Under the Radar: Near DarkIt’s been too long since I’ve done an Under the Radar entry, and given that Halloween is tomorrow, I thought I’d spotlight my favorite vampire movie ever (which I’ve mentioned here more than once), the 1987 cult classic Near Dark. It was directed by the great Kathryn Bigelow (one of my favorite directors ever; she also made Point Break and this past summer’s brilliant TheHurt Locker), and it’s one of the most unique vampire movies I’ve ever seen. It’s also scary as hell and totally awesome.
Near Dark is, in Bigelow’s words, a vampire western. Except it’s set in the modern day (well, 1987), so the western aspects come from the setting and the feel rather than the time period. It’s set in the American southwest, and follows a young country boy named Caleb (Adrian Pasdar, who’d go on to play Nathan in Heroes) who meets a beautiful, mysterious girl named Mae (Jenny Wright) while out with his friends one night. Intrigued, he pursues her, and she seems to return his interest, but pretty soon she’s making cryptic statements about still being around in a billion years when the light leaving distant stars reaches the Earth and imploring him to drive her home before sunrise. In an apparent fit of passion, she bites him on the neck, and soon Caleb is trapped, as the old Marvel comics covers used to say, in a world he never made. Not long after Mae’s love nibble, Caleb falls in with the gang she runs with, led by the menacing Jesse (Lance Henriksen), the father figure of a little family of nomadic vampires. The mother figure is his woman, Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), and their “kids” are Mae, the hot-headed psychopath Severen (Bill Paxton), and Homer (Joshua John Miller), an adult man trapped in a child’s body.
It may seem almost gimmicky now, but Near Dark is a vampire movie in which nobody ever says the word “vampire,” and not a single fang is ever glimpsed. Instead of the usual vampire mythology, Bigelow’s bloodsuckers are dirty, vicious predators, in contrast to the more traditional European vision of vampires as sleek, seductive charmers. By melding the standard vampire-romance plot with iconic western imagery, Near Dark becomes a distinctly American vampire tale, and, with the exception of Wright’s Mae (who actually is beautiful and seductive), the vamps in Near Dark are more like a gang of outlaws from a western, with ragged clothes, filthy faces, plenty of guns and a serious hate-on for law enforcement. (There’s even a sequence where the gang holes up in a small motel room for a shootout with police.)
Near Dark is an interesting reversal of what has become the standard “innocent human girl falls for dreamy vampire hunk” premise. The inversion benefits largely from Wright, who is astonishingly gorgeous; I might consider going through the hell Caleb suffers through in the movie for a shot with her.
But as much as Near Dark hits many of the usual vampire-movie notes with its pair of star-crossed lovers and lead character torn between the human and vampire worlds, it’s also scary as hell, but not in a jump-scare, monster-movie way. Near Dark is scary more in the way really tense crime movies are scary, with the threat of random, brutal violence always looming. The best example is the scene midway through the film (arguably the movie's centerpiece) where Jesse’s gang, with Caleb the new recruit in tow, enters a dusty redneck bar. From the second the vampires enter the frame, you know it’s going to get ugly, but Bigelow ratchets up the tension very deliberately, at an almost agonizingly slow pace, and the result is chilling. The terrified bystanders can only watch helplessly as the vampires casually kill everyone inside one by one.
In keeping with its western vibe, Near Dark veers into action-movie territory as the story progresses, particularly the Terminator-esque showdown between Caleb and Severen in the final act. That’s not a problem for me at all – Bigelow’s one of the best action directors to ever pick up a camera – but viewers looking for a movie about sexy young vampires making goo-goo eyes at each other for 90 minutes might be put off by all the gunplay and chases and explosions.
But an original idea and brilliant direction can only take you so far if you don’t have actors bringing it. Adrian Pasdar is great as Caleb, who has a nice arc going from wide-eyed country boy to vampire outlaw, and the scenes where he’s starting to enjoy his new life are particularly good; I could watch a whole movie about this band of bloodsuckers criss-crossing the country causing trouble. Jenny Wright doesn’t have to do that much other than look hot, but she’s pretty good at that. The only problem with her character is that Mae is played with such an inherent decency and goodness that it’s a little difficult to understand how she’s managed to run with this gang of killers for as long as she has.
It’s in the gang of evil vampires, though, that the casting of Near Dark really shines. Lance Henriksen in particular is fantastic and terrifying as Jesse, the leader, but it comes more from the feeling that he’d rip out your throat as soon as look at you, and his being a vampire doesn’t really have much to do with it. It’s all in Henriksen’s attitude and the way he plays the role. (I’ve been a huge fan of Henriksen for years; I think he’s one of the best character actors out there and few are better at playing villains.) Bill Paxton is also a treat; he gets the more flashy, scenery-chewing work as the playfully brutal Severen. And Jenette Goldstein manages to make Diamondback hard-edged and brassy but still give her an odd, motherly quality as well. (A big reason these three work so well together is that Bigelow cast them essentially right off the set of James Cameron’s Aliens, where they all played space marines and endured a pre-production boot camp, and between that and the actual shoot, they developed a camaraderie that Near Dark benefits from tremendously.) And while Near Dark may not have invented the idea, it was the first vampire movie I’d ever seen that looked at tragic concept of the vampire kid who’s actually an adult trapped in a child’s body, and Joshua John Miller brings a world-weariness to Homer that most child actors couldn’t come close to.
Near Dark has been a popular cult movie for years, and the two-disc Anchor Bay DVD set I managed to get my hands on years ago has some excellent extras on it, including commentary from Bigelow, deleted scenes and a great retrospective making-of documentary. Lionsgate has since repackaged the Near Dark DVD to capitalize on the success of Twilight, basically making the cover resemble the poster for Twilight as much as possible. It’s sort of a shame, but the movie itself is great, and if aping a better-known, more recent hit film will drive more people to see this awesome little gem of a movie, I can live with that. If you want to see a truly original, dark, violent and sexy vampire movie, Near Dark comes with my highest possible recommendation.
It’s Halloween week, and to celebrate I’m dealing with scary movies of one kind or another. Today I’ve got some cool trailers for a couple of creepy-looking documentaries, and tomorrow I’ll be examining one of my favorite horror movies ever in the long-awaited return of my Under the Radar feature. So without further ado…
I’ve mentioned more than once in this space that traditionally “scary” movies aren’t really my thing, but I watched a trailer the other day that chilled me more than any full-length movie about a monster or masked psychopath I’ve ever seen. It’s for a documentary called Collapse, and it’s about a former cop-turned-investigative journalist named Michael Ruppert. Ruppert publishes a newsletter that, if you or I were to read it without knowing better, might lead us to assume he’s a paranoid lunatic. Except that many of the world’s current problems – the global economic crisis, rising violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan, instability based on a dwindling oil supply – he apparently predicted a while ago. I work with news headlines all day long, so the stuff Ruppert is talking about here is the sort of stuff I think about in my darker moods. The film itself looks terrifying.
Collapse is the latest documentary from Chris Smith, who helmed the acclaimed documentary American Movie. I’ve always meant to check out that film, and the trailer for Collapse grabbed me so effectively that now I plan on seeking that movie out ASAP.
The next trailer is for a documentary called Until the Light Takes Us. It’s about the Norwegian “black metal” scene that was linked to several church burnings, as well as some murders, back in the 1990s. I’ve actually read a book on the subject, Lords of Chaos (buy it from Amazon here), and it looks like the film covers much of the same ground. (I couldn’t care less about black metal music, but a friend and fellow metal fan got me the book for my birthday years ago as a sort of gag gift, but it actually turned out to be a pretty interesting read, and an utterly insane story.)
The best documentaries can make subjects the viewer doesn’t necessarily know anything about or even have much of an interest in and make them compelling, but watching a bunch of sociopaths talk about why they burned churches and formed suicide pacts and the like will probably make for an interesting, intense documentary. I know I’m looking forward to seeing this one for myself.
District 9 director's latestI’ve made no secret of my love for District 9, a movie that, the more I think about it, may not just be one of my favorite movies of the year, but possibly of all time (I’ll require some more time and a few more viewings before I can confidently make a declaration on the latter). So naturally I’m incredibly interested in whatever director Neill Blomkamp is planning next.
According to Variety, Blomkamp has inked a deal with independent producer Media Rights Capital for an untitled sci-fi movie due to begin production in the middle of next year. The director seems to be keeping details of the project under wraps for the time being, and while this new film will have a larger budget than District 9’s relatively meager price tag of under $30 million, it’ll still be a somewhat small movie by Hollywood standards (and Blomkamp will have full creative control as well as an ownership stake in the finished film), and that’s apparently suits Blomkamp just fine. From the Variety article:
“MRC is letting me make the film I want to make and that is by far the most important thing here,” Blomkamp said. “The film will hopefully be commercial, but it is very much a singular film, that comes directly from me. District 9 was a bit different. I was learning the process then, under Peter Jackson’s wing. He had control, but was awesome enough to let me make the film I wanted to.”
The only thing that has me more psyched about a new Neill Blomkamp movie is the fact that he’s sticking with science fiction. As much as the craftsmanship on display in District 9 suggests Blomkamp could make a kickass movie in just about any genre he chooses, the prospect him doing a movie set on an alien planet of some kind fills me with nerd-glee. I will most definitely be following this movie as it develops.
Switching from one of my beloved genres to another, most North American audiences know Hong Kong cinema legend Yuen Woo-Ping as the fight choreographer from The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill, but serious kung fu fans know he’s a film director in his own right, having helmed cult classics like Jet Li’s Fist of Legend (widely held as Li’s best movie ever), Tai Chi Master and Iron Monkey. He hasn’t directed a film since 1996, which makes news that he’s returning behind the camera for a new film, True Legend, all the more exciting.
Now, I know nothing about True Legend other than its title, its cast (which includes Michelle Yeoh, Jay Chou (who will play Kato in the upcoming Seth Rogen revamp of The Green Hornet), David Carradine in one of his final roles, and a criminally underappreciated Hong Kong martial arts actor named Chieu Man Cheuk. I’ve liked Chieu, who seems to be the lead in True Legend, since I saw him replace Jet Li in the Once Upon A Time In China film series (Li was in the first three and Chieu replaced him in the fourth and fifth movie; Li then returned for the sixth), as well as the wonderfully dark, arty kung fu flick The Blade. I never did understand why Chieu didn’t seem to really break out, as he’s a blast to watch fight. Regardless, he’s all over the trailer for True Legend (he’s the hobo-looking guy), which is below.
I have no idea when True Legend will be released in North America, if at all (it comes out in Hong Kong next year), but with the cast and crew involved, I’d be surprised if Dragon Dynasty doesn’t swoop in and secure the rights. Oh! I almost forgot one of the best parts: True Legend is apparently in 3D. Again, no clue what that will mean for a possible North American release, but the idea of Yuen Woo-Ping directing a 3D kung fu movie is ridiculous and fantastic.
Enjoy the trailer for True Legend, courtesy of the fine folks at Twitch.
Review: Where the Wild Things AreI may as well just cut to the chase: Where the Wild Things Are is a wonderful, amazing movie, one of the best I’ve seen this year, maybe ever. It’s beautiful and warm and touching and heartbreaking and fantastic and joyous. It’s basically got everything that makes me love movies (with the possible exception of guns and samurai swords, but hey, you can’t win ‘em all).
Where the Wild Things Are, as everyone knows by now, is director Spike Jonze’s adaptation of the beloved Maurice Sendak children’s book. I vaguely remember the book from my own childhood, but it didn’t resonate with me the way it clearly has with lots of other people. Which is fine; my not being a huge fan of the book clearly didn’t affect my enjoyment of this brilliant movie. And considering the source material is only a few dozens of words in length, Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers obviously have a lot of room to work in terms of narrative (I, like a lot of people, really only remember Sendak’s illustrations, and they’re recreated gorgeously on the screen). Where the Wild Things Are follows Max, a rowdy young boy who’s prone to acting out for attention from older sister and his single mom (Catherine Keener, giving her character surprising depth in the two or three scenes she has). After one particularly ugly fight before dinner (he’s mad his mom invited her new boyfriend; the whereabouts of Max’s father are never explained, but his absence clearly looms large in Max’s life), Max angrily runs out of the house and through some brush until he finds a boat, which he sails to a mysterious island populated by big, furry monsters who talk like people. Max soon sets himself up as the Wild Things’ new king – he seems to catch them in the middle of some sort of internal struggle amongst their little family unit – and before long he’s having fun playing with his new friends.
But despite the book’s pedigree, Jonze’s and Eggers’ Where the Wild Things Are is really not a kid’s movie. It’s more of a movie about childhood than it is a movie for children. Which is not to say that it’s not appropriate for youngsters or too scary for them (there are two scenes where Jonze plays up the Wild Things’ monstrous aspects, but they’re not that scary, and both serve the story), but rather too boring for kids. There was a hipster couple who brought their two young children to the screening I was at (neither kid could have been older than five), and they weren’t scared, they just weren’t interested in the movie at all; it was too talky for them, and young children who can’t sit still for two hours probably can’t really appreciate a beautifully-composed shot of Max and one of the Wild Things walking across a desert.
Where the Wild Things Are is about growing up and leaving childish things behind, and the “fun” Jonze focuses on, the kind of thing Max loves to do and nobody wants to do with him back in the real world, seems largely to consist of boyish horseplay, wrestling and “playing war” with dirt clods and smashing trees and sticks in the woods. (I did all of those things as a kid, so I had a big grin on my face during all of these sequences.) Considering Jonze’s crucial role in the inception of Jackass, it’s hard not to see his Where the Wild Things Are as a sort of childlike, wonder-filled prot0-Jackass.
But Where the Wild Things Are is also a bit of a difficult film for me to really judge objectively, as I felt a very personal connection to Max. My folks may not have split up, but I grew up an only child who kept to himself, so Max being a an angry, lonely kid who doesn’t really know how to process his feelings and who seeks sanctuary in imaginary worlds really struck a chord with me personally, so it’s entirely possible that this movie just clicks with me on levels it may not with other people. I certainly can’t tell.
I definitely have to mention the acting in Where the Wild Things Are. The ludicrously-named Max Records, who plays Max, is one of the best child actors I’ve seen in ages. It never felt like he was performing (which is a problem among even some of the better child actors), and he’s so natural that his work goes a long way to making the viewer just sort of accept the film’s reality. This kid turn into a big deal some day.
The actors playing Wild Things themselves are all brilliant. James Gandolfini delivers a real performance as Carol, the Wild Things’ sort of de facto leader and Max’s closest friend in the group. I’m sure it won’t happen, but Gandolfini deserves some sort of awards attention for his work here, because it’s really something. And Jonze deserves praise for casting “real” actors (Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, Catherine O’Hara, Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano) to voice the Wild Things, all of them talking just like normal people, nary a goofy, put-on voice to be heard. It’s another thing that lifts Where the Wild Things Are above typical children’s fare.
The special effects for the Wild Things themselves are also incredible, done with a combination of Jim Henson suits and CGI effects for their faces. I was surprised at how quickly I just sort of accepted them as characters and stopped looking at them as the amazing combination of practical and digital effects they are. The Wild Things actually emote in a way that feels real, and Gandolfini’s Carol, in particular, has scenes so genuinely moving that George Lucas and James Cameron will probably sign a suicide pact after they see this movie.
Where the Wild Things Are is about the end of childhood, very much from an adult’s perspective, and the film has a real melancholy feel to it. While it only really gets sad at the end (and I admit I got a little choked up), there’s a pervading sense of sadness to even the most joyous scenes; even if Max doesn’t realize it, we all know his time with the Wild Things is only a temporary refuge from the world he ran away from. Even near the end, Jonze and Eggers do an excellent job of having the realities of the outside world subtly begin to intrude on Max’s paradise as the internal politics of the Wild Things, which were only hinted at in early scenes, begin to come to the surface and threaten his new life.
The real thrust of the film is Max basically learning his lesson and growing up a bit. He’s at the age where acting out in a childish manner – screaming, throwing fits, actively disobeying his mother, even attacking her – is starting to seem less like him just being a kid and more like him being an actual problem child. He’s getting bigger and stronger, and it’s not “cute” anymore. While he understood enough at the beginning of the film to feel guilty almost immediately after trashing his older sister’s room in a fit of childish rage, his adventures with the Wild Things really hammer home to him the impact his actions have on the people he loves.
Where the Wild Things Are is a triumph of filmmaking, and while it’s only the third film Spike Jonze has made in 10 years, it’s looking like a masterpiece. (And kudos also to writer Dave Eggers, who, between this and the wonderful Away We Go – my review is here – is proving with his first two scripts that he’s better at combining humor and true emotion better than almost any other screenwriter in Hollywood.)Where the Wild Things Are is truly amazing stuff, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Normally I don’t like director Sam Mendes’ movies much; I find there’s a distance to his work, an emotional standoffishness, a sense that he’s peering down on the characters from a celestial perch. It’s why I don’t really care for American Beauty, why I was so disappointed by his morose, too-serious Road to Perdition (based on a fun, pulpy graphic novel) and his portrait of misery in 1950s America, Revolutionary Road (read my full review here). Maybe it’s his theater background, but he adopts an almost clinical view of the characters in his movies that just turns me off. They’re not necessarily bad movies, I just personally can’t into them. Which was part of the reason that Away We Go impressed me so much; there’s a warmth to the film that I haven’t seen in any of Mendes’ other films, which I attribute at least in part to Mendes working with novelists-turned-screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. Away We Go showed me a side of Mendes I didn’t know existed, and I hope I see more of it, because the movie is amazingly good.
Away We Go is about a young couple (played by John Krasinski of The Office and Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph) expecting their first child. They’re not married – he keeps proposing, she keeps turning him down, which they’ve turned into a mini-comedy routine to amuse their friends – but they want to settle down to start their new family in the right place, and the film is basically a road movie following Burt and Verona as they travel across North America visiting family and friends to find the perfect place to begin the next chapter of their lives. Along the way they encounter the requisite cast of oddballs – and a few normal folks – as they seek advice on raising a child.
The first thing that struck me about Away We Go is how well the movie balances comedy and real emotion. Most movies that go for this sort of thing really seem more like comedies with more dramatic stuff than usual, or dramas with more jokes than you might normally expect. But Away We Go manages to sit pretty much perfectly between both worlds, and it works surprisingly well. It’s the sort of thing Eggers excels at in his books (I’ve read his first two, they’re both quite good), and because he and co-screenwriter Vendela Vida are themselves a married couple with a few kids of their own (and they’re both charming and funny people, as are Krasinki’s Burt and Rudolph’s Verona), there’s obviously a lot of autobiographical stuff in the movie. Mendes shows a flair for comic timing in Away We Go that I wouldn’t have guessed he had based on his previous movies that I’ve seen, which have all been serious to the point of being oppressive. But it seems the involvement of Eggers and Vida gave Mendes a warmer emotional framework for his visual talents (which are not insignificant).
But as much as I’m raving about the writing and direction in Away We Go, the movie wouldn’t have the impact it does if it weren’t for Krasinski and Rudolph, both of whom deliver hilarious and touching performances. I knew the former about both from their previous work, but the fact that they both genuinely moved me wasn’t something I was expecting. Brilliant stuff.
As good as Krasinski and Rudolph are, the supporting cast of Away We Go is also uniformly great. Jeff Daniels and Catharine O’Hara are both so good as Burt’s parents that their impact is felt far beyond their once scene in the movie. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a treat as a hippie professor who can’t stop passive-aggressively judging Burt and Verona with backhanded compliments and condescension. (All of it paying off beautifully in the scene where the typically non-confrontational Burt has finally had enough.) And Allison Janney is spectacularly funny as one of Verona’s former co-workers, now rather unhappily married (though always in a good mood, as she’s perpetually drunk) in Arizona with a couple of kids she barely pays attention to.
Away We Go has a genuine heart that hundreds of other movies with bigger budgets and bigger stars try desperately to capture, but Mendes, Eggers and Vida make it seem effortless. On paper, this movie probably couldn’t be less up my alley unless it had musical numbers in it, but I loved it. I’m known among friends for my hatred for hokey sentimentality, but Away We Go is truly moving – and funny – in ways I wasn’t prepared for. My life is about as far from that of a prospective parent as you could imagine, but I was on the journey with these characters 100%. Away We Go is a beautiful, charming, funny movie, and I recommend it highly.
There are only a couple of extras on the DVD, but this isn’t really a movie that needs tons of featurettes. There’s a commentary track from Mendes and co-writers Eggers and Vida, and the three share a nice, warm, chemistry. Eggers and Vida are both funny, and their take on the production is interesting, as Away We Go was their first foray into the world of movies. There’s also a short mini-documentary about the making of the movie, which is fairly standard stuff, though it seems to have been made during production, and Eggers and Vida are conspicuously absent (which I only noticed because everyone kept talking about how great the script was, but there’s no actual input from the writers). Finally, there’s a featurette on ‘green filmmaking,’ as the Away We Go team went to great lengths to make the production carbon-neutral. It’s an interesting topic, environmentalism and moviemaking – I hadn’t really considered until watching what a wasteful enterprise filmmaking can be – and they certainly deserve attention for their efforts.
Prey lining up for PredatorsSome time ago I heard about a planned sequel to/reboot of the Predator franchise with Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) involved in some capacity. In the ensuing months, the details have shaken out somewhat: Rodriguez will produce Predators (I think the full title is actually Robert Rodriguez’s Predators, which is awesome in a John Carpenter way)with director Nimród Antal, who made the Luke Wilson/Kate Beckinsdale thriller Vacancy (which I never saw, but I heard it’s better than the cash-in on the torture-porn craze it appeared to be) and the upcoming action thriller Armored, behind the camera. Now the cast of Predators is starting to come together, and it includes Oscar-winner Adrien Brody as the lead human, alongside Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo, Alice Braga (I Am Legend, Redbelt) and Spider-Man 3 co-star and That ’70s Show alum Topher Grace is in talks to play what sounds like a riff on American Psycho. Also on board is character actor Walt Goggins, best known for his role as a loose-cannon cop on The Shield.
I love the idea of this movie, partly because I’ve always loved the Predator movies (well, I guess I only really love the first one, which is a classic) and partly because Rodriguez is exactly the kind of filmmaker a new Predator movie needs. I have no doubt he gets the things that make the original movie great (his action movies are incredibly violent, and a Predator movie without severed limbs and other kinds of graphic violence isn’t really a Predator movie), and the plot of Predators – a ragtag band of violent humans is rounded up and hunted by a group of the badass alien hunters – nicely echoes the original 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick. (And they’re shooting part of the film in Hawaii, which suggests a return to the jungle locale of the first movie.)
Robert Rodriguez’s Predators starts shooting next month, and dreadlocked aliens will resume hunting woefully underequipped humans on July 9, 2010. I can't wait.
DVD Review: Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory - Season 1THE SHOW
I’m not even gonna mess around here, I love Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory. I’ve been a fan of Dyrdek’s since his first MTV reality show, Rob & Big (I own all three seasons on DVD), and as much as I was initially a little skeptical about his new show (his dynamic with his ex-bodyguard, Christopher “Big Black” Boykins having so much to do with Rob & Big’s appeal), sitting down with the first season of Fantasy Factory was a delight.
The premise of Fantasy Factory is that Rob Dyrdek is a pro skateboarder with disturbing amounts of money. As he expands his multimedia enterprise (which includes these MTV shows, movies, his own line of clothes under the DC banner, a toy line and more), he runs his various business out of a 25,000-square-foot L.A. industrial complex, a.k.a. the Fantasy Factory, is as much of a personal amusement park as it is a place of business. He’s got a set of steps and rails for himself and his pals to skate, a giant ramp in front of a pit of foam cubes (with a basketball net hanging over it so he can hit crazy shots while skating off the ramp into the pit), a collection of wacky vehicles, and, eventually, the tennis-ball cannon from the original American Gladiators. Episodes of Fantasy Factory typically begin with Dyrdek deciding to do something crazy or ambitious (build a new mini-skate park in downtown L.A., create a dance video for YouTube, swim with sharks, etc.), and the show then follows him making it a reality.
Dyrdek is basically a kinder, gentler, less sociopathic version of Bam Margera from Jackass; Rob constantly hassles and teases his younger cousin-slash-assistant, Drama (his real name’s Chris, but nobody calls him that), as well as his manager, Jeremy (who Rob has set up in the “corporate” wing of the Factory, complete with shutters over his windows for when Rob’s sick of hearing from him), his other cousin, Big Cat, his rapping receptionist Chanel, and Turbo, whose face is perpetually blurred because, well, Rob thinks it’s funnier that way. But where there’s a fairly creepy edge to Margera goofing on his family and friends in increasingly mean-spirited ways, Dyrdek comes off more as just an overgrown, silly kid who wants to use his incredible wealth and success to just have fun, and he doesn’t even have to resort to random violence to do it.
A lot of the fun of shows like this is dynamic between wacky characters like Rob and his supporting cast. In the case of Rob & Big, the pair had an interesting chemistry – suburban skate rat meets hip-hop man-mountain – and Black’s size, aside from making for great visual gags, also meant he kept Rob in check to a degree; if Black was really against one of his ideas, he had no problem saying it. Drama, on the other hand, is more of Rob’s lackey, and is often dragged into situations he doesn’t want to be in, but when your older cousin (and they clearly spent a lot of time growing up together) is also your boss, it makes it even harder to say no when he demands you jump a rally car with him over a 110-foot gap. Rob never really takes it too far though, and Drama’s snarky responses (“Think how fun it would be if we both roll. Think of the story we could tell our kids,” Rob tells Drama as he tries to convince him to ride shotgun for the rally car jump. “Think how bummed our family would be if we both die,” Drama responds) are usually just as funny as Rob’s random silliness.
Overall I found Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory hilarious, but maybe not everyone’s cup of tea. If you ask me why Dyrdek riding the world’s largest skateboard (certified by Guinness and everything) through Los Angeles is funny and not just stupid, well, I don’t really have an explanation for you. But if you can’t see the joy in a short pro skater wearing high-tech stilts to play one-on-one against L.A. Laker Lamar Odom, then I weep for you, for there is no joy in your heart.
There’s a nice collection of extras on the Fantasy Factory DVD, not the least of which is the fact that the audio is uncensored (i.e. now there’s cussing). At the risk of endangering my cred as a Serious Critic, I’d be lying if I said that the un-bleeped cursing didn’t make the show considerably funnier than it is on MTV. Also included is a bonus episode covering various behind-the-scenes shenanigans and outtakes, deleted scenes, and commentary from Dyrdek, his employees and the show’s creators on several episodes. It’s a nice, fun package for a nice, fun show.
Review: ZombielandI had high expectations for Zombieland going in, based on the hilarious ads and the solid cast. I'm happy to report that not only were those expectations met, they were exceeded. Zombieland is the most fun I've had in a movie theater since Inglourious Basterds (read my gushing review here), which is actually a higher compliment than it sounds, as that was the most fun I'd had in a theater in probably close to a year.
As much as I'm not a big horror fan, I tend to like zombie movies a lot because of the subtext and social commentary the genre allows. Zombieland has a bit of that – the nerdy, reclusive main character, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), finds the family unit in the titular zombie-filled wasteland that he never had before the zombie apocalypse – but I loved it primarily because it's just so damn funny. If you're seeking a more traditional, "scary" zombie movie, look elsewhere; Zombieland is basically just a comedy that happens to take place in the world after the zombie apocalypse. There's some nicely funny splatter here, but director Ruben Fleischer is far more interested in laughs and characters than gore.
The plot of Zombieland follows "Columbus" – the human characters in the film are mostly referred to by the places they're ostensbly trying to get to – our narrator and unlikely survivor of the zombie apocalypse. He's managed to stay alive mostly because of his strict set of rules (which Fleischer finds cute ways to visually reinforce throughout the film), but also because his being a socially maladjusted shut-in uncomfortable with human contact actually left him more psycologically prepared than most people for solitary life in the wasteland. He soon comes across Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a cowboy hat-wearing badass who seems to take a bit too much pleasure in killing zombies. Soon the pair stumbles across two sisters (Superbad's Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine fame) grifting their way across the zombie-filled wasteland, and before long the four are on a road trip to a California theme park rumored to be free of the mindless cannibals.
The core of Zombieland is the characters, mainly Eisenberg (who's actually better at Michael Cera's 'geeky white guy' shtick than Cera himself) and Harrelson, who have wonderful chemistry together. The pair are in just about every scene in the movie together, and their dynamic makes Zombieland a joy to watch. Both actors are flat-out hilarious, but both also manage to give their characters an emotional center that makes them sympathetic – even the secret origin of Tallahassee tugged on my heartstrings more than I thought was possible.
The other thing I loved about Zombieland is that, with the exception of a couple of brief flashbacks, it's set well after the zombie apocalypse. Fleischer and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick wisely understand that at this point moviegoers have seen tons of movies chronicling the rise of the zombies and the fall of society, so the world they've created in Zombieland feels unique for nothing other than they don't dwell on that stuff. These are characters who've been surviving in this hell for months now, and the movie finds nicely subtle ways to examine what that means without spending more than a few minutes on their pre-zombie lives.
Zombieland is an absolute riot from start to finish. (It also has one of the greatest cameos I've ever seen, but I won't say anything more than that.) If you're not into zombie movies there's a chance some of the humor won't fly with you, but I loved it. I'd call Zombieland mindless fun, but there's a surprising amount of heart – and brains (both literal and figurative) – in this movie. Book yourself a trip to Zombieland. It's a blast.
Some pics have turned up online from a couple of movies currently shooting that I’ve been following here, so I figured I’d share.
First up is The Green Hornet, due around Christmas of next year, starring Seth Rogen in the title role and Taiwanese pop star/actor Jay Chou as Kato. It’s a bit of a weird project, particularly with director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) behind the camera. I’m still really curious as to the tone of the movie, but these pics, which show Rogen and Chou in costume, shows that at the very least their look is fairly straightforward. I actually dig it; I loved Pineapple Express, and I thought Rogen made a nicely offbeat action hero, so I’m cautiously optimistic about him as the Green Hornet. Tthe supporting cast that’s assembled around Rogen and Chou is also looking pretty sweet: Christoph Waltz, who blew the doors off as the villain in Inglourious Basterds, will play the bad guy again, replacing the rumored Nicolas Cage, and Edward James Olmos, Tom Wilkinson and Cameron Diaz are also on board. I can’t wait to see a trailer.
Next up is The A-Team, directed by Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin’ Aces). I wrote about the cast a few weeks back – Liam Neeson as the leader, Hannibal; Bradley Cooper as Face; Sharlto Copley (District 9) as ‘Mad’ Murdock; MMA fighter Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson as B.A. Baracus; and Jessica Biel as the general who’s charged with hunting them down – and some shots have turned up of the four leads shooting in Vancouver.
The first thing that struck me is how loyal everyone’s look is to the characters in the original show (with the exception of Jackson sporting a shaved head instead of Mr. T’s signature mohawk), particularly Neeson, who looks like he could have come from a Halloween party.
As I mentioned before, the guy I’m the most excited about in the cast is Copley, and I’m curious to see how Jackson does in his acting debut. (His casting in The A-Team has since led him to retire from mixed martial arts to pursue a career in acting fulltime, which has caused something of a falling out with his former employer, the UFC.) But I like Carnahan’s movies, so as much as a lot of people groan whenever a classic TV show is turned into a movie, I’m hoping The A-Team will be a fun action flick.
Finally, there's a new trailer for a movie I’m very much looking forward to, The Book of Eli, starring Denzel Washington. It’s a post-apocalyptic action movie about a lone wanderer protecting a mysterious book of some sort (the new trailer suggests it’s the Bible, but who knows) that is apparently very important for some reason. He runs afoul of the evil Gary Oldman (seriously, is there any actor more reliably fantastic in villain roles?), who runs a town or something, and decides he wants the book for himself. Which leads Denzel to much chopping and arrowing. This thing looks awesome, and I can’t wait for January 15.
I am getting my ass to Mars in 2012I've mentioned here before the admiration I have for Pixar, even if many of their movies are a little too kiddie-friendly for my tastes (I love The Incredibles with a passion, but stuff like Cars and Finding Nemo aren't really my cup of tea). They're rightly considered the cream of the animation crop. The cast for their latest project is coming together, and I'm incredibly excited about it for a number of reasons. It's also a pretty significant change of pace for the animation house.
The film is John Carter of Mars, due in 2012, an adapation of the first in a series of novels by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the thing that sets it apart from previous Pixar projects is it will star live actors alongside animated characters (not unlike James Cameron's Avatar). The story follows a Civil War veteran mysteriously warped to a Mars populated by all sorts of bizzare creatures, from red-skinned men and women to four-armed, green-skinned monsters called Tharks. Carter finds that in Mars' thinner atmosphere and lower gravity he has superhuman strength, speed and leaping ability (not unlike the original Superman comics which would debut a few decades after Burroughs' stories), and quickly becomes embroiled in the centuries-long conflict between the red men of Barsoom (the Martians' name for their planet) and the green Tharks, eventually wooing the beautiful red-skinned princess of Mars, Deja Thoris.
One reason I'm so excited about John Carter of Mars is that I've read the first three books in Burroghs' Barsoom series, and they're a blast. Pure, pulpy fun, with swashbuckling adventure, romance, crazy monsters and airship battles. They're quite similiar to Star Wars in the way Burroughs fuses fantasy adventure with science fiction. The story is decidely more grown-up than Pixar's previous movies – the books get quite violent, though I suspect the movie will be toned down at least a bit – but I can't think of a better group of creators to bring the 15-foot-tall Tharks to life than Pixar. The other, bigger reason I'm so excited about this project is the cast of actors they're lining up, specifically in supporting roles. Taylor Kitsch (still can't get over that name) will star as Carter, and Lynn Collins will play the princess, Dejah Thoris. Both were co-stars in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Kitsch as Gambit and Collins as Logan's love interest. Neither blew me away in that movie – the only time I've seen either of them in anything – but they weren't bad, so I'm keeping an open mind.
But here's where things get awesome. Previously announced as playing (or, I guess, voicing) some of the Tharks are Willem Dafoe as a green warrior who eventually becomes Carter's closest ally, Dominic West (who was delightful as Jigsaw in Punisher: War Zone and was the lead in The Wire, for my money the best TV show in the history of the medium) as an evil Thark leader, and Samantha Morton as a kind-hearted female Thark. Just announced are Thomas Hayden Church as another evil Thark leader, Mark Strong (who's excellent in Guy Ritchie's RockNRolla and is the villain in Ritchie's upcoming Sherlock Holmes) as the benevolent leader of the red men, and James Purefoy (TV's Rome and The Philanthropist) as another noble red warrior who helps Carter.
2012 is a long ways off, but I'm a hundred times more excited about John Carter of Mars than I am about Avatar, and that's not a knock on Cameron's movie. Between the solid source material, the top-notch talent behind the camera and what's shaping up to be a crackerjack cast, I'm starting to get angry that I'm going to have to wait two-plus years to see this thing.