Thursday, April 23, 2015


(US - 2015)

Writer/director David O. Russell has been on a hot streak with THE FIGHTER (2010), SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012), and AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013), and that's probably what finally got his long-shelved NAILED released as ACCIDENTAL LOVE. NAILED was shot in South Carolina during the summer of 2008 and co-written by, among others, Russell and former Vice Presidential daughter Kristin Gore, based on Gore's 2004 novel Sammy's Hill.  The film's primary backer was the financially-strapped Capitol Films, who ran out of money on this and several other films shot at the same time, including Taylor Hackford's LOVE RANCH (ultimately released in 2010) and AMERICAN HISTORY X director Tony Kaye's BLACK WATER TRANSIT (still unreleased). NAILED shut down production on at least eight occasions over that tumultuous summer, despite an initial budget alleged to be in the area of $25 million. One shutdown was caused when the crew revolted over not being paid, and another occurred when stars Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal followed suit and walked off the set over similar money issues. Production was halted permanently by the end of 2008 with all of the post-work still needing to be done and at least one major scene--one that all parties agreed was completely essential--still unfilmed. By early 2010, Russell ran out of patience and washed his hands of it. He publicly distanced himself from NAILED, moved on to THE FIGHTER, and never looked back. In 2013, co-producer Kia Jam corralled enough funds to cobble as much of the missing scene together as possible and complete post-production, but Russell wanted no part of it. Now carrying the generic title ACCIDENTAL LOVE, the film was acquired by Millennium and given a VOD dumping in February 2015, with the non-existent "Stephen Greene" shouldering the blame after Russell successfully petitioned to have his name removed as both director and co-writer.

It's hardly praise, but as far as abandoned clusterfucks go, ACCIDENTAL LOVE isn't as bad as Alec Baldwin's doomed directorial debut THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, shot in 2001 and ultimately aired on Starz in 2007 as SHORTCUT TO HAPPINESS, with director credit going to one "Harry Kirkpatrick." Biel stars as Alice, a small-town Indiana roller-skating carhop who gets shot in the head with a nail gun at a restaurant just after her cop boyfriend Scott (James Marsden) proposes. Uninsured Alice can't afford the brain surgery required to extract the nail, and it's deemed a pre-existing condition when she tries to get on Scott's insurance. Concerned about future medical issues, Scott bails and Alice goes to Washington to meet with her district representative, freshman Congressional newbie Howard Birdwell (a mannered, bug-eyed Gyllenhaal), to bring attention to her plight and plead the case for health care reform. Birdwell is a nebbishy type with great political ambition but he's kept under the thumb of lobbyists and powerful Rep. Pam Hendrickson (Catherine Keener, cast radically against type as a cold, brittle bitch-on-wheels), a former astronaut whose primary goal is getting the government to fund a military base on the moon. ACCIDENTAL LOVE vacillates between screwball comedy, with Alice's condition frequently causing spontaneous outbursts, speaking in a foreign language, or demonstrating insatiable lust, and political satire, which comes across as forced and rather toothless. It shouldn't come as a surprise or edgy insight to see that politicians are frequently corrupt, self-serving, and beholden to special interest groups.

"Stephen Greene"'s ACCIDENTAL LOVE obviously isn't as polished as David O. Russell's NAILED would've been, but what's here is almost all Russell's work, and it wouldn't have been his finest hour any way you cut it. There's some amusing bits here and there, and Kurt Fuller does a nice job as a priest with Viagra issues, but the more it goes on, the more shrill and heavy-handed it becomes. It's the kind of movie that ends with the whole cast gathered for a feelgood dance number, with the added bonus of closing credits bloopers, as if anyone had a good time making this thing (given the chaotic production, wouldn't footage of the Capitol money men telling a pissed-off crew they aren't being paid make for a much more entertaining blooper reel?). Other familiar faces lost in the quagmire include James Brolin as the Speaker of the House (a last-minute replacement when James Caan quit over "script disagreements," probably the film's liberal bent being at odds with the far-right Caan's politics); Tracy Morgan as Alice's friend Keyshawn, but he's essentially playing himself; Paul Reubens as Hendrickson's aide; Bill Hader as the snide ER doc who shuts down the surgery and grabs a burger when he's told Alice is uninsured; Beverly D'Angelo as Alice's mom (D'Angelo, in what must've been a frustrating summer in 2008, was also in BLACK WATER TRANSIT); and Kirstie Alley (her name misspelled "Kirstey" in the closing credits) as Alice's aunt. Perhaps NAILED could've been a sharp and prescient satire on pre-Obamacare politics, but ACCIDENTAL LOVE is a dated misfire best forgotten by all concerned. (PG-13, 101 mins)

(US - 2015)

The idea of Salma Hayek spending an entire movie slicing, dicing, and blowing away a crew of yakuza goons in an apartment building sounds a lot more fun than EVERLY turns out to be. A reverse RAID of sorts, EVERLY has Hayek as the title heroine, a prostitute holed up on the sixth floor of a yakuza-owned slum where other women are pimped out to wealthy Japanese clients and other assorted perverts and sadists. Everly has secretly been working with the cops to bring down crime boss Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe), who owns the building and the women who live in it. Taiko knows what she's been up to and has a price on Everly's head as other prostitutes, Taiko flunkies, and her neighbors try to get into Everly's apartment and take her out while she frantically tries to reunite with her estranged mother (Laura Cepeda) and young daughter (Aisha Ayamah). Director Joe Lynch (CHILLERAMA, KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM) manages to pull off a couple of fairly well-executed sequences involving long tracking shots and uninterrupted takes, but for the most part, EVERLY just never finds its groove and feels significantly longer than 90 minutes. When it was screened at the 2014 Fantastic Fest in Austin, it got an overwhelmingly positive reaction from participation medal-awarding scenesters who no doubt have Lynch among their Facebook friends, but what's here is in many ways reminiscent of Alexandre Aja's atrocious PIRANHA remake, another lazy grindhouse poseur of an exploitation flick that thinks showing up and making the references are good enough. There's a lot of Takashi Miike in the over-the-top bloodshed and a bit of Tarantino, not just in the adoring shots of Hayek's feet as Everly constantly goes from high heels to barefoot, but also in one Japanese john (Akie Kotabe) spending his entire screen time bleeding out from a gunshot wound on Everly's couch, just like Tim Roth in RESERVOIR DOGS right down to his wardrobe. As she demonstrated 20 years ago in DESPERADO (has it been that long?), Hayek, still stunning at 48, is more than game as a kick-ass action heroine, but EVERLY just isn't up to her level. It's an endless fanboy circle jerk that exists in an insulated, prefab cult movie echo chamber. Hayek could use a hit, and in better hands, EVERLY could've easily been her JOHN WICK. Instead, it's her HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN and nobody needs that. (R, 92 mins)

(US - 2014)

There's a strong early-Jim Jarmusch vibe to this hypnotic vampire film from writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour, perhaps the most inventive of its kind since LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. Co-produced by Elijah Wood and shot in black & white in and around Bakersfield, CA, GIRL is set in the fictional Bad City, Iran and is in Persian with English subtitles. Amirpour and cinematographer Lyle Vincent do a tremendously effective job with the widescreen framing and using things like smokestacks and pumpjacks to present Bad City as a depressing industrial wasteland where drugs and crime rule above all. Nice-guy Arash (Arash Marandi) is forced into settling the debts of his junkie father Hossein (Marshall Manesh) to ruthless drug lord Saeed (Dominic Rains) when Saeed decides to take the only thing that matters to Arash--his pristine '57 T-Bird--as repayment. Saeed is soon slaughtered by a strange, silent woman (Sheila Vand) who turns out to be a vampire. The remarkably expressive, sad-eyed Vand is one of the most memorable vampires to hit the screens in some time. Portraying The Girl as one those melancholy sorts doomed to a life of loneliness, Vand doesn't even utter a word until nearly 40 minutes in, and almost like a holdover from the silent era, lets her face do much of her acting. When she tells prostitute Atti (Mozhan Marno) "You're sad, you don't remember wanting, and nothing ever changes," she's really talking about herself. GIRL is largely a triumph of style over substance, but there are numerous parallels and dualities at work throughout, like flip sides of a coin--between The Girl and Atti, Arash and Saeed, and The Girl and Hossein, perhaps the biggest monster of all when he shoots Atti full of heroin and prompts The Girl to take on the role of avenger. The Girl longs for love and humanity--watch the small, subtle smile she allows herself in really great scene the first time she's alone with Arash and plays White Lies' "Death"--in a world where empathy and feeling simply have no place with the likes of Saeed and Hossein around. A fascinating thematic companion piece to Jarmusch's recent ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT has its tedious bits that scream "art house pretension," especially with a long scene of Reza Sixo Safai's Rockabilly dancing with a balloon, but overall, it's a unique and visually arresting addition to vampire cinema. (Unrated, 101 mins, also streaming on Netflix Instant)

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