Troubled by unfortunate event after unfortunate event The Watch sidesteps faux pas to come out on top as a consistently funny sci-fi comedy that doesn't let its high concept tangle up a bevy of one-liners. The script penned by Jared Stern Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg assumes you've seen a few movies before entering the theater (mainly any sci-fi movie made in the 1980s). "Summer movie logic" is the foundation for The Watch's ridiculous plot which finds four adult nincompoops teaming up to form a Neighborhood Watch trying to solve the murder of a local Costco employee and eventually pursuing a killer extraterrestrial. Instead of making sense of it all The Watch wisely focuses on its four leads: Ben Stiller Vince Vaughn Jonah Hill and The IT Crowd's Richard Ayoade — a quartet whose bro banter goes a long way in spicing up the dust-covered material. There's nothing revelatory to be found in The Watch but the cast's knack for improv a poetry of the profane makes the adventure worth…viewing.
Director Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) establishes his two-dimensional characters quickly and bluntly smashing together broad personality types like a Hadron Collider of cinematic comedy. Stiller's Evan is a micromanaging do-gooder who can't find time for his wife; Hill's Franklin is a mildly disturbed weapons enthusiast yearning to join the police; Ayoade is the quaint weirdo who joins the Watch to fill the void left by his divorce; Vince Vaughn is Vince Vaughn: a loud crass gent looking for a bit of male bonding. The ragtag team assembles to fight crime but they spend most of their time drinking beers in a minivan — an affair they dub "stakeouts." A perfect opportunity for banter.
For a movie about enforcing the law and alien invasions there's a surprising lack of action in The Watch. Long stretches of the film see the central players yapping back and forth about everything: Russian nesting dolls peeing in cans or the similar viscosities of alien goo and human excrement. Charisma goes a long way and Vaughn does much of the heavy lifting making up for lost time out of the spotlight (he's been virtually nonexistent since 2005's Wedding Crashers). The man spits out jokes like no other — the rest of the cast barely keeps up. Ayoade balances out Vaughn's bombardment with a tempered timed delivery that's uniquely British and rarely found on the American big screen. Even when nothing's happening in The Watch it's rarely boring.
The Watch is at its best when it goes a step further mixing the group in with outsiders and throwing them off their rhythm. Billy Crudup cuts loose as a creepy neighbor and its delightfully weird while the always-impressive Rosemarie DeWitt as Evan's wife Abby brings unexpected warmth to the couple's relationship. Sadly The Watch mishandles its greatest asset: the aliens. The film never finds a pitch perfect blend of comedy and science fiction (Ghostbusters or Galaxy Quest this is not); a few scenes where the two come together hint at the best possible scenario but more often than not The Watch avoids its sci-fi roots. A moment in which the guys haul a dead alien back to their man cave plays like an E.T.-inspired version of The Hangover credits. It's lewd and ridiculous but the rest of the film struggles to maintain that energy.
Stiller Vaughn Hill and Ayoade have all proved themselves able funnymen capable of taking weak and tired material up a notch which they're forced to do in every moment of The Watch. Schaffer can handle his talent but his direction isn't adding anything to the mix. By the third slow-motion-set-to-gangster-rap scene The Lonely Island member's obsession with non-cool-coolness is officially just an attempt at being cool (which is not all that funny). The Watch has a greater opportunity than most comedy blockbusters to go absolutely bonkers: it's rated R. But instead of taking its twist and running with it the movie plays it safe. In this case safe is non-stop jokes about the many facets of human reproduction.
Playing second fiddle to a more famous sibling can be rough. Just ask Fred Claus (Vaughn) a regular guy who has had to grow up under the shadow of his little brother Nicholas Claus (Paul Giamatti) aka Santa. That’s a big shadow to say the least both figuratively and literally. As an adult Fred has pretty much steered clear of his family but when he finds himself in dire need of some fast cash he calls his brother. Pleased as punch to hear from him Nicholas nonetheless makes him a deal: If he comes up to the North Pole for a visit and to help out the few days before Christmas then Fred can have the money. Fred reluctantly agrees and soon he’s being whisked off in Santa’s sleigh by head elf Willie (John Michael Higgins). But once Fred gets to the North Pole nothing seems to go right and soon he is the cause of much chaos--which unbeknownst to Fred causes Nicholas even more stress since his North Pole operation is one step away from being shut down by a cold-hearted efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey). Can Fred quit being bitter in time to save his brother’s livelihood? Of course he can. Hmmm Vince Vaughn minus the R-rated Wedding Crashers/Old School irreverence? It’s a stretch. Seeing the comic actor playing it PG is a little weird but you might enjoy how Vaughn infuses his unique energy into Fred Claus. From getting all the elves to boogie down in Santa’s workshop to going on one rant after another (on his brother: “He’s a clown a megalomaniac a fame junkie!”) to pilfering money on the street and then being chased by Salvation Army Santas it’s all good. Giamatti too seems a little out of his comfort zone as the saintly St. Nick. The actor who usually plays such endearing sad sacks has already played against type to great effect this year as the maniacal bad guy in Shoot ‘Em Up but he isn't nearly as successful in doing the flipside of that in Fred Claus. And what the hell is Kevin Spacey doing in this? As the villain of the film he fills the shoes nicely but he is almost too good at it (natch) for such a feel-good family film. Even Higgins--a character actor who is usually so hilarious in films such as The Break Up and all of Christopher Guest’s movies—has to shed the cheekiness and sugar himself up for Fred Claus. There’s also Rachel Weisz as Fred’s beleaguered girlfriend (you heard right) and Kathy Bates as the Claus boys’ mother who always sees Fred as inferior to her other son to fill out a cast of big names doing family fare. Director David Dobkin is a Vince Vaughn favorite having directed him in Wedding Crashers and Clay Pigeons but like his muse Dobkin seems a little out of place guiding this material. Granted Dobkin creates a pretty magical North Pole complete with an entire city of little dwellings a Frosty Tavern and a huge domed Santa’s Workshop. The montage of Fred delivering presents on Christmas Eve—falling down chimneys stuffing cookies in his face zooming around in the sleigh—is also well done. But overall Fred Claus is a Vaughn vehicle—even as sugary sweet and family-friendly as it is--and all Dobkin really does is turn the camera on and let the man do his stuff. Dan Fogelman's script is also so very bland full of any number of holes and only picks up once Vaughn starts to improvise. Bottom line: If you’re looking to take the kids to a sweet Christmas movie and are a Vince Vaughn fan then Fred Claus is for you.
With stories like this who even needs the “Inspired by true events” shield? Primeval tells of the world’s most prolific killer Gustave. You see Gustave is a crocodile and he remains at large to this day. His thirst for human blood goes unpublicized until he chows down on a white woman at which point an American newsman Tim Manfrey (Dominic Purcell) his cameraman Steven (Orlando Jones) and TV personality Aviva (Brooke Langton) head down to Burundi Africa where they hope to document the capture of Gustave. They’re joined by a wildlife preservationist of sorts (Gideon Emery)—a rare breed in a post-Steve Irwin world—who doesn’t want to harm Gustave. The deep jungles of Africa become a veritable obstacle course when the locals embroiled in a long-standing civil war and unwilling to have some damn Yankees televising their homeland stand in the crew’s way not to mention Gustave proving an evasive 20-foot-long um little bugger! The names might not ring a bell but you’ve seen these three stooges before--all on TV in fact. Purcell is currently enjoying about half the 15 minutes of fame of Wentworth Miller on Fox’s slipping Prison Break. Purcell plays Tim with steel and virility as he hides his Aussie accent for the most part but he’s still got a ways to go to reach Clive Owen’s caliber of acting--and more importantly Owen’s caliber of roles. Langton of The Net (the TV show adapted from the Sandra Bullock movie of the same name) and Melrose Place fame shows off the beauty that will afford endless opportunities to prove herself as a “real” actress—which is ironically similar to her character’s plight—but will never get there with roles in movies like Primeval. And Jones still best known for and plagued by his 7-Up commercials is in true negligible-sidekick mode here--worthy of a snicker approximately once out of every dozen times he tries overzealously to get one. Jaws may come to mind based on the water creature-stalking-man plot but well it’s tough to even mention those two in the same sentence. Director Michael Katleman a TV fixture himself at least doesn’t even aim high enough to reach that level. No from the get-go he’s shooting more for an Anacondas feel—and yes that’s the horrific sequel to the so-terrible-it’s-fun J.Lo “original.” Katleman almost reaches Anacondas-ian highs but not quite. Among other notable problems the director cannot for one moment strike the right balance between the aforementioned level of guilty pleasure-dom and genuine horror. Instead he catches us off guard with what are supposed to be the thrills—and also with the comedy. Finally once Gustave is revealed which should essentially be the moviegoers’ reward the croc looks more a prop sitting in a theme-park lot. And the script from John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris (Terminator 3 co-writers)—well let’s just hope with the story being uber-derivative and cheesy enough as it is Orlando Jones ad-libbed all of his unlaughable comedy!
It was a maverick kind of morning as the nominations for the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards were announced, honoring some of this year’s most affecting, avant garde and anti-studio independent film offerings.
Actress Laura Linney teamed up with Mark Ruffalo--the two co-starred in the acclaimed indie You Can Count On Me in 2000--to announce the nominees at Beverly Hills’ Le Meridian hotel, and despite some challenging tongue-twisting names on the list, they made it through admirably. Linney was rewarded for her trip in from New York with her own nomination as Best Female Lead in The Squid and the Whale.
Ruffalo, meanwhile, seemed to anxiously await his own name being called in the Lead Male and Supporting Male categories, but after he came up empty he suddenly realized: “Oh, I wasn’t in any independent movies this year.”
Several of Linney’s collaborators on The Squid and the Whale, about the painful, messy split of a couple with two sons, fared very well, with nominations going to writer-director Noah Baumbach (Best Director, Best Screenplay), co-stars Jeff Daniels (Best Male Lead) and Jesse Eisenberg (Best Supporting Male) and the film itself was nominated as Best Feature. The film led all nominations with a total of six.
Linney told Hollywood.com that she knew from the moment she finished the screenplay that the project was something extra special: “Noah gave me the script about five years ago, and it took a long time to get it made,” Linney said. “That’s one thing about independent films: you connect yourself to these projects and you don’t know how long it’s going to take to get them made. So when they finally DO get made, and you have to make them under difficult circumstances, always--because the budget is low, you don’t have the time--and then they reach their potential, and then they’re as good as you think they were going to be, as good as your instinct tells you they will be. And then you have a day like today, where there’s nominations and blah, blah, blah. It strengthens your faith in what you do.”
Other high-profile indies scoring multiple noms included stylish, historic look at journalistic principles Good Night and Good Luck (Best Feature, Best Cinematography, George Clooney for Best Director and David Strathairn for Best Male Lead), the gay themed Brokeback Mountain (Best Feature, Ang Lee for Best Director, Michelle Williams for Best Supporting Female and Heath Ledger as Best Lead Male), the insightful biopic Capote (Best Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Philip Seymour Hoffman for Best Male Lead), the Tommy Lee Jones-directed The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Best Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Barry Pepper for Best Supporting Male) and the gender-bending Transamerica (Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay and Felicity Huffman for Best Female Lead)
“It’s really nice for morale,” Linney said of the nominations for all of the indies honored, especially because many of them only get made through perseverance, ingenuity, and commitment--and typically without the big bucks that fuel most studio films.
“Independent film is great fun, but making an independent movie is tough and hard,” she explained. “The hours are rough, the resources are low, you work really, really hard, and so when you hear of a fun, glitzy thing to go to where all of us can celebrate and hoot and holler, it’s really, really nice. It’s also terrific for awareness of these kinds of films, so audiences can be aware of this sort of genre.”
Linney said that those who work in independent film share a bond and welcome any opportunity to meet, bond and share their experiences. “It is a community of people, it really is,” the actress said. “You can look at award shows from a business perspective, but then you can look at them from a community perspective. There is a reason for them other than just acknowledgement of merit for business. There’s also a community of people coming together and being able to run up to the director of the movie that you saw that loved and be able to go ‘Oh my God, you’re amazing.’ And that’s important--and very nice.”
The full list of nominees:
The Squid and the Whale
Good Night, and Good Luck
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Best Male Lead:
Jeff Daniels, The Squid and the Whale
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck
Best Female Lead:
Laura Linney, The Squid and the Whale
Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
Dina Korzun, Forty Shades of Blue
S. Epatha Merkerson, Lackawanna Blues
Cyndi Williams, Room
Best Supporting Male:
Firdous Bamji, The War Within
Matt Dillon, Crash
Jesse Eisenberg, The Squid and the Whale
Barry Pepper, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Jeffrey Wright, Broken Flowers
Best Supporting Female:
Amy Adams, Junebug
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Happy Endings
Allison Janney, Our Very Own
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
Robin Wright Penn, Nine Lives
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck
Noah Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale
Gregg Araki, Mysterious Skin
Rodrigo Garcia, Nine Lives
Best First Feature:
Paul Haggis, Crash
George C. Wolfe, Lackawanna Blues
Miranda July, Me and You and Everyone We Know
Mike Mills, Thumbsucker
Duncan Tucker, Transamerica
John Cassavetes Award (feature made for less than $500,000):
The Puffy Chair
Ayad Akhtar, Joseph Castelo and Tom Glynn, The War Within
Guillermo Arriaga, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Noah Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale
Dan Futterman, Capote
Rodrigo Garcia, Nine Lives
Best First Screenplay:
Kenneth Hanes, Fixing Frank
Miranda July, Me and You and Everyone We Know
Angus MacLachlan, Junebug
Sabina Murray, The Beautiful Country
Duncan Tucker, Transamerica
Robert Elswit, Good Night, and Good Luck
John Foster, Keane
Adam Kimmel, Capote
Chris Menges, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Harris Savides, Last Days
Best Foreign Film:
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Romania)
Duck Season (Mexico)
Paradise Now (Palestine/Netherlands/Germany/France)
Tony Takitani (Japan)
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Sir! No Sir!