Selma Blair

The Fog (2005, Rupert Wainwright), the unrated version

In Rupert Wainwright’s shockingly inept remake, The Fog doesn’t blow, it sucks.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

But The Fog is awful. It’s almost interestingly awful, as Cooper Layne’s screenplay mimics just about every popular mainstream horror movie made in the previous two decades. Since director Wainwright is terrible and not paying attention to the constant ripping off–The Fog, in an impossibly earnest move, rips off the end of The Shining. It’s a rip-off capstone–the movie runs through not just ghost movies and thrillers, Wainwright really wants to be Steven Spielberg.

The script exists to move characters between set pieces. More than once, when the principal actors need to reunite, they just appear nearby. It’s beyond lazy and none of the cast can pull it off, especially not with Wainwright’s direction. There’s not a single good performance in The Fog. At least some of the supporting cast should’ve been tolerable, but no. No one gives a good performance. The “best” performance is Selma Blair. Not because she’s good, but because she’s the only actor who isn’t terrifyingly bad. Leads Maggie Grace and Tom Welling should be hilariously bad, but they aren’t. No one’s willing to laugh at the joke.

Graeme Revell’s music is occasionally almost all right, if a little on the nose. It disappears in the second half, when the more slasher-like action starts.

The special effects are terrible. Wainwright’s composition is terrible. He’s directing for people watching at home. Nathan Hope’s photography doesn’t help things either.

There’s nothing good about this film; it should be far more compelling in its badness.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rupert Wainwright; screenplay by Cooper Layne, based on the film written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Nathan Hope; edited by Dennis Virkler; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Michael Diner and Graeme Murray; produced by Hill, David Foster and Carpenter; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Maggie Grace (Elizabeth Williams), Tom Welling (Nick Castle), Selma Blair (Stevie Wayne), DeRay Davis (Spooner), Kenneth Welsh (Tom Malone), Adrian Hough (Father Malone), Sara Botsford (Kathy Williams), Cole Heppell (Andy Wayne), Mary Black (Aunt Connie), Jonathon Young (Dan The Weatherman) and Rade Serbedzija (Captain William Blake).


Animal Love (2011, Mollie Jones)

Animal Love is a future story. Selma Blair and Jeremy Davies meet through an anonymous hookup service–writer-director Jones implies most of the ground situation, with ads standing in for an explanation of the service. He’s allergic to animals, she’s a pet owner. Complications ensue.

The short runs about fifteen minutes without credits but feels much faster because, once it gets going, one doesn’t want it to end. As a director, Jones has these wonderfully moving shots. It’s quiet and calm as the camera adjusts itself on its subject, like the viewer is going too fast and needs to calm down.

As a writer, Jones writes this beautiful sparse dialogue. She’s got great actors. The film’s unimaginable without Blair and Davies. His panic and unsureness, her boldness–Jones gives Blair a couple great acting moments.

It’s an excellent little film. Great music, wondrous photography from Byron Shah.

Jones’s awesome.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mollie Jones; director of photography, Byron Shah; edited by David Greenspan; production designer, David Magid; produced by Jones and Matthew I. Goldberg.

Starring Selma Blair (Sorrel) and Jeremy Davies (Paul).


Debutante (1998, Mollie Jones)

Debutante isn’t perfect. There’s some awesome sound design, but director (and editor) Jones pushes it a little to carry over into other scenes. It works a little bit, but not always.

So it isn’t perfect.

Otherwise, it’s probably perfect.

Selma Blair plays the protagonist, who probably has the least lines in the short. She’s got a bad set of parents and runs off to a party. Maybe. The narrative’s a little fractured. One actually has to go on costume design to determine the chain of events.

The exact chronology doesn’t matter as much as Blair’s performance. She’s amazing, even when silent, and Jones’s direction. Debutante is a beautifully made little film. Jones turns up the volume and still manages to be subtly profound. I think it’s a student film, which is even more impressive.

Great photography from Byron Shah, nice supporting turns from Theresa Tilly and Josh Hartnett.

It’s fantastic.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written, produced, edited and directed by Mollie Jones; director of photography, Byron Shah; edited by Halina Siwolop.

Starring Selma Blair (Nan), Meghann Haldeman (Carla), Josh Hartnett (Bill), Theresa Tilly (Mother) and Steve Tom (Father).


Purple Violets (2007, Edward Burns)

I’ve been avoiding seeing Purple Violets for almost four years–I thought it was going to be one of Burns’s lesser works. So, obviously, it shouldn’t be a surprise it’s his best film (it’s also his best film as a director).

I’m having some trouble trying to figure out how to start talking about it. It’s different from his usual approach to scripting, maybe because he has a clear protagonist here and it’s Selma Blair. It’s her film–even though the other three principals, Patrick Wilson, Burns and Debra Messing, get significant scenes to themselves.

For a while, there’s this juxtaposing of story lines–Blair and Messing opposite Wilson and Burns. Then the characters start crossing over and everything comes together in a completely organic way. Halfway through the film, the plot is still unpredictable. Even the last scene is, to some degree, unpredictable. It’s all incredibly delicate.

Blair’s great, which wasn’t a surprise. The surprise was Patrick Wilson. His part is a somewhat regular guy and he turns it into this constantly surprising, deep performance (Burns’s script helps). Burns gives maybe his best performance ever here. He’s kind of making fun of himself, but also not. Messing is another surprise. She takes what could be a sitcom harpy and turns it into a lovely performance.

And Donal Logue–as a Brit–is great.

The PT Walkley score and the William Rexer photography are amazing.

From the first shot–thanks to Walkley and Rexer–it’s clear Burns probably has something phenomenal here.

Then he delivers.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexer; edited by Thom Zimny; music by PT Walkley; production designer, John Nyomarkay; produced by Margot Bridger, Burns, Aaron Lubin, Nicole Marra and Pamela Schein Murphy; released by iTunes.

Starring Selma Blair (Patti Petalson), Patrick Wilson (Brian Callahan), Edward Burns (Michael Murphy), Debra Messing (Kate Scott), Dennis Farina (Gilmore), Max Baker (Mark), Elizabeth Reaser (Bernie) and Donal Logue (Chazz Coleman).


Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008, Guillermo del Toro)

Once I heard the concept for Hellboy II–Hellboy versus elves–I knew what was going on. Del Toro was going to make a (tonal) sequel to Pan’s Labyrinth instead of an actual one to Hellboy. As my wife said on the way home, there’s a big difference between demons and elves. It’s like del Toro’s psychic and was jockeying for his Hobbit gig before it was even announced.

It’s hard to identify the movie’s biggest problem. There’s the flushing of the original’s atmosphere for a fantasy one (it’s never scary or disturbing–Luke Goss’s villain is created from special effects, not a performance… he’s as intimidating as Bronson Pinchot on “Perfect Strangers”). Del Toro also fills the film with fight scenes in confined areas and he’s not particularly good at making the fight scene interesting. I mean, Hellboy’s never going to die, right? The one great “fight” scene is more an action sequence, with Hellboy trying to save a baby while battling a giant tree. That scene works, mostly because it’s more like the action in the first film.

As a sequel, Hellboy II compares terribly. It isn’t just the script, it’s practically everything. But the script’s lack of real development is problematic. The present action is short, probably two days, and the setup reveals the characters aren’t much different than they were in the first one (four years ago). Except del Toro has changed Jeffrey Tambor’s character completely (for the worse, he’s a babbling buffon and the idea of him holding an advanced degree is sillier than the elves), in one of the movie’s stranger moves. The other negative developments stem from del Toro’s direction… basically, he’s asking his actors to do things they cannot.

First, Doug Jones. Doug Jones cannot act. From the first moment he utters a sound, the absence of David Hyde Pierce is felt. Jones tries to mimic Pierce’s performance, but a) doesn’t sound smart and b) can’t really properly emote. Jones isn’t an actor, voice or otherwise. He’s the guy they dub over. Still, del Toro does give him some amusing scenes–most of the scenes not involving the elves are okay, even if they are just filler.

Worse is Selma Blair, though I almost think del Toro noticed how terrible she is doing a Ripley impression. She’s in it sparingly after a point and other times she’s just silent and background. Del Toro’s subplot for Blair and Ron Perlman is idiotic, mainly because it leads to him ripping off the end of Patriot Games (sort of).

Perlman’s great.

John Hurt shows up for a second and he’s real good. Seth McFarlane’s a poor choice for the headless German guy, because McFarlane just does his German accent from “American Dad.” I guess it’s fine, but it’s kind of stupid. The only other actor is Anna Walton as Goss’s sister and Jones’s love interest. Her character is terribly written, but I suppose she isn’t atrocious.

Besides the last shot, Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job shooting the film. His lighting works well with del Toro’s frequent CG composite shots (del Toro’s an amazing fan of CG composites apparently). The special effects are good and the visuals are interesting and impressive and all… even if it is dark and claustrophobic. Hard to see why the elves are so great if they live in caves all the time. Danny Elfman’s score is terrible, derivative of his Batman work–and most everything else he’s ever done.

Hellboy II kind of reminds me of Batman Returns, actually. Del Toro got free reign much like Burton did on that film (del Toro even apes some Nightmare Before Christmas here). The difference is what Burton did with his free reign and the narrative pointlessness del Toro commits with his here.

Perlman makes the whole thing passable–and del Toro still is a fine director, he’s just become an insipid storyteller.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; screenplay by del Toro, based on a story by del Toro and Mike Mignola and on the Dark Horse comic books by Mignola; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Bernat Vilaplana; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Stephen Scott; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning), Luke Goss (Prince Nuada), Anna Walton (Princess Nuala), Seth MacFarlane (Johann Kraus) and John Hurt (Professor Buttenholm).


Hellboy (2004, Guillermo del Toro)

If I recall correctly, Mike Mignola never had Hellboy and Selma Blair’s firestarter get together (romantically) in the comics, even though Hellboy is flame resistant. That filmic development was all Guillermo del Toro’s. del Toro is responsible for everything successful in Hellboy and, subsequently, everything unsuccessful. Hellboy works, which is probably the film’s greatest achievement–it’s about a goofy, beer-drinking demon who hunts monsters. It’s got lots of humor–from David Hyde Pierce’s Niles-like observations to Hellboy liking cats–not to mention Jeffrey Tambor’s entire role is solely for humor.

Ron Perlman’s Hellboy performance is so unassuming, it’s hard to think of him standing there wearing fifty pounds of make-up or whatever. del Toro and his make-up team don’t just make Hellboy real, but also Doug Jones’s fish-man (who Hyde Pierce voices). These accomplishments are noteworthy, since no one’s really tried doing talking “alien” leads like Hellboy since the proliferation of CG in the mid-1990s. Fantastic characters suddenly became glossy synthetics, instead of tangible figures.

So it’s kind of too bad del Toro doesn’t set Perlman up as the lead until the very end. The rest of the movie is run first by John Hurt as his adoptive father and then Rupert Evans as his assigned caretaker. Hurt does a fine job, even if it’s just stunt casting (Hurt has almost nothing to do, never having a significant scene with Perlman). Evans, on the other hand, is fantastic. Without Evans, Hellboy would not have worked. While everything might happen to Perlman or hinge on the character, it’s Evans who leads the viewer through the film. I understand the narrative reason for this perspective, but it’s a Hollywood cop-out. Having it just be Perlman, in his forty pounds of make-up, doesn’t sell well as a mainstream narrative. Evans’s character is superfluous, but his performance makes him the most important element in the film.

del Toro saturates the viewer in the milieu–the creepy, the exciting–and it works. When Tambor’s stunned at the bad guys, it’s a shock–it’s hard to remember not everyone in the film is used to the oddities, since the viewer has to accept them from the first scene. The Prague shooting doesn’t help the atmosphere. While it all looks great, there’s an unreality to it. It’s clearly not Manhattan or New Jersey… it’s artificial. del Toro’s color schemes work great–director of photography Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job (except one really jarring, apparently shot on video and cut in, moment)–and, for the first half, Hellboy looks so good, it’s hard to think about anything else. The narrative works, it just doesn’t pay off in the end.

One big problem is the villain–Karel Roden is no good. It’s like he’s out of a TV movie.

But for what del Toro’s going for, Hellboy pretty much does it all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; screenplay by del Toro, based on a story by del Toro and Peter Briggs and on the Dark Horse comic books by Mike Mignola; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Peter Amundson; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Stephen Scott; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Ron Perlman (Hellboy), John Hurt (Professor Bruttenholm), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Rupert Evans (John Myers), Karel Roden (Rasputin), Jeffrey Tambor (Manning), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), Ladislav Beran (Kroenen), Biddy Hodson (Ilsa Haupstein) and Corey Johnson (Clay).


In Good Company (2004, Chris Weitz)

At its best, In Good Company is never very good–the soundtrack is one of the worst I can remember–but Chris Weitz’s ineptitude is something to behold. His plot is predictable, his characters are boring, and everything feels like it’s been done before. I mean, who would have thought Dennis Quaid would have found out his job was in jeopardy the same day his wife announced–even though they thought she was post-menopause–she was pregnant again? (And I won’t even get into Weitz’s problems establishing the size of Quaid’s family or non-principal character names).

And Weitz’s idea of innovative scenes–panning back and forth over various people getting fired–has been a film standard since the 1930s and maybe earlier.

Oh, the innovation is the terrible music.

But what makes In Good Company watchable–and occasionally good–is Weitz’s unwavering attempt at making a moderately budgeted studio picture aimed at being a sleeper hit. As an attempt at that genre, it reminds of better films and better filmmaking. There’s no reason Topher Grace should be bad in the movie–in fact he’s pretty good–except Weitz’s hollow writing. Weitz isn’t even a bad director–he’s rather serviceable, though it’s sad to see–embarrassing, really–a director use “Salsbury Hill,” and poorly, so soon after Vanilla Sky. But given the rest of the soundtrack, it isn’t a surprise.

The problem’s with too much content and not enough development. There’s a movie in Quaid and Marg Helgenberger having another kid late in life (Helgenberger’s in it so little, I don’t even think she has a conversation with either of the daughters), there’s a movie about Quaid schooling his up-and-coming (but emotionally devastated due to absent father and disinterested mother household) younger boss, there’s even a movie about the successful, recently divorced twenty-six year-old who falls for his college freshman girlfriend (but she’s not ready for it). With a limited cast of characters, I’d say all of those stories are mutually exclusive. Too much gets sacrificed or contrived to make them fit together.

Scarlett Johansson, who’s proved she can play this kind of character in Scoop, obviously needs some direction. David Paymer’s got an okay, if unspectacular small role, as does Philip Baker Hall. Clark Gregg, as the corporate climber, fails.

The other failing aspect of In Good Company is the unreality it exists in. There are constant lay-offs and firings, but severance packages are never discussed.

The ending to the film is really quite dreadful, enough I wanted In Good Company to be worse. It’s bad, cheap, predictable and soulless. But it’s competently produced (if poorly written).

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Paul Weitz; director of photography, Remi Adefarasin; edited by Myron I. Kerstein; music by Damien Rice and Stephen Trask; production designer, William Arnold; produced by Paul Weitz and Chris Weitz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Dan Foreman), Topher Grace (Carter Duryea), Scarlett Johansson (Alex Foreman), Marg Helgenberger (Ann Foreman), David Paymer (Morty Wexler), Clark Gregg (Mark Steckle), Philip Baker Hall (Eugene Kalb), Selma Blair (Kimberly), Frankie Faison (Corwin) and Ty Burrell (Enrique Colon).


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