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.