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Band of Brothers

Adapted from the recently-late Stephen Ambrose’s historical work of the same name, each episode of the miniseries shows the Easy Company unit fighting in some of the most significant battles, from the point of view of a different soldier. In the fifth episode, “Bastogne,” the miniseries focuses on the company’s medic Eugene Roe, as he scavenges for medical supplies as the unit is under constant shelling by the Germans; meanwhile, in the eighth episode, “The Last Patrol,” it of from the viewpoint of a West Point graduate who discovers how the reality of battle is different from what he was taught of the university’s training grounds.

To give a brief description of what unspools during the ten-plus hours of the miniseries is extremely difficult, given that the miniseries takes place over a four-year period. The company’s origins begin in the summer of 1942, with the men of Easy Company (part of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division) assembling at Camp Toccoa in Georgia for six months of basic training, under the strict command of Lt. Herbert Sobel.

After three months of basic training and jumping school, Easy Company parachutes into the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. With Easy Company landing scattered behind enemy lines, a number of the men re-group under the leadership of Dick Winters to help, in part, secure Utah Beach. From there they are pressed into the failed Operation MARKET-GARDEN campaign in Holland and then Bastogne (part of the Battle of the Bulge offensive), the latter where they suffered from freezing weather and combat exhaustion.

After Bastogne and an episode that works as a character study looking at how far the remaining men of Easy Company have come through the eyes’ of the younger Hanks character, the miniseries culminates with the discovery of concentration camps and their capture of Hitler’s mountain chalet in Berchtesgaden.

All told, this is a grueling, gritty look at World War II that doesn’t mince images of the horrors that went on there.

The Miniseries’ Strengths and Flaws

Besides its epic storyline and vivid characterization, what struck most viewers about the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg-backed miniseries is its plush visuals. The eye-catching colors of the Boujeac Forest, the splendors of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest compound in Berchtesgarden, the planes maneuvering among anti-aircraft fire as the paratroopers take to the skies, the jumping sequences in mid-air— all are fantastic, as I wrote in my original “From Page to Screen” column. Also striking is the score done by Michael Kamen (he also provided the miniseries’ powerful theme).

Of course, the miniseries does have its problems. First and foremost is a problem that exists in with most war-themed films, including another superb 2001 effort, Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down.” There are more than 50 soldiers in the company who the viewers come to recognize during the course of the miniseries, each filtering in and out of the action (sometimes permanently) as they are wounded, killed and/or replaced by even newer faces. The company’s soldiers sustained an extremely high 150 percent casualty rate over the course of their service, creating problems for the viewers to identify who exactly is who among the unit. This feeling only increases during the superbly-executed scenes of battle, when the soldiers’ faces are obviously concealed. This problem is alleviated by the interactive field map feature found on the DVD, but to the casual viewer who watched this during the show’s run on DVD, this was a little daunting, and still remains so here for those who son’t explore the extras.

Some of the episodes were also inferior to others, including “The Lost Patrol” and “Replacements”; as Bruce C. McKenna, had candidly told me in an interview before the miniseries aired, “it’s hard to bat a thousand on a series like this.” It’s not uneven, as some have suggested, but an effort that strains to look at a complex time.

Others should be seen as stand-outs include the first two installments, “Curahee” and “Day of Days,” as well as “Bastogne” and “Why We Fight.” More than that, some of the fictional story points inserted into the storyline, including an almost-romance Roe had with a nurse, do not feel right in the finished product.

What holds the miniseries together character-wise is the company’s leadership of Richard Winters (played perfectly by the stoic Damian Lewis, showing many different faces as Winters rises through the ranks from a newly-commissioned 2nd lieutenant to become a major), Capt. Lewis Nixon (Ron Livingston) and Sgt. Carwood Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg, albeit in a tonally-flawed performance). These three are the constants here throughout the miniseries. There are a dozen others who deserve notice as well, including Neal McDonough, Matthew Settle, Frank John Hughes, James Madio and Kirk Acevedo. Stangely, the Emmy’s did not nominate any of the miniseries’ actors for their roles— Lewis and Livingston should have been shoo-ins.

The Extras

The bulk of the extras have previously aired on HBO— excerpts of the Normandy premiere ran on the channel’s “The Buzz” promos, while the “Making Of” and the documentary ran on the program in full. The newest offerings in the set are Ron Livingston’s video diaries and the interactive field guide, tLivingston’s diaries, punctuated by his wry sense of humor, are the best of the features. In it, he discusses the boot camp he and the other actors endured until the retired Col. Dale Dye (who also plays Col. Robert Sink in the miniseries), as well as the process he endured to both be cast and research the role.

Of the previously-aired features, “We Stand Alone Together” is by far the strongest. Before each of the miniseries’ episodes, there ran short interviews by those members of Easy Company still alive today, without naming them. This documentary is the missing piece of the puzzle, going more into their backgrounds and how they have lived their life since. This is a gem, made all the more poignant by some of those men featuring passing on during the past year (including Lipton, one of the more well-spoken of the survivors).

Scattered throughout the 6 discs, the various features work well in tandem with the episodes.

Overall Grade

The DVD product is a fantastic effort by the HBO Video production team. What makes this stand apart from previous collections HBO has introduced to the marketplace is its delicious packaging—a metal tin embossed with the miniseries’ logo and the great shot of the miniseries’ principals atop a hill, their faces indistinguishable. This is an extremely classy design that will allow it to set itself apart from other products on retailers’ shelves.

The only thing that will make potential viewers wince is the staggering $110 retail list price. I’d advise consumers to check prices among the retailers in their area and go with who offers the best deal.

Upon viewing, one can easily tell the effort that went into the series, from the writers, directors, cast and crew. This is a superb miniseries, one of the best in recent memory— If you didn’t have a chance to see the first-run episodes on HBO, rent it to try out. If you enjoyed it on the cable network, make sure to put this on your holiday list. It’s an A by any means.

DVD Specs
Aspect: Ratio Widescreen Animorphic (1.66:1)
Encoding: Region 1 (US and Canada)
Suggested Retail: $110.98
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, as well as includes tracks in French and Spanish (both Dolby Digital 1.0 Surround)
Series Honors: Outstanding Miniseries Winner, Emmy’s; Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, The Golden Globes; AFI Movie or Mini-Series of the Year, AFI Awards; Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Mini-Series and Specials, Television Critics Association Awards; Also a winner of a 2002 Peabody Award

The 6-disc DVD includes all 10 episodes of the miniseries, the documentary “We Stand Alone Together,” the premiere in Normandy and a “making of” featurettes, and actor Ron Livingston’s video diaries. Also included is an interactive “field guide,” which includes timelines, maps and profiles of the men of Easy Company.

Rating: A
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The Ring

Hideo Nakate’s original film, itself based on Koji Suzuki’s novel, quickly achieved cult status there and ultimately spawned two lesser sequels. The initial pic is one I’ve long recommend to others. (For those in New York, I believe it’s set to play at one of the arthouse theaters in future weeks.) Along these same lines, I’d also urge film enthusiasts to check out the original version of “The Four Feathers” on October 13th at the American Museum of the Moving Image; that 1939 film is better than the Heath Ledger remake currently in theaters. But I digress…

The American version of the film is as taut and as gripping a film as the original, beginning in much the same way. After an overnight trip with three friends to a cabin, teenager Katie (played with good poise by Amber Tamblyn) recounts to a close friend having watched a videotape of disturbing images, then receiving a call directly afterwards telling the quartet they have exactly seven days to live. Minutes later, viewers see her quick demise by an unseen assailant. This is not entirely expected, given that this is a cornerstone to a good horror flick that any viewer of the “Scream” films knows is coming.

Viewers are then introduced to Rachel Keller (played by Naomi Watts), a staff reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and a single mother. Viewers first meet Rachel as she picks up her son Aidan from school, and curses out her editor over the greening he is performing on her current piece. A cousin to the fated teenager, she promises her close relatives that she will look into what doctors classify as a stroke, for it’s “what she does,” as they say; she soon finds that Katie’s three friends (one of them the boyfriend) had also died in mysterious ways that same night. Rachel soon finds the cabin, as well as the tape the teenagers had watched. Unaware of the consequences that a private viewing will bring, she too receives a phone call with her week’s notice. She goes from an observer, the normal sphere of a reporter, to become the center of the story.

During this sequence, the audience also observes the tape in full for the first time— a disjointed, eye-catching progression that includes a burning tree, a middle-age woman looking at herself in the mirror and later jumping off a steep hill, a “Rear Window”-like image of a man glaring inside a house’s window, dead horses in the water’s surf and a young girl climbing out of a deep well; all of these images clues for Rachel to unravel. There is a surreal Mark Romanek feel to the tape (think of his work on No Doubt’s “Hella Good” video). This is the crux of the film, and the creepy vignette delivers.

Realizing what she has uncovered, Rachel digs deeper to find salvation for herself in her (literally) numbered days. She enlists the help of video expert Noah, who also happens to be the father of her son. Despite her warnings, Noah too watches the tape. Soon after, so do Rachel’s son and the son’s babysitter (actually, this latter person’s viewing is a bit of a murky point. It’s implied that the babysitter does, but this plot point disappears after this brief scene).

Rachel soon discovers a hidden frame of a lighthouse, which sets her on a new course that links the tape to the Morgan family. She meets father of the clan, who is unwilling to speak of the tape and his daughter Samara, who is seen briefly there. The daughter is the key, and, after Noah arrives at the campsite, they piece the mystery together. Or do theyr There is a great point where you wait for the credits to roll— and then Rachel and Aidan realize that they may have made a giant mistake. Unlike some other fake endings in some of the slasher films, this one works, though.

The ending is a morally ambiguous one, to say the least, but one that both fits the film as a whole and leaves it open for a sequel. It brings an interesting twist to the next installment if done correctly—it almost makes the surviving characters vampire-like, in a sense.

Naomi Watts does serviceably well with the role of Rachel, although this doesn’t show the full range hinted at in her last film, “Mulholland Drive.” I think this a solid step for her career here, although many others have gone from a wall-regarded role to a horror film haven’t fared that well. She meshes extremely well with both the Noah (as played by Martin Henderson) and Aidan (David Dorfman, whose performance reminded me a great deal of Rory Culkin in Signs).

Henderson should receive some good notices for the way he handles the role. He does a deft job fluttering between the role of the humorous cynic and someone who comes to believe the urban myth. Dorfman does well with a role that has been expanded from the original, but this doesn’t set him apart from some of the other talented child actors in his age group. I would have loved to see what Nicholas Hoult of “About a Boy” could have done with this role, for example, should he have been able to shed the British accent servicably.

Also good in a limited role (three scenes, I think it was) is Brian Cox as Richard Morgan, a character not found in “Ringu.” Cox, the first actor to portray Hannibal Lecter, has been extremely busy as of late filming roles in the upcoming films “The 25th Hour” (December 20th) and the sequel to “X-Men,” “X Squared,” which arrives next summer. This will be a footnote for his resume, but he brings a great deal to the part. I’m just not sure the ending the character was given, though, was the strongest.

The original film doesn’t mine as deep as its Americanized cousin with the tape’s images and meaning, and this effort is far more stylized. In this regard, the original was better for the simpler tale it told, as this feels a little bogged down in comparison. There are still some problems, though: Blood in one scene is visible to audiences a good half-minute before the characters see it and there are some leaps in the story that could have been better explained.

Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography is top-notch, as is the tight editing by Craig Wood. Samara’s vengeful appearance at the very end is extremely well-done. Verbinski shows again that he is a master at crossing several genres, moving effortlessly from the family film “Mousehunt” to the more mature Brad Pitt/Julia Roberts flick “The Mexican.”

DreamWorks is doing a good job establishing this picture in its marketing efforts, despite comparisons to August’s flop “feardotcom” and the competition that this month’s “Below” and “Ghost Ship” bring. Current television spots feature an early review from WWOR-TV (the flagship UPN station, based out of Secaucus, NJ) comparing it to “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” which is hallowed ground that this film falls short of. “The Ring” does indeed work, yes. But I’m not sure it is destined to be a part of that milieu.

Were there scattered laughs from a cynical Manhattan audience during some parts of the screeningr Yes. Were there people covering their eyes and ears to ease the images being shown on the screen as wellr Yes. Would I recommend this to friendsr Absolutely, yes. Would I say it’s one of the best horror films of the past 25 yearsr Not by a longshot.

Still, “The Ring” is a great concept that is well-executed. Overall, I give it a B and look forward to seeing on DVD, as I threw away the VCR as soon as I got home.

Rating: B
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The Amazing Race

Helping to Fix a “Race”: How to Make “The Amazing Race” Succeed on Wednesdays.

Why, oh why, is a site with the word “film” in its title writing about “The Amazing Race,” you might ask? While we have sometimes strayed into the area of television, mostly with scoops on casting for network and major cable series, rarely have we ventured into the realm of reality television. Mainly it’s because I am a huge fan of a show I consider to be vastly under-appreciated— and probably also because I happen to work with one of the more popular contestants from the show’s first installment.

Continue reading “The Amazing Race”

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The Rules of Attraction (ChrisFaile)

Given his film canon, which includes 1999’s American Psycho, it’s an extremely easy bar to hurdle.

Ellis believed that there was something missing from American Psycho, which the scribe later ascribed to “feminist choices” made by those involved with the project, while he believes that the watered-downLess than Zero would have been a far better movie had it waited two years until what he termed the “advent of independent cinema.” He forthrightly admits that he has disparaged the latter film’s adaptation a great deal in recent years— he still feels the two leads were miscast, making a crack at Jami Gertz’s expense still today, calling her effort in the film a “hilarious performance.” Having watched the 1987 film again the previous week, Ellis now says he didn’t “believe it was a bad film. It just wasn’t my film— there’s absolutely nothing from the book.”

One can easily see why Ellis is happy with The Rules of Attraction. This film is extremely faithful to the spirit of the 1987 novel— he made a point to mention several times that it was three-quarters accurate, which he seemed ecstatic about, despite some of his favorite scenes not making the jump from the 150-minute rough cut to the 110-minute theatrical release— with the script having been tweaked to make the film clip forward at a more brisk pace than the source material was able to provide.

With Attraction, Roger Avary has done a masterful job of adapting a book that doesn’t allow itself to be easily shifted to celluloid, showcasing his capacities as both a screenwriter and a director. Narratives are perhaps the hardest to translate to this medium, and Ellis’ “Attraction” brings together many different characters, some of which appear in the opening sequence and mysertiously re-appear later. This is tough to do, yet Avary makes it work.

That said, the films is not perfect, by any means—there are some parts that do not work, which Ellis forthrightly pointed out prior to the first scene being unveiled. The strengths of the film lie in its counter-intuitive casting, something I described in my earlier look at the film in my December “From Book to Screen” column.

Updating the setting of the book to the current day, Attraction focuses on the love triangle between three students at the fictional Camden College. At the center is Sean Bateman (portrayed by James Van Der Beek in a tour de force performance), a student/drug dealer who can’t remember the last time he “f***ed when he was sober.” Sean is pining for Lauren (Shannon Sossamon), who he believes is penning him love letters, while he himself is being pursued by the openly-bisexual Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder). Complicating this triangle is that Lauren and Paul use to go out as well, although this revelation doesn’t impact itself here all that much as this revelation could have, given the set-up.

The film begins with a device utilized in other recent films in a novel way— think of the opening part ofMemento. It both shows Avary’s command of the camera and his good instincts there after some time away from directing, and heightens expectations for some other unique shots employed later in the film. We are introduced to each of the three leads during an “End of the World” party, with the camera first following Lauren as she is in the process of losing her virginity to a townie in the most horrible of ways. The then film stops and literally rewind itself (think of the opening part of Memento) as we are brought back to the main party floor to meet Paul Denton, while the viewers are still able to see Lauren in the peripheral scene. Repeat this again as we then meet, finally, Sean. It’s such a neat little device that is used one more time in the picture, not counting the opening credits that immediately follow the three character introductions. The closing credits are also done in reverse as well.

A neat split-screen shot is also utilized that shows Sean and Lauren meeting for the first time is also used to good effect.

But there are four scenes that stand out in the film, the majority of which don’t even happen on the college campus.

• The successful suicide attempt by Sean’s would-be paramour: Although I knew this was coming, I was still one of many that watched these scenes with my hands covering my eyes— it’s painful to watch, especially with my having lost a friend in a similar manner in the recent past. At this scene, several people walked out of the theater— I’m guessing it cut too close to the bone for some, pun unintended. Also resonant was a scene a few minutes later that showed who this heretofore-anonymous woman was, through flashbacks— this will be a bonus for repeat viewers who will try to spot her in the background in several earlier scenes.

• Paul’s journey to Boston and the subsequent dinner he has with his mother and their family’s friends, the Jareds: Richard Jared, whom Paul has had a previous relationship with, has an incredible falling out with his mother during dinner— Russell Sams makes a tremendous mark with the role, although it would have had an even greater effect had it been more muted. Ellis believed this scene didn’t work, but I would disagree. As I had said in my earlier column, “If there’s any moment in the book that is the train wreck’s point of impact, it is here. It makes you wince— we have all borne witness to moments like these.” It certainly lives up to that, although the scene directly preceding it, of Somerhalder and Sams dancing to George Michael’s “Faith,” seems vastly out of place.

• Harry and Paul visit the hospital: Harry, a friend of Paul’s, overdoses early in the film as Paul is getting ready for his first quasi-date with Sean (the latter doesn’t know it’s a date, he later doesn’t even remember agreeing to it). Paul’s swishy friends bring them to the nearby emergency room, where the doctor tells them that their friend is dead. Less than a minute later, Harry is up and about, while the doctor tries to convince them he is indeed dead. The set-up to this joke is amazingly done, especially the scenes in the car as they drive him to the HR, but what should have been the punchline falls flat. This was one of the best parts of the novel, but doesn’t work here due to a horrible casting choice of the physician attending to Harry.

• The introduction of Victor: Played by Kip Pardue, Victor spends the beginning of the film in Europe and is represented by only a picture on Lauren’s desk. But the introduction to the character, which follows him through his travails in Europe and was shot by Avary over a two-week period, is amazingly-done. Given that Avary has signed on to do Ellis’ “Glamorama,” of which Victor is the lead, this was an important choice for him to push for doing. It’s going to be hard to picture Pardue as a viable lead there, but this helped to set the table for that. He still comes across as a more athletic version of Matthew Lillard.

Among the leads, Van Der Beek turns in an amazing performance that was originally to have gone to Ryan Phillippe. In my earlier column, I had doubts as to how effective he can be here as Sean, a character whose older brother is the focus of American Psycho— I felt the common viewer would have trouble seeing him beyond the character of Dawson Leary of “Dawson’s Creek.” For me, this was settled within the first few minutes—this is a light’s-out performance. Because of the content of the film, I doubt he will receive an Oscar nomination, but this will help supplant him in the minds of casting directors as a viable choice for lead roles in the coming years. This is especially fortuitous as the television series comes to a close in May. Van Der Beek’s first glare into the camera showed it all—he is ready for the next step beyond Dawson. Ellis echoed something like that as well, calling his performance “exciting,” noting dourly a few minutes later that was a compliment he never thought he would make.

Somerhalder does a good job as well, although his role feels as those is has been reduced from that of the book— and he is fifth-billed in the film, behind Jessica Biel and Kip Pardue. He shows some great acting ability in the above scenes, as well as when he comes on to the Handsome Dunce early on in the film. I’m not as enthralled with Sossamon, who walks through her role here— there are a few glimmers of acting ability, but she pales next to Van Der Beek and Somerhalder. Biel, as Lauren’s roommate, gets some great lines, but is ill-utilized.

From there, it’s a mix of secondary characters, who perform to varying degrees. Thomas Ian Nicholas, Clair Kramer (best known as the fifth season villain Glory on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), Eric Stoltz, Swoosie Kurtz and Faye Dunaway all do well with their small roles, while Clifton Collins, Jr., does a disservice to the film as drug dealer Rupert. Distracting is perhaps the best way to put the use of Fred Savage as Marc, a student in heavy debt to Sean.

The film excels in its visuals—there are some wonderful shots here, especially in the third act’s scenes outdoors, which was filmed in Redlands, CA. I should also note the fantastic score. tomandandy, who I am not familiar with, do an amazing job here—this is probably the best cinematic score work I have heard since David Holmes’ work on Out of Sight. Their mix of thematic music and pop songs gives other depths to the film, and help to propel it along, especially in the opening minutes.

There is no discernable beginning and end to this film, and it suffers from this— the book begins in mid-sentence and the film ends in the same manner. The end result here, though, is a satisfying film that will reward its more patient viewers, and should still manage to attract a good-sized audience once it sees its official release on October 11. It will be hindered by opening on one of the most busy weekend in recent memory, with nine major releases fighting for screens and media attention (can you imagine what the “Life” section of USA Today will look like on that day with that many films to reviewr).

This will undoubtedly be one of my top ten films of the year—make sure to check it out, despite its flaws.

Rating: B+
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The Rules of Attraction

I have always found Bret Easton Ellis novels difficult to read and digest, as the subject matter tends to touch a nerve that few other modern writers hit.

In Ellis’ best-known and most controversial work, 1991’s “American Psycho,” readers squirmed as they were planted into the mind of Patrick Bateman, a mass murderer whose acts of sadism were matched only by the blind materialism, greed and name-dropping he employed as an Wall Street investment banker. He has two facades, like a common-day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – by day he focuses on mergers and acquisitions; at night, he performs murders and executions, to rephrase Ellis’ work.

Utilizing a detached writing style in his works, Ellis is able to get the reader both into the scene that he writes of and cut to the bone of the characters’ psyches, almost to an uncanny degree. In “Psycho,” Ellis has Bateman utter this memorable line: “There wasn’t a clear, identifiable emotion within me, except for greed, and, possibly, total disgust. I had all the characteristics of a human being – flesh, blood, skin, hair – but my depersonalization was so intense, had gone so deep, that the normal ability to feel compassion had been eradicated, the victim of a slow, purposeful eradication. I was simply imitating reality Ellis — endows this self-awareness in most of his works’ protagonists. Sometimes this takes the place of good personalization.

I remember queasily battling my way through “Psycho” just so I could be done with it, an experience I expect to have shared with other readers. At the same time, though, I couldn’t put it down if I had willed myself to. “The Rules of Attraction,” Ellis’ take on college life, is no different with the feeling it leaves the reader, akin to viewing a train wreck. And it is not a pretty one.

This is the second book Ellis had written, published four years before “American Psycho” was released on bookshelves alongside some cries of censorship. Although “Attraction” utilizes characters from Ellis’ first novel, “Less than Zero,” it also serves as the introductory point for several people who become the focus of his later works, like the aforementioned Patrick Bateman.

The Book
Beginning in the fall of 1985, “The Rules of Attraction” focuses on the love triangle between three students at Camden College. Like Ellis’ other works, it’s told in narrative form, as well as from multiple points of view, including several selections in French. There is no discernable beginning and end- this is emphasized by the book beginning in mid-sentence.

Readers are first introduced to Lauren Hynde in a flashback, as she loses her virginity her freshman year to two men after a Dressed to Get Screwed Party, and her understandable horror the morning after. A bit of a dreamer who is battling bouts of depression, she is a late-year student who still has not chosen a major. Another character makes the comment that “it seems to me that Lauren was just writing one long poem and I told her honestly one night- that a lot of it didn’t make sense to me.” What holds true for her non-proficiency at poetry is also true of Lauren. Ultimately, she yearns for Victor Ward (who would become the focus of Ellis’ “Glamorama”), who is backpacking across Europe without a thought in her direction.

The other two central characters aren’t given as interesting an introduction, and are more cookie-cutter characters. Sean Bateman (yep, this is Patrick’s younger brother) is built from the same mold as Lauren in his idiosyncrasies. He is also something of the campus Lothario– although many seem to qualify for this title– and deals drugs on the side. The last character readers are introduced to is Paul Denton. An intelligent and easily-irritated fellow, he used to go out with Lauren, but now has eyes for Sean. After a little build-up, Sean and Paul become involved with each other.

From this relationship emanates an odd twist: Paul is the one who talks about the day-to-day relationship while Sean almost completely avoids the subject; it seems he’s somewhat in denial. When he does talk about it on a peripheral level, there is a great deal that doesn’t synch. As Lauren says at one point in the novel, “Life is like a typographical error: we’re constantly writing and rewriting things over each other–that is true of this relationship. Though this is an interesting approach by Ellis, especially given that he came out of the closet himself right before the release of “Glamorama” (not that there’s anything wrong with it, of course), this is perhaps something that could have been expanded. It could have been met with some interesting results. This was what I found most interesting in the novel- how people perceive each other and how those perceptions are sometimes dead wrong. But, I digress.

The relationship between Sean and Paul quickly falls apart when Paul is forced to travel to Boston to meet with his mother “to talk” about his parents’ forthcoming divorce. Paul is missing a Dressed to Get Screwed party, where Sean quickly moves on to Lauren. Sean is being stalked throughout the first part of the novel, and he assumes through several rational coincidences, that Lauren is incredibly infatuated with him. She goes along with this and they wind up in bed together; she won’t look at him and begins to cry. Somehow through this they begin a relationship that ends in an aborted pregnancy and Sean leaving college for parts unknown.

Paul’s journey to Boston and the subsequent dinner he has with his mother and their family’s friends, the Jareds, is probably the most resonant of the novel. After going to Sarah Lawrence and through a punk phase, Richard Jared has an incredible falling out with his mother during dinner. If there’s any moment in the book that is the train wreck’s point of impact, it is here. It makes you wince. We have all borne witness to moments like these. And this quick intersection doesn’t even take place on the Camden College campus.

I wish I could say that Bret Easton Ellis used the book as a character study of the stereotypes that exist in college or the death of romance (as the trade paperback’s back cover implies), but that would be too kind. Ellis is mostly sowing wild oats here. I’m not a fan of Ellis’ narrative style, and I wouldn’t recommend it to those looking for a challenging book. Most notable is that you can see the jumping-off point for “American Psycho” here, just as you can glean the beginnings of “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy” from Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch.”

I don’t think you can pretend that the novel is anything more than shlock. But it’s interesting shlock. “Dead Poet’s Society” it is not, nor does it aspire to be.

The Film and its Players

Perusing the filmmaking journal found on Roger Avary’s site (linked below), I have come to believe that the director of “The Rules of Attraction” is really a strange chap. This makes him a superb choice. Most know him from his directorial work on the twisted but well-made “Killing Zoe.”

The first thing that worries me about this adaptation, however, is that he also takes a screenplay credit for this project. Based on what the script Avary has supplied to Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News, it sounds like he has chosen to amplify the novel’s carnal aspects. This is unfortunate. On the other side of the coin, Avary has assembled an intriguing cast for the pic, with most of the roles going to well-known actors and actresses who have become perhaps too closely associated with some of their past characters.

As Knowles wrote in July 2001, “[Avary’s] biggest problem to date is finding the people that embody the characters in Bret Easton Ellis’ insanely pitch black heartless evil book, and then have those people agree to play characters that completely slap everything that those actors and actresses have been portrayed as being in film thus far. This is the film for when the beautiful people are skinned alive and shown for being the shallow hateful spiteful asses that they can be.” He had said in an earlier report that the film will help “destroy those sugary fat free rice cakes of cinema.”

James Van Der Beek has the most at stake with his difficult role as Sean Bateman, after the long-delayed “Texas Rangers” flopped at box office amid horrible critical reviews. In addition, it was recently announced that he was entirely edited out of Todd Solondz’s upcoming “Storytelling.” I have doubts as to how effective he can be here as Bateman- the common viewer is going to see him as Dawson Leary of “Dawson’s Creek,” and I don’t think he will be able to get past that, in terms of acting ability. Will viewers, though, buy into him in this brutal roler This is the biggest question mark for the pic, and the thought process that begins from there brings only additional questions.

Shannyn Sossamon plays the role of Lauren- an interesting choice for her to make after her prudish role in Brian Helgeland’s “A Knight’s Tale.” A virtually-unknown lad by the name of Ian Somerhalder plays Paul. Thomas Ian Nicholas, Kevin Myers in “American Pie,” plays a secondary character named Mitchell, while Claire Kramer plays the role of his girlfriend Candice. Kramer is best known as the past season’s villain Glory on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Kip Pardue of “Driven” plays Victor, a part that sounds as if it has been vastly expanded from the novel.

Another question mark is Jessica Biel’s Lara, apparently a renumeration of roommate Judy in the book. Ain’t It Cool News describes the roll as “an absolute f*** doll in the film.” This is an odd move by Biel, who entered the public consciousness as the daughter Mary Camden in “7th Heaven,” then was heavily criticized for a scantily-clad spread she had done in Gear Magazine. She apologized for the shoot six months ago, right before she signed on to do this role. I guess there’s going to be another apology coming this spring from her once this film hits theater.

With the members of the cast already mentioned, Avary has done a great bit of conceptual casting here, as these are all actors that are known for their specific roles- mostly in teen-oriented product. The rest of the cast is also impressive, with Eric Stoltz, Swoosie Kurtz and Faye Dunaway. Fred Savage also has a part, for whatever that’s worth.

All this said, who the audience is for this filmr

“The Rules of Attraction” is going to be a tough sell for audiences, no matter how distributor Lion’s Gate Films looks at it.

Here are some questions I’ve been asking myself over the past month as I played with this column:

Has Lion’s Gate shot themselves in the foot by using actors best known for their wholesome roles, rather than going with unknownsr

How many of Van Der Beek’s fans will be old enough to pay for an opening-weekend ticket to this film, much less be interested in seeing him in this wayr

Does Lion’s Gate have the muscle to get this film on more than 1,250 screensr That was the largest amount of screens the distributor was able to muster for “American Psycho,” although that number quickly fell to three digits after the first two weeks.

Lions Gate will be forced to target the late teen/twenty-something market for this release, eschewing the WB audience that would be the most receptive audience. Unfortunately, they’re not going to have much of a choice on this. From reading the various AICN pieces (including Quint’s recent set-visit puff piece here) and Avary’s Journal, the film is certainly not going to receive a PG-13 rating, although I doubt Avary was shooting for this when he started playing with the script.

To the other extreme, I have a feeling Lion’s Gate and Avary is going to be butting heads with Jack Valenti and the Motion Picture Association of America on even getting that R rating. They’ll probably have to re-cut some scenes. Even the R-rating is not insignificant in and of itself; there are now tighter restrictions on where their distributors can advertise. MTV’s Total Request Live is out for sure, as an example. Some of the ad buys that make the most sense cannot happen.

I have gotten some e-mail already saying how awful the casting is; in some ways, I think it’s brilliant—the art of conceptual casting is a tough one, and can often work against a studio in the bottom line. Not sure if it’s going to work in this scenario, but I like the chances Avary is taking.

I think we’ll have a better idea of how this film will be positioned once the first official trailer is released for this September film; these unanswerable questions have to lie dormant for now. I have racheted up my expectations for the film, though, based on the great image Lion’s Gate has released of Van Der Beek (linked above in the AICN article), which was released right before Christmas. With this picture, Van Der Beek truly does look like Bateman/Bale’s sibling.

But let’s set the bar for success, because I have a tendency to put the cart before the horse: I don’t see this doing much better than the $15 million “American Psycho” made in its three months at the box office. This number mostly has to do with the number of screens Lions Gate can secure for the film, not a reflection of being able to market edgy fare, as they have shown a great aptitude with the recent “Monster’s Ball.” But when films from major distributors often open on close to 3,000 screens or more, it’s harder for pictures from smaller studios (like Lion’s Gate) to secure screens and, consequently, box office.

Not that $15 million is an insignificant sum, as I think it’s important to note that “American Psycho” was a success in it’s own right. In some ways, “American Psycho” is a brilliant movie because of its focus on the peripheral levels of the novel (ie. the satire rather than the violence). This movie might bring in the same type of crowd that “Psycho” did, but it’s going to be tough to get the level of attention that “Psycho” achieved in the press—which is where Lion’s Gate does its best work, rather than as paid advertising. Their media relations team is going to have to work hard to help the studio bring in moviegoers.

My gut instinct on achieving more than a sum of $15 – 20 million, though, is this: No way, no how; though I reserve the right to change this view. The ghosts of “crazy/beautiful” and “O” tell me that much.

Whatever happens, though, it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out in the months ahead.

Rating: B+
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