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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Movie news for a no longer new week

A fair amount of stuff happening…

* Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts may star, and Stephen Daldry might direct, an adaptation of a 9/11 themed novel by Jonathan Safran Foer called Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Lou Loumenick is, I’m sure, not the only one to hope the project never happens. The backlash against author Foer seems to be going full-steam. Since I”ve never read anything by him and missed the movie version of his “Everything is Illuminated,” I’m completely in the dark on this one.

* I mentioned in a tongue-in-cheek way on Sunday that, despite a fairly disappointing $10 million showing for “Piranha 3D” over the weekend, given the modest $24 million, I thought a sequel a possibility. I certainly didn’t expect this quick a turn-around, but there you go. Seems the foreign returns, combined with an okay take domestically on the famished fish tale were sufficient to justify another go-round at this price level.

* One person who I know for a fact to be delighted by the “Piranha” news is film blogger and devoted horror dad Dennis Cozzalio who reviewed — and kind of loved — the movie for the Bullz-Eye team this week, doing us all a solid as everyone in the staff was indisposed in one way or another. (My infamous gorephobia wasn’t helping any, either.) Coincidentally, Dennis’s excellent and already world-famous cinephile blog — Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule — got a little more world famous today through the attention from the lofty likes of Richard Brody of The New Yorker today. The topic, strangely enough, was the work of the late action director Sergio Leone. The infield fly rule will have to take care of itself for now.

* Oh, and if you reaction to the idea of a sequel to the aforementioned silly horror flick was “when pigs fly!” the great Japanese animator Hiyao Miyazaki has a planned sequel for you.

* It’s too sad to mention in this silly context, but it also seems wrong to ignore it and I don’t know how else to handle this. Sincere condolences to comic actor Martin Short and his family. Extremely tragic news regarding his wife.

* Apparently, unlike most /Film commenters, I actually do care that there’s may be a “Fantastic Four” reboot as they’ve always been my favorite Marvel characters, but I couldn’t even make it past the oh-so-thin first half-hour of the first movie. Why not reclaim a lost opportunity? Casting rumors, however, I never care about. Actual casting news gets really old sometimes.

* If movies are making you sick, it might not be just the content. Nah, it’s probably the content.

* The Playlist is correct. Pedro Almodovar’s new film is definitely high up on my list of highly anticipated movies for next year. It’s nice to see the Spanish director reteam with Antonio Banderas, who appeared in four of the director’s early successes starting with “Matador” in 1986 and wrapping with the controversial “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” in 1991.

However, they’ll forgive us for anticipating even more the next film from Winnipeg’s own resident eccentric cine-genius Guy Madden, which will feature Isabella Rosellini, Jason Patric, and Sir Simon Milligan himself, Kevin McDonald of The Kids in the Hall comedy troupe. No insult to Mr. Patric, but his costars appear to be two of the coolest humans extant as far as we’re concerned here at PH. Ms. Rosellini gave a great interview to Will Harris some time back, and Mr. MacDonald has a terrific career-spanning chat over at the Onion which brings up the fact that, in drag, MacDonald has a small visual similarity to the luminous Ms. R.

* The end of one of modern journalism’s greatest hates? Sharon Waxman extends an olive branch to Nikki Finke. This could be interesting.

* Capone at AICN has a great interview with thinking geeks’ favorite Guillermo del Toro. A couple of items that were new to me, anyway: it’s far from a sure thing he’ll be directing “The Haunted Mansion” though he’s definitely producing and cowriting. Also, del Toro is now openly hoping that Peter Jackson will wind up as helming “The Hobbit” after all.

  

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What Else Ya Got? “My Sister’s Keeper”

Not a whole lot, unfortunately, as Warner Bros. continues their hit-and-miss streak of Blu-ray releases. Though “My Sister’s Keeper” isn’t exactly the kind of film that needs hours of bonus material, it certainly deserved better than this. A director commentary or a proper making-of featurette would have done wonders to flesh out the otherwise skin-and-bones disc, but at least there’s something extra for the fans.

From Picoult to Screen

This 13-minute featurette promises to show the creative process of author Jodi Picoult, but it’s really just a shameless piece of promotional material that glosses over the journey of “My Sister’s Keeper” from page to screen. There are some decent interviews with Picoult, director Nick Cassavetes, and stars Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin, but you can’t help but feel like there’s a more in-depth making-of featurette hidden somewhere in the Warner Bros. vaults. Surely the studio has more behind-the-scenes footage and interviews that they could have included, so why not create something with a little more substance?

Additional Scenes

As the only extra on the DVD release, this collection of deleted scenes runs just over 16 minutes long. With the exception of a funny scene involving Alec Baldwin at the court house, a majority of the material revolves around Jason Patric’s character, including an additional sequence with each of his daughters and a court scene that reveals Anna’s trepidations about surgery as a kid. It’s nice to see that Patric played a bigger role in the film than the theatrical cut suggests, but despite getting heavily edited out of the movie, it actually works in his favor. Take these deleted scenes for what they are: proof that sometimes less is more.

That’s it in terms of actual bonus material, but Warner Bros. has also included a digital copy of the film for those that feel like a good cry on the go. It’s not really worth the upcharge, however, so unless you’re a Blu-ray junkie, you’d probably be better off just sticking to the standard DVD.

  

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Entourage 5.9 — Pie

It’s a big day for the boys. More accurately, it’s a big day for Vinnie as production opens on “Smoke Jumpers,” marking the first time in more than a year that he’s been on a movie set. No wonder he’s a little nervous, skipping breakfast and screwing up his lines when rehearsing with E. Even worse is the fact that his German director (I think his name was Vernon…?) likes practice about as much as Allen Iverson (“We’re talkin’ ‘bout practice.”) and informs Vince that he shoots the rehearsal. Bad news for Vinnie’s nerves, but co-star Jason Patric loves Vernon’s approach. He also, it seems, loves poaching Vince’s lines, and after he steals a couple of Vince’s pivotal scenes, it’s time to take action.

It won’t shock anyone to know that I’ve never been on a movie set, so I don’t know how these things typically work. But it seems to me, if it’s the first day of shooting and some douchebag steals my key lines, I’d say something. As in, right then and there. Maybe that’s not kosher, and maybe Vince handled the situation the right way initially by assuming it was an honest mistake and letting it slide. Granted, he tried to talk to Patric about it after the fact but never actually got around to addressing the issue. Vinnie’s co-star, it seems, is a black belt and probably isn’t someone you’d want to piss off. Fine. Meanwhile, you run the risk of being scenery in what stands to be either your comeback film or your death knell. I know Vince is the cool-under-pressure one in the group so it’s not surprising to see him try to shrug it off at first, but it was maddening watching Patric’s thievery without Vince asking someone “what the hell is going on?”

Of course, he did eventually ask Vernon about the situation, and the director claimed that he knew what Patric was doing but he was choosing his battles with the fiery actor to keep him happy. Sounded like a copout to me, and Vince agreed, telling the guys he thought Vernon was a bigger pussy than he was. Actually, it turns out Vernon is the snake on the set, handing Vince’s lines to Patric and then blaming the actor for it. Why? The smart money says Vernon isn’t a fan of Vinnie’s work and he wanted to run as much of the movie through Patric as possible. Maybe he had other motives, but the look on Vince’s face after Patric told him what Vernon had done suggests that he came to the same conclusion. And if that’s the case, what’s the long-term effect here? Did Dana Gordon shove Vince down Vernon’s throat because she promised Ari the role? If so, things could get ugly for Vince.

Speaking of Ari, this certainly wasn’t the first time he’s provided the most interesting storyline for an episode, and we should all be thankful that it won’t be the last. One of the readers of this blog has noted several times that Jeremy Piven is the only true “actor” on the show and that the others should all just watch and learn. While I wouldn’t go that far, he is without a doubt the show’s most talented actor, and tonight he proved once more why he’s also its biggest draw. Some were surprised that Ari turned down Warner’s $10 million offer last week but, to me, it spoke to the kind of emotional depth that Piven and the writers have given Ari over the years. Tonight, we saw even more of it when Ari met up with his old buddy Andrew Klein, a literary agent who’s fallen on some tough times in the wake of the writer’s strike. Turns out Klein, played brilliantly by Gary Cole, was on the fast track with Ari before their old firm split. Klein has since carved out a nice little career for himself, but nonetheless it’s a career (and salary) that drastically pales in comparison to the life that Ari now leads. And since Ari knows it could have just as easily been him working in Encino, he feels guilty.

Now, whether or not he feels guilty enough to lend Klein $500,000 is another story. But when Ari takes a closer look at Klein’s books, he sees an opportunity to not only help a friend, but make a savvy business deal. After telling Klein that he doesn’t want to give him the loan, Ari instead offers to buy his company and give him the life he was meant to live. Klein balks at first, of course, and calls Ari out for feeling guilty about how everything has turned out. Granted, this was a simple and understated scene, but watching Piven and Cole as it played out was great. The highlight was when Ari reminded Klein about when he wanted to move back to Chicago to become a lawyer, and Klein talked him out of it by asking him, “Do you really want to die a loser fucking lawyer in Chicago?” Ari stared back at Klein for a few moments and replied, “Do you really want to die a loser lit agent in the Valley?” Harsh words, for sure, but sometimes harsh words need to be spoken between two good friends. And in this case, they worked – Klein agreed to the buyout.

Unfortunately, Babs isn’t on board. Oh, right – Ari’s got a partner in all of this, and she thinks Klein is too much of a “loser” to bring into the fold. Shit, now what?

  

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