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Entries in Cinema de Gym (16)

Saturday
Oct 01 2011

Cinema de Gym: 'Man on Fire'

Kurthere.WatchingMan on Fireat my gym was a unique experience in that someone on staff,either by accident or sneaky design,played the DVD in Spanish.As I entered the cardio room,no one was bothering to fiddle with the settings,so neither did I.After all,here was an opportunity to better test my image-reading ability,or,at least,to better test Tony Scott's ability to tell a story with images.Enough time had passed since I'd first seen this Denzel Washington vengeance vehicle (released in 2004) for me to be unsure of where I stood in the running time,but given the room full of visibly exhausted investigators and hostage negotiators on screen,my guess was little Dakota Fanning had already been M.I.A.for quite some time.Daddy Marc Anthony,whose sweat-slicked cheekbones and jaw reflect the scene's pervasive blue highlights,is on the phone with who we're meant to assume is the culprit,while a pre-comeback Mickey Rourke,as a (probably) duplicitous agent or some such,is waiting to chew out the caller.Enter former next-big-thing Radha Mitchell,who,as Dakota's mother,steps in to take the phone,only to receive some devastating threat that leads to a Rene-Russo-in-Ransomfreakout (in Espańol,no less).

Hombre en Fuego

From there,we hop to a bed-ridden Denzel,who looks like he's in Mexico but,then,that could just be Scott's burning-pińata aesthetic.Receiving what appears to be intel and some fiery pep talks from sidekick Christopher Walken,Denzel is back on his feet in no time,returning to the scene of the Dakota abduction (a park) and doing a lot of ACTORY things with his face while hunting for clues.This is a dialogue-free scene,but Scott does a lot of talking with the camera,spinning it incessantly to underscore clue confusion.I remember hearing somewhere (probably during some behind-the-scenes tidbit on the FX network) that Scott rigged the camera to a kids' merry-go-round to achieve this effect.I'm all for resourceful filmmaking,but looking again,this approach reads as literal and pushy,in a film already largely defined by maximum force.Satisfied (or so we assume from the answer-providing flashbacks),Denzel relocates to Dakota's parents' place,scouring the girl's bedroom for yet more clues,then encountering Radha.The mom cries about what I think I remember to be an overall fear of betrayal,which is likely justified by film's end.She hands Denzel a teddy bear,and then we cut to the CIA-operative-turned-bodyguard's badass weapons preparation process,an edit that speaks directly to the movie's intended juxtaposition of the sweet and the brutal.

I recall the sweet being far more effective,to the extent that I told many folks thatMan on Firewas only worth watching in its first hour.Written by the busy Brian Helgeland,who adapted the novel that was also put to screen in 1987,the film takes memorable care in establishing a meaningful relationship between Denzel and Dakota,who slowly lowers his guard after he reluctantly agrees to serve as hers.It's moving and involving,and then the movie pivots with Dakota's kidnapping,slipping into a kill-'em-all ass-kicker whose primary goal seems to be appeasing the bloodthirsties in the audience.What we have then is a frantic,yet boring,tone,and grainy variations on Scott'srepeated gimmicksignature style of saturating the hell out of oranges,greens and blues.This,I believe,was the start of Scott's now-required look,not to mention the start of his maestro-muse relationship with Denzel (Déjà Vu,The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3andUnstoppablewould follow).It's one of those films that has bafflingly amassed a whole lot of devotees – the kind of movie guys love to say they love (in the ultimate seal of approval,it just popped up as one of Taylor Lautner'sfive faves).I'd love to say I love it,too,but,alas,no.I do wish I'd walked in during the first hour,if only to hear what the then-10-year-old Dakota sounded like dubbed over.

Conclusions?

1.If you're looking for a fun angle for your second reading of a film,play it in another language.
2.Sweetening things is no good if it becomes clear that you're more interested in bloodying things up.
3.While I greatly appreciate directorial trademarks,Tony Scott's might be my least favorite.
4.With a single kidnapping,Man on Firehas one more abduction than Taylor Lautner'sAbduction.

Are you keen onMan on Fire,or,for that matter,Team Scott/Washington?Do you speak Spanish?

Friday
Sep 23 2011

Cinema de Gym: 'Megamind'

Editor's Note: In Cinema de Gym,Kurt writes about whichever piece of whichever movie was playing while he cardio'ed.I wish my gym would play movies.

Kurthere with the firstCinema de Gymcolumn to tackle an animated film.Megamindseems to be the lesser of at least two 2010 CG toons to pin the spotlight on the villain instead of the hero (the greater,of course,wasDespicable Me,that darkly random Steve Carrell curio).As the titular swollen-headed baddie,Will Ferrell even has a henchman he refers to as "Minion,"a la those adorable Tic-Tac Oompa-Loompas that Carrell bossed around.Of what I saw,Megamindoffers some cozy glee,with handsome,colorful action setpieces,but it doesn't take long to tell that it's low on the animation totem pole,and unlikeDespicable Me,no worries if it's not on your catch-up list.

It also stars the voice of Brad Pitt,and by the time I walked in,Pitt's character,Metro Man,had already been vanquished/defeated/pushed-aside-until-the-winding-down-of-the-second-act by Megamind,his vainglorious nemesis.The centerpiece of what I caught was a scene in which Megamind and the movie's Lois Lane,a reporter voiced by Tina Fey,stand on opposite sides of a catwalk encircling a syscraper-sized Metro Man monument,admiring the curvature of his literally cut-from-stone features.At one point,the two – well,she and a shape-shifted version of our villain – head downstairs in a glass elevator,scanning the whole height of that muscular marble man.

It was a fitting bit of star-gazing during this special week of Pitt adoration.On Tuesday I caught the impressively,refreshingly sophisticatedMoneyball,and I'm happy to say I've never been more pleased with a Pitt performance (if ever he deserved an Oscar nom...).I didn't get to hear the superstar's voice inMegamind,but I did get a littleMoneyballparallel,as Jonah Hill voices Fey's reporter's flatly-rendered fat sidekick.

It's no news to anybody that animated features have become a go-to arena for comedians,whose nimble vocals are ever-amenable to over-the-top,rubbery-bright concoctions.Hill,like Seth Rogen,has become a very obvious casting choice,while David Cross (who voices that fish-headed "Minion") is a wee bit sad in just how often he's schlepping it to the recording booth.But,I guess we've all gotta make bank,and on that note,I'd much rather see Ferrell continue to pad his well-padded sellout pockets while...not having to actually see him.In that way,animation is good for comedians,assuming those comedians are ones who rose to fame,got greedy,and proceeded to say yes to every lousy project that came down the pike.The filters of fantastical illustration and family-friendly restraint work small wonders,andMegamindis to Will Ferrell whatKung Fu Pandais to Jack Black: a colorful gift of funnyman palatability.

Conclusions?

1.In this age of the especially tireless questioning of authority,Villain is the new Hero,even in kids' flicks.
2.Brad Pitt insists on being in my life this week.Redirected from my old address,the newEWwith Pitt on the cover just arrived mere moments ago.Hey,I'm not complaining.
3.In truth,it's probably best that David Cross stay in the recording booth.
4.With their animation ventures ripe for corruption,and with their tendencies to freely sign on dotted lines,it's only a matter of time before we see Ferrell and Black team up forMegamind vs.Kung Fu Panda.

What's your favorite animated performance from a comedian?

Friday
Sep 16 2011

Cinema de Gym: 'Role Models'

Editor's Note: In Cinema de Gym,Kurt writes about whichever piece of whichever movie was playing while he cardio'ed.I wish my gym would play movies.

Kurthere.I've just moved from my suburban Philadelphia stomping grounds to a cozy new place in Brooklyn (yay!).Thus,no more weekly trips to the treadmill screening room,which,even if it had followed me here,would likely fall outside of my new monthly budget.But,fear not!I logged a lot of hours in that offbeat movie house,and though my scale might not reflect that (what gives?),I've compiled quite a lengthy list of gym films du jour.So,rather than bag the column,I'm going to burn through thatCinema de Gymqueue,with a promise that my memory is sharp.

Anyhoo,our title for today isRole Models,the 2008 Seann William Scott/Paul Rudd comedy about two dudes forced to mentor young kids as a means of community service.The segment I saw didn't reveal what crime led these guys to do the time,but it did feature a pre-GleeJane Lynch as a characteristic ball-buster,her oppressive lectures showing more than just shades of Sue Sylvester.If not the probation officer of Scott and Rudd's characters (I couldn't tell),Lynch at least plays the woman running the role-model program,and she's rather candid about her history with drug addiction,the freedom from which has given her purpose,but hasn't much mended her social skills.Used to underscore a subversive tone that paints the legal system as bogus and chaotic,Lynch's slave driver seems wholly unequipped to work with kids,despite a constant assurance of her firm belief in the whole babysitting-as-rehab plan.She pairs Scott and Rudd with Ronnie (Bobb'e J.Thompson) and Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse),respectively,two kids whose lives are suffering from a lack of positive parental influence.Augie,specifically,lives with his small-minded mom and her smaller-minded boyfriend,both of whom take cruel,alternating shots at Augie's obsession with medieval role-playing.

However improbable,I liked the whole real-life world of warcraft the film cooks up as Augie's pasttime,a population of devoted,armor-wearing super dorks who turn a neighborhood park into their own Middle Earth,complete with duels,a king (Ken Jeong) and social hierarchy.It's a preferable second life for Augie,but his family's shortcomings render him defenseless when it,too,reveals itself to be a harsh place.Which is of course where Rudd comes into play,joining the club of tunic-wearing plastic sword wielders,and finally confronting Augie's troubles at the source.A dinner scene with Augie's parents has an appropriate,if obvious,gratification,with Rudd offering us vicarious jollies by telling the ignorant adults that they're deadbeats who don't have a clue who their son is.It's the scene in which everyone hears what they need to hear,including Rudd's character,who,if we're going by typical plot logic,fulfills his community service at that very point.

I didn't get to see much of Scott and his foul-mouthed terror,who,as you may know,launched a mini-career as a go-to foul-mouthed terror following his performance in this film.Scott's current lack of work had me missing his presence (a recent stint in rehab offers some explanation for the career dip),and I'm sure if he'd appeared more often I would have had more laughs.The third feature effort from multi-hyphenate David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer),who's gota new one dropping in 2012with Rudd and Jennifer Aniston,Role Modelsdidn't strike me as all that funny,but it works in concept,and it suggests more emotional ambition than a lot of other titles of its ilk (which are legion,to be sure).Had theLord of the Ringswagon arrived about eight or nine years earlier than it did (I was 20 when the last film stormed the Kodak),I maybe,just maybe,would have gravitated toward a Renaissance-Faire realm like Augie's,and if my parents were the sort who mocked it,I'm sure I wouldn't have minded having Paul Rudd go to bat for me.

Conclusions?

1.While she's done wonders for Jane Lynch's career,one could argue that Sue Sylvester also highlights how filmmakers have long been typecasting this gifted comedienne.
2.Speaking of typecasting,wouldn't it be interesting to see Mintz-Plasse in a non-geek role?
3.Jerk parents who put their petty interests before those of their kids are pretty high on my list of love-to-hate characters.
4.I can't say I'm a fan of Rudd's career,but I think I'd get pretty weak in the knees if he stepped in to be my hero.

Who's your role model?

Saturday
Sep 03 2011

Cinema de Gym: 'Waiting For Forever'

Editor's Note: In Cinema de Gym,Kurt writes about whichever piece of whichever movie was playing while he cardio'ed.I wish my gym would play movies!

Kurthere with the second Cinema de Gymcolumn about a film I never even knew was out there ( here's the first).The Rachel Bilson quirk romance Waiting for Foreverdoes have a certain sweetness,but it's pretty hugely un-special.It's the kind of film that can make you cry a little inside.We spend so much time dissecting all the product,Hollywood or otherwise,that's funneled into theaters each week that it's easy to lose sight of just how many freaking hours,dollars,brain cells and,by god,people it takes to complete a feature film production.It's one thing to have a little-seen movie slowly amass a cult following or wind up a critics' fave,but what about films like this that don't seem to have any audience at all?

Unless there's some Waiting for Forever fan club I don't know about,this has all the signs of being a speck on the cinema landscape that's really not worth anyone's time.And there are thousands of these,many barely able to pay the crew.All cynicism aside,and with full consideration given to risk-taking and an artist's legitimate need to create,wouldn't it have been better to just bag it altogether?As a colleague of mine points out regularly,weren't there any prescient souls on set who could've spoken up to say,"Guys,this baby is doomed.Why don't we all just go home?I have to put my kid to sleep."I guess they just didn't have the heart to give their two cents.I feel for those people.

Which is not to say Waiting for Foreveris terrible,at least not judging by what I saw.It seemed innocent enough,and largely inoffensive,if irritatingly feigned.It's an overeager boy-chases-girl drama that thinks hollow affectations will give it an instant indie spirit.Will (the gruffly cute Tom Sturridge) is a juggling street performer who always wears pajamas,just in case you couldn't tell he was a little eccentric.For years,apparently,he's been stalkingfollowing Emma (Bilson),a girl he knew as a child and has loved ever since.They've only just reconnected,it seems,as she came back to their hometown and he finally felt it was the right time to be more than just a shadow.Naturally,the revelation that Will has long been begging for a restraining order is reserved for the all-is-lost moment,when Emma finally lets him in only to allow her gosh-darned,societally-ingrained good sense to overrule the fact that he's a kind-hearted,well-intended creeper.Before that point,they're seen visiting the soda shop of their youth,every detail of which Will vocally recalls with a kind of Peter Pan nonchalance,uncaring – or unaware – that his boyish ramblings are raising eyebrows.Emma seems mildly charmed and intrigued,but the character isn't developed enough,nor is Bilson good enough,for you to to truly tell.Watching Will,she's more or less shruggingly disengaged,as insubstantial as his jammies.

There's a cute bit in a park where the old friends reminisce on a jungle gym,followed by a familiar domestic scene in which Emma argues with a volatile militaristic boyfriend (Matthew Davis) who's obligatorily bad for her.But if the film is to go the obvious route and ultimately drop Emma in Will's arms (I didn't get anywhere near that far),it doesn't seem she'd be much better off,as Will,while benevolent,appears genuinely unstable – more unstable,I'd guess,than the film means for him to appear.Despite Sturridge's efforts,this isn't just your average sympathy-for-the-weirdo scenario.From what I gathered,it seemed pretty plausible that Will might truly snap one day and try to use Emma's head for a juggling ball.Now there's a movie worth making!
Conclusions?
  1. Throwaway films can be depressing for reasons well beyond their content.
  2. Rachel Bilson seems to be an actress without an identity.Do I need to have been an O.C.watcher to appreciate her?
  3. If you want your audience to love your misunderstood stalker,best to make him more teddy bear and less ticking bomb.
Have you ever heard of this movie?
Friday
Aug 26 2011

Cinema de Gym: 'While You Were Sleeping'

Kurthere.This week saw the rare screening of a romantic comedy at the gym.The film wasWhile You Were Sleeping,Sandra Bullock's first effort following her bomb-on-a-bus breakthrough.An extremely nice movie with minimal ambitions,its key function was to introduce the world to Bullock: Girl Next Door,soon to be Bullock: Queen of Ubiquity.Seen retrospectively,it's a major career indicator.Even the first 20 minutes – which are the minutes I saw – are teeming with the Bullockisms that Americans have been gorging themselves on since the film's 1995 release.Bullock is Lucy,a ticket booth operator at a Chicago train station who has many of the traits we've come to know so well: unlucky-in-love aura,frumpiness that barely hides her beauty (unkempt hair,choppy bangs,oversized sweaters),unladylike behavior (she dips her Oreos in her cat's milk),peripheral support system of surrogate family members,and an everyday earnestness so complete it seems exhausting.There's even a calories-be-damned mention of the local Chinese food guy,a laTwo Weeks Notice.

I've never had the pleasure of an end-to-endWhile You Were Sleepingsit,but as I and most of you know, this is a Big Secret movie hinged on a well-intended lie that will surely come out in the wash at the close of the second act.Lucy is nuts about Peter (Peter Gallagher),the dapper businessman who visits her window each day but barely knows she exists.When he's mugged and tossed onto the tracks,Lucy saves the day and rushes his comatose behind to the hospital,only to have her out-loud thoughts of marriage get her mistaken for his fiancée (or,as the fib-spreading nurse memorably repeated in the TV spots,his "FEEE-ahn-say").In a charming bit of farcically contrived,old fashioned group hysteria,Peter's family fawns over Lucy after funneling into the hospital room,wholly believing and embracing the made-up engagement news as a desperate means to relieve some alluded-to family drama.As is typical,Lucy is too overwhelmed – and far too kindhearted – to wreck the mood and spill the truth.

A joy of the earlier scenes is seeing the many older actors who play Peter's relatives,at least a couple of whom are no longer with us.The late,great Peter Boyle is Peter's father (Peters,Peters,everywhere);character actor Jack Warden,who passed in 2006,is Peter's godfather;and Glynis Johns,who's still going strong at 87,is Peter's grandmother.The latter,who was indeed the one and only Winifred Banks inMary Poppins("votes for women!"),is at the center of the earlier portions' best jokes.Suffering from a heart condition that's been troubling the fam,she's the key reason Lucy needs to keep up her act."When my mom found out I wasn't getting married,her intestines exploded,"says Lucy's co-worker and lunch partner (Jason Bernard)."If you back out now,you may as well shoot grandma."The biggest laugh comes when the relatives arrive at the hospital one morning to find that Lucy spent the night with her faux beau.Abruptly and inexplicably,the godfather,addressing Lucy,says of the grandmother,"You're like her – she can sleep anywhere.Andbelieve me,she has."

Such a nasty little zinger sticks out like a scarlet letter in this squeaky-clean star vehicle.Most of the time,we're awash in Lucy's goodness,and asked to nibble our nails as that goodness pulls her deeper into uncharacteristic dishonesty.Of course,what ends up happening is Lucy falls for Peter's brother,Jack (Bill Pullman),while Peter's conked out,but I didn't make it that far.What I did see was a sweet bedside confessional that Lucy offers to Peter,a gooey romcom monologue that really showcases Bullock's then-blossoming powers.With an almost impossible cuteness,she exudes mainstream-friendly desperation and self deprecation,which somehow seems both put-on and very true at the same time.You can see the career of a lovable superstar taking shape in that moment.It's no wonder Lucy's earnestness became a career staple.Bullock's so good at it,she does ittoowell.

Conclusions?

1.For a while,it seemed Bullock was destined to star alongside vehicles: Bus (Speed),Train (While You Were Sleeping),Boat (Speed 2).It's totally a metaphor for her meteoric rise.Faster than a speeding Bullock!
2.During that same time,it also seemed she was destined to share the screen with Jacks: Keanu Reeves inSpeed(Jack),Jeremy Northam inThe Net(Jack),Bill Pullman inWhile You Were Sleeping(Jack).
3.Revisiting a film from the early days of a star's career can reflect a lot in terms of how said star's career panned out.
4.If you really want to make it as a leading lady in Hollywood,it might not be a bad idea to act opposite Sister Suffragette.


Do you like early Bullock?Or will you never get over that Oscar win?

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