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Steve Zahn

Review: Out of Sight

[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, August 7, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

After years of mishandling by Hollywood, crime novelist Elmore Leonard has been on a roll. Get Shorty, Barry Sonnenfeld’s larky look behind the scenes of Tinseltown itself, reaffirmed the second coming of John Travolta and also, by the novelist’s own testimony, made Leonard aware that his books are funny. (He writes them straight, which is how his characters live them.) Quentin Tarantino turned Rum Punch into Jackie Brown and enhanced both Tarantino and Leonard in the process. Now comes Out of Sight—for sheer snap, verve, and professionalism, arguably the best of the bunch.

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Review: You’ve Got Mail

[Originally written for Film.com in 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

I saw You’ve Got Mail in a spanking-new multiplex located in a spanking-new downtown development, a place with an atrium and coffeeshop and Tiffany’s and J. Peterman. It’s the kind of gleaming, upscale mall that drove out (or will drive out) all the little shops and longtime dives that used to define the downtown of a city. It doesn’t really matter what city I’m talking about, because the downtown of my city could now be the downtown of AnyCity, blessed as it is with Planet Hollywood and Old Navy and a Starbucks on every corner.

The new development also has a Barnes & Noble at ground level. Well, gee, how ironic. You’ve Got Mail is about the owner of Barnes & Noble – er, “Fox Books” – opening a new megastore on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) is untroubled by the fact that his new store will drive the little booksellers out of business, including The Shop Around the Corner, a funky children’s book nook. It’s owned by Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), who declares war on Fox and his heartless methods.

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Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

Back when I could afford to attend big outdoor sporting events, I invariably got gooseflesh during the pregame al fresco performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Husky Marching Band does an especially bombs-bursting-in-air version. So maybe I’m a sucker for this kind of thing already, but I do think the deployment of the U.S. national anthem at a key moment in War for the Planet of the Apes constitutes one of the most truly spine-tingling moments of the movie year thus far. The gesture might sound pretentious—this is a sci-fi fantasy about monkeys, after all—but allegorical genre flicks have always thrived when told in big, broad strokes. Recall that the 1968 Chuck Heston Planet of the Apes, one of the greatest popcorn movies ever, tapped the Statue of Liberty for its trippy final image.

We are now three movies into the latest reboot of the Apes franchise, and finally in a groove.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen and family in ‘Captain Fantastic’

In Captain Fantastic, the winner of this year’s SIFF Golden Space Needle award, Viggo Mortensen has found a role that fits his own reluctant image as a movie star. His character, Ben, withdrew from society years ago to enjoy a communal hippie-hang in the Washington woods. He and wife Leslie (Trin Miller) went off the grid for political and philosophical reasons, and the couple has raised a brood of children whose survivalist expertise outstrips their knowledge of everyday life in the outside world. Ben is skeptical of the System, the Man, and other capitalized sources of authority; he wants to stay out of view and raise the kids as “philosopher-kings.” The favored life skills he has instilled in his family include killing deer with bow and arrow, rigging a water cistern, and playing musical instruments at night instead of gazing at TVs or laptops.

Not every actor could pull off this combination of Thoreau and MacGyver, but Mortensen is utterly credible—in part because the actor himself has so frequently seemed to withdraw from the camera’s gaze, even when he’s at the center of a movie.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Blu-ray/DVD: ‘Knights of Badassdom’

Knights of Badassdom (eOne, Blu-ray, DVD), a modest little horror comedy set in the fantasy gaming LARP (that’s Live Action Role Playing) culture, has a good time sending up its obsessive nerds and cosplay veterans gathered for a weekend championship of stage combat and mock-Shakespearean patter. Then it unleashes a succubus from hell on them. Actually it’s Steve Zahn’s Eric, a mage armed with a really cool ancient tome he bought off Ebay, who summoned up the demon during gameplay. It was an honest mistake but the body count is real enough, especially when his Hail Mary pass of a reversal incantation merely turns the hot succubus into a scaly demon who wades through the would-be warriors like a kid stomping through his toy soldiers.

The producers line up a low-budget cast with high genre cred and they too seem to have a good time: Ryan Kwanten (the spacey Jason of True Blood) as the aspiring black-metal star reluctantly dragged along by his buddies, Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) as the stoner who preps by downing a bag of shrooms, and Summer Glau (Firefly) as the warrior babe all too used to the geek boys hitting on her. Jimmi Simpson and Danny Pudi (Community) are well cast in supporting roles. They don’t play caricatures of gaming obsessives so much as overly enthusiastic fans carried away with the theatrics of it all. The film was reportedly recut without the participation of director Joe Lynch and the result looks a little like something tamed down for a general audience, but the attitude and energy keep it going through the familiar rhythms of the story. And refreshingly for an R-rated comedy, this is geek-girl friendly, with Glau shrugging off the advances and outbattling everyone with hearty high spirits and wit. No gratuitous nudity here but plenty of over-the-top stage gore, the kind of goopy excess that makes demons-versus-mortals violence less rather than more realistic.

The most substantial supplement is the Comic Con panel with director Joe Lynch and six stars of the film (all the major cast members apart from Zahn). There’s a seven-minute interview with Lynch and a handful of brief cast interviews and featurettes, all less than two minutes apiece.

More New Releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Rescue Dawn: The Challenge of the Extraordinary

When I first saw Rescue Dawn—in fact, when I saw the preview trailer—I said to myself, Aha! After a whole generation, here’s another green film from Werner Herzog.

Steve Zahn and Christian Bale: lost in the jungle
Steve Zahn and Christian Bale: lost in the jungle

Herzog has made a lot of remarkable films. But so long is the reach of Aguirre, Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, and so profound their visual stamp, that it is impossible not to see Rescue Dawn as their cousin—perhaps even their completion. Here again is the green of the jungle, both inviting and forbidding, both enchanting and deadly. Here again is the stubborn determination of a half-mad man not to be beaten by nature at its rawest and most implacable. Here again is civilization and its power politics ebbing away to insignificance in the face of a single man’s grandiose vision and relentless will to win.

Werner Herzog has always been interested in men like this. It’s shallow to say that he has outgrown or otherwise abandoned the vision of his celebrated earlier films (particularly the Kinski films), with their obsessive dwelling—literal or metaphoric—on German culture, German politics, German guilt. Whether it’s Don Lope de Aguirre or Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald or Timothy Treadwell or Dieter Dengler, and whether the film is fiction, documentary, or adaptation, Herzog remains committed to an exploration of the powerful, charismatic personality, and its tug of war with the world.

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