Intro to a longish interview with James Cameron for The Oregonian....
James Cameron is enjoying a bit of a victory lap at the moment.
The director of "Titanic," "Avatar," "Aliens" and the first two "Terminator" films is making the rounds to promote the limited re-release of "Avatar" -- with eight-and-a-half minutes of additional footage -- in digital 3D and IMAX theaters. The expanded cut of Cameron's saga about noble blue aliens fighting off resource-plundering humans opened Friday, Aug. 27, and any additional box-office revenues will presumably be added to the film's record-smashing $2.7 billion worldwide gross.
(By the way, a special-edition home-video box set this November will be even longer, with a reported 16 minutes of additional footage. As Cameron half-jokingly promised during our interview, "If you just want to wallow in 'Avatar' for three hours, I can get that for you.")
Mr. Cameron and I talked for a little over 20 minutes about the technical challenges of transposing real facial expressions onto 12-foot-tall blue aliens; changing technology and filmmaking fundamentals; the ideas that his underrated 1989 film "The Abyss" shares with "Avatar"; helping his pal Guillermo del Toro realize his dreams; Cameron's tendency to make "violent films about peace"; the bureaucratic idiocies of BP; deleted scenes; and the enduring legacy of "Aliens" hardware.
James Cameron Q&A (The Oregonian)
Movie review in the Friday, Aug. 27 Oregonian....
Is there a "Ring"-like curse circulating through Hollywood, forcing studio execs to release low-budget fake horror documentaries every few months to stave off the boogeyman?
"The Last Exorcism" is the latest fake-horror-doc to throw itself on a pigpile that includes "The Last Broadcast," "The Blair Witch Project," "Quarantine," "Paranormal Activity," "Cloverfield," "The Poughkeepsie Tapes" and bits of "The Fourth Kind." (The 1980 Italian flick "Cannibal Holocaust" is somewhere near the bottom of that pigpile, feeling influential.)
But while it's not fresh, "The Last Exorcism" is still a fairly well-executed variation on the idea. This time around, the "camera crew" follows a preacher's-son-turned-exorcist-turned-cynic named Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). Cotton lost his faith a while back, and the documentary team is helping him expose the fraud of exorcism -- a practice Cotton now regards as a placebo for people with earthly psychological problems.
Cotton and crew journey out to a Louisiana farm to "cure" a supposedly possessed girl (Ashley Bell). Cotton will employ magic tricks and sound effects, she'll feel better, his point will be proven. To put it mildly, the "possession" proves a bit trickier than that.
I'm fond of fake horror docs, or at least of the idea of them: The low-budget format can force filmmakers to build characters, situations and tension in a patient, old-school way. And a monster withheld (or seen with a handheld glance) is scarier than an in-your-face pixel attack. "Exorcism" works well in that regard, and I like that director Daniel Stamm tries to con me with faux-supernatural realism in the same way Cotton tries to con the girl he's "exorcising."
Patrick Fabian, a talented character actor you've seen in a million supporting TV roles, grounds the movie by finding the humor, charm and humanity in a role that could easily have been played as a cartoon huckster. (I'm guessing his supporting roles will upgrade to the feature-film sector after this.) Ashley Bell does things with her neck that made me want to see a chiropractor immediately, and Caleb Landry Jones might be even creepier as her angry, dead-eyed sibling. I cared enough about these characters to follow "Exorcism" to tense and occasionally goofy places, even if the setup proved a bit stronger than the payoff.
(87 min., rated PG-13, multiple locations) Grade: B
"The Last Exorcism" (The Oregonian, Friday, Aug. 27, 2010)
During the Friday, Aug. 20 "Cort & Fatboy" podcast, we took a rather roundabout path to a review of "Piranha 3D."
Also: "Digressions, distractions and ridiculous flotsam placed on the track with the intent to comedically derail. 'Scott Pilgrim' fallout. Why can't Fatboy talk? Mike's own set of verbal crutches, and what happens when you kick them out from under him, politely. Applying the fantasy sports model to moviemaking. Why do the 'Epic Movie' guys keep getting work? And bad news for fans of Mutants and Ninjas."
Cort and Fatboy (Friday, Oct. 20, 2010)
During the Friday the 13th "Cort and Fatboy" podcast, we talked about "The Expendables" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World," and I spat a bit more venom at "Eat Pray Love."
I also gave away a t-shirt (pictured), and recommended the classic mercenary action flick "Dark of the Sun" in lieu of "The Expendables."
(BONUS: On the show's message boards, I wrote a bit more about "Dark of the Sun" and shared a few clips from the film.)
Cort and Fatboy (Friday, Aug. 13, 2010)
Movie review in today's Oregonian....
"Eat Pray Love" chronicles a journey of self-discovery, with an annoying over-emphasis on the word "self."
The film -- adapted from Elizabeth Gilbert's wildly popular, Oprah-endorsed memoir -- tells the story of a successful magazine writer (Julia Roberts) who has a sort of New Age mid-life crisis and throws money at the problem. She decides her carefully constructed New York lifestyle lacks passion -- "I've never taken a breather for myself!," as she puts it -- so she ditches her husband (Billy Crudup), immediately takes up with a cute actor (James Franco) and finally embarks on a year-long vacation to Italy, India and Bali to eat carbs, meditate and find "balance."
I'm not exactly sure where the author's profoundly first-world problems fall on Maslow's needs hierarchy -- but the movie suggests those problems can be solved by traveling the world in region-appropriate cute tops, looking meaningfully at picture-postcard vistas, and culling bits of wisdom from poorer or less-fortunate people; eventually, we're told, you'll "forgive yourself" for behaving horribly around the same time a ridiculously handsome entrepreneur (Javier Bardem) starts waiting in the wings until you're ready for him to sweep you off your feet.
I'm all for travel and self-awareness, and maybe Gilbert's book captures the psychological nuances better than the film did -- but by now it's probably obvious that I'm allergic to a certain sort of privileged person who confuses passion with emotion and expensive self-indulgence with the search for truth.
To be fair, the movie, directed by Ryan Murphy ("Glee," "Nip/Tuck"), is lovely to look at and very well-acted. This may be enough for the movie's huge target audience, which is reportedly so in the bag for this book that they've overwhelmed Bali with tourism. Richard Jenkins is great as the Texan who needles Roberts about her spritual growth in India, and Bardem lends an offbeat romantic energy to the final act.
But personally, I can't get past the movie version of Elizabeth Gilbert, who mostly doesn't do anything for anyone else during her journey (beyond asking some friends to write checks for one woman toward the end of the film). I practically cheered whenever a supporting character told her off -- especially Crudup's character during a divorce negotiation meeting -- and lamented that her journey to inner peace so seldom focused outward. "Eat Pray Love" is magazine-spread self-help bullcorn with the highest possible production values, and I wasn't having any of it.
(133 min., rated PG-13) Grade: C-minus'Eat Pray Love' (The Oregonian, Friday, Aug. 13, 2010)
During the Friday, Aug. 6 "Cort and Fatboy" podcast, we talked comedy with (and mispronounced the last name of) special guest Natasha Leggero. We also discussed "The Other Guys," "Winnebago Man," and Jeff Goldblum's glistening chest, among other things.
And speaking of Jeff Goldblum's glistening chest, we also recorded another "Cort and Fatboy Midnight Movie Commentary" -- this one for "Jurassic Park." On-hand for this rambling yack-track are Cort, Fatboy, Dave Walker, Erik Henriksen, Dawn Taylor and yrs. truly.
Cort and Fatboy (Friday, Aug. 6, 2010)
Movie review in the Friday, Aug. 6 Oregonian....
As far as I know, "The Other Guys" is the only spoof of buddy-cop action movies that also happens to be furiously angry about inflated CEO salaries, Bernie Madoff and the federal bailouts of AIG and Goldman Sachs.
Wait. I should probably start over. That makes "The Other Guys" sound like a Michael Moore flick. It is, in fact, the latest epically absurd, slightly overlong, pretty damn funny Will Ferrell comedy directed and co-written by Adam McKay ("Anchorman," "Talladega Nights," "Step Brothers"). I thought "Step Brothers" was a bit of a coast for this team after the instant-classic insanity of "Anchorman" and the instant-classic dinner scene from "Talladega Nights" -- so I'm happy to report that "Other Guys" finds McKay back to trying something wildly ambitious with his comedy, and largely succeeding.
The film starts with an over-the-top buddy-cop action scene that's only one or two tweaks sillier than your average Michael Bay set piece. NYPD supercops Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) drop wisecracks while they do over $10 million in property damage to catch a couple of petty crooks. What they don't do is paperwork. That task falls to "the other guys" -- desk-bound detectives including forensic accountant Gamble (Ferrell) and disgraced rageaholic Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg, mostly playing it straight to brilliant effect).
After Highsmith and Danson are sidelined (in what may be the single funniest movie shot I've seen in years), the race is on among the lesser cops to fill the department's rogue-hero slot. And while the buttoned-up Gamble isn't interested in this contest -- which sends his partner Hoitz into hilarious fits of screaming consternation -- Gamble's investigation of a billionaire's scaffolding permit drags the duo into a massive case incorporating aspects of every financial scandal of the last few years -- as well as kidnapping, helicopters, car chases, femme fatales and board-room gunplay, all of it served with vintage-Zucker seasoning, lest we be less than entertained.
McKay (mostly) pulls off something kind of fascinating here: He's made a huge comedy that ruthlessly rips on corporate corruption through a lens of "Anchorman"-style absurdist gags while mounting reasonably credible action scenes, including a climactic chase clearly meant as an homage to the epic conclusion of "The Blues Brothers." (Mind you, McKay doesn't create anything nearly as transcendently weird and beautiful as Landis did in 1980, but man, I love him for trying.) "The Other Guys" is the sort of movie that contains exploding helicopters on driving ranges, Will Ferrell monologuing some funny nonsense about a school of tuna fighting a lion while repressing an inner demon he calls "Gator," Mark Wahlberg mistaking a ballet studio for a strip club, Michael Keaton as a police chief who unconsciously quotes TLC lyrics, hobos fornicating in a Prius, and some clever out-of-nowhere end-credits infographics explaining just how screwed up our financial system has become -- all of it periodically narrated by Ice-T. In other words, it isn't any sort of previous movie at all. The last comedy I can think of that felt remotely like this in terms of scope might be "Tropic Thunder."
If I have one beef with the picture -- and it's minor -- it's that "The Other Guys" feels like it runs out of steam a bit toward the end; I wasn't laughing as hard at the end as I was at the beginning, and I think that's a function of the film's overstuffed length rather than any particular decline in joke quality. (It may also be a byproduct of McKay's struggle to make high-stakes financial skullduggery comprehensible and funny, particularly toward the end of the picture when the plot comes to the fore -- a challenge he's discussed in interviews.) But I also suspect the movie's ambition, strangeness and overwhelming generosity of content is going to lend it a strong rewatch value; I wouldn't be surprised if it enjoys a long home-video afterlife.
I also hope it inspires someone to make an actual, unironic buddy-cop action flick with The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, because personally I'd really like to see that.
(107 min., rated PG-13) Grade: B
'The Other Guys' (The Oregonian, Friday, Aug. 6, 2010)