Friday, August 29, 2008

"August" - Not a hot one

Since Jessi and I won’t always be looking at the same discs, I will occasionally try to match her- domino style, in shaker ratings. My two shaker selection would be the indie tale “August” set in the long ago time of the oft mentioned dotcom bubble burst of 2001. This film has some things going for it, including a moody electronic score that seems almost a funeral dirge. Not only a comment on the death of the optimism of the startups, but also an anticipation of the horror of September 11th which would occur the following month. It is filmed in a casual laidback style with some good cinematography. It also has a predictable plot with cliched characters.

Josh Hartnett does his best as Tom Sterling (wow- like currency), the hotshot CEO of a down and going dotcom he has started with his techie brother. They have a distant relationship that you think will lead somewhere- it doesn’t and the same goes for an ex-girlfriend architect who is so ‘brick and mortar’. His dad (Rip Torn) doesn’t respect him and quietly mocks how his suspiciously idle staff just sit around eating Oreos. The techie brother finally displays an emotion outside of that of the doting family guy, by berating Tom for sending their dad a b-list Buddha as punishment. (Like Bill Murray sending folks towels in “Scrooged”) Meanwhile the TV blasts heavy-handed reminders of the time frame- look everyone- Aaliyah just crashed! Ben Affleck is in rehab! Hartnett’s character is just an asshole and you don’t really buy all that gibberish tech jargon they make him spout about his beloved company “Landshark”. (No Chevy Chase does not reprise his SNL role)

“What do you do?” Torn pleas for the audience. Yet the purpose of the company is as much as an enigma as the soul of the characters here. David Bowie appears as an old school suit who wants to take over the firm. When you think Wall Street blue-blood- Bowie is not who comes to mind but he is welcome just because we need someone to call the main character out. If you see two documentaries of this period: “E-dreams” and “” you’ll see more compelling tales of the dotcom crash. This one is all atmosphere and set up, but it just doesn’t click.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Jumper" (2008): Jumping through Millions

Imagine what you would do with 75 million dollars. Assuming you’re not Bill Gates, this would be a staggering amount of money. Travel the world? Make generous donations? The choices would be endless.

So when films are made with large budgets, you have to ask: was it worth it? Did that amount of money go towards the creation of something life-changing? Was it pleasurable escapism? Thought-provoking? In the case of “Jumper,” the answer would be a resounding no, no, no.

I hadn’t planned on being too hard on this flimsy story until I heard the director interviewed on the DVD extras. He said that, in most cases, films are funded for either big special effects (all shot in one location) or for numerous locations, but never both. He wanted to do a budget-doubling BOTH---huge special effects in many locations (I counted seven: New York, Rome, Tokyo, Baja, Prague, Ann Arbor, Toronto). Exorbitant? Yes. Worthwhile? No.

The story, or what should be the backbone on which every great film stands, is simplistic and underdeveloped. Hayden Christensen does his best to infuse a translucent and roughly drawn character with life. Rachel Bilson seems painfully self-aware, striking poses more suited to fashion photography.

Being a sci-fi fan, I had high hopes for this film, which opens with a shy teen hero who suddenly discovers his own ability to “jump” or teleport himself at will. In that, we have the makings of rich fantasy (the novel which inspired the film, “Jumper,” by Steven Gould, was published in 1992). Instead, the film spends too much time celebrating it’s own jumping technology, and the story becomes so shallow that the jumps become meaningless. (Hurry and jump away from Samuel L. Jackson's hot-on-his-tail executioner. For some unknown reason, Samuel L. Jackson sports a distracting and purposeless
head of bleached white hair).

(Jumping...old school ----->)

Yes, kudos go to the creative team behind the “jumping” effect. Rather than a Star Trek-like rippling camera dissolve, these “jumps” have gravity and emotional intensity behind them, made more real and believable by how they seem to follow the laws of the universe (ie. leaving the trail of a time/space “scar” behind, for several seconds after a jump, and the jump’s physical, often destructive, impact on the environment in which it takes place). If enough attention had been placed on casting and story as had been on special effects, this could have been something really good.

In an ideal world, I’d have given this project to Jon Favreau, who created a thing of depth and beauty with "Iron Man."