The American military has always been at the forefront of technological innovation often working on the fringes of scientific credibility in its constant search for new ways to locate and eliminate enemies. At times the military's eagerness to gain an edge over its adversaries has led it to some strange dark places many of which are chronicled in The Men Who Stare at Goats British author Jon Ronson’s real-life account of the U.S. government’s efforts to create an army of “psychic supersoldiers."
If you’re not familiar with the world of psychic warfare (and really why would you be?) the book’s title refers to an experiment conducted during the 1980s at Fort Bragg North Carolina in which specially trained soldiers using methods culled from the top-secret First Earth Battalion Operations Manual attempted to stop the heart of a goat using nothing but the power of the mind. The ultimate goal obviously was to develop the skill for eventual use on enemy combatants.
Chock full of similarly wild yet credible stories The Men Who Stare at Goats’ strange-but-true subject matter lends itself perfectly to film adaptation. Its structure — a disparate collection of loosely related vignettes covering over a 30-year timespan — does not. Nevertheless director Grant Heslov and screenwriter Peter Straughan gave it a shot refashioning the material to such an extent that the movie is no longer “based upon” Ronson’s book but instead merely “inspired by” it.
Thankfully Heslov kept intact two of the book’s greatest strengths: its lively irreverent tone and its fascinating array of colorful characters. The latter is no doubt what attracted the film’s star-studded cast led by George Clooney as Lyn Cassady a fidgety veteran of the “psychic spy” brigade whose chance meeting with journalist Bob Wilton Ronson’s onscreen counterpart (played as an American ironically by U.K. actor Ewan McGregor) provides the catalyst for the storyline.
As Cassady squires Wilton through the Iraqi desert en route he claims to a contracting gig he regales the awe-struck reporter with stories of the New Earth Army and its founder a Vietnam vet-turned-New Age acolyte named Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). In the early '80s Django now a ponytailed flower child managed to obtain Army approval to spearhead a pilot program that would to train a legion of “warrior monks” to read minds pass through walls and disable enemies through a wide variety of non-lethal methods.
Any program like the New Earth Army is bound to attract its share of bad apples amoral folk who aim to use its teachings to enrich themselves and cause harm to others. In The Men Who Stare at Goats the entire rotten orchard is represented by Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) a sleazy manipulative charlatan whose devious machinations ultimately serve to bring down the entire operation.
Goats is at its loopy best as Cassady cycles through various off-the-wall anecdotes of Django and his increasingly bizarre training methods. But it falls apart when Heslov attempts to weave it all into a coherent storyline complete with a climax centered on a hairbrained scheme to spike the water supply at an American fort with LSD. It's understandable that Heslov felt compelled to invent something that could bring some resolution to the story but getting everyone high on acid? It sounds like a gimmick stolen from one of the lesser Revenge of the Nerds sequels.
Needless to say that last part wasn’t in Ronson’s book.
January 21, 2009 6:32pm EST
When award season rolls around there’s only one show that no one in Hollywood wants to be a part of ... the Annual Razzie Awards. The only competition honoring the best of the worst in film.
Even the biggest stars can’t dodge the occasional stinker and this year Mike Myers’ was no different. His summer flop The Love Guru received seven nominations, including worst picture, worst actor and worst screenplay for Myers. Ouch!
Myers shouldn’t feel too bad, Paris Hilton didn’t fair much better with nods for worst actress and worst screen couple for Hottie and the Nottie and worst supporting actress for Repo! The Genetic Opera.
Hilton’s Hottie and the Nottie will also compete for worst pic alongside The Love Guru, The Happening, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale and spoof flicks Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans.
The 29th Annual Razzies, determined by the 687 members of the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation, will be announced Feb. 21, the morning before the Academy Awards.
And the nominees are:
Disaster Movie and Meet The Spartans
The Hottie and The Nottie In The Name of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
The Love Guru
Larry the Cable Guy, Witless Protection
Eddie Murphy, Meet Dave
Mike Myers, The Love Guru
Al Pacino, 88 Minutes and Righteous Kill
Mark Wahlberg, The Happening and Max Payne
Jessica Alba, The Eye and The Love Guru
Cameron Diaz, What Happens in Vegas
Paris Hilton, The Hottie and the Nottie
Kate Hudson, Fool's Gold and My Best Friend's Girl
The entire cast of The Women (Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith and Meg Ryan)
Uwe Boll, 1968 Tunnel Rats, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale and Postal
Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer for Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans
Tom Putnam, The Hottie and the Nottie
Marco Schnabel, The Love Guru
M. Night Shyamalan, The Happening
Worst Supporting Actor
Uwe Boll (as himself), Postal
Pierce Brosnan, Mamma Mia!
Ben Kingsley, The Love Guru, War, Inc. and The Wackness
Burt Reynolds, Deal and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Verne Troyer, The Love Guru and Postal
Worst Supporting Actress
Carmen Electra, Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans
Paris Hilton, Repo! The Genetic Opera
Kim Kardashian, Disaster Movie
Jenny McCarthy, Witless Protection
Leelee Sobieski, 88 Minutes and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans (jointly) - written by Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer
The Happening - written by M. Night Shyamalan
The Hottie and the Nottie - written by Heidi Ferrer
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale - screenplay by Doug Taylor
The Love Guru - written by Mike Myers & Graham Gordy
Worst Screen Couple
Uwe Boll & any actor, camera or screenplay, 1968 Tunnel Rats, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale and Postal
Cameron Diaz & Ashton Kutcher, What Happens in Vegas
Paris Hilton & either Christine Lakin or Joel David Moore, The Hottie and the Nottie
Larry the Cable Guy & Jenny McCarthy, Witless Protection
Eddie Murphy & Eddie Murphy, Meet Dave
Worst Rip-Off, Prequel or Remake
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Disaster Movie and Meet The Spartans (jointly)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
MORE NEWS: Next...Obama the Musical?
In other words Prada--based on the bestselling novel by Lauren Weisberger--unfortunately plays upon the sitcom-y boss-from-hell scenario in which the young flunky manages to one up her superior in some valiant way. There are no surprises save for the fact that its set in the world of high fashion invoking all the fabulousness that entails and incorporates the amazing Streep as Miranda Priestly editor-in-chief of THE fashion magazine Runway. Oozing contempt and demanding perfection Miranda at first terrorizes her new assistant Andy (Anne Hathaway) an impressionable lass who wants to be a serious journalist and has no desire to be a “Clacker.” But that lasts for all of about 10 seconds. Andy is soon wearing those Jimmy Choo stilettos and clacking across the floor with the best of them--and the better she gets at her job the more her personal life falls apart. Naturally Andy wises up and realizes life isn’t about Dolce Gabbana and the rest of the gang. Still maybe she could keep one Prada handbag. You know just to remember the experience. Streep is having a nice little resurgence this year with two spectacular performances. In Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion she plays the sunny yet heartbroken half of a singing sister act--and in Prada she’s Satan incarnate. Quite a switch but in the ever-so-capable hands of the Oscar winner it’s a flawless transition. The best part of Streep’s Miranda is all the things she doesn’t say. It’s the searing looks the languid move of the hand--and the hushed tones. This isn’t Kevin Spacey’s screaming lunatic producer in Swimming with Sharks; this is about the threatening quiet and the sacrifices Miranda makes to be lonely at the top. Hathaway as a lovely Audrey Hepburn look-a-like manages to keep her head above water but still hasn’t quite gotten rid of her Princess Diaries gee whizzed-ness. But there’s potential. In supporting roles Stanley Tucci makes a memorable appearance as Miranda’s right-hand man at the magazine doling out snarky but sage advice to our heroine while Adrian Grenier (HBO’s Entourage) plays nice as Andy’s patient boyfriend. The only other real standout star of Prada is the clothes. And the shoes. Oh and the handbags hats belts scarves and other accessories. Director David Frankel--a HBO flunky himself having directed several episodes of Entourage Sex and the City and even HBO’s hit mini-series Band of Brothers--captures this high-powered world of trend and style succinctly giving all fashionista wannabes everywhere a brief but meaningful inside peek. But the real kudos go out to costume designer Patricia Field (an Emmy winner for her work on Sex and the City) who must have had a lot of fun with Prada. She magically produces designs from Valentino (who also makes a small cameo) Donna Karan Bill Blass Galliano and of course Prada. It must be like a painter being given permission to recreate a Picasso or a Monet. Prada is predictable it’s true--but with Streep’s streaked white Cruella De Vil and all the great fashion it’s worth its weight in Versace.
Hardened by years of brutal but loyal military service special ops officer Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) is assigned to find the president's apparently kidnapped daughter Laura Newton (Kristen Bell). Pairing up with his protégé Curtis (Derek Luke) Scott works diligently with a task force of presidential advisors the Secret Service the FBI and the CIA to find her and through their investigation they stumble upon a white slavery ring in the Middle East which may--or may not--have some connection to Laura's disappearance. The straightforward search-and-rescue mission is soon bogged down in political machinations and the girl's abduction starts to look even more suspicious than it did at first. In fact the mission comes to an abrupt halt altogether when the girl is supposedly found drowned from a boating accident. Scott returns to his quiet life until Curtis shows up and proves that Laura is still alive and most likely trapped in the white slavery ring. In a race against time Scott and Curtis embark on their own unofficial rescue mission--and put themselves at the center of a dangerous conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of the U.S. government.
Val Kilmer probably won't be joining Mamet's dedicated circle of players--which includes Joe Mantegna William H. Macy and Mamet's wife actress Rebecca Pidgeon--any time soon. While it's clear Kilmer took the role to work with the talented writer/director he isn't well suited to deliver "Mamet-speak"--the rapid fire delivery of terse dialogue the writer is known for--and Kilmer looks uncomfortable trying to do it. The gifted actor who can't help but bring in his own quirky sensibilities to the part still hits the nail on the head as steely resolute Scott. But the minute he starts dispensing sage advice--Mamet-style--Kilmer sticks out like a sore thumb. Same goes for Luke (Antwone Fisher) who is entirely miscast as Scott's sidekick. Others in the ensemble however handle the Mamet chores more adeptly including Macy and Ed O'Neill (yes the guy from TV's Married ... With Children) as presidential aides.
Spartan's real problem however is that it's a thriller without much thrill. Mamet's expertise is in creating scenarios within a microcosm whether it's a world of con artists (House of Games; The Spanish Prisoner) salesmen (Glengarry Glen Ross) or even showbiz (State and Main). These Mamet films are even-keeled--almost devoid of emotion. He sets up characters and actions relevant to that particular world so when characters spout lines in Mamet's distinctive style it comes off as perfectly natural. Yet with Spartan Mamet is tackling a bigger grander picture and when his style is applied to the world as a whole it doesn't work. Plus in the thriller genre the audience needs to feel invested in the characters and Mamet's distant unemotional style doesn't lend itself to sending the audience's collective hearts racing. The only poignant moment in the film belongs to Bell as the wounded daughter who just wants a little attention from Daddy and the only truly exciting moments are during her rescue. That said however Spartan proves Mamet still knows how to craft a story. Although the script is at times vague and convoluted it thankfully never falls into any of the genre's usual patterns and it throws in enough twists to keep you on your toes.
Dr. Joe Darrow (Kevin Costner) loses his wife Emily (Susanna Thompson) in a bus accident in Venezuela. Emily who was a pediatric oncologist had been sent there on a medical mercy mission and was trying to leave when the accident occurred. Six months later Joe is having a difficult time coming to grips especially because her body was never recovered. He immerses himself in his work as the head of emergency services but his friends are all very concerned. Concerned that maybe he's going crazy. See Joe who usually doesn't believe in the afterlife thinks Emily may be trying to communicate with him. First he gets weird messages from some of Emily's cancer patients who claim they have talked to Emily and that she wants Joe to go "inside the rainbow." Then at home he feels a presence in the house and thinks his wife may be working some voodoo through many dragonfly references a personal totem to Emily because of a birthmark on her shoulder in the shape of the insect. It's supposed to be spooky right about now but it's more laughable than anything else. The journey Joe finally embarks on leads him back to Venezuela where he desperately searches for a piece of Emily's soul. Can we say closure anyone?
Where has the Kevin Costner we all remember from the Dances with Wolves days gone to? Since his Academy Award-winning opus Costner has managed to make as many bad films as he possibly could. Maybe being in a huge-budget film like Waterworld and having it tank miserably (otherwise known as the Heaven's Gate curse) has affected his judgment. In any event Costner does his best to keep afloat in this movie playing the rational Joe a man who is a "mind without a heart." But ultimately he spends most of his time losing his mind over all the strange "happenings" around him rather than playing the part of a grieving husband. Just one word of advice: Get a new agent Kevin. It's also not quite clear why some really great actors such as Kathy Bates and Linda Hunt decided to take small meaningless parts in the film. Everyone in the film is a cliché down to the children on the cancer ward who are wise beyond their years and the disapproving hospital administrator played by Joe Morton who wants Dr. Joe to take a break. There was a colossal waste of talent in this movie.
In an attempt to capitalize on the whole spooky ghost genre done so well in films such as The Sixth Sense and What Lies Beneath Dragonfly just falls flat as a pancake. Director Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective; Patch Adams) just doesn't have the same skills of a M. Night Shyamalan to pull something like this off. Admittedly there are moments when you jump as "the big spooky thing" happens even though you can see it coming a mile away but the film seems superficial rather than cutting deep in Joe's psyche--it's unimaginative in all its elements. The "clues" that finally get Joe on the road to Venezuela--the dragonfly paperweight flying off the table cancer kids eerily repeating the same thing over and over again--are forced and not in any way poignant. Only in the conclusion when Joe realizes why he's been sent on this journey does the story take a nice twist. Some may call it sappy but it worked on some level. Still we are talking about only 10 minutes of the film.