Tag Archives: Josh Hartnett

30 Days of Night (2007, David Slade)

30 Days of Night is a fine example of bad writing hurting a good idea, which is what I heard about the comic book source too–vampires in Alaska with no sun, Dracula versus Northern Exposure, sounds like a good idea. But it’s just an idea, it’s not a two hour movie. There are some other basic writing problems–poor dialogue and an utter lack of back-story. It doesn’t make it difficult to sympathize with the characters’ plight (the nasty vampires do that one pretty well), but it does make it impossible for 30 Days to even approach a full experience. The simplest example is the absence of any explanation to why the characters are in the place they are in–the most isolation settlement in Alaska.

The actors take the most significant hits from the screenplay, Hartnett in particular. His character literally needs no more back-story than a reference to high school athletics (and where’s the high school in this town… couldn’t they have hidden in the high school? Or any school…) to be acceptable as the stoic lawman. In terms of his martial distress with Melissa George a lot more work is needed to make it good, but it doesn’t even have to be good, it just has to work. George is incredibly ineffectual in her role and I spent her first five minutes on screen recasting her role, then lost interest because she disappears. Mark Boone Junior probably comes out best.

The other big problem is the pacing. The first half hour or more takes place the first day, then it skips to the seventh, then to the seventieth, then to the twenty-ninth. It just isn’t believable, because there’s never any shots of the survivors surviving in the non-setpiece moments and because there’s not enough for the vampires to do when they aren’t attacking the survivors… I mean, I’d buy it if Danny Huston’s lead vampire (the vampires in 30 Days speak some variation of Klingon, which is real silly) sat and read poetry to his leading vampire lady… but they just go on pause.

But this post actually isn’t negative–it’s positive. David Slade’s a great director and he really works with the CG elements (mostly scenery) and the isolation. He also knows how to shoot actors (just doesn’t know how to hire writers–or a composer, the music is terrible) and action scenes and quiet scenes and make the whole thing a lot more palatable than the script deserves.

Oh, and Ben Foster. Foster chews scenery better than any actor in a generation, playing the film’s Renfield, in a performance Dwight Frye would admire. Foster only creates a performance here, not a character, which shouldn’t be a problem… if he were the only one….

Maybe Slade should have brought in the “Northern Exposure” writing staff to do the non-vampire stuff. They might have made the Alaskan setting a little more believable (the New Zealanders and Australians in the cast locking down American accents would have helped too).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Slade; written by Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson, based on the comic book by Niles and Ben Templesmith; director of photography, Jo Willems; edited by Art Jones; music by Brian Reitzell; production designer, Paul Denham Austerberry; produced by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Eben Olesen), Melissa George (Stella Olesen), Danny Huston (Marlow), Ben Foster (The Stranger), Mark Boone Junior (Beau Brower), Mark Rendall (Jake Oleson), Amber Sainsbury (Denise) and Manu Bennett (Billy Kitka).


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Resurrecting the Champ (2007, Rod Lurie)

The biggest problem with Resurrecting the Champ, besides Rod Lurie, is the Champ himself. Not Sam Jackson, who’s actually the least irritating he’s been since Loaded Weapon or so, but the character and his function in the film. At some point during the late second act, Champ is a decent movie about a guy growing up, realizing he’s got to take responsibility for his actions and realizing it isn’t going to be easy. If anyone can screw up an easy story like that one, it’s Rob Lurie, who demphasizes the finally (after the first ninety minutes) interesting relationship between estranged married couple Josh Hartnett and Kathryn Morris, who have a ludicrous backstory detailed in expository dialogue, but actually develop a rather tender relationship–albeit one centered around disappointment–by the last twenty minutes of the film. It’s a previously uninteresting aspect of the film made interesting, much like Hartnett’s actual journalistic pursuits. The scenes between him and Jackson, with the ominous something in their futures, are mostly okay. Boring, but okay. Jackson is doing an impression of an Oscar-hungry role here, shuffling around, not yelling, maybe not even swearing. The problem with his performance has little to do with the actual performance… he’s not believable as a former boxer. Especially not when there’s that constant, Lurie-friendly use of flashback. Lurie is the most overly melodramatic, goofily sentimental director working today–The Contender, The Last Castle, and now Resurrecting the Champ. He’s insincere, so much so, any viewer can tell.

None of these problems phase Hartnett, however, who turns in an excellent lead performance. Hartnett always shone in ensembles or as the sidekick, but Champ gives him a whole lot to do. The script’s obvious and mediocre, but Harnett’s acting is not. It might help Lurie managed to fill the cast with good actors (except Teri Hatcher, who under-stays her welcome by three seconds… any more and it’d have been intolerable). Except the film never works with it. Alan Alda is good as Hartnett’s boss and there’s some great stuff between them, but it’s hardly in there. Alda being the only one, besides Morris, who can tell Hartnett’s without content. By the end, filled with the lame friendship with Jackson and some convenient inner turmoil over his relationship with his father, Hartnett finally gets some really good scenes, those family scenes. Even if the kid playing he and Morris’s son is bland enough to be in a Mentos commercial.

As a visual director, Lurie actually isn’t terrible. There are some well-composed shots, maybe even thirty percent of them. Still, the film looks too crisp, like poorly lighted DV (did I mention Hatcher was terrible already?), and it’s real impersonal. The characters spend more time outside than they do in; the most effective scene at Hartnett and Morris’s house is in the backyard, when the age difference gets to play well into the story, instead of being vanity casting.

Lurie wrecks the film’s third act. The film’s actually in decent shape and he and the screenwriters go after it with a baseball bat. A lame voiceover (big shock from Lurie) almost undoes Harnett’s performance, but it can’t. It’s a great performance; it’s a shame it’s in such a lame film.

Oh, and the Peter Coyote scenes (Coyote’s in a ton of makeup) are great.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Rod Lurie; screenplay by Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett, from an article by J.R. Moehringer; director of photography, Adam Kane; edited by Sarah Boyd; music by Larry Groupe; production designer, Ken Rempel; produced by Brad Fischer, Marc Frydman, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer and Bob Yari; released by Yari Film Group.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Erik), Samuel L. Jackson (Champ), Kathryn Morris (Joyce), Alan Alda (Metz), David Paymer (Whitley), Rachel Nichols (Polly), Dakota Goyo (Teddy), Teri Hatcher (Flak), Ryan McDonald (Kenny), Harry J. Lennix (Satterfield Jr.) and Peter Coyote (Epstein).


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Lucky Number Slevin (2006, Paul McGuigan)

Critics enjoy ruining movies on the day of release. They must–Roger Ebert gives away more endings then not (he gave away The Sixth Sense of all things). Worse, however, is when critics spoil the experience for the audience. I read a couple reviews of Lucky Number Slevin today and one said it’d have audiences picking it apart like they did Memento. Besides the incredibly odd image of anyone exerting brain power on Memento, this review put me on my guard during Slevin and it wasn’t fair of it to do so… There is a twist in Slevin, but you’re supposed to figure it out–heck, you’re supposed to figure it out really, really early. I figured it out late because I kept waiting for Patrick Duffy to take a shower. The twist isn’t what the movie’s about, it isn’t the filmmakers’ focus. In other words, last time I read that critic….

Lucky Number Slevin is Josh Hartnett and Paul McGuigan’s second film together, after Wicker Park. They’re an odd pair, or at least were when they got together–McGuigan makes tough violent films and Hartnett was, at that time, about to become Brett Ratner’s Superman. Slevin is easily McGuigan’s best film, just because he’s got so much to do–it’s not just witty banter between crooks or violent scenes or even an incredibly touching love story (the date in Slevin is the best movie date in years)–but it’s also a serious story about fathers and sons. I actually can’t wait to watch Slevin again, because without the fear of the Duffy, I can appreciate the film’s depth. It’s touching in small moments, small ways, ways maybe one cannot understand the first time through… maybe that critic was correct in that regard.

Still, for the first viewing, Slevin is constantly entertaining. There’s a slow start at the beginning, but once Hartnett appears, it starts. Nicely, it starts with Lucy Liu (as the love interest) popping in. She and Hartnett are great together in the film, but their relationship is so well written it’d be hard for them to be bad together. The other acting is all excellent, particularly Ben Kingsley. It’s his loosest role and he has a great time with it. Morgan Freeman is good, but he’s playing Morgan Freeman again. He’s been playing Morgan Freeman since Unforgiven or so. Stanley Tucci is in the film for a bit and he gets to say “fuck” again. He’s got one particularly great scene with it. Bruce Willis has a difficult role, since he’s supposed to be the enigma, but he manages to do a couple nice things with it. Hartnett’s back in his usual, excellent form (Mozart and the Whale seeming like a high school play).

I remember the back of my Sabrina (the remake) laserdisc. It said, approximately, everyone knows what’s going to happen, so the joy of Sabrina is watching it happen. I might not have predicted everything in Slevin (though the fiancée did), but I certainly did enjoy watching it unfold–McGuigan does a masterful job with it. He’s getting to be a singular talent.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul McGuigan; written by Jason Smilovic; director of photography, Peter Sova; edited by Andrew Hulme; music by J. Ralph; production designer, François Séguin; produced by Chris Roberts, Christopher Eberts, Kia Jam, Anthony Rhulen, Tyler Mitchell and Robert S. Kravis; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Slevin Kelevra), Bruce Willis (Mr. Goodkat), Lucy Liu (Lindsey), Morgan Freeman (The Boss), Ben Kingsley (The Rabbi), Michael Rubenfeld (Yitzchok), Peter Outerbridge (Det. Dumbrowski), Stanley Tucci (Det. Brikowski), Kevin Chamberlin (Marty), Dorian Missick (Elvis), Mykelti Williamson (Sloe) and Scott Gibson (Max).


Mozart and the Whale (2005, Petter Næss)

I’ve only been looking forward to this damn movie for two years. It missed its theatrical release date, but there’s probably a DVD on the way (which would have been the source of my illicit copy). It’s perfectly understandable why the film missed the date… it lacks any relatable center. My fiancée just said she wants a movie that shows the real difficulties of autism–Mozart doesn’t, because you can’t center a movie around someone operating on such a different level. The result, for Mozart and the Whale, is that Josh Hartnett isn’t really that bad… neither’s Rahda Mitchell. Their problems aren’t autism problems, they’re romantic drama-lite problems….

Mozart and the Whale was going to be the comeback of Ron Bass, who got a lot of work from the late 1980s through the late 1990s, when people finally got sick of him. He probably shouldn’t have staked it all on a Demi Moore vehicle (Passion of the Mind). It’s a shallow film, weighing in at ninety minutes. Many of these minutes are filled with music montages (not score, unfamiliar, but pleasant, songs). I spent the first half of it waiting for something to happen (hoping that Gary Cole was going to be Hartnett’s father and there’d be some more meat to the conflict)… but no. There’s no real conflict in Mozart, which would have been fine, it’s just that there was an attempt at it. A weighty attempt at it. Bass is famous for empty, dramatic endings and Mozart is no different.

It’s too bad, because Næss is an interesting director. Mozart doesn’t look like anything except itself, which is a lovely thing to be able to say about a newish director. He’s from Norway, so maybe that played a part… Oddly, for a film without a US theatrical release and a ninety minute running time, Mozart actually shot in the US. You can tell it throughout (I didn’t know where the location was–it’s Spokane) and the film has a nice feel.

The acting in the film is difficult to discuss–my fiancée gleefully pointed out I’d no longer be able to say Hartnett’s his generation’s finest actor, but he gives a great supporting performance in Mozart. If Mozart and the Whale had been about Billy Crudup banging his autistic brother’s girlfriend or something, Hartnett’s performance would have been extraordinary. It’s a character part in the lead… Mitchell (who I was really looking forward to seeing after Melinda and Melinda) ranges. The film misses her character’s best opportunity.

I wonder if there is a longer, better version of the film out there–there are a few moments, jumps in visual continuity, that certainly suggest it. But I’m not sure it would make much of a difference.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Petter Næss; written by Ronald Bass; director of photography, Svein Krøvel; edited by Lisa Zeno Churgin and Miklos Wright; music by Deborah Lurie; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; produced by James Acheson, Bass, Boaz Davidson, Frank DeMartini and Robert Lawrence; released by Millennium Films.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Donald Morton), Radha Mitchell (Isabelle Sorenson), Gary Cole (Wallace), Sheila Kelley (Janice), Erica Leerhsen (Bronwin), John Carroll Lynch (Gregory), Nate Mooney (Roger), Rusty Schwimmer (Gracie), Robert Wisdom (Blume), Allen Evangelista (Skeets), Kelly B. Eviston (Dr. Trask) and Jhon Goodwin (Rodney).