Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
You´ll have to be cold-blooded to dislike Hairspray, which can easily count itself among the best of the recent outspurt of movie musicals, despite an entirely light tone and non-Oscar-bait summer release date. Adam Shankman´s film is so loving and sincere – so unpretentious and happy to be what it is – that it´s almost impossible not to go along with all the silliness. It´s not perfect, and starts to drag by the climax with some protracted subplots given full song-and-dance treatment, but it´s all so remarkably good-natured. Pic is based on John Waters´ 1988 film of the same name, which was recently adapted into a Broadway musical, and is being re-adapted (like last year´s The Producers) for the screen here.
Waters´ original was memorable for the casting of a female impersonator (Divine) as one of the leads, in a (mostly) traditional female role. Harvey Fierstein took over the role on Broadway, and the ante is upped here with John Travolta in a fat suit. But what could have easily become distracting is instead performed with sincerity, as Travolta plays it so straight (almost low-key) that while we never believe his Edna Turnblad is a woman, we can almost accept him in the role. But the film doesn´t center on Edna, anyway. Baltimore, 1962: young Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) dreams of dancing alongside the other hip teens on the Corny Collins Show; just as she gets her chance, however, the show´s ‘Negro Day´ is cancelled, and Tracy unwittingly becomes a force in segregating the teenage dancers on local daytime TV. The race relations subplot doesn´t have the same force as it did it the 1988 film, but it´s still handled with care. Travolta, Christopher Walken (as Edna´s husband), and Michelle Pfeiffer (as the bitter studio manager of the Corny Collins Show) have a lot of fun in their roles, but it´s the young cast that really shines here. Blonsky is a revelation in the lead, providing a youthful exuberance that equals Rikki Lake in the original film. As Tracy´s best friend, Amanda Bynes isn´t given much to do, but her wide-eyed, lollipop-dangling style fits the movie perfectly; the cast of the Corny Collins Show, including Zac Efron and Brittany Snow, also feels great. And James Marsden, as the appropriately named Corny Collins, has never been more likable. Songs aren´t particularly memorable, but most of them are plenty of fun. Excellent sets and costumes produce a loving re-creation of 1960´s Baltimore. Film is far better than one would reasonably expect.
Robert Rodriguez´ Planet Terror, the weaker half of the Grindhouse double-feature, has been ripped from its loins and is now presented to international audiences devoid of its original drive-in goodness. Which isn´t all that bad; unlike Quentin Tarantino´s Death Proof, Rodriguez´ film wasn´t much of a drive-in homage, instead mimicking 80´s splatter features like Night of the Creeps or Peter Jackson´s early work. Also unlike Death Proof, this is virtually the same film as we saw before – though film grain has been removed and a (very) short scene has been tacked on at the end.
An experimental biological weapon has been released, creating a zombie epidemic; a ragtag group of survivors including stripper Cherry (Rose McGowan), Nurse Dakota Block (Marley Shelton), ex-con El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) and Sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn) must combat the menacing creatures to survive. If this sounds familiar, well, yeah, it is, referencing every zombie film in recent memory (particularly Romero´s Living Dead trilogy), with that same tried-and-true plot that each of these films seems to contain. It´s the small details that make the film work: the inventive violence, the hammy acting, a nostalgic score – everything over the top, but just enough that the film never veers into distracting self-parody. The director even displays a keen sense of suspense in some scenes that´s mostly missing from his previous work. This is most certainly not a film for everybody; you´ll need to enjoy the endless bloodletting and be able to laugh at rape, child killing, and (shudder) Quentin Tarantino´s atrocious acting abilities. But while never exceptional, Planet Terror is good enough on its own splatter-movie accord to merit a viewing for those with bad taste. Still, wait for the Grindhouse DVD for the real drive-in experience.
A compelling remake of Theo Van Gogh’s 2003 film by the same name, Steve Buscemi’s Interview provokes thought for most of it’s runtime before coasting into an all-too-pat conclusion. It’s basically a two-character play: political journalist Pierre Peders (Buscemi) feels jilted when sent to do an interview with soap star Katya; after waiting a couple hours for her to show up at the location, he lets her know it. Circumstances bring them together to continue the interview in Katya’s NYC flat, where the duo attempt to manipulate their way into each other’s thick exterior. It’s fascinating for awhile, as the aloof characters remain as much as enigma to us as they do to each other; things are wrapped up a bit to nicely at the end, however. A rare remake: acceptable due to the heavy reliance on dialogue in the original film (which inevitably comes across differently when translated & subtitled – I can’t imagine how well, say, David Mamet translates into other languages), and respectful of the original film while still providing a different experience. Van Gogh (great-grandson of Vincent’s brother) intended to direct an English-language version of the film, starring Buscemi, before he was murdered by Islamist Mohammed Bouyeri in 2004.