Red Dawn

November 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Adrianne Palicki
Directed by: Dan Bradley (debut)
Written by: Carl Ellsworth (“Last House on the Left”) and Jeremy Passmore (debut)

The 1984 version of “Red Dawn” had real-world fears in its corner to bolster its believability. The story of a ragtag posse of teens and young adults fighting back against an invading army comprised of Soviets, Cubans, and Nicaraguans benefited from the unpredictability of Cold War politics, from the notion that World War III could break out at any time for any reason. While it’s a little more difficult to buy into a group of mildly-trained high schoolers beating back even the most incompetent modern army, the film drops enough references to guerrillas and minutemen to lend the idea a little more credibility.

None of that is intended to convince anyone that the original “Red Dawn” is a good movie. It’s not. Its sloppy, jingoistic, and filled with some of the wimpiest explosions committed to film. But like lots of relics of the ’80s, it’s remembered fondly by people who were kids when they saw the movie for the first time. And, as is the fate of all nostalgic properties,”Red Dawn” was tapped for a modern remake.

The grammar of those modern remakes is followed closely by this new take on “Red Dawn.” Bigger, slicker action and special effects? Check. Impossibly attractive, ethnically-diverse cast? Double check. Serious scene from the original re-purposed and played for laughs this time around? Triple check. The basic plot remains the same: small town brothers Jed (Chris Hemsworth) and Matt Eckert (Josh Peck) narrowly escape a foreign invasion on American soil by North Korean forces. With the help of fellow classmates (including Josh Hutcherson of “The Hunger Games” and Adrianne Palicki of TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) and Jed’s military training, the group, dubbed the Wolverines after the mascot of their local high school, is able to seriously disrupt enemy operations armed with little more than shotguns and hunting rifles. Their revolution inevitably attracts the attention of the North Korean command, who double down on their efforts to squash the Wolverines.

Along with being yet another unnecessary remake, this modern take on “Red Dawn” runs into new problems, chiefly the conflict with the changing face of warfare. The original took place during the waning years of the Cold War, when the idea of a ground war had not yet given way to the smart bomb and guided missile combat that has defined combat since the first Gulf War. Setting the story in 2012 (or 2010, as the film has sit completed on the shelf for two years while MGM worked its way through bankruptcy) and ignoring things like remote-operated drones and the fact that the North Korean military can’t, by all accounts, tell its ass from a hole in the ground adds strain to a film already trying too hard to one-up its inspiration. Throw in plot holes like a super-weapon that knocks out all electronics except for the ones integral to the plot and behind-the-scenes issues like hastily changing the enemy from China to North Korea (by way of digitally altering flags and just re-dubbing the Chinese actors with Korean dialogue because who will notice that?) and “Red Dawn” ends up as another mess that should have never made it out of the Cold War.

The Wackness

August 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby
Directed by: Jonathan Levine (“All the Boys Love Mandy Lane”)
Written by: Jonathan Levine (debut)

For a film that prides itself in its 90’s references, “The Wackness” has a lot more to offer audiences that just a look back to a music era featuring the Wu Tang Clan and Biggie Smalls. Even though they’re high most of the time, the smartly-written characters are the most redeeming part of this independent surprise from director/writer Jonathan Levine.

In “The Wackness” (which is apparently slang for the opposite of dopeness), Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) is spending his first summer after graduating from high school trying to figure out what he is going to do for the rest of his life. Set in 1994 in New York City, Luke spends his time dealing dope from his ice cream cart and crushing on his shrink’s stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby).

Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley, who can always play some great offbeat characters; see most recently “Sexy Beast” and “You Kill Me”), who doesn’t approve of his infatuation with Stephanie, really can’t use the fact that Luke sells drugs to deter the relationship. The reason: Squires trades counseling sessions with Luke for weed. Their interesting relationship isn’t in jeopardy despite the weird set-up. Luke and Squires need each other. Squires needs him for his pot and Luke needs him because he seems to be the only one that listens to him since his parents have been preoccupied with financial problems.

This makes for a very bizarre coming-of-age tale as both men use one another to grow out of their somber personalities. Squires’s middle-age crisis begins as his wife (Famke Janssen) becomes more distant to him. He finds physical satisfaction to ease his pain when he meets fellow hippie Union (Mary-Kate Olsen, who reminds me of Lisa Bonet’s character in “High Fidelity”).

As a stoner movie, “The Wackness” is presented a bit differently than the upcoming “Pineapple Express” or others of the past like the “Harold & Kumar” series. This one is character-driven and considerate of the relationships it nurtures throughout the film. Although it might overplay the nostalgic angle at times (the Nintendo reference is funny and the music does transport you back to the early ’90s), “The Wackness” manages to sail smoothly with some fine performances by its cast and a novice director who actually comes in with a reasonable vision.

Josh Peck – The Wackness

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Interviews

I’m seeing your career at a kind of crossroads from your role in Nickelodeon’s “Drake & Josh” to more adult-orientated films. Do you feel that’s where you are at right now?

I don’t know if I’m that conscious of it. I think I’m just at a more exciting time in my life. I’m just proud to be a part of something like [“The Wackness”]. I think it’s rare in life when you find something that you are truly, truly passionate about and people sort of validate those feelings. I’m just enjoying being swept up in the whirlwind.

Do you think a lot about the journey you’ve taken from a kid’s show like “Drake & Josh” to “The Wackness?”

Sure, I mean, I’ve been doing “Drake & Josh” for five years and before that I did “The Amanda Show,” so I really grew up with Nickelodeon and they have been very supportive. I’m really indebted to them because everything I am is because of them. But with something like “The Wackness” and years ago with “Mean Creek,” these are definitely films that are a big leap from a kid’s world. I just think I’m really lucky to do something like “The Wackness,” which is something that really speaks to my soul and something I can balance with “Drake & Josh.” I mean, I’m going to do a “Drake & Josh” TV-movie in August. There is a good balance there. But films like “The Wackness” turn me on because they really speak truth and honesty.

Yeah, you were great in “Mean Creek.” It was heartbreaking when your character was killed at the end but think halfway through the movie I wanted to kill you, too.

(Laughs) Aw, thanks man.

I’m sure that’s what you wanted to convey playing this innocent albeit annoying kid.

The reverence all goes to the director [and screenwriter] Jacob [Aaron] Estes and the way he structured the script and the character. It was truly an inside to a character like that who’s got this fierce defense mechanism of inevitably pushing everyone away and doing it so vehemently and being so ridiculously vulnerable. This kid George [Tooney] had to pile on these defensive spikes that stung everyone around him so he was left very much alone. It was a balance of him lashing out and showing the true side of himself, which was this gently and eventually defective young man. It was an important balance to have viewers hate him and love him.

When “Mean Creek” came out and now “The Wackness,” do Nickelodeon executives want to sit down with you and your agent and talk about this or are your TV-show career and your film career completely separate?

Nah, they are totally supportive. I think they are much more interested in how I conduct myself in my daily, normal life than when I’m portraying a character in a movie. I think with being on a kid’s show and being this sort of bohemian role model it’s much more important that you are conducting yourself well with morals and values that are in line with their thinking. It’s less about jumping in to play a character because you are given free range because it is art. Maybe you can hide behind the art, I don’t know. But I like the freedom to play these characters and let out any, maybe, subconscious debauchery in the acting and less in my real life.

“The Wackness,” of course, is set in 1994. You were only eight years old then, so what do you remember about that specific year?

Um, Bugle Boy jeans, Power Rangers and those Spice Girl lollipops. Yeah, I was only eight years old so it was kind of a time of a lot of exploration in my life, mostly in the sandbox. I had to sort of reinvestigate parts of my life that might have become dormant and think about what adults were talking about in ’94, whether it was “Pulp Fiction” or Bill Clinton or Giuliani. I really wanted to draw what they were exposed to because Luke [his character] is really a young adult in the movie. For the most part it was about me getting used to the essence of who this kid was and picking parts of ’94 whether it was a speech pattern or hairstyle or something that I could really hinge the performance on.

I’ve read that you feel falling in love is all about timing. Isn’t that a scary thought, to think that the right girl is in front of you but it’s not going to work out because she’s coming into your life at an inopportune time?

I think that’s a fear of my even before I get into a relationship. I’m just worried about being rejected, man. Unfortunately, relationships and putting yourself out there and being vulnerable it’s just life, otherwise you’re not living. It’s that pain that reminds you that you are alive but it also is a pain that makes you want to be not as alive. When a movie like this comes along – one that you almost need a prerequisite to have a certain amount of heartbreak in your past or something relative to draw from – you almost think you have some experience point even though at the time it is going on you’re not really sure if you are going to live or die. I think we all put a lot of walls up and want to be careful of getting hurt. I don’t know. I don’t want to sound all sappy but [love] is kind of all we have in life.

Yeah, I had heard that you were going through some heartbreak yourself coming into this movie. Can you tell me about that and how you used those emotions to your advantage?

I just kind of was out of my first relationship and a lot of those emotions were fresh and very deep-seeded. So, to have a person that I could use to personalize the “Stephanie” character was such a gift. When I first met Olivia [Thirlby] I just took one look at her and thought, “Well, I know who you are.”

Now, I’ve never been to New Jersey, so you have to fill me in. Why is it such a horrible place?

Aw, man. I talk too much shit, man. I really gotta close my mouth. It’s a beautiful state. I can’t really hate on it that much. Maybe I have just more of a beef with some people I know that live there.

Does Ben Kingsley go crazy if you forget to call him Sir?

(Laughs) No, not at all. We never spoke about it. I heard it was something he liked to be called so we all called him that. We all have some kind of preface to or a penname or a surname that we like – Sir Ben Kingsley, Method Man, the Commodore Josh Peck.