DreamWorks Pictures

Dear Diary (1996, David Frankel)

Dear Diary was originally a TV pilot, which didn’t get picked up, then got (slightly) re-edited into a short. It’s impossible to imagine it as a weekly show, just because Diary does so little to establish what would be its regular cast.

It opens with star Bebe Neuwirth writing about her day in her diary. She narrates the whole film, with her musings about what she encounters–usually about people she meets, sometimes about herself, sometimes memories, or a lot of concepts (golf, photography)–visualized. If it’s people in the cast, they’re in the musings. If it’s an idea or a memory, it’s stock footage. On video. But Diary is shot on film. So it’s constantly visually jarring. Director Frankel is constantly moving the camera after cuts. It’ll tilt to focus on the actor, it’ll tilt away. It’s not effective. And it’s a problem for the first act.

The first act introduces Neuwirth and her family. They’re New York yuppies. She’s a magazine editor, husband Brian Kerwin is an attorney, they’ve got a couple kids who don’t matter except to remind Neuwirth she’s forty. Kerwin doesn’t figure into the plot at all. He’s an accessory, albeit one with more going on than the kids.

Neuwirth goes to work, where she ends up quitting almost immediately after her boss, Bruce Altman, gets introduced. Then she’s just got a free day; that free day is where Diary starts getting a lot better. She goes lunch golfing, where she meets avid golfer and department store security guard Mike Starr. They hang out for long enough to see her old college friend, Haviland Morris, rip off a dress. So Neuwirth tracks down Morris, meeting her husband (Ronald Guttman) eventually, and he knows Altman, which ties it all together with Neuwirth losing her job. Or quitting. That opening scene didn’t play well because Frankel’s not good at directing dramatic or expository scenes.

So Neuwirth’s narration is all-important. And it’s great. And her performance, even as problematic as the first act gets–there are hiccups in the Morris section too–but her performance is always fantastic. You just have to pretend there’s enough character. The diary entry she’s writing aloud is nowhere near as effective as the film postulates.

The third act ties it all together, not just Neuwirth’s days’ events, but also the film in general. It works because its well-acted. It works because of Neuwirth.

Though it’s Starr who saves the thing when it’s still getting through the rockier stuff. Altman’s good, Guttman’s funny (it’s a very small part), Kerwin seems fine. Morris is way too affected, but Dear Diary is way too affected so it fits. Enough.

Given Frankel’s direction and the general production concepts–the stock video footage is a disaster (why not just shoot the whole thing on video)–Dear Diary should be a lot less successful. As for the writing (by Frankel)… it’s fine. But it’s a sitcom. An okay sitcom. So you’ve got an okay sitcom script directed goofy (or worse) and a great lead performance.

Neuwirth makes Diary happen. However, last thing, the diary she’s writing seems to be very thin. Is it a new diary? Doesn’t matter. I guess.

But it does matter. Frankel’s way too loose on detail.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Frankel; director of photography, Maryse Alberti; edited by Michael Berenbaum; music by Wendy Blackstone; production designer, Ginger Tougas; produced by Barry Jossen; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Bebe Neuwirth (Annie), Brian Kerwin (Tom), Bruce Altman (Griffin), Mike Starr (Fritz), Haviland Morris (Christie), and Ronald Guttman (Erik).


Small Soldiers (1998, Joe Dante)

I remember liking Small Soldiers the first time I saw it. I was wrong.

This time watching it, all I could think about was how Dante and DreamWorks studio chief Steven Spielberg ignored they had a terrible script.

Of course, Dante still does a good job. He has a fantastic Bride of Frankenstein homage, which brings up the target audience–along with the action figures being effectively voiced by the Spinal Tap and Dirty Dozen casts.

The casting has some problems. Kevin Dunn plays Gregory Smith’s father (prepping for Transformers in the distant future no doubt) and he’s really bad. Dunn’s usually good, but his character is just too terribly written for him to work with it. All of the characters are terribly written–except maybe David Cross and Jay Mohr’s characters, who are disposable and funny.

Smith is supposed to be playing a problem teenager–it’s never explained why, but presumably has something to with Dunn’s bad parenting. Smith and Kirsten Dunst are supposed to be fifteen–too young to drive–and they show the real problem. Small Soldiers is a kid’s movie made by people who don’t know how to dumb it down enough.

Dunst’s actually okay. Denis Leary does his schtick. Phil Hartmann’s great. Wendy Schaal is wasted. Dick Miller’s got a good part. Ann Magnuson has some excellent scenes.

It works best as a showcase for outstanding practical and CG effects. Thinking about the movie just hurts one’s head, especially when they get into the science.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; written by Gavin Scott, Adam Rifkin, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio; director of photography, Jamie Anderson; edited by Marshall Harvey and Michael Thau; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Michael Finnell and Colin Wilson; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Gregory Smith (Alan Abernathy), Kirsten Dunst (Christy Fimple), Phil Hartman (Phil Fimple), Kevin Dunn (Stuart Abernathy), Ann Magnuson (Irene Abernathy), Wendy Schaal (Marion Fimple), David Cross (Irwin Wayfair), Jay Mohr (Larry Benson), Dick Miller (Joe) and Denis Leary (Gil Mars).

Starring Frank Langella (Archer), Tommy Lee Jones (Chip Hazard), Ernest Borgnine (Kip Killagin), Jim Brown (Butch Meathook), Bruce Dern (Link Static), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Gwendy Doll), Christopher Guest (Slamfist / Scratch-It), George Kennedy (Brick Bazooka), Michael McKean (Insaniac / Freakenstein), Christina Ricci (Gwendy Doll), Harry Shearer (Punch-It) and Clint Walker (Nick Nitro).


I Love You, Man (2009, John Hamburg)

Could Paul Rudd make less of an impression in I Love You, Man? Even before Jason Segel shows up, Rudd is completely ineffectual. He’s supposed to be ineffectual, of course, but he’s also the protagonist of the movie. He doesn’t garner sympathy, he garners pity.

But Hamburg’s whole approach is peculiar. He opens the movie with Rudd proposing to Rashida Jones. It kicks off the plot–Rudd’s search for a best man. The structure is awkward. Hamburg seems to acknowledge people will mostly be watching Man on home video and so he doesn’t need to make the opening at all cinematic. It’s defeat from the opening Los Angeles montage.

Hamburg does have some secret weapons. First is Segel, who’s hilarious as the sort of bumbling, sort of charming potential best who throws Rudd’s boring life for a spin. A measured spin (Man‘s rather boring overall). Second is Jon Favreau, who has a small role as Jaime Pressly’s husband. He’s astoundingly great. Pressly (one of Jones’s friends) is surprisingly good too. Hamburg gets these excellent supporting performances, but not one out of Rudd. It hurts the movie.

There’s also Jones. She’s quite good, but her character has absolutely no backstory. It’s like Hamburg didn’t want to give her white parents, but wasn’t willing to confirm she’s biracial. It screams cop out.

Other good supporting turns from Jane Curtin, J.K. Simmons and Andy Samberg as Rudd’s family.

I Love You, Man‘s only really funny twice. But it’s genial, if uninventive, throughout.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Hamburg; screenplay by Hamburg and Larry Levin, based on a story by Levin; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by William Kerr; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Andrew Laws; produced by Hamburg and Donald De Line; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Paul Rudd (Peter Klaven), Jason Segel (Sydney Fife), Rashida Jones (Zooey Rice), Jaime Pressly (Denise McLean), Sarah Burns (Hailey), Andy Samberg (Robbie Klaven), J.K. Simmons (Oswald Klaven), Jane Curtin (Joyce Klaven), Jon Favreau (Barry McLean), Lou Ferrigno (Himself), Rob Huebel (Tevin Downey), Joe Lo Truglio (Lonnie) and Thomas Lennon (Doug Evans).


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009, Michael Bay)

I thought I could watch Transformers 2, or whatever it’s called, but I can’t. I made it through the first one, maybe because it followed some kind of traditional narrative structure, but the second one is unbearable. It’s just incompetently told. I’ll read plot details and they seem interesting, but there’s no way I’d ever make it to see them.

Bay’s got to be the most worthless director working today. His composition is so spectacular, his editing, while frantic, at least has a rhythm his imitators don’t have, but he apparently likes the dumbest scripts and has the dumbest ideas (his director’s cut to Pearl Harbor being a testament to his needing a firm producer).

The CG is great, but who cares? As such a long-time opponent of CG, it’s interesting I’ve gotten to the point where I can respect it, but it’s gotten so blasé it’s ineffective. Sure, the Transformers transforming is lifelike and all, but there’s no wonderment to it. Bay shoots the thing like the Transformers are the scale the viewer is supposed to be accustomed to, not the people affected by the action. It makes it silly and cartoonish.

The writing is particularly awful, whether the dialogue or the plotting.

The voice acting is bad. Peter Cullen apparently hasn’t done any real acting in thirty years–sorry, cartoons don’t count–and it sounds idiotic. The trailer guy would have been better. It doesn’t help the audio mix of the voice acting is crap.

It sucks.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; written by Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman; director of photography, Ben Seresin; edited by Roger Barton, Tom Muldoon, Joel Negron and Paul Rubell; music by Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Nigel Phelps; produced by Ian Bryce, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Don Murphy; released by Dreamworks Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

Starring Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky), Megan Fox (Mikaela Banes), Josh Duhamel (Major Lennox), Tyrese Gibson (USAF Master Sergeant Epps), John Turturro (Agent Simmons), Ramon Rodriguez (Leo Spitz), Kevin Dunn (Ron Witwicky), Julie White (Judy Witwicky), Isabel Lucas (Alice), John Benjamin Hickey (Galloway), Matthew Marsden (Graham), Rainn Wilson (Professor Colan), Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) and Hugo Weaving (Megatron).


The Island (2005, Michael Bay)

I know The Island bombed but I can’t believe anyone thought it wouldn’t. It’s incredible such a large budget was given essentially to a future movie–it takes place in 2015 or something, it’s never clear, but there’s a lot of future stuff–and I had no idea it was a future movie. Bay’s got future cars and future trains and future motorcycles and he’s the worst person to do a future movie, because he’s incapable of wonderment. The Island plays out like Freejack on overdrive.

The plot is ripe for all sorts of metaphors–this island paradise, whatever–and the film ignores all of them. Instead it’s a wholly competent, completely unexciting summer action movie. Scarlett Johansson plays a twit well and Ewan McGregor’s a solid lead in a vapid role–it’d have been really funny if the pair had been cloned from their actors, who they then had to duke it out with.

Djimon Hounsou is wasted, as he always is, cast as the tough black guy with the accent. Sean Bean’s good as the villain, even if his dialogue is crappy. Steve Buscemi’s awesome in a small role; he really has fun, maybe more than anyone else, just because he’s not pretending about what kind of movie he’s making.

It’s really cool looking–the future designs and all–and Bay does a decent job. But when the music (a good score from Steve Jablonsky) comes up, it doesn’t matter what the movie is–Bay’s directing another commercial.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; screenplay by Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, based on a story by Tredwell-Owen; director of photography, Mauro Fiore; edited by Paul Rubell and Christian Wagner; music by Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Nigel Phelps; produced by Walter F. Parkes, Bay and Ian Bryce; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Lincoln Six Echo), Scarlett Johansson (Jordan Two Delta), Djimon Hounsou (Albert Laurent), Sean Bean (Merrick), Steve Buscemi (McCord), Michael Clarke Duncan (Starkweather) and Ethan Phillips (Jones Echo Three).


Tropic Thunder (2008, Ben Stiller)

Tropic Thunder is one of those nice movies where most of the cast is phenomenal–here, while Nick Nolte and Steve Coogan are less than amazing, they’re both good. Only Ben Stiller lacks. The script’s full of good one-liners and some knowing Hollywood references. When, for the third act, there’s an attempt at honest characterization, it stumbles. Instead of amping up the absurdity, the movie strangely sidesteps it. The last couple scenes totally ignore that sidestep, going for an ending one half Soapdish, the other Austin Powers. It’s a weak move, but it’s hard to get too upset–the Austin Powers half is Tom Cruise in a fat suit and a bald cap dancing to hip hop.

Cruise’s performance, which I thought was more a cameo, says a lot about where Tropic Thunder works well. It gives the opportunity for good actors to essay crazy roles in the “real” world. There is a certain air of unreality about the movie, if only because it’s a movie made about “Access Hollywood” type reporting using “Access Hollywood” as a narrative tool. There’s a certain conflict of interest, particularly given Cruise’s presence.

Of the three leads–and calling Jack Black one of the leads is a courtesy, Black’s absolutely fantastic, but he’s not one of the leads–Black is the only one without a recognizable real life analog. Even though Robert Downey Jr. picked his character’s nationality (Australian)–a change from the original Irish–the result, a multi-Academy Award winner who does Oscar bait, results in rather obvious Russell Crowe comparisons. Stiller’s playing a combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Cruise. Imagine Cruise’s career downturn but without the prestige projects and a lot of dumb, Arnold-sounding action movies. It makes Cruise’s appearance all the more amusing, but it feels–like the “Access Hollywood”–not like punches are being pulled… but they aren’t connecting.

The result is a measured success. Tropic Thunder is really funny, but never genuinely witty or intelligent. There’s a pretense it is witty and intelligent, which just makes it a little sad. Thank goodness for that Tom Cruise dance number.

As far as the acting goes… Downey is–technically–the most amazing. Until he has to play it straight, it’s just fantastic. But Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson, as the non-superstar supporting cast members in the movie’s movie, steal it in terms of actual human performances. These characters exist to remind the viewer the main characters are unbelievably loopy, which really cuts into the reality factor. Baruchel has more to do in the plot, more people to interact with (Jackson basically gets scenes–good scenes–with Downey).

In much too small roles, both Danny R. McBride and Matthew McConaughey are good.

Stiller’s direction is nearly as passive as his performance. There’s some funny references to war movies–Baruchel starts the picture in glasses in what I’m hoping is a silent Full Metal Jacket reference–but in terms of actual craft, Stiller comes up empty. The movie’s strength are in the script’s dialogue and its characters (certainly not its plot) and the actors. And Stiller seems aware of it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Stiller; screenplay by Stiller, Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen, based on a story by Stiller and Theroux; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Greg Hayden; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Jeff Mann; produced by Stuart Cornfeld, Eric McLeod and Stiller; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Ben Stiller (Tugg Speedman), Jack Black (Jeff Portnoy), Robert Downey Jr. (Kirk Lazarus), Brandon T. Jackson (Alpa Chino), Jay Baruchel (Kevin Sandusky), Danny McBride (Cody), Steve Coogan (Damien Cockburn), Bill Hader (Rob Slolom), Nick Nolte (Four Leaf Tayback), Brandon Soo Hoo (Tran), Reggie Lee (Byong) with Matthew McConaughey (Rick Peck) and Tom Cruise (Les Grossman).


The Mexican (2001, Gore Verbinski)

No kidding The Mexican has a lot of the same score as The Abyss, Alan Silvestri composed both… oddly, I didn’t even think he was working anymore (or even back when The Mexican came out). Besides the Abyss rips, he turns in a good, funny score. But anyway….

The Mexican is kind of strange and kind of not. The Brad Pitt without Julia Roberts half, the doofus’s adventures in Mexico, plays a lot like a Paul Newman movie from the 1970s, only not as good. Pitt, unlike Newman, can play a doofus though and he does a great job here. The Julia Roberts on the road with gay hit man James Gandolfini is actually the stranger part of the film, because it’s Julia Roberts in a role beneath her movie star stature. Her role’s the girlfriend and while she and Pitt are good together, it’s really not a big enough part for her.

The film’s quirky in its handling of its mega-stars (though Pitt is a lot more comfortable) and it almost seems like a smaller movie, until the last act when the surprise guest star pops in and The Mexican becomes the standard Hollywood movie Dreamworks had so much trouble making. It’s an excellent standard Hollywood movie too.

Gore Verbinski’s direction, much like the big movie stars, seems almost more than the script deserves. The Mexican‘s script is frequently way too cute for itself and way too contrived and it’s a shock no one thought to get a quick rewrite. John Sayles probably would have done wonders in a few weeks. But Verbinski really knows how to shoot Panavision, whether it’s conversation or action….

The other reason the film works is the casting. Pitt, Roberts and Gandolfini (Pitt does the most work in terms of range, though the performance is kind of like Twelve Monkeys, down to the mannerisms) are all good in the three biggest roles, but J.K. Simmons, Bob Balaban, Richard Coca and David Krumholtz are essential in the primary supporting roles. It’s very well-cast.

The Mexican is the kind of movie Hollywood doesn’t make any more and needs to… it’s unspectacularly okay.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gore Verbinski; written by J.H. Wyman; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Craig Wood; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Cecilia Montiel; produced by Lawrence Bender and John Baldecchi; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Brad Pitt (Jerry), Julia Roberts (Samantha), James Gandolfini (Leroy), J.K. Simmons (Ted), Bob Balaban (Nayman), Sherman Augustus (Well Dressed Black Man), Michael Cerveris (Frank), Richard Coca (Car Thief #1) and David Krumholtz (Beck).


Collateral (2004, Michael Mann)

I actually had to go do some IMDb research (that bastion of scholarly data) before I started this post, because I had to know if Michael Mann intentionally made a movie starring Tom Cruise, with a reasonable Hollywood budget, and intentionally shot it to look like an episode of “Cops.” And he did. He wanted to make DV look like crap instead of like film. It’s interesting, all the things DV doesn’t work with–acting, for example. It’s particularly noticeable with Jamie Foxx, who doesn’t exactly give a crack performance, but he’s not terrible and there are these things he does with his expression the DV picks up, things film wouldn’t have picked up. Acting tells. Cruise probably has them too, but the DV makes his makeup look like he’s about to turn from Larry Talbot into the Wolf Man (a nickel to whoever gets that particular Pynchon reference). I kept expecting his eyebrows to fall off.

Mann’s handling of DV was far superior in Miami Vice–maybe it was technological, maybe it was understanding what kinds of scenes work in DV. A lot of Collateral is well-written. Probably the first hour and ten minutes, before Jamie Foxx starts to turn into an action hero. There’s some great dialogue at the beginning and a nice romantic scene, which Mann is always good with. But after a while, it ceases to be interesting. The story wraps up in a predictable manner and it’s rather limp.

It’s probably the wrong project for Mann… the characters are enigmatic, which he doesn’t do. His characters may be insane or something, but they’re always the protagonists. The closest thing Collateral has as a protagonist is the viewer–Cruise is the villain, Foxx is the pawn. Mark Ruffalo’s got some good scenes as a cop, but his pursuit of Cruise is ludicrous and hard to take serious (and who thought Ruffalo looked good with slicked back hair and a pierced ear?).

I could list the other ways Collateral fails–the music, specifically the soundtrack choices–but it’s all in the execution. It’s a sixty-five million dollar Hollywood movie… if it weren’t in DV and it had a less experimental director, it might have been a fun, empty suspense picture. But Mann’s use of that crappy DV and the presence of Cruise (in his most ineffectual performance in a while–he’s not bad, he just doesn’t have a character to play) suggests it’s supposed to be something more and it isn’t.

Thank goodness for the Panavision Genesis camera, which is gaining popularity. I never thought I’d see Michael Mann pretending he was making the Blair Witch Project. Worse… at least Blair Witch matched its story and its presentation. Collateral is kind of like… I can’t even think of a belittling simile. It’s embarrassing (not my figurative failure, but Mann’s actual one–especially given how strong the first hour is, when the DV was just a severe irritation).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; written by Stuart Beattie; directors of photography, Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron; edited by Jim Miller and Paul Rubell; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Mann and Julie Richardson; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Vincent), Jamie Foxx (Max), Jada Pinkett Smith (Annie), Mark Ruffalo (Fanning), Peter Berg (Richard Weidner) and Bruce McGill (Pedrosa).


Transformers (2007, Michael Bay)

Transformers features giant robots fighting each other. Such scenes look excellent, from a special effects standpoint. Depending on the specifics of the scene–how the giant robots are fighting, fists or guns, and whether or not there are humans involved–sometimes the scenes are very well directed. While Transformers does have a lot of action, the robot fight scenes are mostly reserved for the end… and then Bay either does well or poorly. He can’t compose a real–punching, kicking, scratching, biting–fight scene. If there aren’t guns and cars involved, while it looks cool with the CG, it’s a flacid.

Complaining about that particular defect of Bay’s direction of the movie is a little cheap, because there’s so many bigger complaints to make. To get them over with… Bay doesn’t really get interested in the Transformers themselves. They only have a handful of scenes with any attempt at characterization and only one of them goes well and it’s because it’s a comedy scene and Bay used to direct comedic commercials, so he does it well. He’s also more in love with his military story than Shia LaBeouf’s, taking to so far as to give Megan Fox’s stupidly written character a lot more emphasis. LaBeouf’s character is poorly written too, but Fox’s is worse. What else. Oh. It doesn’t look like Michael Bay. There’s no sensuality–did I really just say Bay has a sensuality to his style? He does: the overcooked thing. Transformers has maybe five or six of those Bay shots. The rest is style-less. The action scenes are great, the chase scenes are good, but there’s no personality. It’s like Bay didn’t want to get bad reviews for his fast cuts or something (Spielberg’s a hands-on executive producer when it comes to blockbusters… anyone else remember the rumor he added the T-Rex-sized ghost to The Haunting himself?).

Even Bay’s creative casting is gone. In his Bruckheimer days, Bay movies would be filled with recognizable faces. Not so with Transformers. I kept hoping for someone interesting, but no one popped up. Not well known actors in supporting roles (like Bernie Mac or Kevin Dunn), but recognizable character actors in small roles. Nothing along those lines here….

I thought it might be because the Transformers were going to be significant, but they aren’t (as characters, anyway… as giant robots fighting, they’re fine). The present action of the film takes place over three or four days, with the Transformers coming in the night before the last day. They’re hardly there, which is one of the script’s major problems. Though maybe not. It’s a problem, but the script is so bad, it’s difficult to make qualitative judgments. Even if the movie makes no sense, the Transformers don’t have to have terrible dialogue. But they do. The script hurries things along so much, flipping between LaBeouf and Josh Duhamel’s army story. LaBeouf is far from an acting giant, but the script really does him a disservice… it sets him up as a shallow jerk-wad. I heard one of the screenwriters compare it to E.T., but it’s like E.T. if the audience was supposed to hate Elliot (I’m sure it’s just Bay who dislikes LaBeouf’s character, since he doesn’t fit the Bay macho man mold).

I was hoping it’d be something like Jurassic Park or Twister, an effective summer blockbuster with some degree of wonderment at its content. It has none. Bay’s just not the right director for it, even though some of it looks really cool (but I think that credit belongs to ILM).

But, who knows? Maybe if Bay were working from a vaguely competent screenplay… But the Transformer based on Stripe (from Gremlins) was really funny.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, based on a story by John Rogers, Orci and Kurtzman; director of photography, Mitchell Amundsen; edited by Paul Rubell, Glen Scantlebury and Thomas A. Muldoon; music by Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Jeff Mann; produced by Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Ian Bryce; released by DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

Starring Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky), Tyrese Gibson (Technical Sergeant Epps), Josh Duhamel (Captain Lennox), Anthony Anderson (Glen Whitmann), Megan Fox (Mikaela Banes), Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Hugo Weaving (Megatron), Rachael Taylor (Maggie Madsen), John Turturro (Agent Simmons) and Jon Voight (Defense Secretary John Keller).


Red Eye (2005, Wes Craven)

The saddest thing about Red Eye is Wes Craven. The film opens with an action movie build-up montage, which he handles fine (for what it is), moves into an Airport movie, which he handles fine, turns into an actor-based thriller, which he handles fine. What doesn’t he handle fine? What does he handle so poorly I’m asking rhetorical questions? The slasher movie chase through the house scene in the last act. To be fair, the script completely falls apart in the third act too, when the immediate action and the abstract catch up with each other, but still… Wes Craven has probably directed ten movies with these scenes, most with multiple instances, and he can’t do it here? For lower budget Hollywood film, Red Eye has a lot of gloss and it really, really doesn’t serve Craven in those last minutes. I kept wondering, actually, if Red Eye were originally intended to be Scream 4 (hell, it would have been better if it had been) and if Rachel McAdams was just a stand-in for Neve Campbell.

What surprised me, in a good way, was how well Craven handled McAdams, even after she turned into Ellen Ripley. I kept thinking he did a lot of female heroines, then remembered I was thinking of someone else. McAdams is solid throughout, even during the misfired last act, but it’s really nice at the beginning when she and Cillian Murphy are bantering. The biggest problem with the last act is it disregards the chemistry between the characters. They start doing unbelievable things in the way they act towards each other and then Murphy loses the ability to speak… All the suspense is also flushed after a certain point and Craven tries to carry the thing on his handling of the house chase, which is ass. During the majority of the film, it looked like Craven had a real talent for picking projects he could bring a flare to without dousing in Craven-muck. Then the end submerges the whole thing in it.

The film’s also got some politics problems. Even if I was the type of person to have sympathy for a Homeland Security director with the rhetoric of Joseph Goebbels, the movie doesn’t properly present the character (played by Jack Scalia, looking grateful to get the job). He’s not a believable target, it’s not a believable situation, so whenever that aspect comes up, it’s best ignored. There’s good stuff going on for a while, so it can be ignored… until the end. When there’s a CG rocket and Wes Craven’s inability to direct an action scene becomes painfully clear.

Like I said, McAdams is fine. Likable, appealing–in the situation. She doesn’t make the character likable, but that inability could very well be because the script hinges on the character’s secret… (It’d been better if she’d been a ghost. Or Sidney from Scream). Murphy’s great, having a lot of fun during the majority of the film until the script crashes. Brian Cox is apparently saying yes to every single script someone sends him. He’s hamming it up, but he’s decent at hamming, so whatever. If it’d been a real performance, the movie might have been a little better but not really.

Oh, jeez, I just realized… McAdams really isn’t stronger than Murphy in the end. Damn. I totally should have run with it. There’s a whole male vs. female thing running through it and it’s her dad who saves her, which is even worse than my standard example, John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me!, when fate intervenes.

But, really, whatever.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; written by Carl Ellsworth, based on a story by Ellsworth and Dan Foos; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Patrick Lussier and Stuart Levy; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Bruce Alan Miller; produced by Chris Bender and Marianne Maddalena; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Rachel McAdams (Lisa Reisert), Cillian Murphy (Jackson Rippner), Brian Cox (Joe Reisert), Jayma Mays (Cynthia) and Jack Scalia (Charles Keefe).


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