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Review: “Interview” (2007)

“A mental mindfuck can be nice.” No offense to Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his pithy one-liner, but that all depends on how evenly matched the partners are. It’s not so much fun to watch a plainly unbalanced faceoff (like the ferocious “Swimming with Sharks”). And initially that’s just what “Interview” looks like: an unfair fight. Buscemi’s Pierre is a serious political correspondent whose wartime credentials don’t shield him from a fluff assignment: a story on blonde starlet Katya (Sienna Miller), famous for being famous. He has battle scars; she has a string of roles in B slasher films. The victor of this battle of wits would seem … predetermined.

Think again. Buscemi is not a director who writes surface-level people, and he is not an actor who plays them, either. He excels with characters who are deeper than they appear to be — sometimes in dangerous, disquieting ways. Because Katya and Pierre are American and not Dutch, like those in the original film by the late Theo van Gogh, Buscemi shapes them into types we know all too well: the vapid paparazzi darling and the self-important journalist. But he tweaks them enough that specks of humanity crop up occasionally, pushing the boredom and the disgust aside. As “Interview” progresses, the little human kindnesses fly out the window once Pierre realizes that Katya relishes a good verbal/psychological jousting match as much as he does. And she may be better at the sport than he ever dreamed possible.

Being a small film containing a main cast of a whopping two actors, “Interview” will not appeal to the adrenaline junkies. The action is minimal; the talking never stops. But psychological warfare depends on disarming the opponent with words selected to affect maximum emotional damage. So the talking, to those paying attention, builds in intensity until it’s exhilarating. At the first meeting, things are strained (that’s putting it mildly) — Katya breezes in an hour late, taking no notice of Pierre’s seething anger. She doesn’t bother to feign interest in the interview, so he doesn’t bother to conceal his contempt for the woman he’s pigeonholed as a talking sex toy. He has done no preparation, and instead of hiding that he lords it over Katya. Both exit in anger (“Cunt-ya!” Pierre spits out), each wishing gruesome fates upon the other. Then a freak cab crunch-up leaves Pierre with a head wound, and Katya, whose loft is nearby, takes pity on him. Once he’s inside her territory, though, the gloves come off and the emotional pistol whipping begins. He’s grossly underestimated her self-awareness, and assumes that she is deaf to sarcasm. She is not: “You have to feel sorry for me. I mean, I probably have silicone for brains.”

The game turns nastier from there, with Pierre snooping on Katya’s laptop and finding a secret impressive enough to help him turn this puff piece into an expose. Her reaction to his digging leads him to believe he’s hit pay dirt. But it’s tricky, dirty business playing Truth or Dare with an actress, and when Katya demands Pierre unpack a few skeletons from his own closet he makes himself unwisely vulnerable. The back-and-forth would be tedious if not for the ever-changing behavior of the characters. They have more in common than they’d care to admit, with Pierre acting as something of a chameleon to get at the bankable truth. As a journalist he’s done this thousands of times but convinces himself that behavior had a nobler purpose. Miller’s Katya is no less manipulative, and her erratic behavior — uncontrollable laughter one minute, towering rage the next — keeps us guessing at her motives. Buscemi and Miller are about as a sublime a pair as we could hope for — no one looks wearier or more derisive than Steve Buscemi, and Miller is attractive in that vapid, slightly nutty, damaged Lindsay Lohan way. They couldn’t be an odder pair, and for once their distaste for one another does not give way to mattress gymnastics. “Interview,” instead, smacks into an Twist Ending that’s possibly a little too Hollywood and a definitely a little too unrealistic. But since “Interview” is like real life, only more dramatic, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

Grade: B

My thought on today

Double TTC feature: “The Expendables,” “Piranha 3D”

(Rare it is that not one but TWO films come along that duke it out for top billing in Terrifically Terrible Cinema. But “The Expendables” came along, and then “Piranha 3D” — it was a perfect storm-like convergence of events — and both are so awesomely bad that they must stand together as the most fun you’ll have in what’s left of summer 2010.)

“The Expendables”
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke

Sly Stallone the director and writer, with a few exceptions, does not do subtlety. This is a foreign and unwelcome concept to him, kind of like sap is to Quentin Tarantino. So anyone who waltzed into “The Expendables” expecting anything more profound than a messy, magnificent orgy of testosterone, guts and violence deserves, quite frankly, to be disappointed. In short, “The Expendables” is a certain kind of movie for a certain kind of person: a person who likes to see things — and people — get blown up in large and exhilarating and nasty ways. That’s Stallone’s plan, and he sticks to it using a time-honored formula that requires enjoyably overexaggerated bad guys (a hearty high-five to Eric Roberts for looking so suave while being so evil) to bump heads with quippy, sweaty, rough-edged hero types — “the other guys.” This gaggle of mercenaries who accept suicide missions includes former SAS soldier Barney Ross (Stallone); Lee Christmas (Statham), aces with a blade; martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li); Gunnar (Dolph Lundgren), a sniper dangerously frayed around the edges; Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), a weapons specialist; and Toll Road (Randy Couture), a demolitions expert. Their newest mission is their most perilous yet: These comically named specialists must overthrow Mexican dictator General Garza (David Zayas), whose outrageous accent and furrowed brow fairly scream Very Bad Guy. But all too often behind every ferocious dictator there is an even more deadly financier, and so it is with CIA agent-gone-rogue James Munroe (Roberts), who is positively Idi Amin-like in his greed and lust for power. Barney, Lee and their pals, of course, really loathe such men – especially because they are qualmless about abusing beautiful women (Giselle Itié) with a lot of spunk – and mean to punish them as slowly and painfully as possible. This is where “The Expendables” excels, because Stallone knows deep in his burly soul how to make things explode in ways that will elicit a collective “HELL yeah!” from his viewers. The fight scenes – like Stallone’s throwdown with Steve Austin , or Li’s faceoff with Lundgren – are thrilling, while Crews’ gun should be the basis for a new world religion. Other facets of the movie aren’t quite so impressive, like Stallone and Couture’s forced performances, but Statham, Roberts and Mickey Rourke (an ex-Expendable who now gently weeps over his tattoo needle) are a hoot and a half. And that’s just what summer 2010 needed.

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“Piranha 3D”
Starring Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen, Christopher Lloyd, Jerry O’Connell

The tagline for Alexandre Aje’s gory bootyfest “Piranha 3D” really should have read: “It’s your only chance this year to see a penis get devoured by a fish — in 3D.” There are many other similarly ludicrous things that happen in this remake of a remake of a remake, but the penis-as-a-palate-cleanser signals the film’s intentions. They are not honorable; in fact, they are not even in the town housing the ballpark of honorable. Aje has one goal and one goal only in this raucous, raunchy sendup to horror film cliches, ham-fisted dialogue and even worse acting: to entertain. And entertain he does, in nearly every way imaginable. “Piranha,” besides being a gem of a 3D film (who wouldn’t rather a piranha explode off the screen than watch sweaty kids shake their moneymakers?), is a barrel of laughs — some goofy and stupid and crude, others highbrow, or at least middlebrow, jabs at films like “Jaws,” “Deep Blue Sea” and “Titanic.” There’s also an unusual ensemble cast with a few surprise cameos. The screwball plot, as it were, goes like so: An earthquake rocks Lake Victoria, setting loose a school of prehistoric piranhas trapped in deep caverns below. Because Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor and impeccable timing, this happens during Spring Break, when teeming throngs of drunk, nubile young hardbodies fill the waters with vomit and pheromones. Sheriff Julie Forester (Shue), Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) and a team of seismologists must get medieval (tee hee) on the tushes of these man-eating relics to save the lives of these hormonal horndogs, including Julie’s straight-laced son Jake (McQueen), his smokin’ crush Kelly (Jessica Szohr), a leering Joe Francis wannabe (O’Connell, an explosion of zeal and sleaze) and his bikini-clad, balloon-chested leading ladies. Oh, and there’s even time for Doc Brown himself to swoop in, though not even a DeLorean can save these teens from becoming shrieking bait worms. There’s not a thing serious about “Piranha,” not even half a teaspoon of nuance, but that’s why it clicks. With everyone – even the normally reticent Shue, who’s clearly suppressing some grins – delighting in this smorgasbord of cheese, it’s hard not to get hooked. (For the real hard-sells out there, a penis gets eaten in 3D. Unless porn goes 3D, answer opportunity when it raps on the door.)

My thought on today

Films that defined me

It’s the $1 million question among movie addicts everywhere: What films ignited this zealotry for cinema? What films left lasting impressions on the kid who grew into a full-blown cinefile? Marc at Go, See, Talk! has challenged his circle of bloggers to pose these tough questions and devise a list of films that defined us, that turned us from kids who made mud puddles outside into kids who couldn’t wait to pop a tape into the VCR (for all the spring chickens out there, VHS existed before Blu-rays and — gasp! — DVDs).

If you’re hankering to know which films defined M. Carter @ the Movies, read on. (Something tells me no one will be terribly surprised by my choices.) For the complete list of participating bloggers, visit Go, See, Talk!, or click on the graphic above.

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Action

“First Blood” (1982) — If “Drop Dead Fred” sealed my fate as a slightly warped, left-of-center lover of comedies with a razor-sharp edge, it was Stallone’s “First Blood” that stoked the fires of interest in watching things go KAZOWWEE! and burly do-gooders go positively medieval (not in the Tarantino sense of the word) on bad guys. With “First Blood,” Sly Stallone satisfied both requirements with room to spare. The explosions and shootouts and action — plus the unstoppable force of John Rambo — stunned Young Me; later, Adult Me came to appreciate the secondary story about the harsh, degrading and unfair treatment of Vietnam vets just struggling to re-enter the world of the living.

 

Comedy

“Blazing Saddles (1974) — There’s a certain joy that comes with watching movies your parents don’t know you’re watching that makes a kid feel invincible. And so it was with “Blazing Saddles,” which I caught on cable a few times before my parents introduced me (officially) to the wacko freaky genius that is Mel Brooks. The “too much beans” scene alone could send a malleable young soul into hysterics; throw in the sight gags and the pratfalls, the endlessly quotable dialogue and the outrageous characters (like the hypersexed Teutonic Titwillow, or the mumblingly moronic Gov. William J. Lepetomane) and you’ve got yourself a classic even an preteen can appreciate.

 

Dark Comedy

“Drop Dead Fred” (1991) — Of all the oddball films that littered my childhood, it’s “Drop Dead Fred” that made me the morbid, gallows-humor-loving film fan that I am today. Billing “Drop Dead Fred” was a bold move on New Line Cinema’s part, since movies involving fair amounts of profanity, pre-Farrelly Brothers grossout gags, out-there costumes and very clear episodes of serious emotional abuse aren’t the usual fixins for the warm fuzzies. In fact, “Drop Dead Fred” may be one of the best examples of a movie about kids that’s directed at adults, and a fine specimen of a dark comedy because of the fearless approach director Ate de Jong takes toward comedy. Jong’s film is trying, but there’s something strangely uplifting about its conclusion that renders it timeless.

 

Drama

“The Land Before Time” (1988) — This forgotten gem of love, loss and enduring friendship among a clan of young dinosaurs had some hefty industry talents attached (James Horner, Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas included) that played my heartstrings, while the big-scale Pizza Hut marketing campaign no doubt tugged at mom and dad’s wallets. The original film (forget about the 17 low-quality sequels) has everything fans of weepies could want: family tragedies, natural disasters, suspense, a sob-worthy death scene … not to mention the fact that the main characters (including an evil T-rex!) are dinosaurs. For a pre-Pixar kid film, that’s quite an accomplishment.

 

Fantasy/Horror

“Return to Oz” (1985) — Anyone who argues that “Return to Oz,” besides being a bastardization of the Judy Garland classic, is not a horror film must have missed the part with Princess Mombie, who keeps GLASS CABINETS full of TALKING DECAPITATED HEADS in her palace. Mombie and The Wheelies caused me countless hours in lost sleep, with the mental hospital scenes — storms and restraints and Thorazine, oh my! — providing ample fodder for future psychoses. “Return to Oz” is kiddie horror straight up, and even years later the trippy effects combined with the lavish costumes and sets continue to look startling and innovative. And terrifying. Did I mention that already?

My thought on today

No. 43: “Boogie Nights” (1997)

“You know, I’m gonna be a great big, bright shining star.” ~~Dirk Diggler

Watch enough Paul Thomas Anderson films — which won’t take a full day, considering he’s only made five major motion pictures — and a trademark starts to emerge. It’s not the long shots (he’s wonderful with those) or the use of the iris in/out technique (that too). What strikes us, and quite forcefully, is Anderson’s repeated focus on warped, unconventional family dynamics. “Punch Drunk Love” had Barry and his seven wretched sisters; “Magnolia,” the twin stories of Jimmy Gator and Earl Partridge, who slowly poisoned their marriages, their children and themselves. “Boogie Nights” may beat them both, though, in terms of questionable family relationships for its emphasis on a clan of pornographers — actors, directors, producers — who cling to each other out of emotional necessity. Their real families won’t have them; no one else will, either, and so they love the ones they’re with.

This unorthodox sense of togetherness smudges the line between parental love and sexual love, especially in the case of porn stars Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) and Amber Waves (Julianne Moore). Freud could have a field day with the peculiar yet loving relationship these two people have. Unable to see her son, Amber has a hole in her heart she needs to fill with something. Cocaine passes the time, but she needs to be needed. And Dirk, a clueless kid determined to escape his own abusive mother, needs a surrogate.These two are a match made in heaven and also hell — they nurture each other, they fill gaps, but they also have a codependent relationship that’s headed nowhere good. More stable is Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds, displaying actual depth and empathy), the porn director with a conscience who discovers Dirk bussing tables at a nightclub. “I got a feeling that behind those jeans is something wonderful just waiting to get out,” Jack observes, and he’s not being crude. Jack Horner is a man with an eye for untapped potential. He’s also a man who wants to help a struggling, uncertain high school dropout make something of himself. He adopts a fatherly attitude toward Dirk, who finds makeshift siblings in fellow actors Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly, all childlike innocence) and Rollergirl (Heather Graham).

Remaining characters trickle in and out much like kooky relatives at a family reunion: Maurice Rodriguez (Luis Guzmán), a nightclub owner/Don Juan in his own mind; Colonel James (Robert Ridgely), Jack’s financial backer with a disturbing, illegal secret; and gay boom operator Scotty (Philip Seymour Hoffman, agonizingly awkward), besotted with Dirk. There’s assistant director Little Bill (William H. Macy, brilliant as usual), whose reaction to his porn star wife’s (Nina Hartley) infidelity is a game-changer in “Boogie Nights.” Also intriguing is Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), who wants to give up his unfulfilling life of sex on camera, meet his soulmate and open a discount electronics store. Little details like that are the mark of a gifted filmmaker. And one thing Anderson, for all his skills behind the camera, never skimps on is the depth of his characters. He can draw impressive performances from actors — Graham, Reynolds and pre-“Departed” Wahlberg — not known for giving them. Even the characters we get fleeting glimpses of, like Thomas Jane’s arrogant Todd, Philip Baker Hall’s visionless financier Floyd or Alfred Molina’s whacked-out drug dealer, leave indelible impressions. Anderson writes “Boogie Nights” so that every person is concealing a story, and we get just enough of a taste of those stories to want more. Anderson backlights the characters’ tensions with his single takes (he holds when other directors would cave) and exquisite soundtrack choices, proving himself as good at illustrating eras and emotions with songs as Scorsese.

In the long list of thingsAnderson does well, there’s something else to tick off: merging multiple storylines into a satisfying conclusion. His endings are poetry, and the final minutes of “Boogie Nights” — shocking for MPAA in the ’90s, they prompted Reynolds to fire his agent and punch Anderson on set — is no exception. Anderson feels for his characters, and he gives them the kind of bittersweet adieus that sit with us indefinitely. It’s not what we expect, but it’s exactly what we need.

Bit-o-break

Hello, all — before D-Day drops next week and the second job starts, I need a break from typing and writing and computers and sitting in chairs (you know you’re getting old when you have to see a spine specialist), so I’m going to take one. However, I’m amassing a storehouse of reviews to send your way soon whenever I can. Until that day…

My thought on today