Friday, November 30, 2007

MOVIES FOR THIS WEEKEND

On Saturday I'll be checking out BEOWULF in IMAX 3-D....looking forward.

On Sunday I'll be checking out ENCHANTED at the new Arclight Sherman Oaks location; let's see if they come close to replicating the amazing Arclight Hollywood in the valley...

I have the Christian Bale mind-freak movie THE MACHINIST from Netflix so I'll check that out at some point. I've seen it, but my girlfriend was interested in seeing it. It's a good, dark, strange movie that's similar to MEMENTO.

If time permits, I'd also like to get to the theater to see THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY, but might have to wait for next weekend on that.

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING and THE SAVAGES are also options, but again, those will probably be on tap for next weekend. JUNO also opens next Wednesday, so suffice to say, there's a ton out that demands to be seen.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

MY FRIEND THE FANBOY

"Spencer," as he is known to some, is a good friend of mine, and one of the craziest collectors of dvds and move memoribilia that I've ever known. We both frequent the amazing movie info website http://www.joblo.com/ and just recently, joblo has started a new gimmick--send in pictures and descriptions of all your movie items and the most insane collections will be picked as the winner. Well, low and behold, "Spencer" won the most recent edition of the contest.

Here's the link to the article: http://joblo.com/dvdclinic/index.php?id=2105

Here are some pictures of what his apartment looks like (I used to live there so I can attest to the over-the-top nature of the place).










MAJOR DVD ANNOUNCEMENTS


THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD has gotten a dvd street date: February 5, 2008. Only a few months away! Very exciting news. This is the best film of 2007, and that's saying something considering all of the other great films that have been released this year. However, it appears as if this will be a bare bones release, no commentary or documentaries included. That sucks, and I hate that Warner Brothers will now force me to double-dip and buy this one and then the inevitable collector's edition down the road. But this film is worth owning in every single form of release. And love the cover art.
Also one of the best films of the year, Sidney Lumet's dark and engrossing crime thriller BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD will be available to own on March 4, 2008. Wish it was coming sooner. This riveting, Shakespearean morality tale is a pitch-black character study, with some amazingly intense performances from its great case: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, and Michael Shannon. Again, nice cover art.





















Wednesday, November 28, 2007

EARLY OSCAR PICKS

It's still too early to have any conclusive idea of what this coming year's Oscar Nominations/Awards will bring, but I know I have my personal favrorites, and a good idea of what may be up for awards. Keeping in mind that there are a number of films I have yet to see that could potentially be up for awards (THERE WILL BE BLOOD, JUNO, SWEENEY TODD, THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, THE GOLDEN COMPASS, ATONEMENT, THE KITE RUNNER, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, and THE GREAT DEBATERS), I have a general idea of what should be nominated. Below are my personal favorites (not saying they'll be up for anything come nomination hour) for the year thus far:

BEST PICTURE

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
ZODIAC
INTO THE WILD
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
AMERICAN GANGSTER

runners up: BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, MICHAEL CLAYTON

BEST DIRECTOR

Andrew Doiminik (JESSE JAMES)
David Fincher (ZODIAC)
Sean Penn (INTO THE WILD)
Joel & Ethan Coen (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN)
Ridley Scott (AMERICAN GANGSTER)

runners up: Sidney Lumet (BEFORE THE DEVIL), Tony Gilroy (MICHAEL CLAYTON), Susanne Bier (THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE)

BEST ACTOR

Emile Hirsch (INTO THE WILD)
Benicio Del Toro (THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD)
Christian Bale (RESCUE DAWN)
Denzel Washington (AMERICAN GANGSTER)

runners up: Viggo Mortensen (EASTERN PROMISES), Samuel L. Jackson (BLACK SNAKE MOAN), Casey Affleck (JESSE JAMES and GONE BABY GONE), Brad Pitt (JESSE JAMES), Russell Crowe (AMERICAN GANGSTER and 3:10 TO YUMA) and Matt Damon (BOURNE ULTIMATUM)

*the number of exceptional leading male performances this year is utterly staggering.

BEST ACTRESS

Keri Russell (WAITRESS)
Halle Berry (THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE)
Cate Blanchett (I'M NOT THERE)
Katherine Heigel (KNOCKED UP)
Christina Ricci (BLACK SNAKE MOAN)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Steven Zaillian (AMERICAN GANGSTER)
Steve Knight (EASTERN PROMISES)
Tony Gilroy (MICHAEL CLAYTON)
Allan Loeb (THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE)
Kelly Masterson (BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Joel & Ethan Coen (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN)
Sean Penn (INTO THE WILD)
Andrew Dominik (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD)
James Vanderbilt (ZODIAC)
Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard (GONE BABY GONE)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Roger Deakins (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD)
Roger Deakins (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN)
Eric Gautier (INTO THE WILD)
Harris Savides (ZODIAC)
Larry Fong (300)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

SCORSESE/DICAPRIO/RUFFALO





Martin Scorsese (GOODFELLAS, THE DEPARTED) is set to direct Leo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo in the crime thriller SHUTTER ISLAND. Based on the novel by MYSTIC RIVER and GONE BABY GONE author Dennis Lehane, SHUTTER ISLAND takes place in Boston during the 1950's, and centers around two cops (DiCaprio and Ruffalo) who are investigating the disappearance of a mental patient from a local asylum. When a hurricane forms, the two cops are stranded on the island, as they uncover a twisted web of lies.
This sounds like an awesome combination of director, actors, and subject material. Scorsese, who directed last year's phenomenal Boston crime epic THE DEPARTED, has his Rolling Stones documentary SHINE A LIGHT set for release next April. Scorsese has long been my favorite filmmaker (GOODFELLAS is my absolute favorite movie of all time) and his efforts with DiCaprio (GANGS OF NEW YORK, THE AVIATOR, and THE DEPARTED) have all been nothing short of masterful. DiCaprio has fast become one of my favorite actors and one of the best movie stars of his generation. And Ruffalo, coming off career best work in ZODIAC and RESERVATION ROAD, seems like a natural fit for a film like SHUTTER ISLAND. Ruffalo, a diverse character actor who has been in everything from YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, IN THE CUT, COLLATERAL, and RUMOR HAS IT, is always good, even if the movie is subpar. It's his effortless charm that always wins me over.
Production on SHUTTER ISLAND begins next March so there's always the chance that the film could be ready next fall but I'd expect a release date of spring 2009 or summer 2009.

INDY PICS!





I saw these at www.aintitcool.com but loved the look of them so much that I wanted to post them on my blog as well. I cannot wait to see Harrison Ford back in the saddle and sporting the hat as Indiana Jones next Memorial Day.






Monday, November 26, 2007

THE REST OF THE YEAR

Here are the movies that are currently in release that I still need to see for 2007:

BEOWULF 3-D
MARGOT AT THE WEDDING
ENCHANTED
THE MIST
LIONS FOR LAMBS
LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (maybe...didn't like the script but like the actors...on the fence...)


Here are the movies that are awaiting release that I want to see before the end of the year (in no special order):

THE SAVAGES
THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY
THE GOLDEN COMPASS
I AM LEGEND
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
SWEENEY TODD
JUNO
WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY
ATONEMENT
GRACE IS GONE
THE KITE RUNNER
NATIONAL TREASURE 2: BOOK OF SECRETS
CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR
THE GREAT DEBATERS


There may be a few more that have snuck past me but I think that covers it. As I have stated before, this has been an exceptional year of movie watching, with some of the best films of the decade (JESSE JAMES, INTO THE WILD, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, ZODIAC) having been released this year. If I could only pick one more movie to see for the rest of the year, I'd go with (in a heartbeat) THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

UPDATED: TOP FILMS OF 2007

Here is my top 30 for 2007.

I should note that I saw I'M NOT THERE, the wild, ambitious Bob Dylan collage-of-a-film from writer/director Todd Haynes. My full review will be up soon, but I will say that while it's not my favorite movie of the year, it's a blast to watch and always engrossing and fascinating.

I would have seen BEOWULF had the 3-D projector at the Arclight not broken down; very sloppy over there last Friday. I will be catching it soon, maybe this weekend.

Anyways, here's my top 30 for the year:

Andrew Dominik’s THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
Joel & Ethan Coen’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD
David Fincher’s ZODIAC
Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER
Susanne Bier’s THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE
David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES
Sidney Lumet’s BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
Tony Gilroy’s MICHAEL CLAYTON
Peter Berg’s THE KINGDOM

Zack Snyder’s 300
Paul Greengrass’s THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS
Jimmy Mangold’s 3:10 TO YUMA
Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP
John Carney’s ONCE
Werner Herzog’s RESCUE DAWN
Todd Haynes’s I’M NOT THERE
Ben Affleck’s GONE BABY GONE
Dan Klores’s CRAZY LOVE

James Gray’s WE OWN THE NIGHT
Paul Haggis’s IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
Gavin Hood’s RENDITION
Gore Verbinski’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 WEEKS LATER
Billy Ray’s BREACH
Jake Kasdan’s THE TV SET
Peter Hedges’s DAN IN REAL LIFE
Michael Moore’s SICKO
Wes Anderson’s THE DARJEELING LIMITED

Thursday, November 22, 2007

WHAT I'M THANKFUL FOR IN THIS INDUSTRY

I've been in Los Angeles for five years, working in the industry in one way shape or form. It hasn't always been a blast, but when it's good, it's fucking amazing. I've seen things, done things, and met people that I never thought I would. And spoken with and regularly conversed with my idols. I wanted to offer up what I'm thankful for in this industry, this Thanksgiving season:

I am thankful that filmmakers like Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Oliver Stone, David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tony Scott, Brian De Palma, Werner Herzog, Joel & Ethan Coen, Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg, Spike Jonze, David Cronenberg, Zack Snyder, Paul Greengrass, Terrence Malick, Andrew Dominik, and Sean Penn have all recently made great films, and have some spectacular projects on the horizon.

I am thankful for my job in this industry, as it's shown me, with a few exceptions, how exactly NOT to behave in regular life.

I am thankful for the Arclight, for always providing an amazing movie-going experience.

I am thankful for Netflix, which has expanded my horizons and taste for all sorts of world cinema.

I am thankful for having such an amazing girlfriend, who will willingly submit her weekends to "double-feature Saturday" and then one more on Sunday, always with a smile.

I'm thankful for all of the incredible movies that have come out in 2007, including: THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, INTO THE WILD, EASTERN PROMISES, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, AMERICAN GANGSTER, MICHAEL CLAYTON, THE KINGDOM, THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, 3:10 TO YUMA, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, GONE BABY GONE, WE OWN THE NIGHT, TRANSFORMERS, KNOCKED UP, RESCUE DAWN, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, THE DARJEELING LIMITED, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END, and RENDITION.

I'm thankful for my mother, father, and sister, for always allowing me to suggest (sometimes obsessively) a multitude of films for them to see. And even though I know they'll never see some of them, I still love that they at least allow me to humor them.

I am thankful for having such a nice widescreen television (thanks in large part to my father and girlfriend) to watch all of my dvds on and for having such a sick surround-sound system to piss off my neighbor with.

I am thankful for a movie like SOUTHLAND TALES, becasue even though it's not very good overall, it exhibits such a dazzling sense of creativity and exuberance that it's impossible to forget.

I am thankful for websites http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/, http://www.aint-it-cool-news.com/, and http://www.joblo.com/, because without them, I'd feel lost in trying to navigate the murky waters of movie development.

I'm thankful for the trade magazine Variety, which I've been reading since I was a teenager at the advice of my father, for always providing great info and informative reviews.

I'm thankful that Roger Ebert, one of the best and most important voices in American film criticism, is getting healthier and is back behind the keyboard banging out reviews.

I'm thankful for the guys who run http://www.rottentomatoes.com/ for providing such an invaluable research tool.

I'm thankful for so many things, and I look forward to another great year of movie watching.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2007

RANDOM BITS

I am still wrestling with Richard Kelly's surreal cinematic head-trip SOUTHLAND TALES (**) and I'm hoping to have a full review up soon. Not a masterwork and certainly not the unmitigated disaster that others have proclaimed it to be, it's a challenging, frustrating, intermittently brilliant satire that demands multiple viewings if you care at all about sussing the entire story out. I was never bored but often times was annoyed with the sloppiness of the entire package, yet I found myself oddly drawn into Kelly's unique, twisted world view that was on display in SOUTHLAND TALES. And as I said earlier, the last 30 minutes or so are some of the headiest big-screen moments I've ever seen. It feels like a film made by a stoner or acid freak who literally threw every single idea they ever had up on the big screen, and while not fully coherent, the movie at time dazzles with its wilfully deranged attitude and behavior. Flawed but not without its merits, the film is a bold mess, a unique failure that I'm looking forward to watching again.

I caught MR. BROOKS (* 1/2), the tepid, lame serial killer thriller from this past summer. Kevin Costner, who was good as usual, couldn't save this dreary thriller from becoming nothing more than tediously effective. The writing was weak, the directing flaccid, and the supporting performances from Demi Moore and Dane Cook stunk. The movie has a fun idea--a guy is addicted to killing like alcoholics are addicted to booze. It's in his blood and he can't escape it. By the end of the film, the story has jumped off the tracks so wildly that it can never recover. And, to make matters worse, it was boring. Always the worst offense a movie can commit. Seeing Costner as a bad guy was fun for the first half-hour or so, and then it just went downhill for the remaining hour and a half. MR. BROOKS was like a bad combo of cheesy 80's thriller and Lifetime movie material; lame-O.

Werner Herzog's masterful Vietnam POW film RESCUE DAWN (****) hits dvd tomorrow and is a must-see for anyone who cares about strong filmmaking, courageous acting, and a deeply personal story. Based on Herzog's own documentary, the exceptional LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY (****), Christian Bale delivers yet another staggering peformance (both physically and emotionally) as Dieter Dengler, an American pilot who is shot down over Laos during the initial stages of the Vietnam War. Captured by the enemy, Dengler adapts to POW life and makes a death-defying escape leading to a journey through the jungle to freedom. Mad-genius Herzog, no stranger to jungle settings after having directed AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (****) and his magnum opus, FITZCARRALDO (****), is in his most commercial filmmaking mold with RESCUE DAWN, but that takes nothing away from the immediacy and impact of his storytelling. Bale, yet again, proves that he's the most underrated actor of his generation.

Later this week, I will be checking out BEOWULF in 3-D, the expressionistic Bob Dylan movie I'M NOT THERE from director Todd Haynes (FAR FROM HEAVEN ****), and hopefully MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, the latest bit of familial dysfunction from the bitterly funny writer/director Noah Baumbach, who's last film was the brilliant black-comedy THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (****).

REVIEW: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Joel & Ethan Coen's NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN ****
The cinematic glories on display during Joel and Ethan Coen’s masterpiece NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN are delivered fast and furious, right off the bat, and continue all the way to the end. One of their very best films (I’m tempted to say that it’s their best of all time) and easily one of the top American films of the year, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN succeeds on multiple levels; it’s a terrifying thriller, a layered character study, a balls-out chase movie, and a poetic meditation on violence and man’s ability to inflict pain and suffering. In other words, it’s not a romantic comedy, not the least bit sentimental, and hardly a family movie event. The Coens have explored crime-noir in some of their finest pictures (FARGO, BLOOD SIMPLE, MILLER’S CROSSING), but with NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, they stare down the conventions of the genre and brilliantly upend them, leaving the audience in a shocked stupor by the end of the proceedings. Filmic nihilism has rarely been this much fun and entertaining. But beyond the obvious merits that the writing, acting, and production values offer, it’s the Coen’s effortless ability to transcend the genre through their amazing adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel that pushes NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN into unforgettable territory.

The set up is deceptively simple. Llewelyn Moss, a welder and rancher played with rugged machismo by Josh Brolin (having a tremendous year with this film, AMERICAN GANGSTER, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, and PLANET TERROR) stumbles upon a drug-deal gone wrong out in the desert. Bodies litter the ground, dried pools of blood have formed, and bullet casings act like carpeting. On the ground is a suitcase; Moss opens it and finds cash. Lots of cash. Around $2 million to be exact. He takes the case back to his trailer, a decision that will change his life forever. Enter Anton Chigurh, homicidal maniac to the extreme, portrayed by the marvelous Spanish actor Javier Bardem, in a breathtaking performance. Chigurh is like the Terminator; no remorse, his cold eyes staring through the souls of his potential victims. Wielding a compressed-air canister that he’s fashioned into a quietly lethal weapon, Chigurh has been hired to retrieve the money; quitting isn’t an option for this man. Meanwhile, a seen-it-all sheriff who’s close to retirement named Ed Bell (the always smooth Tommy Lee Jones, who’s having a banner year himself between his work in this film and IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH) is picking up the bloody pieces of the crime, trying to figure out who’s who and what’s what. The colorful supporting cast includes Woody Harrelson as a calm bounty hunter, Garrett Dillahunt as a simple deputy, Kelly MacDonald as Moss’s naïve wife, and Stephen Root as a shady businessman.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN works breathlessly as a thriller first and foremost. The Coen’s have an exacting eye in their cinematography choices, and are aided by the incredibly talented director of photography Roger Deakins, who also shot this year’s elegiac Western THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBER FORD. Deakins and the Coen’s have worked together many times in the past, and here, their visual shorthand is remarkable. Dawn in the desert takes on a sinister tone, and what the Coens and Deakins do with shadow, nighttime pursuits, and streetlamp lighting is the stuff of sweaty-palms and white-knuckles. The tight, perfectly controlled editing by the Coens (under their usual pseudonym Roderick Jaynes) amps the tension to the max, as does the almost non-existent musical score; the Coens know that silence and sound effects can sometimes be the scariest choice. The sound on a light bulb being unscrewed has haunted my ear drums for the last week and a half. The action sequences are pitched in a hyper-reality that the Coens frame, block, and cut with supreme visceral impact. Blood sprays, bullets fly, and bodies are torn up. If you’re a fan of perfectly measured filmmaking technique and brazenly violent shootouts, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN delivers in spades. However, it’s what NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN says about the violent condition of man that separates it from other genre entries, and elevates it into the category of masterpiece. The last third of the film, already under attack by some critics and audiences as too oblique and not conventionally satisfying, is precisely why this film is an example of perfect storytelling and filmmaking, and one of the best crime thrillers in the history of cinema.

Impossible to fully discuss without spoiling the film (and I wouldn’t dare do such a thing), the last act of the film is contingent upon what a certain character doesn’t do. And in that particular moment, and along with a couple of other storytelling decisions that the Coens make, it’s clear that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is operating on a different playing field than most Hollywood thrillers. What might have become routine and predictable never comes to pass, and the audience, forced to work their brains in order to put together everything that has transpired, has to quickly decide if not seeing something (a major character’s death) is a cheat or a stroke of genius. I tend to agree with the latter. The Coen’s, apparently remaining quite faithful to McCarthy’s original story (I have not yet read the book), make a leap in time during the last act that might seem confusing to some people in the audience. Their interest in uncovering why people behave the way they do is what drives this hot-blooded movie, and their reluctance as filmmakers to play anything safe is what gives the film its bracingly menacing edge.

In FARGO, which still may be their best film ever (I need to see NO COUNTY FOR OLD MEN more than once in order to know for certain if it’s the best in their oeuvre), the Coen’s crafted a warm and caring character for the audience to root for—Marge Gunderson’s easy-going, stamp painting husband, Norm (the wonderful John Carroll Lunch). Norm, along with Marge, is a sympathetic creation, and the two of them are characters for the audience to identify with. They also lightened an otherwise dark tale of murder and lies with an air of natural, honest charm. In NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the Coens don’t provide the audience with any such characters. Moss is a true anti-hero, and while you are rooting for him, it’s more out of fear than genuine love for the character. Similarly, Jones’s Sheriff, while likeable, exists in a state of spiritual crisis, and the decisions he makes run counter to audience expectations of what a “good cop” should do. That the film is called NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is telling in its depiction of evil and casual nihilism; the men of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN have seen enough killing for two lifetimes.

The acting from the three male leads is extraordinary. Bardem cuts a portrait of a fierce killer so convincingly that he’ll be getting the stink eye in the street from everyday people for the rest of his life. Chigurh, which when pronounced in the film rhymes with “sugar” (ha-ha), is all death all the time; anyone who appears in a scene with him is in danger of losing their life. Sporting a funny, off-putting haircut and an implacable, stoic expression on his face, Chigurh would eat Hannibal Lectre’s liver without washing it down with a fine Chianti. In the world of movie bad-guys, Bardem is the new king. Ruthless and determined, the Coens have created a signature villain that feeds off genre expectations (again, he’s like a flesh and blood Terminator) yet rises above the expected and into the realm of monster incarnate. It’s a frightening, mesmerizing tour de force that will surely land Bardem an Oscar nomination. Brolin, hot off his scene stealing turn in AMERICAN GANGSTER, brings a quiet, manly quality to the role of Llewelyn. Tossing off dead-pan one liners and rarely cracking a smile through his oily moustache, it’s the sort of role that Nick Nolte would have nailed in his youth. Brolin crackles with intensity and human believability, an element lacking in many modern crime thrillers. As foolish as some of the decisions are that he makes, you never question for one moment that given the circumstances, you’d act any differently if you were in his shoes. It’s a slow-burn performance that also deserves award recognition. Jones, who owned the somber Iraq war drama IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH earlier this fall, takes on the role of the Sheriff in a comfortable, relaxed fashion, but always hints at something more under the surface. The film is bookended with the Sheriff’s voiceover, and through Jones’s melancholic delivery, the audience peers into the heart and soul of a tired, weathered cop. He’s a guy who has seen too much violence in his life, and who questions how much more he needs to see before it’s time to call it quits. It’s a contemplative piece of internal acting yet as a result of his estimable skill, Jones is able to project to the viewer the idea of a man at his limits.

Nothing short of spectacular, films like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN are the reason why I go to the cinema. Art has the ability to both entertain and challenge an audience, and with this flawlessly constructed piece of crime fiction, the Coens blow the lid off of the genre and smash it to smithereens. I have nothing negative to say about this film; from the terse, mordantly funny dialogue to the amazingly detailed performances, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is a beautifully paced thriller with zero plot fat or stupid story detours. Focused, wholly engrossing, and shockingly violent, it’s the kind of picture that sneaks up on the viewer and throws your head in a vice. A feeling of awe and exhilaration swept over me as the end credits began to roll, and it was then that I realized that I’d seen history in the making; the Coens have crafted one of the best noir thrillers to come out of Hollywood. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is one of the best films of the year.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

WHAT THE HELL?



I have just seen Richard Kelly's SOUTHLAND TALES. One of the most bizzarre movies I have ever seen in my life. I can't even begin to describe how I feel about this film at the moment. A maddening, sprawling, wilfully incoherent political satire that while never really working as a piece of sensible storytelling, consists of so many individual moments of brilliance that I am not able to dismiss this film as others have. It's a failure, to be sure, but one of the most spectacular and interesting failures that I've ever seen. SOUTHLAND TALES is a film that will drive some people utterly fucking crazy. I mean that. The film takes swipes at current politics, television, the internet, Hollywood, the environmental crisis, the war on terror, pop culture, the media, and pornonography and while it misses more than it hits, there is some remarkble stuff on display. The last 30 minutes, are, in a word, staggering; it's some of the most outright engrossing visual storytelling of the year. But it arrives at the expense of a lot of nonsense, half-baked ideas, and a cluttered narrative that's big enough for three movies. My full review will be posted soon, but I must say that Kelly, while not delivering a film as well put together as his debut, DONNIE DARKO, has fashioned an eerie, surreal, Los Angeles nightmare that only someone with a genuine vision could have created.

Friday, November 16, 2007

REVIEW: BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD



Sidney Lumet's BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD ****

Honestly, the less I say about Sidney Lumet’s powerful, absorbing new thriller BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD the better. Lumet, master New York filmmaker from the 70’s and 80’s, has made his best movie in a long time (last year’s FIND ME GUILTY was good but a far cry from the golden years) with BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD, due in no small part to Kelly Masterson’s brilliant debut screenplay. A Shakespearean morality tale with a cold, cold heart, the film features a typically stunning lead performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman and excellent work from the terrific ensemble cast (Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, Rosemary Harris). Dark, nasty, and tragic, the film has a twisted-time scenario that we’ve seen before in other crime thrillers. But Masterson’s perfectly pitched plotting and incisive dialogue combined with Lumet’s steady directorial hand allows us to somehow enjoy (!) the mean-spirited events that BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD places in front of its audience.


Hoffman is Andy, an angry, troubled businessman with a small heroin addiction. He’s married to Gina (the sexy Tomei, who gets hotter as she gets older) but their relationship is strained for a variety of reasons. What Andy doesn’t know is that Gina is sleeping with his brother Hank (a stressed, finicky Ethan Hawke), who himself has a nasty ex-wife (Amy Ryan, in another scene stealing supporting performance after her amazing work in GONE BABY GONE) who wants nothing more than the child support checks. Andy and Hank are losers, to the extreme, but losers who think they can actually commit the perfect crime. Andy devises a plan to knock off a small jewelry store in the middle of a Westchester County shopping mall. The kicker: their parents own the shop. Andy tells Hank that it’s the perfect crime; they’ll get the cash and jewels, and their parents will get the insurance money. If only crime was that simple. When the robbery goes haywire, and someone (not telling) is unexpectedly shot, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD takes one dark turn after another, leading us to its grim final moments.


Coming off like a cousin of Joel and Ethan Coen’s masterpiece FARGO, Masterson weaves together a nasty portrait of regular people bungling crime; these people are so inept that you will be screaming at them in your head to stop making such poor decisions. Small details are set up towards the beginning of the film, all of which come full circle by the end. Lumet, in films such as SERPICO, NETWORK, PRINCE OF THE CITY, and DOG DAY AFTERNOON, has always been after character in his films, and here, he has some really evil people to explore. The rage and intensity that Hoffman brings to the role of Andy is a force to be reckoned with; nobody can yell like Hoffman and you taste his breath and spit and sweat in every explosive frame that he occupies. Hawke, in a difficult role, is probably the best he’s ever been; his weaker brother character is so finely etched and so manically portrayed that in a way, you feel bad for the shlump. Well…almost feel bad. And Finney, who nails every single scene he appears in, reminds us how effective an actor he can be with just a small exchange of dialogue or a nod of his head.


BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD is one of those thrillers that works best when you know as little as possible. It constantly surprises the audience with its low-key demeanor and the simple set-up; as the movie rolls along, and as the pieces start to come together, it’s then that you realize how insanely cruel the film really is. And by the time the pitch-black ending arrives, you’ll have sweaty palms and a new respect for family values. Lumet and Masterson aren’t afraid to depict reprehensible characters, and like FARGO, there is a distinct pleasure in watching these corrupt people go about their foul deeds. Never show-offy or in your face (Lumet is 83 years old), BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD is an old-school crime thriller that quietly sneaks up on you and grabs you by the throat. It’s one of the best movies of the year.

NO GO FOR LANGDON

ANGELS & DEMONS, the prequel to THE DAVINCI CODE, has been put on hold due to the WGA strike. Apparently the script, by Akiva Goldsman, wasn't in good enough shape to put before cameras. No new start date has been announced, but Sony has already targeted a release date for 2009. The hope was that the film would get a Christmas release in 2008.

This is the first big Hollywood production to be affected by the writers strike and I am betting it won't be the last.

Personally, I wasn't all that impressed with THE DAVINCI CODE so the delay of the prequel doesn't mean much to me as a movie-goer. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it. It was far too serious and high-minded and the writing was extremely heavy handed; I wanted more of a fun vibe. I did not read the book, so I looked at it as a movie only, and I just found it to be kind of boring and visually flat (which is not what I expected from Ron Howard and his talented dp Salvatore Totino).

MOVIES THIS WEEKEND

I am holding off on BEOWULF this weekend, as I plan to see it with my sister who will be visiting LA next week. We'll be catching a 3-D showing and my review will go up soon after. I am a HUGE fan of Robert Zemeckis, and even though I wish he'd go back to making regular movies again, I am always interested in whatever envelope-pushing technology he has up his sleeve. It's getting generally good reviews, with people flipping out over the 3-D presentation. I expect it to be #1 at the box office, but rather than a mammoth, 300-style opening (over $70 million), I see BEOWULF doing in the mid-20's for its first weekend, with solid legs down the road.

The movie I wiill be seeing this weekend is SOUTHLAND TALES. This is writer/director Richard Kelly's follow-up to his cult classic DONNIE DARKO (he also wrote the awesome script to the criminally underrated Tony Scott action flick DOMINO). Reviews are all over the place for SOUTHLAND TALES; some are calling it a complete and utter disaster while others love it with a passion. I'm very interested in finally getting a chance to see this movie, which has had a rocky road since its conception.

REDACTED, which I watched in my apartment this week on HDnet, is getting a very limited release theatrically this weekend; it's a tough, brutal film, and while flawed, an important document of our current war-time climate.

If I had a 5 year old child I might take him or her to see MR. MORGARIUMS WONDER EMPORIUM, but since I don't, I'll probably hold off on that one. It looks a little spastic and hyper-active to me.

On DVD, I have this past summers would-be sleeper thriller MR. BROOKS, with Kevin Costner as a serial killer. It got mixed reviews, did middling box office, but I am still intrigued; I've always like Costner (for the most part) and I'm looking forward to seeing him play a villian.

I still have to post reviews for BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD (****) and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (****) so expect those up later today or over the weekend.

Now go out and see a flick, there are TONS of phenomenal choices out right now!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

READER REACTION ON REDACTED & A MINI-REVIEW

Brian De Palma's REDACTED ***


Based on my brief post last night about Brian De Palma's new film REDACTED, I got an email from a reader who asked me:
"Nick - what about the film's broadway qualities is negative?"


Here was my response, as it sort of serves as a mini-review:
"I plan on elaborating further, but some of the performances, in tandem with some stilted dialogue (De Palma has always been a better director than writer), are very big and loud, like the actors were projecting to the back of a theater. Yelling instead of enunciating, going a bit over-the-top at times. The actors are either non-professionals or semi-professionals, and as a result, a few of the performances are less than convincing at times. Some of the sets seem small and stage-like. De Palma had a $5 million budget and it shows...shooting in Jordan probably cost most of that. It's an angry, vicious indictment of our media, first and foremost, and an anti-war Iraq indictment second. De Palma's point is that our government, along with our media, have subverted the true cost of this war, and the desensitized footage that we're fed on television is a less than accurate representation of what's going on over there. The violent content (an exploding soldier; the rape sequence; a beheading) is handled graphically (it has to be) but is never exploitive; the fact that REAL footage like this can easily be found on the internet is more disturbing than any Hollywood special effects. The simple fact that De Palma's own film has been redacted itself is a testament to the argument that he's making as a filmmaker. The last few minutes of the film is a montage of photos of dead Iraqi civilians (some children) and it's chilling, scary, beyond sad. But it also reminds you of how deceitful our government has been, and how lucky we are as people living in America that something like this is not a reality for us. But back to the film. It's quite good overall, but at times, you feel like you're watching a filmed play. Long takes, stationary cameras, paragraph-long monologues. It's similar to, but not as good, as Casualties of War, De Palma's Vietnam movie about the true-life rape/murder of a Vietnamese girl by a few soldiers, except that with Redacted, he pushes the visual scenario even further, with the movie taking the shape of a soldiers video diary, a French documentary, terrorist videos, website broadcasts, youtube clips, surveillance camera footage, etc. Formally bold ala Figgis in Timecode. There is a seething rage to much of the film, and again, some of the actors simply aren't talented enough to handle some of the more intense moments; you see them acting at times. Maybe that's the point, considering the way that De Palma crafted the film; if a documentary crew was following you around, would you maybe act up or become theatrical? Who knows. It's an intelligent film that is important and represents a return to form after the mess that was The Black Dhalia."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

QUICK COMMENTS ON REDACTED

I just finished watching REDACTED, Brian De Palma's angry, unique, and slightly awkward new Iraq war film. My full review will be posted soon, but I will say that De Palma has made a formally challenging and bold anti-war film that while flawed, delivers a certain type of gut-punch in its chilling depiction of the day-to-day lives of American soldiers currently fighting overseas. REDACTED has the qualities (both positive and negative) of a broadway play, and De Palma is on new filmmaking turf. Taking a cue from filmmaker Mike Figgis (TIMECODE, LEAVING LAS VEGAS), De Palma has crafted a multi-layered visual scenario that is as startling as it is slightly offputting. REDACTED isn't one of the best movies of the year, but it is, in its own way, one of the most important.

LABUTE/HACKFORD

This sounds great. Per Variety:

"New Line has tapped Neil LaBute ("In the Company of Men") to write and Taylor Hackford ("Ray") to direct "The Woman Next Door," a remake of the 1981 Francois Truffaut film "La Femme d'a cote." Pic marks the first writing assignment LaBute has taken on for another director. LaBute won't begin writing until the WGA strike is resolved, but he couldn't resist Hackford's offer, which was made after the helmer and wife Helen Mirren saw LaBute's play "Wrecks." 'This is a lesser-known Truffaut film about ex-lovers, long separated, who suddenly find themselves living next door to each other,' LaBute said. 'Each is married. Neither tells their spouse they know each other, and it's a collision course into disaster as they rekindle a volatile relationship, with great passion and suspense. ... Taylor said if he was ever going to remake a movie, this was the one he could do something with.' LaBute is in post-production on "Lakeview Terrace," a Screen Gems thriller he directed. Hackford is preparing to direct Mirren and Joe Pesci in "Love Ranch," a Capitol Films-financed drama."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A NOTE ABOUT 2007

2007 has been a PHENOMENAL year for American cinema. I'm finding it harder and harder to come up with an accurate top ten list, one that I am truly happy with, and one that reflects on the many, many amazing films that have come out this year. Not only have there been multiple great films this year, the sheer amount of out-right masterpieces that have been released is extraordinary. In the last two-and-a-half months alone, I've been treated to the following films: JESSE JAMES, INTO THE WILD, EASTERN PROMISES, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, AMERICAN GANGSTER, MICHAEL CLAYTON, THE KINGDOM, THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, and 3:10 TO YUMA. All of those, along with ZODIAC, 300, and BREACH from earlier this year, are about as perfect as any movie fan could ask for. All of them great, most of them masterworks, and a few of them landmarks. Yes...landmarks. The second and third tier films from this year are no slouches either; THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, GONE BABY GONE, WE OWN THE NIGHT, TRANSFORMERS, KNOCKED UP, RESCUE DAWN, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, THE DARJEELING LIMITED, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END and RENDITION have all been thoroughly engaging, smart, and stylish, and in any other year, might be top 10 material. It's a testament to just how strong the year has been that those films won't crack my final 10 best. And to make matters even worse (or better), we still have BEOWULF 3-D, SOUTHLAND TALES, REDACTED, I'M NOT THERE, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, SWEENEY TODD, JUNO, ATONEMENT, I AM LEGEND, THE KITE RUNNER, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, and the 2-ton white elephant in the room, THERE WILL BE BLOOD. I have had more fun going to the movies this year than I have had in recent memory; not since the dynamic movie-going year of 1999 (FIGHT CLUB, THREE KINGS, MAGNOLIA, AMERICAN BEAUTY, THE MATRIX, OFFICE SPACE, GO, RUN LOLA RUN, SOUTH PARK: THE MOVIE, EYES WIDE SHUT, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, THE LIMEY, BOYS DON'T CRY, ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, TITUS, ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, THE GREEN MILE) have I been so consistently blown away in a movie theater. People who say that there aren't any good (or great) movies out there simply aren't looking hard enough.

ANOTHER KICK-ASS SOUNDING PROJECT FOR RIDLEY SCOTT

Per Variety:

"Fox 2000 has attached Ridley Scott to direct "Stones," a supernatural thriller scripted by Matt Cirulnick. Scott Free will produce. Project is a big-scale supernatural thriller revolving around the mysterious destruction of ancient religious sites around the world. It turns out that Stonehenge is the tie that binds together artifacts that still have primeval powers. Pic will resume development after the Writers Guild of America strike concludes. Scott is busy directing Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in "Body Of Lies" for Warner Bros., and he is expected to follow by moving with Crowe right into "Nottingham," the Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris-scripted drama for Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment. "Stones" is Fox 2000's second recent Scott Free deal involving a directing assignment for the sibling helmers. Tony Scott just set up to direct a biopic on the life and death of cigarette boat inventor Don Aronow."

Sounds like a fun movie for Scott, who hasn't done many movies of this sort. I'm there.

WATCHING A NEW RELEASE FEATURE IN THE PRIVACY OF MY APARTMENT


Tomorrow night, I will be able to see Brian De Palma's critically acclaimed and controversial anti-war film REDACTED, in the privacy of my own apartment. The film, which was released on one screen in Northern California in advance of it's television broadcast in order to to be eligible for Oscar nominations, is produced by Marc Cuban, baskeball owner/psycho and entrepeneur. Cuban also owns the high-definition network HDnet, which will be broadcasting the Iraq-war film tomorrow night, through it's HDnet Movie Channel. Pretty cool if you ask me. Sit on the couch, turn on my HD tv, crank the dolby digital, and watch a new film that you might otherwise spend $20 on seeing at the theater. And...it's Brian F'ing DePalma.


UPDATED: TOP 10 OF 2007

Andrew Dominik’s THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
Joel & Ethan Coen’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD
David Fincher’s ZODIAC
Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER
Susanne Bier’s THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE
David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES
Sidney Lumet’s BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
Tony Gilroy’s MICHAEL CLAYTON
Peter Berg’s THE KINGDOM

Saturday, November 10, 2007

CAN'T GET IT OUT OF MY HEAD

It will be hard getting some of the images from NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN outta my head any time soon. Seared onto the brain-plate. An unforgettable film. Truly.

THE COEN BROTHERS DELIVER YET AGAIN

I have seen the true face of cinematic evil. And that face belongs to the brilliant actor Javier Bardem. Bardem, who is one of the stars of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, scared the living shit out of me tonight. I am nowhere near ready to review the film, which is the single most gripping piece of filmmaking I have seen this year, but I am ready to say this: watch out. This film will eat you alive. The sold out crowd in Hollywood this evening was stunned, literally into silence as the credits rolled. It's a masterpiece, possibly the best film the Coens have ever made. Yup...maybe their best of all time.

FRIDAY NIGHT BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES

1. American Gangster (Universal) - $7.4M - $2,419 PTA - $63.7M cume
2. Bee Movie (Dreamworks/Paramount) - $6.4M - $1,623 PTA - $52.6M cume
3. NEW -Fred Claus (Warner Bros) - $5.5M - $1,527 PTA - $5.5M cume
4. NEW – Lions for Lambs (MGM/UA) - $2.3M - $1,038 PTA - $2.3M cume
5. Dan in Real Life (Disney) - $1.81M - $937 PTA - $26.6M cume


AMERICAN GANGSTER remains on top--not surprised given how awesome the film is. BEE MOVIE is proving to be a good earner, though not a blockbuster. FRED CLAUS is a bomb. LIONS FOR LAMBS tanked, continuing the trend of big Hollywood films revolving around our current political climate that audiences don't care to see. DAN IN REAL LIFE is holding on to its modest success.

Friday, November 9, 2007

REVIEW: AMERICAN GANGSTER

Ridley Scott's AMERICAN GANGSTER ****

The A-list pedigree that surrounds the big, brawny piece of entertainment, AMERICAN GANGSTER, is a formidable group. Directed by Ridley Scott (ALIEN, GLADIATOR, BLACK HAWK DOWN), produced by Brian Grazer (APPOLLO 13, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, 8 MILE), written by Steven Zaillian (SCHINDLER’S LIST, SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISHER, THE FALCON & THE SNOWMAN), and starring powerhouse actors Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, it would have been a shocking surprise if AMERICAN GANGSTER had turned out to be anything less than spectacular. I am pleased to report that not only is the film one of the best of the year, it’s one of the most flat-out entertaining, big-budget Hollywood crime epics in recent memory. Everything from the top-notch production values, the larger-than-life story, the phenomenal dialogue, and the sly, cool aesthetic of Scott and master cinematographer Harris Savides (ZODIAC, BIRTH, ELEPHANT) all combine for a thrilling true-crime saga that never sags once during its two hour and forty minute run time.

Denzel Washington, in one of his best performances, is Frank Lucas, a smart and classy businessman whose business, it turns out, is heroin. Lots of it. Lucas, who for years was a driver and protégé to Harlem’s original gangster number one, Bumpy Johnson (a sneering Clarence Williams III), takes over the drug trade in New York City after Johnson drops dead from a heart attack. However, Lucas has bigger plans than Johnson could have ever imagined. After recruiting what seems to be almost all of his extended family from North Carolina (mother, brothers, cousins, etc) and relocating them to Harlem and surrounding hoods, Lucas, in an effort to avoid using a middle-man in his drug operation, used a family connection stretching to the jungles of Vietnam, and traveled to the heart of darkness himself, striking a deal with a heroin manufacturer to bring the drug from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the streets of New York. The potency of this heroin was twice as strong, and with the absence of the middle man, half as expensive. This bold maneuvering is made possible by crooked military personnel, who shipped the drugs back to the states in a variety of methods, most notoriously, in the coffins of dead American soldiers. It’s too wild to be true, but it is.

Running on a parallel track to Lucas’s story is the story of honest-cop Richie Roberts, smoothly under played by bull-dog performer Russell Crowe, in another excellent piece of manly acting. Roberts is the classic case of great cop, bad husband/father. Going through a messy divorce and child custody hearings with his ex-wife (Carla Gugino, super sexy as always), Roberts is as much of a screw up at home as he is a great, truthful cop, in an otherwise almost totally corrupt police force. The fact that he doesn’t keep $1 million in unmarked drug-money that he finds in a dealers car, opting to turn it in as police evidence, is enough to mark him as suspect by his fellow police officers, which doesn’t help him as he moves into the tricky waters of New York City’s drug scene. Roberts catches wind of the new drug trade in the city, and takes it on obsessively. Battling a seriously crooked cop named Trupo, played with menacing glee by Josh Brolin, Roberts is almost a one-man task force; not only is he battling the drug dealers, he has to watch his back for deceitful detectives who’d rather take bribes than make arrests.

The brilliance of Zaillian’s screenplay is the way that the personal and professional lives of Lucas and Roberts mirror each other, while also being total opposites. Lucas is a family man, the kind of guy who takes his mother to church on Sunday and eats breakfast with all of his brothers. But he’s also the kind of guy who’ll shoot a rival dealer in the head in broad daylight. He’s even not afraid to threaten his brothers and cousins to make a point. Roberts, on the other hand, is a terrible dad and husband, but he operates incredibly as a cop and he loves his job. He even makes time to study for and then take the bar exam. I was reminded of Michael Mann’s masterwork HEAT with the back-and-forth of these characters; similar to Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino’s characters in HEAT, Washington and Crowe are basically the same people, separated by opposite sides of the law, but brought together by a common goal—what they know best.

AMERICAN GANGSTER, working almost as two movies in one, allows its two stars to meet, only at the end, also similar to HEAT, in a terrific sequence where the two men have an intelligent conversation, rather than a bloody smack-down. Zaillian, no stranger to expensive, populist fare (he’s written HANNIBAL, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, CLEAR & PRESENT DANGER) is also a master words-man and social commentary purveyor (his other credits include A CIVIL ACTION, GANGS OF NEW YORK, and AWAKENINGS) and the balance that he brings to both stories in AMERICAN GANGSTER is nothing short of amazing. Cohesive and engrossing, the story’s narrative moves at a clip, due also in part to Pietro Scalia’s dynamic film editing, for almost three hours, introducing the audience to a bevy of colorful characters and various locations (jungles, city streets, drug houses). I wanted more when the lights were coming up.

Scott directs with energy and 70’s flavor, but never becomes show-offy or garish. Less overtly stylish than his work in GLADIATOR and BLACK HAWK DOWN, Scott gives AMERICAN GANGSTER a shadowy, smoky, rich look; the immaculate production design by frequent collaborator Arthur Max is a major help as well. Taking cues from such crime films as Brian De Palma’s SCARFACE and THE UNTOUCHABLES, Martin Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS, and Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER, Scott takes this familiar genre and spices it up in new ways, never forgetting about the fascinating procedural at the heart of the story. It’s masterful direction of an ambitious script which never loses sight of its tight focus, even when its grander world view is so vividly displayed. That’s the genius of Scott as a director. Similar to what he achieved in his director’s cut of KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking, Scott infuses AMERICAN GANGSTER with enough vibrant period detail for two movies, but never allows his obsession with realistic surroundings to interfere with the intimate moments of his layered plot. He also stages a bravura drug raid/shootout that is the very definition of riveting. Bloody but never gory and gritty at all times, it’s a stunning piece of action directing that ranks up there with the best of these types of set pieces.

I’ll admit that I love crime films and I love Ridley Scott's filmmaking technique so I was probably predisposed to liking AMERICAN GANGSTER. That being said, the undeniable artistry on just about every level of filmmaking that’s displayed in the film is simply incredible to behold; it’s the king of big-ticket entertainment that only a craftsman of Scott’s stature could create. I look forward to watching the film for a second time. I loved every second of it.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

TRAILER: VALKYRIE

http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1809913399/video/4928963/

Looks awesome. Love the cast (Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Terrence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy), love the story (WWII espionage/conspiracy), love the period (WWII Germany). Bryan Singer is a terrific filmmaker, and even though I wasn't a fan of SUPERMAN RETURNS, I'm betting that working again with screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (they collaborated on THE USUAL SUSPECTS), Singer will knock this out of the park.

ANIMATION OSCAR

Per Variety:

"Twelve animated and CG-created pics took their first step in the Oscar race Thursday as they were submitted for best animated feature. Among the films submitted for consideration are "The Simpsons' Movie," "Alvin and the Chipmunks," "Ratatouille," "Meet the Robinsons,""Surf's Up," "TMNT," "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters," "Shrek the Third" and "Bee Movie." Also among those who were submitted is animation hybrid "Beowulf," which features live-action film mixed with CG tones. Adding international flare to the race is France's "Persepolis" and Japan's "Tekkonkinkreet." "Alvin," "Persepolis" and "Beowulf" were submitted but still need their required qualifying run in Los Angeles. Of the 12 entries, three will be chosen for the Oscar race. In order to have five nominees, 16 or more films must be submitted. The Oscar nominations will be announced on Jan. 22."


My personal bet for the three final nominees: RATATOUILLE, THE SIMPSONS MOVIE, and....and...I'm not sure. Haven't seen BEOWULF yet but everyone is completely flipping out for it. PERSEPOLIS has been critically acclaimed and would be an artsy nomination for the category. That third slot will go to either BEOWULF or PERSEPOLIS. If you recall, the Academy snubbed Robert Zemeckis's then-enveloping pushing THE POLAR EXPRESS back in '04. BEOWULF is not a traditionally animated film or even a CG animated film along the lines of RATATOUILLE or SHREK; the IMAX and 3-D aspects, which while making the film a supposedly mind-blowing viewing experience, could hurt it among the older members of the Academy.

RANDOM BITS

Mike Newell, director of DONNIE BRASCO and HARRY POTTER & THE GOBLET OF FIRE (amongst many others), is in negotiations to direct the video-game adaptation PRINCE OF PERSIA for Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Michael Bay was previously attached to direct this big-budget, swords and sorcery fantasy epic, but he's off the project, diving head-first into TRANSFORMERS 2. Newell, while not the first name that comes to mind when thinking of a fantasty movie based on a video-game, has proven quite adept at juggling different genres and different sized projects. With a filmmaker of Newell's calibre on board for PERSIA, I'm interested in the project, though not holding my breath with anticipation. Fantasy movies have been a tough nut for me to crack (I am not a fan of LOTR) so it will be interesting to see what PERSIA is all about.

The WGA strike has now stopped production on the new season of 24. This makes me quite angry. I, like any other red-blooded American male, have been looking forward to new Jack Bauer shenanigans, and this news is not impressive. No word on when the show is being put back on the schedule...it might not even happen at all depending on how long this inane strike lasts. Production on THE OFFICE has also stopped. F'ing lame.

The first footage of RIGHTEOUS KILL has hit the net. The cop/crime film stars Robert De Niro AND Al Pacino. Yep. Together again. This time as partners. The two heavyweights star as detectives on the hunt for a serial killer. I have mixed feelings about this project. While I love both actors, and am seriously looking forward to seeing them together on the big screen again (HEAT, aside from being a masterwork, is one of my top 10 favorites of all time), the production company and director behind RIGHTEOUS KILL don't inspire any confidence that this movie will be anything more than average to above-average. And the footage, which by clicking this link http://www.joblo.com/righteous-trailer you can see, is hardly mind-blowing. It looks like sub-Michael Mann stuff. But hey, at least these two iconic American actors will be in a movie together. Something else going for the project is that the screenwriter behind the excellent film INSIDE MAN, Russel Gewirtz, wrote the RIGHTEOUS KILL script. We'll see....

Opening in wide release this weekend is FRED CLAUS, which is being savaged by the critics. The Robert Redford political drama LIONS FOR LAMBS, from newly-revived United Artists, and starring Redford, Tom Cruise, and Merryl Streep, is getting brushed off by a majority of critics as well. However, considering the liberal leanings of director/producer/star Redford, I can't take ANY of the critics seriously on this one; too many people will be tied up in their own politics to even give the movie a fair chance. Now I'm saying this as someone who hasn't seen the flick yet; ever since I saw the trailer, I've had immediate interest. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the new and critically acclaimed crime-noir from Joel and Ethan Coen, opens in limited release this weekend in NY and LA; it goes wide on November 22. It's received four star reviews from nearly everyone who has posted reviews on it thus far. I will be seeing it Saturday and am looking forward to it--big time.

Last night, I caught Jonathan Kasdan's directorial debut IN THE LAND OF WOMEN, on dvd from Netflix. It was a nice but cheesy (and pretty cloying) romantic dramedy with a good lead peformance from Adam Brody (who stole every scene he was in from anyone in his vicinity during THANK YOU FOR SMOKING). If you've made your girlfriend watch AMERICAN GANGSTER, WE OWN THE NIGHT, and GONE BABY GONE, then she'll appreciate a nice, frothy piece of chick-flick candy like IN THE LAND OF WOMEN. And guys--you get to see Meg Ryan, who is still pretty hot.

More to come...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A READER CHIMES IN


Around a month ago, I posted my review of Wes Anderson's latest film THE DARJEELING LIMITED. A reader of the blog, "Fritz," sent me his insightful and thoughtful reaction to the film yesterday. Below you'll find my review re-posted, followed by Fritz's comments. Enjoy:

THE DARJEELING LIMITED
original rating: *** out of ****
new rating: ***1/2 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 beginning 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--exist 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 motorcycle "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 stylistic 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 characters, 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 persona 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 one movie every three 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.


Now, here's what Fritz had to say:


"Was happy to see Darjeeling on the list of best of 2007. I saw it last night, and I was completely taken by all of it. I am a diehard Anderson fan, but even so, I could not fathom why so many critics were so lukewarm about it. Here you have one of a very few movies not written along the lines of Hollywood's five or so standard plot lines. The photography was downright psychedelic, and the complexity of the characters was as good as any in literature. Add the quirks, (Owen Wilson's facial bandages,) and you have a hypnotic saga that goes directly to the brain stem. Not the least of the film's charms was the metaphor of the train as life. In one pivotal scene, a child, barely visible in the> background, plays with a hoop, i.e., the Mandala, the wheel of life. At one point, all of the film's players pan by as passengers of the train, punctuated by the almost obscure image of the tiger in the night. Mom, by the way, has disappeared, and Dad is gone: welcome to the 21st century, where we are all, on our own. This was a mature and sophisticated film. When the three brothers throw off their baggage in order to catch the last train, I found myself cheering for them and for the people who had the sagacity to bring a scene like this into the movie house...in which, by the way, there were only five people. I completely understand some of the confusion you must have felt after having absorbed Tenenbaums, Aquatic, etc. I think that's exactly what makes this movie so good: Wes Anderson decided to plumb for once and for all, the depth that his production skills and directorial abilities offered. This time, the production values were used not to illuminate, but to distract. Like the Victorian opulence of the dining car, his murals are now visual puzzles for the viewer to figure out. To wit-- again-- hardly visible behind the foreground action is the key to the kingdom: as the train begins to move, the boy with the hoop chases his wheel of life across the sun-baked Indian desert. Then there's the train the brothers board AFTER the reconciliation. The colors have changed from an aquatic blue of the Darjeeling Express to blood red. It's as if the tourniquet that has staunched their lifeblood has suddenly been loosened, and the circulation is coming back into the their limbs. And what color is their late father's Porsche? Uh-huh. Note how they attend the funeral of the young boy (one of three brothers) in the stolen pyjamas they boosted from the train. Like the rest of the mourners, they are dressed in white, but their garb is pilfered. In all those eleven pieces of luggage, they did not have anything of their own to wear to this solemn occasion... they had to clothe themselves in utter and complete foreignness. This is the moment of their baptism, their re-birth. Like infants in diapers, they own nothing. Consider that this is a film about Paris that takes place in India. So much of this film is completely Parisian. Go to Paris once, and you'll see what I mean. That whole bit about the Hotel in Part 1 is no accident. Train compartments, furtive liaisons, intoxicants, death...the French existentialists were all represented, except they were kidnapped and dragged to the Indian subcontinent, so that their pet themes would play out not in smoky cafes, but in the saffron and aqua colorscape of blinding light and chroma. If the film had ended with the opening scene where Murray missing his train, and Peter looking back at him wistfully, I would have been satisfied. I would have thought about the Louis Vitton suitcases with their jungle animals as contrasted with Bill Murrray's two brown AMerican Tourister hardshell cases. That stack of luggage is worth at least fifty thousand dollars. It winds up in the dust. As for Bill Murray, there's the old saying from "The Two-Thousand Year-Old Man:" Never run for a train, there will always be another one. Reincarnation, anyone? On the side of the train, on the suitcases, and on the top of the mountain where the monastery is... the elephant, the Hindu deity Ganesha, remover of obstacles. That's right, remover of obstacles. Is it possible that Owen Wilson, who strikes me as a deeply sensitive and aware individual came face to face with some old stuff of his own while making this movie? Can you really go to India and then back to Beverly Hills without having a few second thoughts about mortality? Your writing is killer, by the way. I usually decide to see a movie on the strength of what you say about it."

Fritz's incredibly astute comments about THE DARJEELING LIMITED have opened my eyes to qualities that the film has that I didn't immediately notice. I can't wait for a second viewing, and having read this response to my own critique, I have decided to re-rate the film and give it ***1/2 out of ****.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I GOT NOTHING

Nothing exciting to report today. Working on two reviews (AMERICAN GANGSTER and BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD) which will be up sometime this week.

Computer problems at the apartment will limit postings for the next few weeks it seems.

The Writer's Guild strike has quieted the town...oh well...all I can say is that, thankfully, it a'int my problem nor does it affect my entertainment-related job.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD screened last night in San Francisco and the response was beyond ecstatic. Sounds like another masterpiece from Paul Thomas Anderson.

FRED CLAUS, the new Christmas comedy with Vince Vaughn, has been utterly lambasted by Variety and The Hollywood Reporter; not surprised as it looks like complete shite.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the new Coen Brothers thriller, opens in NY/LA this weekend; my plan is to see it Saturday or Sunday.

Major hottie Jennifer Connolly has joined Keannu Reeves in the Fox remake THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. I happen to think it's beyond lame that this 1950's sci-fi masterpiece is getting the big-budget remake treatment, especially with a questionable director (Scott Derrickson, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE) at the helm.

The early word on Bob Zemeckis's 3-D version of BEOWULF has been staggering; sounds like an absolute must-see for anyone who even remotely enjoys the possibilities of cinema.

That's all I got at the moment...

Monday, November 5, 2007

UPDATED: BEST OF 2007

Here is my complete list for 2007:

Andrew Dominik’s THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD
David Fincher’s ZODIAC
Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER
Susanne Bier’s THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE
David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES
Sidney Lumet’s BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
Tony Gilroy’s MICHAEL CLAYTON
Peter Berg’s THE KINGDOM
Zack Snyder’s 300

Paul Greengrass’s THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS
Jimmy Mangold’s 3:10 TO YUMA
Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP
John Carney’s ONCE
Werner Herzog’s RESCUE DAWN
Ben Affleck’s GONE BABY GONE
Dan Klores’s CRAZY LOVE
James Gray’s WE OWN THE NIGHT
Paul Haggis’s IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH

Gavin Hood’s RENDITION
Gore Verbinski’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 WEEKS LATER
Billy Ray’s BREACH
Jake Kasdan’s THE TV SET
Peter Hedges’s DAN IN REAL LIFE
Michael Moore’s SICKO
Wes Anderson’s THE DARJEELING LIMITED
David Silverman’s THE SIMPSONS: THE MOVIE
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
Craig Brewer’s BLACK SNAKE MOAN
Terry George’s RESERVATION ROAD
Zoe Cassavette’s BROKEN ENGLISH
DJ Caruso’s DISTURBIA
Michael Davis’s SHOOT ‘EM UP
Scott Frank’s THE LOOKOUT

David Von Ancken’s SERAPHIM FALLS
Mikael Hafstrom’s 1408
Greg Mottola’s SUPERBAD
Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini’s THE NANNY DIARIES
William Friedkin’s BUG
Mark Polish’s THE ASTRONAUT FARMER
Will Speck & Josh Gordon’s BLADES OF GLORY
Antoine Fuqua’s SHOOTER
Curtis Hanson’s LUCKY YOU
Gregory Hoblit’s FRACTURE

Nick Cassavette’s ALPHA DOG
Edgar Wright’s HOT FUZZ
Nimrod Attal’s VACANCY
Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez’s GRINDHOUSE
Sam Raimi’s SPIDERMAN 3
Len Wiseman’s LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
Walt Becker’s WILD HOGS
Joel Schumacher’s THE NUMBER 23
James Foley’s PERFECT STRANGER
Dave Meyer’s THE HITCHER

EVIL ON SCREEN

Sidney Lumet's stunningly dark crime drama BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD knocked me flat on my ass last night. Philip Seymour Hoffman tears apart the screen in one of the most fevered, maniacal performances of his career. I was not prepared for Lumet, who is now 83 years old, to bust out with a nasty picture like this; but I'm more than glad he did. It reminded me in many respects of the Coen Brothers masterpiece FARGO. Cut from the same cloth. Anyways, my review will be up soon; another incredible film for 2007.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

VERY PLEASED

Ridley Scott's AMERICAN GANGSTER, which I saw yesterday, is awesome, and of of my favroite films of the year. It managed to beat BEE MOVIE at the box office as well, pulling in roughly $47 million, with BEE MOVIE coming in at $39 million. Lot's more to come on AMERICAN GANGSTER this week.

I also caught this past summer's thriller 1408, with John Cusack, and only thought it was OK. It was hardly bad, but it wasn't great or even a cut-above for the genre. Given the surprisingly favorable reviews from most critics and surprising box offfice (it quietly did almost $80 million this summer), I expected something better. Though, if you like Cusack, and I do, it's worth renting.

However, one of stangest, most brilliantly surreal documentaries of this year--or any year--is CRAZY LOVE, from ex-publicist turned filmmaker Dan Klores (a guy I used to call for talent bookings!). The wild, wacky, absurd story of obession, love, maiming, and reconcilliation is just too bizzare to be true. But it is. I'd expect a feature version of this utterly captivating documentary to go into development soon.

Off to see Sid Lumet's BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD.

Friday, November 2, 2007

THIS LOOKS LIKE NOTHING SHORT OF AN AMERICAN MASTERPIECE



Behold, the new trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson's THERE WILL BE BLOOD


Also, the publicity stills that Paramount has just released are positively striking. I love what I'm seeing....








ONLY ONE MOVIE TO SEE THIS WEEKEND

Ridley Scott's AMERICAN GANGSTER opens this weekend. Reviews have been stellar. Ebert gave it 4 out of 4. I'm hearing it could open to $40 million +, but I think more in the low-to-mid $30's, due to its length and subject matter. But who knows...

My review could be posted over the weekend, but more than likely the full review will be up on Monday of next week.

VARIETY CHIMES IN ON PTA's LATEST OPUS

Variety's top-dog critic Todd McCarthy has weighed in on Paul Thomas Anderson's upcoming film THERE WILL BE BLOOD, which is set for limited release at Christmas with a slow roll out planned in the weeks after. Anderson, the visionary behind HARD EIGHT, BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, has adapted the famous 1927 Upton Sinclair novel Oil!, and set screen legend Daniel Day Lewis as the lead.

I am a gigantic fan of Anderson; he's the closest thing to the next Martin Scorsese that American cinema has. I have not seen the film, and more than likely, it will be one of the last 2007 releases that I see for the year. But more than likely one of the best. Here's an non-spoiler excerpt from McCarthy's rave review:

"Boldy and magnificently strange, "There Will Be Blood" marks a significant departure in the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. Heretofore fixated on his native Los Angeles and most celebrated for his centempo ensemblers, writer-helmer this time branches out with an intense, increasingly insidious character study of a turn-of-the-century California oil man. There's no getting around the fact that this Paramount Vantage/Miramax co-venture reps yet another 2 1/2 hour plus, male-centric American art film, a species that has recently proven difficult to market to more than rarefied audiences. Distribs will have to roll the dice and use hoped-for kudos for the film and its superb star, Daniel Day-Lewis, to create the impression of must-see."

I can't f'ing wait to see this film.

LOTS MORE RESCUE ME

After another fantastic season of the Emmy nominated series RESCUE ME, it's not hard to understand why RESCUE ME got another season ordered, now heading inot its fifth cycle. But what's awesome about this particular order of episodes is the amount--22! FX network has ordered 22 episodes of Denis Leary and Peter Tolan's masterful drama, which reps the largest single season episode order in the history of the network. Production begins in early 2008 and the entire cast will be back. Apparently, the season will be split into two segments; no word on how much downtime inbetween as of yet. I have watched every episode of this incredible show, and it just goes to show you that sometimes a truly excellent and thoughtful piece of entertainment can find an audience.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

REVISED REVIEW: THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD ****

Directed by Andrew Dominik, who previously made the nasty little movie CHOPPER with that incredible performance from Eric Bana, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD is a lyrical, brooding, atmospheric Western that gave me the goose bumps numerous times throughout its two and a half hour run time. With this film, Dominik has skyrocketed to the top of the list of young directors to watch. I might have expected a film of such power and force from an established filmmaker; I just had no idea that Dominik was capable of such a film. He must've gotten tons of big Hollywood offers after CHOPPER was released but I’m glad he waited. THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD is a masterwork, the closest thing to a Terrence Malick movie that Terrence Malick never directed. I was reminded many times of Malick's most recent masterful achievement, THE NEW WORLD, while watching JESSE JAMES. There are stretches with no dialogue, a heavy emphasis on nature, and a poetic, meditative, lyrical tone. Stark and crisp in its visual ideas and always interesting on some informational level, the film is languidly paced yet never boring or restless.

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD is essentially a psychological study of a murder and a murderer, and it doesn’t play to the many cliché Western conventions that we’ve seen over and over again. Jesse James, played by an intensely focused Brad Pitt, is winding down his gun-slinging outlaw days in Missouri. His older brother, Sam Shephard, has had enough of him and James’s crew is growing tired, and rightfully scared, of James’s increasingly erratic behavior. Local politicians and lawmen want James and his gang brought to justice, so they recruit the weasel Bob Ford (Casey Affleck, in a career making performance) to ingratiate himself into James’s gang with the hopes of bringing him down. James finds Ford awkward and odd, yet for some reason allows him into his life and home. Meanwhile, the members of the James gang are all getting paranoid as they begin to feel that Jesse has them all in his sights; it’s house cleaning time. Not wanting to risk being ratted out, James sets out to kill every one of his followers so that nobody can double cross him. I am not spoiling anything to say that it’s too little too late, and by the time that Jesse’s fate is sealed, the audience is waiting with baited breath for the titular murder to take place on screen.

Affleck is absolutely amazing as Ford. It’s a highly specific and tightly coiled performance that is the definition of the phrase “slow burn.” I hadn’t thought much of him as an actor but that all changed while watching his magnetic performance in this film. He has a very, very tough character to portray, playing a deeply unsympathetic man who the audience knows will end up killing Jesse James at some point in the narrative. Affleck brings a strung-out, beaten-down quality to the character of Ford, and as the movie progresses, you watch as he becomes more confident of himself, and how he starts to believe in his own madness. It’s an Oscar-worthy effort that will probably get overlooked due to the miniscule box office returns that the film is accumulated.

Pitt, owning the role of Jesse James, brings a cocky swagger and a brutish masculinity to the tale that is awesome to behold. It’s one of the best performances of his underrated career. Just watch the way the Pitt slowly smokes his cigars and methodically moves his head and eyes. One scene, in which Pitt is seen sitting in a rocking chair in his back yard with a couple of rattlesnakes slithering over his forearm, is as creepy as it is profoundly majestic. There is a brazen, cavalier attitude to the performance; Pitt knows that Jesse was a psychopath and he doesn’t allow the audience the chance to warm up to him. Pitt is a movie star giving a totally un-movie star performance. In reality, Jesse James was a legend, a pseudo-celebrity before the era of tabloid magazines and paparazzi. So having an actor of Pitt’s stature playing him is a genius stroke of casting in and of itself.

The supporting cast is aces across the board, with Sam Rockwell registering best as Ford's brother. This guy is so damn good—all the time—that it's a crime he doesn't get more attention. His work in Ridley Scott’s vastly underrated MATCHSTICK MEN is still his finest performance but he’s terrific in JESSE JAMES as well. Shepard, Mary Louise Parker, Paul Schneider, Brad Dellahunt, and slew of excellent character actors round out the solid cast. What makes JESSE JAMES better than most movies are the moral shades of gray that the characters exhibit. The film is basically about how one man comes to the decision to kill his idol, and in the crudest comparison, I guess maybe the movie is sort of like a stalker-thriller. Ford idolizes Jesse, wants to ride with him, wants to rob with him, and ultimately wants to be him. But the relationship that develops between the two men is awkward and volatile, giving off an un-easy feeling all throughout the movie.

In the end, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD is more about style and atmosphere than anything else. It's a tone poem of sorts about a gritty, dark period in American history. It feels extremely intimate yet very epic due in large part to the stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins (FARGO, JARHEAD, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?) Using what appeared to be natural light almost exclusively and an impressionistic shooting style composed of beautiful vistas, extreme close-ups, silhouettes, moonlight, train-light, and a gauzy effect similar to Robert Richardson’s brilliant cinematography in SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS, Deakins’s work here is simply astonishing. Every shot is perfect. No joke. I am a huge admirer of films that lean on the visual aspects of storytelling to present their information; this being a Ridley and Tony Scott production, no expense has been spared to make JESSE JAMES look totally authentic, without ever feeling garish or over-blown. Of late, some of my favorite films have been THE NEW WORLD, CHILDREN OF MEN, THE GOOD SHEPHERD, MUNICH, THE DEPARTED, MIAMI VICE, APOCALYPTO, CITY OF GOD, and MAN ON FIRE. I’m attracted to the different ways that filmmakers can present their ideas through visuals, rather than words, and with JESSE JAMES, Dominik and Deakins have earned their place in the company of some of the most striking visual storytellers.


I fell in love with this film immediately. From the god-like voiceover narration that runs over the entire movie to the attention paid to each and every shot, there are moments of sublime beauty at almost every turn in this film. It's an art film set in the old West and when the story gets violent, it has moments of shocking brutality. In fact, one of the things that I loved about this film so much was the constant feeling of dread and uncertainty that runs through each scene. Right from the start, you get the feeling that any character could meet their maker at any point. And that's one of the things about the old West that made that time period so dangerous; people got killed in a heartbeat, over simple, mundane stuff. There are no big shoot-outs down at the corral and there are no crazily choreographed horse-chase sequences. But when people get shot in this film, it's brutal and unflinching. Not sensationalized or over the top, but rather grim and raw. Like what you'd see on DEADWOOD. There are so many aspects to this film that I loved; the time Dominik took to tell his story, the gripping performances, the literate dialogue, the incredible scenery, and the breathtakingly perfect ending. THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD is the kind of movie that makes me happy to be a film buff, and the sort of film that makes me love going to the cinema. I can't wait to re-watch it over and over again. It's the finest film of 2007.


REVIEW: GONE BABY GONE

GONE BABY GONE ***1/2

Ben Affleck's complicated yet assured directorial debut GONE BABY GONE was a major surprise. I never jumped on the anti-Ben Affleck bandwagon, quite the contrary. I've enjoyed his performances in numerous movies, having found him especially engaging in DAZED AND CONFUSED, CHANGING LANES, CHASING AMY, BOUNCE, and THE SUM OF ALL FEARS. I could care less who he's dating and what politicians he hangs out with. His laid-back, easy-going screen presence is relaxing to watch when the material is a good fit. However, he now has a new career ahead of him. Rather than churning out an empty action film or silly sex comedy as his first directorial effort, Affleck, along with co-writer Aaron Stockard, has skillfully adapted MYSTIC RIVER author Denis Lehane's crime-noir novel GONE BABY GONE, and Affleck has directed the film with a veteran's touch. It's an uncommonly mature film for a first timer, and minor quibbles aside, an extremely accomplished piece of filmmaking.

Working with a splendid cast of well-known actors as well as recruiting real-life people from the streets of Boston, Affleck shows an immediate ability during the opening moments of GONE BABY GONE of setting atmosphere and flavor. The story takes place in the working-class, low-income neighborhoods surrounding Boston, where drug abuse, crime, and poverty are common. Right away, as the camera prowls the streets, resting (sometimes too much) on the weathered and time-beaten faces of the townspeople, you get a sense of place and distinction that separates this crime tale from others set in bigger cities like New York or Chicago. Affleck, a Boston native, has an intrinsic knowledge of these neighborhoods and the people, resulting in a film that feels natural and believable, no matter how sordid the plot becomes.

Casey Affleck, Ben's younger brother, gives his second terrific performance of the year (he was utterly magnetic in THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD) as private investigator Patrick Kenzie, a low key fellow who when push comes to shove, isn't afraid to get nasty. He lives and works with his girlfriend Angie, played by the pretty yet miscast Michelle Monaghan. They are approached for help by the aunt and uncle of a local four year old girl who has disappeared from her apartment. The girl’s mother, Helene, played with diseased intensity by Amy Ryan, is a semi-junkie who can barely take care of herself, let alone a child. The cops are on the case as well, led by police captain Jack Doyle (a sage as ever Morgan Freeman), and detective Remy Bressant (an always intense Ed Harris), though their loyalties remain a mystery. I'm hesitant to explain much more of the plot, except to say that Kenzie, working with the cops and on his own to find the missing girl, delves into the seedy world of white-trash, low-class street thugs, drug addicts, pedophiles, and general sociopaths in an effort to learn the truth and return the girl alive and unharmed. GONE BABY GONE gets a little murky in its late-in-the-game plotting but in the end, it all adds up rather soundly. But what I was not prepared for was Affleck's dogged determination as a filmmaker to steep himself, and the audience, in such dark, forbidding sequences of crime and societal disorder.

GONE BABY GONE is almost two movies in one, with multiple storylines all adding up to its sad but honest conclusion. The moral ambiguity that GONE BABY GONE revels in results in an interesting picture to watch. Some of the actions of the characters are questionable, but when you think about some of the darker and tougher choices that the characters have to make, you find yourself agreeing with how things are played out. "Murder is a sin," Kenzie quietly remarks to Bressant at a crucial moment in the film. "Depends on who you do it to," Bressant coolly retorts. It's a powerful, simple exchange of dialogue that comes on the heels of a scary, violent shoot out at the end of the second act, and it provides the audience with an extra layer of insight to an already complicated series of events. Affleck doesn't shy away from making the viewer emotionally complicit in some of Kenzie's violent actions, which can make some viewers uneasy. For me, it makes the film even richer, adding a dimension to its themes which elevates it over other entries in the genre.

Affleck trips up a bit in a few instances. One action scene is poorly shot and lit (which is a surprise given that the cameraman is the legendary John Toll, THE THIN RED LINE and BRAVEHEART), which makes it confusing for the audience. I know that the scene is supposed to be confusing for the characters, but the audience should never be left in the dark. Affleck likes the trashy Boston locals so much, that his constant cut-aways become a little indulgent; I get the fact that hard-asses and alcoholics are all over these particular city streets but at a certain point, it feels like you're being beaten over the head with this message. As I mentioned earlier, the plot of GONE BABY GONE begins to creak under its own weight towards the last act, but it never falls apart, and once all the pieces have been shown, everything makes sense. But these are minor issues; it's a testament to Affleck's strong filmmaking abilities that he gets so much right in his first feature as director that these problems seem almost slight.

Casey Affleck is positively riveting all throughout GONE BABY GONE. Ditching the purposefully mannered and rigid technique that he brought to his work in JESSE JAMES, the role of Kenzie seems like a role that Affleck was born to play. His non-threatening physical attributes clashes with his hot temper which is a nice balance. Holding a gun (and using it when necessary), Affleck looks and feels like a young private investigator. He may seem too young for the part upon first thought, but any doubt in your mind will be erased immediately upon meeting him in the film. Harris, who seems incapable of ever being bad or uninteresting on screen, tears up his scenes with a vicious ferocity that only a few actors seem to be able to channel. It's a brooding, menacing film that requires brooding, menacing characters, and Harris is right at home. Freeman, in a slightly different role than what he's been asked to do lately, is his usual believable self. But it's Amy Ryan who totally stuns as Helene, the disgusting, reprehensible mother of the missing child. Never seeming to truthfully care about her daughter's disappearance, Ryan creates a portrait of a mommy-monster that is chilling in its persuasiveness. And what a shock to see her as a perfectly delightful member of Steve Carell's family in the sunny and cheery DAN IN REAL LIFE; Ryan has range that few actresses even come close too.

GONE BABY GONE is a crime film for crime film lovers. Its story lives in and travels to some dark, upsetting places, its characters are all wounded, either emotionally or physically, and the overriding sense of grime and filth leaves you feeling a little skeevy by the end of it. But it's powerfully written and directed and acted, and it's the rare piece of entertainment that will leave you discussing its themes and story implications long after you've left the theater. I found myself thinking about this movie all week (I saw it last weekend) and it's gotten better as I've mulled it over. Ben Affleck has landed as an important filmmaker and has given noir fans a nasty slice of life with GONE BABY GONE.