Joan Rivers, at 77, remains one of the hardest-working comedians in the business. She performs more than 200 stand-up gigs each year. Last year, she starred in the second season of NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice – and to no one’s surprise was the winner. She sells jewelry on cable TV. And she is front and center in Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg’s fascinating new documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.
Walk into the adult-friendly playground that is the Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, and the first thing that strikes you is the lavish decorations – a life-size replica of Ken’s decadent dollhouse from Toy Story 3, complete with a working elevator, rising from the lobby’s handsome, light-blond hardwood floor as if in tribute to the movie and its detail-obsessed creators.
The best that can be said of The Karate Kid, a bloated but diverting remake of the 1984 original, is that most of its two-and-a-half hour running time reflects a near-flawless reprise. The names and faces have changed, as has the setting, with China replacing sunny Southern California. But the essence of the story hasn’t changed an iota.
Now that Hollywood has exhausted most of the best-known ’70s TV series, directors like Joe Carnahan, 41, can sink their teeth into big-screen adaptations of the shows they grew up with – in this case, Stephen Cannell and Frank Lupo’s family-friendly ’80s fantasy about a team of noble vigilantes-for-hire, framed for robbing a Hanoi bank during the Vietnam War.
Baghdad replaces Hanoi in Carnahan’s flashy update, which finds the fighting foursome wrongfully blamed for stealing U.S. Treasury minting plates, but little else has changed.
"You expect us to believe in fairy tales?” It’s the most telling question posed in Neil Jordan’s winsome fable about an Irish fisherman who catches a pale young beauty in his net, and the answer is yes. Jordan, whose last fantasy, The Brave One (2007), was a sleazy celebration of vigilantism masquerading as something more, returns here asking us to suspend disbelief, and this time we’re happy to comply.
If you’re expecting Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work to showcase her famously blue stand-up routines – a testament, perhaps, to the undiminished ferocity she still brings to the stage at 77 – you’ve got another think coming.
That’s not to say Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg’s illuminating documentary, which closed the San Francisco Film Festival in May, isn’t funny. But the story it tells, of a comedy workaholic struggling to stay at the top of her profession, is also undeniably bittersweet.
It sounds like the premise of a thousand monster movies: Brilliant but reckless scientists perform an ill-advised experiment, unleashing into the world a deadly beast. Havoc reigns. People die. Mankind once again pays the ultimate price for trying to play God.
The difference, in Vincenzo Natali’s chilling, cerebral Splice, is that the premise is handled with unusual restraint. Rather than embracing the sensational, Natali, who co-wrote the original story, seems more interested in the human drama that unfolds as two genetic engineers, played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, form a precarious bond with the creature their human-DNA experiment has produced.
I have not yet seen Wall Street 2, Oliver Stone’s forthcoming sequel to the 1987 drama that introduced us to Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko, the reptilian stock-market overlord who coined the unofficial ’80s motto, “Greed is good.” But I cannot imagine a more fitting coda to Gekko’s saga than Brian Koppelman’s story of a down-on-his-luck car dealer nosediving to the nadir of a midlife crisis.
Aldous Snow is living the rock ’n’ roll nightmare, stuck on the downside of a career sabotaged by canceled gigs, bubble-brained vanity projects and addiction. He’s blazing a path to the front page of the tabloids, his days and nights a blur of sex and drugs, and it’s not just his music that’s suffering.
Enter Aaron Green, the junior record exec and diehard fan determined to resurrect Snow’s career – and jumpstart his own – by convincing the world’s most decadent rocker to revisit the stage that made him a star, at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Snow, now a laughable self-parody, embraces the plan, but following through is last on his list of priorities.
Here’s the dilemma. On the one hand, Prince of Persia is everything you’d expect from a sprawling, two-hour fantasy inspired by a video game: frivolous and predictable, a collection of high-wire set pieces loosely strung together in a convoluted story.
On the other, it is handsomely shot and surprisingly ambitious, with an impressive cast led by a bulked-up Jake Gyllenhaal, whose scrappy hero recalls a better-humored Hamlet, and Ben Kingsley as his beguiling mentor. And there’s the rub.