Oliver Stone gathers a host of his regulars for another genre film in Any Given Sunday. This time Stone's wandering eye hits on sports films. Here he shows the rise of Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), plucked from the third string by coach Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino) and seasoned for the greatest commercial effect by team owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz).We've talked a lot about the mythical editor that could have ridden in on the metal rims of a Moviola to salvage some of these last few films. I bring this up not because Any Given Sunday is bad, it's actually the first entertaining film he's made since JFK, but because it's bloated. The run-time is nearly two and a half hours for a story that could have been a killer at an hour and forty or less.
I don't want to underwhelm the movie with half-hearted praise of a running time that could have been because we've done that way too much recently, so here's the good stuff. Stone's style works surprisingly well for the physical impact of football. We've seen how well he does more intangible ideas, like paranoia, but I was riveted by the on-field stuff in Any Given Sunday. Considering the speed of each play it makes sense to have a wide-angle shot of the team, followed by quick cuts to each snap, then a shaky first person view, then back to a medium-shot of the coach, and finally a barely glimpsed impact before the camera wobbles end over end. It's coherent, blistering editing really forces you to engage physically with the game in a way I don't think any other football film has.
Off the field there's a lot of good going on thanks to the performances. I loved the performance by Stone favorite John C. McGinley in a delightfully fey turn as a sportscaster. Then there's Al Pacino in full-on late '90s screaming mode but he's in the right environment for it. Jamie Foxx is pretty good too in a role that helped bridge his earlier Booty Call days with the quiet, confident intensity that would fuel his run in Django Unchained. Even Cameron Diaz is great, chewing up whatever scenery Pacino leaves over.
So there's a good bit for me to praise, but still leaves too much left over to criticize. I liked that Stone at least tried to comment on the way that sports essentially makes slaves out of its participants even if the idea is pummeled in with images of Ben Hur whirring away in the background of more intense moments. But it's the only real idea that Stone tries to develop off-field, and the rest of the screenplay is devoted to a lot of petty bickering and go-nowhere party scenes that seem like leftover ideas from The Doors that Stone decided to put into overdrive.
It's another genre exercise, one that seeks to entertain and not disgust or, mostly, enlighten - and it's all the better for it. His time in the controversial spotlight has come to an end and despite the energy he actually seems more confident and relaxed with this film back to the point where he put himself in front of the camera again. I can handle a B-picture at this point, even if everyone should be operating a grade higher.
It's better to regard Side Effects, one of the last films the great Steven Soderbergh has deemed to direct, as a dessert instead of a meal. Like a pastry it's crafted, lovingly, with great attention to detail and texture. But taken on its own the film is a bit too light, lacking some of the meaty substance of his earlier films, and while it feels great going down doesn't have much of a lingering after-effect.
I mean all this as a form of praise with slight disappointment. This is the man whose taste for genre delving has given us Out of Sight, Ocean's Thirteen (still my favorite of the trilogy), The Informant!, and many other movies that linger on the corners of my memory. There may not be that spark or scene that will set my mind on fire when I think of Side Effects but I will still regard it pleasantly in the future.
Considering how much build-up there was to The Last Stand as Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to form I was only reminded that the inexorable march of time spares no soul. That might strike you as a heavy-handed way to start a review of a film featuring Johnny Knoxville in a fire fight while wearing a spare helmet from the set of Aguirre. I was placed in the situation where I had to make interest for myself when the movie I'm watching has little to give.
So, since it's been a little over ten years since I last saw Schwarzenegger in a film, the idea of time moving forward is one that appealed to me in a movie that was stuck spinning its wheels so often. The Last Stand is a dull, overlong at barely an hour and a half, comically limp exercise of a film that absolutely should not have been the calling card of director Kim Ji-Woon. He's another one of those Korean wunderkind directors that has a reputation of excellence before him. I've only seen one film of his, the exquisitely fun The Good, The Bad, The Weird and that film, with its fusion of western and, well, weird, gave me hope that he would stick the landing in America.
I can't fault Ji-woon for how the film turned out. When he's given reign to let loose on an action scene The Last Stand finally finds its feet and is entertaining in quick, joyful bursts. But when he's finally allowed to let loose it's after seventy minutes of some of the most overdrawn place setting I've weathered this year. I don't mind films taking their time to set up motivation and plot, but after fifteen minutes behind the wheel of supercharged car of a multinational drug lord I started to lose patience at a disconcerting rate.
A series of storms across the Midwest wreaked temporary havoc on our recording capabilities this week and cut short the normal plans. Wrath of the angry personification of nature aside - we welcome the commentary of Chad Michaels of The Chad Michaels Project for this fun, if technologically troubled, podcast.
2:20 - Meet Chad Michaels and his current cinematic Heaven and Hell.
8:00 - The Brave princess redesign, overreaction or justified outrage of presentation?
15:20 - How I Met Your Mother's potential final season greatness, deflated by Ryan.
21:55 - The casting of The Human Torch shouldn't matter as muh as it does.
30:03 - Are we talking about Christopher Nolan directing James Bond or performing bad tone poetry? You decide!
Lot's of new films on DVD this week seeing the return of Schwarzenegger in Last Stand, Jason Statham continuing to perfect his growl in Parker, Steven Soderbergh with Side Effects, and the Twilight - but for witches this time - appeal of Beautiful Creatures. Look for reviews of Last Stand and Side Effects on Wednesday and Thursday.
This Friday, Oliver Stone has stepped out of the political and into a football arena in Any Given Sunday as Andrew and Kyle continue their look at Stone's career.
This weekend sees the release of the sixth Fast and Furious film, the third Hangover, and Epic - a film that continues to prove that the lessons of Fern Gully resonate today.
Sunday, why don't you relax and realize that even one of the most cynical American directors has some soft spots and catch-up with Wilder Sundays.
One of the best things about reviewing movies is seeing the promise of greatness fulfilled. The first film in the rebooted Star Trek line was a great popcorn entertainment and pretty good origin story. A lot of the film centered around just Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) cementing their friendship through adversity and blood. The supporting cast was stellar, but existed to pop on, play a new riff on their established character, and exit the scene.
Star Trek Into Darkness is as good a sequel any of us could have hoped for and then goes far beyond that. It's not the crass moneymaking grab that certain other franchises have devolved into over the last few years. Director J.J. Abrams took his time with his baby, letting ideas gestate with his screenwriters over the last few years before releasing the film when it was ready. I cannot find fault in that process when I can barely find fault in the film itself.
The only complaint I can see is that the film is, at its core, more of the same. Yes, it's smarter. Yes, the action scenes are better constructed. Yes, the supporting cast each gets multiple times to shine instead of a riff or two. But if you were annoyed by the bombastic approach of the first film or found it lacking there will be little to satiate your desire for something different here. For the rest of us, this is a delicious hunk of film that will leave you breathless and wanting more.
Bobby (Sean Penn) is a wounded drifter looking to make good on some bad bets. His luck grows ever more bitter as some car troubles lead him into a dusty town on the edge of nowhere. There a series of colorful townsfolk, including a deadpan mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton) and a troublesome couple (Claire Daines and Joaquin Phoenix), seem dead-set on keeping him in town. He attracts the eye of local beauty Grace (Jennifer Lopez), who wants Bobby's body, and her husband Jake (Nick Nolte), who wants Bobby to kill Grace. Oliver Stone's U Turn sees him taking a break from political film-making to try and work some genre magic.Oliver Stone reportedly said that U Turn was his attempt at making a movie he would have wanted to watch as a teenager. This makes sense only if, as a teenager, he drank a lot. The movie is a spectacular mess, a glorious display of badness the failure of which is enjoyable for not long enough to recommend. Stone seems to have made it in his free time, allowing scenes to be shot while he hung around the food table and recycling visual styles and narrative techniques from earlier films after the fact. The music, by legendary Ennio Morricone, perfectly encompasses the problems with the movie: it is hilariously disconnected and out-of-touch with the events on-screen, an element of form that intrudes on the viewing experience almost as much as Jennifer Lopez' acting.
The movie, we soon learn, is about Bobby, a former tennis pro on the run from some hard Vegas types who he owes money to. In an early flashback scene, we see his debtors cut off two of his fingers with garden sheers, followed by a shot reminding us that, tragically, Bobby will never again be able to throw a tennis ball straight up in the air for a serve. Here's an idea: if you want to make a sleazy, genre-level crime film, don't choose as your one subversive element making the protagonist a haunted tennis-playing gambler. Not unless you're also willing to twist the other archetypes to similarly absurd lengths.
Oliver. Man. Get out of your own goddamn way. The story here is cliché and predictable, but the actors are perfectly capable of elevating a slimy, lurid genre exercise into a piece of wonderful pulp entertainment—just let them do it. We're at a point where we don't need every frame and edit to remind us we're watching An Oliver Stone Production.
Thanks to the clueless direction, the movie plays like a circus where all the players are working on different acts. There's Nick Nolte, who is almost unable to fail in a role, and here he hams it up gloriously while wearing Dustin Hoffman's dentures from Hook. Sean Penn is, of course, perfectly good as a shambling drifter (though not so convincing as an ex-tennis pro). Billy Bob Thornton's character deserves his own movie at times.
But let's go back for a moment to the score, which sounds like it was recorded by the Looney Tunes ensemble. This is the one perplexingly, fascinatingly distinct thing about the film. U Turn seems like a disastrously extended version of something you may see on Funny or Die. If it were a 20-minute short, I would probably love it, because at that level I could believe it was an easy melodramatic send up of some genre conventions. At feature-length it's either a horrible miscalculation or a joke that overstays its welcome.
Unfortunately, due to the influx of professional obligations both during the day and night, this will be a light week. Thankfully, this will be the last such interruption for a long time and we'll be returning to our normal posting schedule starting this Friday with Andrew and Kyle on Oliver Stone's U-Turn.
This weekend, you can try to escape it, but Saturday and Sunday are destined to be sucked into Star Trek: Into Darkness. We'll have the review for this up on Saturday.
Sunday, why don't you relax and realize that even one of the most cynical American directors has some soft spots with Wilder Sundays.
The Great Gatsby is one of the Great American novels, telling the story of our countries opulence and callous disregard for other people during the height of the free money jazz age. It's moralizing can be easily categorized as heavy-handed, and some of the heavier moments make it into this adaptation, but is balanced by F. Scott Fitzgerald's fair view of his characters and considerable talent as an author. Reading the book is a blunt experience tempered by Fitzgerald's skill.
In almost comical contrast, Baz Luhrmann was the nightmare choice to direct this adaptation of The Great Gatsby. His previous movies have zero nuance and overblown theatrical styles that sometimes suited their subject, like in Strictly Ballroom or Moulin Rouge, and sometimes were so far off the mark that it inspires unnecessary chuckling. I understand that his now trademark lack of restraint makes him ideal to recreate the passages of decadence in Gatsby. But I wonder if anyone thought his style capable of providing meaningful commentary to go along with it.
Strange that we ended up with such a flat movie. I thought that either Luhrmann's affectations would either give another entertaining wall-to-wall spectacle or a source of endless zippy annoyance. Luhrmann actually defied my expectation by providing just such a spectacle for the first half of the film and then transitioning to a much quieter piece driven mostly by the performances in the second. As such, Luhrmann has managed to create two bad films for the price of one with the most tenuous of connections between the two.
Kyle and Andrew take a break from Oliver Stone's films to comment on his career to date. Andrew makes an uncommon confession, and Kyle really hates Natural Born Killers. Many more insights await in this special podcast.