Wednesday, October 31, 2007



Gavin Hood's gripping sophomore outing RENDITION, coming on the heels of his excellent Oscar winning foreign language film TSOTSI, is a multi-story political thriller that feels alive and important. First time screenwriter Kelly Sane has crafted a dense narrative which crosses the globe numerous times and intertwines almost a dozen major characters in a tense, sometimes hectic fashion. Not as academic, or as strong overall, as Stephen Gaghan's recent film SYRIANA, RENDITION is a topical, hot-button thriller with an impressive cast and a nicely calibrated visual style that gathers a terrific head of steam late in the game and leaves you breathless (if momentarily confused) at the finale. Without any overdone politicizing or preaching to the masses, RENDITION takes a serious subject and effectively juggles the conventional demands of the genre while still creating an exciting and somewhat unpredictable story.

The term "extraordinary rendition" refers to an anti-terrorism policy put in place during the Clinton term (the film clearly states this fact) but practiced heavily during the Bush administration (the film doesn't reference Bush, so all of you "that's just liberal Hollywood at it again" people can rest comfortably). Rendition is the process of secretly abducting suspected terrorists, with or without concrete evidence (as long as there is at least a vague connection to terror), flying them out of the United States (because we don't torture people...ha-ha) to a neutral country where they are tortured for information by a different countries government. Pretty cool huh? Problem is, in some cases, the suspected terrorists turn out to have zero connection to actual terrorism, and are viciously tortured for no good reason. It's a complicated process, and not exactly the first idea that comes to mind when one might think of devising a big-budget piece of entertainment. The fact that RENDITION works as well as it does, purely on an entertainment level, is a testament to the strong storytelling abilities of Hood and Sane and the uniformly excellent ensemble cast.

RENDITION centers on a Saudi born American citizen named Anwar El-Ibrahimi, (Omar Metwally, last seen stealing scenes in MUNICH) who is renditioned by an overzealous US senator named Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep in prime, chilly form) after a terrorist bomb goes off in a middle Eastern country, killing a CIA agent in the process. Ibrahimi, it seems, may have received some phone calls from a suspected terrorist; he of course denies any involvement and pleads his innocence. He's put into the hands of the seemingly sadistic yet ultimately level-headed Abasi Fawal (the excellent Yigal Naor), an interrogator who is used to eliciting information from his suspects through water boarding, electrical shocks, dehydration, etc. Watching over the brutal questioning is CIA operative Douglas Freeman (a quiet Jake Gyllenhaal), a fresh recruit who is more prone to pushing papers than working in the field.

Meanwhile, back in the US, Ibrahimi's very pregnant wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) struggles to understand the disappearance of her husband, and cannot grasp why nobody in the state department will give her any assistance in finding her husband. She asks her old college flame Alan Smith (the always natural Peter Sarsgaard), who is now a senator's aide, to see if he can help figure out what happened to her husband. However, Alan's boss, Senator Hawkins (played with relish by Alan Arkin), would rather stay out of the situation. And finally, Fawal's blinded-by-love daughter Fatima (the passionate Zineb Oukach) has entered into a dangerous relationship with a young jihadist-in-training that ties all of the storylines together. Sounds like a lot of plot huh? It is. But RENDITION works as an efficient thriller on the grounds that all of its seemingly disparate storylines blend into one cohesive whole, even with a major narrative twist served up in the film's final moments.

Gyllenhaal's character, maybe intentionally, feels a little underwritten, and his somber demeanor has a way of distancing the audience from his character. But again, that might have been the intention of the filmmakers; by not portraying Freeman as a gung-ho, idealistic spook, he's more of an everyman, and in a way, more accessible to the audience. Gyllenhall, who was better in this year's ZODIAC, still brings some nice touches to the part. Witherspoon spends most of the movie crying and yelling for the release of her husband; it's a one dimensional role that to be honest, doesn't require much more than what's given. Streep and Arkin nail their roles with ruthless glee; their cold, bureaucratic professionalism feels authentic. But the most interesting performances come from the foreigners. As Fawal, Naor cuts an indelible impression of a man consumed by his work and his feelings for his family. It's a layered performance that on the outset appears to be all surface rage and hostility, but as the onion is peeled back, a surprising level of delicacy envelops his performance. Similarly, as Fawal's daughter Fatima, Oukach creates a sympathetic character that the audience is able to latch onto; when the plot kicks into high gear, your stomach turns as the fate of it's characters becomes more evident.

Hood directs with a steady urgency to his images, aided by the excellent cinematographer Dion Beebe (MIAMI VICE, COLLATERAL, CHICAGO) and the fluid editing of Megan Gill (TSOTSI). What's on display is similar to that of a tapestry of sorts; a wide range of different people come together in the quest for truth and in the pursuit of doing the right thing. RENDITION might be, in the end, a little simplified around the hard edges, and yet almost too tricky for its own good. But its persuasive voice can't be denied, and the visceral impact of Hood’s action scenes bolsters the film's flat trajectory with some much needed pizzazz. It's a complicated, densely plotted thriller, ripped from the headlines, and the filmmakers should be applauded for tackling difficult subject matter like this in a time of genuine political unrest. The fact that the film has completely died at the United States box office reflects the lack of desire by the American public to confront real social issues during the course of entertainment. And that's a shame. While not a perfect film, RENDITION gets enough right and does it all with style and class; it's a pity that a brainy film like this can't find an audience.


I read screenwriter Allan Loeb's brilliant, penetrating script THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE about two years ago, and what struck me immediately, was the honesty and poignancy of his words. Now, having seen Danish director Susanne Bier's brilliant, penetrating film THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, I can safely say (and I was worried), that she has deftly brought Loeb's fascinating characters to vivid life on the big screen without sacrificing anything that made the script such a satisfying read. I mention that I was worried because I connected deeply to the script, more than I ever would have thought. I fell in love with the characters and cared for them in a way that I normally don't when I read a script. And I wanted the movie-watching experience to at least match, if not exceed, the reading experience. I have not seen any of Bier's previous films; after looking her up at the, I've noticed that she's been critically acclaimed (an Oscar nom for best foreign language film) and that at least one of her films is getting a Hollywood remake. I have now added all of her available movies to my Netflix queue.

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE is a film that might sound terribly familiar in its simple story outline, but I can assure it, it's far from ordinary. Halle Berry, in her best performance since MONSTER'S BALL, gives a tender performance as Audrey Burke, a woman who has been deeply affected by the recent murder of her saint-like husband Steven, warmly played by David Duchovny. Audrey reaches out to Steven's best friend, Jerry Sunborne, played with astonishing grace and power by the masterful Benicio Del Toro, who is a recovering heroin addict and ex-lawyer. Steven and Jerry had been best friends since childhood, and Audrey never approved of Steven's friendship with Jerry, always feeling that Jerry would get Steven into some sort of trouble. But Audrey, the good-hearted woman that she is, feels compelled to track Jerry down so that he can attend the funeral, and as a result of his attendance, they quickly develop a new, complex, and ultimately uplifting friendship that helps both of them heal their numerous problems. Never the hint of sexuality between the two except for one, confusing emotional moment, Audrey and Jerry ground each other in a new, scary reality, both leaning on each other for support and guidance.

This may sound hokey and too chick-flicky but I can assure you it's not. Beyond Del Toro's riveting performance (which I'll delve into in a moment) and Berry's affecting work, it's the clarity of voice in every character and the artsy, up-close and personal directorial style of Bier that elevate the already excellent script to the realm of small masterpiece. This isn't a big movie or a multi-layered expose or cheap melodrama; these are real people living in a world of close approximation to our own, with believable emotional struggles, all played out in the most intimate of terms. Bier, working with the cinematographer Tom Stern (Clint Eastwood's recent cameraman of choice on FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, and MYSTIC RIVER), opts for hand-held cameras and intense close-up's of her actor's eyes and faces, in an effort to gleam any and all natural human responses from the subject matter. At first it was a little distracting, if only because you normally don't see this type of cinematography in major Hollywood productions (this is Dreamworks release). But the style suits the substance, and Bier gets extra mileage out of any scene where her camera darts and weaves in an effort to ring any and all emotional impact from her performers faces.

Simply put, Del Toro gives the performance of the year, and one of the best performances of the decade. Yes, the decade. I am not over exaggerating here. Del Toro, already a tremendously accomplished actor who has given amazing performances in films such as TRAFFIC, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS and 21 GRAMS, is uncompromising as Jerry. Never coming off as overly-actorish and abandoning the easy histrionics that a lesser actor might bring to a role like this, Del Toro embodies Jerry with a surprising level of warmth and humor that is relatively unorthodox for a character of this sort. When the script does call for Jerry to suffer the effects of heroin withdrawal, Del Toro doesn't overplay the moment; he doesn't need to. The audience, out of an already casual understanding of the effects of heroic addiction, knows the deal; Del Toro seals it in a raw, compelling manner that will make you sit straight up in your chair. One scene in particular, what I like to refer to as "the candy bar scene" (see the movie and you'll know what I'm talking about), is one of the best scenes in any movie of the year. There are so many small moments of perfection (glances, pauses, quick body movements) in his performance that it's tantamount to an acting clinic. If Del Toro is snubbed for his work in THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, which may very well be the case as a result of the terrible box office the film as gathered, it would be a disservice to the acting process and a slap in the face of an actor working at the top of his game.

To her credit, Berry could have been completely overshadowed by Del Toro's Brando-esque bravura, but she isn't. Audrey has two young children to deal with as well, and the interaction between her and her kids is as inspiring as it is sad. One dinner table scene in which Audrey, her kids, Jerry, and some family friends discuss Steven and his likes and dislikes, is heartbreakingly real. And in her one big scene of emotional outburst, because the sorrow and pain hasn't been laid on too thick, Berry makes the audience crumble in their seats. Actors sometimes feel the need to oversell a dramatic or painful moment in movies like these, but here, Berry, Bier and Loeb smartly know that less is more. It's a quietly anguished piece of acting that deserves Oscar recognition as well.

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE is a tough drama that is not an easy sell to most audiences. The film deals with scarily real scenarios (the sudden, tragic, and inexcusable loss of a loved one and the dreadful effects of drug addiction) but somehow finds a way to be uplifting in the end. And not in a tacky or artificial way, which is often how moves of this sort feel because you're constantly aware of the filmmaker's desire to pluck your heartstrings and force you to feel something that doesn't deserve to be felt. THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE is a challenging film for discerning audiences and one of the best movies of the year by far.


This is three and half minutes of utter brilliance.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Just read it.


All I knew about the upcoming action flick WANTED was that it had a cool cast (James MacAvoy, Angelina Jolie, and Morgan Freeman), that it was based on a graphic novel I've never read, and that it was directed by a stylish Russian filmmaker named Timur Bekmambetov.

Now, having seen the trailer, I am stoked; WANTED looks like a completely kick-ass action film. I hope Bekmambetov gets away with an R rating. Jolie is extremely hot. Extremely.


There will be no greater passage of dialogue in any movie this year than what's heard during the opening minutes of Tony Gilroy's stripped down, razor sharp directorial debut MICHAEL CLAYTON. The audience hears an off-screen character, Arthur Edens (the phenomenal Tom Wilkinson), launching into a vitriolic tirade against the American legal system, corporate society, and the evils of big-money lawyering, which he feels has coated him in an amoral slime that he'll never be able to wipe clean off. It's an arresting, fiendishly funny start to an otherwise cold, moody legal thriller; it's the best John Grisham movie that Grisham had no part of creating. Gilroy, best known as the screenwriter--some might say architect--of the Jason Bourne franchise, has a long list of writing credits (THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE, PROOF OF LIFE, DOLORES CLAIBORNE), but with MICHAEL CLAYTON, he announces himself as a major directorial talent to watch.

George Clooney is Michael Clayton, a "fixer" at a posh Manhattan law firm, who's already messy life is further complicated by Eden's deposition room meltdown during a trial in Milwaukee. The firm's oily, shady owner Marty Bach (the always amazing Sydney Pollack) asks Clayton to head out to Milwaukee to see what has happened to Arthur and assess the situation. Arthur, it seems, is having a crisis (or breakdown) of conscience; he's been around the legal block many, many times, and while he's slightly jaded, he's had enough of the lying and the deceit. Arthur has been working with one of the firm's biggest clients, the agricultural product provider UNorth. It seems that something fishy is in the water; a product that UNorth has been manufacturing has been deemed dangerous to public health, and UNorth is looking at a class action law suit. UNorth's chief litigator, Karen Crowder (the amazing Tilda Swinton, who will surely be getting a supporting actress Oscar nomination), wants to get the situation cleared up as quickly and as efficiently as possible. But when Arthur strips naked and runs through a parking garage screaming about the evils of society, everyone enters panic mode; it's defcon three for these people.

MICHAEL CLAYTON rests on whether or not Michael, so generously portrayed by Clooney, will come to the aid of his friend or feed him to the wolves. Michael is a curious character. A divorced father and sloppy investor (the restaurant he backed with his cop-brother is going belly-up), he's just the sort of conflicted anti-hero made famous by a slew of 70's movies (THE PARRALAX VIEW and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR come to mind as immediate inspirations) that audiences don't get to see anymore. He's a good but troubled guy, not the slickster you might expect with an actor like Clooney in the role, and his intentions are never easy to read. MICHAEL CLAYTON is the rare Hollywood thriller that uses words instead of bullets to shoot down its characters; the juiciest scenes in this talky film are when smart people in business suits confront one another and tear each other apart with top-flight vocab words. Sure, there's a "car chase", if you want to call it that, but it's the most cerebral car chase you're likely to see. Someone get's murdered (not telling who) but it's carried out in such a cold, calculated, and genuinely creepy fashion that it's more of a lesson in controlled murder than an audience pleasing sequence of violence.

The film crackles thanks to the smart, tight dialogue and the breathless pace; this is a movie from a guy who has written three Jason Bourne adventures, and the tight, no-fat plotting that made those movies such a rush, is on display here but in a different form. Gilroy complements his sharp-as-a-tack script with a no-frills directorial style that doesn't needless amp up the action or make it any more sensational that it needs to be. He's aided enormously by the gifted cinematographer Robert Elswit, whose photographic genius has been displayed in movies as diverse as BOOGIE NIGHTS and SYRIANA; it's a richly detailed but never cluttered looking film. The destaurated color palette works wonders with the chilly New England setting; you feel as if you should be wearing a sweater, literally and figuratively, while watching the film.

But the film rests solidly on the shoulders of its incredible cast, and Clooney is more than up to task as ringleader. He's come a long way from his television days on ER, and movie after movie, he becomes more comfortable, and believable, as a genuine leading man. Always good looking even when under immense stress or dodging an exploding car and smart but never condescending, Clooney is one of my favorite actors currently working. The choices in material that he's made over the last five years as an actor, producer, writer, and director, have been, simply put, extraordinary. Wilkinson, great in everything he appears in (his tour de force performance in IN THE BEDROOM is still the pinnacle of his career), steals every scene he's in, and paints a sad portrait of a man regulated by laws and codes. His disintegration is tragic to watch. And last but certainly not least, the odd yet unmatchable actress Tilda Swinton, is so magnetic in her scenes that she burns a hole in the screen. Sweaty and paunchy and without a hint of self-regard, Swinton almost makes you feel bad for her slimy character. Almost.

I loved MICHAEL CLAYTON and I applaud Gilroy and his entire team for making this sort of thriller. It's rare that a movie consisting almost exclusively of dialogue-driven action could be as exciting as MICHAEL CLAYTON is. It's also worth noting that among the credited producers are three world-class directors: Steven Soderbergh, Sydney Pollack, and Anthony Minghella. Whatever words of wisdom they may have imparted on Gilroy have not gone unnoticed by the novice director. It's one of the best films of the year.


Shooting begins on the new X-FILES movie from writer/director/creator Chris Carter this December! The film will be released probably summer 2008, or maybe in the fall, depending on the post-production schedule. Plot details remain secret, but I do know that the film will NOT focus on the alien mythology explored in the first feature film and throughout the television series. It will be a stand-alone, monster-movie sort of thing, which should be a blast. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed in that I have always felt that the heart and soul of THE X-FILES were the alien mythology episodes, and I have always wanted to see a new chapter in the colonization storyline that they created. But any chance to see Mulder and Scully on the big screen is fine by me.


Terrence Malick, the brilliant director behind the one-of-a-kind masterpieces BADLANDS, DAYS OF HEAVEN, THE THIN RED LINE, and THE NEW WORLD, is set to begin work on his next directorial effort.
Per The Hollywood Reporter:
"Heath Ledger and Sean Penn are in talks to star in "Tree of Life," with River Road Entertainment ("Brokeback Mountain," "Into the Wild") finally bringing writer-director Terrence Malick's long-gestating drama to life. Ledger would take the lead opposite an actress to be determined, with Penn in a supporting role. Malick also is in talks, with principal photography set to begin in March. River Road founder Bill Pohlad will produce with Sarah Green, Malick's producer on his last feature "The New World." The film's plot has been closely guarded, but is described by an insider as a complex drama."
This makes me so excited. ANY potential project from Malick is reason to jump for joy. I will be following this project closely.

Monday, October 29, 2007



I've been reading that Ridley Scott's AMERICAN GANGSTER, which opens this weekend, is tracking extremely high, especially for an R-rated, 2.5 hour crime film. I've been hearing that a $40 million opening weekend could be on the horizon. That number seems awfully high to me, but anything is possible. The early reviews have been excellent, the tv spots are sharp and crackling, and the theatrical trailer has gotten a response from every audience I've seen it with.

I'm expecting BEE MOVIE, the Jerry Seinfeld animated movie to be tops over the weekend; kiddie movies like this always end up doing gangbuster opening weekend business, especially during the Saturday and Sunday matinees.

It will be interesting to see how this all goes down this weekend, but regardless, it will be a busy weekend at multiplexes.



The lively new romantic comedy DAN IN REAL LIFE has got to be the best surprise of the year at the movies. Co-writer and director Peter Hedges, who wrote and directed PIECES OF APRIL and wrote the scripts for WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE? and ABOUT A BOY, has crafted a touching, sad, and ultimately funny family movie that while sticking to the conventions of the genre, rarely feels forced or routine. It also helps when you have a great ensemble cast on board, anchored by a winning lead performance from funnyman Steve Carell. If you've heard the phrase: "that was a nice little movie," well, that's DAN IN REAL LIFE in a nutshell; light, fun, and a pleasure to be around.

Carell is the titular Dan, a widowed father of three girls (aged 8 to 16), who is having a tough time balancing being a parent and re-establishing a social life after the death of his wife. Dan and his daughters take a trip to see their extended family at a sprawling, creaky Rhode Island beach house; it will offer Dan the chance to see his parents (the excellent John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest) and siblings (best brother Mitch, Dane Cook) as well as possibly take a mental break from all of the distractions he's facing at home and with his newspaper job (he's a popular columnist who's up for national syndication; his column shares the movie's title). But, as if I needed to tell you, there won't be much relaxation on this family vacation for Dan.

Things get complicated when Dan meets the lovely Marie, played by the radiant and adorable Juliette Binoche. Their "meet-cute" in a quaint little bookstore was almost too cute for me, but the two actors have such genuine chemistry that the schmaltz washed down easily. Dan's smitten by her charms immediately; Marie is obviously interested in him as well. But...and here's the big, hairy butt of the movie...Marie is already seeing someone...Dan's brother Mitch. Of course, Dan doesn't learn this fact until after he says his book-shop goodbye to Marie and she's introduced to his entire family back at the cottage as Mitch’s girlfriend. Will Dan steal his brother's girlfriend? Will Marie be able to choose between the two suitors? Will anyone be happy by the story's conclusion?

DAN IN REAL LIFE is a cut-above for romantic comedies for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I actually cared about the main character and wanted to see him triumph. Whereas in countless romantic comedies the male leads are either annoying or stupid, Dan is engaging and very likable. There's an air of melancholy that hangs over the film as a result of the loss of Dan's wife which weights and grounds the film in a deeper framework for the entire story. Not as depressed as his character was in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, Dan is still the sad-sack gentleman, and Carell demonstrates his mastery of this character. Already one of the funniest comedians on the planet (his work in THE OFFICE is the stuff of instant legend), Carell has proven himself in the last two years as a considerable dramatic performer as well. It must also be said that the dreaded Dane Cook (I have never been a fan of his loud, obnoxious, clich├ęd, repetitive shtick) gives a charming, dialed-down supporting performance; cut loose from his normal shenanigans, he's funny and sweet in equal measure. It also helps that Binoche, as the woman the two brothers are jostling over, has never seemed as attainable or free spirited as she does in DAN IN REAL LIFE; you’ll agree she's worth fighting over. It's also worth mentioning that the sexy Emily Blunt, who walked away with every scene she appeared in during THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, has a fun cameo as well.

I loved the small bits of physical comedy, the heart-tugging scenes with Dan and his daughters (all of whom steal all of their scenes), the way that small story details came full circle by the end of the movie, and the...gasp...happy ending. Movies like DAN IN REAL LIFE are tough for me to get into, because most of the time, they feel manufactured and derivative. Not here. Everyone in the cast is given a chance to shine in either small or big ways, and the free-wheeling screenplay gets a lot of mileage out of the trappings of the extended-family-in-a-big-house setting that has been seen before in other films of this sort. It's just that this time, the family in question, is one that feels familiar and real. DAN IN REAL LIFE is a breath of fresh air in a fall movie season of dark, brooding dramas, and the best movie of it's kind of the year.


AO Scott, film critic at The New York Times, is one of the best and sharpest critics in the country. Recently, there have been quite a few articles in the mainstream media about how the recent spate Iraq/Middle-East themed films (IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, THE KINGDOM, RENDITION) have preformed weakly at the domestic box office, with even more (LIONS FOR LAMBS, REDACTED, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, THE KITE RUNNER) on their way to multiplexes in the next two months.

Here's a link to AO Scott's recent article about this matter; it's the best that I've read yet:



Here is my top 40 thus far, broken into 4 tiers:

David Fincher’s ZODIAC
David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES
Peter Berg’s THE KINGDOM
Zack Snyder’s 300
Gavin Hood’s RENDITION

Jimmy Mangold’s 3:10 TO YUMA
John Carney’s ONCE
Werner Herzog’s RESCUE DAWN
Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP
Ben Affleck’s GONE BABY GONE
Billy Ray’s BREACH

Jake Kasdan’s THE TV SET
Peter Hedges’s DAN IN REAL LIFE
Michael Moore’s SICKO
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 WEEKS LATER
Adrienne Shelly’s WAITRESS
Mike Binder’s REIGN OVER ME
Bong Joon-ho’s THE HOST
Joe Carnahan’s SMOKIN’ ACES

Michael Winterbottom’s A MIGHTY HEART
Steven Soderbergh’s OCEANS 13
Zoe Cassavette’s BROKEN ENGLISH
Michael Davis’s SHOOT ‘EM UP
Scott Frank’s THE LOOKOUT
David Von Ancken’s SERAPHIM FALLS
Greg Mottola's SUPERBAD

Sunday, October 28, 2007


My full review will be posted soon, but let me just say that I was won over by DAN IN REAL LIFE, the new romantic comedy from writer/director Peter Hedges (PIECES OF APRIL, ABOUT A BOY). Steve Carell is terrific in this warm, ensemble dramedy that carries an air of melcahonly that balances with some genuine sweetness. Just the sort of film that I needed to see after weeks of tough, dark, serious films, DAN IN REAL LIFE is a cut-above for the genre and totally entertaining all throughout. It also proved to me that I could tolerate the comedian Dane Cook, who's routine moronic shtick is put on hold as he delivers a charming supporting performance. I almost hate myself for actually calling Dane Cook charming but he was. Juliette Binoche, for the record, is a serious hottie. DAN IN REAL LIFE is going to be the sleeper hit of the fall movie season.


GONE BABY GONE, Ben Affleck's directorial debut, is an excellent crime noir with a commanding lead performance from Casey Affleck. Ed Harris is scorching as a tough Boston cop and Morgan Freeman is always a pleasure to watch. It's a dark, sordid tale of a kidnapped little girl, low-class Boston crime scum, and layered police corruption that thrives off of realistic atmospherics and an authenticity in the small details. While not perfect, it's a frequently riveting thriller with a couple of fantastic individual sequences. And most importantly, the moral ambiguity and questions of social resposnibility that the film raises is uncommonly mature and introspective for the genre. You will walk out of the theater discussing many things after the lights come up. My full review will be posted soon.

Director Michael Winterbottom's grim and chilling A MIGHTY HEART wasn't necessarily as amazing as some of the reviews had suggested, but at the same time, it's a tightly paced, realistic feeling procedural with a sad, honest performance from Angelina Jolie. Based on the real life kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Peral a year after 9/11, Winterbottom eschews big, political thriller aspects (think RENDITION or SYRIANA) in favor of an intimate look at a wife and mother-to-be (Jolie, as Marianne Pearl, Daniel's wife) who is struggling to find out the truth about the fate of her loving husband. Winterbottom seems to have been inspired by Michael Mann's style from his masterwork THE INSIDER; the cinematography and editing have a fly-on-the-wall quality and the low-key performances from the supporting cast lend to the authenticity of the film. It's a sad story, with no happy endings tacked on in trite Hollywood fashion. Winterbottom, who previously directed the similarily themed post 9/11 tale THE ROAD TO GUANTANOMO, deserves credit for taclking difficult subject matter without amping his films up with needless, contrived theatrics.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Plan on seeing either/both Ben Affleck's GONE BABY GONE and Peter Hedges's DAN IN REAL LIFE.

Also have Michael Winterbottom's A MIGHTY HEART with Angelina Jolie at home on netflix dvd.


Reservation Road *** out of ****

Terry George's RESERVATION ROAD is this year's grim, family-tragedy movie. Similar in some respects to films like THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG and IN THE BEDROOM, RESERVATION ROAD tells a painful, heartfelt story that in the end feels a little false because of script contrivances and an uneven tone. Still, the performances from Mark Ruffalo and Joaquin Phoenix are magnificent (especially Ruffalo) and the film has several excellent scenes which elevate the film to worth-watching status.Based on John Burnham Schwartz's novel (Schwartz co-wrote the screenplay with George, and made a few major changes to the narrative),

RESERVATION ROAD centers on a horrible accident and the aftermath that consumes two families. Lawyer Dwight Arno (Ruffalo) is rushing home one night with his son Lucas (Eddie Alderson) from a Boston Red Sox game. Pressured by his ex-wife Ruth (the welcome Mira Sorvino, still looking hot) at every turn, Dwight, in a careless bit of driving-while-cell-phoning, accidentally hits something with his car on a twisty, back-woods road while trying to avoid a collision with another vehicle. Knowing full well that he has hit something (but at first not exactly sure what), Dwight continues driving, not wanting to be any more late than he already is in getting his son home to his mother. But he did hit something alright--dead on the ground is college professor Ethan Learner's (Joaquin Phoenix) son, Sean. Ethan and his family had stopped at a gas station so that his wife Grace (Jennifer Connolly) and daughter Emma (Elle Fanning) can use the bathroom. An all too familiar tragedy that you hear about every night on the local news. But then, the demands of genre and convention appear, and what starts as a serious look at personal responsibility, guilt, and revenge, turns into a contrived pseudo-thriller that while always interesting, is less than fully persuasive.

Dwight eventually finds out that he's hit a kid and becomes racked with guilt over the situation; who wouldn't? He even takes an odd trip to the police department, ready to turn himself in, but he can't do it. It's when Ethan, losing a grip on his sanity and consumed with feelings of revenge when the cops aren't able to offer any leads as to who committed the hit and run, visits Dwight's law firm for representation in the case. The scene is scary and awkward; here's the grieving father sitting across from his son's killer and he doesn't know it. It's in this moment that the movie morphs from realistic human drama into a ticking-clock thriller; will Ethan put the pieces together and realize that Dwight is the one who killed his son? Or will Dwight, consumed with sadness, turn himself in? Or will something else happen? I won't say anything more about the plot at this point. There is a scene late in the movie that is intense and unpredictable in terms of the fates of the main characters, but it comes at the service of lazy plotting.

Ruffalo, who earlier this year delivered an amazing portrait of an obsessed cop in David Fincher's masterpiece ZODIAC, gives his second great performance of 2007. He gives Dwight believable moments of sincere regret and uncomfort that are painful to observe. He's a sympathetic character who is the "bad-guy" of the film, but not a "bad-guy" in the traditional sense of the phrase. Credit George and Schwartz for shading Dwight, and Ethan for that matter, in shades of moral gray. Dwight could have been drunk driving but he wasn't; he was just being careless and made a tragic, awful mistake. He's a good guy; a bad husband but a respectable father, who is trying to bond with his son while wading through the tragedy of hitting a boy roughly the same age as his own son. It's powerful stuff at times.

Phoenix, who gave a searing performance in this year's WE OWN THE NIGHT, downplays the emotional outbursts that are saddled on characters in dramas like this. He's deeply heartbroken, yes, but he's never over-the-top about it. Phoenix knows that the story is upsetting enough on its own that he doesn't need to grandstand for the audience. It's a measured, controlled performance that slides into vengeful rage during the last act. And when he finally explodes, it's an emotional relief not only for his character, but for the audience as well.

I wish that RESERVATION ROAD had made up its mind as to what it wanted to be; a study of familial loss or how a parent channels their feelings of revenge over the death of a loved one. George directs with a quiet, reserved style; the earthy and subdued cinematography by John Lindley (FIELD OF DREAMS) meshes well with the fall in New England setting. It's a much different film, and not as fully accomplished, as his directorial debut, HOTEL RWANDA. George opts for cross-cutting between Dwight and Ethan for much of the film, and at times, some of the scenes feel truncated and slight. You want to hear more of a few conversations that characters have and when the ticking-clock thriller aspects start to show up, RESERVATION ROAD feels a bit rushed.

If you like dark, sad dramas with excellent acting, check out RESERVATION ROAD. It's not the sort of film that I'd say you need to rush out and see on the biggest possible screen; it'll make for a solid DVD rental. Flaws aside, it's a thoughtful, serious-minded adult drama that works well enough overall.


Looks like Bauer will be kicking some ass outside of Los Angeles this season. Can't wait till January.


Per Variety:
"John Travolta is boarding "The Taking of Pelham 123," negotiating to join Denzel Washington in the Tony Scott-directed remake at Columbia. Travolta will play the leader of a quartet that hijacks a Gotham subway train and threatens to kill the passengers unless a ransom is paid. The role was originated in the 1974 film by Robert Shaw. Washington plays the chief detective of security for the subway, a role originated by Walter Matthau in the Joseph Sargent-directed drama. David Koepp wrote the script and Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch are producing through Escape Artists. Tony Scott is also producing through his Scott Free banner. The film rolls into production early next year."
To me, this is a great piece of casting. Initially, I wasn't sure what to think. But Travolta in bad-guy mode is always a good thing and I love me some Tony Scott action-fisticuffs. Let's hope for an R-rating so the sparks really get to fly. And Denzel...well...for my money, he always delivers. I really enjoy the original film but at the same time, I think the core idea is ripe for a remake. A bad-ass one.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


It's utterly fuckin' pathetic the way Warner Brothers has treated Andrew Dominik's tour-de-force masterwork THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. Critics were generally pleased with the film but there were a few moron detractors out there. But critics aren't to blame for the failure of this landmark film. The execs at Warners are beyond retarded in my eyes. The $30 million art film that is JESSE JAMES has been treated like a bastard step-child by it's studio; they've been sitting on the film for over 2 years (!) in one form or another. They just had/have zero faith in the film being able to find an audience. And I am not stupid here...a 2 hour and 40 minute western with not a lot of action and a quiet, dreamy, Terry Malick-vibe may not be everyone's cup of tea. But the film deserves more than a $2.3 million domestic gross (per as of a few minutes ago). Warners platformed the film in NY, LA, Austin, and Toronto in early September and have been quietly adding a few screens over the last few weeks. Advertising has been minimal (I live in LA and have only seen a few ads which means people living in fly-over country don't even know the film exists). Sure, the title is a bit long, but it's a majestic title that dares to be different; shouldn't there at least be a modicum of curiousity over a movie with a title this long and grammatically interesting? Playing on only 300 screens (give or take), the movie will start losing screens this weekend. If this epic, poetic, and unbelievably beautiful film is playing any where near you, you must check it out. It's the best film of the year.




Michael Mann is set to reteam with Robert De Niro (they made the masterpiece HEAT together) on a new crime film called FRANKIE MACHINE. It's based on the a novel by Don Winslow about an aging hitman who has to come out of bait-shop retirement when he realizes someone has placed a hit on him. At one point, Marty Scorsese was set to direct this film with De Niro, but Scorsese moved on to other projects. I'd like to think that Mann is a more than adequate replacement. Screenwriter Alex Tse (WATCHMEN) is rewriting the original script, which was penned by the duo behind ROUNDERS and OCEANS 13, Brian Koppelman and David Levien. Mann, who last directed the amazing MIAMI VICE, just set up a movie at Sony called EMPIRE, a John Logan (GLADIATOR, THE AVIATOR) scripted drama that will star Will Smith.


Oliver Stone's next film, the Vietnam set drama PINKVILLE, is really taking shape. Joining Bruce Willis and Channing Tatum are Woody Harrelson and Michael Pena, two actors who have worked with Stone in the past (NATURAL BORN KILLERS and WORLD TRADE CENTER respectively). It's also been confirmed that long-time collaborator Robert Richardson will be handling the cinematography duties. Richardson has shot numerous films for Stone, including NATURAL BORN KILLERS, JFK, NIXON, and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY.

Per the Hollywood Reporter, the film is a "mystery drama based on the infamous 1968 My Lai Massacre, in which upward of 500 people -- mostly women, children and the elderly -- were killed by U.S. soldiers. The massacre ended up being a turning point in the war."

Sounds like a natural fit for the Vietnam, American-history obsessed filmmaker. Should be powerful stuff.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Sweep those smelly sox!


I am way behind in posting reviews for the numerous films I have seen in the last few weeks. Here is a star guide to the movies I will be posting reviews for in the near future:


I hope to have these up on the blog by the end of the week. This weekend's upcoming lineup includes Ben Affleck's directorial debut GONE BABY GONE and the Steve Carrell comedy DAN IN REAL LIFE.



Michael Bay's masterpiece TRANSFORMERS is the movie that the flamboyantly over-the-top director was born to make. This summer's best piece of entertainment, this sci-fi extravaganza is the most consistently entertaining--and drop dead gorgeous special effects movie--in years. Probably of all-time. Make no mistake--this is the ultimate action film from an auteur who specializes in making things go boom. Beyond being a technical marvel of the first order, the movie is just...wait for it....FUN. I appreciate, and love, all sorts of movies, spanning all genres. And as important as I find films like THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE and INTO THE WILD to be, a movie like TRANSFORMERS is of equal importance. Entertainment is a necessity for human beings; I don't need to cry and feel moved or touched every time the lights go down in a theater. Sometimes, watching beautifully rendered computer generated effects coupled with absurdly enormous explosions can be just what the doctor ordered. And for my money, nobody blows shit up like Michael Bay; the rest of the action directors out there are stool pigeons (for the most part).

But the real heroes of TRANSFORMERS aren't the wham-bang director/producer combo of Bay and Steven Spielberg. Nope, the people responsible for making this film kick the unholy amounts of ass that it does are John Frazier (Special Effects Supervisor), Scott Farrar (Visual Effects Supervisor), Mitchell Aumndsen (Cinematographer), Joe Farrell (Senior Digital Compositor), and the literally hundreds of computer geniuses that brought all of the amazing robots to such vivid life on screen. Sure, it takes a certain kind of genius like a filmmaker like Bay to call all of the shots, juggle the massive production and all of the people, places, and things. But without the amazing visual effects teams at ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and Digital Domain (a company which Bay owns), TRANSFORMERS wouldn't be the piece of groundbreaking, pop-art that it is. And I mean that wholeheartedly; TRANSFORMERS is as close to art as this sort of movie-making gets. The use of color, sound, camera angles, camera movement, framing/composition, and the seamless integration of live-action shooting and CGI is beyond compare. Bay is the master of this type of action filmmaking, and I defy anyone--anyone--to honestly say to themselves while watching TRANSFORMERS that they aren't genuinely impressed with what their eyes are watching.

The story concocted by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (with input from Bay, Spielberg, and Hasbro) is simple and easy to follow (gee...shocker!). A dorky teen named Sam Witwicky, played with zest and humor by Shia LaBeouf, is the key to the Autobots (the good Transformers) in finding something called the Allspark. This piece of alien hardware is the power source for the entire race of Transformers. The Autobots, led by Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, want to get their hands on the Allspark before the evil Transformers, the Decepticons, led by Megatron, can get it first. This dilemma sets the stage for an epic--and I mean epic--battle on earth between the two warring robot tribes, with humans and the US military caught in the middle of everything. The film is also about a boy and his first car (Sam is unwittingly befriended by Bumblebee at the beginning of the picture) and a boy trying to get laid (Sam fixes his eyes on the insanely hot Mikaela, played by the sultry Megan Fox). But none of this really matters to be honest. The story moves along like a freight-train, with an action scene popping up almost every 20 minutes, with the climactic battle lasting for an unbelievable 35 minutes of screen time. It's like BLACK HAWK DOWN on multiple hits of LSD; your eyes will be scorched out of your head by the time it's over. And you'll want more. At least I did.

The acting is solid enough for this type of fare. LaBeouf is genuinely funny and charming; with this film and next summer's impending INDIANA JONES blockbuster, I think it's safe to say that LaBeouf is the next big star. Between his work in TRANSFORMERS and this year's thriller DISTURBIA (not to mention his terrific turn in last year’s A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS), it's easy to see why so many people have labeled him the next Tom Hanks. And as per usual in a Michael Bay picture, the rest of the ensemble cast is peppered with funny and recognizable character actors; John Voight, John Turturro, Kevin Dunn, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese, and Bernie Mac all lend amiable support. And then there are the ladies. Megan Fox, so sexy it actually hurts from time to time while watching her, can't really act, but who cares; she's the ultimate window dressing in a movie all about surface looks and sexy images. Appearing as if she's just making her way from a soft-core porn set or Penthouse photo-shoot, Bay's camera ogles and generally molests Fox with its lens; camera-fucking like this should be a sport. And let's also credit Bay for casting the blond supermodel bombshell Rachael Taylor (in her first big movie) as a buttoned-up government scientist. She too is given all of the Bay accoutrements; 4-inch heels, sexy mini-skirt, wire-rim glasses, and a cleavage exposing chemise that looks more Fredericks of Hollywood than conservative government employee.

But the last 30-40 minutes of TRANSFORMERS are the real reason why Bay probably took the job in the first place. And admitted non-fan of the toy line, Bay isn't here to pay lip-service to the hordes of Transformers geeks around the world. His decisions to slightly change the appearance of a few of the robots outraged some of the more hardcore fans of the old cartoon. Those people need to get a life. I personally couldn’t have cared less what changes Bay and his team made to the original robot designs. It's a movie about GIANT F'ING ROBOTS--get over yourselves! What Bay is after is the ultimate sensory overload experience; robots throwing each other through buildings, robots toppling over highway overpasses and into incoming traffic, cars and fighter jets transforming effortlessly into robots and back into cars or jets, people and cars being hurled down city streets by rampaging mega-robots, and an amazing, one-on-one fight between Prime and Megatron that leaves nothing to the imagination. And there's more. Much, much more. But all of this would be utter crap if Bay and his sensational team of animators didn't reach for the stars in their visual style. Everything (well, almost everything) looks positively real and immediate; you know that there aren't such things as 50 foot robots, but I'll be damned if it doesn't look real. A few of the shots, with multiple robots and humans in frame, are simply staggering. A lesser filmmaker might have settled for something less. Not Bay. During his pompous, hilarious audio commentary on the special-features packed dvd, he proudly states, among many things, that he only wanted to make the film if the robots were going to look photo real. Well Mr. Bay, job well done. $750 million in ticket sales are in the bank, the dvd is selling like crazy, and a visual effects Oscar is on its way. And to think of what Bay and his team have in store for us with the sequel....the mind races.

If you missed TRANSFORMERS in the theaters, you should be beaten. Seriously. You're a putz and you should have your ass handed to you. On a silver platter. This movie will entertain anyone, old or young, male or female, gay or straight, black or white or purple or green. I took my girlfriend to see it, who had been dreading its release, because she's not a sci-fi fan. But she is a Bay fan, and she loved the movie. Again, hates the genre, loved the movie. She had no issues with seeing it twice. On dvd, it holds up remarkably well, with only a few shots losing their impact in the big to small screen transfer. It's a rollercoaster ride of pyrotechnics and sci-fi inspired lunacy that must be seen to be believed. And from conception to delivery, it's one of the most honest blockbusters of the decade. And, lastly, one of the best movies of the year.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


If you have not seen or are unfamiliar with Terrence Malick's spellbinding masterwork DAYS OF HEAVEN, I strongly urge you to check out this new Criterion Collection dvd. While I have not yet purchased this new disc (I have the original issue from Paramount), I have read that Malick and crew supervised the new anamorphic transfer and that he fiddled around with the already stunning color pallete in this glorious film.

Considered one of the most beautiful films ever shot, DAYS OF HEAVEN is a dreamy, romantic, pseudo-Western starring Richard Gere in young-stud mode. A murder, a love triangle, and impossibly sumptuous vistas all factor into DAYS OF HEAVEN. Nestor Almendros's cinematography won the Oscar in 1978, and the film was also nominated for costumes, score, and sound. It was disgustingly overlooked in the picture and director categories. Shameful ommissions.

Anyways, check this film out; like all of Malick's films (BADLANDS, THE THIN RED LINE, THE NEW WORLD), it's so gorgeous to watch it hurts.


Her hotness, Megan Fox, has reportedly signed on to a new Fox Atomic project called JENNIFER'S BODY from screenwriter Diablo Cody, who's new film JUNO (out this December), is getting amazing buzz. JENNIFER'S BODY, which is being described as similar in tone to HEATHERS and BEETLEJUICE, follows a cheerleader (presumably Fox) with a perfect life who becomes the girl from hell when she gets possessed and begins killing boys in a small town. Her best friend must then find a way to stop her.
Sounds like some solid, sexy trash if you ask me. Fox, though an actress of limited acting ability (I've only seen her "work" in TRANSFORMERS), is so hot that she could be the star of a movie about gnomes living under a bridge in Pougkeepsie, NY and I'd still see it. At least on dvd.


My 5 star review of Michael Bay's masterwork TRANSFORMERS will be posted soon. Just wanted to happily report that the TRANSFORMERS dvd is fast on it's way to the #1 spot for the year. It sold 8.3 million units in it's first week; the year's #1 seller thus far is HAPPY FEET, with roughly 10 million units sold thus far (it's been on shelves since March). The bow of TRANSFORMERS on dvd has already eclipsed the numbers put up by 300, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, and THE DEPARTED. 4.5 million TRANSFORMERS dvds were sold on opening day (last Tuesday).

I know I got mine. And have been watching it almost every day since! It's fucking amazing! Truly!


And as usual, it sounds like an amazing movie. Per Variety:

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio will reteam early next year on "Shutter Island," a Laeta Kalogridis-scripted adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel...Drama is set in 1954, with DiCaprio in final talks to play U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, who is investigating the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and is presumed to be hiding on the remote Shutter Island. Scouting will begin shortly on the film, which most likely will shoot in Massachusetts, Connecticut or Nova Scotia. Lehane's novel "Mystic River" was turned into a film by Clint Eastwood, and his "Gone Baby Gone" is the basis for the Ben Affleck-directed drama that opened this past weekend. "Shutter Island" was originally optioned in 2003 by Columbia. The option lapsed and Lehane's Gersh reps resold it to Phoenix Pictures. The producer enlisted Kalogridis, the "Alexander" scribe who also wrote "Battle Angel" and "The Dive" for James Cameron. Phoenix and Kalogridis developed "Shutter Island" for about a year.
Scorsese and DiCaprio, who've now worked together on three films, were looking at several projects to do early next year, including an adaptation of "The Wolf of Wall Street." The "Shutter Island" script quickly drew both director and star, and a deal is expected to fall into place quickly.

Monday, October 22, 2007


The screenwriting team of Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris (X-MEN 2, SUPERMAN RETURNS) will not be returning to pen the script for the sequel, tentatively titled SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL. I am totally fine with that. The script for SUPERMAN RETURNS sucked; fresh creative blood for the franchise is necessary. I'd also like to suggest removing director Bryan Singer from the director's chair. As much as I have liked Singer's work (THE USUAL SUSPECTS is incredible and X-2 is one of the best comic book movies ever), I was not a fan of SUPERMAN RETURNS; get someone like Michael Bay (he'll be busy with TRANSFORMERS 2...), Tony Scott (DEJA VU, MAN ON FIRE), Ridley Scott (GLADIATOR, BLACK HAWK DOWN), Tarsem (THE CELL). Hell--here's an idea--bring back Dick Donner, who directed the very first SUPERMAN film back in the late 70's. No hacks like Brett Ratner or Len Wiseman or Paul Anderson though. Singer is a great, cerebral director with a nice style, and he had a nice touch with the X-MEN pictures, but he stunk up the joint with SUPERMAN RETURNS. It was a confused, semi-remake, that was a pale imitation of Dick Donner's original superhero masterwork. Gone was the mythos and iconic American feeling that SUPERMAN requires. I also was not a fan of the visual aspects of SUPERMAN RETURNS. Lensed by the normally amazing Newton Thomas Siegel (THREE KINGS, X-MEN 2), the film was shot in a hazy, gauzy fashion that didn't compliment the decent (but no where near spectacular) visual effects. Can you imagine what Steven Spielberg could do with a SUPERMAN movie? Damn...that would be something.


The American television watching public should be disgusted with themselves for not supporting NBC's FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, the best show currently airing. The show, throught its first three episodes, has maintained its amazing juice and power from last years brilliant first season, and is similarily fighting a massive, uphill battle in trying to find an audience. The marketing ploy of airing FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS on Friday nights has done squat to help the show; the producers have even resorted to summarazing the first half of the show at the 30 minute mark, in an effort to draw in passer-by viewers who have switched over from a different channel. Everything about FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is perfect; the writing, acting, and directing are absolutely first-rate. It will be a crying shame if/when this show gets the axe; I can't see it lasting any more than 1/2 a season at this rate. So go ahead America...keep watching bull shit like DANCING WITH THE STARS and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. Just typical.


2007 is going to be a challenging year when it comes to selecting my favorite/the best films of the year. At the begining of each week I will be posting my adjusted top picks of the year and as award season moves along, I will be doing Oscar predictions and my own best of the year pieces. Here is my top 30 of the year, broken into 3 tiers:

David Fincher’s ZODIAC
David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES
Peter Berg’s THE KINGDOM
Zack Snyder’s 300
Gavin Hood’s RENDITION

Jimmy Mangold’s 3:10 TO YUMA
John Carney’s ONCE
Werner Herzog’s RESCUE DAWN
Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP
Billy Ray’s BREACH
Jake Kasdan’s THE TV SET

Michael Moore’s SICKO
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 WEEKS LATER
Adrienne Shelly’s WAITRESS
Mike Binder’s REIGN OVER ME
Bong Joon-ho’s THE HOST
Joe Carnahan’s SMOKIN’ ACES
Steven Soderbergh’s OCEANS 13

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Susanne Bier's masterpiece THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE is unquestionably one of the best films of the year. I had a feeling it would be. I had read Allan Loeb's brilliant screenplay a few years ago, and immediately after putting it down, had a feeling run through me that I had read something touching, moving, and heartbreaking. I had a fear though. Because I loved the script so much, I was afraid that the finished film wouldn't live up to experience of reading the story on paper. Because I have not seen any of Bier's previous work (shame on me), I wasn't prepared for her penetrating style. And on top of everything, Benicio Del Toro's performance in THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE is the single best piece of acting, male or female, of the year. An actor of extreme talent, Del Toro seems incapable of every giving anything less than a tour de force performance. His smart-ass work in THE USUAL SUSPECTS showed the world a new, distinct actor was in town. And with his performances in Terry Gilliam's FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, Steven Soderbergh's TRAFFIC, and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu's 21 GRAMS, he clearly established himself as one of the best and most versatile actors of his generation. He is a towering presence in the film; hypnotic and raw, capturing the horrors of a heroin addict so vividly--and without any self-conscious moments--that it's impossible not to love him. And that's nothing to say of Halle Berry's moving and sad portrayal of a woman coming to terms with serious loss, the death of her amazing and loving husband. Del Toro and Berry's characters form a symbiotic bond, a unqiue and often painful friendship that is brought on by tragedy. Never contrived or disingenuous, THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE is commercial storytelling as art. This is a beautifully observed, quietly devastating movie. Never cloying or cheap, it's a film that's about realistic, serious issues, and remains honest at every turn. My full, four star review will be posted soon.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


2007 has been a phenomenal year for American film thus far. And today, I saw two more excellent films: Terry George's quiet, sad, and wonderfully acted RESERVATION ROAD; Gavin Hood's tricky and electrifying political thriller RENDITION. Full reviews to follow...

Friday, October 19, 2007


James Gray's WE OWN THE NIGHT ***1/2 out of ****

I love cop films. They're one of my favorite genres. I respond instinctively to the films of Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Sidney Lumet, Brian De Palma and many others who have explored the time-honored traditions of cops, criminals, familial love, right and wrong, and moral ambiguity. James Gray, the director of LITTLE ODESSA and the vastly underrated and under seen THE YARDS, is an interesting filmmaker. He's made three films (WE OWN THE NIGHT is his third and most recent) and all three have taken place in New York and have centered on Russian mobsters, declining families, and hot-headed male characters. THE YARDS seemed to have been channeling THE GODFATHER (I'm serious here) in its shadowy depiction of the bonds that bring families together, and how those same bonds can tear a family apart. WE OWN THE NIGHT is Gray's most commercial picture to date, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. And while the film isn't perfect, there is much to recommend in this hot-blooded thriller.

A simple story of two brothers on opposite sides of the law, WE OWN THE NIGHT is refreshingly un-self conscious and square; it's a crime film that tells an A-to-B-to-C story that you've seen before but not through this prism. Joaquin Phoenix, in another blistering performance, is a nightclub manager named Bobby, whose top-cop father Burt (Robert Duvall) has little use for. Eschewing the family calling of becoming a cop, Bobby would rather swagger through a night club, blow a line coke off his girlfriend's ass, and mix-it up with drunken clubbers. Bobby's brother, Joseph (Mark Wahlberg), is a hot-shot in the police force, making a name for himself as the leader of a strike team set to take down the Russian mobs who have started to take over the drug scene in the city. It just so happens that the club that Bobby manages is owned by the Russian mob; it's not long before Bobby is forced to choose sides. Work with the police in taking down the group of people that employ him or subvert the police, and his family, by staying loyal to the gangsters. Mix in Eva Mendes as Bobby's smoking hot girlfriend (the film's opening scene is genuinely sexy and quite startling in its overt sexuality) and you've got the requisite ingredients for a gritty cop thriller, which is exactly what WE OWN THE NIGHT becomes.

Gray has structured his tale through three amazing set pieces; a coke-house raid/shootout, an astounding car-chase during a pounding rainstorm, and a near operatic climactic shootout set against the burning tall-weeds of New York. These three sequences are some of the best set-pieces of the year; Gray handles the various action like a skilled vet (there's more "action" in WE OWN THE NIGHT than in LITTLE ODESSA and THE YARDS put together). The car chase warrants special praise. Shooting the entire chase with a subjective camera and no music, the audience only knows as much as Bobby does during the chase, as the camera never leaves the back and front seat of the car. We peer through the front windshield as the windshield wipers clear away the torrential downpour, allowing glimpses of a jack-knifing tractor-trailer truck and other vehicular destruction. With gangsters firing shotguns at Bobby's car, the scene is all white-knuckles and sweaty palms. You'll be even more amazed to know that all of the rain during the car chase was created with computers; the seamless blending of all of the different elements in this bravura sequence is simply astonishing. It truly is a car chase that you've never seen before. The shootout/raid that precedes the car chase is violent, gritty, and nasty--exactly what a shot-gun fueled shoot-out would be. And the ending exudes a dreamy quality that ratchets up the tension to considerable effect.

The film isn't perfect. There's one major plot development that's sort of laughable and some of the dialogue is a bit on the nose, but never bad. The themes that WE OWN THE NIGHT explores are familiar yet thrilling; after all, when will stories about loyalty and deception ever feel new again? The story has an old-school feel to it, which may be the reason why by the end of the film, you may feel that all you've been watching is a standard issue cops and robbers actioner. But the conviction of the performances, especially that of Phoenix, seal some of the story cracks with passion and energy. And one big surprise involving Wahlberg's character was a welcome addition to the story. In the end, WE OWN THE NIGHT may be a tad predictable, but it's well worth watching.

James Gray makes a movie every 7 years or so; here's hoping that we see more of him in the near future. He has a laid-back, unfussy style with a clear understanding of character and plot mechanics. What he lacks in originality during WE OWN THE NIGHT he more than makes up for with his vivid shooting style (the excellent, dark cinematography is courtesy of the talented Joaquin Baca-Asay) and his unwavering dedication to making everything seem atmospherically alive and immediate. The 1980's setting flavors the film with a seedy quality you don't normally get a chance to see on the big screen.

If you love (or even like) cop movies, WE OWN THE NIGHT will do the trick. It's not THE DEPARTED, but what could be at this point? Rather than reinventing the genre with narrative tricks like THE DEPARTED or up the style ante the way Michael Mann's MIAMI VICE did, WE OWN THE NIGHT is a solid entry in a classic genre that shares more in common with Sidney Lumet's movies like SERPICO and PRINCE OF THE CITY. See it for Phoenix's amazing performance (one of the best of the year) and the directorial verve that Gray displays during his action sequences.


Wes Anderson's THE DARJEELING LIMITED *** out of ****

Wes Anderson's new movie THE DARJEELING LIMITED is a fun little piffle of a movie. Funny, quirky, stylish, and occasionally deep (I think...), THE DARJEELING LIMITED is a spiritual road-trip of a movie that will cater to fans of Anderson's brand of smug humor and immaculate production design. As a filmmaker, I'm begining to wonder if Anderson has anything new to say. All of his films--BOTTLE ROCKET, RUSHMORE, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, THE LIFE AQUATIC, and THE DARJEELING LIMITED--exsist in a hermetically-sealed fantasy land that only a storyteller of singular vision could be responsible for. But while I enjoyed THE DARJEELING LIMITED, and have come to think more of it as the week has progressed (I saw it last weekend), the signs of been-there-done-that are starting to emerge.

The film stars Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody as three brothers who take a surreal train trip through India. Semi-estranged from one another, all three brothers have their own sets of problems. The sudden (and off-screen) death of their father and their mother's subsequent voyage to become a nun in the Himalayas have left them feeling alone and broken as a family. Wilson's character, Francis, sports bandages all over his head from a recent motorcylce "accident" (but was it really an accident...?). Schwartzman's Jack, a horny little devil with a hipster moustache, has just broken up with his girlfriend but isn't over here (he dials into her voicemail throughout the film checking her messages). And the quiet Peter, played with normal actorly reserve by Adrien Brody, is the glue that sort of holds the threesome together. It would be pointless to spoil the story of THE DARJEELING LIMITED as the fun and joy of the film stems from the quirks of the characters, and a surprising twist in the narrative that forces the brothers to re-evaluate their lives and how they treat each other. It's sort of a more whimsical version of THE ROYAL TENEBAUMS, still Anderson's best and most complete film, with his usual flights of fancy meshing well with real world scenarios. Without spoiling any of the story, there is a plot point that deepens the film on an emotional level that was unexpected and welcome; for the first 40 minutes or so I was asking myself where the film was headed.

Anderson, a master stylist in a very unique fashion, almost seems distracted by his artifice in THE DARJEELING LIMITED. The movie is so precisely staged, designed, composed, shot, and cut that as a viewer, even I was distracted by the all of the sylistic precision at times. All of Anderson's movies are designed to within an inch of their lives; that's part of the appeal of his movies. Even in the very self-indulgent THE LIFE AQUATIC, which I absolutely loved but acknowledge that I am in the minority with that feeling, all of the style trappings that Anderson created worked to balance out the surreal aspects of the story. The problem is that in THE DARJEELING LIMITED, Anderson is working in a more realistic setting, and at times, his style gets in the way of his story telling.

Overall, I liked the film. I liked it a lot. But I didn't love it. And I have loved all of his previous efforts. I didn't find the dialogue to be as quotable as in his other films, and while I liked the chracters, I never truly loved them. But I do need to say one thing--it was very tough watching Owen Wilson. When it comes to movie stars, I have a very easy time separating their personal lives from their professional work. I could care less what Mel Gibson has to say about any race or religion; Tom Cruise can jump on as many couches as he wants too; Brad Pitt can date anyone he wants. As long as the quality of their films don't suffer, that's all I ask. But with the recent suicide attempt by Wilson, I would be lying if I didn't mention how odd it was at times to watch him in THE DARJEELING LIMITED. His character is the darkest of the trio, and one scene in particular with Wilson peeling off his accident bandages, carried an unexpected amount of poignancy. I have to say I got a little teary eyed. It's hard to think about guys as funny as Wilson trying to kill themselves; his on-screen personna contradicts this real-world desire. But in a weird, unintentional way, Wilson's real life drama pumps THE DARJEELING LIMITED with a sad-sack quality, one I doubt Wilson and his co-writers (Schwartzman and Roman Coppola) had ever intended.

Wes Anderson makes roughly 1 movie every 3 years and I am more than happy to revel in his cinematic wonderlands each time. He's a filmmaker who seems comfortable repeating himself with the same themes and stylistic flourishes, much like Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann have done with the gangster/crime genres. THE DARJEELING LIMITED will appeal to those who have enjoyed all of Anderson's previous movies but will likely turn off those looking for more realistically grounded stories.


If you didn't see this past Wednesday's episode of SOUTH PARK you really missed something pretty special. Utter brilliance as usual, Trey Parker and Matt Stone set the bar on a weekly basis for inspired crudity.


Here are links to this week's reviews from Roger Ebert:

RENDITION, which he gave 4 stars:

GONE BABY GONE, which he gave 3,5 stars (I will be catching this next weekend):

SLEUTH, which he gave 3 stars (I will probably wait for dvd on this one):

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, which he gave 3.5 stars (I'm hesitant to see it as I didn't like the script at all):

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, which he gave 3 stars (I read the script about 3 years ago on my friend's couch and found it to be UTTERLY BRILLIANT):

30 DAYS OF NIGHT, which he gave 2.5 stars (I'm looking forward, if only to see what the amazing director of HARD CANDY, David Slade, has done with a graphic-novel inspired, R-rated vampire movie):


Later today I will be posting a bunch of reviews I've been meaning to get to. Tony Gilroy's MICHAEL CLAYTON (****), James Gray's WE OWN THE NIGHT (***1/2) and Wes Anderson's THE DARJEELING LIMITED (***). I will also have my **** dvd review of Michael Bay's TRANSFORMERS coming soon. Stay tuned...


I will be catching Terry George's RESERVATION ROAD and Gavin Hood's RENDITION tomorrow. On Sunday is Susanne Bier's THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE. I also have this year's horror thriller VACANCY at home from Netflix.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


David Slade, the director of last year's HARD CANDY, has a new film coming out this weekend: 30 DAYS OF NIGHT. Based on an acclaimed graphic novel, it's a vampire/survival horror movie with Josh Hartnett and Danny Huston. The ads, both on television and in print, I think, have been especially striking. The direction displayed by Slade in HARD CANDY was simply marvelous; I have a feeling this movie could be a cut-above for the genre.

Wouldn't it be cool if there was a smart (ok, at least somewhat smart), stylish, gritty, and scary vampire movie out there? I'd like to see a good vampire movie for once. Actually, when was the last good vampire flick? INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE?

Maybe 30 DAYS OF NIGHT will kick some ass...


Check out this new trailer for STOP LOSS, the new film from BOYS DON'T CRY director Kimberly Pierce.

I think it looks very strong.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Legendary film composter Ennio Morriconne (THE UNTOUCHABLES, CINEMA PARADISO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS) will be re-teaming with Brian De Palma on the score for De Palma's upcoming UNTOUCHABLES sequel THE UNTOUCHABLES: CAPONE RISING.

Gerrard Butler (300) is playing Jimmy Malone, a role made famous by Sean Connery in the first film; the search is on for a new Elliot Ness and Al Capone. Brian Koppleman and David Levien (ROUNDERS, OCEANS 13) wrote the script, along with help from screenwriter David Rabe (CASUALTIES OF WAR). Production is set to start this fall for a Christmas 2008 release.

I love THE UNTOUCHABLES; it's one of De Palam's finest efforts. And I am totally down for a new gangster picture from De Palma. This film will focus on Ness and Caopone in their youth. Can't wait.


I just read this quote from Sam Raimi re: SPIDERMAN 4 at

"Right now, a writer is being sought to write the next installment. We're in the very early stages... I won't be working on the story. It'll be a brand-new writer coming in with a brand-new story -- a fresh take on the Spider-Man series. We're hearing different versions right now and really enjoying the different stories. Hopefully, we'll hear one that sounds right for the fourth installment. I'm going to let the writer envision where Peter Parker would go to next" says Raimi. As for a "Venom" film spin-off? "That's probably for someone else" he says.

Am I alone in feeling that this series has flat-lined? The first SPIDERMAN was a lot of fun. SPIDERMAN 2 is a masterpiece of the genre. But SPIDERMAN 3 sucked so badly that I could care less to see another entry in the franchise. Raimi needs to go and make a dark and nasty R-rated thriller again (remember A SIMPLE PLAN and THE GIFT?). SPIDERMAN 3 looked like outtakes from a Playstation 2 video game.


Tony Scott, with directing credits such as TOP GUN, DAYS OF THUNDER, CRIMSON TIDE, MAN ON FIRE, TRUE ROMANCE, DOMINO, and ENEMY OF THE STATE, is quite possibly the manliest director of all time. There have been many other filmmakers who have specialized in masculine entertainments, but Scott tops the list in my estimation. And he's about to go into production on a remake of the 1970's actioner THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1, 2, 3, which will star Denzel Washington, who has starred for Scott in CRIMSON TIDE, MAN ON FIRE, and last years underrated sci-fi action flick DEJA VU.

It now looks like Scott is going to direct a feature about Don Aronow, the guy who invented the cigarette boat. Michael A.M. Lerner is writing the script and Fox 2000 will be releasing the film.

Per Variety:

"Aronow was a self-made millionaire businessman and powerboat racing's world champ for 10 straight years. His cigarette boat became a favorite of Colombian drug smugglers looking to import their product into Miami in the 1980s. Aronow got a $20 million contract to build boats for U.S. Customs agents to catch the smugglers. He was eventually gunned down in 1987 in a mob-style hit in Miami. Lerner teamed with partners Jeff Shapiro and Alan Hecht to option rights of Aronow's surviving son, Michael. Shapiro and Hecht will be exec producers.
Scott will first direct Denzel Washington in a remake of "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" for Columbia Pictures. Lerner is a former Newsweek correspondent who wrote and directed the indie feature "Deadlines," based on his experiences covering war in Lebanon. "

Sounds f'ing amazing. I am already in the theater.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007



Today, let the destruction begin (on your home theater system)


LUCKY YOU, this past summer's poker drama starring Eric Bana and Robert Duvall, was a crushing bore, a reminder that truly excellent filmmakers can have an off-picture. Directed by Curtis Hanson (LA CONFIDENTIAL, WONDER BOYS) and written by Eric Roth (THE INSIDER, MUNICH, THE GOOD SHEPHERD), LUCKY YOU is a curious slog; never terrible, the movie rarely escapes the confines of medicore, and as such, becomes a terminal bore to sit through. It seemed like the kind of early screenplay effort a big writer may have kept in the top drawer of his desk for a few years and once he became famous (and Eric Roth is one of the best writers in Hollywood), he was able to sell it. Bana plays a card-shark named Huck, a guy with a rocky relationship with his father, who is trying to navigate the many poker tables in Vegas. He meets a lounge singer played by Drew Barrymore; all of the predictable romantic dramedy bits ensue.

I was shocked at how pedestrian the entire movie felt. The dialogue and situations were beyond cliched, the music was cheesy, and worst of all, the movie looked like crap (the normally reliable cinematographer Peter Deming was behind the camera). Garish and ugly looking, Hanson and Deming shot Vegas like it was a gigantic funeral home of a city. Truly disappointing. Bana, as usual, gave a solid performance. But one performance isn't enough in a two hour movie with glacial pacing and a general lack of excitement or surprises.

Curtis Hanson was on an incredible filmmaking roll. After trading in his early genre roots as a director (he did THE BEDROOM WINDOW, BAD INFLUENCE, THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, and THE RIVER WILD), Hanson went on an amazing streak of four star movies: LA CONFIDENTIAL, WONDER BOYS, 8 MILE, and IN HER SHOES (a very underrated chick flick). What happened with LUCKY YOU I will never know; I'm surprised that the script even resonated with Hanson. Maybe he just wanted to putz around Vegas.

LUCKY YOU, while never offensively bad or unwatchable, was simply a bore. And that's the worst crime a movie can commit--boring its audience.


For a movie that you'd think would have been slaughtered by the critical elite, TRANSFORMERS wasn't as lambasted as I would've thought. Check these blurbs:

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
"It's goofy fun with a lot of stuff that blows up real good, and it has the grace not only to realize how preposterous it is, but to make that into an asset."
Wesley Morris, San Francisco Chronicle
"The effects are put to brilliant use. ...Bay even allows the humans their humanness, too -- elsewhere, John Turturro and Anthony Anderson are very funny in smallish parts, and [Julie] White steals the movie."
Claudia Puig, USA Today
"Though it's at least 20 minutes too long and uneven dramatically, the acting is sharp, and it features some of the most spectacular action and effects sequences of any movie of its kind."
Sean Axmaker, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"... a screeching metal, smash-and-crash, extreme-action movie lover's dream come true. It's also a wildly absurd, visceral fantasy and far more fun than it ought to be."
Maitland McDonagh, TV Guide's Movie Guide
"Great special effects + Shia LaBeouf - flimsy story = lotsa fun."
Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer
"While Bay succeeds in creating a seamless mix of computer-generated effects with live-action, the real treat of his film is the flesh-and-blood LaBeouf. He is LaBomb."
Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor
"What keeps Transformers watchable is LaBeouf and the computerized effects, which are often startling. When Sam's Camaro muscles up into the Bumblebee bot, it's like watching every boy's fantasy of his first pair of wheels."
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
"In Bay's world, which is more about metal than people, every action sequence must be edited like a cinematic seizure and every extreme-telephoto image must be jammed headlong into the next."
Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
"Transformers is way better than anyone could have expected from Michael Bay, the director who gave us Armageddon and Pearl Harbor."
Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
"Bay, at heart, isn't a fantasist; he's a literal-minded maestro of demolition. But then, that serves Transformers well during its climax, a spectacular clash of the heavy metal titans, and a primal reminder of why boys love their toys."
Brian Webster, Apollo Guide
"This is one fun summer movie. Totally ridiculous. Big and loud. Senseless. Campy and dumb. But great fun."
Pete Vonder Haar, Film Threat
"To paraphrase Montgomery Burns: I'm no art critic, but I know what I hate...and I didn't hate Transformers."


The two disc special edition of Michael Bay's masterpiece TRANSFORMERS is burning a hole in my briefcase!


Dean Semler, the amazing cinematographer of movies such as DANCES WITH WOLVES, APOCALYPTO, XXX, and WE WERE SOLDIERS, will be shooting THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA for director George Miller (BABE, MAD MAX, HAPPY FEET).

From what I have read online, it seems as if Miller is skewing young with this superhero team-up movie; many of the young hotties from television's FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS are said to have read for roles (Wonder Woman...) as well as Adrian Brody (Superman or The Flash maybe...), best known from television's THE OC. No definitive casting decisions have been made, and as much as I want this project to move froward and kick some serious ass, until they announce the lead actors, some skepticism remains.


Computer problems have slowed the postings today. Will have 3 reviews up soon...

Monday, October 15, 2007



FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS fell sharply in the ratings last Friday night after a promising debut second episode, which did better numbers than any of last season's episodes. Not good. It will be terrible if this show gets cancelled...


Why 21? Why not?

David Fincher’s ZODIAC
David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES
Peter Berg’s THE KINGDOM
Zack Snyder’s 300
Jimmy Mangold’s 3:10 TO YUMA
John Carney’s ONCE
Werner Herzog’s RESCUE DAWN
Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP
Billy Ray’s BREACH
Jake Kasdan’s THE TV SET
Michael Moore’s SICKO
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 WEEKS LATER

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Just saw WE OWN THE NIGHT, the new film from James Gray, the director of THE YARDS and LITTLE ODESSA. I enjoyed it immensely. Not a perfect film, but a damn fine one, and extremely entertaining. Will have much more on this film tomorrow, but I will say that aside from a few illigocal plot moments, WE OWN THE NIGHT is a refreshingly old-school cop thriller with a big, beefy performance from Joaquin Phoenix. It's a gritty, dark, tough movie with some nasty gun violence and a near operatic finale shoot-out set against the back drop of a burning weed field on the border of New York and New Jersey. The film also boasts one of the best car chases in recent memory, shot almost entirely with a subjective point-of-view cinematography style that is as white-knuckle as it gets. Not as good overall as MICHAEL CLAYTON or EASTERN PROMISES, but WE OWN THE NIGHT more than delivered. More tomorrow.