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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Midweek movie news, and then…

After tonight, I’ll be taking a break from the daily blogging grind for just a bit. That means I’ll be out completely for a couple of days at least and then you may see a post here and there and then, suddenly, I’ll be back like I was never gone in the first place, probably towards the tail end of the month. So, this will have to hold you for a little while.

* As of tonight, corporate raider Carl Icahn appears to be a majority stockholder in Lionsgate.

* I’ve never been a fan of the seventies movie of the silly seventies film version of “Logan’s Run,” but with Carl Erik Rinsch directing, my interest in the new film perked up considerably. Now, Alex Garland — who wrote and produced the not-entirely-unrelated upcoming version of “Never Let Me Go” which I discussed yesterday — has jumped on board, making it even more interesting. Better, they’re approaching it as a new version of the book, not a remake of the film. In the 1976 film, by the way, no one in the futuristic society was permitted to live past 30. In the novel, it was 21.

* Sam Raimi has been confirmed as the director of “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” Apparently Robert Downey, Jr., who just formed a new company with his producer wife, Susan Downey, is the most likely Oz at this point.

* Be sure and check out Will Harris’s terrific interview with one of the best, Isabella Rossellini. Easily one of the most fascinating¬† actresses of the last thirty years or so, with quite a backstory behind her. Don’t miss it.

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*Though Ms. Rossellini seems perfectly at home in a very humorous way with her fifty-something status, that is not really always the case for actresses. This month’s conversation between Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard at the House Next Door underlines that point as the cinephile thinkers discuss two of Hollywood’s greatest show-biz based films, “Sunset Boulevard” and “All About Eve,” both released in 1950 and both dealing with actresses who struggling with this whole passage of time thing.

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Eighties redos to battle at the box office

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I’m severely limited for time — and more than a bit tired after a busy and reasonably productive day — so this may be one of my shortest box office preview posts.

This week’s two major new releases are reboots of properties remembered fondly by many children of the 1980s, “The A-Team” and “The Karate Kid.” Both movies have been supplied with some well known names, Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan for the former and Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, and Jessica Biel for the latter.

Jolly Carl DiOrio doesn’t go so far as to predict which film will emerge on top, with both having some fairly obvious broad appeal. I’ll say that my personal hunch is that Sony’s “Kid” will take the lead because, with a PG rating, it’s definitely more of a family film than the more violent and adult-oriented PG-13 “A-Team” from Fox. The martial arts flick also would seem to have more appeal for female audience members for similar reasons. It certainly seems extremely likely, in any case, that “Kid” will be the more profitable film by far, as we’re led to believe it cost $40 million, while the Joe Carnahan directed “Team” cost something more like $95 million. Both movies got mixed-to-meh reviews at “Rotten Tomatoes.”

Will these action flicks rescue Hollywood from the box office blahs? All I know is that I have no strong desire to see either of them and I’m not sure Hollywood deserves any better than its getting. In fact, without having seen these new movies, I feel safe in assuring anyone reading this that, if you’re at all open to them, you’ll be vastly more entertained by renting almost any of Jackie Chan’s amazing eighties and nineties Hong Kong films. I know I’d really like to see “Project A, Part II” — an ingenious slapstick comedy adventure — or any of the “Supercop” movies again soon. Like, right now.

  

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Wednesday night movie news dump

Yes, this week you get you’re Friday night movie news dump two days early…and extra quick/short, if I can manage it. Let’s see…

* Roman Polanski, who has been in jail for two months since he found himself accepting one too many award invites in Switzerland, has been granted bail to the tune of about 3 million Euros and it appears there will be no appeal of that particular decision. He’ll be under house arrest and constantly monitored, however. There is no need for panic at this time.

* Dirk Benedict apparently had some politically/sexually driven issues with the re-imagining of “Battlestar Galactica.” As per Wikipedia, the macrobiotic follower said:

One thing is certain. In the new un-imagined, re-imagined world of Battlestar Galactica everything is female driven. The male characters, from Adama on down, are confused, weak, and wracked with indecision while the female characters are decisive, bold, angry as hell, puffing cigars (gasp) and not about to take it any more.

He says that like it’s a bad thing. Anyhow, he’s apparently fine with Joe Carnahan’s new film version of “The A-Team” and will be joining the cast. Yay.

* Speaking of stars with possibly very rightwing political views, is UN representative Angelina Jolie, who admittedly has enjoyed a hair more success than Dirk Benedict, really saying things about President Obama that wouldn’t sound odd coming out of the mouth of her possibly no longer estranged movement conservative father, Jon Voight?¬† US Magazine reports, I can’t possibly decide if any of this has one whit of truth to it.

*/film has some early critical buzz on Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.” Mostly fairly positive. Good, maybe 2-D animation won’t die after all.

* An assignment for the long weekend, cinegeeks. Are you ready for Professor Russell Johnson’s “My Ancestors Came over on the Minnow” Thanksgiving/Christmas Movie Quiz”? T.A. Dennis Cozzalio awaits your response.

* Sometimes my usual sources for the box office previews I do, like the one just below this post, don’t catch all the new opening movies. For example, the reported return-to-form for Hong Kong master director John Woo, “Red Cliff,” is opening in 15 theaters this weekend. Anne Thompson has the fascinating details on the latest from one of the greatest action directors of all time. With the exception of 1997’s “Face/Off,” his Hollywood career hasn’t quite gone exactly as hoped, but take a look at this trailer.

Yep. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

  

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