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Entries in Stephen Dorff (3)

Friday
Nov112011

Immortals

When watching director Tarsem’s Immortals, it’s impossible not to reminisce on 300. Aside from the centuries apart settings, the movies have similar goals, look the same and feature a lot of good looking, sweaty men with their shirts off. What 300 lacked in story, it made up for with constant, stylish action. It knew its plot was thin, but, in a strange way, that was one of its strengths. It never believed itself to be more than it really was. Immortals, on the other hand, thinks it’s all that and more. Its nonsense story is tiring and uninteresting, yet it explores it thoroughly. It talks and talks, but has nothing to say. If the two must be compared, Immortals is nothing more than a pretentious 300.

The story has something to do with King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) as he searches for the Epirus Bow that will release a group of Titans from their shackles and allow them to wreak havoc on humanity. However, a young man by the name of Theseus (Henry Cavill) is out for revenge and determined to make Hyperion pay for killing his mother, a quest that may end up saving humanity.

I suppose I could go into more detail regarding the oracle played by Freida Pinto, who is able to see into the future supposedly because she is still a pure body, though her eventual (and hilarious) loss of virginity doesn’t seem to have any consequential effects. Or I could talk about the gang of slaves, one of which is no other than Stephen Dorff himself, who accompany Theseus on his mission for no reason that I could decipher other than because they had nothing better to do. But it seems frivolous for a story so meaningless.

Immortals is all style, no substance, which should come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Tarsem’s other work. Having directed only two movies prior to this, Tarsem has nonetheless proven himself as a masterful filmmaker, able to combine striking visuals with well told and undeniably unique stories. Both The Fall and the horribly underrated The Cell looked gorgeous, but those looks complimented the story and came naturally to its needs. Here, the looks are all you get and even then, it’s hard to shower them with praise. Although each shot seems to have been carefully planned and executed with poise, the graphic novel style, slow motion approach is becoming old. While The Fall and The Cell are still unique to this day, Immortals steals from a look that seems to have run its course.

Tack on Dorff’s egregious miscasting (his thick American accent is incredibly out of place in a movie set in 13th century Greece) and dull dialogue that makes an already boring movie even more so and all you’re left with are the action scenes. Fortunately, this is where it shines. Sure, it uses the same tactics made popular in previous films, but it nevertheless remains exciting. The climax in particular is adrenaline fueled fun. The problem is that you’ll have invested nothing in the characters or story and won’t care either way what happens. It serves its purpose as a visceral thrill, but that’s a compliment as shallow as the film itself. If Tarsem’s other films found their own voices, Immortals is a ventriloquist act.

Immortals receives 2/5

Friday
Sep092011

Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star

Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star looked dreadful. The concept, the trailers and the title character named after his gigantic front teeth promised a worst of the year type of event, but, much to my surprise, it’s not. It’s still a bad movie that I can’t recommend, but the fact that I only partially hated it rather than completely should be seen as a win for Happy Madison Productions.

The story is simple. Bucky (Nick Swardson, who co-wrote the script with Adam Sandler) is a small town Iowa boy who has never had a sexual experience. After discovering that his parents were big porn stars back in the day, he decides to travel to LA and become his own star in nude films. He’s not someone you would expect to be in porn, but his tiny, ahem, asset ends up giving hope to those who watch him. The guys become more confident in their size and the women become happy with what they have. No matter how pathetic their boyfriends are, at least they’re better (and bigger) than Bucky.

As if it needs to be stated after that plot synopsis, Bucky Larson is stupid. There’s no getting around it and no reason to. This movie embraces its inanity, fully aware of what it is. This is seen in one particularly humorous bit where Bucky, having just arrived in LA, buys a water bottle shaped like the Oscar statue and carries it around, framed front and center by the camera. It knows it’s not going to win any awards and mocks itself with this simple shot. Still, moments like this are few and far between; most of the humor is unfunny and juvenile. When the first gag in the movie involves a redneck smearing peanut butter on his testicles for his goats to lick off, you know what you’re about to see is going to be anything but sophisticated.

Much of the supposed humor develops from Bucky’s looks and the verbal abuse he takes from those around him—his buck teeth and bowl haircut open him up to a host of cruelty. Even the most inconsequential side characters who pop up for mere seconds take verbal swings at Bucky, making this one of the most mean spirited movies to be released in some time. The problem is we come to like Bucky. He’s a simpleton, sure, and his innocent ignorance can prove grating, but he’s too happy to hate. His spirits remain high even when things aren’t going his way and when they do, success doesn’t go to his head. He has his priorities straight.

The main priority in question is Kathy (Christina Ricci), a pretty waitress who seems to look past his looks and like him more for what’s on the inside. Ricci oozes loveliness and it’s thanks to her the movie works as well as it does. For what it’s worth, the romance is actually kind of sweet, though unrealistic, and despite following a common and predictable narrative trajectory, the ending is satisfying.

I feel like I’ve praised Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star more than some movies I recommend, but that’s only because this could have been so much worse. It’s still not worth seeing (and with the constant talk of masturbation and dialogue like “twang your wang,” why would you want to?), but it’s not all terrible either. It actually has some heart and an IQ level that isn’t in the negatives. Shocking, I know.

Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star receives 1.5/5

Wednesday
Dec222010

Somewhere

Sofia Coppola’s movies seem so simple on the surface, but always prove more than meets the eye, with thoughtful subtexts that too many filmgoers seem to miss. As a colleague of mine recently said to me, “Those that say ‘nothing happened’ have completely missed the point.” Her newest movie, Somewhere, is quiet, understated and sublime. Rebounding from the mixed reaction she received from her last picture, Marie Antoinette, Coppola has returned to the glory of her 2003 hit, Lost in Translation. Somewhere is a spiritual successor to that film, in tone and style, and if you liked it, you’ll probably like this.

Stephen Dorff plays our protagonist, Johnny Marco. When we meet him, he seems a loner. He wastes his days away driving his car around and chasing women, just to end up back home alone drinking booze and ordering pole dancers. He has some friends, but he seems disconnected from them. When he finally does get a girl, he ends up falling asleep on top of her before the fun begins. He comes off as a lonely, downtrodden vagabond, never quite sure what he’s going to be doing from day to day, and you begin to feel sorry for him. Then, suddenly, we find out he’s a big Hollywood actor. This sudden flip in perspective is jarring, but in a good way.

The beginning of the film features very little dialogue and you see Johnny at his barest. As an actor, he’s almost always surrounded by a number of people, including fans, agents and paparazzi. He lives a lifestyle where he is never really alone, yet you gain the understanding that he is. Coppola, who also wrote the screenplay, smartly hides his profession so as not to skew how viewers see him.

Eventually, his daughter, Cleo, played by Elle Fanning, comes into the picture, surprising him with a visit while he goes through the motions on a PR tour for his newest film. She’s a bubbly young eleven year old and loves her dad, even though he hasn’t always been around. Her appearance in the picture once again allows us to view Johnny through a different lens. When she arrives, he is clearly happy to see her and not once does he complain to her that he is too busy. In fact, he takes her along with him on his tour and does his best to make time for her.

However, he is not always consistent, which makes him a difficult character to decipher. Sometimes women take priority, like in a scene where he sneaks one into his hotel room while Cleo sleeps, but other times the opposite is true and he blows off women to spend time with her. This inconsistency is okay, however, because that’s how humans work. We don’t always consider our priorities and our urges end up getting the best of us. In regards to human nature, Somewhere is the most realistic movie I’ve seen in quite some time.

Somewhere is a minimalist movie in sight and sound. When possible, Coppola keeps the camera still and she mercifully takes her time in telling the story, as opposed to the kinetic pace of most Hollywood productions. If there’s a performance of, well, anything, you’ll see it in full. You’ll see a complete ice skating rehearsal and not one, but two stripteases to the end. It’s slow moving, but it’s never dull.

Hesitance going into the movie is understandable. It’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea and the main star, Stephen Dorff, hasn’t done anything interesting since, let’s be honest, 1998’s Blade. But don’t let that stop you. Dorff gives a magnificent performance and makes you wonder why he isn’t hired to star in more major films. Actually, the entire cast is up to the challenge, with the only weak standout being Chris Pontius as Johnny’s best friend, though the fact that he could even remember and recite his lines seems like a minor miracle given the assumption that is he probably on some sort of drug, either for recreation or to curb the pain from his endeavors in the Jackass movies.

There is so much to discuss in Somewhere that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. It’s a movie that demands repeated viewings because you won’t gather all of its intricacies in one sitting. I know I didn’t. And that, if anything, is what makes this film great.

Somewhere receives 4/5