Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
Military marksman Col. Jim McQuade (Gregory Hines, Running Scared) is called into top-secret duty to neutralize a surveillance robot gone haywire in San Francisco. It won't be easy, because for one thing, the android is undetectable from a human. For another, it has a built-in nuclear bomb that will detonate upon imminent threat.
I plead guilty: My friends and I have goofed around with a camcorder before and made stupid movies, but we were smart enough to know that no one outside ourselves would think they were funny. If only the makers of Caesar and Otto's Deadly Xmas realized the same.
Nearly every scene of HBO's telefilm Game Change, I recall from
John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's excellent nonfiction book of the
same thing. But the movie directed by Jay Roach (of the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents
franchises) only tells half — maybe even one-quarter — of the story,
ignoring the 2008 presidential-campaign narratives of Barack Obama,
Hillary Clinton and John Edwards for the one it finds most compelling:
that of Sarah Palin and John McCain, and not the other way around.
If Sen. McCain's choice of the largely unknown Alaska Gov. Palin as his veep choice seemed out of nowhere then, there's good reason: Because it pretty much was. McCain, here played by Ed Harris (Man on a Ledge), wanted Sen. Joe Lieberman, but was talked into someone “more transformative” by hired gun Steven Schmidt (Woody Harrelson, Rampart).
At that point, so pressed for time was the McCain campaign, Palin (Julianne Moore, Crazy, Stupid, Love) wasn't vetted properly. For example, she informed Schmidt and company of her daughter Bristol's out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but not of her husband's membership in Alaska's secessionist party. Nor the extent of her political knowledge — or lack thereof — as she doesn't know why there's a North and South Korea, what the Federal Reserve is, or who ordered the 9/11 attacks (she says Saddam Hussein).
While facts were not Palin's strong point, acting was. Once the campaign just let her be her, McCain’s journey toward the White House got back on track ... but at the expense of McCain, who no longer could control her power grab. About all he could do is say "fuck" an awful lot (in stark contrast to her one and only curse word: “flippin’”).
To that extent, Harris' McCain is pretty much a beer-drinking cartoon. That's not the actor’s fault; that's all the script gives him to do. He's a supporting player to the tug of war between Schmidt and Palin. Harrelson is strong as expected, but Moore is stronger — so much so that I literally forgot I was watching her. Naturally, she's best portraying the side of Palin we've never seen: so stressed, she's increasingly catatonic, and not from her constant consumption of Diet Dr Pepper.
While Moore proves the best choice for the role, the scenes of the behind-the-scenes reactions to Palin's speeches and debates are the definition of forced, from "She's incredible!" to "Now I know why they call her Sarah Barracuda!" Lines like those keep Game Change, premiering Saturday, at that made-for-TV level, despite that top-drawer talent. It’s good, but not transformative good. —Rod Lott