creatures.
Combining the inspirational inner city teacher tale with a drug abuse story, HALF NELSON bucks all the stereotypes of the similar tales that came before. The film is brought to life with complete dedication by the central performers Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps.
Gosling (THE NOTEBOOK) plays Dan Dunne, a middle school teacher in the inner city, who also happens to be a semi-functional drug addict. He coaches the girls' basketball team, which includes Drey (Epps). Dunne is an unconventional teacher, who strives to make his students think rather than sticking to the school board approved material. His passion for teaching is one of the traits that attracts fellow teacher Isabel (Monique Curnen, LADY IN THE WATER) to him. However, when his now clean ex Rachel (Tina Holmes, TV's SIX FEET UNDER) shows up, it's the start of Dunne's downward spiral, which begins with Drey discovering him smoking crack.
Welcome to the 1st annual Overlooked Awards. This is a chance to recognize those films, performances, directors, screenplays and animated shorts, which are all worthy of award recognition, but didn't received nominations at the big awards. Even though its one of those categories that the typical fan dreads to pick for polls, I'm privileged to see many of the wonderful short animated films that are made each year. So I thought it was my duty to recognize the shorts that I felt deserved nods as well.
Winner: LITTLE CHILDREN
Only second to PAN'S LABYRINTH on my top 25 of 2006 list, LITTLE CHILDREN is a masterful step forward for Todd Field, who was earlier nominated for IN THE BEDROOM as a producer. Early buzz had this film in the running for the Oscars, but it just never gained traction. Its tongue-in-cheek voice-over is the best and most original use of voice-over I've seen in years. It's nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay was extremely well deserved. Field pulled career best performances from his entire cast, including Oscar nominees Kate Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley as well as Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Noah Emmerich and Phyllis Somerville. Field poetically realizes his screenplay, which he adapted with the original book's author Tom Perrotta. It tackles delicate topics with intelligence and open-mindedness. This is one of the few masterpieces of the year and needs to be seen from everyone.
Seeing the pictures from the Oscar Showcase tour is a great way to convey all the events that took place. Here are some more shots from Ron from William Morris, the AWN/Acme Oscar party, Sony Animation and CAA.
I had an opportunity to chat with Bee Movie director Steve Hickner. He told me that working with Jerry Seinfeld has been a great pleasure and that it’s a project he is not looking forward to ending.
When it came time for the Q&A, many of the Sony artists had some of the same questions as the other studios like whether Geza Toth’s single camera move was intended from the start, which it was, and how Roger and Don Hahn convinced Disney to go with the sad ending on Little Matchgirl, which was by waiting until Michael Eisner had left the studio.
Animation (thank God) remains the last bastion of the individual artist. It is still possible to make a film with little money and a few dedicated friends and supporters and have that film stand toe-to-toe with the productions made by the major studios.
Here it is the long awaited gallery of select pics from Ron’s camera from the Oscar Showcase tour’s swing by DreamWorks, Fox, the Academy, Disney and ICM. There’s also a couple special pics at the end courtesy of No Time for Nuts director Mike Thurmeier.
I’ve been to two previous Oscar functions at the Canadian consulate general’s beautiful house in Hancock Park and couldn’t pass up the chance to go again. The luncheon took place in the lovely courtyard in back by the pool. They were prepared for the rain and had tents and heaters set up, making it comfortable on the rainy L.A. day.
Officially one week of the Oscar Tour is up and we’re nearing the home stretch. Today was less crazed than yesterday, but still wonderfully eventful nonetheless.
As we arrived back at The Little Theater for the screening, Ron introduced all the nominees to Vanessa Morrison, the new president of Fox Animation. It seems to me this screening will be hard to top. Tomorrow is yet another busy day with a screening at Disney and our first agency screening at ICM, which will be very interesting.
First with drawing, we would explore very simple basic structure with basic shapes (although we really meant forms – more of a 3D approach) and then build upon these forms. Next, a drawn model sheet was created and from that the participants had to take their characters to 3D in the form of MAQUETTES.
The goal was to see what happened when 2D was translated into 3D.
Many students put a extraordinary amount of effort into their characters. They began with a base, built a wire armature, layered the supper sculpey around and there worked on the details and smoothing - before baking it in their ovens.
This endeavor was an excellent exercise for them since most were headed into 3D CG animation.
At a later time, I will show some layouts and model sheets.
While you wait for more details from the San Fran leg of the tour. Here’s some more pics to check out from Skywalker Ranch and Pixar, courtesy of Ron.