Archive for September, 2007

BROOKLYN RULES– DVD ARENA

Posted: September 27, 2007 in Movies

BROOKLYN RULES (2006)

The Review:

Brooklyn Rules just wants to be a warm and fuzzy mob story.  So critics are missing the point when they compare it to Mean Streets, the early Martin Scoresese film about two friends growing up in mob infested Little Italy, which gave Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro their first big breaks. Mean Streets, as its title suggests was mean– and honest.   Brooklyn Rules story about three friends trying to either avoid, coexisting or becoming "made men" is classic gangster movie plot number twenty four.  Michael (Freddie Prinze Jr.) the smart boy who wants to go to college, get rich and leave Brooklyn; Carmine (Scott Caan) the wannabe Mafioso and Bobby (Jerry Ferrara, the only true Brooklyner in the cast) the altar boy who desires nothing more than to marry his sweety, find a nice job, and raise a family, all must find their accommodation to the local Mafioso Caesar (an over unctuous Alec Baldwin).  I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts you can guess who lives, leaves and gets whacked.  Brooklyn Rules overly saturated cinematography has a heated hallucinatory quality so far removed from the street grittiness of Mean Streets that it is almost a musical in looks– it even steals some of its ending from West Side Story. The Lords of Flatbush, (which featured Sly Stallone and Henry Winkler in their first starring roles), a big, squishy, heartfelt picture about Brooklyn kids who form their own gang/social club, was released in the same year as Mean Streets, and has its own cult following.  That is where Brooklyn Rules gets its goombah heart.   The director Michael Corrente (Outside Providence) and Terence Winter (a Sopranos writer and producer) who based Brooklyn Rules on his own childhood memories, only make a few nods to meanness and the rest is a Charlotte Russe that is too hard to finish.  Brooklyn Rules gets a B-.

The Credits:

Directed by Michael Corrente; Screenwriter  Terence Winter; Editor – Kate Sanford; Cinematographer – Richard Crudo; Costume Designer – Juliet A. Polcsa; Composer (Music Score) – Benny Rietveld; released by City Lights Pictures; Running time:  99 minutes.

WITH: Alec Baldwin (Caesar Manganaro), Freddie Prinze, Jr. (Michael Turner), Mena Suvari (Ellen), Jerry Ferrara  (Bobby Canzoneri), Scott Caan (Carmine Mancuso), Monica Keena (Amy), Robert Turano (Mr. Canzoneri), Phyllis Kay (Mrs. Canzoneri)

“Brooklyn Rules” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or legal guardian). It has sexual situations, profanity and some extreme violence.

AWAY FROM HER– ON THE NETFLIX CUE

Posted: September 24, 2007 in Movies

Away From Her(2006)

The Review:

Any movie about Alzheimer’s should get the pain of forgetting right, especially one based on a short story by Alice Munro.  Only the remarkable ones can do justice to the pain of remembering.  In Away From Her Julie Christie (making an effervescent return with her first leading role in ten years) has the easy role.  She merely has to mistakenly put a frying pan in the fridge, forget a few words here and there, get lost hiking in the snow and end up on a causeway bridge, then quietly check herself into an assisted-living facility and have a platonic sort of second marriage with a catatonic mute she use to know in high school.  Christie gives the subtle, dignified star turn that usually earns nominations.  "A little bit of grace" is what Julie Christie can never deny a good character– and Fiona is a great one created by an authoress with a masterly knowledge of the power of indirectness.   Fiona’s husband, Grant (Gordon Pinsent in an amazing portrait of  compassionate intelligence) is the real victim of Alzheimer’s.  Grant must bear twice the memories and pain as their more than forty year marriage dissolves to eternal abstraction in Fiona’s mind.  Grant’s final act of benevolence to Fiona is both the ultimate act of love and the culmination of everything he is as a man.  Olympia Dukakis as a fellow Alzheimer’s victim provides additional generous support.  First time director Sarah Polley has created a wonderful love story that is true and generously heartfelt.  It gets an A-.     

The Credits:

Directed by Sarah Polley; written by Ms. Polley, based on the short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro; director of photography, Luc Montpellier; edited by David Wharnsby; music by Jonathan Goldsmith; production designer, Kathleen Climie; produced by Daniel Iron, Simone Urdl and Jennifer Weiss; released by Lionsgate. Running time: 110 minutes.

WITH: Julie Christie (Fiona), Gordon Pinsent (Grant), Olympia Dukakis (Marian), Kristen Thompson (Kristy), Michael Murphy (Aubrey) and Wendy Crewson (Madeleine).

“Away From Her” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has sexual references and complicated, adult situations.

SNOWCAKE– ON THE NETFLIX CUE

Posted: September 23, 2007 in Movies

Snow Cake (2007)

 

The Review:

Snow Cake is dezlious.  It is the 58 point Scrabble creation that the autistic Sigourney Weaver uses to describe what a superhero says upon seeing a sunrise after being in darkness. Linda Freeman (Weaver) lives in a comfortably happy compromise with her disability- a world of linear structure, hygiene phobias, trampolining in the afternoon winter sun and delighting in the almost orgasmic taste of snow slowly melting in her mouth.  Her counterpart is Alex Hughes the tight lipped misanthrope with a mordant sense of humor played with echoes of Severus Snape in his voice by Alan Rickman.  Hughes was the driver of the car that was involved in the fatal accident that killed Linda’s daughter Vivienne (Emily Hampshire delivering the definite performance of spunky, insightful, talented youth in goth dress ever to die young).  Linda and Alex form a friendship of necessary convenience as Hughes takes it upon himself to arrange all the details of Vivienne’s funeral.  He also has a temporary romantic entanglement with the free- spirited, sex loving neighbor Maggie (the beautiless- my big number Scrabble word for that one person everyone thinks is beautiful but who you think is a dog- Carrie Anne Moss).  The first time screenplay by Angela Pell, herself the mother of an autistic son, brims with authentic unsentimental insight into the nature and behavior of autism and the autistic.  Weaver completes Pell’s vision by delivering a performance of such verisimilitude that it makes Dustin Hoffman’s performance in Rain Man look stereotypical.  Alan Rickman’s subtle and strong support and director Marc Evan’s leisurely pacing allow for the emotional build up that makes Snow Cake such a tremendously affecting film.   It all gets a A-.    

The Credits:

Directed by Marc Evans; written by Angela Pell; director of photography, Steve Cosens; edited by Marguerite Arnold; production designer, Matthew J. Davies; produced by Andrew Eaton, Gina Carter, Niv Fichman and Jessica Daniel; released by IFC First Take and the Weinstein Company. In Manhattan at the Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 112 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Alan Rickman (Alex Hughes), Sigourney Weaver (Linda Freeman), Carrie-Anne Moss (Maggie), Emily Hampshire (Vivienne Freeman), James Allodi (Clyde) and Callum Keith Rennie (John Neil).

 

THE BRAVE ONE– SEEN AT THE BIJOU

Posted: September 21, 2007 in Movies

THE BRAVE ONE(2007)

 

The Review:

 The shadows of John Hinckley and Iris Steesma the girl prostitute from Taxi Driver terrorize Jodie Foster’s mind in The Brave One.  Every time Foster’s Erica Bain takes a gun to an evil perpetrator that deserves to have his life snuff, a faint look of shock etches across Foster’s face and the flashbacks come tumbling back.    Sex and violence and walks into THE TUNNEL– in Central Park where all New York City movie violence ushers forth– merge and erupt in a spasm of violent memories tethered to a hand with a loaded gun.  And the eyes  stay focus for seconds, as if staring at a fleeing illusion out of firing range.  The cold shiver of Jodie Foster trying to shake off the violent associations of her own past with lethal justice– the only therapy that bad movies with good actors allows– is the absurdity that shoots The Brave One squarely in the heart.   Erica Bain spends her nonlove time recording the cacka–oodle-dada hum of ambient Manhattan for her breathy narrated NPR-like radiologue.  After the violence in THE TUNNEL, and a three week coma  her monologues become festering blistering Travis Bickle-like narrations.   Subplots involving a  coke trance prostitute rescued from a sadistic cabbie, and a developer seeking custody for a daughter that he abuses have creepy Taxi Driver echoes that never gel.  Terence Howard as the quiet conscious driven Detective Mercer who slowly catches onto Bain’s vigilante self is the only honest note.   His relationship with Bain’s (until it relents to The Brave One’s desire to Death Wish itself) seems genuine because it keeps its truths quietly hidden.   The Brave One gets a B-.   

The Credits:

Directed by Neil Jordan; written by Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor and Cynthia Mort, based on a story by the Taylors; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by Tony Lawson; music by Dario Marianelli; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Joel Silver and Susan Downey; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 122 minutes.

WITH: Jodie Foster (Erica Bain), Terrence Howard (Detective Sean Mercer), Naveen Andrews (David Kirmani), Nicky Katt (Detective Vitale) and Mary Steenburgen (Carol).

“The Brave One” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has intense violence, profanity and some nudity.

Year of the Dog– On the Netflix cue

Posted: September 17, 2007 in Movies

 

Year of the Dog(2007)

 

The Review:

If dog is God backwards than Year of the Dog allows for some Godly comforting grace for its heroine– even if it is in the paws and happy licking tongues of canine companions.   Screenwriter and first director Mike White (School of Rock) has crafted a gentle story about the need for all of us to find the perfect level of joy within our own obsessions.  Molly Shannon (Mary Katherine Gallagher of Saturday Night Live fame) plays Peggy whose only true companionship comes from her adoring beagle Pencil.   When Pencil dies suddenly after a long night’s rummage through the yard and garage junk of her next door neighbor, Peggy tries to find emotional support on the human side of life.  Her boss too involved in his job advancement, her brother too in love with his wife, the wife too in love with her child, the office friend too crazy about getting her man to commit, the next door neighbor too in love with his guns and knives and hunting trophies- even the caring vet assistant who provides a little sympathy, and almost romantic possibilities is too involved with his animal rescue work to give Peggy the simple human comfort and friendship she craves.   Everyone is too far into themselves.  So Peggy lets her life go to the dogs, becoming the activist and animal rights scourge that people avoid. White draws this self-obsessed world with perhaps a little too much reliance on close-ups. There are only three open and wide shots— Peggy in the green spaces of a pet rescue farm, her and her fifteen canine brood toddling the streets in her small car. And the final payoff of her in the human community of animal activists in a bus on its way to a protest. It gets a B+.

The Plot: (from IMDB.com)

A secretary’s life changes in unexpected ways after her dog dies.

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Written and directed by Mike White; director of photography, Tim Orr; edited by Dody Dorn; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Daniel Bradford; produced by Mr. White, Ben LeClair and Dede Gardner; released by Paramount Vantage. Running time: 97 minutes.

WITH: Molly Shannon (Peggy), Laura Dern (Bret), Regina King (Layla), Tom McCarthy (Pier), Josh Pais (Robin), John C. Reilly (Al) and Peter Sarsgaard (Newt).

“Year of the Dog” is Rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Bring hankies.

 


The Wind That Shakes the Barley(2007)

 

The Review:

The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Winner of the PALME D’ OR at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, is middling left Ken Loach rather than far left Ken Loach.  The story of the 1920-21 Irish Rebellion against the British, the eventual division of the country into an Irish Free State that still must foreswear allegiance to The Crown, and the ensuing civil war that decision caused is portrayed as a tragedy of brother betraying brother.   Damien (Cillian Murphy, a dark well of submerged angst and rage) a moderate political soul with medical aspirations abandons his studies and becomes an Irish Republican Army freedom fighter after witnessing a savage Black and Tan (the British irregular army) pummeling of an elderly station master just doing his job.  In an IRA flying column division under the command of his brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney, a well-spring of sane thought and pragmatic compromise), a former ministry student (but really a natural politician turned soldier), Damien becomes a freedom at all costs fanatic after a few scrimmages and some distastefully necessary political assassinations.   Clearly, Damien’s tragedy is etched in his bones.  Filmed in stark neutral tones,  liberally populated with non-actors, and brimming with political council arguments that can go on too long, Barley has all the usual Loach touches minus the political sledge-hammering– and just enough lyricism to give it a solid emotional edge. Only its violence betrays its political stripes.  The Black and Tans assaults are graphic, brutal and bloody.  The IRA slaughter is just brutal and bloodless.  The Wind that Shakes the Barley is  Loach’s flip side argument to Michael Collins, the Neil Jordan biopic that portrayed The Anglo-Irish Treaty as a courageous compromise rather than a sellout that ensured another seventy years of sectarian violence. Just like an old Marxist to want to start a revolution.  Its gets an A-.

The Plot: (from IMDB.com)

Ireland, 1920. Damien and Teddy are brothers. But while the latter is already the leader of a guerrilla squad fighting for the independence of his motherland, Damien, a medical graduate of University College, would rather further his training at the London hospital where he has found a place. However, shortly before his departure, he happens to witness atrocities committed by the ferocious Black and Tans and finally decides to join the resistance group led by Teddy. The two brothers fight side by side until a truce is signed. But peace is short-lived and when one faction of the freedom-fighters accepts a treaty with the British that is regarded as unfair by the other faction, a civil war ensues, pitting Irishmen against Irishmen, brothers against brothers, Teddy against Damien…

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by Ken Loach; written by Paul Laverty; director of photography, Barry Ackroyd; edited by Jonathan Morris; music by George Fenton; production designer, Fergus Clegg; produced by Rebecca O’Brien; released by IFC First Take. Running time: 127 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Cillian Murphy (Damien), Padraic Delaney (Teddy), Liam Cunningham (Dan), Orla Fitzgerald (Sinead), Mary Riordan (Peggy), Mary Murphy (Bernadette), Laurence Barry (Micheail), Damien Kearney (Finbar), Frank Bourke (Leo) and Myles Horgan (Rory).

3:10 TO YUMA– SEEN IN THEATER

Posted: September 12, 2007 in Movies

Title (2007)

 

The Review:

In 3:10 to Yuma Russell Crowe and Christian Bale bring some civility to the nasty business of the Western.  The bond between the outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe)– an aesthete who recites the bible like the devil seeking a convert, and fondly  sketches birds, naked  women, and the men he shoots — and Dan Evans (Bale) an ascetic, bum leg, dirt poor rancher (and ex-Union sharpshooter) so desperate to save his land and family that he escort Wade through hell to catch the prison train of the title– is one of the more perverse in Western history.  Wade and Evans are reverse Stockholm syndrome victims caught in an unlikely transference from guardian to capture.  Their whole relationship, is a sometimes shoot-out sometimes alliance for the paternity of Evans fourteen-year-old son’s mind. William Evans (Logan Lerman in a good performance) the last member of the Yuma posse, is a headstrong boy prone to rash talk and action.   He flip-flops between admiration and contempt for his stolid upright father and the outlaw mystique of Wade.   When Wade’s antifamily, the pack of animals that is his loyal gang, lead by the anti-son/protégé Charlie Prince (Ben Foster wonderfully playing a buttoned up id in faded Confederate gray waiting to explode) arrive to reclaim daddy Ben for themselves, 3:10 to Yuma devolves into the least wanted display of Freudian gunfire ever to hit a solid oater in the guts. The ending smells of a Russell Crowe vanity rewrite. And director James Mangold unwisely lets this hijacked train fall off the tracks. Until then, 3:10 to Yuma was the real deal. It gets a B.

The Plot: (from IMDB.com)

A small-time rancher agrees to hold a captured outlaw who’s awaiting a train to go to court in Yuma. A battle of wills ensues as the outlaw tries to psych out the rancher.

The Credits: (from The New York Times)

Directed by James Mangold; written by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, based on a short story by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Phedon Papamichael; edited by Michael McCusker; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Andrew Menzies; produced by Cathy Konrad; released by Lionsgate. Running time: 117 minutes.

WITH: Russell Crowe (Ben Wade), Christian Bale (Dan Evans), Peter Fonda (Byron McElroy), Gretchen Mol (Alice Evans), Ben Foster (Charlie Prince), Dallas Roberts (Grayson Butterfield), Alan Tudyk (Doc Potter), Vinessa Shaw (Emma Nelson) and Logan Lerman (William Evans).

“3:10 to Yuma” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has graphic violence and a lot of profanity.