2006

The Lake House (2006, Alejandro Agresti)

There may be a pseudo-sly Speed reference in The Lake House, which reunites stars Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, but it’s a spoiler. Unfortunately it is not Bullock’s Speed 2 co-star Jason Patric as her wet towel boyfriend (Patric infamously replaced Reeves in the sequel). Instead, Dylan Walsh is the wet towel boyfriend. His performance is just as boring as the exceptionally thin role is written.

And it also may not be a Speed nod because it would show some personality from the filmmakers and they truly have none.

Lake House is not an action movie about a bus. Instead, it’s a romantic drama involving a magic mailbox and seemingly magic dog. Bullock is a newly-out-of-residency Chicago doctor who lives in the “present” or 2006. We soon find out Reeves is in 2004. They have lived in the same house at different times; a stilt house on a lake somewhere near Madison, Wisconsin. The house is ostensibly a dump—no one lives on the lake, someone exclaims because Lake House also has magic realistic values—even though it’s gorgeous and designed by world renowned architect Christopher Plummer, who is also Reeves’s father. Only we don’t find out about the history of the house until almost the third act. And, as with many things in David Auburn’s shockingly pedestrian script, stops being important immediately following it getting introduced in exposition. Everything in Lake House is disposable. Including a bunch of logic in the third act.

First act is nearly romantic comedy with Bullock crying at work (because she cares so much about her patients but, thanks to Auburn’s lousy sense of pacing, probably is just mopey because she dumped Walsh at some point in the recent past) and Reeves trying to get his life back together after moving back to the area after four years away. He makes housing developments instead of being a fancy architect like dad Plummer and younger brother Ebon Moss-Bachrach (who is somehow even less present than Walsh). He wants to fix the stilt house, which makes sense because it’s where he grew up and Plummer—who’s a jerk, but not a monster—verbally and emotionally abused Reeves, Moss-Bachrach, and their mother. Then Bullock and Reeves find out the mailbox at the house is magic and they can write to each other through time.

Cue up the endless terrible letters Reeves and Bullock write to one another as voiceovers. At least when they’re reading each other’s letters, there’s some acting to it. When they’re just thinking their letters and having back and forth conversations—Bullock has to drive two hours and twenty minutes—in the best traffic—to get from new home Chicago back to the house in Madison. Or maybe they’re standing at the mailbox and writing back to each other, which kind of gets explored—the film has zero interest in the time travel aspect of the story; Auburn’s script doesn’t have a single neat time travel-related moment. The only reason it gets away with the romantic comedy thing is because the film introduces split screen to show Bullock and Reeves being separately charming. By the end the split screen is still occasionally in use, but never well-utilized because Agresti’s direction is so boring.

Second act is then Reeves and Bullock exploring the time travel mailbox and falling into a chemistry-free long distance love affair. Because eventually Reeves starts stalking Bullock in the past, when she’s got super-long hair and is entirely dependent on lawyer boyfriend Walsh who doesn’t have any reason to want a girlfriend in his yuppie lifestyle. Should’ve gotten Jason Patric.

Anyway.

Second act is also all the revelations about Reeves’s past with Plummer. The worse the revelation gets, more the Reeves tries to bond with Plummer. It’s inexplicable behavior. The only thing Auburn seems to care about in the screenplay is the architecture monologues from Reeves, Plummer, and Moss-Bachrach. The monologues are bad, but at least they’re distinct. And Plummer can make it seem legit instead of terrible. Moss-Bachrach’s the worst, Reeves is nearly middling. Agresti’s inability to direct conversations hurts with the monologues. Alejandro Brodersohn and Lynzee Klingman’s editing is choppy, but it seems like it’s Agresti’s composition more than anything else. He’s got no rhythm to the scenes. Occasionally, when Bullock or Reeves is charming enough you wish the movie were better, you wonder how a better script might have entirely changed things.

But then Agresti does something weird and bad—like his extreme long shots for conversations—and you realize it’s just the production. It’s broken in too many ways.

Bullock’s character is bad. She doesn’t get the “maybe reunite with Walsh” storyline until into the second act and it entirely flushes her doctor storyline potential. Her mom (Willeke van Ammelrooy) is around for occasional scenes, but—like Moss-Bachrach with Reeves—there’s never any surprise at the magic mail box. It’s totally normal stuff. Pedestrian like everything else about Lake House.

Bullock’s performance is probably the best anyone could do. Maybe ditto Reeves? The movie skips the motivation and development scenes where he nice guy stalks Bullock in the past and possibly jeopardizes destroying the entire timeline. Not really because Auburn never addresses any of the time travel elements and explains away Bullock seeing Reeves multiple times and having no idea she’s seen him before because she forgot what the guy she ran off to San Francisco with when she was sixteen to become a singer. You’d trust someone with that terrible a memory to be your doctor.

Okay.

Terrible part. And Shohreh Aghdashloo somehow gets an even worse part as Bullock’s new boss.

Reeves is… mostly harmless. It’s totally his movie, which is bad since his reconciliation arc with Plummer is even worse than Bullock and Walsh rekindling. But the part isn’t as bad as Bullock’s.

Technically, I suppose Alar Kivilo’s photography is fine. The editing’s bad, the directing’s bad, the script’s bad, Nathan Crowley’s production design (and Agresti’s shot compositions of it) is bad. Rachel Portman’s score could be a lot worse. The soundtrack’s really bland stuff, including a Paul McCartney song from 2005 playing in 2004 because it seems like there should be a Beatles song at that moment—the dialogue makes the song sound like a Golden Oldie too. Lake House is full of really dumb gaffs. Like, an obvious staircase where there shouldn’t be one. Or Reeves not being able to figure out his dog is a girl until Bullock tells him she’s a girl. The dog. Reeves knows Bullock is a girl because he stalks her.

Bad costume design too. Like silly.

Still, until the third act, there’s at least the potential for a good ending. Then there’s not and it’s almost a relief because it’s so lacking in ambition (as well as being dumb as far as the narrative’s internal logic goes). But it’s still a bad ending. The Lake House takes place over four years and ninety-nine minutes. It’s not abjectly terrible or anything, but it’s an entire waste of time.

Another dumb thing—well, two so real quick—The Lake House title doesn’t mean jack for Bullock and Agresti’s deathly afraid of directing in the lake house. He avoids it at all costs. It’s constantly aggravating.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alejandro Agresti; screenplay by David Auburn, based on a film written by Kim Eun-Jeong and Yeo Ji-na; director of photography, Alar Kivilo; edited by Alejandro Brodersohn and Lynzee Klingman; music by Rachel Portman; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Doug Davison and Roy Lee; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Alex), Sandra Bullock (Kate), Dylan Walsh (Morgan), Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Henry), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Anna), Lynn Collins (Mona), Willeke van Ammelrooy (Kate’s Mother), and Christopher Plummer (Alex’s Father).


Freedomland (2006, Joe Roth)

I didn’t see Freedomland when it came out because I loved the novel and Richard Price adapting the novel or not, the movie’s cast and crew aren’t encouraging it. No movie directed by Joe Roth should inspire confidence, especially not one about racism. Freedomland is about racism. It’s about the really uncomfortable realities of racism. Not racist cops, but racist people. The film opens telling the viewer it takes place in 1999, which when the novel should have been adapted. Possibly even starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore in the leads. Possibly with the entire supporting cast intact. But not with Joe Roth directing. Not directing it in Panavision aspect. Not with really slick photography from Anastas N. Michos and awful slick rapid fire editing from Nick Moore. Not with the James Newton Howard occasionally upbeat score. Not with sunny-time super-producer Scott Rudin apparently hunting down a Crash Oscar of his own. Because that Freedomland, this Freedomland, it refuses to call any white characters racist. It refuses to let the racist white cops be racist. It’s particularly mortifying and embarrassing because it’s all post-production neutering. It’s obviously shot Super 35 too, so they even cropped it to this nonsense.

Though someone tried hard to give Jackson as much slack as the frame would allow. Moore’s performance is an unsalvageable train wreck. Roth can’t direct actors, but Freedomland’s cast doesn’t need for direction. They need for some kind of honesty, which just isn’t present in the filmmaking. They need verisimilitude and Roth doesn’t want to acknowledge it. It’s about a black cop (Jackson) suspecting a white woman (Moore), who works exclusively with black people in the projects–specifically black children–is lying about a black guy kidnapping her son. The point of Freedomland is it can’t be more about race if it tried. And Roth and Rudin reduce the film to a ball-less Hallmark movie. It’s unclear how responsible Price is for it, because some of the responsibility is definitely on him. The post-production can be responsible for the atrocious, offensive editing of a riot scene, but the film gets to that riot scene because of Price’s script, because of how he handles the characters. Freedomland is half-assed filmmaking from people who know better. Even Roth should know better. It’s why he shoots it Super 35, so he doesn’t have to commit to anything while actually directing the actors.

Jackson tries. It’s a good part. It’s a poorly written part in what’s a disastrous film, but it’s a good part. And he does try hard. He does fall into a lot of his acting tropes and he never manages any chemistry with Moore, but it’s an admirable performance.

Edie Falco’s great. It’s embarrassing watching Moore opposite Falco. Her part’s terrible, even just going off the script, but she’s great. While Roth’s direction screws up a lot of the part, Price’s script isn’t there for the character.

Good support from William Forsythe. Moore-levels of train wreck from Ron Eldard as her racist cop brother. He and Moore don’t really have any scenes together, which is good because some kind of singularity would occur if they actually had to act at each other under Roth’s incompetent direction. Aunjanue Ellis’s fine. Lots to do in a lame part. She does what she can. Same goes for Clarke Peters and Anthony Mackie.

LaTonya Richardson Jackson stands out; she gets actual chemistry off Jackson, which no one else in the film gets. It’s hard not to assume its because they’re married off screen.

Freedomland is hard to watch and not for any of the reasons it should be hard to watch. It’s opportunistic, insincere and overproduced. If it were well-acted, well-directed, well-anything, it might be interesting as a failure. Instead, it’s even worth a footnote. Except as one of Jackson’s stronger performances. And as one of Moore’s worst.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Roth; screenplay by Richard Price, based on his novel; director of photography, Anastas N. Michos; edited by Nick Moore; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Scott Rudin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson (Council), Julianne Moore (Brenda), Edie Falco (Karen), William Forsythe (Boyle), Ron Eldard (Danny Martin), Aunjanue Ellis (Felicia), Clarke Peters (Reverend Longway), Anthony Mackie (Billy), Domenick Lombardozzi (Sullivan), Fly Williams III (Rafik), Dorian Missick (Jason) and Peter Friedman (Lt. Gold).


The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006, Justin Lin)

Identifying the most interesting thing about The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift isn’t difficult. There’s so very little interesting about the film at all, anything slightly interesting becomes rather vibrant and engaging. Unfortunately, it’s the really weird treatment of girls in the film. Not women, but high school-aged girls. They are either mercenary or damaged and, since they’re not with leading man Lucas Black, their boyfriends try to kill them during car races.

It’s very strange. In the second instance, Nathalie Kelley is riding in Black’s car as her boyfriend, played by Brian Tee, tries to kill them. The first one has the girl in her boyfriend’s car and him just not caring about her safety in order to beat Black in the race.

Except Tokyo Drift takes a long time to establish Black can actually drive a car well. He races at the beginning and isn’t particularly impressive; then he goes to Tokyo and races and isn’t impressive there either. Not until Sung Kang comes along and teaches him how to “drift” is Black any good at driving.

Black doesn’t have much of a character to play. He says he can drive, the film doesn’t show it. He says he can fight, the film doesn’t show it. He seems to think he can treat Kelley right, the film doesn’t show it. They have zero chemistry. In one of his only good moves, director Lin decided not to force it.

Great editing, bad music, decent enough final cameo.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Lin; written by Chris Morgan; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Kelly Matsumoto, Dallas Puett and Fred Raskin; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Neal H. Moritz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lucas Black (Sean Boswell), Shad Moss (Twinkie), Nathalie Kelley (Neela), Brian Tee (D.K.), Sung Kang (Han), Leonardo Nam (Morimoto), Brian Goodman (Major Boswell), Chiba Shin’ichi (Uncle Kamata), Zachery Ty Bryan (Clay), Nikki Griffin (Cindy), Jason Tobin (Earl), Kitagawa Keiko (Reiko), Lynda Boyd (Ms. Boswell) and Vincent Laresca (Case Worker).


Plastic Man in ‘Puddle Trouble’ (2006, Andy Suriano)

I wonder if Plastic Man producers Tom Kenny and Andy Suriano ever saw “Ren and Stimpy.”

It’s not bad, just highly derivative of forty years of other cartoons without ever getting appropriate credit. Suriano takes enough time to put cute kitten pictures in a community service office (Plastic Man’s base of operations), but not enough to wink at his influences.

There’s a manic energy to the cartoon–Plastic Man chases around a villain who can assume any form of water–but only the last gag is memorable. Suriano tries hard with the others, which should be easy because Plastic Man changes shapes, sizes and so on, but none of them come through.

The last gag has a good punchline too. It helps a little.

Kenny’s not particularly special voicing Plastic Man, but I’m not sure he needs to be. Dave Coulier’s parole office sidekick sort of falls short.

Plastic flops.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Andy Suriano; screenplay by Suriano, Tom Kenny and Ian Busch, based on the character created by Jack Cole; edited by Rob Desales; music by Andy Paley; produced by Suriano and Kenny.

Starring Tom Kenny (Plastic Man), Dave Coulier (Archie) and Dee Bradley Baker (The Human Puddle).


Bobby (2006, Emilio Estevez)

I knew Emilio Estevez directed Bobby, but I didn’t know he also wrote it. From the dialogue and the construction of conversations, I assumed it was a playwright. There’s a certain indulgence to the dialogue, which some actors utilize well (Anthony Hopkins) and some not (Elijah Wood).

Estevez’s an exceptionally confident filmmaker here. He changes the film’s premise in the final sequence, going from a Grand Hotel look at people in the hotel where Bobby Kennedy was shot to an extremely topical, socially relevant picture about how little the world has improved between the shooting and the film’s production. He relies heavily on the audio of a Kennedy speech over the film’s action because there’s no other way it’d work. And it does work.

There are some great scenes in the film, particularly one between Demi Moore and Sharon Stone where the two former sex symbols discuss aging. Stone’s great throughout the film. Moore’s great in that scene (and okay in the rest).

Other great performances include Freddy Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, Jacob Vargas, Nick Cannon, Joshua Jackson, Brian Geraghty and Shia LaBeouf. Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt are both good, just not exceptional. Similarly, Christian Slater’s impressively slimy without being fantastic. Hopkins is outstanding. Only Wood and Ashton Kutcher are bad. Kutcher’s worse. Much worse.

The real acting star is Rodriguez.

Estevez gets great work from cinematographer Michael Barrett and composer Mark Isham.

Bobby is impressive work; with Estevez establishing himself as an ambitious, thoughtful, if not wholly successful, filmmaker.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Richard Chew; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Patti Podesta; produced by Edward Bass, Michel Litvak and Holly Wiersma; released by The Weinstein Company.

Starring Harry Belafonte (Nelson), Joy Bryant (Patricia), Nick Cannon (Dwayne), Emilio Estevez (Tim), Laurence Fishburne (Edward), Brian Geraghty (Jimmy), Heather Graham (Angela), Anthony Hopkins (John), Helen Hunt (Samantha), Joshua Jackson (Wade), David Krumholtz (Agent Phil), Ashton Kutcher (Fisher), Shia LaBeouf (Cooper), Lindsay Lohan (Diane), William H. Macy (Paul), Svetlana Metkina (Lenka), Demi Moore (Virginia), Freddy Rodríguez (Jose), Martin Sheen (Jack), Christian Slater (Daryl), Sharon Stone (Miriam Ebbers), Jacob Vargas (Miguel), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Susan) and Elijah Wood (William).


One Rat Short (2006, Alex Weil)

One Rat Short is a story of chance and star-crossed lovers. It’s also the perfect example of good realistic CG animation. Director Weil and his animators revel in their medium and utilize it to the fullest.

A New York sewer rat happens upon an open Cheetos bag and follows it through a roof-top fan into a laboratory. In this laboratory are lab rats, including a rather fetching one who catches the hero’s eye. Notice my lack of gender specificity–as a filmgoer, I assume the white rat is the female… but as an rat owner, I cannot.

The whole short takes place in real time, except a period of unconsciousness for the sewer rat, which sort of amplifies the tragedy.

Weil’s direction is magnificent; Sherman Foote’s music is lovely. One Rat Short is outstanding, both technically and narratively.

It’s nice to see something so purposefully precious actually succeed.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Alex Weil; director of photography, Todd Winter; edited by John Zawisha; music by Sherman Foote; production designers, Michael K. Frith, Christian Scheurer and Todd Winter; produced by Bryan Godwin.


Pressure (2006, Lena Dunham)

In the end credits, Pressure refers to itself as a film (by Lena Dunham). However, it’s a lot more of a video by Dunham. Given it’s from 2006, Dunham and her camera operator, Hannah Lesser, don’t even have the excuse they shot it on a cellphone to make up for the shaky camera and incompetent framing.

Pressure feels very much like something someone made for fun with their friends–in this case, Lesser and Dunham’s costars Sarah Hymanson and Maia Rotman–not anything Dunham took seriously.

It’s unclear if Pressure‘s ad-libbed, in which case I suppose Dunham is sort of less at fault. Hymanson has the most dialogue and, in addition to just being a terrible actor, she keeps looking at the camera. Pressure blunders.

The final gag’s should be funny, but Pressure‘s so incompetent it doesn’t work.

Pressure reminds a little of terribly unfunny Kevin Smith.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Lena Dunham; camera operated by Hannah Lesser.

Starring Sarah Hymanson (Sarah), Lena Dunham (Lena) and Maia Rotman (Maia).


Black Book (2006, Paul Verhoeven)

Black Book is a film of convenience; whether it’s a negative to further the plot or a simple positive like there being a nonsensical chute to allow easy entry into a basement, the film keeps oiling its gears. It’s not predictable—in fact, it hinges on being unpredictable (Black Book owes a lot to the heist genre)—but it is smooth. It’s so smooth, it doesn’t feel much like a Paul Verhoeven film. But maybe that lack of identity was his point. He wanted to show he was capable of being a journeyman.

Part of that journeyman approach is shooting the film in Panavision, but framing his shots for TV. Black Book would have played great as a three or four part television mini-series. While the film eventually turns into a conspiracy thriller (one or two questions go unanswered), some back story on the non-suspect characters would have been great.

Verhoeven has bookends, making Book another member of this odd new Holocaust genre. He sets up the film as an object of great importance and it isn’t. It’s a mildly boring, competent World War II thriller with some decent surprises and great performances. The surprises aren’t just narrative twists; Verhoeven makes some great observations about the winners of wars being no better than the losers.

Carice van Houten is a good lead, not great. Sebastian Koch is excellent as her lover; costars Thom Hoffman and Derek de Lint have their moments too.

It’s okay, just way too long.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Gerard Soeteman and Verhoeven, based on a story by Soeteman; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Job ter Burg and James Herbert; music by Anne Dudley; production designer, Wilbert Van Dorp; produced by Jeroen Beker, Teun Hilte, San Fu Maltha, Jens Meurer, Jos van der Linden and Frans van Gestel; released by A-Film Distribution.

Starring Carice van Houten (Rachel Stein), Sebastian Koch (Ludwig Müntze), Thom Hoffman (Hans Akkermans), Halina Reijn (Ronnie), Waldemar Kobus (Günther Franken) and Derek de Lint (Gerben Kuipers).


Poseidon (2006, Wolfgang Petersen)

Almost all of Poseidon is extremely predictable. Even if it didn’t rip off every blockbuster since 1995 for one detail or plot twist or another, it would be extremely predictable. There is one big departure into unpredictability and it’s so jarring, for a while I maintained interested hoping screenwriter Mark Protosevich would try it again. Unfortunately, he does not.

It’s nearly impossible to find anything nice to say about Poseidon. Wolfgang Petersen’s direction is nowhere near as bad as it was in Air Force One or Outbreak. I suppose that statement is complementary.

But all of the acting is awful and a disaster movie can’t have awful acting. You can’t be rooting for the characters to die off just to be rid of them and, in Poseidon, it’s about all one can do to keep interested. Obviously, the annoying cameo from Stacy Ferguson makes her a prime target, but I never thought I’d be wanting less Andre Braugher in a movie. He plays the ship’s captain. He’s awful.

The film’s worst performances, in no particular order, come from Josh Lucas, Emmy Rossum, Mike Vogel and Kevin Dillon. Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss, Jacinda Barrett and Mía Maestro are all awful too, but they’re not as bad as the others. Though it is mildly amusing to try to guess how many pounds of makeup Russell’s wearing.

Freddy Rodríguez easily gives the film’s only “good” performance.

Even with its short run time (about a hundred minutes), Poseidon is an exceptionally trying viewing experience.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; screenplay by Mark Protosevich, based on a novel by Paul Gallico; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Peter Honess; music by Klaus Badelt; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Mike Fleiss, Akiva Goldsman, Duncan Henderson and Petersen; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Josh Lucas (Dylan Johns), Kurt Russell (Robert Ramsey), Jacinda Barrett (Maggie James), Richard Dreyfuss (Richard Nelson), Emmy Rossum (Jennifer Ramsey), Mía Maestro (Elena Morales), Mike Vogel (Christian), Kevin Dillon (Lucky Larry), Freddy Rodríguez (Marco Valentin), Jimmy Bennett (Conor James), Stacy Ferguson (Gloria) and Andre Braugher (Captain Bradford).


The Amazing Screw-On Head (2006, Chris Prynoski)

Casting Paul Giamatti is a great idea, except when you get someone even more dynamic than him (it’s difficult, but possible) in a supporting role. Especially if it’s just Giamatti’s voice and you’re putting him up against David Hyde Pierce. Giamatti does fine for a while in The Amazing Screw-On Head, but then Pierce shows up and runs away with it. It doesn’t help Giamatti’s character is a stuffy, proper guy (albeit with a metal head and a variety of different robotic bodies), which gives Pierce all the hilarious dialogue.

The animation is all good—the overall design is what’s important and it looks great. Screw-On Head is set just before the Civil War, which we don’t see, and there’s a lot of cool retro technology.

While Screw-On Head basically works, it’s more fun to look at than anything else (except waiting for whatever Pierce says next).

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Prynoski; screenplay by Bryan Fuller, based on the comic book by Mike Mignola; edited by David W. Foster; music by Pierpaolo Tiano; produced by Susan Norkin; released by The Sci-Fi Channel.

Starring Paul Giamatti (Screw-On Head), David Hyde Pierce (Emperor Zombie), Patton Oswalt (Mr. Groin), Corey Burton (President Abraham Lincoln / Professor Faust), Mindy Sterling (Aggie / Geraldine) and guest starring Molly Shannon (Patience the Vampire).


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