Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Christmas Tale (Un Conte de Noel)

Mathieu Amalric teeters on the edge in "A Christmas Tale." He plays Henri, the son of Junon (Catherine Deneuve) and Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon), and the brother of Elizabeth (Anne Consigny, who played eye-stenographer for Almaric in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") and Ivan (Melvil Poupaud), and the cousin of Simon (Laurent Capelluto). These family members and their spouses and dates all come together for Christmas in Bordeaux. Henri has been cast out from the family for a few years by Elizabeth, and now he's back at the gathering.

Also coinciding: Junon needs a bone marrow transplant to survive and only two people in the family have the right blood type: Henri and Elizabeth's son, Paul (Emile Berling). This causes quite a bit of tension. Another subplot: a love triangle that includes Ivan, Simon, and Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni, who voiced for Marjane later on in "Persepolis"), Ivan's wife but really a lover of Simon. All of these plots boil over in the well-orchestrated second and third acts of "A Christmas Tale." But the first half is insanity, and it really helps to have all the characters in the same room as opposed to scattered all over France. In the beginning, we are given some tension: we find out that the brother of Elizabeth, Henri, and Ivan, Joseph died at 6 years old. This is the foundation for a family on the edge of a breakdown.

Amalric does his part for the second year in a row, acting his best since his great performance in "The Diving Bell" (which I crowned the best performance by a lead actor). This year has been one of those big movie years for him: he's been in a lot of movies in 2008, most notably this film, "A Secret," and "Quantum of Solace." I haven't seen "A Secret," but I have seen "Q of S" which I believe he was a less than stellar bad guy. In this film, though, he puts in his all, and he helps add interest to a hard-to-follow plot. The film definitely thanked him, providing, as I said, two good rear acts to pull together into a very good foreign film, a possible nominee for Best Foreign Film, and one risky film that has earned an odd place in my heart. A-

The film has some sexual content, some language, and some disturbing images. Not for children.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Brad Pitt: How Is He Being Considered for Best Actor?

Brad Pitt does play Benjamin Button in "The Curious Case..." for at least 30 minutes. But to say that he "struggled" through the part at every age is a lie. He is assisted by Peter Donald Badalamenti II, Robert Towers, Tom Everett, Spencer Daniels, Chandler Canterbury, and Charles Henry Wyson. Six actors help Brad Pitt in this part. I found Pitt's short screen time less than convincing to say the least, and even if he was playing every single age of Benjamin, he would not have been any more impressive. I don't understand how he's overshadowing Sean Penn, Mickey Rourke, and Josh Brolin here. He's just being considered on his status as a model here.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Fall

"The Fall" relies on its visuals heavily, and its a great advantage that these images are fantastic. We are able to see jaw-dropping shots of spectacular nature: deserts, grasslands, and also grand structures. This is all courtesy of Tarsem, a genius of stylization, who creates a world within his second feature film (his first being "The Cell"). Actually, this whole spectacle is dreamed up by paralyzed stuntman Roy (Lee Pace), who meets a girl named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) at the hospital that he resides in. He makes a story as vehicle to get her to do a special task for him, an act of manipulation, yes, but Roy is desperate, because he is depressed because now he cannot walk and he wants to die. In his story, there are five characters, plus one villain (Governor Odious, played by Daniel Caltagirone): Otto Benga (Marcus Wesley), the Indian (Jeetu Verma), explosives expert Luigi (Robin Smith), Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), and the Blue Bandit (also Pace/Emil Hostina). Alexandria's imagination is amazing stuff: we are showed a number of wowing scenes and fabulous scenery, all encompassed in "The Fall." Speaking of Alexandira, Untaru delivers a magnificent performance here, definitely one of the best children actors of our generation. This is not the best film of the year: it sort of loses steam towards the ending. But it really is unique, mind-blowing, and visually mesmerizing. A-

The Fall has some brief, gory violence and a possibly disturbing animated sequence.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

F. Scott Fitzgerald's story "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" gets put on the screen in an adaptation by David Fincher, the director of crazy thrillers like "The Game" (and most famously, the cult classic "Fight Club"). The film is epic, yes, but it really is in the wrong hands. The film has a score of interesting ideas. The thing is, they are trapped in a cliche-populated script by Eric Roth. Guess what he wrote: "Forrest Gump." Not such an original comparison; I've read an Answer Man column as well as an IMDB post about it (which got me thinking), but it has to be said. Roth's no stranger to the genre of Southern "folk lore." The movie drifts way closer to its predecessor than it should: there's a major connection in the sea in both movies, and the accents of Button and Gump are nearly identical. "Gump" is a better film in many ways.

"Button"'s main flaw is its binding: the story is interspersed with Daisy (Cate Blanchett) at her deathbed with her daughter reading Benjamin Button's diary. The setting is New Orleans during 2005, when the biggest natural disaster in U.S. history swept through. This is a problem because without this the film would be seamless and graceful. Julia Ormond's stilted acting makes this the absolute lowlight of the movie. The story itself works well on certain levels: Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt, very miscast, with a couple of other actors playing him earlier on) is born as an old man, and ages backwards. All this is able to believed by the magic of cinema. The young/old Button is dropped off at the home of Queenie (Taraji P. Henson of "Hustle and Flow", who's very good), who runs a halfway home. She is the perfect mother for Benjamin, and she helps him into the world quite well. While he's growing up here, he meets Daisy at a party. She is his age (6 years younger, we find out later), but she looks her age. Their love affair is broken up mostly because of his age and also his job: tugboatsman.

He meets Elizabeth Abbott (Tilda Swinton) in Russia on the job, and he has an affair with her that ends abruptly with a note: "It was nice to meet you." It reminded me of "Say Anything," where John Cusack is heartbroken: "I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen." He gets back together with Daisy eventually, but she's off dancing at the Majestic theater, "living" the dream of the Wheelers of "Revolutionary Road." Then, while in Paris performing, her leg gets crushed and she can dance no more. She has Benjamin, though. The script is filled with these cliche epiphanies that together state "everyone's not perfect." Also employed is Forrest Gump's mentality: I remember his comment about Abbie Hoffman ("The man liked to swear a lot.") These things really don't help the movie; they actually make the movie predictable. What twists there were quite obvious to me. This also could have been helped.

The movie also had a tendency to jump at having images instead of words. One character describes himself being struck by lightning, and Abbott describes swimming the English Channel. There was a scene in "Rachel Getting Married," where Anne Hathaway described herself, drugged, driving her younger brother into the water and killing him. This scene had to be one of the most effective of the year, and a mini-movie would have lessened its impact. The lightning scenes are played for laughs, and although the rest of the audience thought they were great, I couldn't have disagreed more. I believe that Fincher was a bad choice in many ways for this gig, especially because he's innovative in his own way, and his vision here clashed with an excellent opportunity. The story's practically not able to be brought to the big screen, but it could with the right push and pull. Just not Fincher's. C+

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has a scene of non-graphic violence, some brief sexuality, and some language.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Through the "magic" of digital effects, we are handed "Raiders of the Lost Ark," but repackaged as a disappointing rip-off. The film is horrendously diagrammed by the once creative mind of Steven Spielberg, which coasts down a plot where ends don't often meet, and when they do, they are way too obvious. This may not be your mother's Indiana Jones, but I appreciated the movie one generation back, the one that was original, well-done, and perfectly action-packed. This one very speedily cooks towards an awful ending, one in which there are punchlines aplenty. I just failed to see the plot there. There is one sequence that did help the movie save a tiny bit of face, and that was the Yale motorcycle chase. That was very well done, scenery-dropping, exhilarating fun. The movie it was in wasn't. Well, on with this review. Harrison Ford obviously checks in as Indiana nee Henry Jones, Jr, an action hero who is very truth telling: he is a parallel with Ford. Well, Indiana now is fighting in the Cold War, and trying to find a skull in some South American ancient tomb, so on, so on. We can see that Spielberg has gone on autopilot from the beginning, inserting Soviets for Nazis, but not actually changing much else. He does, though, introduce a younger character, Mutt Williams (Shia Lebeouf), typical motor-greaser who crosses paths with Indiana, and tells him that his mom has been chased by the Soviets and Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett, usually very good, this time going through the motions). This sets up an emotional macguffin: Mutt is Indiana's son! So that means that Karen Allen makes an appearance as Marion Ravenwood, but I really think it was a bad idea. From her announcing of the family tie, the film heads in a downward spiral, often branching off of the relationship, but mostly just goofing around with CGI and Shia Lebeouf swinging like a madman through trees. We also get to see John Hurt looking gaunt for the umpteenth time, as Ox Oxley, the man who knows a lot about the crystal skull. The crystal skull controls minds, and needs to be returned to the cavern where it originally lay. Speaking of all this returning, I believe the script ought to have been returned to Spielberg's desk with a note: Why are we aiming for a grand slam? C-

Indiana Jones 4 has one disturbing scene, and also some action violence.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Gus Van Sant did the amazing in 2008: he made two great, worthwhile films. It doesn't sound like such a banner year, but you really don't know exactly how big it is. The first was a stylistic guilt drama called "Paranoid Park," and the second, a better film in a lot of aspects, was "Milk." Van Sant played his cards very well. This release doesn't only work as some premium Oscar bait, but also to help repeal the anguishing hatred of gays behind Prop 8, California's way of shutting gays out of having a good, married life. Here, Van Sant takes us back to the 70's, from 1970 to 1978, and shows us a world full of the same stereotyping and hatred, in San Francisco, where Harvey Milk ran for city supervisor. Van Sant's work is not only a retro slice of life picture, but also a activist piece, where the director captures the right tone. And who better to play Milk than Sean Penn, versatile actor who has tackled many parts, an Oscar winner and a four-time Best Actor nominee, and the perfect choice for this character, who he goes at full speed ahead, in such a way where the line between Penn and Milk starts to blur. Penn is not just fantastic in the role: he is mesmerizing. The supporting work is very well done also: Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones, a man who can organize massive crowds, Diego Luna and James Franco as two of Milk's lovers, Alison Pill as Anne Kronenberg, the woman who helps along Milk's campaign, and, most importantly, Josh Brolin as Dan White, who goes from pseudo-friendly to homicidal over the course of the film, in a performance that's taut, raging, and angering, that's not as good as his work in "W." as Bushie, but still a role worth noting in many ways. But I give credit to Van Sant here the most, crafting a film lover's film, one that melds archival footage so seamlessly, it is wowing. This film shows you Harvey Milk's story, and even though I don't think it is the best film of the year, it is in my mind the most important. I urge you to see this film. A

Milk has some brief sexual content, disturbing images (one of a hanging), and some language.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Four actors and great direction by Mike Nichols turn Edward Albee's play into a cinematic masterpiece, one of the most shattering, depressing, and exhausting films of our time. The movie revolves around a after-party social that goes massively awry, with humiliation and insanity in huge quantities. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, equally good, play couple George and Martha, who have an odd relationship full of horrible bickering. When another couple, Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis), show up for the wildest of nights. Everyone eventually gets drunk, and that reveals a lot of family history between the four that they wouldn't have given out with no drinks around. This very early on spirals out of control, and the party may have destroyed all the relationships by the end of the party. It is an excellent film, horrifying, witty, and the darkest and highest of black comedies. Both of the women won Oscars, and I think just Taylor should have, because although Dennis is pretty good, she is not a worthy second win. If there had to be two, it should have been Burton and Taylor. But the strangest thing is what's happened to Mike Nichols over the course of 40 years. His first film was top-notch, and his last film "Charlie Wilson's War," will be forgotten. At least he got a great start, and an inclusion on the AFI list not once, but twice (both this film and "The Graduate" made the current list). This film, though, is master class, one of the best adaptations of a play of all-time. A

Who's Afraid... is disturbing. Trust me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Not One Less

"Not One Less" is a film of mixed proportions: it bathes in elegance and filth at the same time, and with moderate success. I enjoyed the film, but I do believe the only great scene in the film was the final scene involving kids coloring chalk on a chalkboard. But still I think: the film is very well done. It is the story of young substitute teacher Minzhi Wei (she plays herself, which I thought was a nice touch) and how she supports herself and teacher Gao (himself) as he goes away to tend to his mother. She is not a great teacher, not at all, in fact, but she's not a professional. She's loyal, but, in some ways, to her welfare: she must have every child that she started out with when Gao gets back, or else she will not receive a bonus ten yuan. Her loyalty is put to the test when Huike Zhang, a young troublemaking student, leaves to go get money. She goes after him, making her children move bricks to help her get fare, and even that won't work. She eventually hitchhikes there, and experiences the differences between small-town and citywide China. Her story touches so many that she gets enough money to build a bigger school, in a very inspiring ending. But the film struggles somewhat to hold it all together. Yimou Zhang, director of "Raise the Red Lantern," does a great job with the cinematography and score, but the writing and acting rely too much on reality to prosper on their own. If "Not One Less," was a documentary, it could work a lot better, but it pulls the more fictional aspects together as a feature film, some little details that couldn't be grasped in reality's films. The thing is that "Not One Less" is truly amazing, but I mean that more about the story than the movie. B

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Sergei Bodrov shows the rise to power of Genghis Khan in the Kazakhstan film "Mongol," visually impressive and depressing, pretty well acted, and well directed. It's a very grand spectacle, as both a foreign film and as a sort of short epic, historical and also quite personal. Also, it's quite violent and shattering. I was left really in need of some cheering up after this film. I was also left with a typical ending of a film with a sequel (well, actually, two sequels coming soon): no proper ending to suit. That added to my already steady qualms about the film. Tadanobu Asano, who I've learned from IMDB is a supposed cross between Johnny Depp and Toshiro Mifune, plays Temudjin, the man who would eventually become Genghis Khan. He's mistreated quite a bit in his life, always on the run, three times imprisoned, and he lost his father at age 9, where the film begins. In the beginning, he picks his bride, Borte. He tells her he will come back in 5 years, but he in fact comes back later. He still gets to marry her, but he soon loses her to the clutches of the angered man who Temudjin's father stole Temudjin's mother from. As a result, he asks for help from his acquaintance that he made his blood brother, Jamukha (Honglei Sun), to start a war over his wife. This is one of the many battles in the film, which are some of the weakest parts of the film, what with too much over-the-top action and blood spurting that doesn't look so realistic. When "Mongol" in fact succeeds is in the moments of contemplative landscape that are offered quite regularly by Bodrov here, and they set the scene: no lack of bleak set pieces to depress, and a rare smattering of green pieces to delight us for a little bit. When the film veers into its violent moments, the screen shakes with cruelty, but the audience is left only depressed and a little bit disturbed. But really, the hits outnumber the misses on the most part, and the cinematography makes you forget most of the other problems. B+

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Family Man

Nicolas Cage is one in a million when it comes to playing nervous guys. He easily can become a ball of nerves, like in "Matchstick Men" or this film, Brett Ratner's homage to the classic Christmas drama "It's a Wonderful Life." Nic Cage plays Jack Campbell, an investment broker who came oh so close to marrying Kate (Tea Leoni), but instead decided to go to Wall Street. Hence, guardian angel Cash (Don Cheadle) sends him into an alternative universe where he did marry Kate. To his at first horrifying dismay, he is now a tire salesman, he has kids, and he bowls with his friends, especially Arnie (Brett Ratner regular Jeremy Piven). This is all set up so that Jack realizes how much he could have had. Cue ending where he tries to find Kate. "The Family Man" is smart, funny, and a Thanksgiving favorite (for what reason I don't know). The chemistry between Cage and Leoni is very, very taut and well-done. But its real success sprouts from the comedy, especially when Cage shuns suburbia with the outburst on funnel cake, and also, when he finds a bottle of liquor in his desk, he remarks "I must of needed this every single day." Priceless. But the movie unfortunately stumbles quite a bit. It's also aimed slightly more at kids and adults than it should be. All jokes pertaining to Jack and his daughter were not very funny at all. Plus, during the end, during his big meeting with his past love, he actually thinks that he can have kids that he had in a dream. The exact same kids. Not likely. But getting beyond small problems and overall desperation to appeal to a wide audience, "The Family Man" really works, as it is a throwback to the great natures of the old filmmaking days. B

The Incredibles

Most Pixar films have been made better by a single performance. In "Ratatouille," it was Peter O'Toole as critic Anton Ego, and in "The Incredibles," it is Craig T. Nelson as Bob Parr, formerly Mr. Incredible. The genius of his performance is a man whose ambitions are too big for the small cubicle, car, or shirt (take your pick) he is stuffed into. But he is not your normal suburbanite. He's a man truly having nostalgia: he was a superhero, but he was relocated to suburbia. As was his wife Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) and his kids, Dashiell (Spencer Fox) and Violet (Sarah Vowell). It is a family of supers. So, when Mr. Incredible gets fired from his job after he launches his boss (Wallace Shaun) a locker, he gets the chance to go back to the good old days and gets to help debunk a learning robot. But he soon finds this is the scheme of his biggest fan, turned bitter after Mr. Incredible wouldn't let him be his sidekick. He is name is now Syndrome, and he used to be Buddy Pine. The actor playing him, Kevin Smith regular Jason Lee, seems to have a blast in his ridiculous villanous role. His scheme: to make himself look super by staging and then fixing disasters. Also, he wants to make everyone a superhero, so then, to quote him "no one would be [super]." This film's set-up feels great, but its execution suffers, as it is targeted at both adults and children, so the jokes are aimed at both, 75%-80% of them at the younger ones. What I am getting at is that Bob Parr's size and other features tend to be less exaggerated later on then earlier. The film has a good ending, but the film isn't the comedic powerhouse it could be. B+

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I've Loved You So Long

Kristin Scott-Thomas has been having a great year in 2008. The first production I saw her in was Anton Chekov's "The Seagull," on Broadway. She played Arkadina, Konstantin's dramatic and troublemaking mother, in such a fine performance that I was blown away and was looking for more. I got more of the same greatness in "I've Loved You So Long," where Scott-Thomas sticks to her chops and pulls off a magnificent acting job as Juliette, fresh out of prison after 15 years, and into the home of her sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein). She moves in for a while to adjust to real life again, life outside of jail. We soon find out her crime, and even later, how and why she did it, but it would spoil most of the film to tell about. To describe Juliette, I would say quiet, sad, and gruff. He sister: exactly the opposite. I also note that this is a cinematic year for black sheep in families: Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married" and Scott-Thomas in this primarily. Anyways, Juliette slowly but surely adjusts and slowly but surely bonds with Lea's adopted daughters from Vietnam, P'tit Lys (Lise Segur) and Emilia (Lily-Rose), primarily P'tit Lys, as she somehow has both a relationship as a mother and sister figure. We are like P'tit Lys: the plot unravels for us just as it does for her. We find out a little faster, though. There is not much else to describe here: the film is basically just about Juliette and Scott-Thomas' comeback as an actress. The film's also about the acceptance of a prisoner back into society, and it gets deeper than just what crime they committed, saying that one who commits a crime shouldn't just be pinned a terrible person just because of what they did. As for how good the film is, there is a big hole where the depth should be. There is not enough information on the characters: a character's death is quizzical, with no information as to why they passed away. The film itself is too climactic and is also not climactic enough: its final scene is way too heavy-handed, while its other scenes sometimes just don't have enough purpose here. The score consists of a few notes played over and over and over again. Maddening. Also, against Scott-Thomas, although Marion Cotilliard picked up Best Actress last year for "La Vie En Rose," the Academy doesn't usually reward foreign films. The reason Cotilliard got a statue was because she played a pop icon who sang, as opposed to the contemplative fictional role where Scott-Thomas acts. Plus, the performance might take back seat to such a great performance by Melissa Leo in "Frozen River," the best performance of the year so far. Scott-Thomas, though, is fabulous, transcending languages. B

I've Loved You So Long has an unsettling twist that is worthy of a PG-13 rating.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Warren Beatty's 1981 film "Reds" is arguably one of the best epics of all-time. It is one. It isn't the same kind as "Lawrence of Arabia." Instead, it is more of a performance-driven romantic drama, headlined by a spectacular performance by Warren Beatty as communist John Reed, a man who is so heavily devoted to his party that he seems rarely to have time for his wife, Louise Bryant, played quite as splendidly as he by Diane Keaton, who got a Best Actress nod as well as his Best Actor nod. Also making an appearance is Maureen Stapleton, in an Oscar-winning turn, as Emma Goldman. But the one who steals that show is Jack Nicholson, in his best performance since "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," as Eugene O'Neill, who he portrays as a heartbroken lover of Bryant, and the scene where he finds out she chose Reed over him is one of the movie's highlights. The other highlights include Beatty and Trevor Griffith's screenplay, filled with hilarious lines that Beatty and Nicholson recite to the max, and fantastic cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (winner of an Academy Award for his great job) that captures the barren snowscapes of Russia and the beauty of Provincetown. The great thing about this movie is that it is long, but not unbearably long, and it is watchable. I know a little bit about this because I've seen films that are a half an hour shorter that seem much, much longer in mental time. This film is just about perfect, making the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution interesting and also adding quirks such as the humorous song "I Don't Want to Play in Your Yard," that is a real charmer. As for other notables, a supporting performance by Paul Sorvino as Louis Fraina as the leader of the Communist Party in America (Reed headed the Communist Labor Party), and also an uncredited cameo by Gene Hackman. Bottom line: this film will go down in history as a great epic, with the likes of "Schindler's List," and "Lawrence of Arabia." A

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Pierce Brosnan is fantastic as James Bond in 17th James Bond film, which shows that the 90's were Bond's golden age. This film has it all: a great Bond, a very good plot, a unique villain, great action scenes, Moneypenny, Q, Judi Dench at her best as a female M, and the best villain sidekick in the series to date: computer geek Boris Grishenko (Alan Cumming). The plot is a thing of beauty: Bond and 006/Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean of "The Field," "National Treasure," and the Lord of the Rings series) are on a mission when Alec is caught and, in order to finish the mission and make it out alive, Bond resets the 6 minute timers to 3 minutes and barely escapes, while Alec's face is mutilated and while he turns to the dark side. We rejoin Bond nine years later, sent on the scene to stop a crystal known as GoldenEye, which powers satellites to destroy cities. When he goes to find the villain, he finds the villain is Alec, now Janus, and he's supercharged and ready to take down Bond at all costs. And there are other dangerous sidekicks: Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) and Arkady Ouromov (Gottfried John). Also, there are other interesting Bond allies, Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker) and Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane), who each reprise their parts, JW in "Tomorrow Never Dies," and VZ in "The World is Not Enough." As for a Bond girl, there is Natalya (Izabella Scorupco). Desmond Llewelyn is brilliant in his antepenultimate film as Q in his small scene that is hilariously gimmicky, and Judi Dench's first film as M is also top-notch, showing that she can take on comical parts as well as more serious roles. Samantha Bond's Moneypenny is also good. But the film's-and the franchise's-strong suits are the action scenes, which here are very, very good, the best involving a tank piloted by the agent himself. These scenes are strong not only in their way of being action-packed, but also adding witty and inventive touches to them, possibly courtesy of Martin Campbell, who crafts a great film here. The gadgets are also strong in this film, the best being a pen that can turn into an explosive with three clicks. In other words, this is the definitive Bond film, which hasn't been matched so far yet. "GoldenEye" is my favorite Bond film, a fast-paced, well-done, well-written piece that showcases a new Bond. A-

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Flick Pick Hall of Fame List

Just as a starter for a potentially bigger project. The following are people who have made the film business a great place, crafting, acting in, directing, and filming movies that are great:
Charlie Kaufman
Francis Ford Coppola
Paul Newman
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Christian Bale
Gus Van Sant
Mel Brooks
Jim Carrey
Peter Weir
Robert Redford
Ralph Fiennes
Daniel Day-Lewis
Sidney Lumet
Jonathan Demme
Michael Palin
Terry Gilliam
Nicolas Cage
Robert Duvall
James Stewart
Jeff Bridges
Marlon Brando
Wes Anderson
Gene Hackman
Dustin Hoffman
Bill Murray
Jack Lemmon
Walter Matthau
Robert De Niro
Al Pacino
Anthony Hopkins
Ben Kingsley
Tom Wilkinson
Sean Penn
Woody Allen
David Mamet
John Cleese
Peter Sellers
Samantha Morton
Tim Robbins
Morgan Freeman
Clint Eastwood
Jonathan Pryce
Clive Owen
Spike Lee
Casey Affleck
Don Cheadle
George Clooney
Brad Pitt
Jack Nicholson
Buster Keaton
Warren Beatty
William Holden
Kevin Spacey
Cate Blanchett
Harrison Ford
Steven Spielberg
Pete Postlewaite
Alex Gibney
Terrence Malick
Errol Morris
Alfred Hitchcock

More to come!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Road to Perdition

A disaster from the same family of "The Godfather" movies. Relation: third cousin, twice removed. This film actually has a little tiny bit of promise, especially with one of Paul Newman's sleeper performances (which garnered his ninth Academy Award nomination), but he's not the lead. He doesn't appear for more than 10 minutes. In those ten- minutes, he actually supplies all of the film's good moments, as 1930's crime boss John Rooney, who is a pretty shady character. Less shady, though, than his scheming loose cannon of a son Connor (Daniel Craig) and the mass murderer who is his hit man in power, Michael Sullivan, played quite flatly by two-time Academy Award winning actor Tom Hanks, in such a way that it really shows that when Hanks is off, he is really, really off. He's one of the film's low points, and the main supplier of the tasteless violence that comes packaged in with it. So there you have it: Rooney is like Vito Corleone, Sullivan is vaguely resembling Tom, and Connor is like Sonny. All three of the characters are of course much, much, much less interesting and captivating than their dopplegangers of the cinematic masterpiece. Newman, though, can at times be very good, but the film skips over him, as director Sam Mendes (who won an Oscar for "American Beauty" movies whose career since then not been quite as awarding) thinks that Hanks' story is a lot more interesting. That story is of the running man Sullivan, running because of the fact that his older son Michael Sullivan, Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin of "7th Heaven") witnessed one of the corrupt murders committed by his father and Connor and the rest of the hit men employed by Rooney, and the fact that Connor has gunned down his other son Peter (Liam Aiken) and his wife Annie (Jennifer Jason Leigh). So he and his living son go on the road to Chicago and rob banks and cross paths with creepy dead body photographer Harlen MacGuire (Jude Law), yet another man sent out to track down Sullivan. So this plays out with more violence and terrible dialogue and heart-to-hearts and other assorted style-over-substance baloney. I can compliment this film at least on the style, as the sets are done very well, and it looks very luscious. So, towards the end, Sullivan commits more tasteless murders and just when you think he's safe... The film is really not well done at all, shakily put together, badly scoped and a misfire in terms of a surefire plot. Newman, as I said earlier, is very strong, but not good enough to beat the likes of Christopher Walken ("Catch Me If You Can," a much better Hanks picture), Ed Harris ("The Hours"), and the winning actor Chris Cooper ("Adaptation," a far superior movie in many, many ways). Craig is also good, but maybe not worthy of that much praise. Hanks and Hoechlin, though, really can't carry the movie, and they are unfortunately put in position to, instead of Newman and Craig, much better candidates. But the film's biggest whole is a lack of purpose: why is this happening? What is happening? I don't really get the point of this. To sum the film up: style, style, style over substance, screenplay, and satisfactory filmmaking. C

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

How to describe Jonathan Demme's new work, what with all the quirks that you would expect, but actually a devastating backstory. Oh and Anne Hathaway in her finest performance. Hathaway plays the the titlular character's formerly drug-addled sister Kym in such a way that speaks mediums. I really doubt that Hathaway can do better than this. She plays Kym as an attention hog, a desperate, emotionally torn black sheep who does all she can, purposefully and accidentally, to ruin everything and make a unique wedding weekend a total mess. Demme knows how to play this up, and makes Jenny Lumet's fully-developed character something more. It is safe to say that Hathaway makes the movie. Beyond her, the movie is still very strong. Rosmarie Dewitt ("Mad Men") less drastically but still not-so-subtly plays the title character, who is indeed tying the knot, to TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe as Sidney, and also is letting out all of her bottled up anger onto her recently rehab-released sister. Also, Bill Irwin (Mr. Noodle of "Sesame Street" and Tom Snout of "A Midsummer Night's Dream) provides a lot of the film's comic relief and also a lot of the film's tears as the overprotective father, weird and normal at the same time, stealing the scenes he's in to a certain extent (as he can't really top Hathaway). Also, Debra Winger steps in as Irwin's ex-wife, also quite (as others said) "emotionally taut", who is also very good in a good supporting performance. Adebimpe is also a comic relief, as he sings Neil Young's timeless "Unknown Legend" atop the altar. And I haven't even gotten to the numerous cameos by singers in fabulous musical performances, supplying music as there is no score and I'm glad there isn't. The film is very personal, especially with Declan Quinn's ("Pride and Glory," "Get Rich or Die Tryin'") crazy (as Owen Gleiberman and Ebert said) "handheld cinematography" that works wonders and is just great. As is Lumet's script and, again, Demme's top-notch directing. Also, it really would be unfair if Hathaway didn't get a Best Actress nod and I'm even going as far to say it might be unfair if she doesn't actually take the statue home on Oscar Night. Why? Because it is a job very well done. You can feel the air being sucked out of the room every time she enters and everything shifts from casual to crisis when she is involved. One last note: the film's trailer is no indication of how the movie is. It is to attract the same audience as the next Hathaway project "Bride Wars," because that audience would not want to see a film that heavy. Speaking of "Bride Wars," I hope that doesn't derail Hathaway's chances of Oscar Gold like "Norbit" did for the 2006 frontrunner Eddie Murphy, who had it all but sealed up but then Alan Arkin pulled away with the Best Supporting Actor award. Bottom line: One of the best films of the year and proof that 2008 could very well be like 2007. A

Rachel Getting Married has a disturbing depiction, and some sexuality.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


"Recount" is a made-for-HBO docudrama that offers you the chance to be a fly on the wall during the 2000 Election Recount that lasted for a whole month and drove Bush into the spot that he has been in for eight years now. The film is partisan, and when I say that, I mean leaning left. But still, it gives you chance to see behind closed doors, and beyond what CNN and MSNBC offered you. "Recount" mostly surrounds Ron Klain (played well by Kevin Spacey), Al Gore's former campaign chairman and his Democratic staff as they fight against the result that Bush has been awarded Florida. It's good to see that Spacey's next project after "21" was actually very good. In this film, Spacey turns in his best performance since (should I say) "American Beauty" or "The Usual Suspects." This is Emmy material. I was thinking the pacing was off when the election (i.e. Gore's projection, then retracted projection, then Bush's projection) flashed by under 20 minutes in. But I definitely was missing the point. There is a movie behind the recount. Also, I felt the dialogue was a little forced, but I was too caught up to notice that most of the time. Anyways, we all know the result of the recount and we know what the result has been. The genius employed here is that you are actually enrapt and you actually believe it can actually happen, that Gore can pull ahead, that he can prevail victorious and continue the vision of Bill Clinton. The film is actually dramatic, and really is nail-biting action right down to the last hanging chad. But it really wouldn't be the same without the great supporting performances: Denis Leary as Michael Whouley, Ed Begley, Jr. as David Boies, Bruce McGill as Mac Stipanovich, Laura Dern uncannily as the overtly inexperienced Katherine Harris, and one of my favorite actors, Tom Wilkinson, as James Baker. All of the performances enhance the film by previously pretty bad director Jay Roach ("Meet the Parents," the Austin Powers series), who turns in a polished job at the helm, and editor Alan Baumgarten (who edited some low-quality stuff, but did perform the good editing in "Fever Pitch"), who wisely edited in some archival footage along with the footage shot by Jim Denault ("Maria Full of Grace," "Boys Don't Cry"), and also scorer Dave Grusin ("Ishtar," "Hope Floats" LOL) who does great work on the music. Bottom line: this film is set apart from 2006's "Bobby," and other political dramas because it is well acted, edited, and directed and connects with that side of you (for Democrats, at least) that was maddened by those highly Republican decisions made in 2000. A-

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I love David Mamet's style of directing. He has given us great films: "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Heist," "House of Games," and "The Spanish Prisoner." But in 2008 he seems to be way out of his element. "Redbelt" is more of a misguided vision than a miscalculation. It has some promise as a film, but it doesn't know how to show it, tangling us up in meaningless subplots, providing us with way too many characters, clogging our minds, eyes, and ears with boatloads of information, 75%-85% of it totally useless. Well, I'll try to explain it. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mike Terry, a jiu-jitsu trainer (and apparently, master) whose zen-inspired offerings reminded me of Wes Studi as the Sphinx in "Mystery Men" giving out his cliches. As for support, there's a love interest that comes early on in the form of Emily Mortimer, good actress, who is faced with a challenge: play a part way out of her element. She actually doesn't rise to that challenge, and she's not very good as Laura Black, an attorney, who, when being asked if she wants her coat to be taken off by one of Mike's students (Max Martini, who happens to be a cop), she fires the student's gun and shatters the window. She starts the crap that is making it's towards Mike. She now could be arrested for this and Mike could be indicted as an assailant. As a result of this, Martini keeps mum (illegally) for Mike's sake. Then, Mike goes to the club where Martini is bouncer, and as a result, we are introduced to more characters: Chet Frank (Tim Allen), Hollywood star who eventually means nothing to the plot because one of the resulting plots bowls over, some guy who I can't remember the name of who can change dice (and more importantly, anything) from black to white, the brother of this prize contender whose a promoter also, and, in his worst performance in a long time, Mamet favorite Ricky Jay, who may have purposely made his acting bad for all I know, because here, he is really bad. I mean really bad. He walks right through his lines and doesn't care whether or not he's even mediocre. He's not trying, and, like a lot of other actors and actresses in this film, is way, way, way out of his element. Well, there's a fight between Chet Frank and some unimportant dude and guess what? Mike Terry has to break it up. If I haven't mentioned it already, all the fight scenes in this movie are pretty bad. They really don't work. Anyways, Mike does and Chet invites him over for dinner. In this scene, we get only a couple of glimpses of Rebecca Pidgeon, who might as well not have been even credited. Well, Mike's wife (Alice Braga) and Pidgeon as Chet's wife apparently make up some scheme that eventually pays off, but it really doesn't matter. So the scene is meaningless. Then, a little later on, after a couple of pointless scenes where Mike is working on Chet's TV show that apparently is called "Desert Storm," we see the get-rich object of desire: a system of stones, 2 white, and 1 black, where, if you draw the black stone, you get a handicap. I, as the viewer, had no idea this was Exhibit A; I thought clearly that it was Exhibit B or C. But flash-forward to the ending and, guess what, I was wrong. Anyways, Mike's wife screws him over as she takes out a $30,000 personal loan from a loan shark (David Paymer). Then, Mike must fight. He decides to fight, he pulls out, then wants to fight again, and then takes a guy down and gets the redbelt. On the way we find out that Exhibit B or C is Exhibit A, but really, Exhibit A is your attention span. Exhibit B is David Mamet, selling a supposedly good film on his great status. Exhibit C is this movie, as it deserves only to be Exhibit C. Why? Because Mamet needs to edit more, better, and re-shoot the movie. He needs to add on a few more scenes, a point, and present a film not only for jiu-jitsu insiders. C-

Redbelt has some language, and some violence.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Big Lebowski

Ever imagined a western mixed with bowling? Well, now you can see what happens. It's not really much of either, but they are combined in this iconic piece of American comedy by the men behind "Fargo," "Barton Fink," and "Miller's Crossing." It's one of the most unique movies I have ever seen, and maybe that's why there are Lebowski fests from coast to coast. Anyways, Jeff Bridges, five years removed from his best role of his career in "Fearless," turns in a dazzling performance as the hero and massive slacker Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski, who gets mixed up with the millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski (Donald Huddleston of "McQ") , who shares his name, but not a lot of his passive traits. His wife Bunny (Tara Reid) has supposedly been kidnapped and he has chosen "The Dude" to be the courier. It all goes horribly wrong, anyways, and it gets mightily confusing, but it's all in great humor. Also in the picture fellow bowler Walter Shobchak (John Goodman in his career roll), who is serious about bowling, and Donny (Steve Buscemi), who is always pretty much confused and always is told by Walter to "shut the f*** up." To add to that, Julianne Moore, for once, is not the greatest actress on the screen, as she unevenly but still hilariously takes the role of the millionaire Lebowski's artist daughter, and David Thewlis, who has played a very wide variety of roles, plays a cackling fellow artiste in one hilarious scene. Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), Sam Elliot, and John Tuturro all make great supporting performances, too, but in the end it gets too complicated to describe and I am left with only the words "you have to see it to believe it." Some great lines and quirks were spawned from this film, such as the Dude's White Russian obsession and the summarizing line "the dude abides." The film also has set some records, being, as of now, 21st on the list of most f-words (something that has spawned many mashup videos on YouTube) and possibly the only film ever to have both a marmot and a pee-stained rug as a result of two separate incidents. It's only problem are the random unfunny sequences that pop up, which are basically whenever Lebowski however gets knocked out. This only happens twice, but they are the downpoints of the movie. In one of these sequences, Saddam Hussein passes out bowling shoes out of a skyscraping tower of them. Talk about strange. Bottom line: not the best or worst movie of all time, but altogether very, very funny, lifted on the sweet comedic timing of four hilarious: Bridges, Goodman, Buscemi, and Tuturro. A-

The Big Lebowski is very profane, very raunchy... for adults only.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

As you may know, Paul Newman passed away yesterday due to cancer and he joins the list of Hollywood's finest who have passed away this year, Heath Ledger, Bernie Mac, Sydney Pollack, and Charlton Heston being a few others. It is saddening to see an entertainment great like Newman pass away. He has left behind many classic and forever treasured films, such as "Cool Hand Luke," "The Verdict," and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Sting," "The Hustler," and it's sequel "The Color of Money," the only movie for which he received an Oscar, although he was nominated ten times and he also not only won one but two honorary Oscars. He spearheaded the company that made some of the best lemonade I've ever tasted, and donated the money to charity. He was a driving force all around. I am deeply saddened that I will never be able to see brown eye to blue eye with him in person.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Truman Show

"The Truman Show" is television satire at it's absolute best, and although it's director, Peter Weir, went on to direct another great movie ("Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" was also stellar), "The Truman Show" is his magnum opus. It is also Jim Carrey's best performance of his career, even better than his great dramatic work in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and his actually underrated comedy efforts in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" and "Fun With Dick and Jane." In this film he plays the title character, Truman Burbank (another sarcastic joke about the industry), a man who has been living in a 24 hour television show practically his whole life, unknowingly being held captive by the ratings-greedy television producer Christof (Ed Harris, also quite good), who adopted him as a baby. The show, though, is a pop culture phenomenon, shown on the big screen at Times Square and loved by millions of people. We only get to see some of the audience though, including two lazy police officers, an entire bar devoted to the show, two old ladies with a Truman pillow, a guy taking a bath, etc. Back to the actual show. Truman lives with his wife Myrel (Laura Linney) and goes to work every day practically the same way every day, with the same people bumping into him, etc. The show in all honesty is about as much a product placement vehicle as it is about Truman himself. Anyways, one day during his daily routine, he sees his supposedly dead father (Brian Delate) wandering around on the set of the show and this where Truman starts to suspect something is up. During a flashback, we see this isn't the first time. During a brief romantic encounter he had with Lauren (Natascha McElhone of "Ronin," "Solaris," and TV's "Californication"), Lauren, in the real world Sylvia, tried to spill the beans on the show before she was driven off the set. But they couldn't hide it forever, and Truman eventually outsmarts the TV crew. But before that, you have close to 85 minutes of absolute genius from Andrew Niccol (whose wrote the movie adaptation of Adonis Huxley's "Brave New World" coming 2011), who, with this film, solidifies himself with Charlie Kaufman that he is one of the best unconventional screenwriters in the business. A

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Late Oscar Commentary

Old magazines are fun to read. One I keep coming back to is the Oscar edition of Entertainment Weekly, and besides the Oscar minute-by-minute recap, something else caught my eye. Apparently now, the Oscars are boring, and, mark my words, you are not a true movie lover if you can't appreciate awards night. I admit, it wasn't the speediest of years, but it was still suspenseful, especially that Best Supporting Actor race that featured the five heavyweights: Bardem, Seymour Hoffman, Holbrook, Wilkinson, and Affleck. One thing I do agree on, though, is to stop campaigning movies and actors/actresses so much for certain honors, such as Daniel Day-Lewis for "There Will Be Blood" or Javier Bardem for "No Country for Old Men" or even "No Country" itself. Why? Some frontrunner victories are okay, but to have a truly predictable year at the Oscars is like having a Super Bowl victory of 50 points. One of these years was 2003, when "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King", won so many awards, it was embarrassing. It was such a predictable ceremony, also because Sean Penn was sure to beat Bill Murray despite a lot of attention given to Murray, Tim Robbins held off two great actors in Djimon Hounsou and Ken Watanabe, Charlize Theron beat Keisha Castle-Hughes, and Renee Zellweger captured Supporting Actress easily. So, I admit, some years can be kind of downers, but that's no reason to tune out, as apparently 82% has done from now on. So then, Hollywood cooks up crappier movies because they think due to the popularity of the ceremony that the films sucked and then viewers/critics like myself are forced to watch these less-than-top-notch movies to stay connected. Take, for example, "Crash." "Million-Dollar Baby" was really quite good, but no, Hollywood obviously doesn't think so, as they promote "Crash," an absolute mess that didn't deserve any nominations, over such greats as "Capote" and "Brokeback Mountain." How dare they? Well, this year seems to be one of those years, because although there seems like good pickings this year (refer to my Fall movie preview blog), it seems like the Academy is going to award the film that seems to be creating the most buzz among fans.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Man on Wire

A superb documentary with huge amounts of gravitas, unlike Philippe Petit, the tightrope-walking artist subject of the film. Director James Marsh pieces together a docudrama, with some scenes recreated, which at the beginning seemed like it was going to be like less outstanding films like "Wanderlust," the IFC film about road movies that was put alongside a cheesy subplot about budding filmmakers, but within minutes, it is very clear that it is very necessary. The film is elegantly woven, flashing back from minutes before the main event to France to tell the backstory, the other great works of art that Petit pulled off in his career, and how highwire walking became his dream. Before the walk between the World Trade Center towers (which is the gig that made Petit famous and renowned), he walked between church towers in France and over a bridge in Sydney near the opera house. But this was no real preparation for what he would do next, which could be classified as insane. And I would agree. But it's also an amazing piece of art, and Petit is a virtuoso performer. He is dazzling and, unlike many, he can actually put on a show when he is high up. Yes, this is the most amazing part of the movie, but the happenings leading up are worthwhile, too, especially when Petit and one of his accomplices are hiding from guards under a blanket. It's absolutely hilarious, and it actually made me laugh the most of any movie this year. Also, the way of presenting the people giving the interviews was also very humorous. Anyways, the main event is not actually showed in video, but done very well with pictures and actually can work as well as the picture book about Petit, the Caldecott-winning "The Man Who Walked Between the Towers" by Mordecai Gerstein, which is in itself an experience. It only uses pictures, yet still is an experience. This movie is amazing, not only for not name-dropping about the terrible events that occurred on September 11 and being it's own, but for being as mind-blowing as it probably was for Philippe Petit himself, before stepping out on that line. I know it's August right now, and this statement might be trumped, but this is the best film of the year so far and you can quote me on that, as it is a work of art, a great piece of documentary filmmaking, and a frontrunner for Best Documentary in my eyes. A

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Death of a Salesman

Volker Schlöndorff's TV movie adaptation of Arthur Miller's mesmerizing and breathtaking play features Dustin Hoffman in possibly the best role of his career (he won an Emmy and a Golden Globe) as Willy Loman, the manic-depressive and delusional salesman whose family and life are falling apart and he is at the center of it, caught in the past while in the present he is struggling to pay the bill. Before John Malkovich was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and before he had a portal that went into his brain for fifteen minutes at a time, he was incredible as Biff Loman, the son who didn't graduate from high school and never got a real job. The feud that these two have had over time that is ripping the family apart seems to be less complicated than it really is, but Willy has done things that have been terrible, like having an affair and making his wife Linda (Kate Reid) suffer and have to stand up for him, but even she is not exactly loving him. Take for example, when the event of the title does eventually happen, and Linda is standing over his grave and she admits herself that she can't shed a tear over his death. And repeatedly she says that he isn't the best of men. But she still is devoted to him and defends him from Biff again and again. Also figuring in less importantly is real ladies man other brother Happy (Stephen Lang of "Gettysburg" and "Tombstone") and neighbor "Uncle" Charley (Charles Durning, who co-starred with Hoffman also quite memorably as Jessica Lange's father in "Tootsie) and his son Bernard (David S. Chandler), who seems to be the most aware character in the movie. And then there's Uncle Ben (Louis Zorich), whose remembered for his line "I went into the jungle at age 17 and came out four years later rich!" and not much else. Anyways, the movie (and play) is a satire on bringing home the bacon and sending your kids off to collage, brought into more "common" terms as "the American Dream." But what really is the American Dream? That's what this movie is getting at. And it works, around the clock, all 135 minutes of it work. Although it's mostly off the basis of the amazing Hoffman and Malkovich as father and son, the film also takes advantage of sets and works that, too. Everything is a facade, there's no roof on the house, and they live near a cemetery. That's what I call capitalization. Anyways, this adaptation may not be quite as good as the legendary play, but it is still a modern masterpiece, one of the best films of the 1980's. And I'm not just selling you that. A

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Game

David Fincher's attempt at a bizarre suspense thriller comes in the form of "The Game," one that unfortunately has a twist that wrecks the film at the end. I won't spoil it for you, but I will tell you that the whole movie, in itself, is such a charging force that it needs an ending that can supplement that fact, but, to tell you the truth, I can't think of any endings that would fit. Anyways, Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, investment banker, rich guy, usual cynic who doesn't appreciate the fruits of his life. On his birthday, his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) comes to meet him and gives him a gift card to Consumer Recreation Services (which "makes your life fun" to quote Connie), which is a company that produces a product that is different for each consumer, which is already sounding ominous. Plus the fact that Van Orton must go through vocal, fitness, and association tests and sign papers for the company. To add to that, a guy he knows from his firm tells him that the experience summed up in John 9;25: "I was blind, but now I see". Van Orton goes on with life still thinking about wether or not he should go through with this game when he finds out that his application has been rejected. He then thinks it's over, but, oh no, it's just beginning. To sum it up: clowns, talking to Daniel Shorr through his television, stains, keys, pictures, a hotel room, fake ambulances, riding in a runaway taxi into the San Francisco Bay and other random things. The scheme, though, is genius: make it ridiculous so when the player goes for help, it sounds absurd, and you are on your own. But I don't see why that can be of any help when everybody is in on it, but then not really, but then really. It's confusing and frustrating and doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it is suspenseful and I guess that's all that counts. Other than that, removing the multiple twists that would ruin the movie for you as the viewer, there's not much else. Douglas is pretty good, but the role doesn't call for a lot of great acting, as does Penn's role. Deborah Kara Unger as the mysterious Christine is good. That rounds out the main cast. Spike Jonze makes an appearance, but I didn't notice him. Overall, Fincher does a pretty good job with a pretty cool idea. But the ending is bad and I can't give "The Game" a high rating. B-

Sunday, August 17, 2008

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is not a western or a film about equestrians, it is Sydney Pollack's bleak, sickening, and jarring take on a dance marathon that drives many insane and is downright cruel. It does show horses, and it compares human beings to horses, but is mostly about desperation and wether or not $1500 is really worth everything that all the dancers go through on their quest to take home the cash. Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin star as a couple competing in the physically and mentally demanding dance-off, where they compete against a pregnant woman named Ruby (Bonnie Bedelia) and her husband (Bruce Dern), an veteran named Harry "Sailor" Kline (Red Buttons) and Shirley Clayton (Allyn Ann McLerie) (who is gradually driven insane), a glamorous actress named Alice (Susannah York), and many more competitors in this sadistic and inhumane contest/show run by Rocky (Gig Young), who will do anything to entertain his audience: anything. Anyways, "Horses" is Pollack's most depressing and cinematic film, not better than "Tootsie," but still a cinema classic. The main problem that I found with the movie was how time lapsed unrealistically, and although this was done to create a massive surrealistic effect, it defied the laws of reality in that a body dies after not sleeping for a very long period of time. And the contest committee, although giving food and medical support, only gave small breaks, not enough to stay alive. The movie partially solves this when Buttons' character tragically is worked as far as he can go and he dies, but doesn't include enough realism in this aspect to really lock into us who are looking for flawless material. Not to say that the film does not work, as it most certainly works and works and works as hard as it's characters, and it works well. It was a wise decision to milk the film out to 120 minutes, instead of making it shorter, as it creates the same desperation as a viewer that the onscreen participants are feeling. Plus, to add to that, everyone is really splendid in their roles: Fonda as the always sassy, but ultimately depressed Gloria, Sarrazin as the late entrant who dissolves into the same as Gloria, Buttons as the old-timer, who finally can't go any further, York as the actress who also eventually is driven mad, and Young as the creator and runner of the competition. Superb work by Pollack in his directoral debut, trumping the competition. A-

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Producers (1968)

"The Producers" may very well be Mel Brooks' most revered comedy, as it has been remade into a play and another movie, both starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. This first version, Mel Brooks' debut, is hysterically funny and may very well be his best movie, rivaling his other successes as "Blazing Saddles" and, even more, "Silent Movie." This one stars the ridiculously funny Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock, an unsuccessful Broadway producer who has just made a flop, which only played one night. He is looking for a way to make it to the top when his new and uptight accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) tells him that if he raises, say 1 million dollars, he could make more money with a total disaster than he ever imagined. At first, they can't find a play, but finally they discover the absolutely outrageous and flat-out terrible doozie "Springtime For Hitler," written by ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars) about Hitler and his wife in the countryside in the spring. Bialystock raises the money, hires a terrible director (Christopher Hewett) and casts a psychedelic dude (Dick Shawn) to play Hitler, making it surefire as a total miss and a spot-on scheme. On opening night, the audience is appalled by the outrageous first song, which is "Springtime For Hitler", but, at the first sight of the chilled-out and strange Hitler, they love it. Soon, it is the biggest success on Broadway. I won't tell you the ending, but let me tell you, it's mucho fun and laughs and giggles. Anyways, Mostel and Wilder are extremely freaking funny, making me explode with tons of belly laughter throughout the entire movie. Mars is great as the very annoyed former swastika-wearer whose expectations are not met by the farcical production. Another highlight is the strange actor played by Shawn, who makes the play the funfest that it is. The script is also fantastically fun, filled with tons of Brooksisms and witty jokes. Bottom line: this film is not a flop. A

Monday, August 11, 2008


"Ghostbusters" is a fun movie and not much more, worth maybe a handful of chuckles but not much else. It stars Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and "Groundhog Day" director Harold Ramis as three professors of the supernatural who are kicked out of a generic university because they are "no longer needed." Immediately after they hit the streets, they start the business that is the namesake for the title, offering extermination of ghosts and other paranormal beasts. They have no customers at first, but after solving a hotel mishap and claiming 5 grand and going through a musical montage featuring famous magazine covers for effect, they are national celebrities and crowd-pleasers. While also dealing with exorcisms with Venkman's (Murray) girlfriend (Sigorney Weaver) and her nerdy neighbor (Rick Moranis), they are also dealing with a determined EPA official (William Atherton) and Gozer (Slavitza Jovan), who comes off looking more like David Bowie than the she-devil type the movie is aiming for (according to the descriptions). Anyways, the official finally gets into their top secret storage area and takes off the protection grid, which releases all of the spirits and pretty much reeks havoc on New York City, as if enough hasn't already been disorganized and screwed up. In the climax, the three old Ghostbusters and one new one (Ernie Hudson) face off with the devil thingy and are just about to catch when a particle change goes wrong and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man appears, and well... more havoc and people running around. Ultimately, the outcome is good, and the Ghostbusters are welcomed with open arms to the pretty much oblivious citizens who have just seen their city ripped apart and don't seem to care at all. Anyways, now to the technicalities. No one, except for maybe Moranis, is at his (or her) comic best. Also, I found that Ackroyd's mostly inept buster was the butt of too many jokes and it got too one-note after a while. Plus, Weaver's role as the girlfriend was underwritten by screenwriters Ackroyd and Ramis, and although she was in the film a lot, she was possessed and her dialogue went into the gutter. Moranis was very funny, but the punchline about him being locked out of his room was also relentless and lost it's comical value after, oh, the eleventh time. Bottom line: as you can deduce, this "classic" didn't possess me. B-

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Woody Allen's first entry in his trilogy of guilt-filled murder sagas ("Match Point" and "Cassandra's Dream" being the other two) features two stories: the first about a struggling independent filmmaker named Cliff Stern (Allen) who is offered to do a biography on his corny TV producer brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda), and the second featuring a successful opthamologist named Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) who is after his mistress (Anjelica Huston) not only for the reason of mending an infidelity, but also because she has information about him embezzling money. The second one sounds a lot like "Match Point", because it is basically the same story (although "Crimes and Misdemeanors" was released in 1989 and "Match Point" was released in 2005), as "Match Point" features Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as a man caught between his wife (Emily Mortimer) and his actress mistress (Scarlett Johanson). The story about Stern also involves relationships while married: while shooting the bio, he meets Halle Reed (Mia Farrow) who is smart, funny, and also in dislike of Lester. Stern is unhappy in his marriage to Wendy (Johanna Gleason of "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Heartburn") and falls in love with Reed. Meanwhile, Rosenthal is decides to go through with getting rid of his mistress via his brother (Jerry Orbach) and, such as other characters in Woody Allen films, such as Colin Farrell's Terry in "Cassandra's Dream" and Rhys-Meyers Chris, he feels guilty, as the words of his rabbi Ben (Sam Waterson) weigh down on him. He goes through the routine of other Allen characters such as visiting a detective but, like the others, gets away clean. On the other side, after he compares Lester and Mussolini and shows personal footage and pretty much shows he doesn't understand what an "upbeat biography" is, he is fired, and then, to add to it all, he loses Reed in a "Manhattan"-style manner: to London. But, the bomb falls in later: Lester and Reed are engaged and Stern is down and out. At the very end, the movie finally comes full circle when the two leads meet and greet and Rosenthal discusses his "murder plot" for a movie, which is obviously the same exact thing that happened. And then, it's over. Now to the technical stuff: Landau is good, but does not deserve the Oscar-nomination he got. Woody gets by just being Woody, and although a lot of the humor in the Stern half is very funny and may even match up to "Annie Hall" ("The first woman I was inside was the Statue of Liberty"), it gets lost inside of the double plot structure, that winds up being manic-depressive. What I mean is every time Landau appears it is depressing and every time Allen appears, the jokes pile up, and it doesn't work. The high point of the movie is Alan Alda as Lester, embracing his goofy side and providing us with a satirical, purposely one-dimensional character that actually was hilarious. The music was also very nice. But the cold hard fact (and why "Match Point" worked and this didn't) is that comedy and drama can't function if they are put right next to each other and cross-referenced again and again repeatedly at nearly the same time. B

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Don't Say a Word: Silent Movie

Better known for such comedic vehicles such as "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein", Mel Brooks churned out this masterpiece-and it may even be better than the other two. "Silent Movie" is an extreme gag-o-rama, filled with many hilarious, witty, and accurately satirical moments that are delightful. The plot: Big Picture Studios is a struggling distributor that needs to make more hits so that it can compete with Engulf and Devour, which is the big cheese of the industry. There to help out the struggling Studio Chief (Sid Caesar) is Mel Funn (Brooks), director, and his two bumbling sidekicks, Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman) and Dom Bell (Dom Deluise). The plan: make the first silent film in 40 years to relaunch the studio and make big bucks. How? Get stars, of course. The celebrity courting scenes (including Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Paul Newman, Liza Minnelli, Marcel Marceau, and Anne Bancroft) are an absolute scream and are some of the best work Brooks has ever done. Anyways, Engulf and Devour is watching the little company grow and decides to send in Vilma Kaplan (Bernadette Peters) to seduce the rising director (who also has a drinking problem). This proves for more hilarious results, and, although this follows a certain formula that Brooks has devised (except with Madeleine Kahn in "Blazing Saddles"), it works well. This leads to the arousing of Funn's drinking problems and, when Kaplan quits E and D, a new member of the Big Picture Studios team. In the end, the shoot works out (and nothing is seen of any of the silent movie in question), and provides for two things: an over-the-top chase sequence (featuring a previous "Coca-Cola" gag as a main feature) and a caricature of a premiere audience that ends up loving the film. Anyways, Brooks is good at endings and hits this one right on target, as he did with the zany and ultra silly fight at the end of "Blazing Saddles." Now, to the message and technicalities: this movie is not only a parody of the moviemaking biz but of Hollywood itself, with jokes about fashion, acupuncture, and star maps. Also, the movie provides laughs in it's idea, taking advantage of being able to put different things on the title cards than what is actually said, plus, allowing for a surprise gag with Marceau that is ironic and very funny. Also, it uses old-time sound effects to also produce mad gags. On another subject, Brooks is good and has a versatile face that works wonders and gets across a lot of expression. Feldman takes up the sidekick role again (he was obviously Igor in "Young Frankenstein") and does it well. Deluise is okay. Bottom line: this film is amazingly funny, and I don't need any more words than that. A

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Joey Guitar: Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

An overlong, weird, and messy take on a punk rock legend that this movie made me a lot less fond of. The movie is a mess, and that has to be what director Julien Temple ("Glastonbury", "Earth Girls Are Easy") is attempting. The beginning is jammed with random images from movies (e.g. "If...", "Animal Farm", "1984"), which make telling Strummer's story harder. As in, the audience has a limited attention span. I could not keep track of what was going on onscreen. Plus, another problem was that the interviews were not subtitled, that is to say, I could recognize Bono, Johnny Depp, and Matt Dillon, but I could not pick out some of the people. Surely Temple has watched enough documentaries to know that you subtitle interviews with information about the person giving the interview. Also, the interview sequences were actually quite strange, including a huge campfire with slowed down flames for the most part. Beneath all this is a pretty engrossing story, about how a guy wanted success, which he got with The Clash (which is one of my favorite bands) and how he fell from glory not only with losing bandmembers and selling out, but having his music played as a victory tune as bombs were dropped in Iraq in the early 90's. Also, he appeared in a few movies ("Walker", "Mystery Train", "Straight to Hell") on his way to obscurity. He is a very interesting guy, but also a jerk. He kicked out two of the key bandmembers out of the Clash and then put in some fill-ins who were less than stellar. Which sucked, because it brought upon the downfall of the band. By the end of the movie, though, you could care less about Joe and the campfires and the interviewees and all the bands he was in and who went to college with him and when they appeared on "South Park." To sum it up in a short, sweet manor, the movie is a mess (however intentional), it is hard to review, Temple needed help editing it, and though it was good, it wasn't worthy of Joe Strummer. C+

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Factory: Schindler's List

After such summer smashes as Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., and Jurassic Park, and the success of his primitive but utterly fun TV movie Duel, Steven Spielberg finally makes a serious and gratifying movie that still stands to this day as his magnum opus. This may not be the 8th greatest American film of all time (as said by the AFI), but it deserves a spot in at least the Top 50, as it is fearless in taking on one of history's most difficult subjects, the Holocaust. (As a friend said) save Liam Neeson's emotional "I should've saved one more" breakdown towards the end, this film is note-perfect. Neeson plays Oskar Schindler, a industrial member of the Nazi party who is focused on one thing: money. He decides to hire an accountant (Ben Kingsley) and start a business of assembling pots and pans that Jews can work in. We see early on that Schindler is not at all caring about his workers. But this all changes with a new mindset later. Another factor: Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), a faux-enigmatic Nazi who snipes Jews in his spare time from just killing them on the streets of Krakow. Why do I say faux-enigmatic? Well, how do you explain the fact that after hearing a thought from Schindler about pardoning Jews he releases a Jewish servant and then momentarily kills him after a change of mind? The straight truth is that he is a devoted killer of Jewish people, but he is also helping Schindler out a bit in his cause of freeing some Jews. The similarities that these two very different men bare are strange and eery. Anyways, between the folds of the main quest are mini-stories about Jews who are on the run from the Nazis. These are extremely compelling, and within minutes you are familiarized and acquainted with these people. Also, beneath the lead idea are some of the most violent scenes of all time, in which many Jews are executed and it is very disturbing. There are also other very memorable but disturbing scenes scattered through the movie as well. Speaking of memorable, this movie is unforgettable and is a cinematic wonderland, filled with sparing amounts of color in the majority of black and white, such as the red dress that a girl is wearing which Schindler sees in the stages of running through the streets and dying. Also, a final scene shows the real life survivors alongside the actors, in a brilliant and great touch. Now, to the acting: Neeson is pretty good, but is memorable for his stern and heroic presence. Fiennes, though, plays Goeth with flare and does a great job. All the minor performances are also spectacular. Bottom line: a near-flawless, no-nonsense movie that is flat-out outstanding. A

Friday, July 11, 2008

Auto Body: Chop Shop

The most realistic film I have seen for a long time features a cast of amateur actors and is extremely compelling, to such a point it has you on the edge of your seat in worry for the young hero (Alejandro Polanco, who is top-notch in his debut). He lives above an auto shop in Queens (near Shea Stadium) where he works hard for Rob (Rob Sowulski), who runs it. He has a sister named Isamar (Isamar Gonzales) who he accidentally finds out is a prostitute and who is less in control of things than he is. The plan: to take a van ride down to Florida and for Ale to get tuition there, as he has never gone to school and she didn't make it past tenth grade. Anyways, this movie is basically his life and times in the shady neighborhood where he toils day after day. He is an expert mechanic at a young age, but he sometimes uses his expertise in the black market of chop shops and other shady joints. He makes a lot of money, but he depends on his sister for a lot of it. He might need to watch the same money hiding tutorial that Jim Sturgess' gambling idiot from 21 has to watch. He is, at one point, driven to steal the handbag of an unsuspecting woman at the US Open, because he has to pay for more work on his van. He also steals from his sister, too. So life in his area has driven the smart Ale to steal tons of cash from a lot of people. I guess what you would call the climax is when he finds his sister prostituting and she is mad that she embarrassed herself in front of him. Then the film ends on a strange note, as the two are treated to a pigeon show outside their dwelling as tons of pigeons flock to get seed and are scared away by Isamar. Anyways, simple plot, complicated story. Ramin Bahrani, director previously of "Man Push Cart", another film like this one. That one pushed itself onto the 2006 Top Ten list of Roger Ebert. This one may not have gotten the same honors, but it more than definitely deserved them. This film is definitively and outrightly amazing. It does so much with so little, using 10 sets or less (estimating). It features fantastic acting, cinematography, and directing, and is deserved of many awards. No tune-ups necessary. A

Chop Shop has violence, and might be disturbing because of its very realistic nature.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Riding Shotgun: The Passenger

Antonioni's first english language film, Blow-Up, was for the most part successful, but was overall trying too hard to be artistic. This film, about an identity switch, works in many ways while not even really trying to be artsy. The film's subject is David Locke (Jack Nicholson), a journalist who is renowned but depressed. "I prefer men to landscapes" Locke admits, revealing his personality, but also setting an ironic tone. How? This movie really is more about the blending in to the surroundings then the man itself. Anyways, on assignment in Africa, Locke finds a man dead in his hotel room, and, because he feels like it, decides to assume the man's identity. With a switch of a passport photo, he is David Robinson, and David Locke is pronounced dead. At this point, the newly appointed Robinson finds out his occupation: gun running. Also, he finds the TV producer who produced his journalist interviews (Ian Hendry) on his tail for a talk about Locke. Also involved, Nicholson's character's wife, Rachel Locke (Jenny Runacre), who is after him on personal accounts. So, Locke/Robinson is being pursued by the producer when he meets a young woman (Maria Schneider, famously of Last Tango in Paris) who he asks to get his bags from his hotel in order to avoid the TV guy. So these two team up on the run as Locke/Robinson makes his travels in and around Barcelona, Munich, and London. In the end, everyone is against Locke/Robinson (pretty obvious) and he suffers the real Robinson's fate: a heart attack. Anyways, this movie for the most part is deceptive, as at the beginning it leads you to believe it is a desert-set story, then switches into high gear, and converts into a Euro drama/thriller. All the while, it is intertwined between Locke's interviews of foreign presidents, witch doctors, and execution footage. But it is the settings that move the movie along. Nicholson is great in a well-done performance that ranks up with Five Easy Pieces, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (which was released simultaneously), and Chinatown. Schneider provides good support, as a predictable but memorable girl on the edge. I can't say the same for Hendry and Runacre, though, who turn in run-of-the-mill performances. One other thing: the movie is finished off with a penultimate take that is very long, including a dolly from the inside of Locke's hotel room into the outdoors, courtesy of a professional gate parting that proves amazing. Bottom line: Antonioni proves he can hold an entire movie together, adding this time not useless scenes (remember the Yardbird's scene in Blow-Up?), but polished landscapes, to supplement a great plot. A-

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mr. Roboto: Wall-E

Pixar's CGI films are critically acclaimed, but many of them don't deserve so much praise. Toy Story was good, Toy Story 2 was fine, A Bug's Life was pretty good, Finding Nemo was light and cute, but wasn't very substantial, Cars was mediocre, and Ratatouille was above average. Up to now, the only films I liked from Pixar were Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles. But now, the animation giant has actually come to and made a film that was great. It is most definitely the studio's least accessible flick, as it uses dialogue sparingly and when it does, it is actually well done. Plus, the plot is driven by something few animation films are: love. You could argue that Finding Nemo was, but it wasn't well done. This film, though, works, and it works on all levels. Wall-E (voiced by Ben Burtt, sound designer great) is a robot living in a dystopian Earth which humans have abandoned to live on a giant spaceship where they pretty much slack and eat and sleep and are overweight. Wall-E lives a sad existence, though: his only friend is a small bug, his only enjoyment is from watching musicals and listening to baritone sentiments, and all he does is roam around, gathering chunks of wasted materials and depositing them as blocks. All that changes with a routine inspection of the Earth by the spaceship. One robot, named Eve (voiced by Elissa Knight of Cars) comes down and Wall-E falls head over heels in love. She is amused by him at first, but soon the love is mutual. Then, Wall-E offers her a plant, which makes her freak out and shuts her off. This is because the Earth was deemed unlivable. This plant proves this wrong. So when the ship sucks her back in, with Wall-E on her tail, the inspector robots start going nuts and alarms go off and stuff. This disturbs the routine Eat-Sleep-Eat-Sleep existence, run by the Captain (Jeff Garlin) who is lax and has depended on technology so much, he has lost his reading ability, and needs to learn the definitions of words again. As I said before, although Eve is being dragged through many corridors and up and down passages and everything, Wall-E follows faithfully, as he is driven by love to pursue her. Anyways, there has really never been a dystopian movie for children, but this movie paves new ground for such masterpieces to be made. This film is beautiful, which many other animated features (with the exception of the master Miyazaki) have missed by a mile, and smart and funny. Pixar actually works around the clock, using their resources (for example, Apple affiliations), and ideas from past Sci-fi classics (2001, Blade Runner) to construct a great, amazing, and wowing blast from the past. No longer is Pixar a five-letter word. A-

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Man on the Bike: The Bicycle Thief

A great Italian film, and one of the most manipulative movies I've ever seen. It's one of the greatest films about work of all time. It triggers your desperate side as you relate with the main character within minutes. That man is Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), who has been selected for a high-paying job where it is required that the person in the position (which is poster applier) own and use a bike. His first day on the job, his bicycle, which he had paid 6,500 lira to repair, is stolen by a mystery man, who blends into the wide expanse of Rome. This sets up the main tension: find that bike or your in deep trouble. He goes after the thief with his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) and a few others. This involves tracking down an old man who made a deal with the young guy and chasing him through a mass, plus the fact that the bike could have been taken apart. They also go to an unhelpful soothsayer who tells them the irrelevant advice "you must find it today or you will never find it." She charges fifteen lira, so that's basically fraud, except people trust her so much that they won't bust her. Anyways, the dynamic duo actually finds the thief, but the bike has been disassembled. When they go to get the help of a cop, he states the simple truth: it's you vs. them. They refuse to press charges. Now the law is not the same. Justice has not been done, so Antonio decides to steal a bike himself, his own kid watching. But again his luck runs dry. The owner is just coming out of his apartment when Antonio is swiping. He then gets the entire neighborhood to pursue him and the bike stealing attempt is thwarted. He is let off, but he and his son blend into the crowd in one of the most depressing endings of all time. No wonder the film was given an honorary Oscar: it has power that few films have ever channeled. The choice by director Vittorio De Sica to cast amateur actors pays off big time and it really paints a portrait of 1940's, post-war Italy. Maggiorani is a great actor, as is Staiola, who proves to be amazing as the confused and saddened son. This film shows that you don't need a complicated plot or famous actors to do a great job. Bottom line: De Sica creates a cinematic masterpiece in every way possible, managing to blow minds on every level. He does not miss a beat. Enough said. A

Monday, June 30, 2008

Video Saved the Video Store: Be Kind Rewind

Jack Black always plays an annoying guy, but in almost every film he is in he is actually is very funny. In this film, he manages to be annoying while not providing us with any real humor. He does not fit into a movie about re-shooting movies, because he is not that type of guy. Mos Def is fine in this role, but Black makes the movie unsuccessful. You would think with a director like Michel Gondry (who pieced together Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is one of the most creative films of the last twenty years), who is witty, visionary, and artistic, that this film would be a success.

But let me sum it up for you: it really isn't. The premise is good, about remaking famous movies, but the execution is off. Be Kind Rewind is a video store not unlike your local movie rental business. It sells the same movies that any place sells. But it violates building codes and is in a zone that the city (Passaic, New Jersey, to be exact) wants to make it some sort of housing complex or something. But if the store, run by Elroy Fletcher (Danny Glover), can raise a high amount of money (like $60,000) so it can be renovated, the city I guess will have mercy. Fletcher, at this time, is just about to embark on a train ride to go to some sort of Fats Waller memorial (he's his hero) and leaves the store over to assistant Mike (Def).

Fletcher also tells Mike not to let Mike's kooky friend Jerry (Black) into the store, because Jerry means trouble. Jerry, meanwhile, is planning to sabotage his local power plant, and, in the process, is magnetized. So when Jerry comes into the store, he erases all the tapes. So people get mad and demand their money back. Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) gives them another chance, as she wants to see "Ghostbusters." She doesn't know what it's about, so that gives Mike and Jerry some leeway. Mike decides to re-shoot the movie. This is two of three sequences that charmed me. They do the works: ominous file cabinets moving in and out (courtesy of Jerry), a lit-on-fire Marshmallow Man, a negative night sequence, on and on. It actually is a job well done. It fools her, I guess.

Meanwhile, another guy wants "Rush Hour 2." This goes smoothly, until Wilson (Irv Gooch), Jerry's mechanic who is doubling as Ziyi Zhang's villain, quits. They have to find a replacement, and they go to the laundromat. They find Alma (Melonie Diaz), who fills the void and completes the film. She becomes the third part of the Be Kind Rewind video machine, and together, they go on to film many films (including "Robocop", "The Lion King", "King Kong", and "2001: A Space Odyssey"). Then, they start to include other people and they make films. Among these films is "2010: The Year We Make Contact", a censored "Boogie Nights", and "The Cell"? What? No wonder it's just listed in the montage sequence (like in a Time hits commercial) then actually shown. CRAPPY SPOILER WARNING: Then, the copyright people come in and ruin everything by destroying all the tapes and making a fool out of the guys. Then, the town and the store unite to make a fictional biography of Fats Waller's life (because, he was born in the same building as Be Kind Rewind!). The making of the film is odd, because it allows the people to have equipment that studios use, while still trying to maintain that low-budget feel that has been long lost. In the end, the guy from the superstore (West Coast Video) lends them the projector and the film is viewed and even Mr. Demolition Head is charmed. That's the end that it all comes crashing to. END OF THAT

Anyways, the acting, on the most part, is a travesty. Black, Glover, Farrow, and Diaz turn in really mediocre performances that are not Gondry standard. Def is good as Mike, though. The scenes in between the amateur shoots were soapy and irrelevant. They brought this movie to its knees. The timing, as with almost every film these days, is way off. And the humor is too. This movie fails to be amusing. The movie is so desperate to be amusing I wouldn't have been surprised if Mike's character was named Ben. Black isn't funny, at all. His "Sweded" joke turns out to be very dumb. And that's what the whole advertising campaign is based on. Bottom line: this movie compares with its' rival Son of Rambow, and that's not a compliment. This movie begs to be re-shot itself. C

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Love Game: Match Point

A perfectly sinister guilt drama from Woody Allen, whose peak seems to have actually hit right now. He introduces a new type of character into his complex affair: a sort of slick but ultimately extremely guilty guy. He is Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers of Bend it Like Beckham) a tennis pro turned instructor, who has just accepted his teaching job when Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) takes lessons with him. He is part of a rich, high class family. Chris then meets Chloe (Emily Mortimer of Dear Frankie), who is Tom's sister. She falls head over heels in love with him, and he loves her, until he becomes entranced by the struggling but feisty actress Nola (Scarlett Johanson), who is Tom's fiancee. Their first scene is perfect: she is playing ping-pong and he steps in and their proverbial ping-pong/tennis match begins with a bang as they go back and forth. The two leave lasting impressions on each other, and they fall in love. Then, Chris and Chloe marry. And just after, the bomb drops: Tom and Nola are calling it off. So Chris is tempted, and thinks that Chloe is getting boring, so he starts seeing Nola and soon she is pregnant. This is the major source of tension, as Chris must choose between his rich life, pampering family, and guaranteed job, and his lust. Chloe, meanwhile, does kind of suspect something is up, but Allen's formula rules that out. About that: Allen's ideas have been the same lately. He focuses in on murder and guilt. He does his directing extremely well in this film, while providing a great, innuendo-filled, Oscar-nominated script. (SPOILER ALERT) The film does sort to drive to the same end like his others, as Chris, feeling guilty about his situation and not being able to bring himself to tell his wife, goes to Nola's apartment, and not only fakes a break-in and kills her neighbor but kills her too. And he feels like crap and all, but he believes it is the only way to go. He gets called in by a detective and is heavily suggested as the murderer, but one of his actions saves him. When he was casting off Nola's elderly neighbor's jewelry into the waters of London, Chris accidentally tosses her ring towards the depths, but the ring hits the barrier and stays on land (recalling thoughts of the opening tennis monologue). A murder in the area shows that this ring was being carried by the drug-addled killer (Chris' break-in was classified as a drug murder). Anyways, this elaborates things and makes the detective (who woke up with a hunch that Chris was the one) look like a dreamer, setting Chris free and intertwining Allen's famous getting away endings with the movie itself. Great stuff. Also, Meyers turns in a spectacular performance, one that makes a movie and takes it to great heights. Johanson isn't quite so, but is good as the actress, with personality and a drive, unlike Hayley Atwell in Cassandra's Dream, which really is eerily similar. Anyways, the tennis theme and the double entendres set this movie apart. Bottom line: Allen may be known for such movies as Annie Hall and Manhattan, but this one is really up there. Game, set, and match. A

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Big Picture: Blowup

A classic and iconic film from Michelangelo Antonioni, about photography, murder, and life itself. I believe that this film is very good and gets its elusive point across ultimately. But it is not one of the greatest films of all-time, not by a long shot. David Hemmings plays Thomas, a photographer who is a veteran snapper. He takes strange shots: some of factory workers in their sad life, some of women in weird, garish costumes, and a few snaps of a couple (Vanessa Redgrave and an uncredited Ronan O'Casey). The ones of the park duo upset Jane (Redgrave) who doesn't want him to keep them. He eventually tricks her out of them. And he discovers that Jane's beau was murdered.

So while this is happening, two women (credited as The Blonde and The Brunette, Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills respectively) keep wanting them to help them by taking pictures or something. He gets mad at them. And, while this is happening, he is assembling a book of pictures of the factory workers and of the couple with this guy named Ron (Peter Bowles). In the last 30 minutes, it seems like it is building up to a climax, but no. Thomas goes to a strange Yardbirds concert where Keith Reif is lip-synching to himself, and there is no Eric Clapton to be seen. I guess the "highlight" of the scene is when the bassist (I'm not a hardcore fan of the Yardbirds) smashes his bass and Thomas keeps the neck and then throws it out while walking on the street. The scene has no relevance to the movie. Maybe Antonioni felt obliged to add some random pop culture into the movie. I don't know, but it really doesn't help the movie's cause.

Then, Thomas goes to Ron's party where people are rolling joints and just chilling. He then realizes that he must take a picture of the body. He didn't take the chance the night before when he saw the body. But when he goes, the body is gone, and he is just standing around watching mimes play air tennis. Not very fulfilling.So the lesson here is you don't mix art and 60's pop culture together. I mean, the movie was good up until the last 30 minutes. I won't talk about the acting, because it is not important. The movie is beautiful and is extremely artistic and symbolic, but the greatness is broken by the "needs" of the times. It's the same thing I always grimace about when I go to pop cinema: directors try to be hip and impressive, instead of just creating something halfway artistic, and wind up coming out embarrassing. I didn't find Blowup embarrassing, but I wonder what would have happened if Antonioni had not tried to be more hip than the movie needed to be. B+

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Man Alive: The Third Man

Film noir at its absolute best. This is a poster movie for the genre and it is the perfect mystery flick, rivaling the likes of Orson Welles' great work Touch of Evil. Which is to say that Carol Reed is an outstanding director and can make a spectacular film. His film is a story of murder unlike most noir flicks, as it involves an American who is not a detective but actually an author of many westerns. This man is Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), and he comes to Vienna to see Harry Lime. When he arrives, he finds that Lime has been accidentally run over by a car. He hears this from a porter in Lime's building. He also meets a friend of Lime's, Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch), but he has a totally different story. When Martins hears this, he starts to become suspicious. He decides to dig deeper and meets Anna Schmidt (Valli), Lime's lover. At this point, most noirs tend to fall into romance, but this movie doesn't, as the relationship between Martins and Schmidt seems pretty business only. Anyways, the two interact and sort of flirt and go to see the porter again. How is this significant? Well, a little boy sees the porter and Martins arguing. When the porter ends up murdered the next day, he tells the police to go after Martins as he thinks he's the one. This ends up not really mattering, as the police are not really concerned with Martins. Meanwhile, Schmidt's passport is being checked and it is found that the passport is foraged and she must go back to Czechoslovakia. At this point, the movie is falling into the realm of a typical film noir, as it is just kind of only a whodunit. Enter Lime (Orson Welles), who steps out of the shadows and shakes things up. Significance? Lime has been giving out bad penicillin to hospital patients and deeply damaging their health conditions. So the police are after him. The only person Lime can trust is his good friend Holly, and this is the way that Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) wants to catch him. So Lime is chased into the sewers and is pursued in one of the best scenes in cinema history. Let me sum it up. The camerawork is masterful, the setting is priceless, and the possibilities are endless. Best of all, it actually makes Lime look human, as he is, in the end, defeated, as he is trying to crawl up through a sewer grate and is executed by his good friend Holly (in a nice Hitchcockian shot). Peter Bogdanovich said in a Criterion introduction for this film that color distracts the viewers from the beauty of a film. It especially applies to this scene. This long section in the sewers needs black and white to reveal its full potential. The rest of the film after this is a set of beautiful shots, especially a long shot of Schmidt walking briskly past Martins, rather than even say a word. It is totally priceless. Now to the technicalities: the acting is great. Cotton is not the most interesting of actors, but he does his job nicely. Anyways, he has Valli and Welles to help him. They both turn in great performances. The script is sharp, adapted by Graham Greene from his own novel. The cinematography is stellar, especially in the sewer sequence. And finally, the music ("The Third Man Theme", which plays throughout the movie, with Anton Karas on zither) is what it's all about. It is a genius composition and is perfect for this film. Bottom line: most film noir films fall into the same drowsy structure. But this great is alive, amplified, and one for the ages. A

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Smoking Guns: Cassandra's Dream

Woody Allen is a great director, and has been for over 30 years. He has made many great movies, including Annie Hall, Manhattan, Match Point, and Scoop (which may not have been great, but was extremely enjoyable). This movie is not a great film. It is not a good film. It is a decent film. And it seemed like Allen was rushing to keep his once-a-year movie status. This one is a murder mystery, just like his last few films, except you know who the murderers are, and you are given time to relate with them. Terry (Colin Farrell) is a former soccer star who is now working as a mechanic. He's a really, really nice guy, and he has a big conscience. He drinks, gambles, smokes, and pops pills, though, but he's nice. His mother, though, thinks he doesn't have a conscience. That might be because he gets in a heck of a lot of debt. But she's wrong. His budding businessman brother, Ian (Ewan McGregor), is a "nice guy". He's a nice guy if you don't count him cheating on his girlfriend with an "good" actress (Hayley Atwell), always showing up late for work at his father's restaurant, and damaging one of the cars from Terry's auto shop. Anyways, "bad" Terry gets 90,000 pounds in debt during a card game, and the two turn to Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), who is a prince who knows the ropes of the world. But Uncle Howie is a little on the shady side, and he wants the two brothers to take out a guy on his board (Philip Davis) because some testimony he's gonna make will potentially jail Howard. So the two contemplate how they will murder the businessman and Terry feels bad that he will have to play contact killer. So somehow our good friend Ian (who's pretty much a senseless killer at heart) talks Terry into the job, and the two pull it off on the side streets of London. Then, Terry falls into utter depression and his girlfriend Kate (Sally Hawkins) tries to help him, but he just feels like crap about it. Ian is happy, though, because the man he calls Uncle helps him out with a big business deal in LA and gives Ian's girlfriend (who is a terrible actress) a potential hookup with a director. I suggest you stop reading if you actually decide to waste enough time watching this movie and be "surprised." So officially: SPOILER ALERT! Ian must take out Terry. And in the most predictable scene in the movie, Ian is gonna poison Terry, has a "conscience" finally (he decides to fist fight with Terry, not poison him), and Terry accidentally kills Ian and takes his own life (the latter mentioned, not shown). Anyways, this plot is too predictable and is not up to the level of Allen's other films. Now, to acting and technicalities: this film proves that Farrell can be a much better actor than McGregor, though I thought I saw McGregor mouthing a couple of lines to Farrell. McGregor was probably cheating himself. Take, for example, the one scene between Wilkinson and McGregor when they are contemplating the murder of Ian's brother. McGregor seems to be staring at something, because his eyes look like they're reading and the same camera angle is used repeatedly. It may even be possible that Wilkinson's lines and McGregor's lines were shot separately. But I'm being picky. I guess it's not that bad. Now too the supporting acting: Atwell is okay, but Wilkinson is pretty good (not good enough, though). Who is the best? Sally Hawkins, as Terry's girl, but she gets not much screen time. Bottom line: Scoop was good, smart, and worthwhile. This movie is barely passible, not very smart, and not worth the price of admission or, really, the price of a rental. C

Note: Having read a story ("Nanny Dearest") in Woody Allen's new story collection Mere Anarchy, I had to wonder whether one influenced the other. If it was literature to cinema, then that's a double whammy for Allen.