Robert Downey Jr is IRON MAN? Seriously??

Aint-It-Cool-News reports…

And now Variety apparently confirms…

That director John Favreau has cast Robert Downey Jr. as Marvel Comics character Tony Stark, better known as Iron Man!

Yeah, photoshop job. Whaddaya want?

After becoming the poster-child for burnout celeb-dom following a series of drug-related problems awhile back, Downey Jr. has done an incredible job of bouncing back these past few years. He turned in an amazing lead performance in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” my favorite movie of 2005, did awesome supporting work in “A Scanner Darkly” and even brought genuine life to his thankless bad guy role in “The Shaggy Dog.” Who knows how this came together, whether he sought out the role or the other way around… but there’s no way to overstate the significance of this partin regards to his career: He’s gone from being regarded as an unhinged, washed-up also-ran to toplining one of the biggest potential action-blockbuster franchises on the horizon right now. Robert Downey Jr. is the REVERSE Tom Cruise. (Cruise, btw, was supposed to make this movie waaaay back when.)

My immediate read is that Downey should give at least some of his thanks for actually getting this to Johnny Depp, who’s ultra-profitable “Pirates” turn probably has made a lot of studios a lot more open to the idea of casting offbeat indie veterans as leads in projects like this. And for the record, it’s a pretty juicy part in it’s own right: Stark is a mega-wealthy playboy/industrialist inventor who, after an accident, (Vietnam shrapnel in the original 60s books) converts the cybernetic parts he now (secretly) sports to continue living into a suit of high-tech armor he uses to (also secretly) become superhero Iron Man. The character had his two biggest periods of notoriety in the mid-1960s as Marvel’s resident Cold Warrior in chief (a quintessential capitalist using his all-American ingenuity to battle baddies from Communist territories like the Soviet “Titanium Man” or the Chinese “Mandarin”) and then again decades later during a popular story arc that saw Stark confront a threat from within: his own alcoholism. Currently, he’s leading the bad-guys-whom-we’re-still-not-calling-the-bad-guys side in Marvel’s “Civil War” crossover

It’ll be interesting to see how the various press fronts cover this. Though let me give you a brief preview:

The mainstream movie press will be focused on this as the symbol of Downey’s career rebirth come to full bloom. (Next up: Showy gimme-my-Oscar role!)

The elitist movie press will wail once more that the sky is falling in the wake of another “fine actor” “lowering” himself to the realm of those silly, silly funnybooks.

The geek world is going to have (oh hell, we’re ALREADY having) a coniption at the news that a real actor of offbeat merit is taking up the helmet. The immediate, and spot-on, comparison will be Michael Keaton as Batman. The “buzz” on this one is now officially good… and will remain so until if or when someone gets the first picture of a “sucky” looking costume.

The snarky-side of the geek world will have endless amounts of fun with the juxtaposition of Downey’s own noted addiction troubles with that of the (comic-book) Tony Stark. This will eventually be noticed muuuuuch later by…

…the mainstream movie press, who will make this THE question Downey gets most-often asked about by junkey journo’s feigning familiarity with the material, which will eventually lead…

director John Favreau to get really sick of re-explaining what the geek set already heard him say months back: That the alcoholic aspects of the character won’t be focused-on in the first movie 🙂

REVIEW: All The Kings Men (2006)

“All The Kings Men” is being promoted as a star-vehicle for Sean Penn, owing to his showstopping performance as an all-additude-all-the-time political demagogue. But when actually sit down to watch it (not that I’m recommending you do so) you discover it’s star is Jude Law as the idealistic newsman who becomes a sidekick to Penn’s character… and then you realize that it’s okay, because it becomes readily apparent that the film itself is also under the impression that Penn has the lead. You don’t feel very good about either realization, because it’s the earliest and clearest signal that you’re about to endure a nearly 2-1/2 hour mess.

Set to a hillariously overbearing score by James Horner, the film follows the same outline as the classic Depression-era novel (and Academy Award winning original film) on which it is based: A names-changed biopic of Louisiana governor Huey Long, here rechristened as Willie Stark (Penn.) Stark is a self-described educated hick who starts out as a local anti-corruption muckraker, but finds himself in statewide spotlight when a shoddily-constructed school he had railed against collapses and kills three children.

Suddenly the media of the day is rushing to Stark for answers with all the gusto (and, come to think of it, all the missing foresight) of those who thurst microphones in the direction of Gangsta Rappers in the wake of the L.A. Riots. In short order he’s drafted to run for Governor (excuse me, Guv’nuh) a task which is hampered by his nonexistant skill as an orator… Until, that is, he discovers that he’s been set up as a third-party prop to split the “hick-vote” in favor of the very “fat cats” he’s running against. All at once, Stark transforms into a fire-and-brimstone superstar-preacher on behalf of worker’s rights.

Penn sells the HELL out of this switch, probably the finest turn of his career in at least a decade… but in catching fire as he does he procedes to suck all of the oxygen out of the rest of the movie. It’s the kind of performance that can’t help but shift all attention to itself… which is fatal if the film hasn’t been structured to accomodate such (i.e. this is why “Silence of The Lambs” keeps Hannibal Lecter locked up 90% of the time) and THIS is such a film.

The story unfolds largely through the eyes of Law’s Jack Burden, a Southern aristocrat who shunned his family’s cash and connections in favor of a newsman’s job. He becomes enraptured by Stark in the early campaign, and becomes his personal advisor when he wins the Governor’s seat. It’s through his person that we’re meant to experience the disillusionment that comes with watching populist People’s Champion’s innevitable metamorphosis into a tyrant. Were the film able to keep itself grounded to this perspective, it would make more sense when time abruptly skips forward and the tea-totaling, devotedly-married Stark has become a corruption-mired, scotch-swilling womanizer. Were the film able to restrain Penn, or at least his screen time, this would be more forgivable; but you can’t play a character as a near-total enigma when the music and the direction are telling us that he’s our primary focus. The audience is going to want to know WHY he’s changed, and the tired axiom about absolute power corrupting absolutely isn’t going to cut it.

More to the point: Law’s character has been principally drafted by Stark, he learns, as an envoy to the Louisiana aristocracy from which he comes: Specifically his old friend Adam Stanton (Mark Ruffalo,) a tormented doctor and son of the state’s last great Governor and elderly power-broker Judge Irwin (Anthony Hopkins) who was a surrogate father to Jack. Also in the mix is Anne Stanton (Kate Winslet) who is Adam’s sister and (wait for it) the unrequited love of Jack’s life. As Stark muscles through what would now be called a far-left agenda of taxing the state’s wealthy to build schools and hospitals, the old-boy power structure lines to up impeach him on charges of corruption… which Stark responds to by becoming even more corrupt as he tries to stop them. Hm… wonder how this’ll end for everyone involved? Maybe not well, y’think?

The film doesn’t work. In fact, it’s a collossal failure: Hammy, one-dimensional characters, pretentious overdirection and that wonderfully inappropriate score. It’s showiest character is ultimately it’s most empty, and it’s potentially interesting characters are shunted to the sidelines. Only perennial character actor Jackie Earle Haley, in the nearly-silent role of Stark’s personal bodygaurd Sugar Boy, comes off as a truly engaging presence outside of Penn during his fiery speeches.

What’s left is disasterous, but also instructive: This is the textbook example of the folly of setting out for “important and award-winning” as a goal instead of just “a good movie.” I’ve seen a lot of crummy Oscar-bait in my day (looking at YOU “Cold Mountain”) but this has to be the worst in a long time.


REVIEW: Fearless (aka Huo Yuan Jia)


Listen to me very carefully:

Jet Li is NOT retiring from doing kung-fu in movies.

Yeesh. I understand we need to sell a movie however we can, but there’s a certain danger in relying on intentional mis-translation to prop up your film. Let’s get a grip here: Li’s declaration was that he is retiring from making “martial-arts films,” which has a slightly more specific meaning in Mr. Li’s native China than it does to most Westerners.

To U.S./European audiences, any action film where people use martial arts tends to get labeled as a “martial-arts” (or “kung-fu”) films. In the East, especially China and Hong Kong, the genre of “martial-arts” (or “wuxia”) applies narrowly to films where the story takes place in, and involve the philosophy of, martial-arts. “Master! He has insulted our Crane Style school! You must take revenge!” That kind of thing. As “kung-fu” is more widely practiced in Asia, and is generally a part of the everyday culture, more general action films where characters use kung-fu are generally seen simply as “action films.” To a Hong Kong audience, seeing a policeman character in a modern setting confront a baddie by snapping into Eagle’s Claw Stance isn’t at all unexpected; whereas to “us” it’s unusual and seems to warrant some special classification. Hence the amusing annointing of Brit tough guy Jason Statham as a “kung-fu” star on the basis that his character in the excellent “Transporter” series frequently utilizes Asian fighting styles.

Enough. Li says he’s quitting Wuxia, which leaves him wide open to continue doing all sorts of action films where he will, presumably, still use his famed skill with the martial-arts. You don’t have to worry about him popping up in a damn Merchant Ivory flick or running for Governor of California any time soon. Meanwhile, we have “Fearless” as Li’s self-appointed capstone to his long run with the genre.

While not his finest Wuxia turn (he has, after all, previously toplined genre classics such as “Once Upon a Time in China” and “Hero”) “Fearless” is at least a fittingly reverent celebration of the genre itself and it’s prefered form of plot-structure: The prodigal-son who’s “breakthrough” in the realm of combat is linked to his “breakthrough” in the realm of spiritual enlightenment. In this case, the subject is a heavily-fictionalized biography of Hou Yuanjia, founder of modern martial-arts in the form of China’s Jing Wu Sports Federation.

In this version of the story, (set in 1800s China) Master Hou is the rising kung-fu star of his province, unbeatable in the ring but also arrogant non-introspective. He drinks too much, neglects family and simple pleasures, and maintains a group of “disciples” who are little more than a 19th Century equivalent of a rock-star’s entourage. When he eventually goes too far in quest to become the local champ, it sets in motion a tragic chain of events that leads to the revenge-killing of his family.

Rescued from self-imposed exile by kindly rural peasants, he learns the value of humility and hard work and heads back home a changed man… only to find “home” reduced to shambles as an influx of European/American/etc interlopers has stripped China of it’s native pride; a situation which Huo aims to rectify by institutionalizing martial-arts and challenging Western (and Japanese) fighters to competitions. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with the scheming Japanese envoy (Japanese director/critic Masato Harada, who you may remember doing this same basic bit in “The Last Samurai”) who schemes to interfere.

Truth be told, it’s a little difficult to “buy” Li as the “heel” version of Huo in the earliest portions of the film. But he sells the hell out of his “darker” scenes toward the middle and slips into the cool Zen detachment of the “enlightened” Huo in the 3rd act as though it were an old slipper. The action scenes, while not as numerous or sprawling as one may expect post-“Hero” are a great deal of fun, trading in the currency of expertly-choreographed weapon-vs-weapon, style-vs-style dust-ups. Of special note is a brutal mano-a-mano showdown with “Hercules O’Brien,” played by Nathan Jones; a massive former competitive strongman whom you can also see trading blows with Tony Jaa in “The Protector.”

And while the overall story arc will hold very few surprises for fans of wuxia films (but plenty of surprises for anyone with a passing familiarity with the actual events this is supposedly based-on) the film-proper is a vintage example of it’s own genre, and a fitting sendoff for one it’s brightest modern stars.


Atlas Shrugged: The Movie

It’s official, put it to bed, the issue is settled:

Angelina Jolie is perfect.

Pictured above: God, or at least evidence there of.

From Variety, courtest JoBlo, comes the news that the Oscar-winning actress, activist, rescuer of third-world orphans and newly-annointed Queen of All MILFs is finally onboard a project she’s been “circling” for awhile now, a big-screen adaptation of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”

Jolie, apparently, is a fan of the book and it’s author, the late founder of “Objectivism.” Frankly, so am I. In fact, to my ears, the Variety headline here may as well read: “Chocolate to star in Peanut Butter: The Movie.”

She’ll (apparently) be taking the lead role of Dagny Taggart, a hands-on female railroad chief. Here’s my personal favorite exchange from the novel, between Dagny and Cherryl, the new wife of her wormy brother (and double-crossing inter-office enemy) James, one of the baddies of the story. Dagny’s response is, I think, all the explanation needed as to why an actress of Jolie’s particular stature and history would seek out the part:

“There’s something I want you to know,” said Cherryl, her voice taut and harsh, “so that there won’t be any pretending about it. I’m not going to put on the sweet relative act. I know what you’ve done to Jim and how you’ve made him miserable all his life. I’m going to protect him against you. I’ll put you in your place. I’m Miss Taggart. I’m the woman in this family now.”

“That’s quite all right,” said Dagny. “I’m the man.”

Go on, TRY and name me one other current actress plausibly qualified to deliver that line.

REVIEW: The Black Dahlia (2006)

Brian De Palma was Quentin Tarantino before Quentin Tarantino: Though seperated by an entire generation of filmmaking, both men are perpetual film students (the former a card-carrying member of the “film-school generation,” the other “self-educated” as it were) who’s films are often best read as essays on their various influences and inspirations; Tarantino as vanguard of the 70’s grindhouse scene, De Palma forever enraptured by Hitchcock, 40s noir and the visual language of the Golden Age.

On the surface, a feature film about the Black Dahlia murder case would seem perfectly suited both to De Palma’s best instincts and favorite fetishes: A grisly, sensational, to-this-day-unsolved murder mystery set smack dab in the middle 0f smoldering 1940s Hollywoodland. However, despite the perfection of this fit and the title of the film, the screenplay is adapted from an early work by James Ellroy and is thus primarily concerned with the Dahlia (for the record: real name Elizabeth Short, found cut in half, gutted, bloodless and with an ear-to-ear grin carved into her face) as a gateway into exploring the dark underbelly of the city’s political/social structure and the deteriorating psyche’s of two detectives assigned to the case.

Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart are the investigators, nicknamed Mr. Fire and Mr. Ice by the L.A. press, a pair of ex boxers turned cops who bond during an impromptu boxing/precint publicity-stunt. They stumble into the Dahlia case almost by accident, but Eckhart’s Det. Blanchard becomes almost-immediately obsessed with solving/”avenging” the murder, putting a strain on the explicitly-triangular (yet functionally asexual) familial coupling that’s been established between himself, Hartnett’s Det. Bleichert and his (Blanchard’s) girlfriend Kay (Scarlett Johanssen) who carries literal and figurative scars that may help explain the dark secrets driving Blanchard’s ultra-protective streak in regards to victimized women (this IS James Ellroy, after all.) On top of all this, the impending release of a felon with bad history with Blanchard and Kay acts as a countdown on the relative sanity of all involved.

Meanwhile, Bleichert wrestles with his own relatively less-complex demons (summary: he really, really, really wants to fuck Kay) and delves into the case from another angle; this one leading to vamping, bisexual heiress Madeline Linscott (a sultry Hillary Swank, nicely putting to bed all that nonsense that she only turns in great work in androgynous roles) who possibly knew the Dahlia and, more troublingly, is definately a dead-ringer for her.

And lest you think the plot is not sufficiently overstuffed, there’s also the matter of two paralell investigations which may or may not have everything or nothing to do with the main story, handfuls of corrupt cops and crooks with hidden agendas, backstories involving bank robberies and prostitution, thuggish real estate bosses, Madeline’s frighteningly-eccentric aristocrat family, a lesbian stag film, street riots involving the U.S. Navy, the “Zoot Suit Wars,” Fritz Lang’s “The Man Who Laughs” and a shantytown in the shadow of the Hollywood Sign built, we’re told, from the rotting husks of discarded movie sets (SYMBOLISM!!!!!)

De Palma is able (or at least willing) to cram all of that in because the film’s deliberate, mannered structure allows him ample room to do so. The first act is almost entirely about setting up mood and tone, establishing it’s central three-part relationship with the kind of depth that turns each player into well-lit enigmas even as it screams “this will be important later!” The main tale is related from Bleichert’s point of view, allowing us to experience his bewilderment as Blanchard begins to spiral into obsession. Later, when it’s Bleichert’s turn to go nuts- trapped in a swirl of interlocking conspiracies and unsure if he is pawn or knight or both -the film and it’s overall tone go there with him.

What is, depending on your point of view, either the genius or the madness of the film is that like most of De Palma’s more memorable output it is deeply committed to the act of being a movie. The period setting and Hollywood locale are essentially licenses through which De Palma allows himself to openly indulge his love for (and mastery at replicating) the mannered acting, showy camerawork and operatic pacing of 1940s tinseltown. The film’s overall effect is as a swirl of vintage clothing, stiff-brimmed hats, glitzy gowns and smoke-filled rooms, all captured with a camera that swoops and dives with the same controlled-mania that seems to afflict it’s director; who’s artistic temperment veers back and fourth from rococo to baroque and back again at a moment’s notice.

There’s no question that this kind of form-as-function stylization is going to alienate and/or infuriate a certain quotient of the audience, especially since the film begins to reveal it’s true identity as a being of pure stylistic string-pulling right around the time it start’s revealing the dizzyingly complicated answers to it’s dizzyingly complicated mysteries. It’s the sort of film where a “typical” police shootout can suddenly be joined by a switchblade-wielding asassin who’s wide-brimmed figure takes the form of a living shadow, and where a sudden third act descent into high camp histrionics seems abrupt for only a moment, until you look at the players involved and the secrets revealed and realize that high camp is the only place this could ever end up.

The plain fact is, “The Black Dahlia” is a film that isn’t as much “about” the titular murder as it is about the vintage attire, period-mannered dialogue and soaring Herrman-esque score that surround it. If nothing else, it’s De Palma’s most accomplished variation on his never-ending exploration into noir stylization since “Body Double,” a feat not easily accomplished. Reccomended.


REVIEW: The Protector (2006)

It was probably a mistake, in boxoffice terms, to release “Ong Bak” under it’s original Thai-language title rather than something a little more domestic-sounding in the U.S. However, is it too much to ask that the Weinstein Bros. had been a little more creative in rechristening the film’s followup, “Tom Yum Goong,” with a title SLIGHTLY less generic than “The Protector?”

“Ong Bak,” of course, was the worldwide debut film of martial-arts wunderkind Tony Jaa. A brawny kung-fu slugfest with a decidedly old-school vibe (“lone Buddhist warrior vs. armies of big city thugs,”) it was an immediate sensation with genre fans and coaxed grudging admiration for it’s hard-working star from even the most fun-phobic critic (even as they acknowledged the film’s determined primitiveness in matters of story structure.)

“Protector” re-unites Jaa with “Ong Bak’s” director Prachya Pinkaew, which is good. It also re-unites him with his sidekick from “Ong Bak,” Petchai Wongkamlao, which is amusing. It also re-unites him with the plot from “Ong Bak,” which is… well, it is what it is. For those who missed it (or saw it and just didn’t feel the need to pay attention) “Bak” cast Jaa as a master of Muy Thai Kickboxing who leaves his peaceful rural village in Thailand for big city Bangkok to retrieve a holy statue stolen by gangsters. He’s once more the kickboxing country-boy here, a caretaker of sacred Elephants who heads for Australia when his prized pachyderms are swiped by the creepiest poachers this side of Cruella DeVille.

Built heavily on Jaa’s now-legendary popularity in his homeland, the film (just like “Ong Bak”) is awash in nationalistic cheerleading and religious zeal: His character, Kham, is a descendant of the warriors charged with raising and training Thailand’s mighty War Elephants of old. His enemies, by contrast, are Aussies, English-speaking Chinese gangsters, nonspecific Caucausian muscleheads and even a dreadlock’d Capoeira fighter. He encounters a Sydney that’s entirely corrupt and bigoted, and finds allies only in the city’s racially-oppressed Thai immigrant community. At one point, he wails on a succession of enemies using the various sacred items in a Buddhist temple. All of this is presented with a complete lack of irony or commentary, and the effect is frequently charming.

The big improvement over “Ong Bak,” aside from a demonstrably larger production value and more self-assured direction from Pinkaew (we no longer see Jaa’s every “cool” move repeated nine times for effect,) is that Jaa is up against villians who are both colorful enough to match his exuberant physicality and truly hateful enough to warrant the beating he dishes out: Female wannabe Triad-boss Madame Rose’s (played by superstar Chinese ballerina Jin Xing in full pre-breakdown Lady MacBeth mode) evil scheme is the kidnapping of animals for her illegal underground resturaunt where endangered species are served to wealthy clients. Seriously. (Interestingly, the film seems to have Xing playing the character as a traditional whip-cracking kung-fu femme-fatale; with no reference to her more famous real-life identity as a male-to-female transsexual.)

The unavoidable absurdity of a vengeance-crazed kickboxer (literally) tearing armies of men apart with his bare hands in a blood-soaked quest to liberate… cute baby animals (I dare any “Simpsons” fan not to guffaw uncontrollably when they realize that Jaa spends most of the film screaming “Where’s my elephant!!??” at the bad guys) winds up like a kind of “nuttiness-virus” that infects the rest of the film, and whether or not you can “roll” with that kind of disjointed surreality will be a big factor in whether or not you’ll have fun with it.

Jaa and Pinkaew clearly had their fun, using the terminal-nuttiness diagnosis to stage setpiece scenes of maniacal invention: At one point one of Madame Rose’s underbosses, having been cornered in a warehouse by Kham, pulls a chain that blows a giant siren-horn… causing mountain-bikers, rollerbladers and other extreme-sports thugs to come running from all over Sydney to beat Kham up with flourescent lightbulbs. They also find time to execute the most impressive use of single-shot steadicam in awhile, a nearly five-minute unbroken shot following Kham as he pummels his way through the levels of the resturaunt.

This is the kind of thing I go to the kung-fu movies hoping to see, and I had a ball with it. Go in with the right frame of mind, and I bet most of you will, too. And, again, how can you not root for a guy who’s willing to take on a roomful of about thirty or more armed attackers just to protect a baby elephant?


About "The Path to 9/11"

You’ve probably heard in the news right now that there’s some kind of controversy bubbling up about ABC’s upcoming miniseries “The Path to 9/11.” The “docudrama” is framed as a recounting of the various events in the decade prior to the WTC/Pentagon attacks that eventually were seen as precursors to the attacks themselves.

Short version: The early screeners of the film engendered very positive word of mouth, but various “conservative”-leaning pundits (including the ubiquitous Rush Limbaugh) were positively ecstatic over it because of certains scenes which they believe “show” the various bunglings of the Clinton administration vis-a-vi Osama bin Laden (I’m told by others that the film has it’s share of scorn for Bush administration officials, notably Seccy of State Condoleeza Rice.)


So… remember when CBS was going to run that less-than-hagiographic Reagan miniseries a few years back, and the “conservative” blogosphere threw a childish hissy-fit over it? Well, This story got picked up and run with by the “liberal” blogosphere, who took time off from sticking pins into their Joe Lieberman dolls to work themselves into a childish hissy-fit of their own: Stir in some “remember me?” soundbites from angry folks like Madeline Albright, who doesn’t like the way she’s said to come off in the movie, raise to a boil and in no time at all “miniseries critical of prior handlings of terrorism” has somehow morphed into “ABC IS RUNNING A MOVIE THAT SAYS CLINTON CAUSED 9/11!!!!!!!!”

And still people ask me why I won’t register for either party…

Now, as you may know, the general math on these blowups is that if either side of the political blogosphere bitches about something for longer than a week, the real-world politicians of that “side” are obliged to either start caring or start pretending to care. So now the DNC, in the form of an official letter to Disney/ABC boss Robert Iger, are calling for the miniseries itself (which is already undergoing edit-room “tweaking” in response to claims of innacuraccy) to be either “corrected” or canceled.

Here’s the letter:

Here’s Daily Kos, the consigliere of the “liberal” blogosphere, patting themselves on the back for another mole-hill successfully mountainized:

And, by way of balance, here’s the folks at the “conservative” movie blog Libertas- on which I am a frequent agitator because, let’s face it, the only way you become a great debator is to mix it up with those whom you generally disagree -giving their take on the events (neatly summarized as: “THE SKY IS FALLING!”):

And here’s ME:

Dems… I feel your pain. However… ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? Really? With re-claiming the Senate looking more and more likely every day.. REALLY?? You’re going there? Bad form.

You’re Senators. You’ve seen that idiot Brent Bozell come and speak enough times to know already what I’m about to point out to you: Even IF you have a point (I haven’t seen the movie) when you start browbeating filmmakers because they’re work stands in opposition to your political beliefs you will always look like the BAD GUYS.

Frankly, I’d be even MORE annoyed with you if I didn’t see how transparent a bit of pre-election posturing this is. Lemme spell it out for the boys and girls at home: The Democrats, however better and bolder they’re getting in their quest to grow a pair and actually WIN SOMETHING in November, are currently living in fear of their own “fans” in the blogosphere. Especially the “established” guys, who are all scared to death that they’ll be the next one’s kneecaped a’la Joe Leiberman. This is a sop to Kos, etc., a recognitionary wave of “we’re listening!” to the blogosphere designed with the same cynical purpose as the Republican’s once-every-election-year push for a gay marriage ban: to gin up the base and get them excited.

And it’ll work because either way they win: If ABC/Disney “blinks” in any way: “Hey kids, we won!” If not: “Kids, you were right! Better work EXTRA hard at electing us so we can fight even harder next time!”


Senate Democrats… guys… speaking as someone who’s usually grudgingly pulling for y’all to win (“lesser of two douchebags” and all that)… this is seriously lame. It’s not quite Bush/”Terri’s Law” lame, but it’s within sight of the ballpark. You look thin-skinned, grumpy and paranoid on this one, bottom-line.

Lest anyone have the idea to accuse me of “siding” with the right-wing hyperbole over this thing, I want to be very clear about something: If you are a “conservative” who is mad about these developments but you didn’t have the SAME level of rage over the right-wing blogosphere harassing CBS over the “The Reagans” movie… SHUT UP. You have not one iota of moral standing in your supposed disgust with ABC in this case. None.

REVIEW: The Wicker Man (2006)

Possible spoilers:

The original British “Wicker Man” is hallowed ground for horror fans, a literate and intelligent mystery flick the merits of which cannot be denied and the “horror” of which still packs a fiendish wallop. The sort of film, in other words, where anyone who attempts a remake is asking for trouble.

Trouble, unsurprisingly, is exactly what direct Neil LaBute gets.

Both versions share the same skeletal structure: A police officer is asked to find a little girl who’s vanished on an isolated island community called Summersisle. Once there, he finds that the citizens of the island are members of a neo-pagan religious cult and begins to suspect that the girl’s dissapearance may be connected to a mysterious sacrificial ceremony due to occur soon.

The similarities largely end there. The original story’s hero was a Scotland Yard detective, who’s own deep Christian faith brings him into immediate conflict with the Druidic Summersisle dwellers, and who’s sexual frustrations (egged on by a comely inkeeper’s daughter) begin to drive him mad. Summersisle’s peculiar form of worship is framed as a retro-fitted version of basic Celtic nature worship based on historic record of the same, and the film has a certain amount of playful fun imagining an otherwise typical English farming village as flavored by old-school Witchcraft (a pharmacy stocks eye-of-newt, schoolchildren learning about earth goddesses and phallic symbols with the chipperness of Sunday School, etc.)

In this updating, the locations are moved to the American west coast. Our policeman hero, played by Nicholas Cage, doesn’t seem to have any discernable spiritual hangups of his own: His inner torment comes from nightmares about having failed to save a woman and her child from a car crash. He’s summoned to Summersisle by his ex-fiancee to find her missing daughter.

Neil LaBute’s stock-in-trade as a narrative filmmaker has been, largely, an interesting infatuation with the notion of women in general and modern post-feminism in specific as a source of satire and/or evil. So it’s not that jarring that this is the fresh spin he attempts to put on Summersisle: It’s a fiercely matriarchal society, wrapped up in a singularly-goofy made-up religion that appears to worship honeybees. There’s fun to be had in the sense that LaBute uses this setup to take a blunt, somewhat mean-spirited (but probably overdue) swipe at the modern conflation of radical-feminism and new age neo-paganism, but ultimately yields little in the way of depth or menace. It also sets up an unintentionally funny stumbling block for the 3rd act, creating a situation where the only action can (and does) center on Nicholas Cage (at his gone-unhinged best) punching a succession of Renaissance Faire-costumed women square in the face.

Pity poor Ellen Burstyn, who turns up at midpoint as the presumptive Queen Bee supervillianess, Sister Summersisle. The original film’s villian was a slyly-underplayed aristocrat, memorably inhabited by dialed-down Christopher Lee, whom plainly implied that his interest in keeping Summersisle devoutly paganist was mostly done for personal gain. Burstyn, on the other hand, is saddled with as far less interesting characterization, as Sister Summersisle is presented as a one-note full-believing cult leader; Osama bin Laden in an orange wool smock. She turns in what will probably go down as the single worst performance of her career.

Robbed of any sense of real dread, incompetently staged and hamstrung by a satirical framework that it just can’t bring itself to really go after full-bore AND a laughably-awful script, the film can only drag on until it reaches it’s climax. I won’t spoil it, because to do so would spoil the original film which you’d all be VASTLY better off seeing instead of this.