Tag Archives: Yari Film Group

Resurrecting the Champ (2007, Rod Lurie)

The biggest problem with Resurrecting the Champ, besides Rod Lurie, is the Champ himself. Not Sam Jackson, who’s actually the least irritating he’s been since Loaded Weapon or so, but the character and his function in the film. At some point during the late second act, Champ is a decent movie about a guy growing up, realizing he’s got to take responsibility for his actions and realizing it isn’t going to be easy. If anyone can screw up an easy story like that one, it’s Rob Lurie, who demphasizes the finally (after the first ninety minutes) interesting relationship between estranged married couple Josh Hartnett and Kathryn Morris, who have a ludicrous backstory detailed in expository dialogue, but actually develop a rather tender relationship–albeit one centered around disappointment–by the last twenty minutes of the film. It’s a previously uninteresting aspect of the film made interesting, much like Hartnett’s actual journalistic pursuits. The scenes between him and Jackson, with the ominous something in their futures, are mostly okay. Boring, but okay. Jackson is doing an impression of an Oscar-hungry role here, shuffling around, not yelling, maybe not even swearing. The problem with his performance has little to do with the actual performance… he’s not believable as a former boxer. Especially not when there’s that constant, Lurie-friendly use of flashback. Lurie is the most overly melodramatic, goofily sentimental director working today–The Contender, The Last Castle, and now Resurrecting the Champ. He’s insincere, so much so, any viewer can tell.

None of these problems phase Hartnett, however, who turns in an excellent lead performance. Hartnett always shone in ensembles or as the sidekick, but Champ gives him a whole lot to do. The script’s obvious and mediocre, but Harnett’s acting is not. It might help Lurie managed to fill the cast with good actors (except Teri Hatcher, who under-stays her welcome by three seconds… any more and it’d have been intolerable). Except the film never works with it. Alan Alda is good as Hartnett’s boss and there’s some great stuff between them, but it’s hardly in there. Alda being the only one, besides Morris, who can tell Hartnett’s without content. By the end, filled with the lame friendship with Jackson and some convenient inner turmoil over his relationship with his father, Hartnett finally gets some really good scenes, those family scenes. Even if the kid playing he and Morris’s son is bland enough to be in a Mentos commercial.

As a visual director, Lurie actually isn’t terrible. There are some well-composed shots, maybe even thirty percent of them. Still, the film looks too crisp, like poorly lighted DV (did I mention Hatcher was terrible already?), and it’s real impersonal. The characters spend more time outside than they do in; the most effective scene at Hartnett and Morris’s house is in the backyard, when the age difference gets to play well into the story, instead of being vanity casting.

Lurie wrecks the film’s third act. The film’s actually in decent shape and he and the screenwriters go after it with a baseball bat. A lame voiceover (big shock from Lurie) almost undoes Harnett’s performance, but it can’t. It’s a great performance; it’s a shame it’s in such a lame film.

Oh, and the Peter Coyote scenes (Coyote’s in a ton of makeup) are great.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Rod Lurie; screenplay by Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett, from an article by J.R. Moehringer; director of photography, Adam Kane; edited by Sarah Boyd; music by Larry Groupe; production designer, Ken Rempel; produced by Brad Fischer, Marc Frydman, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer and Bob Yari; released by Yari Film Group.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Erik), Samuel L. Jackson (Champ), Kathryn Morris (Joyce), Alan Alda (Metz), David Paymer (Whitley), Rachel Nichols (Polly), Dakota Goyo (Teddy), Teri Hatcher (Flak), Ryan McDonald (Kenny), Harry J. Lennix (Satterfield Jr.) and Peter Coyote (Epstein).


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The Illusionist (2006, Neil Burger)

I don’t know where to start talking about The Illusionist. I mean, I only have two choices, so it’s really just a coin toss. I’ll start with Neil Burger. Burger adapted the script from a short story, which means he was probably confined to some degree. The Illusionist is not a “wow“ of a film in its story. It’s a fine, predictable, enjoyable magician movie with some nice special effects. So I don’t want to talk about Burger and the film on those issues. The writing ones. Burger’s direction is something special. It’s a very geeky approach to cinema–I was reminded of The Call of Cthulhu, the recent film, not the short story–because Burger directs the flashbacks and most of the romantic scenes between Ed Norton and Jessica Biel like a silent film, in terms of lighting, framing, editing and transitions. It works to an okay effect. It’s more impressive in its competence initially than anything else. Then Burger transitions to the present action of the story and he films a lot of the establishing scenes much like a Universal horror picture of the 1930s. The Vienna scenery lends itself perfectly to that approach. Then he goes on. The silent film techniques are still there for certain scenes, but Burger immerses the audience in historical Vienna–to the degree I even believed Biel lived there too. I didn’t quite believe Norton would love Biel or even that Rufus Sewell’s Prince Revolting would tolerate her even for political gain, but I did believe she was in 1800s Vienna.

Now for the second part. Paul Giamatti. His performance in the film is something singular. It’s a privilege to see Giamatti perform. He manages to chew scenery in a reserved manner, making his performance wholly believable but also joyous to behold. His performance is so good, it’s like the rest of the film doesn’t matter–it’s gravy the rest of the film is a perfectly reasonable diversion. The Illusionist wraps a piece of escapist storytelling in Burger’s masterful direction (which is in Dick Pope’s sumptuous lighting–sumptuous is the only word for it, absolutely stunning to look at), and a good Philip Glass score. Some of the Glass score seems redundant and repetitive of his previous work, but it’s fine.

I’ve only mentioned Norton in passing, but he’s real good here. Even if the only time he gets to act is in the scenes with Giamatti. Watching the two of them work together is wonderful. Like I said, Biel isn’t unbelievable and there are only a handful of moments when she’s ridiculous (I had assumed it’d be every minute she was on screen). Rufus Sewell’s evil prince is a lot of fun for a couple reasons. First, Sewell plays the perfect hissable villain (hard to believe, ten years ago, he was the best up-and-coming leading man Hollywood). Second, it’s like he’s doing a Freud impression. Loads of fun.

I was shocked to see Burger’s only done one film before this one, I have unrealistically high expectations of him now. As for Giamatti, I’m even considering seeing Lady in the Water, blasphemy of a considerable level.

I do wonder if the film could have been done without the red herrings and the twists, but I doubt it. There’s not much of a story in the end (for example, is Giamatti’s police inspector married?). So, it’s just a diversion and a better one than most.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Neil Burger; screenplay by Burger, based on a short story by Steven Millhauser; director of photography, Dick Pope; edited by Naomi Geraghty; music by Philip Glass; production designer, Ondrej Nekvasil; produced by Michael London, Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Bob Yari and Cathy Schulman; released by Yari Film Group.

Starring Edward Norton (Eisenheim), Paul Giamatti (Chief Inspector Uhl), Jessica Biel (Sophie), Rufus Sewell (Crown Prince Leopold), Eddie Marsan (Fischer), Jake Wood (Jurka), Tom Fisher (Willigut), Aaron Johnson (Young Eisenheim) and Eleanor Tomlinson (Young Sophie).


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