Saturday, February 24, 2007

Movies: The Number 23

• Carrey's thriller is a massive disappointment.

Genre: Thriller, noir
Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Danny Huston, Rhona Mitra, Logan Lerman
Verdict: &1/2

Jim Carrey made it big in movies as a pet detective, and, in The Number 23, he plays a dogcatcher. Coincidence, or something more? The human mind is prone to look for patterns where there really aren't any; it's a way to add even more gravity to events such as presidential assassinations and 9/11. We pine for it in the same way we pine for a greater significance to our lives. While the significance of the numbers seven and 13 are commonly known, there are avid followers of the lesser-known "23 enigma." There's a word for this inclination to find numerical patterns — apophenia — and some would tell you it is the explanation for certain paranormal and religious claims. The Number 23 commits the crime of taking this potentially fascinating thriller subject matter and squandering it in a morass of noirish, risqué sex in dark hotel rooms and half-baked plot twists. Carrey portrays Walter Sparrow, a man who becomes obsessed with a book called The Number 23, which he sees as a parallel to his own life. If you've seen the trailer, you've seen all the good bits about the things in his life that add up to the number 23. Some of the others reeled off in the movie are outright laughable (32 is 23 backwards!), and the cleverest thing in the movie probably is his teen son's name: Robin Sparrow. Not since Lady in the Water have I been more anxious for an awful movie to end.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

DVD: Idiocracy

• Dumbed-down American culture bottoms out in Mike Judge's funny Idiocracy.

Genres: Comedy, satire
DVD released: Jan. 9, 2007
Director: Mike Judge
Cast: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, Terry Crews
Verdict: &&&

Anyone who enjoyed American Dreamz' skewering of the real-life phenomenon American Karaoke (for the sarcasm impaired, that means American Idol) will likely enjoy Idiocracy's indictment of our pandering culture. A clever Mike Judge satire whose theatrical release went largely un-promoted, Idiocracy is the story of ordinary Army Private Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson), who, along with a hooker named Rita (the always hilarious Maya Rudolph), is drafted into a top-secret military human hibernation project. It's supposed to last for one year, but the two awake 500 years later to find that the dumbed-down culture they knew in the early 2000s has spiraled into one dominated by humanity's baser instincts, crass commercialism and utter stupidity, making them the smartest people alive. It's a world in which water has been replaced by a Gatorade-like sports drink and Bowers' newfound eloquence makes him sound like a "f*g" to the masses. He spends part of the movie fleeing police because he doesn't have a scannable barcode on his wrist and the other part trying to solve the country's numerous problems as part of the president's (Terry Crews) cabinet. Among my favorite sight gags: A FOX News broadcast in which the anchor is topless sums it all up perfectly. // DVD notes // Several deleted/extended scenes are included.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

TV preview: Jericho season 1.5

• CBS' post-nuclear drama returns on Wednesday.

Genre: Drama
Logistics: CBS, 7 p.m. Wednesday
Cast: Skeet Ulrich, Gerald McRaney, Pamela Reed, Lennie James, Sprague Grayden
Episode: &&&

Jericho seems to slyly reference one of its obvious inspirations, 1980s TV miniseries The Day After, with the title of its return episode, "The Day Before." The serial is back after an annoying midseason hiatus long enough for the fans to lose interest (Lost, anyone?). I didn't stick with Jericho past the first few episodes, although the premiere was a superbly crafted hour of television, and its nuclear-holocaust-in-the-2000s premise was bizarre enough to pique my interest. Enjoyable but not pulse-pounding, this season 1.5 premiere jumps back to the day before the bombs hit. We see Jake (Skeet Ulrich), struggling with past demons, trying unsuccessfully to make a respectable living, while the mysterious Rod (Lennie James) becomes further mired in viewer suspicion as it becomes clear that he is no innocent. He spends most of the episode engaged in cloak and dagger webcam conversations and trying to round up his children against the wishes of his estranged wife. Meanwhile, Mayor Johnston Green (Gerald McRaney) ponders his political future in Jericho. This episode is unlikely to win over any new fans, but it hints at possibly interesting things to come.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Trailer park

• Late winter suffers no shortage of horror and thrillers.

It's not a rich time of year for Oscar material, film buffs will tell you, but do we really care? The next six weeks or so are looking … dare I say it … frightfully fun for fans of bad horror and darkly themed flicks. I'm even anticipating a rare double-movie weekend, with Reno 911: Miami (not horror but essential) and The Number 23 both bowing on Feb. 23.

The Number 23 // Feb. 23 // All you jaded horror fans immediately noticed the clever release date, right? With Jim Carrey in a dark role and blockbuster director Joel Schumacher at the helm, my expectations are high for this paranoia thriller. The movie apparently plays on signs, coincidence and even math to build a mood of impending doom. I am so there.

Zodiac // March 2 // Jake Gyllenhaal's eyebrows star in David Fincher's take on the well-known San Francisco serial killer of the '60s and '70s. Robert Downey Jr. and Anthony Edwards also add heft to the cast. I've been an avid Fincher follower since The Game (1997), but I admittedly couldn't make it through Fight Club.

Dead Silence // March 16 // This weekend brings competing thrillers, this one from James Wan, director of the Saw gore-fest. The plot involves the ghost of a mad ventriloquist and those dolls that can become deadly frightening in the same way that clowns do in a certain context.

Premonition // March 16 // Sandra Bullock dreams her husband is killed in an accident. She wakes up and finds it isn't true … then wakes up the next day and finds it is true. Could be a fun mind-bender, and I love the poster.

The Hills Have Eyes 2 // March 23 // I don't know how many more times we can drink from the well of rural mutant killers, but this sequel attempts to mix it up by making the victims National Guard trainees.

The Reaping // April 6 // Hilary Swank takes on the biblical plagues in a small Texas town.

Further out

1408 // July 13 // A Stephen King short story from the Everything's Eventual collection gets the full Hollywood treatment with no less than John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson leading the cast. Cusack plays a skeptical horror writer who agrees to stay in the ultimate haunted hotel room. Watching the trailer, I get a strong Secret Window vibe — the elements of a good flick will be there, but they won't gel. They almost never do when it's King, do they?


Hannibal Rising // With universally negative reviews, I think I'm downgrading this one to a rental.

The Invisible // Teased in a previous post, this one was bumped from its late-January date to April 27.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

DVD: Little Miss Sunshine

• Oscar noticed a dark family comedy this year.

Genre: Black comedy
DVD released: Dec. 19, 2006
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin
Verdict: &&&

A pleasant little diversion it is, but Little Miss Sunshine's status as an Oscar nominee for anything, let alone best picture, doesn't speak well of the crop of films released in 2006. My interest was piqued by a review noting the film's parallels to one of my all-time favorite comedies, National Lampoon's Vacation. It's the same sort of dysfunctional family road trip here with Dad (Greg Kinnear, excelling at portraying an asshole) going into "by God, we're gonna get there no matter what" mode in the face of mounting obstacles. The destination is the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, where seven-year-old aspiring pageant queen Olive (supporting actress nominee Abigail Breslin), an "ordinary" girl, plans to make her mark. Alan Arkin steals the show in the first half of the movie as the jaded and horny grandpa, earning a best supporting actor nod for his effort. Other personalities along for the ride are Olive's brother (Paul Dano), muted by a vow of silence, and uncle, Frank (Steve Carell), who recently attempted suicide. The silliness climaxes with pageant madness. // DVD notes // Four deleted scenes don't offer a lot of substance, as they aren't all fully filmed.