Friday, October 19, 2012

The Paperboy Doesn't Deliver

In 2009 Lee Daniels made a name for himself with a little movie called Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. The film was a huge smash at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to take home two Oscars that year. Even since, expectations have been high for his follow-up project. That film, The Paperboy has just been released into theaters and unfortunately, Oscar gold won’t be striking twice.

The Paperboy is a swampy mystery based on the book of the same name by Peter Dexter. Set in the late 1960s in the Deep South, Jack is a former collegiate swimmer who is now relegated to being a driver for his father’s newspaper. When his brother Ward is prompted to come home upon receiving a letter asking him to write an article her boyfriend's wrongful conviction, Jack is brought into to also be their driver while they investigate the convicted copy killer's case. In the process, Jack is swept up into an unrequited love for the woman and a intrigue filled journey.

The pulpy film has inexplicably assembled an all-star cast that includes Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, and John Cusack.  Each of the actors does well in their role, but it’s obvious that most are only onboard because of the cache that Daniels’ last film brought to this project. Kidman, who enjoys an indie film now and then, takes the biggest risk by losing all of her movie star glamour in the role of trashy Charlotte, girlfriend to imprisoned cop killer Hillary Van Wetter. She gets the showiest role that everyone will be talking about it afterwards. Conversely, McConaughey ends up being the biggest question mark of the film. He’s given a thankless role here that doesn’t give him much to do.

Despite having co-stars with higher wattage, the film belongs to Efron. Daniels has publicly come out that he was against casting the  High School Musical star initially. But onscreen there is a different story being told. The young actor seems to be a muse for the director, who looks to be infatuated right from the opening scenes. Efron spends half of his time partially naked in his underwear and more than once talks about masturbating.When it comes time for the big sex scene, however, Daniels only teases the audience before fading to black. Nevertheless, if you have ever had a crush on the heart throb, you’re going to want to watch this film on mute.

For the love of God, though, can Hollywood please put a moratorium on Macy Gray’s acting career? She is a weak link that is only further shown to be even weaker due to the stronger performances happening around her. While we are on the topic, can anyone explain what has happened to John Cusack's career? For someone who has a cult fanbase, he has, in recent years, seemingly done everything he can to turn people against him. Picking both bad movies and unlikable characters, Cusack always comes off as a combination of grumpy, pissy, and having a air of superiority to him. 

Daniels, who co-wrote the film with the novel’s author, leads the film through a winding road that never really leads anywhere. Most of the film’s plot points are able to be seen before they happen. The ending was changed somewhat from the book, but it still makes for an anti-climactic ending to an otherwise ho-hum film.

While The Paperboy is has slower burn than most thrillers that are released today, the film’s real Achilles heel is the same thing also brings it the most attention: director Daniels. In an attempt to overly stylize the film, Daniels ends up distracting the viewers in the process. In attempting to cover a lack of action in the film he throws in scenes meant to create controversy that don’t really have much point otherwise. The infamous scene where Kidman pees on Efron after a jellyfish attack and another scene where Kidman and Cusack pleasure themselves across the room from each other do nothing but perhaps make the audience uncomfortable.

Coming off of a film like Precious, perhaps there was no way that Daniels would have been able to live up to the hype. But The Paperboy seems like a step back for the filmmaker. It’s an indie movie you make that gets you notice before moving onto something bigger and better. At the same time, it’s also worrying that the final product came out the way it did because if the director ends up sabotaging a film by making it pulpier than is necessary, will he be able to succeed on a studio backed film? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure; this “paperboy” just doesn’t deliver.

Monday, October 15, 2012

REVIEW: 666 Park Avenue

ABC’s heavily hyped new horror/soap 666 Park Avenue has now been on the air for three weeks. Despite the constant promotion the show debuted to disappointing numbers. What was seen as one of the most likely to succeed shows quickly saw a reversal of fortune. During its second week the numbers went down further to an unintentionally scary place and the coveted demo numbers dipped a little lower for this week’s episode. But the reason for the low numbers can easily be figured out when you realize that the show isn’t offering viewers what the commercials promised them.

The show’s basic premise is that a na├»ve Midwestern couple (Brothers and Sisters star David Annable and Charlie’s Angels star Rachael Taylor) comes to New York to make it big and in order for them to do so they become the managers of an upscale high rise building that is able to help make their dreams come true. What the couple doesn’t know is that the building’s owner (Terry O’Quinn) is some kind of evil (no one will say if he is actually Satan) that makes deals with the tenants. This is the type of building that welcomes new tenants, but rarely lets them move out. The cast is rounded out with the owner’s wife (Vanessa Williams), who may or may not be involved with his evil deeds, a couple living in the building that includes a husband with a wandering eye (Lipstick Jungle actor Robert Buckley), a psychic teenager, and a surly doorman (Erik Palladino).
If you took out the deals with the devil aspect of the show, you would be left with a night time soap that has been multiple times before. This horror aspect is a fresh twist, except it rarely involves any of the regular actors. Sure, there was a startling elevator attack (literally!) in the pilot. With the exception of O’Quinn most of the characters have steered clear of any spooky happenings. Instead, it’s the guest stars of the week, who viewers have never met – and most likely will never see again – that see all the bad stuff happen to them.  Perhaps if we had met them briefly in a previous episode to build up some kind of relationship or feelings with the character it would add stakes to their eventual demonic dilemma.

With a cast the size that “666 Park” currently has it could definitely afford to put some of them in danger, if not off one or two. As it stands Williams has been woefully underused and some of the characters have actually already been benched during entire episodes. But seriously, what’s a horror series without a few casualties? If Alfred Hitchcock could kill Janet Leigh in Psycho, then ABC can definitely kill Erik Palladino in this, right?

The production value on the show seems high and the actors are all more the capable to handle what they have been given.  It’s not to say that “666 Park Avenue” is bad, because quite frankly it’s not. But in a line-up that includes appointment television like Once Upon a Time and Revenge, “Park Avenue” needs to fix itself. The fixes are easy, but the producers need to cut the fat and tighten the vices on the writers.