Anybody who goes to see Michael Moore’s latest documentary will have already taken a side. No not republican/democrat or love him/hate him but rather insured/uninsured. Some 50 million Americans are currently without health insurance and 18 000 of them will die as a result. But Moore says “This movie isn’t about those people; it’s about the ones who have insurance.” His monotone and occasionally mock-somber narration in full swing Moore first takes us on a trek stateside offering a vast array of “our own people” who have been wronged by America’s healthcare system. From subjects whose medical costs have so depleted their finances that they’re forced to move in with their children to posthumous testimonials from people who were denied necessary operations by their frugal insurance companies the gamut is run by Moore’s case studies (God knows how many didn’t make the cut). Next he takes us to his favorite place: non-America. This documentary around he doesn’t stop at Canada to prove his point(s) venturing to Britain and France where healthcare go-betweens are obsolete and medicine is only a doctor-patient relationship—everybody is insured aka socialized medicine. Sicko’s third act marks the return of Michael Moore the Patriot. He sets sail along with various casualties of our flawed system—chief among them 9/11 workers whose resultant ailments were neglected by the government that once branded them “heroes”—for Guantanamo Bay to ask for the same free medical attention given to the detainees housed there. Upon arriving in Cuba and seeking the free healthcare in earnest Moore concludes with a “We’re not so different you and me” message and bigger-picture imagery he hopes we won’t soon forget: the perceived Goliath at the mercy of the perceived David begging for help. Although Red-staters might beg to differ no actors are used in Sicko. But Moore himself has become quite a character—or as some might again interject a caricature. Moore doesn’t appear until roughly midway through but be him your hero or lightning rod or bull’s-eye during shooting practice his face is something of an antidote when it pops up. In Sicko he’s often comic relief amid sob stories even going so far as to under his director guise quick-cut certain scenes for comedic effect. Was he possibly influenced by another investigative “journalist”—Borat Sagdiyev? Given Borat’s success at making America the butt of the joke it’s possible. Either way Moore’s delayed in-front-of-the-camera presence is very cinematic almost like delaying the appearance of a much-hyped protagonist (or of course antagonist). Usually critiquing a Michael Moore film is akin to outing oneself politically but there’s not much to gripe about this time. (Whew!) Perhaps more mature or just older and wiser the director ceases launching most personal attacks which do little more than further divide a nation he is supposedly trying to unite and instead zeroes in on the problem. It’s a less incendiary Michael Moore this 2007 version and it’s almost as if his producer wife said to the notorious Bush-whacker “OK honey you can have a handful of veiled republican attacks—use them wisely.” He did. There’s the obligatory opening-scene footage of George Dubya swallowing his own foot but the attacks thereafter are vitriol-free. As for his direction it speaks volumes about the prevalence of the healthcare problem that Moore didn’t have to resort to his more guerrilla tactics to document it—everyone has a story and the dirt is so omnipresent that there’s not much digging for Moore to do (except for some uh insightful audio footage of the Nixonian origins of HMOs). But overall Sicko’s core and intentions if not its resolutions are hard to argue. His detractors nonetheless won’t leave the theater (or the computer screen for the many who have watched the leaked version) without their fodder. And truth be told it’s hard to imagine it was all utopia all the time during his worldwide voyage. In addition it would’ve been nice to see more if not all of the documentary shed light on how such an unhealthy nation can better avoid trips to the doctor in the first place. But it’s hard to be picky because for one weekend there could actually be a miniscule decline in the amount of Paris Hilton chatter in this country. That’s thanks to Michael Moore and that is power!
Set in a world inhabited only by motor vehicles Cars is sort of a cross between Michael J. Fox's Doc Hollywood and NASCAR. The main hero is a hotshot rookie race car named Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson)--an obvious homage to the late fast-driving Steve McQueen--whose one goal in life is to win the Piston Cup and bask in fame and glory. Yet on his cross-country trip to the Piston Cup Championship in California to compete against two seasoned pros (real-life legendary racer Richard Petty voices the reigning champion The King) Lightning finds himself unexpectedly detoured in the sleepy--and forgotten--Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. There he meets its colorful denizens--including Sally (Bonnie Hunt) a snazzy 2002 Porsche who owns the local “rest” stop; Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) the town’s rusty but trusty tow truck; and Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) a 1951 Hudson Hornet who rules the town with a steady hand er wheel. Together they all help the cocksure Lightning realize that there are more important things than trophies fame and sponsorship. If Pixar calls you come running so it isn’t at all surprising how impressive the Cars vocal line-up is starting with legendary screen icon Newman as the Doc. Come on being the race car driving nut that he is you think the 81-year-old actor would say no to voicing a 1951 Hudson Hornet who has his own mysterious past in the racing world? Hell no. The rest of the cast also seem to have a good time channeling their inner car from Wilson’s snarky speedster to Hunt’s cute and sexy Porsche a big-city lawyer who decides to get out of the fast lane. Supporting voices include Cheech Marin and Tony Shalhoub as Radiator Springs’ low-riding body shop and Italian Fiat tire shop owners respectively. Even George Carlin gets into the act as a groovy ‘60s VW wagon who sells “organic” fuel. Good stuff. Of course what Pixar flick would be complete without its comic relief? Although he’s no Ellen DeGeneres as a short-term memory impaired fish Larry the Cable Guy fills in nicely as the dim but sweet Mater the ultimate hick tow truck. Having been out of the directing loop since his 1999 sequel Toy Story 2 Cars marks Pixar’s golden boy John Lasseter return--and this is his big love letter to the splendor that is the automobile. Of course his demand for perfection took its toll. The animators had to come up with a new technique called “ray tracing ” which allows the car stars--that are metallic and heavily contoured--to credibly reflect their environments. Even with a sophisticated network of 3 000 computers and state-of-the-art lightning-fast processors that operate up to four times faster than they did on The Incredibles the average time to render a single frame of film was 17 hours. Still all that time spent pays off. Cars is a real visual treat with another firm grasp in storytelling. Sure it’s a bit of a vanity project and may shoot way over the kiddies’ heads making them squirm a little during the “slow” parts. But as one of the recently appointed top guns at Disney Lasseter can do just about anything he wants these days--and we are going to love it dammit.
Drew Latham (Ben Affleck) is a handsome smart millionaire (how he got so rich is a mystery) who is dumped by his girlfriend right before Christmas because he wants to take her to Fiji for the holidays (and if you think THAT is stupid wait for the rest of the movie) instead of staying with family. My god! The nerve. Now facing Christmas utterly alone Drew pays a wistful visit to his idyllic childhood home meets the family living there--the dysfunctional Valcos--and decides he's going to bribe them to be his family through the holidays. Here's the wacky part: They agree. Well at least patriarch Tom (James Gandolfini) who only sees the dollar signs does--his wife Christine (Catherine O'Hara) and teenage son Brian (Josh Zuckerman) go along reluctantly. They have to; it wouldn't be a movie if they didn't. Soon the obnoxious Drew is dragging the lackluster bunch all over the place re-creating happy Christmas memories like taking pictures with Santa and singing carols and just when they think they can't take another moment their sharp-as-a-tack eldest daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate) shows up--and throws a crimp into all of Drew's best-laid plans. I mean he has to fall in love with her and get all mushy and make the disgruntled Valcos realize the meaning of family and Christmas and all that junk right? Because that makes sense right?
It's really a shame when something this bad happens to good actors. Gandolfini tries his hand at making people laugh but comes off just about as sinister as he does playing Tony Soprano especially when he's pelting Drew with grenade-like snowballs. Meanwhile O'Hara usually a whiz at the whole comedy thing ends up throwing away her lines. Not to mention she looks oh-so-bedraggled with stringy hair and puffy eyes (she really should have demanded a better makeup person). Applegate fares a bit better as the sharp Alicia and romantic foe to Drew but the lightning-quick speed at which the two go from hating each other to making out just belittles them both. And then of course there's Affleck. Poor poor Ben. He really is a likable fellow with a wicked sense of humor; anyone who has seen him on the talk show circuit can attest to that. He just can't seem to find the right material be it comedy action whatever. Perhaps he should consider looking at an indie film or two maybe play a really juicy supporting part build some credibility. But he most definitely needs to get a new agent and stop making these awful duds.
It's not at all a good sign when there are four credited writers on a movie and the director Mike Mitchell is best known for Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Nope that's a big giant red flag--and Surviving Christmas doesn't do anything to prove otherwise. Granted the premise isn't half bad but the key to it would be emphasizing the eccentricity of a millionaire who wants to bribe a family to be his through the holidays. Don't make the millionaire some guy who's drop-dead gorgeous and actually pretty together if only a bit obnoxious and give him a love interest that makes no sense. You need to build up exactly why he so unconventional. Is he like Howard Hughes weird or Richie Rich oddball? Then throw him in the mix with this dysfunctional family and without him ever changing who he is watch how he affects the lives around him. Imagine the part being played by a younger Christopher Walken or Steve Buscemi. That would be hilarious.
Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi and Denys Arcand 's The Barbarian Invasions took top honors at the Toronto International Film Festival, which closed Sunday after a 10-day run.
Zatoichi is based on one of the most popular characters in Japanese movies. It tells the tale of a lightning-fast master swordsman who conceals his secret identity by posing as a blind traveling masseur.
In the past, the People's Choice award, voted on by regular moviegoers, has been an indicator of future Academy Award nominations, with past awardees including the Oscar winning films American Beauty, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Life Is Beautiful, Shine and Chariots of Fire.
The two runners-up for the People's Choice prize were two Canadian documentaries, including Toronto director Ron Mann's Go Further, which follows actor Woody Harrelson and some fellow activists on what Harrelson dubbed the Simple Organic Living tour on the American West Coast. The second runner-up was the Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott-directed The Corporation, a critical look at the rise and influence of corporations.
Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions, meanwhile, won the award for best Canadian feature. The film, a revisiting some 15 years later of the principal characters of Arcand's 1986 film The Decline of the American Empire, revolves around Rémy, a former professor whose estranged wife and son, his former mistresses and old friends gather around his deathbed.
The Discovery Award, which is voted on by the press covering the event, went to Toronto director Aaron Woodley--nephew of Canadian director David Cronenberg--for his U.S. film Rhinoceros Eyes, about a reclusive young prop-house worker who prowls the streets for unusual, real-life props.
The Fipresci critics prize was awarded to Spanish director Achero Manas' November for "its freshness, its original blending of fiction and documentary techniques, its humanistic message and the high quality of all the performances."
The City-TV award for best Canadian first feature went to a one-time festival volunteer, Toronto director Sudz Sutherland's Love, Sex and Eating the Bones, while the Award for Canadian short went to Montreal director Constant Mentzas' Aspiration.
According to the Toronto Star, the festival is estimated to bring in $67 million annually to Toronto's coffers, with millions more added by the fest's role as the vehicle for film distribution deals.
Festival chief Piers Handling read off a list of deals at this year's festival, including sales or pending sales. Kitano's Zatoichi was one of the first major acquisitions, with Miramax Films picking up North American rights, but many more acquisitions followed. Sony Pictures Classics bought the Italian film Facing Window and the Korean pic Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring, Goldwyn acquired Margarethe von Trotta's Holocaust drama Rosenstrasse, United Artists bought Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes, Newmarket took Danish pic The Green Butchers and IFC acquired Canadian director Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World.
Handling joked that even Vincent Gallo's notoriously bad road movie The Brown Bunny found a distributor.
"Yes, we do rehabilitate films," Handling told a roaring audience.
Britney Spears isn't having much fun in Mexico City.
Upon her arrival on Tuesday, cameras caught the star making an insulting gesture with her middle finger. She later said she gestured to the paparazzi following her, who, she said, nearly caused a car accident.
Now, she has angered thousands of Mexican fans.
Ending her world tour at the Foro Sol stadium Sunday, the pop princess abruptly walked off the stage after singing only four songs. Reuters reports during her fifth song, "Stronger," she left the stage, simply saying, "I'm sorry, Mexico. I love you. Bye." The crowd was less than pleased, chanting, "fraud, fraud" while throwing Britney paraphernalia.
Concert organizers OCESA said in a statement Monday that a thunderstorm and lightning posed a significant threat to the safety of the performers on stage, and they had to call off the show. OCESA also said the fans, who paid anywhere from $14 to $190 for tickets to Sunday's show, would be able to get a full refund.
Reuters reports Spears also said in a statement, "The Mexican fans are some of the best in the world. However, for the security of my company and the audience, as well as for the show's quality, I had to suspend my performance."
A year ago, five unknown guys from Orlando, Fla., went to the Sundance Film Festival with a cheap movie, a neato gimmick and a good publicist.
Today they return to Park City, Utah, as Hollywood players -- the creators of what might become the biggest horror film franchise ever -- and as bona fide filmmakers afforded multimillion-dollar budgets.
Their film cost $10,000 to $100,000, depending on what you read. They sold it for $1 million. It made $140 million in theaters. Maybe you've heard of it: "The Blair Witch Project."
Hands down, the "Haxan Five," as they like to call themselves (Get it? It rhymes with "Jackson Five") are the biggest rags-to-riches story ever to come out of Sundance. Sure, other nickel-and-dime neophytes such as Kevin Smith and Edward Burns have received more critical praise. But none of those guys launched a commercial juggernaut like "Blair Witch," which left most of last year's major studio films in the dust. If not for the festival, the phenomenon may have forever remained a figment of their fertile imaginations.
"Everything hinged on us getting into Sundance," Daniel Myrick, who co-wrote and directed the movie with partner Eduardo Sanchez, told the Dallas Morning News last year. "It's such a validation for our sort of filmmaking. It's like winning the lottery.
"We have these bongos in our office that we beat whenever something good happens. The day we were picked, we partied and beat on those drums all night. Now, we're living the dream, man."
How's tricks nowadays with Myrick, Sanchez and their producers, Gregg Hale, Mike Monello and Robin Cowie? Not bad at all.
This spring, they are set to begin filming their first post-"Witch" feature, a comedy called "Heat of Love" for Artisan. Earlier this month, they signed a big deal with Artisan in which Sanchez and Myrick will executive produce "Blair Witch 2," to be directed by veteran documentarian Joe Berlinger, and they will write and direct a third installment, a "Blair Witch" prequel, set for release in fall 2001. Both the sequel and prequel will be budgeted in the $7 million to $10 million range.
Add to that all their talk show appearances, magazine interviews, the merchandising (including a hugely hyped pre-Halloween home video release, a video game version of the movie, books, etc.), and a TV show in development at Fox, it's been quite a year. Their schedules are so full, they couldn't (or wouldn't) be interviewed for this article (their publicist apologized).
"I think in terms of money, 'Blair Witch' is the most successful movie to come out of Sundance. There's not anything that comes close," says John Anderson, chief film critic for Newsday in New York and author of the book "Sundancing: Hanging Out and Listening in at America's Most Important Film Festival" (Spike Publishing).
But now that Sanchez, Myrick, et. al. are players, the player-haters will inevitably come out of the woodwork. It's already started: After receiving a big buzz-bounce out of Sundance last year, "Blair Witch" was greeted with mostly favorable reviews as critics praised it as an anti-film, a horror original. But as the film became a phenomenon, detractors appeared, saying, "it's not scary," "it's cheap-looking" or "stop shaking the camera already, you're giving me a migraine."
"The reaction was kind of funny," Anderson says. "Almost as soon as it started making money, people turned on it. There's always this perverse critical reaction when something becomes too popular, but you have to admit it had one of the great marketing plans, both by the filmmakers and by Artisan."
That marketing plan began back in 1997, when Sanchez and Myrick succeeded in getting snippets from "Blair Witch," then a work-in-progress, onto indie film guru John Pierson's cable TV show "Split Screen." From the beginning, the project was presented as if it were a true-to-life documentary, and the filmmakers neither confirmed nor denied its authenticity. To maintain a veil of mystery, they made sure the film's three actors, who portray the film crew lost in a haunted Maryland woods, didn't speak to the media until after the film was released theatrically in July.
The actors, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams, who lent their real names to their characters, have also fared well in the wake of the film's box-office bonanza. All three were complete unknowns beforehand -- they didn't even have SAG cards -- but they spent last summer making promo appearances on Jay Leno, the MTV Movie Awards and other gigs. Now they all live in Los Angeles and have agents.
Leonard has enjoyed the most immediate big-time success, recently landing a part in "Navy Divers," a mainstream Hollywood flick with Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr. He also worked on a low-budget film, "City of Bars," which was shot last year in San Francisco. Not bad for a guy whose resume previously boasted of a few films most have never heard of and stage work at the Seattle Fringe Festival.
Donahue, whose credits included stage work in New York, is now auditioning for films and spends time camping in the California mountains, an interest she developed while working on "Blair Witch." And Williams is also passing out headshots in Hollywood, having moved to the area last year after getting married. He also has diffused a longstanding rumor that he once played minor league baseball in the Yankees farm system.
What's next? Many filmmakers who hit pay dirt the first time out suffer a sophomore jinx, and the industry will surely be watching to see if the Haxan guys sink or swim with their new comedy. Will it be funny? Will it be in focus? Will there be lots of rocks and twigs?
The Haxan guys are being familiarly coy about "Heat of Love," which they have described as "'It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World' meets Ruth Buzzi and Erik Estrada."
"Whatever they do next, they're going to have to try extra hard to get over the hump," Anderson adds. "A lot of people feel like they were snookered by 'Blair Witch' because they [Sanchez and Myrick] were so cagey about the origins of the footage.
"Mainstream narrative filmmaking is a whole new ball game for them. There's no reason to think that they'll be better at it than anybody else. They caught lightning in a bottle the first time out."
Plenty of worries mate. A third helping of this croc-out-of-the-Outback series is one too many. The difference between the delightful original and this plodding trek through Los Angeles is almost negligible. Once again crocodile hunter Mick (Paul Hogan) puts his survival skills to the test while roaming the wilds of a major metropolis. The Big Apple jaunt resulted in Mick falling in love with journalist Sue (Linda Kozlowski). In Los Angeles Mick grapples with making Sue an honest woman thanks to the prodding of their young son Mikey (Serge Cockburn). La La Land provides enough distractions to prevent Mick from popping the question. Lavish parties. Acting gigs. Monkey wrangling. And the strange business practices of Silvergate Pictures. Sue returns to the United States to temporarily oversee her newspaper magnate father's Los Angeles bureau. Her first assignment: expose Silvergate and its likely criminal activities. But who needs a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist with N.Y.P.D Blue junkie Mick Dundee on the case.
Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles lacks bite but Mick remains the life and soul of the hunt. The leatheryHogan - now 61 but leaner and fitter than a certain real-life crocodile hunter half his age - is so affable fascinating and boyish that it's a pleasure to share his company. He's the same old Mick Dundee that audiences laughed at but mostly laughed with in the late 1980s. Hogan hints--though not very seriously--at the end of this adventure that it's time to call it quits. If so he would be wise to pass his croc-skinned vest and hunting knife on to Cockburn. He's a chip off the old block. Whether he's rescuing skunks or trapping rodents Cockburn manages to charm without being self-consciously cute or deliberately bratty. Too bad Kozlowski--Hogan's wife--has nothing better to do than lovingly raise her eyebrows at Mick's occasional blunders or pass herself off as a journalist.
Simon Wincer last worked with Hogan on 1994's Lightning Jack a not-so-wild Western that floundered in its bid to put any distance between Hogan and his Crocodile Dundee persona. In Wincer's hands Mick Dundee's latest urban jungle safari lacks any genuine surprises. Is Mick the only tourist to find himself confronted by a mugger each time he steps off the plane? In Australia Mick may call the Outback his workplace but he does seem to enjoy some modern amenities. So it's become something of a stretch to imagine that Mick doesn't watch TV and can't take a bath without fearing a crocodile attack. Much of the blame rests with the bland and trite cultural differences that writers Matthew Berry and Eric Abrams compel Mick to face continually. (Hogan contends that he deserves credit for writing the script but unless he needs the extra cash he should back down--it's nothing to be proud of.)