Tag Archives: Jonathan Schaech

Renny Harlin’s 5 Days Of War

I won’t pretend to be familiar with the details of the Russian/Georgian war or anything that goes on in that region, but I’m pretty sure Renny Harlin’s 5 Days Of War is skewed in favour of special effects and kinetic commotion, as opposed to dutifully telling a story. It’s disjointed and has no idea which characters to focus on primarily and as such feels like a film out of time and space, cobbled together with loose strands and spare action sequences. Half the name actors are casted in throwaway roles too, which is disorienting. In a hectic prologue, Heather Graham plays the girlfriend of a war photographer (Rupert Friend), but she’s killed in a blast literally seconds after meeting her character, which seems arbitrary even to call her agent for a booking. The films sees Friend, a Georgian native (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and others stranded in a region on fire, torn apart by combat and cut off from communication. The details of this conflict are swept up in a near constant stream of action sequences, near misses and explosions, and much of the film is simply people running through bombed out villages in desperation. Croatian actor Rade Serbdzija (Boris The Blade from Snatch) makes good use of a Russian general role, somewhat of a villain but the film actually pauses later to give him a modicum of an ad, which he handles nicely. Val Kilmer and his Aslan mane of hair show up too in a sly, over advertised cameo as another photographer who helps them out briefly, and then disappears from the film. Elsewhere Andy Garcia laments the situation as the Russian president, grilled by the press about his actions, or lack thereof, in the struggle. In terms of story and narrative cohesion it’s all over the place. One aspect it handles well though is keeping the kinetic energy alive during the war scenes, they are extremely well shot and designed on a big scale to raise pulses. Average flick that could have done with a bit more structure and thought put into the script.

-Nate Hill

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Indie Gems with Nate: Phantom

The submarine film seems to have died off a little bit since semi recent entries like Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19 and Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide, which is why it’s nice to see an effort like Phantom come along. Spare, streamlined and straight to the point, it chronicles the fate of a Soviet submarine crew tasked with transporting a deadly nuclear missile during the Cold War, and the dangerous KGB stowaway who will stop at nothing to gain control of the ship and hijack the warhead. Now, this is one of those films set in Russia but with an all American, English speaking cast, so as long as you can get past that without whining, you’ll enjoy it. What a cast it is though!! Ed Harris brings grizzled nobility to the role of the captain, handpicked for this mission by unseen forces who know of his disgraced past and are betting on him to fail. David Duchovny has always had a bit of slimy, subversive danger to his aura, and he’s in full blown wrecking ball mode as the ruthless rogue agent bent on seizing the vessel and no doubt causing all kinds of global problems in the process. William Fichtner is a supporting standout (when is he not?) as Harris’s resilient second in command, and the crew is populated recognizable faces including Jason Beghe, Jonathan Schaech, Dagmara Dominzyck, Kip Pardee and Sean Patrick Flanery. Throw in an intense cameo from Lance Henriksen and you’ve got one hell of a lineup of heavy hitters onscreen. The intrigue is somewhat cloaked, and the mutiny goes both ways, accented by plenty of palm sweating scenes of suspense, a mandatory staple in any submarine film. Lower budget, yes, but centered on story and character as opposed to action, and notable for a surprisingly esoteric end sequence that I did not expect. Recommended.  

THAT THING YOU DO! – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

the-wonders

That Thing You Do! (1996) is Tom Hanks’ tribute to the slew of rock ‘n’ roll bands that followed in the wake of the Beatles’ phenomenal worldwide success. Record companies in the 1960s were desperate to find the American equivalent in the hopes of making the same kind of profit. The result was a lot of one hit wonder wannabes. Hanks’ film (his directorial debut) is a fictionalized account about one of these bands.

After their regular drummer (Giovanni Ribisi) breaks his arm, a band approaches one of their friends to fill in. They rehearse for a talent show, playing the one original song, “That Thing You Do,” a slow ballad-type deal. However, at the show, the overly enthusiastic drummer speeds up the tempo and the crowd eats it up, breaking spontaneously into dance. They easily win the show and realize that they are onto something. Guy (Tom Everett Scott), the drummer, becomes a permanent member of the band and they call themselves the Oneders (bad idea) and start playing gigs in their home town of Erie, Pennsylvania. Jimmy (Jonathan Schaech) is the good-looking singer and primary songwriter. Lenny (Steve Zahn) is the wisecracking guitarist who is interested in picking up girls. The bass player (Ethan Embry) doesn’t say much and is content to go along with what everybody else wants to do.

Guy uses his family connections to allow the band to make a record, a single of “That Thing You Do” and it transforms them into a minor local sensation. The Oneders soon get their song played on the radio and their popularity only increases. They meet Mr. White (Tom Hanks), a slick executive from Play-Tone Records, who signs them to his label. He changes their name to the Wonders, changes their look to smart-looking suits and takes them on a whirlwind promotional tour across the country. Along for the ride is Jimmy’s fun-loving girlfriend Faye (Liv Tyler) and, to a lesser degree, Guy’s uptight girl, Tina (Charlize Theron).

Hanks does a nice job of recreating the time period, complete with vintage cars, outfits and hairstyles but doesn’t dwell on them too much or draw unnecessary attention to them. Best of all, is the music. The band’s hit song is indicative of the era’s pop music (think of it as the whitebread flipside to the Dreamgirls’ music), a catchy three-minute ditty that sticks in your head. Hanks also captures the youthful energy of these young guys – the rush of playing in front of an appreciative audience that loves their music and the excitement of hearing their song on the radio for the first time. He is also successful in conveying the dynamic between the band members and how it changes over time, especially after they enjoy national exposure and success. Predictably, it affects them in all kinds of different ways. Hanks shows how success can spoil a band. Egos get inflated and this often leads to conflicts within the group. There is also the pressure to follow up a hit with another and another so that the record label continues to make money.

For his directorial debut, Hanks wisely doesn’t try to bite off more than he can chew. He keeps his ambitions modest and isn’t too flashy with the camerawork. He understands that nothing should get in the way of the story or the characters. However, his script does show a lack of experience as little things, like a repeating gag of Guy proclaiming, “I am Spartacus,” wears thin very quickly.

That Thing You Do! is an affectionate, nostalgic look back at simpler, more innocent times, just before the country became mired in the Vietnam War and the social and political climate changed radically and with it the music. Hanks recaptures a time when hundreds of screaming teenage girls would mob the bands that they worshipped, a time before the Internet so that music was promoted via the radio which had the power to make or break a band.