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Wrapping LAFF

The Los Angeles Film Festival ended Sunday and I’m not sure what I want to say about it. I saw several films and wanted to see more, but circumstances, and trying to blog about most of what I did see, kept me to a one or two movie per day average on the days I attended. Most of the films were as good as their buzz at least, but most of them had already screened at Sundance.

For me, the highlights were “Black Dynamite” — which was by far the most fun screening all around despite happening within hours of Michael Jackson’s death (which happened to be a less than a mile from where I was working on my posts) — and “We Live in Public” which was simply the most interesting film with the most interesting post-screening discussion. “Branson” was a highlight of another sort for the electrifying performer/one-man-drama, Jackson Cash. The film geek/native West Angeleno in me went moderately wild for a film I haven’t written about here, Curtis Harrington’s melange of romance and dark fantasy “Night Tide,” which was shot in late fifties Santa Monica and Venice.

Los Angeles is, of course, an extremely large city with strong neighborhoods but no true urban core (which is not to say that we aren’t trying to grow one) and a place where all kinds of movies screen all the time, if you know where to find them. It’s also, of course, the place on earth with the largest concentration of people involved with actually making movies or doing things related to making them. Getting them to spend a lot of time actually watching new films probably requires enticing them to go elsewhere and break their usual, already way too busy, routine.

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12 Rounds

Renny Harlin used to be good for the occasional guilty pleasure in the 90s (“Die Hard 2,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight”), but lately, he’s become little more than a go-to guy for genre flicks better off being released straight to DVD. In his latest film, Harlin teams up with WWE Superstar John Cena in an action thriller so ridiculous that its shameless forgery of “Die Hard with a Vengeance” will be the least of your worries. Cena stars as Danny Fisher, a New Orleans detective whose girlfriend (Ashley Scott) is kidnapped by a dangerous terrorist (Aidan Gillen) he arrested a year before. Now, he must play a twisted game with the criminal (lasting 12 rounds, natch) if he ever wants to see his girlfriend again. The idea that someone as threatening to national security could even break out of prison is a bit of a joke, but the story is filled with so many of these silly coincidences that you eventually have to just let it go – especially when Cena’s character is allowed to practically destroy an entire city in the name of saving a single life. The dialogue is terrible as expected, but what will really surprise viewers is just how dull the action scenes are. Cena might not be a good actor, but his previous effort, “The Marine,” at least had a couple of cool set pieces to keep you entertained. Unfortunately, “12 Rounds” can’t even offer that.

Click to buy “12 Rounds”

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Megan Fox does a photoshoot with FHM

Megan Fox is one of the hottest actresses around at the moment, as she’s becoming the toast of Hollywood. Here’s a killer video of Megan as she does a sexy photo shoot with FHM in a nice hotel. The scenes of her laying back in what appears to be a very comfortable bed are pretty hot.

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A Chat with “Harper’s Island” Victims #13 and #14

It would be fair to say that not everyone enjoyed this past Saturday’s episode of “Harper’s Island,” based on Mr. Paulsen’s recent post, but even if you’re in the same camp that he is, I think it’s a safe bet that, if you’ve been watching the series for this long, you’ll still be returning for the final episode next Saturday (July 11th). While I agree that the subjects of this week’s interview probably should’ve made at least a cursory attempt to escape death rather than lunging headlong into their demise (which is, ultimately, what both of them did, even if one did it in a different manner than the other), it can at least be said that neither of the actors had any problems with their exits.

Yeah, you’re right: I guess that isn’t much consolation for a disgruntled viewer.

Oh, well.

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Blu Tuesday: Do the Right Thing, Street Fighter and Jonas Brothers 3-D

Much like last week’s disappointing selection of high-def titles, today’s pick of the litter isn’t quite as fresh as one might hope. There’s definitely a good variety among the movies available, but there’s nothing here that exactly screams “Buy me.” Still, while my personal collection will remain unchanged for another week, other Blu-ray enthusiasts might find something they’ve been waiting to pick up, or at the very least, take for a test drive.

“Do the Right Thing” (Universal)

I’ve never been a fan of Spike Lee, save for the uncharacteristic crime thriller, “Inside Man.” His fabricated racism is annoying, and it never fails in ruining an otherwise good story. Though it’s admirable to want to address a serious issue like racism through film, the way in which he tries to achieve it is nothing short of scandalous. Take Danny Aiello’s character in “Do the Right Thing,” whose life is ruined when a brawl inside his pizzeria leads to the accidental death of Radio Raheem. Not only is he completely warranted in his actions, but he isn’t even responsible for Raheem’s untimely demise. Of course, Lee wouldn’t have the ending he so desperately needs if he doesn’t lay the blame on Aiello, and instead of pointing a finger at Raheem (who refused to turn off his boom box after being asked nicely) or Giancarlo Esposito’s Buggin Out (the real culprit of the altercation), he decides to cook up a theory that even the much-loved (but still white) owner of the local hangout is a racist. Personal thoughts aside, the 20th anniversary Blu-ray release looks incredible, and the addition of a new retrospective documentary and audio commentary by Lee is a nice treat for fans of the film. You really have to love Lee’s work to want to sit through “Do the Right Thing” more than once, but if you do, you might as well watch it in HD.

“Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” (20th Century Fox)

Go ahead and file this one under Reasons Why Fanboys Hate 20th Century Fox. It’s not that the studio does a bad job of choosing properties to adapt. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, because they often make movies that no other studio would even bother with. Unfortunately, they don’t put nearly as much thought into the actual making of the film as they do into how much money they might make it if it’s a hit. I didn’t think it was possible to outdo the first “Street Fighter” film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme in terms of sheer crappiness, but “The Legend of Chun-Li” wins hands down. This is a movie that is so determined to ground the world of “Street Fighter” in reality that it loses all connection to the source material except for its characters’ names. The end result is just another generic martial arts movie with some of the worst acting you’ll ever see. It’s difficult to single out just one performance (take your pick), but when all is said and done, Chris Klein is practically guaranteed to walk away with a Razzie. “The Legend of Chun-Li” is a guilty pleasure at best, but unless you’re a fan of the game, and don’t mind seeing your a piece of your childhood ruined, you’d be best to stay away.

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“Public Enemy” awaits a verdict; other stuff happens

* There seems to be some concern out in the world about just how well Michael Mann’s new Johnny Depp/Christian Bale vehicle, “Public Enemies,” will fare when it’s released on Wednesday. Mixed reviews, like the one posted today by Den of Geek’s Michael Leader seem fairly typical and it’s possible audiences will feel mehish on the project. (The Tomatometer is currently at a fair-to-middling 64%, but even some of the “fresh” reviews don’t read as outright positive.) Anne Thompson specifically wonders about just how Depp’s huge star power will register and Mann’s decision to shoot a period film in digital, though it’s not the first period action film to be shot that way (“The Last Samurai” comes to mind). Those still reasonably jazzed about the nouveau-gangster flick (and that includes me, even though I’m not a super big Michael Mann fan), may want to check out our “Between Good and Evil” feature over at Bullz-Eye.

* Speaking of Anne Thompson, she has a festival wrap-up posted (looks like we saw a pretty different selection of films). I’ll be writing about it one-more time tomorrow.

* Nikki Finke has the “actuals” in from “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” It’s $390 million worldwide. I guess that’s enough. She’s also upset over some impending Oscar changes, including a rule that might limit the number of “Best Song” entries and having a separate, non-televised dinner for the humanitarian awards like the Thalberg, which I’ll personally miss, because I’m weird.

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They’re “wild” alright, but are they “wonderful”?

Confession time: Being a bit sleep deprived and apparently under-caffeinated, I nodded off for probably 10-20 minutes of MTV/Dickhouse’s “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.” Therefore, I have to be a bit careful about making any sweeping statements about this documentary from filmmaker Julien Nitzberg, a sort of follow-up to Jacob Young’s 1991 short, “The Dancing Outlaw,” which became a viral cult hit. It’s safe to say that judging from what I heard from the crowd — many of whom were fans of the earlier documentary and/or the “Jackass” TV series (which has some fans in the cinegeek world, though I’ve never been moved to watch it) — I might have been the only person in the theater who didn’t have a great time with the film.

The earlier film deal with Jesco White, a gas-huffing Elvis Presley fan whose brain-damaged schizoid psychology and criminal tendencies tend to overshadow his talent as a “mountain dancer,” a sort of bluegrass forerunner to tapdancing. Executive produced by Johnny Knoxville, “The Wild and Wonderful Whites” deals with the ongoing struggles of Jesco’s extended family, led by super-tough, extremely shrewd, ultra-raspy voiced occasional singer Mamie White and on into the more violent third generation members of the clan. There are some captivating moments, in particular Jesco dancing to music provided live by punk country’s own Hank Williams III and the sugary soda-fueled gyrations of one of the youngest Whites, who just might be a dancing chip off the old Jesco White block.

However, apparently somewhat like Slant’s Nick Shager, I was largely left cold by the portion of the film I managed to stay awake through. I’m not sure I’d be as critical of its moral stance, or lack thereof, on the Whites, but I found myself wondering just what the vignettes about the various family members — who are perhaps too numerous for clarity — and their purportedly fun-loving dysfunction add up to. I’m not sure how I feel about the way director Nitzberg flirts with celebrating a clan whose members abuse themselves and each other to this degree. It’s still possible I might find something more there in a less tired state and, if this sounds in any way interesting, you’d be well advised to check out the not so safe for work trailer.

I should also add that, in terms of a crowd vibe, the mood at the Los Angeles Film Festival screening could not have been a happier or more upbeat one. I spoke to some really nice people there who really seemed to enjoy it and “get” the film a lot more than I — and the post-screening dancing by Jesco White, backed up by a terrific bluegrass trio, was something else.

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Here are my problems with the last episode of “Harper’s Island”…

First things first, if you haven’t watched the most recent episode (“Splash”) then you might want to skip to the next post, because there are major spoilers ahead.

I’ll go ahead and insert a jump here so that anyone who proceeds does so willingly.

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The Next Food Network Star: paying for past mistakes

On “The Next Food Network Star” Season 5, there have been some catty moments, and, well, moments of gameplay that border on vicious. So it wasn’t really a big surprise last night when the judges announced who they were eliminating. We’ll get to that in a bit, because this episode had a lot going on, including one of the finest (read: horrific) moments in the show’s history.

The show began with Bobby Flay playing network executive, and telling the remaining seven contestants that they would start off this week’s episode by creating a burger from a specific region of the country (not necessarily where they were from). The winner would have a burger on the menu at Bobby Flay’s new burger joint in Connecticut (book my flight, I want to go there right now). They would then have 30 minutes of camera time to describe their creation.

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A Chat with Kevin Nealon

Kevin Nealon’s been a familiar face on television since his days as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” but in recent years, he’s become more known for his work on Showtime’s long-running series, “Weeds.” Those who can’t afford the premium stations, however, may also see him pop up as the host of TBS’s “World’s Funniest Commercials” specials. Won’t you please join us for…

Kevin Nealon: Hey, Will! How are you doing?

Bullz-Eye: Hey, Kevin, good to talk to you!

KN: Yeah, you, too!

BE: So this is not your first time around the block for TBS.

KN: No, it’s not! It’s starting to add up. (Laughs)

BE: So how did you come to hook up with them in the first place?

KN: Oh, gee, let me see if I can remember. It’s been about…oh, I’m guessing eight years now? Seven or eight years. I think they just kind of came to my agents with this offer to host this show, and I always loved funny commercials. You know, one of the reasons – like a lot of people – that I watch the Super Bowl is for the commercials during it, so I was into that. And, also, I went to school for marketing and learned a lot about commercials then, and I was going to be in advertising, but instead I went into comedy. So there’s a big interest there for me.

BE: Do you have a favorite commercial from this most recent special that really stands out?

KN: Well, there are a couple that I like. There’s one…I think it’s for Berlitz Language School, where a guy’s on the phone and he’s trying to find out how to spell “Def Leppard” because he’s doing a tattoo on somebody’s back. And it’s all in subtitles, but the woman goes, “Do you mean ‘deaf’ as in hearing, or ‘death’ as in dying?” He goes, “Um, I’m not sure.” Then he looks to the person’s back, where he’s just made the tattoo “deaf.” That’s a cool one, and there’s another one for Tabasco that’s from Belgium, where they show a streaker running across a soccer field, the cops are chasing him, and then they stop the action and say, “An hour earlier,” and they show him in a restaurant having Tabasco sauce. They kind of back up the whole thing, from the soccer field leading back up to when he used the Tabasco.

BE: So where did you film this special? I know you film them on location in various places.

KN: Oh, yeah, we’ve done them everywhere! Well, not everywhere, but we’ve done them in California, in Paris, New York. This one happens to be in Chicago, which is great, because I love Chicago.

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