Archive for August, 2007

Vacancy– On the Netflix cue

Posted: August 31, 2007 in Movies

Vacancy (2007)

The Review:

 In Vacancy Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale  (the reigning queen of The Underworld series) get some much needed marriage therapy when they spend the last night before the official divorce in a Bates motel where the free in-room movie is a snuff film that tries to feature them.  Nimrod Antal (the director of Kontroll a moody thriller set entirely in the Hungarian underground subway) like a scientist engaged in a rat labyrinth study, knows his way through the maze of alienation, claustrophobia and terror that Mark L. Smith’s screenplay creates.   In the slow unfolding opening scenes that take place mostly within the confines of David and Amy Fox’s small car, the fidgeting, the bickering and recriminations about blame for their failing marriage and dead son are intercut with shots of them seemingly talking alone in the speeding dark, the roof almost smashing down on top of their heads.  Clearly, this is a lost couple caught in the seat of their own individual sorrow and pain yet unable to break away from the mutual comfort that grief provides.  Antal quickly and efficiently underlines the psychology of these two, if tested, that can still fight for each other.  David and Amy are a lot more intelligent than the average horror movie victims (who die in a queasy and brutal series of dicers projected from their room VCR), and in a neat twist that makes Vacancy a small guilty pleasure, David really knows how to watch a film.  So, when the cameras are discovered and the mayhem begins this couple has a sensible escape plan that keeps them just barely ahead of the murderous Mason (an overheated performance by Frank Whaley) , the front desk manager with an auteur streak, and his masked assassins.   The delight of watching David and Amy crawling through the gangs secret underground tunnels, attic crawl spaces and booby hatches is only mildly marred by the stupidity of Mason’s gang– even though Frank Whaley does a good slow burn.   The moral of all this is: "Watch a movie, really watch a movie, it just might save your life."  Vacancy gets a B.     

The Plot: (from IMDB.com)

David and Amy Fox find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere when their car breaks down. Luckily, they come across a motel with a TV to entertain them during their overnight stay. However, there’s something very strange and familiar about the Grade-Z slasher movies that the motel broadcasts for its guests’ enjoyment. They all appear to be filmed in the very same room they occupy! Realizing that they are trapped in their room with hidden cameras now aimed at them filming their every move, David and Amy desperately find a means of escape through locked doors, crawlspaces and underground tunnels before they too become the newest stars of the mystery filmmaker’s next cult classic!

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by Nimrod Antal; written by Mark L. Smith; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Armen Minasian; music by Paul Haslinger; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; produced by Hal Lieberman; released by Screen Gems. Running time: 80 minutes.

WITH: Luke Wilson (David Fox), Kate Beckinsale (Amy Fox), Frank Whaley (Mason) and Ethan Embry (the Mechanic).

"Vacancy" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). The usual: knife and gun violence, brief female nudity, profanity.

 

Broken English– On the Netflix Cue

Posted: August 29, 2007 in Movies

Broken English(2007)

 

The Review:

It is usually a bad sign when a romantic comedy adopts the point of view of its lovelorn heroine.  In Broken English, Parker Posey plays Nora Wilder, a woman approaching the angst of a marriagless middle age in such a high strung dither that she gets anxiety attacks at the though of just a date.  Her life is a parade of watching the already attached ask about the non-men in her life.  The men she does go out with use her either as an acting exercise or a practice date.  That is until Julian, a kind and understanding Frenchman, pops into her life.  Broken English has all the elements of romantic comedy with none of the lightness of tone.  Parker Posey gives a naturalistic performance and the whole film is shot in the greens and grays of a documentary (a la the John Cassavetes style) by first time director Zoe Cassavetes (yes, the daughter of THAT Cassavetes and Gena Rowland who makes a cameo).  All the elements of her dad’s style are on display– and yet, they only bring the picture down.  The dislocation is akin to being stuck in an Ingmar Bergman drama that is being directed as a comedy by Woody Allen.  The homage kills the movie.  Her dad may have taught her what was good.  Zoe will have to figure out for herself how to do it right.   Broken English gets a B-.    

The Plot: (from IMDB.com)

Nora Wilder is freaking out. Everyone around her is in a relationship, is married, or has children. Nora is in her thirties, alone with job she’s outgrown and a mother who constantly reminds her of it all. Not to mention her best friend Audrey’s "perfect marriage". But after a series of disastrous dates, Nora unexpectedly meets Julien, a quirky Frenchman who opens her eyes to a lot more than love.

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Written and directed by Zoe Cassavetes; director of photography, John Pirozzi; edited by Andrew Weisblum; music by Scratch Massive; production designer, Happy Massee; produced by Jason Kliot, Joana Vicente and Andrew Fierberg; released by Magnolia Pictures and HDNet Films. Running time: 90 minutes.

WITH: Parker Posey (Nora Wilder), Melvil Poupaud (Julien), Drea de Matteo (Audrey Andrews), Justin Theroux (Nick Gable), Peter Bogdanovich (Irving Mann), Tim Guinee (Mark Andrews), James McCaffrey (Perry), Gena Rowlands (Vivien Wilder-Mann) and Josh Hamilton (Charlie).

“Broken English” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) for some sexual content, brief drug use and language.


Resurrecting the Champ(2007)

The Review:

When Samuel L. Jackson gives a knockout performance the rest of the cast spars along.  In Resurrecting the Champ Josh Hartnett, however, is content to take the dive.  It is an oddly effective choice for this tale of journalistic screw-up, about not following through and checking the facts of the story on a homeless ex-boxer who is not what he contends– at least for the first third.  When Champ turns to fighting the ghosts of the past– the famous father, the failed marriage, the lies of self-importance he tells his son– Hartnett has none in the closet.  His emotional life, all one note of it, rings dead, unconscious, down for the count.   Samuel L. Jackson, as the pretender, is left to spar alone.  His voice pummeled to a rasp of too much gin, heartache and blood soaked punches; his eyes filled with pain, loneliness, and the hunger for self-regard;  the body stooped like a sagging punching bag; Jackson’s performance goes the full fifteen.  There is just enough pathos to make him tragic.  With a little better main support and some streamlining, Resurrecting the Champ could have been another Million Dollar Baby instead of just partly alive.  It is sad to see an almost good film die alone in an alley.  It gets a B-.     

The Plot: (from IMDB.com)

Up-and-coming sports reporter (Hartnett) rescues a homeless man ("Champ", Jackson) only to discover that he is, in fact, a boxing legend believed to have passed away. What begins as an opportunity to resurrect Champ’s story and escape the shadow of his father’s success becomes a personal journey as the ambitious reporter reexamines his own life and his relationship with his family.

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by Rod Lurie; written by Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett; director of photography, Adam Kane; edited by Sarah Boyd; music by Larry Groupé; production designer, Ken Rempel; produced by Mike Medavoy, Bob Yari, Marc Frydman and Rod Lurie; released by Yari Film Group. Running time: 111 minutes.

WITH: Samuel L. Jackson (Champ), Josh Hartnett (Erik), Kathryn Morris (Joyce), Rachel Nichols (Polly), David Paymer (Whitley), Teri Hatcher (Andrea Flak), Dakota Goyo (Teddy) and Alan Alda (Metz).

“Resurrecting the Champ” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has some strong language.

Mr. Beans Holiday– Seen in Theater

Posted: August 28, 2007 in Movies

Mr. Bean’s Holiday(2007)

The Review:

The Jacque Tati reference (Mr. Hulot’s Holiday) in Mr. Bean’s Holiday makes obvious all that Rowan Atkinson steals from other cinema clowns.   Where Mr Hulot actually had a holiday on the beach, Mr Bean spends eighty percent of his screen time just trying to get there.   Both are walking disasters.  Where Tati found humor in good intentions gone bad, Bean finds calamities in slightly bad intentions gone worse.  The typical Bean routine is a mini-sermon on the follies wrought by an unchecked ego. Here, Bean has won a trip to Cannes (at the time of the film festival) in a church lottery only to be straddled with a French tot (an homage to Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid) when Bean’s desire for the perfect video shot of him boarding the TGV train causes the boy’s father to miss the pull-out.  A comic road trip ensues where misunderstanding (everyone thinks the boy may have been kidnapped) and survival comedy ( a funny one involves a stolen speaker and a recording of an opera diva singing a death aria) makes for some wryly amusing comic moments.  Willem Dafoe shows up providing some wonderful support as the counterpointing uber-Bean character: an overweening, talkative American director obsessed with recording every boring, overly symbolized, voiced-over minutiae of his life as much as much as Bean is entranced with filming his own stupidity.  All the slightly overexposed takes, and at times charming connections to past comic works had me thinking that some subtle commentary was being sneaked by, that Mr. Bean’s Holiday was trying to be a G-rated subversive work of art.   Then, that would be giving Mr. Bean’s Holiday a little too much credit.   It gets a B.     

 

The Plot: (from IMDB.com)

Mr. Bean enters a church raffle and wins a vacation trip to France as well as a camcorder. After boarding a Eurostar train and arriving in Paris, the French language proves a barrier for Bean, as he struggles to get across the city to catch a train to the south of France from the Gare de Lyon. Taking time to order a meal, he finds the consumption of a seafood platter to be a challenge. Just before catching his train, he asks Emil, a Russian film director on his way to be a judge at the Cannes Film festival to use his camcorder to record his boarding, but accidentally causes Emil being left behind at the station. Bean attempts to cheer up the director’s son Stepan as the train continues south but matters are made more hectic by the fact that Emil has reported his son to have been kidnapped and Bean losing his wallet and essential travel documents at a pay phone where he and Stepan attempt to contact Emil. Heading in the direction of Cannes, Bean finds himself in the cast and disrupting the flow of a commercial being shot by the egotistical director Carson Clay. He and Stepan finally hitch a ride with the young and vivacious actress Sabine who is heading to Cannes to attend the premiere of Clay’s film, in which she appears. After Bean sneaks into the showing, his camcorder images are destined to enliven the proceedings.

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by Steve Bendelack; written by Hamish McColl and Robin Driscoll, based on a story by Simon McBurney and the original character created by Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis; director of photography, Baz Irvine; edited by Tony Cranstoun; music by Howard Goodall; production designer, Michael Carlin; produced by Peter Bennett-Jones, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 87 minutes. This film is rated G.

WITH: Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Emma de Caunes (Sabine), Jean Rochefort (Maître D’), Karel Roden (Emil), Max Baldry (Stepan) and Willem Dafoe (Carson Clay).

Zodiac– Onthe Netflix cue

Posted: August 25, 2007 in Movies

Zodiac (2007)

The Review:

Zodiac, the first film from David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Panic Room) in five years, is an edgy obsessive masterpiece that burrows deep into the mystery of the ultimately irresolute, the seeming tantalizing solvable.  Facts and circumstances are criminalized, bent, taunted and flaunted by a perpetrator that uses ciphers, letters  and occasional red herrings with the knowledge that proof doesn’t prove anything.  He uses the whole sick process to get away with it all.  The main characters are all driven crazy by their obsession to turn the circumstantial into conclusive proof. Paul Avery, the media bloodhound (Robert Downey Junior brilliantly playing the Robert Downey Junior character) tumbles from the interpreter of reality, the creator of public perception, to a booze and drug addled paranoid fearful for his life and seeking invisibility outside the jurisdiction of the killer’s mind by moving two hours away from the crime scene to a houseboat in Sacramento and writing for a paper that the Zodiac never reads. Inspector David Toschi (a taciturn Mark Ruffalo) is demoted to the powerless comfort of a beat desk when the Zodiac cases criss-cross precincts, turn cold, and start to look to his superiors like an obsessed cop’s crusade that is now wasting departmental time and resources.  Robert Graysmith,  an editorial cartoonist, a doodler use to seeing and drawing the big picture, connects the dots only after endlessly reviewing the articles neatly collected in family photo albums, the scattered crime archives and reinterviewing the witnesses until he is able to nail down every moment.  Jake Gyllenhaal perfectly encapsulates the patient studious character, the librarian hero, the rescuer of knowledge from powerlessness that David Fincher sees as the illuminating grace of Zodiac.  The picture has the intentional claustrophobic feel of being locked up in a file cabinet for three hours– a really interesting one filled with the great secrets of life waiting to be opened up, lit, and read.  (The cinematography has the opacity of a time seared manilla folder.) Zodiac gets an A.   

The Plot: (from IMDB.com)

A serial killer in the San Francisco Bay Area taunts police with his letters and cryptic messages. We follow the investigators and reporters in this lightly fictionalized account of the true 1970’s case as they search for the murderer, becoming obsessed with the case. Based on Robert Graysmith’s book, the movie’s focus is the lives and careers of the detectives and newspaper people.

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by David Fincher; written by James Vanderbilt, based on the books “Zodiac” and “Zodiac Unmasked” by Robert Graysmith; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Angus Wall; music by David Shire; production designer, Donald Graham Burt; produced by Mr. Vanderbilt, Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Bradley J. Fischer and Cean Chaffin; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 158 minutes.

WITH: Jake Gyllenhaal (Robert Graysmith), Mark Ruffalo (Inspector Dave Toschi), Robert Downey Jr. (Paul Avery), Anthony Edwards (Inspector Bill Armstrong), Brian Cox (Melvin Belli), Elias Koteas (Sgt. Jack Mulanax) and Chloë Sevigny (Melanie).

“Zodiac” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It contains extremely graphic gun and knife violence, as well as alcohol abuse and cocaine use.

Death at a Funeral– Seen in theater

Posted: August 21, 2007 in Movies

 

Death at a Funeral (2007)

 

The Review:

The British are never funnier than when they get punched in their stiff upper lips.  Death At a Funeral takes a great gleeful swipe at British composure and an even greater delight in burying  the corpse.  The mourners at the funeral of the beloved family patriarch unwittingly ingest psycho-hallucinogenic substances, a little doo-doo, commit unintentional manslaughter, blackmail, get naked and go generally daft.  The director Frank Oz, an American (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Bowfinger and the voice of Miss Piggy) throws the monkey wrench of American slapstick into the center of British farce and still manages to make Death At a Funeral a quintessentially British comedy, just sunnier.  America is returning the favor of the  British retooling of American genre movies (Paul Greengrass and The Bourne films being the prime example) by crossing the Atlantic and getting the British comedy out of the pea soup fog of black farce.  The great, but the very small in height Peter Dinklage pops up as a "wee" blackmailer who not only has photos of him and Dah in flagrante delecto, but also submits to the most outrageous example of 69 in film history.   Another example of America giving it to the Brits by adding a little sex comedy.  Still, Oz just manages to makes it a pretty much hit and miss affair.   More hits than miss.   He never really gets the right comic tone.  Still, Death At a Funeral is funny enough to make the most dour Brit laugh in recognition.   Its gets a B.     

The Plot: (from IMDB.com)

On the morning of their father’s funeral, the family and friends of the deceased each arrive with his or her own roiling anxieties. The son, Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen), knows he will have to face his flirty, blow-hard, famous-novelist brother Robert (Rupert Graves), who’s just flown in from New York–not to mention the promises of a new life he’s made to his wife Jane (Keeley Hawes). Meanwhile, Daniel’s cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) and her dependable new fiancé Simon (Alan Tudyk) are desperate to make a good impression on Martha’s uptight father–a plan that literally goes out the window when Simon accidentally ingests a designer drug en route to the service, leaving him prone to uncontrollable bouts of delirium and nudity in front of his potential in-laws. Then comes the real shocker: a mysterious guest who threatens to unveil an earth-shattering family secret. It is now up to the two brothers to hide the truth from their family and friends, and figure out how to not only bury their dearly beloved, but also the secret he’s been keeping.

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by Frank Oz; written by Dean Craig; director of photography, Oliver Curtis; edited by Beverley Mills; music by Murray Gold; production designer, Michael Howells; produced by Diana Phillips, Share Stallings, Laurence Malkin and Sidney Kimmel; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. Running time: 90 minutes.

WITH: Matthew Macfadyen (Daniel), Keeley Hawes (Jane), Andy Nyman (Howard), Ewen Bremner (Justin), Daisy Donovan (Martha), Alan Tudyk (Simon), Jane Asher (Sandra), Kris Marshall (Troy), Rupert Graves (Robert), Peter Vaughan (Uncle Alfie), Thomas Wheatley (the Reverend), Peter Egan (Victor) and Peter Dinklage (Peter).

“Death at a Funeral” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for profanity, nudity, drug use and an excremental sight gag.

Superbad– Seen in theater

Posted: August 20, 2007 in Movies

 

Superbad (2007)

 

The Review:

Like two lonely whales echo-locating for a mate, Seth (a rotund, bug eyed, perpetually peeved Jonah Hill) and Evan (a squared off, nerdy looking Michael Cera emitting total good boy charm) bark the sexual profanity of love-lorn nerds on the prowl.  Superbad is that classic of teen cinema that is great at perfectly translating the oral jisms of the lonely adolescent male.  Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg haven’t created a comedy.  They have created an (autobiographical) anthropological study of the eternal quest for all young males for booze and sex.  Seth and Evan want to get it all before they go off into that bleak world of adulthood (read college). Sure, Superbad travels the journey of all teen comedies, but does it with heart and the realistic knowledge that all the dirty words are just a call for attention and understanding.  Seth and Evan are constantly bumping into the ruder elements of the adult world, are punched and bloodied, and still come out clean.  The rude surprise of Superbad is that the adults, two cops intent on overstepping the law in the prankish way possible  (overplayed by Seth Rogen and Bill Hader with a queasy loutishness),  really want to be kids. The stupidity of officers Slater and Michaels wears thin after ten minutes, and drags the film down for the remainder of their screen time.  Superbad  aims for the no surprise charm of Seth and Evan (and the female world that matters) realizing what really great guys they are.   In the end they know that they must part and go into that world alone.   Superbad gets a supergood B+.  

The Plot: (from IMDB.com)

Three teenage friends Seth (Jonah Hill), Evan (Michael Cera), and Fogell, AKA McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) have only two more weeks before they graduate from high school. They have one mission in life and that is to score with a hot chick before they graduate. The only problem with that scenario is that all three are geeky nerds. Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel when Seth and Evan are invited to a wild party at one of the hot chicks house. However, the only way they can come is if they buy the liquor for the party. Fogell comes to the rescue with a fake ID. All three are driven to make this a night to remember, and what happens to them over the next several hours will be burnt into their memories forever. Douglas Young (the-movie-guy)

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by Greg Mottola; written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; director of photography, Russ Alsobrook; edited by William Kerr; music by Lyle Workman; production designer, Chris Spellman; produced by Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 117 minutes.

WITH: Jonah Hill (Seth), Michael Cera (Evan), Seth Rogen (Officer Michaels), Bill Hader (Officer Slater), Kevin Corrigan (Mark), Joe Lo Truglio (Francis the Driver), Martha MacIsaac (Becca), Emma Stone (Jules), Aviva (Nicola) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fogell).

“Superbad” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Supernaughty.