143/ReprisePlaying yuletide songs outside of December always seems rather inappropriate. But there are several 'festive' standards that have as much right to be blared out in the blazing hot summer as in the run-up to the big day. Here are five Christmas favorites that have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas at all.East 17 – "Stay Another Day"The track which pipped Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" to the U.K. number one spot back in 1994, boyband East 17's signature hit has become a staple of the holiday season across Europe. But despite its use of sleigh bells and an accompanying snow-filled video, the ballad is in fact a heartfelt tribute to chief songwriter Tony Mortimer's brother, Ollie, who had committed suicide several years previously.Frankie Goes To Hollywood – "The Power Of Love"Taken to the U.K. number one spot by Frankie Goes To Hollywood in 1984 and then again by Gabrielle Aplin last year, the message of "The Power Of Love" may be in keeping with the season of goodwill ("make love your goal"). But there's not one mention of Christmas during its epic production and the track has only become synonymous with the festivities because of its nativity-themed promo.Aled Jones – "Walking In The Air"Another track which has become associated with Christmas due to its accompanying visuals, "Walking In The Air" was written by Howard Blake for the animated adaptation of Raymond Briggs' much-loved children's book The Snowman. Played during the boy and the snowman's journey to the North Pole, the soaring lullaby has perhaps inevitably since become a choirboy favorite but it still contains a distinct lack of anything Christmassy."Jingle Bells"Recorded by everyone from The Beatles to Buble, "Jingle Bells" has been a yuletide favorite for over 150 years, largely thanks to its copious amounts of snow. But snow isn’t confined to Christmas and the jaunty ditty was actually written by composer James Lord Pierpont to be sung at Thanksgiving rather than December 25th."Baby It's Cold Outside"Recently covered by the likes of She & Him and Kelly Clarkson & Ronnie Dunn, "Baby It's Cold Outside" has been a seasonal favorite ever since its writer, Frank Loesser, and his wife, Lynn Garland, premiered it at their housewarming party back in 1944. But again, the track has become so ingrained in the festive season because of its Arctic weather conditions rather than anything particularly Christmassy.
The nautical heist thriller Contraband is a remake of Reykjavik-Rotterdam an Icelandic film from 2008 which admittedly I’ve yet to see. (It’s curiously difficult to find stateside.) Presumably there must have been something about it that was compelling enough to warrant the effort and expense of an American adaptation. Whatever it was it didn’t survive the no doubt complicated process of translating it into a proper Mark Wahlberg vehicle.
Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday once a legendary New Orleans smuggler but now happily law-abiding as a home-security contractor. The same however cannot be said of his punk brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) who runs illegal shipments for a tattooed hoodlum named Tim Riggs (Giovanni Ribisi). When Andy makes the unwise decision to dump his valuable narcotics cargo in advance of a Customs raid earning the dreaded pay-up-or-die ultimatum from his unsavory boss Chris tries in vain to intervene on his behalf only to be rudely rebuffed. Which leaves him with only one option to save Andy’s skin: One Last Job.
The director of Contraband Baltasar Kormakur actually starred in Reykjavik-Rotterdam – a piece of trivia which unfortunately proves far more interesting than anything found in his remake. It seems his familiarity with the material bred banality if not necessarily contempt. His approach is a kind of Bourne-lite: the shaky-cam is restrained enough to minimize audience headaches but the ultimate result is stultifyingly generic.
Essential to any successful Mark Wahlberg film from Boogie Nights to The Fighter has been to surround Wahlberg with more accomplished and versatile actors thereby allowing him to focus on his core competencies of scowling cursing and otherwise radiating his unique brand of low-watt charisma. Kormakur assembled capable-enough performers for Contraband only to saddle them with uniformly bland characters.
Having grown accustomed to Kate Beckinsale as the leather-clad heroine of the Underworld films I found it odd – and a bit disappointing – to see her reduced to the role of the protagonist’s fretful wife. Ribisi’s novel strategy for transcending his miscasting as a clichéd white-trash villain is to adopt a bizarre high-pitched accent presumably Southern in origin but unlike any Southern accent I’ve ever witnessed. Ben Foster plays Wahlberg’s best friend an ex-con and recovering alcoholic who seems doomed to relapse on both fronts if only because he’s being played by Ben Foster. Diego Luna J.K. Simmons Lukas Haas are underutilized in one-note roles.
I confess to be unfamiliar with the vagaries of illicit foreign-goods transport but I have to think it’s more exciting than what unfolds in Contraband. No one expects it to rival the glamour and of say casino robbery but Kormakur depicts smuggling with all the verve and panache of a tax audit. The film’s lone fireworks occur on land during a stop-off in Panama City when Wahlberg’s character is forced by the local crime boss (Luna) in an armored-car hold-up. A heist-within-a-heist if you will. But soon it’s back on the boat where the momentum ceases and the movie sinks.
Hostel: Part II picks up where the first Hostel left off—and then Paxton (Jay Hernandez) wakes up. It’s the last nightmare he’ll ever (be able to) have. Cut to Rome where three American girls—wealthy Beth (Lauren German) sex-craving Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and naïve awkward Lorna (Heather Matarazzo)—have completed their art class after painting a nude model (Vera Jordanova) and are off to Prague via train. While en route they bump into that same nude model who convinces them to change their plans and come with her to an exclusive hot-springs spa in Slovakia. And so their fates are sealed. Once they check in at their hostel with the bellboy who might as well be Satan’s little helper the bidding begins. All around the world the well-to-do-but-not-well-meaning vie for a chance at torturing and savagely murdering these fresh American college gals. And the winners are: Stuart (Roger Bart) and Todd (Richard Burgi) two Americans with WAY too much money on their hands. Thus begins the torturing—of the audience. There is an underrated skill in being able to act scared to death for your life—and in Hostel II’s case whatever prop cutlery was used to poke at the victims’ bodies probably made acting spontaneously easier. Most of the cast however tends to overdo it here. The lone exception is German (A Walk to Remember) making this by far her biggest acting splash to date as the heroine…type. She more so than the others is forced to emote rather than just shriek and she shows ability that reaches beyond horror movies. Phillips (Bully) and Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse) meanwhile though disparate character-wise both over-act: Matarazzo especially tries too hard to be gawky even if it makes for a starker contrast when her character is well you know. And grossly—pun intended—miscast is Desperate Housewives actor Bart who--no matter the volume and amount of F-bombs he drops--isn’t game for the uber-depravity that writer-director Eli Roth was going for. In fact the foreign unknowns outperform their American counterparts quite a bit in this sequel. First thing’s first: If Hostel II managed to snag an R rating then hardcore porn should be rated G! Now on to writer-director Eli Roth. To his credit the horror god possesses a mind sicker than any other contemporary filmmaker including returning exec-producer/endorser Quentin Tarantino but that doesn’t mean he knows how to tell a story. There's not a whole that goes on between the jaw-dropping scenes of torture the audience has come to half-see which begs the question: Would Hostel II be anything at all if not for said sadism? In addition a lack of true story brings to light another potential flaw in the Roth system—he doesn’t frighten us so much as disturb. But therein lies the good as well. If you like to be disturbed in a strictly I’d-never-do-this-but-maybe-it-happens-somewhere kind of way Roth is most certainly your man. Of course if you like to be disturbed by a film in any way Roth is most certainly your man. He’s got a wild and prolific imagination and when he turns it on the resulting images are unlike anything you’ve ever seen or want to see again—impossible to look at or away from. If only he could expend it on the stuff surrounding the imagery.
September 22, 2006 6:19am EST
Flyboys is about the Lafayette Escadrille a real-life WWI French fighter squadron and follows the adventures of young American men who volunteer to fly and fight for the French before the U.S.'s involvement in the war. The characters are either based directly on or are an amalgamation of the real men who flew in this most treacherous combat. There’s Blaine Rawlings (James Franco) a Texan who has just lost his ranch; William Jensen (Philip Winchester) a well-educated and earnest fellow; Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine) a privileged man who joins under the pressure of his wealthy and powerful father; Eddie Beagle (David Ellison) who is running from a criminal past; and Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis) an African-American who escapes his country’s injustice and comes to France. And what would a war film be without a love interest? Blaine falls for Lucienne (Jennifer Decker) a local French girl but that is really just a bit of a detour from the main story about these daring young men in their flying machines. With a life expectancy of about six weeks they considered themselves knights of the air with their own code of chivalry and honor. Unfortunately for this cast of fine actors there isn’t a whole of time to show off their acting abilities. Franco (Spider-Man) is probably the biggest name and stands out as Rawlings a guy who has nothing left to lose. The actor took his job very seriously getting his pilot’s license—and should finally get a break from all the flops he has been in of late (Tristan and Isolde Annapolis). Jean Reno does a fine job in the thankless part as the squadron commander Captain Thenault. And Decker is captivating as Lucienne debuting in her first U.S. film; it probably won’t be her last. Salis (Love Actually) Labine (Antitrust) Winchester (The Patriot) and first-timer Ellison (a licensed aerobatic pilot in real life) are all good but Martin Henderson (Torque) as Reed Cassidy--a veteran pilot and a bitter loner with a big chip of his shoulder--is the most interesting of the supporting players. These fighter pilots known for being methodical and hyper-courageous in the air were also a bit eccentric and tortured when on the ground. With Flyboys director Tony Bill (My Bodyguard) found his dream project. Bill has always been known as an actor’s director and definitely keeps his Flyboys in check. But where the film really soars pun intended is in the absolutely remarkable aerial sequences. The director is an expert pilot himself and his love of flying is clearly evident and the real guiding hand. He does an excellent job in capturing what it must have been like to be a WWI fighter pilot putting audiences right in the hot seat almost quite literally at times. There haven’t been many movies made about this particular subject obviously due to lack of technology to make it seem real. And it’s that commitment to realism which ultimately what keeps Flyboys flying higher than it should. If the story had been more compact and compelling this might have been a classic war movie. Instead Flyboys is a just good film based on true war stories with better pictures.
Nice guy Jerry (Matthew Lillard) is the same numbingly trite character we've seen in hundreds of other movies. He faces 30 with uncertainty. He doesn't know if he should propose to his beautiful girlfriend Denise (Bonnie Somerville). He just can't commit darn it! Oh life is so confusing! Meeting up with his best buds Tom "the rebel" (Dax Shepard) and Dan "the runt" (Seth Green) at the funeral of their dead friend Billy they reunite in the-what else?--tree house of their youth. There they discover a map of Billy's longtime obsession: The disappearance of hijacker D.B. Cooper with $200 000 cash. (Never mind that the real Cooper's flight took off in 1971 well before any of these characters would be born.) So these three friends set out on an expedition from the heart and learn a few valuable life lessons along the way. They embark on a canoe trip in the Pacific Northwest in search of Cooper's lost treasure with a very large bear and two even larger hillbillies in hot pursuit. Which is of course just a big excuse for some crazy hijinks in the woods the obligatory stoner sequence gorgeous but unshaven tree-huggers living atop a redwood a crazed mountain man the usual.
Lillard has an off-kilter charm that works in his supporting roles but not so much as the lead. One imagines the producers offering the role first to Adam Sandler and then to Vince Vaughn or Luke Wilson before finally settling on Lillard after they all refuse. His overbearing earnestness in the role recalls his work in SLC Punk straining for normalcy when something completely off-the-wall would work so much better. Shepard (from MTV's Punk'd) fares better he is amusingly annoying but at least he takes a side. Green is usually funnier than this but he doesn't usually have to lug an inhaler around with him as a prop or constantly stoop for laughs as the token scaredy cat. The three of them do have an easygoing chemistry that makes them good company. Burt Reynolds turns up with a foot-long beard as the mountain man who might know something about the treasure. It is certainly the most vanity free performance of Reynolds' career and while it doesn't amount to much it's a step in the right direction for a guy who could still be a great character actor if he could finally get over the fact that he is no longer Stroker Ace.
Steven Brill is best known as the director of the first Adam Sandler movie that didn't reach nine figures at the box office Little Nicky and he hasn't exactly advanced the art of screen comedy here. Nevertheless the pacing is brisk the timing is crisp and the repartee (credited to five writers) is snappy. Even the action comedy sequences mostly running away from the bear and the hillbillies are convincingly done. But make no mistake this is clearly the work of a man hell-bent on paying homage to The Goonies and for that miniscule target audience that not only saw The Goonies in the theater it can also differentiate the Coreys. Of course '80s music has been back in vogue for several years so it's inevitable that the '80s comedy embodied in this movie The Girl Next Door
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and others would return. But somebody had better make a good one soon or it will disappear faster than you can say Kajagoogoo.
Bob Rueland (David Duchovny) is deeply in love with his wife. The two spend their days being madly in love and dancing to really old songs until an out-of-control driver turns her into a hood ornament. For Grace Briggs (Minnie Driver) the fatal accident is a blessing as the dead wife's heart will go on -- replacing Grace's weak ticker. As fortune would have it Bob and Grace eventually meet and are immediately attracted to each other (hmmm I wonder why). The only things keeping them from finding true love are irritating friends and relatives a tragic secret and Grace's clashing patterned separates. The premise seems reasonable enough but the film lacks the clever banter and the all-important sexual-tension climax of romantic comedy classics such as "When Harry Met Sally" and "Moonstruck." Instead it just mopes around and occasionally stoops to cliched gags (such as Minnie's encounter with a hair transplant recipient and David's pushy blind date).
It's too bad that an actor as intense as Duchovny is burdened with a character as dull as his K-Mart wardrobe. The truth might be out there but good film roles clearly aren't. Driver manages to rise above her cumbersome surroundings and occasionally offers the audience a chuckle and a briefly moving moment. And sadly the film squanders the talents of its older cast members (including Carroll O'Connor and Robert Loggia) with dreary arguments over the merits of ancient baseball players and deciding who is the Rat Pack's consummate crooner. (And why is O' Connor talking like the Lucky Charms leprechaun?)
Director and co-star Bonnie Hunt (who also co-wrote the story and screenplay) is a funny lady with a brilliantly dry wit. Unfortunately she must have sent her sense of humor to the dry cleaner's while making this film. What we're left with is a been-there comedy that sleepwalks through a tired formula.