Eva Mendes

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003, John Singleton)

At some early point during 2 Fast 2 Furious–probably soon after the first car race, it becomes clear the film has two major influences for director Singleton. First, Star Wars. The car races often feel like Singleton is shooting an X-Wing sequence. Second, dumb white cop/black cop eighties movies. In this one, Paul Walker is serious white cop while Tyrese Gibson is funny black cop.

They’re not actually cops, they’re undercover ex-cons trying to clear their records. It doesn’t matter. For a movie about two childhood friends reconnecting in their adulthood, there’s no character development in 2 Fast. Singleton doesn’t just have superficial banter and car races, there’s Mr. Big too!

Cole Hauser, apparently in make-up as a Cuban-American but playing a German Miami villain (did they change their minds last minute and give him a new name?), is an evil Mr. Big. He tortures people and he menacingly cuts his cigars.

The torture scene is actually rather disturbing. Singleton manages not to take much seriously but even he apparently has limits.

Walker’s not any good, but he’s somewhat likable; his Keanu Reeves impression is improving. And while Gibson struts instead of acts, some of his lines work out well. As the girl, Eva Mendes is harmless. Hauser’s silly, James Remar’s atrocious, but otherwise, the supporting cast is fine.

Except Devon Aoki; she’s bad.

Good photography from Matthew F. Leonetti, bad editing from Bruce Cannon and Dallas Puett.

Decent car races.

Pretty dumb movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Singleton; screenplay by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, based on a story by Brandt, Haas and Gary Scott Thompson and characters created by Thompson; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Bruce Cannon and Dallas Puett; music by David Arnold; production designer, Keith Brian Burns; produced by Neal H. Moritz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Tyrese Gibson (Roman Pearce), Eva Mendes (Monica Fuentes), Cole Hauser (Carter Verone), Ludacris (Tej), James Remar (Agent Markham), Thom Barry (Agent Bilkins), Devon Aoki (Suki), Roberto ‘Sanz’ Sanchez (Roberto), Mo Gallini (Enrique), Edward Finlay (Agent Dunn), Jin Auyeung (Jimmy), Michael Ealy (Slap Jack), Amaury Nolasco (Orange Julius), Eric Etebari (Darden) and Mark Boone Junior (Detective Whitworth).


Clear History (2013, Greg Mottola)

Besides J.B. Smoove, Clear History does not reunite Larry David with any of his “Curb Your Enthusiasm” costars. David and Smoove have their fantastic chemistry and it’s a little strange not to see them hanging out in the film. Instead, David hangs out with Danny McBride, who probably gives the film’s must mundane performance. He’s fine… he just doesn’t get any of the laugh lines.

The first third of Clear sets the scene. In an alternate reality where the electric car catches on like hotcakes, David’s character gives up a stake in the company. Destitute, he creates a new life in Martha’s Vineyard–unlikely location maybe, but it’s very pretty scenery. Everything goes well until Jon Hamm–as David’s former boss–arrives on the island.

Antics ensue. With a relaxed plotting structure, Clear feels a lot like three episodes of a TV show strung together. David and his co-writers, Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer, do put in a lot of subplots, but they’re all for joke payoff throughout. Heck, they even miss one involving Liev Schreiber, which is too bad. He’s hilarious.

Great work from Hamm, Kate Hudson and especially Michael Keaton. Keaton gets to do his wacky thing as a local mad at all the changes to the Vineyard. Very funny. Nice smaller turns from Eva Mendes and Amy Ryan. It’s perfectly cast and performed, it’s just slight.

Greg Mottola’s directorial fingerprints are invisible. Besides transition shots, he just lets the actors act.

Clear’s pleasantly mediocre.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Greg Mottola; written by Larry David, Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer; director of photography, Jim Denault; edited by Steven Rausch; music by Ludovic Bource; production designer, Sarah Knowles; produced by Monica Levinson, David, Berg, Mandel and Schaffer; aired by Home Box Office.

Starring Larry David (Rolly), Danny McBride (Frank), Kate Hudson (Rhonda), Jon Hamm (Will Haney), Michael Keaton (Joe Stumpo), Bill Hader (Rags), J.B. Smoove (Jaspar), Eva Mendes (Jennifer), Amy Ryan (Wendy), Philip Baker Hall (McKenzie) and Liev Schreiber (Tibor).


The Other Guys (2010, Adam McKay), the unrated version

The Other Guys ends with an animation explaining the financial bailout in terms of what it means to the average American (i.e. the viewer). It tangentially relates to the movie’s plot. It might be the “best” use of a mainstream film’s end credits ever. Someone will soon ruin it I’m sure.

Otherwise, The Other Guys is an amiable comedy. Will Ferrell is funny doing his regular thing, only this time in a new setting–though the New York cop movie setting is traditional, so they get to play with the genre a little. Mark Wahlberg is fantastic here, with a self-depreciating performance. Sure, he’s just doing his Departed role (there’s another great Departed reference here too) but it’s still funny. Similarly, Michael Keaton–in his first “big” live action movie in many years–is great. He’s doing a Keaton comedy performance, but it’s excellent. Steve Coogan’s good….

The surprise is Eva Mendes, who’s quite good. She’s really gotten better lately (she has one great scene where she can’t quite contain her laughter opposite Ferrell).

McKay’s direction mimics action movies, so he doesn’t have to do much special with it. It’s a wholly competent production; McKay’s greatest strength as a filmmaker isn’t his composition, which is fine. I mean, the choice of Ice-T as the film’s narrator would be the best thing about it if there weren’t so many other excellent choices.

The Other Guys is a self-aware, intelligently produced diversion.

I can’t believe it made any money.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Adam McKay; written by McKay and Chris Henchy; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Brent White; music by Jon Brion; production designer, Clayton Hartley; produced by Patrick Crowley, McKay, Will Ferrell and Jimmy Miller; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Will Ferrell (Detective Allen Gamble), Mark Wahlberg (Detective Terry Hoitz), Eva Mendes (Dr. Sheila Ramos Gamble), Dwayne Johnson (Detective Christopher Danson), Samuel L. Jackson (Detective PK Highsmith), Michael Keaton (Captain Gene Mauch), Steve Coogan (Sir David Ershon), Ray Stevenson (Roger Wesley), Rob Riggle (Detective Evan Martin), Damon Wayans Jr. (Detective Fosse), Michael Delaney (Bob Littleford), Zach Woods (Douglas), Lindsay Sloane (Francine), Rob Huebel (Officer Watts), Natalie Zea (Christinith) and Anne Heche (Pamela Boardman). Narrated by Ice-T.


The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (2009, Werner Herzog)

At some point during this response, I’m going to say nice things about Eva Mendes. Just a warning.

I used to hate on CG, starting in around 1996 and ending about six years later, when I just gave up caring. It wasn’t ever going to stop and it had gotten to a point where there was good CG (Star Trek is a fine example). I rail against digital video a lot too. I think it’s now, with Port of Call New Orleans, gotten to the point where I need to give up that fight too.

It’s an ugly looking film. It looks cheap, it looks amateurish. There’s absolutely nothing scenic to its setting, nothing picturesque. It’s not even visually horrific in the way other post-Katrina stories are done. It’s simply disinterested.

It’s also brilliant. Herzog’s made maybe the finest American cop movie a German’s ever made, but I’m sure having William Finkelstein (veteran of many a fine cop show) write it helps. Nicolas Cage turns in an amazing performance, an irredeemable bad guy surrounded by worse guys, and shows why he’s such a waste most of the time.

It’s a shame he doesn’t get these good of scripts more often.

The supporting cast is excellent, particularly Val Kilmer and Mendes. Kilmer isn’t in it much but he’s great when he is present, but Mendes is always around. The quality of her performance’s shocking. Brad Dourif’s great. Xzibit and Jennifer Coolidge too. Not enough Fairuza Balk though.

It’s amazing stuff.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Werner Herzog; screenplay by William M. Finkelstein, based on a film written by Victor Argo, Paul Calderon, Abel Ferrera and Zoë Lund; director of photography, Peter Zeitlinger; edited by Joe Bini; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Toby Corbett; produced by Stephen Belafonte, Nicolas Cage, Randall Emmett, Alan Polsky, Gabe Polsky, Edward R. Pressman and John Thompson; released by First Look Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Terence McDonagh), Val Kilmer (Stevie Pruit), Eva Mendes (Frankie Donnenfeld), Jennifer Coolidge (Genevieve), Fairuza Balk (Heidi), Brad Dourif (Ned Schoenholtz), Michael Shannon (Mundt), Shawn Hatosy (Armand Benoit), Denzel Whitaker (Daryl), Shea Whigham (Justin), Xzibit (Big Fate), Katie Chonacas (Tina), Tom Bower (Pat McDonough), Irma P. Hall (Binnie Rogers) and Vondie Curtis-Hall (James Brasser).


The Spirit (2008, Frank Miller)

The Spirit is a disaster. It’s a complete disaster. But sometimes, it’s a wonderful one.

Frank Miller can’t write a movie, he can’t plot a movie–arguably, with the exception of his straight-on shots, he can sort of direct one–but it doesn’t matter. There’s no good reason anyone should have given Miller any kind of budget or creative control over a movie and Lionsgate, being Lionsgate, did and he created this mess.

There are good things about The Spirit. Actors. Two of them. Gabriel Macht and Sarah Paulson. Some of the very supporting supporting cast is all right. The majority of the performances are awful. They’re incompetent, but Miller can’t direct actors and he can’t cast them. He found two of the worst female actors he could and cast them in a movie together–who’s worse, Eva Mendes or Scarlett Johansson. I actually think it has to be Johansson, just because her scenes with Samuel L. Jackson make it look like he’s giving a decent performance (by comparison).

Miller apparently thought Jackson was a good choice for the outlandish villain, but Jackson gives the same performance–big shock–he’s been giving since Pulp Fiction. He does not, however, mention being black, which might be the reason he’s a little bit better than usual. With Johansson around–or Paz Vega or Stana Kelic–it’s impossible for Jackson to really seem all too terrible. There’s so much garbage acting, just the basic ability to deliver ones lines puts Jackson leagues ahead.

Dan Lauria is also terrible. Miller’s choices, however stupid, all make sense except Lauria. He should have chemistry with Paulson. He doesn’t. He should have chemistry with Macht. He doesn’t. Instead, he goes around being awful.

Miller’s style for the film occasionally betrays real storytelling sensibility. Not often, but occasionally; enough to keep the interest level up. But the thrill of The Saint is feeling Miller’s vibe–his idiotic vibe. I think he thinks he did a good job presenting Will Eisner’s character to modern audiences, but what he’s created is this amalgam fans won’t like and new audiences can’t connect with. By updating the original, he’s somehow dated it.

He did the whole green screen thing (like Sin City) and it frequently works. Letting Miller be stupid is at least interesting, whether it’s his composition or the way he utilizes color.

It’s too bad it’s not a particularly original film. It seems like a retread of Batman Forever, but with the Danny Elfman Batman music blaring. There are Pulp Fiction references, Superman references… all sorts of references. And they don’t work because Miller doesn’t understand he isn’t connecting with the audience. He probably even thought the audience was going to care about the characters.

Only Macht and Paulson make real people. Paulson because she can’t help acting well and Macht by accident (his frequent voice overs do him no favors). But their scenes together are fantastic, right from the start.

I suppose the movie moves pretty well too. It’s going to be one of the last vanity projects unproven filmmakers get, so it’s definitely worth looking at just from the historical perspective. Plus, it’s nowhere near as bad as I expected.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Miller; screenplay by Miller, based on the comic book series by Will Eisner; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Gregory Nussbaum; music by David Newman; produced by Deborah Del Prete, Gigi Pritzker and Michael E. Uslan; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Gabriel Macht (The Spirit), Eva Mendes (Sand Saref), Sarah Paulson (Ellen), Dan Lauria (Dolan), Paz Vega (Plaster of Paris), Eric Balfour (Mahmoud), Jaime King (Lorelei), Scarlett Johansson (Silken Floss), Samuel L. Jackson (The Octopus) and Louis Lombardi (Phobos).


Ghost Rider (2007, Mark Steven Johnson), the extended cut

Watching former–I don’t know, he wasn’t really an indie, so something like pre-hipster hipster–wunderkind Wes Bentley in material like this movie (where he finally finds his appropriate level, skill-wise) is kind of amusing. Is it amusing enough to get through the whole movie, especially since Bentley doesn’t show up until twenty-five minutes into it (remember, he was supposedly going to be Spider-Man at one point)? No, because it only occurred to me I should be so amused by Bentley’s plummeting when he showed up. I needed something to amuse me, since his acting and the script are both so awful.

It’s also amazing what the MPAA will give a PG-13 if the intended audience are red state voters. Ghost Rider‘s got some positively nightmare-inducing grotesque imagery (but no swearing).

Watching Peter Fonda and Bentley “act” opposite each other… someone out there–presumably Mark Steven Johnson–thought they were doing a good job. He thought he’d written a good scene even, instead of something so laughable, it plays like a joke commercial on an episode of “Family Guy.” Worse is Johnson’s attempt to make Ghost Rider a story about fathers and sons, which is a bit like he did in Daredevil, only Daredevil seemed like a real movie, various absurdities aside. Ghost Rider seems like–given Nicolas Cage has been in it for three minutes thirty minutes in–a bunch of live-action video game cut-scenes.

In one neat thing, maybe unintentional, Cage’s friend, played by Donal Logue, resembles Cage’s (filmic) father, Brett Cullen. Cullen’s only in it in the flashback but he’s sturdily good, giving Johnson’s lame dialogue some life.

Cage’s unsteady Southern accent. I don’t know what to say about it. Other than someone should have noticed and had him loop his lines.

Johnson’s actually a Panavision throwback–he shoots it in 1950s and 1960s-style (pre-Leone?). He uses the widescreen to fill it with as much information as possible, instead of actually composing meaningful shots. I don’t even mean that one as an insult.

I’m trying to figure out why I’m still watching Ghost Rider, almost forty minutes in. Maybe because Ghost Rider hasn’t shown up yet.

Johnson treats the romance between Cage and Eva Mendes like a romantic comedy, something for Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Cage almost achieves charming, but Mendes is terrible. Not just in the romantic comedy attempts either, but on every possible level. I hope there’s a scene with her and Bentley though, just because it’d be so bad I can’t even imagine it.

Anyway, forty-two minutes and still no flaming Ghost Rider. I’m not turning it off until then–which I think Johnson considered, since he slaps two flashbacks on the front of it, taking up fifteen or twenty minutes.

His face burns off. PG-13.

And there it is. At forty-eight minutes, Ghost Rider shows up. At fifty, I turn it off. I can’t believe I made it. (I do need to point out, even though Ghost Rider’s smaller than Nicolas Cage because he’s just a skeleton, he still fills out the clothes like he’s got skin and muscles).

Leaving Las Vegas. Bringing Out the Dead.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson; screenplay by Johnson, based on the Marvel Comic character created by Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog; director of photography, Russell Boyd; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Avi Arad, Steven Paul, Michael De Luca and Gary Foster; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Johnny Blaze), Eva Mendes (Roxanne), Wes Bentley (Blackheart), Sam Elliott (Caretaker), Donal Logue (Mack), Peter Fonda (Mephistopheles), Matt Young (Young Johnny), Raquel Alessi (Young Roxanne) and Brett Cullen (Barton Blaze).


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