20 July 2006

You'll need to suspend your disbelief to enjoy 'Tokyo Drift'

Can street racing solve complex social problems? The expats and locals in Tokyo Drift think it can.

This is a film for ages 14 to 24...and those who love cars and the sound of pistons firing. The rest of the population should stay away or wait for the DVD release.

I for one, enjoyed the pace, the Tokyo angle on a well-worn story, and the cars. Yes, I did have to suspend my disbelief more than a reasonable amount. But, it was fun. The opening scene wastes no time getting into some serious street action. If you were a fan of the first two films in the Fast and Furious series, don't miss the last five minutes of the film. There is a a payoff dedicated just to you.

If you are dragged to this film against your will, you might try squinting real hard to convince yourself that Tokyo Drift has something in common with classic teen/car films such as Rebel Without A Cause.

15 July 2006

Au revoir Zizou; Welcome back Superman - what a week!

Brandon Routh is the latest Superman to be cast in a decades old franchise that now seems dated; but, in a charming way. Routh's hair (pictured) has sued Warner Bros. Pictures for second billing on "Superman Returns." As you can see, it played a prominent role in the film. Although, it was often found laying down on the job and looking like a wig. This will not diminish the film for viewers.

"Superman Returns" opened in France on 12 July.

05 July 2006

TRIVIA: Nos Voisins, Les Hommes (Over The Hedge)

"I've saved the world seven times as a human being, and once as a racoon," said Bruce Willis of his various movie roles. Willis lends his voice to the character of "RJ" in the English version of the animated feature film 'Over The Hedge.'

In the French version, 'Nos Voisins, Les Hommes,' the same character is named "Riton" and is voiced by Clovis Cornillac. Willis replaced Jim Carrey who was originally cast as "RJ."

Opens 5 July.

28 June 2006

Screenwriter Jason Smilovic stood by "Slevin" from concept to completion

I recently interviewed screenwriter Jason Smilovic who, in addition to prepping a new series called "Kidnapped" for U.S. television, is also the writer of "Slevin," which opens in french cinemas on 28 June.

Smilovic said he knew Scottish director Paul McGuigan was the right man to shoot his script when he first saw McGuigan's film "Gangster No. 1." Many writers peddle their screenplays to the highest bidder and then head back to the drawing board to start the process all over again. Smilovic stayed involved and worked closely with McGuigan and a stellar cast, which includes Morgan Freeman, Sir Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci, Danny Aiello, Bruce Willis, Lucy Liu and Slevin himself, Josh Hartnett.
Q: Did you ever imagine your story would have a cast like this?
A: The movie had been relegated to what we call “writing sample” status. It was simply going to be reduced to a calling card and hopefully get me jobs as a writer. We never dreamed of this.

Q: A lot of times a screenwriter has to sell his project and is not involved in production. What motivated you to stay attached to this project?
A: I was fortunate enough to stay involved in this film, but I always hope to get involved with people who embrace the collaborative nature of filmmaking, who feel the more people involved, the better. We made this movie with our friends.

Q: Paul McGuigan is a director who shoots entire scenes, uninterrupted. Does this style of directing help preserve your original vision and stay true to your script?
A: I think it stays true to the performance. [In the past] they only shot masters. Nowadays, everything is coverage and so many performances lack in authenticity because they feel like they are cobbled together.

New York native Smilovic got his start as writer/producer on the U.S. television series "Karen Sisco." The 2003-2004 series was based on the Steven Soderbergh film "Out of Sight," starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.

From the parlor of a well-appointed suite in a boutique hotel, Smilovic says he thrived on fast food from Burer King's "99-cent menu" while writing the script for "Slevin" several years ago. The film that grew from his efforts was acquired by The Weinstein Company, which recently partnered with MGM. Perhaps the cheeseburger sacrifices paid off?

"Slevin" is distributed by Metropolitan Filmexports and opens in France today, 28 June. (Photo courtesy The Weinstein Company)

26 June 2006

Film review: SLEVIN starring Josh Hartnett

(Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company)
Josh Hartnett and Morgan Freeman star in "Slevin"
opening in France on Wednesday, 28 June.

"Slevin" has a lot going for it. It stars A-list actors and was penned by a hip, young screenwriter. Scottish director Paul McGuigan ("Gangster No. 1" and "Wicker Park") captured the action using an ensemble cast that will impress even jaded moviegoers.

Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis and Lucy Liu play opposite Morgan Freeman and Sir Ben Kingsley in a hybrid thriller that takes style cues from notable 1990s-era thrillers such as "Reservoir Dogs," "The Grifters," "The Usual Suspects" and "Bound." Thrillers have prevailed for decades, and "Slevin" gives a crafty nod to some of the genre's best elements.

Slevin (Josh Hartnett) is the unluckiest guy on the planet. His friend, Nick, is missing and a case of mistaken identity thrusts him into a world ruled by two warring crime bosses (Freeman and Kingsley.)

Slevin is a likeable know-it-all who spouts rapid-fire dialogue along with the rest of the film's characters. If English is not your native language, keeping pace with the V.O. dialogue - and even the subtitles - will be a challenge, but worth the effort.

Lucy Liu plays Lindsey with a gangly version of panache. Lindsey is interested in getting closer to Slevin. More so when he is beat up by thugs who are convinced he is someone else — someone who owes a lot of people a lot of money. Slevin sports a broken nose from the start and is walloped with great frequency throughout the first half of the film.

To further underscore Slevin’s fragile circumstances, Hartnett spends most of the film wearing only a low-slung bath towel...and a knowing smirk. The idea of a half-naked Hartnett was allegedly a creative decision, but many of the actor’s fans (and the movie’s marketing staff) will be thankful for the wardrobe sacrifice.

The money saved on Hartnett’s wardrobe was probably invested in set design and wallpaper. The film's insular set design fully contains the characters and creates an intimate space for their schemes. Exterior scenes are nearly non-existent and "Slevin" could easily be adapted as a stage play. This is not only because of the wallpaper, but because McGuigan shoots scenes in their entirety rather than cobbling bits and pieces of performances together. Director of Photography Peter Sova reportedly lights McGuigan’s sets for 360-degree shooting so that actors and cameras can move around. Bruce Willis uses this to his advantage in his role as Mr. Goodkat, a fellow who is fond of a scam named "The Kansas City Shuffle."

(Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company)
"Slevin" stars Bruce Willis, Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu.

Style and wit carry the film a long way. It has a bit of a 1970’s vibe, in that it features violence, nudity and cursing without apology. These elements belong in a picture like this and the filmmakers did not excise them to play it safe.

"Slevin" requires viewers to be patient. A slow start shifts into fast gear, bogs down and then moves forward again. The cast’s excellent performances don’t save "Lucky Number Slevin" from falling short of its potential. Freeman and Kingsley, who are brilliant otherwise, somehow manage to fizzle in their final scene together. This piece could have been saved by more adept editing.

"Slevin" has everything a film needs to succeed, but it doesn’t reach its full potential. Fortunately, there are plenty of unique and interesting elements to hold our attention. Familiar filmmaking styles are blended with palavering dialogue that doesn't fail to satisfy. Style wrestles with substance. Style wins. (Think Tarantino.)

Both novice and advanced cinefiles will find some faults in "Lucky Number Slevin." Everybody else will enjoy the film’s quirky personality. If "clever" is a not bad word in your book, this film will thoroughly entertain.

Distributed by Metropolitan Filmexport, 1h48, US rating: R, UK rating: 18, Canada rating: 18A.
to official "Slevin" Web site (with preview); LINK to unofficial :35 second clip.


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