A Chat with Joe Carnahan, director of “The A-Team”

Writer-director Joe Carnahan is proud of his latest film, a beyond tongue-in-cheek 2010 remounting of the 1980’s TV favorite, “The A-Team.” Available on a brand new, extras-laden DVD and Blu-Ray edition, the actioner stars Liam Neeson as A-Team leader Hannibal Smith, with backing by Bradley Cooper as the suave “Faceman” Peck, Sharlto Copley as the mildly insane H.M. Murdock and mixed martial artist Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as the Mohawk-wearing B.A. Baracus.

Jessica Biel is also along for the ride as DCIS Sosa, Faceman’s by-the-book military investigator ex-girlfriend. The story, such as it is, is fully eclipsed by a mix of preposterous stunts and CGI heavy effects and a jackhammer sensibility that is, like it or not, proudly over the top and unashamedly silly.

A former maker of promotional films and videos for a Sacramento TV station, Carnahan’s first feature was 1998’s “Blood, Guts, Bullets, and Octane,” a crime-suspense black comedy that co-starred Carnahan as a desperate used car dealer getting in way over his head with some extremely dangerous characters. The film, low on finesse but big on Mamet-esque macho verbal energy, was notable enough to break through the enormous Tarantino-Guy-Ritchie fatigue that made making almost any kind of independent crime film a questionable proposition throughout the 1990s.

Carnahan’s 2002 studio debut was the grimly serious “Narc,” starring Jason Patric and Ray Liotta. Big on style and terribly unsubtle, the dark procedural nevertheless earned lots of good reviews. That was followed in 2007 by the all-star action black comedy, “Smokin’ Aces.” The grosses were higher, but the Rotten Tomatoes rating was much lower.

Joe Carnahan’s bombastic ways as a filmmaker are matched at times by what reads as a rather pugilistic verbal style when it comes to critics who dislike his style and reporters who harp on less than enormous grosses. As someone who is yet to be won over by any of his films — though “Blood, Guts” has its share of low-fi charms — I was a little concerned about meeting him.

Watching Carnahan introduce a number of clips from the Blu-Ray special features for “The A-Team,” however, he came across as much more of more a teddy bear than a grizzly. In our interview, he won me over with news about some long incubating projects, a bit of sincere sounding film geekiness, his clear interest in branching out creatively and, most importantly, the fact that he’s my only interview subject so far to admit to visiting our sister site Bullz-Eye — which, I’m sure, he looks at only for our thoughtful prose.

“I’m on the Internet far too much,” he admitted, adding cheerfully, “just looking through academic articles!”

Never let it be said that Joe Carnahan is lacking in manly virtues and/or vices.

Premium Hollywood: Speaking of manliness, there’s a line in “The A-Team”: “Overkill is underrated.”

Joe Carnahan: Yes.

PH: This seems like a pretty good watchword for your career and your approach to making movies.

JC: Right. I think I’ve been perhaps unduly typecast as a guy who likes to hyper-edit and so on. I certainly have a style, but this kind of thing will always cancel out [other things]. There was a five minute tracking shot in “Narc” that was nothing but Ray Liotta talking, but nobody ever mentions that stuff. Listen, it was certainly the call to arms for this movie, “Overkill is underrated.” I did it as a thesis, as a joke. It’s the aside to the audience that says that we know it’s a lot, we know it’s overblown and overinflated, that’s the point of this little bon-mot here, this little movie.

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The League of Quality Superhero Animation plugs “Crisis on Two Earths” at Paley Center

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It’s an old story. You’re a superhero minding your own business and then you bump into someone who looks very familiar but, well, something’s just not right. Gee whiz but this person looks a lot like you and is even wearing similar clothes, but then you notice your new acquaintance looks like he or she is made from rocks, uses terrible grammar and does everything the opposite of you. (“Me want to not save world!”) Or the newcomer looks like one of your deadliest enemies, but turns out to be no Bizaaro, but as heroic as you are. What’s a superhero to do?

It’s an old superhero comic story that has yet to find its way into a big-time costumed-hero flicks — but at least it’s finally been used in a solidly entertaining and often slyly funny direct-to-DVD animated production. Rated a mild PG-13 for non-deadly “action violence,” Warner Home Video’s “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths” shows us the fall-out of an alternate universe where the equivalents of our most famed superheros are essentially costumed Mafioso, while a bald guy named Luthor and a joker named the Jester vainly fight the power of organized caped crime.

When the alternate Luthor (Chris Noth) manages a reality jump into the original DC Comics Universe, he enlists the aid of  most of the Justice League. And so, Superman (Mark Harmon), Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall), and a less than cooperative Batman (William Baldwin), become involved in a desperate quest to free Good Luthor’s universe from super-powered criminal domination by the vicious Crime Syndicate and it’s Jersey-thug-like leader, Ultraman (Brian Bloom) — and also to stave off the possible destruction of all existence by an off-his-evil meds Dark Knight of the Soul, Owlman (James Woods), and his only slightly more sane GF, Super Woman (Gina Torres).

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The 72 minute direct-to-video feature was premiered at both of the coastal outlets of the Paley Center, and I attended the one located on Earth Prime’s Beverly Hills. Us members of the local geek press were allowed to commune with members of the cast and crew and, in my case, that started with the extremely busy animation casting and voice director, Andrea Romano. The loquacious performer and voice director, whose work includes everything from “Animaniacs” to “Spongebob Squarepants” and “Ben Ten,” is held in as high esteem by super-animation fans as any actor, writer, or director. Her work on DC superhero projects goes back to the early nineties and “Batman: The Animated Series,” which revolutionized superhero cartoons with quality writing from creators like Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, animation, and, thanks to her efforts, acting.

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