Dick (1999, Andrew Fleming)

Andrew Fleming’s Dick has an irresistible premise (slow-witted teenage girls take down Nixon, not Woodward and Bernstein), but it turns out not to be enough for a movie. Not even a ninety-four minute movie. Besides inspired casting of Watergate figures (Dave Foley as Haldeman is probably my favorite, but Saul Rubinek’s Kissinger is the best–and Dan Hedaya’s a perfect Nixon), Fleming doesn’t really know what to do with his story. He covers some of the Watergate stuff, but not enough. He dumbs down the revelation of evidence and so on, not really taking advantage of it for his story. Once he’s established Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams in the White House, he does a couple montages and throws in Williams’s positively icky on Nixon, but the movie’s mostly on its way toward the end. Neither Dunst or Williams really have characters–which is fine, given Dick is a farcical comedy–but Fleming doesn’t have ninety-four minutes of story either.

Dick gets long after a while, once the laughing out loud stops–usually whenever Dunst and Williams are in charge of their scenes, instead of Foley, Hedeya, or Rubinek–and I don’t think there’s a single big laugh for the film’s last hour. There’s a good Foley scene, but it’s amusing, not laugh out loud. Given the lousy pacing of that last hour, I wonder if Fleming cut some stuff out to make the movie shorter, but I doubt it. Kirsten Dunst’s character doesn’t have a story, she has a brother. Devon Gummersall, as the brother, is good. Except he’s just a funny pot-head and the film’s better when he’s around because he says funny pot-head stuff. Dunst ranges from awful to bad. She’s worse when she’s alone. Michelle Williams, halfway through, goes from dumb to not-so dumb and she’s fine in the second half. The contrast between her and Dusnt’s acting prowess is stunning. One also gets the feeling Williams heard the word ‘Watergate’ before filming the movie.

We rented Dick because a) we’d just watched All the President’s Men and b) I thought it was funnier. I remembered it being funnier. But it isn’t. The film only makes it through the second half because of Hedeya, Williams, and Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch as Woodward and Bernstein (Bernstein’s such a jackass I wonder if Fleming consulted with Nora Ephron). The film also benefits–more than it deserves–from the great use of the 1970s music. The end is–as I remembered while watching it–a real kicker set to Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.”

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Fleming; written by Fleming and Sheryl Longin; director of photography, Alexander Gruszynski; edited by Mia Goldman; music by John Debney; production designer, Barbara Dunphy; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kirsten Dunst (Betsy Jobs), Michelle Williams (Arlene Lorenzo), Jim Breuer (John Dean), Will Ferrell (Bob Woodward), Dave Foley (Bob Haldeman), Teri Garr (Helen Lorenzo), Ana Gasteyer (Rose Mary Woods), Devon Gummersall (Larry Jobs), Dan Hedaya (Dick), Bruce McCulloch (Carl Bernstein), Ted McGinley (Roderick), Ryan Reynolds (Chip), Saul Rubinek (Henry Kissinger), Harry Shearer (G. Gordon Liddy), Len Doncheff (Leonid I. Brezhnev), G.D. Spradlin (Ben Bradlee) and Checkers (Brunswick).


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Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann)

DV Michael Mann–because there is a difference between Michael Mann on film and Michael Mann on DV–doesn’t bother giving Miami Vice a first act. I suppose he intends the absence to be some sort of cinema verite thing, but it doesn’t work, it just gives the audience no characters to identify with. Lethal Weapon 2 did the same thing, except it was a sequel. So, maybe Mann intended the audience to just assume Miami Vice the movie follows up “Miami Vice” the TV show, but I doubt it. Some of the film’s problems stem from this lack. Colin Farrell flounders through the first half hour (or hour, time stands still during Miami Vice) because his character is never defined. Mann even gives him a character arc, only leaving off the front part of it. A houseboat and a pet alligator might have been useful. Poor Jamie Foxx, despite being top-billed, is barely in the movie. He dominates the beginning, the pre-Farrell story parts, when Miami Vice seems like Mann’s greatest stylistic misfire. The film barely ever feels like Michael Mann, but once Farrell’s story takes over, it gets closest to it. Even the awesome gunfight at the end is lacking any of the depth Mann usually brings to a film. The difference in Miami Vice is the bad guys. Heat had one, maybe two, bad guys, everyone else was gray. Miami Vice has seven good guys and thirty bad guys–and the bad guys are real bad (which makes the end a lot of fun, but not really dramatically solid).

Rating Mann’s use of DV is difficult. At the end, he seems to be going for ultra-realism (which, I imagine, is why the supporting cast is made up of low profile actors, no one famous), but during the film, he doesn’t embrace it. Miami Vice occasionally looks like a documentary, but never plays like one. The quality of the DV shots change from time to time, especially at night, or in contrast-heavy lighting. Maybe Mann needs to shoot in studios and do CG backdrops, something besides the DV, which simply does not look good.

I hoped Miami Vice would be a soulless, blockbuster version of Heat but Mann had different ideas. There’s some evidence he had more story for Jamie Foxx, maybe an examination of his relationship with fellow officer girlfriend Naomie Harris (who’s good). It’s also possible I’m just making excuses for Mann, because he didn’t even see the need to make Farrell and Foxx convincing partners. He still casts right (Li Gong impressed me, even with the pigeon English) and Colin Farrell can actually smile with his eyes, which is a neat trick. I went from–at the beginning–thinking Mann had finally lost it. By the end, I decided he still had something left, just not a lot. He probably should stop writing, but he definitely needs to drop the DV.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann, based on the television series created by Anthony Yerkovich; director of photography, Dion Beebe; edited by William Goldenberg and Paul Rubell; music by John Murphy; production designer, Victor Kempster; produced by Mann and Pieter Jan Brugge; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Foxx (Ricardo Tubbs), Colin Farrell (Sonny Crockett), Li Gong (Isabella), Naomie Harris (Trudy Joplin), Ciaran Hinds (Agent Fujima), Justin Theroux (Zito), Barry Shabaka Henley (Lt. Castillo), Luis Tosar (Montoya), John Ortiz (José Yero) and Elizabeth Rodriguez (Gina).


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Typhoon (2005, Kwak Kyung-taek)

Typhoon is the biggest budgeted South Korean film to date. The money’s well spent, as the film looks like any big budget film. If there are any massive amounts of CG, they’d be at the end, during the storm, which happens at night, making things a lot easier. However, the budget can’t fix any of Typhoon’s problems, since they’re all from the writer-director, Kwak Kyung-Taek, apparently thinks GoldenEye is the action movie template to follow. Had Typhoon just been a remake of GoldenEye in a Korean context, I wouldn’t have complained… because GoldenEye was at least stimulating. Typhoon takes the structure of GoldenEye and some other Bond films and removes all the wit, however forced, and replaces it with moroseness. Typhoon is a would-be heavy film, but it doesn’t even fail to be heavy, it’s just too fake.

The film’s soullessness is peculiar, because it’s almost unique. It’s not a dumb American action movie–though it tries at times and fails because Kwak cannot direct exciting scenes–and it doesn’t want to be (the heavy elements). It wants to be something in between and can’t make it, because Kwak’s script is awful. His characters are entirely flat and go through the exceptionally long two hour film with about enough depth for ten minutes. None of the actors have any fun. Jang Dong-Kun, as the bad guy, doesn’t have any flourishes or any real personality… except he really and truly cares for his men–oh, Kwak also really likes Heat, more on that “influence” later. I was excited to see Typhoon because Lee Jung-Jae’s in it and he’s not particularly prolific and I can truly say I’ve never seen a more bored performance. Lee’s character is the most shallow–imagine a not cocky Tom Cruise action hero–and Lee the actor’s so visibly disinterested, you wish he could just get killed off. The only scenes of interest involve Jang’s sister and then both he and Lee perk up a little. The scenes between the two of them, when Kwak pretends they’re alter egos, produce the film’s most eye-rolling moments. The rest of the time it’s boring, which might mean the eye-rolling scenes are actually more engaging–my first use of engaging as a pejorative.

Frighteningly, Typhoon did get me interested in seeing Martin Campbell’s upcoming Casino Royale, just because if I want to see a pseudo-heavy James Bond movie, I’ll see a pseudo-heavy James Bond movie. It’s also got me terrified of Kwak’s other films, as at least one of them is on my to-watch list.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Kwak Kyung-taek; director of photography, Hong Kyeng-pyo; edited by Park Simon Kwang-il; production designer, Jeon In-han; produced by Park Seong-keon and Yang Joong-kyueng; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Jang Dong-gun (Choi Myong Sin), Lee Mi-yeon (Choi Myeong Ju) and Lee Jung-jae (Kang Se-jong).


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Behind the Planet of the Apes (1998, Kevin Burns and David Comtois)

I thought the Planet of the Apes festival could use a capstone, since it’s certainly not for sure I’ll make it through enough of Tim Burton’s remake to post about it. And the fiancée has no interest in that one, so it’ll be a while before I get around to it. There are good films to watch before it. I rented Behind the Planet of the Apes a little bit confused about its origins. I remember it (it aired on AMC and I watched some of it), but it’s not in the new Apes box set from Fox, so I figured it was an independent documentary. As it turns out, it is from Fox, which gives it great access to lovely conceptual art (something I can’t ever get enough of), interview subjects, and clips. There are lots of clips. Behind the Planet of the Apes summarizes every one of the movies, spending the most time on the first and then gradually less and less on the other films.

As an actual documentary, Behind is a joke. My review posts of the films make it clear I was never an Apes fan so I really wanted Behind to explain the “phenomenon” to me. It did (the Apes films were intended for kids), but it never went further. Obviously there were audience and critical reactions to these films, but Behind only makes off-hand references. The main force is the summarizing, along with a lengthy look at the production of the first film (but, sadly, nothing on post-production). Had Behind just covered the first film, I imagine it would have been more interesting and a more cohesive experience. The film ends with a brief discussion of Fox’s marketing campaign to tie in with the TV series, but nothing about the producer’s 150 page production idea guide he had for the first film. Because there’s never any substantial reference to the actual impact of these films (the film historian simply advertises the films for Fox), it feels like no one ever saw them before this documentary presented them, twenty-five years later. The producers talk about the cultural impact, but it’s not evident. I don’t expect a lot from a promotional documentary, but it really plays like an infomercial.

All complaints aside, the film does present some diverting information about the making of the films and filmmaking in general. The art director, William Creber has a lot of interesting stuff to talk about and some of the directors have things to say, but they hardly get any screen time. I think the first time I watched it, I hadn’t seen Planet of the Apes in recallable memory, which made it mildly compelling (seeing a bunch of films in summary) and I did remember that factoid about Conquest filming at Century City. However, having just watched all the films, this promotional documentary has brought me no closer to understanding why Apes has such a following. It does nothing to explain what I’m “missing,” which leads me to wonder if I’m not missing anything….

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Burns and David Comtois; written by Brian Anthony, Burns and Comtois; director of photography, Cory Geryak; edited by Dustin Ebsen, Steve Rasch and Comtois; produced by Shelley Lyons; released by 20th Century Fox.

Hosted by Roddy McDowall.


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