Category Archives: Now Showing

ENTOURAGE

Producer:  Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson and Doug Ellin
Director:  Doug Ellin
Writer:  Doug Ellin
Stars:  Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferraram Jeremy Piven, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Perrey Reeves, Rex Lee, Billy Bob Thornton, Haley Joel Osment, Emily Ratajkowski and Ronda Rousey
Studio:  Warner Bros. Pictures

C-

It took fans of HBO’s “Sex and the City” two feature follow-ups to the series to realize that their residual affection for the program might have been misplaced. Perhaps this single film will be enough to convince those who regretted the cancellation of “Entourage” that it deserved to disappear and shouldn’t have been resuscitated.

Or maybe not. The simple revival of a program nostalgically remembered may well be enough for die-hard devotees. And from the observations of those who knew the series well, it appears that the picture does absolutely nothing new, merely repeating the show’s formula endlessly to reach feature length. So if that’s enough for you, go for it. But many might think it a pity that creator and writer-director Doug Ellin didn’t take the opportunity to attempt something a little different or expand on what premium cable offered for eight seasons. Instead his picture is just loud, boorish frat-boy wish-fulfillment stuff, festooned with wink-wink celebrity cameos, when it could have been the stinging Hollywood satire the business deserves.

The picture’s set-up is that manic agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) has come out of a brief retirement to head a troubled studio, and as his first big decision has not only inked his erstwhile star client Vince Chase (Adrian Grenier) to star in a hundred-million dollar modernization of the Jekyll and Hyde story, but also given in to Vince’s request to direct the movie. Now, however, the picture has gone repeatedly over budget, and Vince still needs more money to polish it. That forces Ari, who hasn’t seen a frame yet, to approach their outside investor, Texas entrepreneur Larsen McCredle (Billy Bob Thornton), for another infusion of cash. McCredle, a grim, menacing type, sends his inept but aggressive son Travis (Haley Joel Osment) to California to see the current cut of the movie before committing himself—and the kid’s clueless insistence on major edits threatens to derail the entire project.

All this is set against the private lives of the major characters, whose relationships are recapitulated in summary form through a TMZ-style Piers Morgan TV feature on “Hyde” at the movie’s beginning. Ari is trying to balance his studio work with his marriage to Melissa (Perrey Reeves). Having ended his marriage after a mere nine days, Vince takes up with model-turned actress Emily Ratajkowski. Childhood friend turned driver, but now rich tequila magnate Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) pursues martial-arts fighter Ronda Rousey. Eric (Kevin Connolly), the former pizza guy who’s now Vince’s manager (and “Hyde” producer), is acting the part of good-father-to-be with his pregnant former girlfriend Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) while juggling time in the sack with a couple of other nubile babes. And Vince’s ever-raunchy doofus half-brother Johnny (Kevin Dillon), aka “Drama,” is still trying to jump-start his moribund acting career, which includes the proverbial “small but pivotal” role Vince has given him in “Hyde.”

It’s impossible to care about any of these personal matters (calling any of them “romances” would be giving them entirely too much credit). But one of them turns out—rather incredibly—to be central to the whole brouhaha over redoing “Hyde” (which, if done, would cut Johnny from the film). And after all the supposedly edgy bits of business about Hollywood’s preening nastiness (no fewer than thirty people show up for cameos, many of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them variety, though a few—Gary Busey, Liam Neeson, producer Mark Wahlberg, Armie Hammer—run longer) the picture ends sappily. Not so much because of the final revelations about “Hyde” (which on the basis of the clip we finally see, looks utterly atrocious but goes on to become a smash at the boxoffice and the Golden Globes)—which is certainly intended as a rude send-up of Hollywood cliché—but because of that most sloppily saccharine of climactic devices, the birth of a child that brings everyone together. That, unfortunately, appears to be seriously meant.

There are a few saving elements to the picture. Piven’s over-the-top performance as Gold remains the best reason for “Entourage” to exist at all, and the script gives him plenty of opportunities to rant, though the conversations between him and ex-assistant Lloyd (Rex Lee) are obvious add-ons that don’t bring much beyond mild homophobia. Thornton gets the chance to offer some dark notes reminiscent of his turn in the “Fargo” TV mini-series. And Osment, of all people, invests some smarmy energy in the proceedings as a blundering guy everybody looks down on who decides to get even.

Or perhaps Thornton and Osment stand out simply because they’re new. The four bros—Grenier, Connolly, Ferrara and Dillon—come across as a mite tired, though Dillon differs from the other three in being a tad repulsive, too. The women don’t get much to do, though Rousey has a chance to show off her physical prowess in a silly cage match with Ferrara. Lee overdoes the swish, playing at a level more suited to the small screen than a large one.

That’s true of the technical aspects of the picture as well; it will probably look better when shown a few months hence on the series’ old home HBO than it does in the theatre, where the garishness is oppressive (Chase Harlan was production designer and Steven Fierberg the cinematographer) and the background music blares horribly (Scott Vener was the supervisor). (The small screen will also reduce the unrealistic look of the supposedly Texan scenes, which go so far as to include a close-up of a rattlesnake for the sake of “authenticity.”) Jeff Groth’s editing can’t hide the lumpy, episodic nature of the narrative, which stumbles along as it shifts from one plot thread to another and, despite all the visual pizzazz, lacks energy.

One expects that among recently resurrected TV programs “Entourage” will wind up resembling “Veronica Mars” more than “Sex and the City” in terms of audience response. At least one shouldn’t expect “Entourage 2.”

SAINT LAURENT

Producer:  Eric Altmayer and Nicolas Altmayer
Director:  Bertrand Bonello
Writer:  Thomas Bidegain and Bertrand Bonello
Stars: Gaspard Ulliel, Jeremie Renier, Louis Garrel, Helmut Berger, Aymeline Valade, Brady Corbet, Lea Seydoux, Amira Casir, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Jasmine Trinca and Travis Kerschen 
Studio:  Sony Pictures Classics

C

The world of haute couture has been getting a lot of attention on the screen lately, mostly in documentaries, but occasionally in non-fiction form. Yves Saint Laurent, the French designer whose name remains a celebrated brand, has actually gotten the biographical treatment twice recently, first in Jalil Lespert’s “Yves Saint Laurent” with Pierre Niney, which quickly came and went last year, and now in Bertrand Bonello’s “Saint Laurent.” Since excess seems at the heart of the business in which he operated (as well as the way he chose to live his life), the cinematic doubling may be appropriate—and so might the epic running-time of Bonello’s film, which goes on for two-and-a-half hours. But it certainly hasn’t resulted in anything terribly revelatory. Of course, given the fact that couture has everything to do with surface rather than substance, the emptiness of “Saint Laurent” might be an apt commentary on the man. But unless you’re willing to be satisfied with a handsome exterior, you won’t find Bonello’s film very involving, except as a purely visual exercise.

The picture doesn’t provide a full biography—it concentrates on a sliver of Saint Laurent’s life, the years between 1967 and 1976, though it does offer a few allusions to his earlier experiences and adds a substantial segment portraying the days immediately preceding his death in 2008. It opens with a dissipated Saint Laurent (Gabriel Ulliel) checking into a Paris hotel under an assumed name in 1974 and phoning a reporter for a warts-and-all interview (which his partner, the manager of their firm, will seek to squash). Presumably what follows is the substance of what he told the journalist. The film flashes back to 1967, showing Saint Laurent and his staff preparing the collection for the fashion house he’d founded with Pierre Berge (Jeremie Renier) some years earlier. (There’s no mention of his childhood in Algeria or his stint at the house of Dior, though in the introductory interview he does mention his brief period of military service and the psychological turmoil it caused.)

In fashion terms the film then proceeds chronologically through Saint Laurent’s groundbreaking 1976 collection, with its Moroccan overtones, accompanied by occasional visual references to contemporary historical events, like the 1968 Paris riots, to provide context. Throughout there are cuts to Berge’s management of the company, many involving negotiations with the firm’s American partner (Brady Corbet), who at one point objects to a perfume bearing the name of a drug (by this time the suggested intimacy between Saint Laurent and Berge has apparently morphed into something more businesslike), while Yves indulges his creative side and what might be termed his more personal interests.

Within this context Bonello and co-writer Thomas Bidegain insert lots of material portraying Saint Laurent’s flamboyantly hedonistic lifestyle, starting with his interest—primarily artistic, it would seem, with some female models but then delving in earnest into his relationship with nobleman Jacques de Bauscher (Louis Garrel), whose debauchery, at least as presented here, knew no bounds. There are innumerable scenes of them in riotously colorful clubs (in fact they meet in one, in a sequence that has them swooning over one another through the gyrating limbs of dancers), episodes that show them cruising through alleyways and parks, and more intimate moments, filled with sexual activity and drug use. (One result of the latter is the death of Saint Laurent’s beloved dog Moujik, which he will thereafter replace at regular intervals with a succession of canines that are identical copies.)

Interspersed with all this are scenes of the elderly Saint Laurent (Helmut Berger) puttering about his opulent apartment as a valet caters to his every whim and a celebratory exhibition is prepared in his honor. These are juxtaposed, sometimes in split-screen style, with a recreation of the presentation of the groundbreaking 1976 collection. The film ends with newspapermen bickering over the best headline to announce his death in 2008.

Bonello covers all this is glossy style, with Ulliel slinking through the proceedings with an air of surrealistic detachment even when hallucinating under the influence of drugs. Saint Laurent is constantly at the center of things, even when he’s offstage as Berge, played with businesslike straightforwardness by Renier, handles the nuts and bolts of the operation. Garrel, on the other hand, becomes a preening model of decadence as the theatrically over-the-top Bauscher. The rest of the cast is perfectly adequate, though most are used more for looks than dramatic effect. Berger, meanwhile, captures the essence of a man wasted by excess, though the physical resemblance to Ulliel is nil.

What “Saint Laurent” possesses in spades is style, with Katia Wyszkopf’s production design combining with Josee Deshaies’ lustrous cinematography to remarkable effect. Mention must also be made of Anais Romand’s costume design, which mimics Saint Laurent’s creations since permission wasn’t granted to use the originals. An eclectic music score, ranging from classical tidbits to pop tunes, gives the visuals even more oomph, as if any were needed.

As a sumptuous surface treatment of the man who for a time seemed to embody high fashion in all its glitzy excess, “Saint Laurent” does the job. But anyone looking for a Rosebud to explain his combination of creativity and self-destructiveness won’t find it here.