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Danny Huston

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Sounds and Furies.


In today’s trailer bin, Guillermo del Toro tries to out-Bay Bayhem in the new trailer for Pacific Rim, a.k.a. Monsters vs. Robots, with Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Rinko Kikuchi, Clifton Collins Jr., Burn Gorman, Willem Dafoe, and GLaDOS. Hrm, ok. This looks ridiculous, and I’d rather just see a straight-up Del Toro Cthulhu film, but I suppose this’ll do until the trouble gets here.


If giant robots aren’t your bag, how about some Faulkner? For his directorial debut, James Franco aims to bring to life As I Lay Dying, also with Tim Blake Nelson, Danny McBride, Logan Marshall-Green, Richard Jenkins, Ahna O’Reilly, and Beth Grant. Haven’t read the book myself, but this might be interesting — I’d have gone with a different font, tho.


Starbuck, Riddick; Riddick, Starbuck. After misfiring several years ago with The Chronicles of Riddick, David Twohy and Vin Diesel apparently set to remake Pitch Black again, given the new trailer for Riddick — also with Katee Sackhoff, Karl Urban (who’ll presumably explain what happened since end of the last film), and a bunch of creature fodder (Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Jordi Molla, Noah Danby, Nolan Gerard Funk). Er…this looks…no.


Meanwhile, Foley artist Toby Jones discovers working on a Dario Argento-style giallo film isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in this trailer for Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, with Tonia Sotiropoulou, Cosimo Fusco, and Suzy Kendall. Looks like somebody’s seriously bucking for that Sound Editing Oscar…


Presumably sick of playing second fiddle to Kevin Spacey on House of Cards, Robin Wright sells her persona to Harvey Keitel and Danny Huston in this look at Ari Folman’s The Congress, also with Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sami Gayle, and Christopher B. Duncan. Wasn’t expecting traditional animation after the intriguing set-up.


Elsewhere in the Cineplex, Rachel McAdams is falling in love with time travelers again in the trailer for Richard Curtis’ About Time, with Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Nighy, Lindsay Duncan, and Tom Hollander. I like the cast, I like Sliding Doors, but I still haven’t forgiven Curtis for Love, Actually, so this, as with the last two above, will likely be a Netflixer.


And, since I somehow missed this last month, Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke check in again with Celine and Jesse in the official trailer for Before Midnight. Vaguely spoiler-y, in that this basically tells you what happened after Nina Simone in Paris nine years ago. But hopefully the journey is the reward with this one.

Confederates at Gitmo.


The military trial of civilians is an atrocity!” Why, yes, yes it is. And, if you didn’t think so already, Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, an occasionally flat but still edutaining courtroom drama, aims to sway you to that point of view by coming strong with the history — in this case, the 1865 trial of Mary Surratt for her alleged role in the murder of President Lincoln.

The good news is The Conspirator is nowhere near as preachy and inert as Redford’s last attempt at liberal muck-raking, Lions for Lambs. (I’ll confess I don’t have much patience for didactic message movies that bray at me to embrace opinions i already hold — See also Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone.) Nonetheless, this film still occasionally suffers from the same mix of well-meaning blandness and dramatic torpor that characterizes almost all of Amistad, Steven Spielberg’s similar 19th century courtroom exercise: The values being reified are all laudable, to be sure, but the story as told is strangely lifeless (and I say that as someone who probably enjoys the genre of movies-to-be-shown-in-high-school-history-when-the-teacher-is-out more than most.)

Fortunately, the movie grew on me after awhile. Its depiction of broader Washington DC often feels stagy, and some of the acting support here doesn’t help matters. (As Surratt’s daughter Anna, Evan Rachel Wood overdoes it in her every scene, and the very 21st-century Justin Long is just miscast here as a Union veteran.) But as the lens of the story narrows down to the nitty-gritty of the court case in its middle hour, The Conspirator finds a surer footing. At its best moments, Redford’s film feels like an episode of Law and Order: Civil War Unit, one whose resonances — military tribunals, indefinite detentions, victor’s justice, and whatnot — still feel “ripped from the headlines.”

After establishing that our protagonist here, Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy, with an impressive American accent — he should help out his countryman Ewan) is a Union war veteran wounded in his nation’s service, The Conspirator begins with the terrible crime that will concern us. On the night of April 14, 1865, only five days after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, several men attempt to kill President Lincoln, Vice-President Johnson, and Secretary of State Seward, with mixed results. Seward manages to survive some nasty stab wounds, Johnson’s killer loses his nerve…but, as we all know, the flamboyant actor-turned-assassin John Wilkes Booth manages to kill the 16th President of the United States in cold blood. It is a horrible act of treason, the first assassination America has ever seen, and, make no mistake, everyone involved will pay.

And so, under the direction of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline, only slightly less Cheneyesque than Richard Dreyfuss in W) the conspirators (minus Booth, who is shot during capture) are rounded up and put on, for all intent and purposes, show trial — one headed by military men and quite clearly designed to come back with guilty verdicts. (FWIW, this film mostly elides over the Manhunt part of the story.) Nonetheless, according to that quaint old Constitution, even such dastardly criminals as these deserve defense counsel, and ultimately the young Union lawyer we met at the outset is roped into defending Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) by his mentor, Maryland senator Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson).

Captain Aiken takes to his new position reluctantly, especially since he feels pretty certain that Surratt — the proprietress of the boarding house where the conspirators plotted — is guilty as all Hell. But as he learns more of Surratt and her pious Christian, Ur-mother ways, he starts to wonder if maybe she’s just taking the fall for her son John (Johnny Simmons of Jennifer’s Body), who is still on the lam. And, as he grows ever more sick of the obvious railroading happening at trial under the direction of Judge David Hunter (Colm Meaney) and prosecutor Joseph Holt (Danny Huston, doing his officiously sinister bureaucrat thing), Aiken becomes a convert to his duties, even as proper Washington society begins to shun him for seeming to take on the Confederate cause. Sometimes a man has to make a stand, etc. etc.

I don’t know much about the Mary Surratt trial other than what Wiki has to offer, so I can’t tell you if Redford and screenwriter James Solomon have done justice to the specifics of the story — It seems to have a versimilitude about it, at any rate. But one place where I thought The Conspirator faltered is in establishing the Big Picture. True, the film begins grimly with Lincoln’s assassination — hard to fault it there, I suppose. But particularly once the courtroom scenes take hold, it doesn’t do a very good job of putting everything in emotional context — that all of this is happening mere days and weeks right after the close of America’s bloodiest war. (Nor, for that matter, is slavery mentioned.) And so, while the Law and Order aspects of the story are often compelling in their own right, the trial also feels flat, and strangely disconnected from all the events that put it in motion.

Which is too bad, really. Since, if anything, that Civil War backdrop adds depth to the viewpoint Redford seemed to be trying to uphold. There we were after four years of bloody war, 600,000 dead and the president assassinated, and Aiken is still taking a stand for the constitutional rights of Mary Surratt — even though an innocent verdict might well put the sides at each other’s throats again. (Contrast this with the cowardly behavior our past two administrations have shown with regard to tribunals, detentions, Gitmo, etc, even though, neither on 9/11 or since, has Al Qaeda ever represented the kind of existential threat to our republic that we faced in 1865.)

Speaking of the Civil War angle: In a way, I admire the shrewdness of this film: It tries to pitch a civil liberties morality play in such a way that the people who will feel most aggrieved about the injustices being shown, civil libertarians notwithstanding, are the folks among us with residual sympathy for the Confederacy — not normally a left-leaning or libertarian bunch. But, let’s get real: They’re not going to see this film, or, if they do, see it as anything other than lefty propaganda. Like Inside Job or Casino Jack and the United States of Money, The Conspirator is for the most part just preaching to the choir. One of the best things you can say about it is that, for the middle hour at least, you may not mind humming along.

There’s Something about Mary.

A military trial of civilians is an atrocity…” Now isn’t that quaint? Union war hero James McAvoy finds himself reluctantly defending Robin Wright (a.k.a. Mary Surratt), a possible accessory to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, in the trailer for Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, also with Kevin Kline, Justin Long, Alexis Bledel, Evan Rachel Wood, Colm Meaney, Danny Huston, and Tom Wilkinson. Here’s hoping the historical setting here can ease the didacticism that marred Lions for Lambs.

Rewrite of the Titans.

The most drastic changes in the film come at the expense of the gods. Many watching the movie wonder why Danny Huston would have been hired to play Poseidon when he has almost absolutely nothing to do in the film; the answer is that nearly two thirds of the business with the gods was edited out of the film, and the very tenor of the god scenes was changed in fundamental ways.

As the unnecessary sequel train leaves the station, CHUD’s Devin Faraci details the many major post-production rewrites (re: studio-mandated dumbing down) that afflicted Louis Leterrier’s recent Clash of the Titans. Unclear if it would have salvaged the movie, but the original version does sound a good bit better than what ended up on screen.

Made of Stone.

After about a half hour or so of stilted, mind-numbing, make-you-want-to-claw-your-eyes-out exposition, Louis Leterrier’s interminable remake of Clash of the Titans, for some reason or another, takes a brief moment to badmouth Bubo, the metal owl from the 1981 version of the film. Well, say what you will about that goofy Harry Hamlin-Burgess Meredith-Lawrence Olivier flick and its Minervan comic-relief droid — At least it had heart.

This whiteboy-angsty retread of Titans, on the other hand, basically has no pulse whatsoever. It’s just a lumbering, CGI-ridden box office monstrosity not unlike its Cloverfield-ish Kraken, and one that could desperately use the same spark of life Zeus ostensibly once infused in mortal men. You remember that godawful tag line from the first trailer — “Titans will Clash“? Well, the FX processors notwithstanding, that’s about the level of effort put forth by this movie, as in none at all. Granted, Clash isn’t quite as awful as last month’s woeful Alice in Wonderland, but it’s definitely in the same lo-rent ballpark.

This iteration of Clash begins with a starfield and the demi-goddess Io (Gemma Arterton, late of Quantum of Solace, soon of Prince of Persia) in full expository mode, a la Virginia Madsen at the start of Dune. (Or, for that matter, Cate Blanchett in Fellowship — Leterrier explicitly bites from PJ’s Tolkien trilogy several times here — See also all the very LotR-like pans of Perseus & co. walking through Glorious Nature to wherever they’re going next.) So, anyways, this backstory is pretty standard — Zeus defeats the Titans, he, Poseidon and Hades divvy up the universe, etc. etc.

And eventually, along comes Perseus (Sam Worthington, more on him in a bit), a son of Zeus found lost at sea as a babe by a fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite, paying the mortgage). Unlike earlier iterations, this Perseus grows up a sullen, wrathful sort, and particularly after Hades (Ralph Fiennes, wasted) drowns his entire family as an afterthought to a fly-by shooting of sorts. Bent on revenge for these murders, Perseus soon enlists on a suicide mission to defeat Hade’s powerful pet, the fearsome Kraken — which, thanks to a bit of inopportune blasphemy by Cassiopeia, the queen of Argos (Polly Walker, wasted), will either be destroying the city or devouring its sensitive-soul, Peace Corps-ish princess, Andromeda (Alexa Davalos, unremarkable) in ten days time.

So this glum, grim, and altogether peeved demigod sets out with a team of soldiers — let’s just go ahead and call them the body count — to find a way to stop the Kraken, which may or may not include fending off giant scorpions, battling Calibos (Jason Flemyng), bartering with witches, and wrangling with Medusa (Natalia Vodianova). And, given the subject matter, it’s almost weird how boring all of this turns out to be. Partly because Perseus’ fighting style throughout is basically “run-in-the-other-direction-from-the-CGI-thingy.” Partly because the script…well, sucks. It’s just bad one-liners and lazy exposition all the live-long day. And partly because, aside from a pair of Asterix-and-Obelix-style hunters who tag along for the ride (Ashraf Barhom and Mouloud Achour), nobody’s having any fun whatsoever here. It’s all grimacing and cursing the Gods for this, that, or the other thing. Just deadly dull stuff.

Is this innate boringness Sam Worthington’s fault? Well…maybe. I said after the also-terrible Terminator: Salvation that Worthington “has presence, and I could see him being a A-lister if given the right material.” But after Avatar and this flick, I’m revising that statement. He’s had three bites at the apple now, and, while I suspect some female or gay readers may disagree — and making some allowances for the fact that, all three times, he probably spent a good bit of his days on set reacting to a green tennis ball — he’s really starting to come across as a charisma-free zone to me.

But, that being said, everybody here, with the possible exception of Casino Royale‘s Mads Mikkelsen, seems devoid of charisma here, even usual stalwarts like Liam Neeson and Fiennes (both phoning it in, as is brother Poseidon, Danny Huston — But, to be fair, Huston only has one line.) True, handsome/pretty stiffs like Worthington and Arterton so far seem to be shapely blanks no matter what film they’re in. But somehow or another, this movie has the power of Medusa over everyone involved: It just seems to suck the life right out of people. My advice, if it’s not too late: Don’t attempt to look this one in the eyes. By the Gods, save yourselves and turn away.

Suffer the Kings and Arrows.

In the trailer bin this morning, Russell Crowe grimaces once more for Ridley Scott as the titular character in his take on Robin Hood, also with Cate Blanchett (Maid Marian), Mark Strong (Evil Henchman), Max von Sydow (Pa Marian), Mark Addy (Friar Tuck), Kevin Durand (Little John), Oscar Isaac (King John), Danny Huston (Richard the Lionheart), and William Hurt (William Marshall).

Well…ok. But how many times have we seen this movie now? (Not the Robin Hood tale, but the King Arthur-ish “story behind the story” period war epic.) For that matter, how many times has Ridley Scott made this movie now? As such, it’s hard to get too excited about this.

The Oughts in Film: Part IV (25-11).

Hello again, and a happy New Year’s Eve to you and yours. Well, I thought this Best of the Decade would end up being four parts, but now it’s looking like five. The recaps for this last twenty-five got so long that MT seems to be consuming the bottom of the entry as I write.

So, with that in mind, here’s #’s 25-11 for the Oughts, with the top ten of the decade to follow in due course. If you’re new to this overview, be sure to check out part 1, part 2, and part 3 before moving on to the…

Top 100 Films of the Decade: Part IV: 25-11
[The Rest of the List: 100-76 | 75-51 | 50-26 | 25-11 | 10-1]
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/2008/2009]


25. Donnie Darko (2001)

From the original review: “All in all, this is a marvelously genre-bending film with wonderful anchoring performances by the Gyllenhaals. I think I liked this movie much more for not knowing a lot about it going in, so I won’t mention the particulars here. But it’s definitely worth seeing. Extra points for the soundtrack, which with ‘Head over Heels,’ ‘Love will Tear Us Apart,’ and ‘Under the Milky Way’…reminded me more of my own high school experience than any other film I can remember. (The Dukakis era setting helped, since that was my own eighth grade year.)

I almost took this movie out of the top 25 on account of its association with Southland Tales and The Box, and even the director’s cut of this film, which snuffs out a lot of this movie’s weird magic by slathering it in needless Midichlorian-style exposition. As I said in my recent review of The Box, Donnie Darko seems to be a clear and undeniable case where studio intervention saved a movie.

Nevertheless, part Philip K. Dick, part John Hughes, Darko was a touching coming-of-age story (thanks in good part to Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne as Donnie’s cranky but loving parents), a decently funny satire about the vagaries of small-town life (think Sparkle Motion, “sleep-golfing,” and the Love-Fear axis), and a trippy sci-fi/psychological thriller. (Was Donnie really talking to a demon-rabbit from the future, or was he just off his meds? The original version muddles this question a lot better than the Kelly cut.)

Whether or not Richard Kelly just got struck by lightning here, everyone else involved clearly brought their A-game to this production. Two Gyllenhaals got on the Hollywood board with this flick, although Maggie would have to wait for Secretary to really break out. The Michael Andrews score contributed mightily to the proceedings, as did the Gary Jules cover of “Mad World,” which got a lot of run in the Oughts, from Gears of War to American Idol. And there are plenty of quality performances in the margins, from the late Patrick Swayze riffing on his image, to Beth Grant typecasting herself for the decade, to Katharine Ross coming back for one more curtain call. Fluke or not, the original version of Donnie Darko was one strange and memorable bunny, alright.


24. High Fidelity (2000)

From the year-end list: “An excellent adaptation of a great book, even if I preferred the Elvis Costello britrock emphasis of Hornby’s tome to the indie Subpop scene of the movie.

Charlie, you f**king b**ch! Let’s work it out!” Arguably John Cusack’s finest hour (although 1999’s Being John Malkovich is right up there, and I know many might cite the Lloyd Dobler of old), Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity has continued to grow on me over the years. If it counts as one of David Denby’s slacker-striver romances (see the discussion of Knocked Up at #40), it’s definitely the one that hits closest to home for me.

The first thing people usually remember about this movie is all the Jack Black/Todd Louiso banter in the record store. (“It’s a Cosssssby sweater!“) And it’s true — All of that stuff is both really funny and all too telling about the elitism and obsessiveness inherent to the fanboy mentality — “Don’t tell anyone you don’t own ‘Blonde on Blonde’! It’s gonna be okay.” Besides, let’s face it, this entire end-of-the-decade list is really just an extended High Fidelity-style Top 5 (and I had a great time back in July organizing my history books chronologically, a la Rob’s record collection.)

Still, as with the book, High Fidelity‘s killer app is really the dispatches filed from Rob’s romantic life, as he ponders what went wrong with his Top 5 Crushes gone awry. (“We were frightened of being left alone for the rest of our lives. Only people of a certain disposition are frightened of being alone for the rest of their lives at the age of 26, and we were of that disposition.“) There’s a lot of truthiness throughout High Fidelity, from Rob’s catastrophic hang-up on Charlie (Catherine Zeta Jones) to his eff-the-world rebound with an equally besotted Sarah (Lili Taylor), to his single-minded infatuation about whether his ex, Laura (Iben Hjejle), has slept with the loathsome new boyfriend, Ian (fellow Tapehead Tim Robbins in a great cameo) yet.

In short, I’d argue High Fidelity gets the inner-male monologue closer to right than any flick this side of Annie Hall. In the immortal words of Homer J. Simpson, it’s funny because it’s true.


23. In the Mood for Love (2000) / 2046 (2004)

From the original review: “Since I spent Friday evening watching In the Mood for Love — a tale of a romance-that-almost-was, told in furtive hallway glances — and 2046 — a broader and more diffuse disquisition on love and heartache — back-to-back, here’s an

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