Archive for July, 2007

Sweet Land (2006)

The Review:

If nostalgia is defined as "a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time" (see, than Sweet Land is its perfect filmic definition. This story about a German mail-order bride’s struggle (a radiant and feisty Elizabeth Reaser) to marry a Norwegian immigrant farmer (a stolid and intense Tim Guinee) in rural 1920’s Minnesota has echoes of the American immigrant dream.  The young couple must overcome small town bigotry and a codified distrust of all things socialist and German in order to marry.  Told in a flashback style that has one generation listening to the origin story of the first upon the death of the family patriarch, shot in a glorious 35 mm clarity that emphasizes the vastness of the sky and the land, and the singleness of action and thought– Sweet Land glows with the sheen of gentle folklore.   It is a story content to be simply told and acted.  It succeeds wonderfully without ever tilting to sentiment.  It gets an A-.

The Plot: (from

A young Inge Alltenburg travels to Minnesota in the 1920’s to marry Olaf Torvik, a Norwiegan man who lives there. It is Inge’s story of not being able to marry Olaf due to there different citizenship’s, and not being accepted because of the war with Germany. Over time she learns English and befriends Olaf, Frances, and Frances’ family.

The credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by Ali Selim; written by Mr. Selim, based on the short story "A Gravestone Made of Wheat," by Will Weaver; director of photography, David Tumblety; edited by James R. Stanger; music by Mark Orton; production designer, James R. Bakkom; produced by Jim Bigham, Alan Cumming and Mr. Selim; released by Libero.

WITH: Elizabeth Reaser (Inge Altenberg), Tim Guinee (Olaf Torvik), Alan Cumming (Frandsen), Alex Kingston (Brownie), Ned Beatty (Harmo), John Heard (Minister Sorrensen), Robert Hogan (Olaf Torvik as an older man), Karen Landry (Rose Torvik) and Lois Smith (Inge as an older woman).

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The Review:

The final chapter has arrived and it is marvelous.  Yes, You-know-who and Harry do have the final battle, but that is not what impresses me about my first entry in the Potter franchise– no it is the absolute humanity of the whole thing.  Rowling  has created a great adventure yarn that doesn’t stoop to stereotype for its main characters.   Harry is a hero that gropes fearfully towards greatness, and achieves it.  It is touching how Rowling battles for us muggles.  Without all these nagging flaws we would all be He Who Can Not Be Spoken Of.  Rolwing’s prose often is serviceable and on occasion its straightforward simplicity can be beautiful and wonderfully moving.   Her tendency to rely too much on dialogue does have some awkward moments.  There are a few chapters towards the end where major plot points are revealed via talking heads that could have been handled with a little more literary imagination and application of dramatic action.  Still overall, this is a great read.  It gets an A. 

The Credits:

Written by J.K. Rowling

The Plot:

Read the novel guys. 

Hairspray–Seen in theater

Posted: July 27, 2007 in Uncategorized

Hairspray (2007)

The. Review:

The "Divine"less Hairspray stripped down to its innocent nub is still a diverting movie.  This is the not naughty nice, radically weirdly comfortable version.   Who would have thought that John Waters would become the garnddaddy poster boy for a vanilla America bent on transforming the radical 60’s into the quaint somnambulistic morality of the 50’s.  Sure VICTORS get to rewrite the history books, but it doesn’t mean LOSERS get to revise movies as a consolation prize. Divine gave the original some risque fun by playing off the idea that all really big mothers really are drag queens underneath.  John Travolta takes it to the reverse absurdity by trying to prove that all drag queens playing big mothers really are straight. Travolta-tina douses Hairspray with the ozone mist of "The Method". When the vapor settles and after everyone has stopped coughing, there could be an Oscar win in there somewhere. The original had the zaftig effervescence of the pre-tenderized Ricki Lake.  This Hairspray has the hefty charm of the much more talented, bubblier and sexier Nikki  Blonsky.  If there is a Playboy centerfold in the future (as she jokingly implied in an interview) I would definitely buy out the entire issue.   Nikki don’t be a Ricki.  Don’t lose those pounds!  Blonsky really is hairspray.  She makes it a winner. Adapted from the successful Broadway musical by movie veteran choreographer Adam Shankman, Hairspray 2007 has the great virtue of believability: everyone sings and dances their hearts out– and in their own voices.  Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland couldn’t have put on a better show.  Hairspray gets a B+. 

The Plot: (from

Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), an overweight teenager with all the right moves, is obsessed with the Corny Collins Show. Every day after school, she and her best friend Penny (Amanda Bynes)run home to watch the show and drool over the hot Link Larkin (Zac Efron), much to Tracy’s mother Edna’s (John Travolta) dismay. After one of the stars of the show leaves, Corny Collins (Jason Marsden) holds auditions to see who will be the next person on the Corny Collins show. With all of the help of her friend Seaweed (Elijah Kelly), Tracy makes it on the show, angering the evil dance queen Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow) and her mother Velma (Michelle Pfieffer). Tracy then decides that it’s not fair that the black kids can only dance on the Corny Collins Show once a month, and with the help of Seaweed, Link, Penny, Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah), her father (Christopher Walken) and Edna, she’s going to integrate the show…..without denting her ‘do!

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed and choreographed by Adam Shankman; written by Leslie Dixon, based on the screenplay by John Waters and the musical stage play, book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Mr. Shaiman; director of photography, Bojan Bazelli; edited by Michael Tronick; score by Mr. Shaiman; production designer, David Gropman; produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron; released by New Line Cinema. Running time: 107 minutes.

WITH: John Travolta (Edna Turnblad), Michelle Pfeiffer (Velma Von Tussle), Christopher Walken (Wilbur Turnblad), Amanda Bynes (Penny Pingleton), James Marsden (Corny Collins), Queen Latifah (Motormouth Maybelle), Brittany Snow (Amber Von Tussle), Zac Efron (Link Larkin), Elijah Kelley (Seaweed), Allison Janney (Prudy Pingleton), Jerry Stiller (Mr. Pinky), Paul Dooley (Mr. Spritzer) and Nikki Blonsky (Tracy Turnblad).

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

The Review:

The Die Hard films take an almost anarchistic delight in the way Detective John McClane is able to disarm high tech villainy with an almost Neanderthal ferocity.  In Live Free or Die Hard, McClane needs a little more help– the old body being a half-step slower now. So he recruits the Apple computer dude (an effective Matt Farrell) to counter program against a vindictive terrorist (a maniacally sniveling Timothy Olyphant ) determined to take down all the government traffic and control systems. For the fourth time, McClane, the ultimate blue collar warrior, must clean up the mess of the American paradox:  the anger of the unjustly screwed over American worker. To Bruce Willis’ credit he has always managed to make McClane’s discontent more human than creeping subtext.  It has always been about defending the wife, the daughter than  about blowing up the process in order to cure the American Dream gone sour.  Live Free or Die Hard, however, is all about the pain, the bombs and the cars.   The humanity doesn’t come until the end.  The family hijack is a last attempt rather than a first response.  Even if Willis is more terminator than pissed off cop, there is still fun in watching McClane burn and blow up all those pretty toys.   I give it a B+.  

The Plot: (from

When someone hacks into the computers at the FBI’s Cyber Crime Division; the Director decides to round up all the hackers who could have done this. When he’s told that because it’s the 4th of July most of their agents are not around so they might have trouble getting people to get the hackers. So he instructs them to get local PD’S to take care of it. And one of the cops they ask is John McClane who is tasked with bringing a hacker named Farrell to the FBI. But as soon as he gets there someone starts shooting at them. McClane manages to get them out but they’re still being pursued. And it’s just when McClane arrives in Washington that the whole system breaks down and chaos ensues.

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by Len Wiseman; written by Mark Bomback, based on a story by Mr. Bomback and David Marconi; director of photography, Simon Duggan; edited by Nicolas de Toth; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; stunt coordinator, Brad Martin; produced by Michael Fottrell; released by 20th Century Fox. Running time: 130 minutes.

WITH: Bruce Willis (John McClane), Timothy Olyphant (Thomas Gabriel), Justin Long (Matt Farrell), Cliff Curtis (Bowman), Maggie Q (Mai) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Lucy McClane).

Stay– TIVOed from HBO

Posted: July 18, 2007 in Movies

Stay (2005)

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

The Review:

AAARgh! I hate movies that don’t live up to their gimmicky endings.  Their meaning gets crushed in the light of the literal.  The trick ending reduces what could have been art to craft, reduces mystery to  an exercise in technique.  Memento, and maybe, The Sixth Sense are the only two movies that I recall that avoided the literal trap– and that was because they were still mysterious after everything was revealed.  That is what art does– it screws with your mind in the best kind of way.   Stay is neither. This story about a young man who declares his intention to snuff himself in three days right in front of his substitute psychiatrists gets lost trying to keep everything coherent for the big dive at the end.  A good cast, including a pre-Half-Nelson Ryan Gosling using this as a case study to refine his technique for his big Oscar push, manages to pull the deception off  for about half the movie before all the time reversals, replays, and personality switches start to lose their flavor.   At least, the director  Marc Foster (Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball, Stranger than Fiction) got the art-fart side of him over and done with early. Look at it as a tune-up to directing Bond Movie 22. It doesn’t help him to direct The Kite Runner.  I give Stay a B-. 

The Plot: (from

After a car accident on a bridge, the psychiatrist Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) assumes the case of the survivor Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling), who apparently torched and car and promises to commit suicide three days later. Sam decides to investigate deeper what happened with Henry, and feels that he is becoming detached from reality with his findings about the case. He asks his girlfriend Lila Culpepper (Naomi Watts) to help himself to stay lucid, while trying to solve the intriguing situation of Henry.

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by Marc Forster; written by David Benioff; director of photography, Roberto Schaefer; edited by Matt Chessé; music by Asche & Spencer; production designer, Kevin Thompson; produced by Arnon Milchan, Tom Lassally and Eric Kopeloff; released by 20th Century Fox. Running time: 98 minutes.

WITH: Ewan McGregor (Sam Foster), Ryan Gosling (Henry Letham), Kate Burton (Mrs. Letham), Naomi Watts (Lila Culpepper), Elizabeth Reaser (Athena), Bob Hoskins (Dr. Leon Patterson), Janeane Garofalo (Dr. Beth Levy) and B. D. Wong (Dr. Ren).




Transformers (2007)

The Review:

I wonder when the studios are going to get smart with all their blatant product placement.  In Transformers all the good Transformers morph into GM cars, while the bad boys just have to settle for being jets, tanks and attack helicopters.  Why couldn’t the producers sell the rights to be the villains to the other car makers? Why can’t it be the good GM cars versus those evil Japanese Toyotas or Honda, or those mean spirited BMW or Merecedes Benz demons?   It might be true that the bad boys get all the cool toys while the good ones get the cool wheels– but in Hollywood the cool wheels get the chicks and, at least here, "He who gets the most chicks win."  Isn’t America great? Which all goes to say that Transformers is a big, noisy summer movie edited to within a milli-second of its life.  Don’t give them time to think and they won’t notice it is dumb– the motto for both GM and Hollywood.  All chrome, stainless steel glint, shiny wheels and Shia LaBeouf spitting out nervous nerdery at a 100 strokes a second, Transformers gets by on synaptic action alone.   Michael Bay has created another action movie that likes to keep its heart rate high but its brain waves low.   In America that is a good thing– almost genius.  In Moya World that only gets you a B.  

The Plot: (from

High-school student Sam Witwicky buys his first car, who is actually the Autobot Bumblebee. Bumblebee defends Sam and his girlfriend Mikaela Banes from the Decepticon Barricade, before the other Autobots arrive on Earth. They are searching for the Allspark, and the war on Earth heats up as the Decepticons attack a United States military base in Qatar. Sam and Mikaela are taken by the top-secret agency Sector 7 to help stop the Decepticons, but when they learn the agency also intends to destroy the Autobots, they formulate their own plan to save the world

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by Michael Bay; written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, based on a story by John Rogers, Mr. Orci and Mr. Kurtzman and Hasbro’s Transformers action figures; director of photography, Mitchell Amundsen; edited by Paul Rubell, Glen Scantlebury and Thomas A. Muldoon; music by Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Jeff Mann; special visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic; produced by Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Ian Bryce; released by DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures. Running time: 144 minutes.

WITH: Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky), Tyrese Gibson (Technical Sergeant Epps), Josh Duhamel (Captain Lennox), Anthony Anderson (Glen Whitmann), Megan Fox (Mikaela Banes), Rachael Taylor (Maggie Madsen), John Turturro (Agent Simmons) and Jon Voight (Defense Secretary John Keller).

WITH THE VOICES OF: Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Hugo Weaving (Megatron), Mark Ryan (Bumblebee), Jess Harnell (Ironhide/Barricade), Robert Foxworth (Ratchet), Jimmie Wood (Bonecrusher), Darius McCrary (Autobot Jazz), Charlie Adler (Starscream) and Reno Wilson (Decepticon Frenzy).

The Painted Veil (2006)

The Review:

Even though the title comes from a Shelley lyric, I like to think of the Painted Veil as the original Love in the Time of Cholera– a two tone poem on love lost, regained, and then transcended. The Painted Veil is a story propelled along on the  revelations that come when humanity confronts the line that exists between life and death. In a China  swallowed in disease and on the verge of revolution– the very English idea that good works can fend off the existential abyss doesn’t  seem so dated a notion.   Edward Norton and Naomi Watts deliver performances of committed intensity and gentleness, and the director John Curran, keeps it all believable with a style that delivers a low level religious sheen to all the proceedings. This is Somerset Maughan done right.   The Painted Veil gets a B+.    

The Plot: (from

This love story has Kitty meeting young, intelligent, shy and somewhat dull Dr. Walter Fane, whose forte is the study of infectious diseases, and the convenient marriage that she finds herself committed too. It is in this web of intrigue that they head for China, only after Walter discover’s Kitty’s infidelity with one dashing and witty Diplomat Charlie Townsend. So much as to hide her from herself and to help thwart a cholera outbreak, this is a marriage more than on the rocks. This is a cold, indifferent and loveless partnership in a vast unknown and deadly environment that will test both these flightless lovebirds and with the hardships and tolerances more than any had ever anticipated. A visual delight amidst the pain and suffering of a dying people and failing marriage. Will a cure be found for both, before it’s too late?

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by John Curran; written by Ron Nyswaner, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, Stuart Dryburgh; edited by Alexandre de Franceschi; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Tu Juhua; produced by Sara Colleton, Jean-François Fonlupt, Bob Yari, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts; released by Warner Independent Pictures. Running time: 125 minutes.

WITH: Naomi Watts (Kitty Fane) Edward Norton (Walter Fane), Liev Schreiber (Charlie Townsend), Toby Jones (Waddington) and Diana Rigg (Mother Superior).