So… I don’t quite get… how this film ever got green-lit, aside from Johnny Depp pulling a few strings. It’s like the most unfunny, painful thing to see unfold, like a Pink Panther flick with all the wit, heart and humour sucked out of it by dementors, leaving nothing but an acrid, soulless shell. That may sound harsh, but give David Koepp’s Mortdechai a day in court yourself and you’ll probably have similar things to say of it, or worse. Depp plays the titular buffoon, an aristocratic, borderline senile art dealer with a plummy British accent and a silly moustache that becomes the butt of a tiresome running joke involving the gag reflex of his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow, barely even trying with her accent). Mortdechai becomes involved in some overwrought global art-hunt that makes little sense and drags on for an interminable length, with his trusty lusty manservant Jock Strapp, ha ha, (Paul Bettany miscast in a role better suited for someone like Jason Statham or Vinnie Jones). Ewan McGregor and his sunny disposition show up for a while as a detective with the hots for Paltrow, as well as Olivia Munn embarrassing herself in a role that’s well beneath her, and an unforgivably underused Jeff Goldblum, showing up so briefly that it’s a wonder he agreed to waste his time here at all. This is junk of the highest order, not even fit for vague background noise as one immediately just tunes into tallying up the many ways in which it blows. You’d think Depp would know better, but he’s still in the preening dress-up quagmire phase of his career that he hasn’t been able to wade out of yet. He tries hard here, but every effort waddles forth like a lame duck, every comic beat royally missed. Don’t bother.
David Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense is one of those films that is indeed almost near perfection, a totally unique viewing experience from frame to frame. It also happens to be one of the most depressing things you’ll ever sit through, so fair warning. The story unfolds in Glasgow, where some strange pandemic is causing people, all over the world, to slowly lose there sensory perception, one at a time and preceded by cursory symptoms like rage, hunger, grief or the like. Sounds like a neat setup for a streamlined post apocalyptic thriller right?
Not so much. Mackenzie is fascinated more by things like intimacy, pacing, thoughtful musical accents, haunting narration and how these underplayed qualities are influenced by the extreme nature of the theme. It’s also a fiercely passionate love story, but one that gets gradually bleaker, as each instrument in our bodies we use to show love for one another slowly dims and darkens, a harrowing thing to witness once we’re invested. A research scientist (Eva Green) and a chef (Ewan McGregor) meet, fall in love and are then faced with the dire adversity of the world’s situation. First everyone’s sense of smell disappears. Then taste. Hearing soon after. And so it goes. Their romance is already a tangled bramble bush thanks to both their collective issues, and once the epidemic enters the picture, things aren’t easy to deal with and don’t go well. McGregor’s sunny disposition contrasts the overcast,
dismal palette of the film, whilst Green and her seemingly never depleted stores of intensity are in full forecast, the two making an electric pair onscreen. I love how a story that’s so rooted in sci-fi and thriller elsewhere gets the quiet, contemplative romantic focus here, it’s a welcome change. This isn’t Hollywood territory though, and the epidemic is treated in the gravest way, without salvation via deus ex machina in sight, and I’ll warn you that the final scene will land with an anvil blow to your ol’ soul, it’s that bleak and disheartening. Couldn’t recommend it enough though, it’s a dose of pure brilliance on every perceivable level.
It’s always curious to me when directors remake their own projects. Sometimes it seems redundant and risky, and one wonders what compels them to revisit already trodden territory. In Ole Bornedal’s case it’s a creepy murder mystery called Nightwatch, made once in his native language of Danish, and again as a slicked up Hollywood version featuring some heavy acting talent and a reworked script by none other than Steven Soderbergh. I’ve only seen the newer one, and despite some awkward, clunky moments in the narrative, it can get pretty squirmy and frightening when it wants to, especially any scene involving a young Ewan McGregor stuck alone on a morgue graveyard shift. Creepy concept, and in some scenes it’s really milked to full effect, but there’s also few really silly and unnecessary subplots, particularly one with McGregor’s daredevil buddy Josh Brolin, and his girlfriend (an underused Patrica Arquette. When the film focuses on its main horror storyline it works quite well though. There’s a killer loose in the city, one with a penchant for necrophilia, and no one wants to have the night shift at a mortuary with someone like that running about. Nick Nolte adds class and charisma to his role as a weary, grizzled police detective who’s searching for the killer. Nolte rarely sets foot in the horror/thriller side of things, but his looming presence and concrete scraper sounding voice fit into the atmosphere terrifically. There’s a couple cameos as well, one from John C. Reilly as an ill fated police officer and an amusing Brad Dourif as the morgue’s cranky duty doctor. If Borendal had trimmed the fat in places as far as subplots go, given a bit more edge to the script and overall just tweaked it more it could have been a cracking good thriller, but as is it’s only above average with a few spots that really shine.
Sylvain Despretz really is the personification of honnête homme. And he has been a man of the world since an early age. Travel was a part of his life; the other constant being his love of the cinema.
He is an artist of great style and skill and after his schooling he worked as an art director for a top Madison Avenue agency then moved on to illustrating Graphic Novels in California under the mentoring of the internationally famed artist Moebius. From there he would set out upon what would become and astonishing career as a story board artist and conceptual designer.
His work you’ll have seen, gracing the screen in a myriad of films in a variety of genres. Movies like Gladiator, Alien Resurrection, Panic Room, The Fountain, (Tim Burton’s) Planet of the Apes and The Fifth Element. These including work on Don’t tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead and the coming Luc Besson sci-fi extravaganza: Valerian. He has worked with and on films directed by the true masters of the screen including Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
But, as you will hear, Sylvain has become disenchanted by the current repetitive nature of Hollywood’s cookie-cutter output. He is now driven by the notion that the only way to usher in change, is to be part of a creative revolution that places an emphasis on original voices instead of corporate responsibility.
To this end he is now embarking on a journey that will see him stepping away from the drawing board and moving behind the camera; bringing his own visions to life using that mysterious blending of industrial light and storytelling magic.
He is a learned Hollywood veteran who has seen the Dream Factory from the inside, and his stories and wealth of knowledge and experience was and is fascinating to experience.
The designer behind the scenes and the future man in the director’s chair, proud am I ladies and gentlemen to present this interview with the one and only, Sylvain Despretz.
VISIT SYLVAIN’S OFFICIAL SITE:
Stephen Lang Week: Day 2
There’s a scene early on in The Men Who Stare at goats where hapless General Dean Hopgood (Stephen Lang) attempts a platform 9 & 3 quarters style sprint towards a solid wall, in attempt to use ‘psychic abilities’ he is being taught at a hush-hush military base. He smashes headlong into it, and in the most deadpan drawl, mutters “damn” in all seriousness. This one moment sort of sums up the absurd vibe that thrums throughout the whole film. It’s kind of like a Coen Brothers thing; you either get it or you don’t. This film isn’t quite as hilarious as it’s sister, Burn After Reading, but damn if it doesn’t try, and come out with some really weird and memorable stuff. It’s colorful hogwash that the cast sells with the enthusiasm of a drunken used car salesman, and speaking of cast, wow there are a lot of heavy hitters playing in the sandbox here. George Clooney, in yet another of his patented lovable goof roles, plays Lyn Cassidy, a former US Army nutjob who claims to have been a part of a clandestine program called the New Earth Army, employing paranormal powers in their missions. Bemused journalist Ewan McGregor is shanghai’d into following him on a mad goose chase to find out if any of his stories are true, but mostly just to babysit him, as he’s kind of a walking disaster. Ineptitude reaches a breaking point when we meet pseudo hippie Bill Django, played by Jeff Bridges who channels every other oddball role he’s done for maximum effect. Bill headed up the program until he got stymied by opposing official Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), a tight ass skeptic with no patience for such silliness. In fact, one must have a huge tolerance for such silliness to sit through this, and a sense of humour just south of normal to appreciate what it has to offer. I have both, and greatly enjoyed it, despite being thoroughly bewildered. Watch for Stephen Root, Glenn Moreshower, Rebecca Mader, Nick Offerman and good old Robert Patrick in a cameo as some sort of vague spy dude. A clown show to rival a high school play, no doubt, and I mean that as a compliment.
George Clooney is one of those versatile actors that can easily go back and forth between big budget studio films like Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and smaller, more personal independent films like Good Night, and Good Luck (2005). One gets the feeling that given his preference, he’d much rather make the latter than the former but he’s smart enough to know that doing the occasional studio film gives him the opportunity to make smaller films. One glance at the cast list for The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) and you would assume that it was a studio film with the likes of Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, and Kevin Spacey involved. It’s the offbeat premise, however, that could only come from an indie film.
Inspired by Jon Ronson’s non-fiction bestseller of the same name, The Men Who Stare at Goats follows the misadventures of Bob Wilton (McGregor), an investigative journalist in search of a major story to cover. He stumbles across a secretive wing of the United States military called The New Earth Army, created to develop psychic powers in soldiers. These include reading the enemy’s thoughts, passing through walls, and yes, killing a goat by staring at it. While doing a story about a man (Stephen Root) who stopped the heart of his pet hamster with his mind for a local newspaper in Ann Arbor, Wilton finds out that this man used to be part of a top secret military unit of psychic spies in the 1980s. At least, that’s what he claims.
Understandably skeptic about the man’s abilities, Wilton learns about the former leader of the unit, Lyn Cassady (Clooney), “the most gifted psi-guy” who now runs a dance studio. After a co-worker dies suddenly and his wife leaves him for his editor, Wilton interprets these incidents to be a wake-up call and travels to the Middle East to cover the war. By chance (or is it?), while staying at a hotel in Kuwait, he runs into Cassady. This self-proclaimed Jedi Warrior (?!) tells Wilton about Project Jedi, a hush-hush assignment that cultivated Super Soldiers with super powers. Cassady’s technique for tapping into these powers involves drinking alcohol and listening to the music of classic rock band Boston.
Wilton learns all about this elite unit that combines “the courage and nobility of the Warrior” with “the spirituality of the Monk,” and follows in the footsteps of “the great Imagineers of the past”: Jesus Christ, Lao Tse Tung and Walt Disney. Wilton convinces Cassady to allow him to tag along during his mission in Iraq and the rest of the film plays out as a quirky road movie cum satire of war films.
George Clooney is quite good as the clearly bat-shit crazy Cassady. The actor plays the role seriously but you can see that insane glint in his eyes. It’s impressive how he is able to say some of his character’s ridiculous dialogue with a straight face. Clooney gets maximum laughs by playing it straight and is also not afraid to act silly when the situation calls for it. And it does in one of the film’s funniest set pieces during a flashback where Cassady’s New Age commanding officer (Bridges) loosens up the unit by having them spontaneously dance to “Dancing with Myself” by Billy Idol. It’s pretty funny seeing a bunch of uniformed soldiers, Clooney included, dancing their asses off.
Clooney is surrounded by a very impressive supporting cast. Jeff Bridges plays a peace-loving high ranking soldier, sort of the Dude if he had been drafted instead of dropping out of society. Kevin Spacey is the black sheep of the unit and jealous of Clooney’s powers. Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor is the naive reporter and audience surrogate. They all get their moments to show their stuff but the film really belongs to Clooney and his seriously wacky character.
After making serious political films like Syriana (2005) and Good Night, and Good Luck, it’s nice to see Clooney starring in a political satire that is funny but still has something to say as it shows the absurdity of the war in Iraq. This is evident in a scene where Cassady and Wilton narrowly escape a firefight between two competing security firms. The Men Who Stare at Goats falls under the truth is stranger than fiction category as it presents a story populated by eccentric characters and tall tales, some of which might be true. Regardless, it is an entertaining film with a wonderfully oddball sense of humor in the same vein as other memorable war satires like M*A*S*H (1970), Catch 22 (1970) and Three Kings (1999). Don’t be put off by the setting. Although it takes place in Iraq, The Men Who Stare at Goats is not weighed down by the baggage of this war.