Arts + Scene » Screens

Speed Racer: Not So Bad!

Plus: What makes David Mamet so absolutely great?



Note: Okay, so Portland is not much of a movie paradise. When you see that phrase "opening in selected cities," Portland gets to play that famous position "left out." Mostly, I saw a few films that opened there before they came here (some are yet to come). No matter, Portland has other Edenic qualities involving music, food, drink and great public transportation. Paradise aside (which, I'm sure, will be my ultimate fate), my nose is now firmly back to the Journal's grindstone. By the way, thanks to Jay Herzog for continuing the column during my absence.


The summer blockbuster season goes into full swing this Friday, May 16, with Disney's second release in the C.S. Lewis Narnia series, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. The story here takes the four Pevensie children, now a year older, back to Narnia, where some 1300 years have passed and not for the good, as really nasty King Miraz is trying to install his newborn son as successor rather than rightful heir Prince Caspian. Andrew Adamson again directs. Check out the running time before passing up the bathroom. Rated PG for epic battle action and violence. 140 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and Minor.

The only other local opening is Bra Boys, an Australian documentary about surfing in a down-and-out Sydney suburb. The film follows the exploits of the Bra Boys, about whom its founder (quoted in The New York Times) said is "one of the most infamous surf tribes in the world." Rated R for language, some violent content and reckless behavior. 90 m. At the Broadway.

Be the first to see Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when it opens Wednesday, May 21, at midnight at the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna. Get your tickets now.


WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS: After six weeks away, this ridiculous film is what I get to review for my first column. I suppose it had to happen eventually, but What Happens in Vegas succeeds in combining the worst elements of two of Hollywood's most popular genres: the brain-dead guy film and the really lame romantic comedy that manages to be neither romantic nor comic.

Typically for both film forms, the dialog is truly awful, the script somewhere beyond pathetic and the "acting" so bad it almost makes Jessica Alba look good. The "humor" consists of such scenes as Ashton Kutcher pissing in a sink full of dirty dishes or Cameron Diaz creaming Kutcher in the crotch with an orange and other really amusing brain-dead guy stuff.

As for the script, haven't we already seen films involving two people getting really drunk and waking up married? As for the couple being forced to live together for six months, the script palely echoes a much more vicious and dark film, War of the Roses. Of course, as well, in Roses Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner actually try their hand at acting, a feat that seems totally out of reach for the present cast (with one exception noted below).

The plot? Joy (Diaz) is dumped by her boyfriend just as she is throwing him a surprise party, while Jack (Kutcher) is fired by his boss, who also happens to be his father (Treat Williams, who should be ashamed of himself). They end up in Vegas at the same time and, despite not liking each other, end up drinking themselves into oblivion and marriage (which may be the same thing). Then the hung-over lovers win a $3 million jackpot and are sentenced to live together for six months by a judge. Hilarity is supposed to ensue.

If you can answer the following questions, consider yourself a Hollywood genre expert: Will Joy's former boyfriend regret dumping her? Will Joy and Jack end up together?

The only ray of light in this sad mess is Lake Bell (formerly of Boston Legal; Over Her Dead Body) as Joy's sidekick Tipper; she manages to bring a nice energy to her undeveloped character and actually makes her incompetently written lines funny.

Wait, it has just belatedly come to me: This is actually a pilot for a new fall sitcom, tentatively entitled Joy and Jack go to Vegas. Check your September TV listings. Rated PG-13 for some sexual and crude content and language including a drug reference. 99 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.

REDBELT: This is more like it: a good film with a clever story, excellent acting and direction, and a complicated narrative that continually surprises.

I taught theatre for 30-plus years, and I still can't identify what it is about David Mamet as a writer that makes his plays (and screenplays) so distinctive. Sure, his dialog tends toward incomplete sentences and word repetition, but many playwrights, such as Harold Pinter, have distinctive writing quirks. His characters seem quintessential American types: men motivated by avarice, power and, at times, a barely disguised contempt for women. His humor runs to the dark side.

In my semi-maturity, I have come to realize that trying to pigeonhole a writer is a useless and false pursuit; better to try to understand individual works that may or may not owe something to a larger body of writing. In that regard, a recent interview of Mamet I heard on NPR gave me an entry into his writing methods. He said something along the lines of that for a screenplay, viewers really only care about one thing: What happens next?

Okay, this is no great revelation about the nature of narrative. But in Mamet's screenplays, what happens next is almost never predictable, so the viewer is mostly caught off guard and this makes for a nicely uneasy relationship between viewer and film.

This quality is present in spades in Redbelt, a film Mamet wrote and directed, which uses jujitsu as an entry into dealing with his main concern: How can one live an honorable life in the midst of almost universal corruption? In Redbelt, Mike Terry (an excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor, Talk to Me; American Gangster) is a jujitsu instructor who teaches a way of life along with jujitsu moves. But his small academy does not financially support him or his wife Sonya (a fine Alice Braga) and he faces potentially corruptive temptations from spoiled movie star Chet (Tim Allen), Chet's wife Zena (Mamet's wife Rebecca Pigeon) and a producer (Joe Mantegna, who has been in most Mamet films).

Into this mix enters Laura (a wonderful Emily Mortimer, Lars and the Real Girl), whose accidental firing of a gun in the academy ultimately ties together the plot strands. As usual for Mamet, nothing (and no person) is what it seems on the surface; Mike ends up in a situation so convoluted it seems impossible he'll work his way out. But as he teaches in his academy, there is no situation from which you cannot escape. The film's title refers to the highest level of jujitsu, and it provides the film's final image. If a redbelt were given for screenwriters, Mamet would be in contention. Highly recommended. Rated R for strong language. 99 m. At the Broadway.

SPEED RACER: I went to Speed Racer prepared to hate it, or at least be completely bored. Initially, my prescreening bias seemed justified as I suffered through what seemed like relentlessly nice family fare full of comic book homilies such as "Racing is everything. For my family, it isn't just a sport, it's way more important than that ... it's like ... a religion." Or, "Everyone of us has to find a reason to do this. You don't climb into a T-180 to be a driver. You do it because you're driven."

The film is based on the 1960s Japanese animated TV series, which I had never heard of before this film's release. I guess in the late '60s I was a pre-computer-geek geek, my TV being a large console model I bought at a garage sale for $12, spending an additional $10 to replace some of the vacuum tubes.

So while this film may be nostalgia for some, it meant nothing to me. But I have to say that this live action adaptation grew on me. Besides the always reliable and welcome presence of Susan Sarandon as Speed's (Emile Hirsch) mother, I somehow set aside the predictable "what comes next" aspects of the plot and the sappy dialog and got somewhat hooked.

Much of the reason was due to the gorgeous visual design of the film and, more particularly, to the clever and effective editing by directors Andy and Larry Wachowski and editors Roger Barton and Zach Staenberg, whose transitions from past to present action, and depicting simultaneous actions, are accomplished by simple wipes with no pandering to viewers.

In a sense, this film uses racing as Mamet used jujitsu, just on a much simpler plane. I will say that from my observations at the screening I attended, younger children are going to be bored in between the racing sequences. Rated PG for sequences of action, some violence and language. 135 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.


BABY MAMA.Infertile business woman hires working-class woman as unlikely surrogate. Rated PG-13. 99 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.


ALLOWED.Documentary on academic professionals blacklisted for their theories disagreeing with Darwinism. Rated PG. 97 m. At the Broadway.

FORBIDDEN KINGDOM.American teen is transported back in kung fu time when he finds weapon of ancient warrior in pawn shop. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At The Movies.

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL.Loser musician goes on vacation to escape his TV star ex only to find her and her new rocker beau staying in the same hotel. Rated R. 111 m. At The Movies.

HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY.Harold and Kumar are mistaken for terrorists and have to run from the law. Rated R. 102 m. At the Broadway.

HORTON HEARS A WHO.Mocked do-gooding elephant attempts to rescue a microscopic civilization. Rated G. 87 m. At The Movies.

IRON MAN.Action/adventure flick based on Marvel's iconic, comic book super hero. Rated PG-13. 126 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

LEATHERHEADS.A ragtag team in early (1920s) professional football league is saved by golden-boy war hero. Rated PG-13. 114 m. At The Movies.

MADE OF HONOR.Man realizes his love for his best friend when she becomes engaged to another. Rated PG-13. 101 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

NIM'S ISLAND.Author's literary creation inspires young girl's fantasy island; author and girl unite to conquer Nim's Island. Rated PG. 94 m. At The Movies.

PROM NIGHT.Tragedy revisits Donna when prom night turns deadly, and she knows the one man to blame. Rated PG-13. At The Movies.


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