Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Here's a sampling of some of the flicks I've been catching up with on DVD. Some are repeater views, others aren't.


4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS (****) was one of the most devastating and quietly powerful films that I've ever seen. I sat in silence for the entire film, completely engrossed, and positively riveted. It reminded me a lot of when I saw Paul Greengrass's brilliant UNITED 93, in that I was totally hooked right from the beginning by the intense directorial style and naturalistic performers from an unknown cast. And also like UNITED 93, 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS goes to some very extreme places, both narratively and visually. This film centers on two college girls in Romania in the late 1980's. One of them is pregnant, and wants to get an abortion, but because of strict Communist law, was not allowed to get one legally. So she and her friend seek out the help of an abortion doctor and along the way are tested at almost every turn. From the impeccable screenplay to the artfully composed and patient directorial technique by filmmaker Christian Mungiu, 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS is the sort of film that only true cinephiles are likely to respond too. It's a tough film to watch and the general sense of unease from scene to scene will be a turn off to many. But those who appreciate filmmaking operating on the highest level of craft and technique, storytelling told with such patient brilliance, and performances of the utmost human and complex, well, you owe it to yourself to check this work of art out. It's a draining film, but one you'll never forget.


Woody Allen has been making quite a come back this decade. After the very-bad CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION (2001), the pretty-bad HOLLYWOOD ENDING (2002) and the very lame ANYTHING ELSE (2003), he rebounded with the very funny and extremely underrated black comedy MELINDA & MELINDA (2004). He then made one of the best films of his career in 2005 with the awesome MATCH POINT, but then made a piffle of a would-be-comedy called SCOOP (2006) which was about as inconsequential as movies can get. Then, in late 2007, CASSANDRA'S DREAM (***1/2) opened at the end of the year to limited buzz. And I don't understand why. Other than it bearing a passing resemblance to a better, similar film from last year called BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, there should have been room at the table for this entertaining drama of wits about two dead beat brothers (Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell, who with In Bruges has been continuing his hot streak set with his brilliant run of performances in MIAMI VICE, THE NEW WORLD, and ASK THE DUST) who hatch a murder scheme at the behest of their rich uncle (Tom Wilkinson) in exchange for hefty financial pay-outs. The acting is sharp, and same with the script, and Allen directs in coldly-calculating fashion, similar to what he brought to the table in MATCH POINT. It's a very enjoyable drama with some thrills, the scent of romance, and a wallop of an ending.

VANTAGE POINT (**) was pretty brain dead. It squanders its gimmicky premise of telling the same story through multiple points of views by never bothering to have a great ending, making all the jerking-around hardly worth the time. A solid, B-level cast of actors including Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forrest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, and William Hurt all get some showy scenes, but the script never goes anywhere and director Pete Travis can only keep his frenetic visual style going for so long till the viewer gets frustrated with the fact that the film is going no where. There is one excellent car chase that looks real and dangerous and I enjoyed that, but much of this tale, which centers around the assassination of the President, is riddled with bad dialogue and vigorously contrived plot devices that just got tired after a while. And again, the pay-off never justifies the chain-jerking that one has to put up with while watching this SNAKE EYES-wannabe.
(repeat viewing)

Spike Lee's criminally underrated 25th HOUR (****), which came out in 2002, was the first film, at least to the best of my memory, to make certain reference to 9/11 and show the devastation at ground zero in NYC. Ed Norton anchors a terrific cast, supported by the always perfect Philip Seymour Hoffman, the edgy Barry Pepper, the sultry Rosario Dawson, and the quirky Anna Paquin. David Benioff's angry, intense script (based on his own book) is a marvel of structure and complexity. Norton is nice-guy drug dealer Monty, who gets pinched for heroin and cash in his posh apartment, while he's relaxing with his girlfriend, Naturelle (Dawson). The film takes place during the last night before he's set to begin his seven year jail stretch. His buddies, played by Hoffman and Pepper, are along for the last hurrah in the city, which takes some unexpected turns and leaves the viewer with a lump in their throat. Spike Lee, a true New Yorker who understands the city in relation to the world of movies as well as anybody, including Scorsese, directs with a tense fist that explodes in its final moments. There is one scene at about the 30 minute mark where Monty fires off a profanity and ethic-slur filled rant, straight at the camera, about all of the people he hates in NYC, and how around ever corner, there is some sort of reason to be pissed about living in this day and age. It's a blazing monologue, and Norton's hard-charging performance is along the same lines of his work in AMERICAN HISTORY X. Make no mistake about it -- this is a pent-up, pissed-off piece of story telling, and the way it explores very real and tangible moments from the last few years makes it even stronger in retrospect. I think this is a very strong movie, and one of the more underrated of the decade.

27 DRESSES (***) was a pleasant enough diversion. Spirited direction by Anne Fletcher and a spunky-enough script by Aline Brosh McKenna both helped to make this a fun-enough chick flick. It also helps when the film stars a hot trio of young actresses (Katherine Heigl, Malin Akerman, and Judy Greer). Heigl is a career woman who is always playing bridesmaid to all of her friends -- 27 times to be exact. Her world is turned upside down by a dashing reporter played by Mr. Cheekbones James Marsden, who totally killed in ENCHANTED. The film was predictable but fun, and while it never aspired to true greatness, I had enough fun with it to recommend it.

(repeat viewing)

MATCHSTICK MEN (****), easily the most underrated film of director Ridley Scott's career, is such a perfect movie it almost makes me sick when I watch it. The immaculate, diabolical screenplay by Ted and Nicholas Griffin is a wonder to behold and the way that Scott directs with a sly, cinematic sleight of hand is a treat to watch. I think this is a con-man movie on par with THE STING and THE SPANISH PRISONER, considered by many to be two of the best of the genre. Nicolas Cage, in a bravura performance, is Roy, a con-man suffering from severe O.C.D. and prone to nervous ticks and flip-outs. His smooth-operator partner Frank (the always incredible Sam Rockwell) is always scamming for their next score. But Roy's life turns upside down when he's reunited with this estranged, 14-year old daughter, perfectly played by Alison Lohman. Add in the big-time con of a shady business man played by the excellent character actor Bruce McGill, and the stage is set for an intricate game of cat and mouse, trick and treat. This is one of the calmer efforts from Scott; he fit it in after BLACK HAWK DOWN and before KINGDOM OF HEAVEN and the films relatively tepid box office shouldn't discourage him from taking on smaller projects. Easily boasting the craftiest script he's ever had to work with, he leaves all of the action-movie logistics back on the sound stages and really delves into his characters, who are richly written, and creatively brought to life by the fantastic cast. And of course, being that this is "A Film By Ridley Scott," the film is a visual marvel. Working with the estimable cinematographer John Mathieson, who also shot GLADIATOR and HANNIBAL for him, Scott gives MATCHSTICK MEN a gleaming visual look that supports the ice-cold plot at the heart of this story. This is a film that works best with as little known about it as possible; it's a true diamond in the rough. If you need some more cajoling to see this film, just don't take my work for it; read Roger Ebert's beautifully written, four-star review right here:
This is a fantastic movie, and one of the best of Scott's storied career.


Here it is, the first Doug Liman (THE BOURNE IDENTITY, GO, MR. & MRS. SMITH, SWINGERS) movie that I didn't fully enjoy. JUMPER (**1/2) started off intriguingly, and then fell apart at about the half-way mark. And for a film with a woefully short 85 minute run time, that's not enough to warrant a recommendation. The set up is basically that old TV show SLIDERS, except done on a fairly lavish budget, all gussied up with fast-moving special effects and blurs of crazy action. Hayden Christensen, who has been good in exactly one film (SHATTERED GLASS), is in full wooden mode as David, a dude who can teleport. How he got his powers is more or less a mystery. He spends his time teleporting into banks, then teleporting to London with a pocket of cash, in the hopes of bedding down local British scally-wags. Instead of helping out flood victims (he cynically snubs his nose at such footage at one point in the film) he'd rather clown around and get laid. David soon learns that there are others like him who can teleport, and through some run-ins with another "Jumper" named Griffin (Jamie Bell), he also learns that he, and others like him, are being hunted by a secret group led by Samuel L. Jackson. The first 35 minutes or so are fun and cool and set the stage for an interesting sci-fi flick. It's too bad that the script, credited to David Goyer (BATMAN BEGINS), Jim Uhls (FIGHT CLUB), and Simon Kinberg (MR. AND MRS. SMITH) shits the bed so quickly. Which is surprising, given the combined smarts of the above mentioned talent. Whatever ideas that are introduced are thrown aside in favor of pointless, big-budget-justifying action set-pieces that wear out their welcome quickly. I would have liked a talkier version of this film, still with the eye-catching "jumping" scenes, just without the chase-movie-element that the filmmakers felt compelled to inject. The film, despite terrible reviews, did very well at the worldwide box office, and there has been talks of sequels. Here's the rare case of a weak first effort being improved upon in the sequel. The material is there, it'll just be interesting to see if Liman returns to direct, and if he does, how he goes about it this time around.


KING CORN (***), Aaron Woolf's playful documentary, was a solid diversion that really showed me how bad (and how prevalent) high fructose corn syrup is and how it's in basically everything that we eat. And not just the high fructose kind -- all kinds of corn and corn derived products make appearances in just about everything that we consume and use every day. This is an easy going doc that will give you some new facts and a new outlook on our favorite, yummy, yellow starch that we love eating in the summer (especially with lots of butter, salt, pepper, and preferably, roasted on a coal-grill). Based on a book that I haven't read (my dad said it was a great read), the film is informative while still being entertaining, but in the end, I think I expected something better and richer. Still, it's worth checking out. There are a bunch of laughs, you'll certainly learn something new at least once while watching, and you'll definitely think twice about corn. I know I did. But that doesn't mean I'm not cooking it for dinner tomorrow night.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


And by this, I mean the four-hour-plus-long, un-fucked-with-by-studio-hands, Steven Soderbergh-approved-cut that played at the Cannes Film Festival this past May. Anything less is unacceptable in my estimation. No?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I just finished watching 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, and 2 DAYS. Holy shit.

Monday, August 18, 2008


I saw these posters first here:

I am really anxious to see what Oliver Stone has up his sleeve with this film.

Friday, August 15, 2008


It's been a busy last few months and I have been slacking on new reviews.

Full reviews for THE DARK KNIGHT (****), PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (****) and TROPIC THUNDER (****) are all coming up soon, as well as a big DVD round up, which will include CASSANDRA'S DREAM (***1/2), VANTAGE POINT (**), 27 DRESSES (***), KING CORN (***), and JUMPER (**1/2).

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Wow. I cannot believe what Stiller, Downey Jr, and Co. were up too with TROPIC THUNDER. Tom Cruise was absolutely hysterical. This was a brilliant satirization of Hollywood and action films and asinine egos. Can't wait to see this again.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

BEST OF 2008

Tarsem’s THE FALL (****)
Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (****)
David Gordon Green’s SNOW ANGELS (****)
Andrew Stanton’s WALL*E (****)
David Gordon Green’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (****)
Kimberly Peirce’s STOP-LOSS (****)
Roger Donaldson’s THE BANK JOB (****)
Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES (****)
Matt Reeves’ CLOVERFIELD (****)
Martin Scorsese’s SHINE A LIGHT (****)
Jay Roach’s RECOUNT (****)
Peter Berg’s HANCOCK (***1/2)
Timur Bekmembatov’s WANTED (***1/2)
Jon Favreau’s IRON MAN (***1/2)
Adam Brooks’ DEFINITELY, MAYBE (***1/2)
Woody Allen’s CASSANDRA’S DREAM (***1/2)
Louis Letterier’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK (***)
Michael Patrick King’s SEX AND THE CITY (***)
Olivier Assayas’ BOARDING GATE (***)
Anne Fletcher’s 27 DRESSES (***)
Sly Stallone’s RAMBO (**1/2)
Doug Liman’s JUMPER (**1/2)
Kent Alterman’s SEMI-PRO (**1/2)
Mitchell Lichenstein’s TEETH (**1/2)
Pete Travis’ VANTAGE POINT (**)
Peter Segal’s GET SMART (*1/2)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


THE PINNEAPPLE EXPRESS. Absolutely priceless. The funniest movie of the year by a mile and one of the most entertaining. Couldn't stop laughing. James Franco was a comedic tour de force.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008