It’s a good week for mediocre films (Body of Lies, Changeling, Quarantine and Flash of Genius, all walking a fine line between Fresh and Rotten) and an even better one if you’re a Wildcat fan (High School Musical 3: Senior Year)! Horror fans have an enticing two-fer to consider (Quarantine and the better-reviewed Midnight Meat Train), while left-wingers get the political Borat (Bill Maher’s Religulous). See what else is new this week on DVD.
If there’s a tween or teen girl in your family, chances are they’ll be on their best behavior this week in hopes of snagging the third and final chapter of Disney’s High School Musical franchise, which comes to home video in three different piggy bank-draining versions. Should the kids spring for a single-disc’s worth of Troy Bolton, a double-disc DVD, or go all the way to Blu?
We recommend picking up the 2-disc DVD over the single-disc because, let’s face it, if you’re going to buy High School Musical 3, you might as well get more bang for your buck. Where only a single bonus feature appears on the single-disc DVD, more featurettes, bloopers, deleted scenes, and a sing along bolster the 2-disc and enrich the musical tale of PG-rated teen angst (Play basketball or be in the school play? Start college early or go to prom?). It also includes a digital copy of the extended cut of the film. EXTENDED CUT — that means even more Wildcat singing and dancing!!!
Blu-ray buyers get all of the above, plus a few additional featurettes and the wonderment of seeing Vanessa Hudgens’ Neutrogena-sponsored pores in high definition.
Below, check out two exclusive behind-the-scenes clips in which the HSM3 cast learns to waltz and Zac Efron learns the ropes behind the camera. Is a career change in order?
Next: Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies falls short of Fresh
Despite boasting the combined powers of Leonardo di Caprio, Russell Crowe, Departed screenwriter William Monahan and celebrated director Ridley Scott, Body of Lies was brimming with more promise than it ultimately delivered. Critics were split neatly down the middle on this politically-charged thriller about a CIA agent (Di Caprio) enmeshed in a Jordanian anti-terror plot; even with its solid cast (including scene-stealer Mark Strong as the head of Jordanian intel), Body of Lies couldn’t truly deliver. While the Blu-ray release comes packed with an enviable amount of bonus material (some of which must be played as interruptions to the film, instead of Picture-in-Picture), a commentary track by Scott, Monahan, and original author David Ignatius will do just fine, and appears along with a few featurettes on the standard disc release.
Next: Clint Eastwood’s Changeling
3. Changeling — 61%
One of the lowest-rated films to be nominated for an Academy Award this year (thanks to Angelina Jolie’s Best Actress nomination, plus nods for Cinematography and Art Direction), Changeling should be an intriguing pick up for Oscar prognosticators this week. Directed by Clint Eastwood, Changeling tells the story of a working class mother who loses her child in 1928, only to be told months later by insistent cops that another boy is her son. Conventionally-told but compelling nonetheless, this should be an interesting rental for anyone who missed the film in theaters; in addition to two making-of featurettes on the standard release, the Blu-ray disc contains archival materials of the real-life story upon which Changeling is based, plus a feature that compares the Los Angeles-area period settings to their modern day locations.
Next: Flash of Genius not so genius
Period biographical pictures about men struggling on the brink of greatness sometimes do well (A Beautiful Mind, Tucker: The Man and His Dream) and sometimes fall short of the mark. Unfortunately, Marc Abraham’s Flash of Genius — the true story of Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear), who invented the intermittent windshield wiper in 1967 — is of the latter category, earning middling marks from critics on its way to DVD shelves. If windshield wipers (or Kinnear’s co-star, the awesome Lauren Graham) intrigue you, we recommend a rental, though beware that only a director commentary and deleted scenes accompany the film. Universal is also releasing Flash of Genius day-and-date On Demand.
Next: Dakota Fanning in Hounddog
Even I’m getting tired of referring to Hounddog as “The Dakota Fanning Rape Movie,” so let’s accept the fact of its early and lasting reputation and move on, shall we? Hounddog stars the then- 12-year-old Fanning as a Southern tomboy in the 1950s with a fondness for Elvis; when the controversial event occurs, she finds comfort and redemption in the blues. Deborah Kampmeier’s drama made waves at Sundance, though most reviews were overwhelmingly negative; try and let that stop you from indulging your morbid curiosity.
Next: Simon Pegg loses friends and alienates people
As in The Devil Wears Prada, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People aims to satirize an insider industry with a lead character begrudgingly working their way up the corporate ladder — only this time it’s not Anne Hathaway, it’s British comic actor Simon Pegg, and his work is in entertainment journalism, not fashion. Critics were mostly un-amused by this slap-sticky adaptation of former Vanity Fair contributor Toby Young’s memoirs, citing an irregular tone, too much crudeness, and a mediocre script. However, a feature-length commentary with director Robert D. Weide and star Pegg accompanies the disc, which might be worth a gander thanks to the always-amusing (in real life, anyway) Pegg.
Next: I Served the King of England
Czech New Wave director Jiri Menzel (Closely Watched Trains) returns to form with this World War II-set dramedy about an ambitious waiter whose personal fortunes rise and fall as the country succumbs to the Nazis, then the Communist party, in the mid-20th century. This multiple festival award-winner, based on the novel by Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, is the week’s standout Certified Fresh release.
Next: Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train
When Lionsgate unceremoniously dumped Midnight Meat Train into a very limited theatrical run last summer, horror fans were outraged, and rightly so; the adaptation of a Clive Barker short story was actually Fresh — so why hide it from the movie-going public? This month, Midnight Meat Train finally makes it to DVD, and those eagerly anticipating the Ryuhei Kitamura-directed slasher can take solace in the fact that they can finally see the tale in a DVD-only unrated cut. Bradley Cooper (He’s Just Not That Into You, Wedding Crashers) stars as a shutterbug on the trail of a subway killer (Vinnie Jones); three featurettes accompany the film.
Next: Hollywood remakes Spanish horror with Quarantine
A television reporter (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman (Steve Harris) are the only people able to document the mysterious happenings inside a Los Angeles apartment building in this remake of the Spanish horror film, REC (94%). Atmospheric scares enhance this Blair Witch-styled tale, although critics agreed it fell short of the mark of the original. Director John Erick Dowdle and producer Drew Dowdle, who co-wrote the screenplay, contribute a commentary track, while additional features flesh out the bonus menu.
Next: Bill Maher meets Borat in Religulous
When director Larry Charles teamed up with Sacha Baron Cohen, the result was Borat. When he joined forces with Bill Maher, the result was Religulous, a comedy-documentary whose main focus is to satirize organized religion, and satirize it hard. A commentary track in which Charles and Maher explain their filmmaking methods and experiences highlights the extras.
Until next week, happy renting!
This week at the movies, we’ve got an angry cop (Lakeview Terrace, starring Samuel L. Jackson); a disgruntled hunchback (the CGI Igor, with voice work by John Cusack and Molly Shannon); a haunted dentist (Ghost Town, starring Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear); and a date from hell (My Best Friend’s Girl, starring Dane Cook and Kate Hudson). What do the critics have to say?
Say what you will about the films of Neil LaBute, but give him this: while he rarely delivers a fun time at the movies, he’s no slave to convention. Unfortunately, critics say Lakeview Terrace offers an intriguing setup before devolving into a routine thriller finale. Samuel L. Jackson stars as a strict, emotionally damaged LAPD who objects to his new neighbors’ interracial marriage; after extensive harassment, the young couple (played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) fights back. Pundits say the problem with Lakeview Terrace is that it presents a realistic, charged scenario before jumping the rails in the final act, substituting smart characterization with generic vigilante tropes. At 36 percent on the Tomatometer, you may not want to visit Lakeview Terrace.
“Ugh, Sam’s at it again…. chewing the scenery at three in the morning…”
It’s one thing to make a macabre children’s film; it’s another to make one that doesn’t deliver much entertainment. Critics say the film is something of a Frankenstein’s monster, stitching together recycled parts from Shrek and The Nightmare Before Christmas. The titular hunchback (voiced by John Cusack) is tired of being a lowly lab assistant; he wants to be an evil scientist in his own right. But when one of his creations, a monster named Eva (Molly Shannon) turns out to be really sweet at heart, Igor begins to rethink his priorities. While the pundits say Igor has moments of Tim Burton-esque visual invention, it’s a pretty mediocre affair, filled with shopworn pop-culture references and manic action but few laughs; plus, it’s probably a bit too dark for the wee ones. At 20 percent on the Tomatometer, Igor could use more brains.
“You too can have your very own Contour Chair.”
Ricky Gervais is a very funny man, but thus far, his movie career has consisted of supporting roles. However, with Ghost Town, the man who brought so much cringe-worthy wit to The Office and Extras takes center stage — and the pundits say the result is delightful. Gervais stars as Bertram Pincus, who has a near-death experience and discovers he can see ghosts — and they’re pretty annoying, especially the caddish Frank (Greg Kinnear). But those specters are of some help, as Bertram learns to be a better person — and find love in the process. The pundits say Ghost Town is a perfect fit for Gervais’s talents, and the film emits awkward laughs and warmth without devolving into schmaltz. At 84 percent on the Tomatometer, Ghost Town has plenty of blithe spirit. (Check out this week’s Total Recall for a ghoulish compendium of some of our favorite cinematic apparitions.)
“For the last time, I am not pug-nosed!”
Given that it wasn’t screened prior to release, it’s unlikely critics will be BFFs with My Best Friend’s Girl. Dane Cook, Kate Hudson, and Jason Biggs star in this romantic comedy about a guy who’s so obnoxious he convinces potentially straying women to stand by their men — before falling for his main homey’s boo. Kids, call up you best friend’s girl and ask her for insight in guessing the Tomatometer! (And don’t forget to check out Dane Cook’s five favorite movies here.)
“The woman you’re replacing is very special. She won the GE Followship. Now send Tracey in.”
Also opening this week in limited release:
Fraulein, a story of complex friendship set against the backdrop of a changing Yugoslavia, is at 83 percent.
Virtual JFK, a documentary that explores how the assassinated president would have handled the Vietnam War, is at 75 percent.
The Western Appaloosa, starring Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen as two lawmen who must get past their mutual appreciation of the same woman (Renée Zellweger) in order to save their town, is at 71 percent.
The Brazilian import Elite Squad, about the pressures of working the police beat in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, is at 58 percent.
Finally, quasi-props to fullmetal_medji for coming the closest to guessing Tyler Perry’s the Family That Preys‘ 52 percent Tomatometer.
Recent Samuel L. Jackson Movies:
Dakota Fanning is carving out quite the career for herself. She’ll follow up the controversial Sundance flick "Hounddog" (you know, the "Dakota Fanning Rape Movie") by playing one half of a real-life duo of disabled girls; younger sister Elle will also star.
The eleven-year-old Fanning (who turns a mature 12 this month) made headlines last month by playing an Elvis-loving rape victim in Deborah Kampmeier‘s "Hounddog," though critics mostly agreed that the scene in question wasn’t all that scandalous. Conservatives didn’t care, calling for a block of the movie and the arrest of the adults involved. Even state officials threw their opinions into the mix.
Now Fanning is planning another controversial role with "Hurricane Mary," the true story about a mother’s fight to give her disabled twins a public school education. Fanning will star alongside Patricia Clarkson, Chris Cooper, William H. Macy, and Laura San Giacomo in the pic, while her look-alike eight-year-old sister Elle ("Babel") will play her twin sister.
Set to direct is Tony award-winning director Arvin Brown, who also has an extensive career in television ("Picket Fences," "Ally McBeal," "The Closer"). The script is written by actress Marianne Leone, who is married to Chris Cooper.
Production on the film (listed in IMDB under the title "Conquistadora") begins in New York in September; the 2008 film seems likely to debut on the festival circuit once completed.
The screen vet in lighter, more family-friendly fare…
The ever-busy elder Fanning’s also got a few more juicy roles on her plate (whoever manages this girl is a project-picking genius), including the title role in Henry Selick‘s ("The Nightmare Before Christmas") "Coraline," from the Neil Gaiman book, and the still-in-development book adaptation "The Secret Life of Bees." Oh, and come Oscar time, she’ll be busy — she is the youngest member of the Academy (unless voters this month go for the two-years-younger Abigail Breslin).
The Dakota Fanning film "Hounddog" is still causing lots of controversy … even after it debuted to a mediocre response up at Sundance. Seems the fine state of North Carolina is oh so concerned about the kind of subject matter that’s being lensed in their backyards — and they’re taking steps to "approve" screenplays before filmmakers will be offered admittance.
The (alleged) new law would apply only to productions that take advantage of North Carolina’s "filmmaker incentive" program, which basically means that if a production wants to earn up to 15% of their budget back, thanks to tax credits, they must have their screenplay pre-approved before the shoot begins.
Or productions could just go to one of NC’s bordering states and not deal with all the hassle. Word from The Wilmington Star indicates that this action is by no means a done deal, but it sure seems like the North Carolina politicians are trying to make a pointless little statement. One like "Oh dear, you made a movie in our state, and that movie deals with a young girl who is sexually molested. Therefore we must step forward and act all offended, just so you know we don’t approve of child abuse — even the fictional kind."
That’s just the way I see it, anyway. (Click here for the full story.) And I’m sure this extended bout of extra controversy doesn’t bother the "Hounddog" filmmakers all that much….
In this week’s Ketchup, our correspondents from The Sundance Festival gave their thoughts on several premiering films, and the Oscar nominations were first announced, then debated.
Also, Sean Connery spoke about whether he’ll appear in the next "Indiana Jones" adventure, the official "300" poster was unveiled, and this week’s "Spider-Man 3" tidbit came in the form of more movie stills. Read on for more.
This Week’s Most Popular News:
Sundance News: "Chicago 10" Disappoints; Dakota Fanning’s "Hounddog" Violating Child Pornography Laws? "Crazy Love" Causes Bidding War
Since the Sundance Film Festival started two days ago, three films have already drawn extra media attention. "Chicago 10," Brett Morgen’s highly anticipated follow-up to "The Kid Stays in the Picture," disappointed critics; "Hounddog," starring Dakota Fanning, might face a child pornography violation; and "Crazy Love," with its wild and disturbing love story, generated a bidding war between indie distributors. What will the rest of the week bring?
Oscar Nominations Announced: "Little Miss Sunshine," "Dreamgirls," "Borat" Deemed Worthy
The expected heavy hitters made the grade — Scorsese, Whitaker, "Dreamgirls" — but there were a handful of surprises…let’s just say, if you thought you’d never read "the Oscar-nominated ‘Borat’" in print, think again! The nominees for the 79th annual Academy Awards are in!
Connery on "Indy 4"
Dark Horizons reports that Sean Connery has told UK Teletext that he’s waiting to read the "Indiana Jones 4" script before he makes a decision as to whether or not he’ll reprise his role as Indy’s dad, Dr. Henry Jones, who first appeared in the series’ third installment, 1989’s "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."
Final "300" Poster Unveiled!
Ah, the battle of Thermopylae: 300 Spartans, squaring off against an enormous herd of bloodthirsty Persians, and redefining courage and sacrifice in the process. You probably fell asleep when your high school history teacher tried to tell you about it, but luckily, Frank Miller used it as the inspiration for a graphic novel; since filmmakers seem to really enjoy adapting Miller’s books, the battle of Thermopylae will be hitting screens March 9 in the form of Warner Bros. Pictures’ Zack Snyder-directed "300.
Look Out! Screenshots of "Spider-Man 3"
It won’t arrive in theaters for more than three months, but the spoilers, interviews, and other assorted information regarding "Spider-Man 3" are already in full swing — it’s almost as if the studio was looking for free advance publicity or something. And now, courtesy of IGN Movies, we’ve got 22 new stills from the movie to stare at. They won’t last you until May 4 — but then again, at the rate this stuff is leaking out, they won’t have to.
In Other News:
See what RT’s been up to in Park City: screenings galore ("Zoo!" "Hounddog!"), celeb sightings galore (Winona! Diddy! Steve Sanders!). We’ve been blogging every day during Sundance as we hit screenings, interviews, and parties; read along and leave us your comments!
Jen covers a red carpet in 8 degree weather, sees Karen from "The Office" and six degrees of Kevin Bacon at the EW party, almost succumbs to hypothermia getting into the AE party, then has a party-affirming revelation watching Jared Leto’s band play.
Jen can’t remember what day it is, interviews Dwight from "The Office" (AKA Rainn Wilson), Timothy Hutton, New Line CEO Bob Shaye, and "Weapons" director Adam Bhala Lough, and watches "The Last Mimzy."
The eagerly anticipated and controversial "Hounddog" (AKA The Dakota Fanning Rape Project) packs ’em in at the press screening, is panned by most everyone, and garners hisses afterwards. Tim interviews "Black Snake Moan" director Craig Brewer and gets an awesome "BSM" hat out of it.
Read on for some short reviews of films playing at Sundance: "Hounddog," starring Dakota Fanning, is a cliched stab at Southern Gothic with echoes of Faulkner, and "The Nines," starring Ryan Reynolds, is a trippy, thought-provoking meditation on the nature of creation.
"Hounddog" has been one of the most talked-about films at Sundance, particularly because it has been suggested that it’s a movie in which talented Dakota Fanning branches out; however, to quote the titular song, "They said you was high class/ Well, that was just a lie." "Hounddog" is from the overheated and overacted school of Southern drama, filled with stereotypical characters, pseudo-poetic dialogue, and heavy symbolism ("Hounddog"’s biggest deviation from formula is that it features a killer R&B band that plays into the dead of night, presumably on call should 12-year-old girls need help with their personal problems). Fanning stars as Lewellen, a girl obsessed with Elvis who lives with her no-good father (David Morse) and her strict grandmother (Piper Laurie). She plays the character as a cross between an innocent child and a wise strumpet; as a whole, "Hounddog" seems conceived simply to give her a role to flex her pre-teen acting chops.
The film has generated its share of controversy due to a scene in which Fanning’s character is raped (it’s handled without exploitation). Kiddie porn it isn’t. Unfortunately, "Hounddog" isn’t much of anything. It doesn’t really resonate as a coming-of-age story, a family drama, or an exploration of the 1950s Southern experience, leaving precious little left but the controversy. Ultimately, "Hounddog" is pretty mangy.
"The Nines" is one of those movies that will be the subject of endless interpretation; personally, I just enjoyed the ride. The film is a three-act meditation on reality and the nature of creation with apocalyptic and quasi-religious overtones. In each of its chapters, Ryan Reynolds plays some sort of creator, be it an actor, TV writer, or videogame designer; Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy each vie for his attention and throw his world into flux in various ways. Like "Mulholland Drive," there’s an ominous tone and a sense that everyday events may hint at something harrowing. All of the actors are fine, particularly Reynolds, who shows impressive range throughout. "The Nines" is a solid head trip.
Check out our full Fundance at Sundance coverage!