Friday, October 31, 2008


Films like RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (****) remind you of how powerful and intimate filmmaking can be. Directed by Jonathan Demme (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) and written by first-time screenwriter Jenny Lumet (Sidney Lumet’s daughter), the film takes an up-close-and-personal look at a multi-cultural wedding in Connecticut which leads down some dark and troubling paths while finally arriving at well-earned catharsis for the major characters. An actor’s showcase, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED features a trio of remarkable performances from Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Bill Irwin, all of whom should be Oscar nominated for their work. Shot in a rough and tumble, Dogme-esque fashion by Demme and his versatile cinematographer Declan Quinn (IN AMERICA), RACHEL GETTING MARRIED carries an extremely immediate and realistic tone. This is an emotionally complex piece of storytelling which takes the viewer on a rollercoaster ride of feelings and extremely honest moments. Similar in style and tone to Susanne Bier’s incredible AFTER THE WEDDING, Demme and Lumet have crafted one of the finest films of the year with RACHEL GETTING MARRIED.
The plot is simple yet multi-layered. Kym (Hathaway) is let out of rehab for the weekend in order to attend her sister’s wedding. Her sister, Rachel (DeWitt), is getting married to an African-American musician named Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). Kym and Rachel’s divorced father, Paul (Bill Irwin), is hosting the wedding at his house, along with his second wife Carol (Anna Deavere Smith). Their mother, Abby (Debra Winger, forceful in her few scenes), makes a fleeting but integral appearance at the ceremony/reception. Various bands are performing at the wedding and are seen practicing all throughout the film in the background. Eschewing a traditional musical score, Demme allows the music of the bands to amplify many scenes in a very unique way. The film has a straight-forward narrative that is powered by an intense family dynamic created by the wonderful and totally committed cast. Often times feeling like it could have been a play before becoming a feature, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED has been given a lived-in authenticity which heightens every single moment of the film.

The acting is truly exceptional. Hathaway, who before this has never done anything for me as an actress, delivers a tour de force of a performance. Kym is damaged goods; you know it right from the beginning. With her cigarettes dangling from her lips and her skittish attitude, she’s exactly the kind of unpredictable woman that trouble always seems to find. In rehab to kick various addictions, which ultimately played a part in the death of her young brother years ago, Hathaway channels something inside of her that she’s never been asked to find before as an actress: Soul. She’s been an empty vessel of moderate good-looks in studio crap like GET SMART and THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, and while she was a solid supporting presence in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, that film belonged to Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. In RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, Hathaway gets her first chance to prove that she’s a real talent. And she owns the screen. There are a few scenes in the film that are almost too hard to watch; Kym has a few meltdowns that seem painfully real yet never cliché or over-the-top. And wait until you hear her toast at the rehearsal dinner – it’s a doozy. Characters like Kym are tricky because they are inherently unlikable; it’s a testament to Hathaway’s abilities that you end up really caring about her. You want to help her even if she is well beyond help.

DeWitt, in a possibly trickier role, has to play the “good” sister to Hathaway’s “bad” sister. Allowing a role like this to become one-note was a real possibility. It’s the way in which DeWitt humanizes Rachel that the audience feels compelled to root for her. Rachel is like most brides; it’s her wedding and she wants everything to go perfect. She doesn’t want Kym stealing the spotlight and there is a real sense, especially in her earlier scenes, that Rachel is deeply disappointed with Kym for a variety of reasons. She’s critical yet sympathetic to her damaged sister, and on more than once occasion, DeWitt elicits a genuine sisterly bond with Hathaway that feels totally real and right. They are women who were brought up in an upper middle class household, given whatever they wanted, and raised by parents who loved them. Regardless of the drama that has been injected into their lives, Rachel and Kym are joined at the hip in many respects. Whether or not Rachel wants to accept that fact is another story. DeWitt brings a level of sophistication and confidence to the role of Rachel which plays off of Kym’s weariness and open hostility. It’s a supporting performance that has all of the ear-marks of an awards contender.

But the film’s most heartbreaking performance, in my eyes, belongs to Irwin, as the beleaguered patriarch. In a tireless performance, Irwin has to be up one moment, down the next, and always ready for something new and potentially earth-shaking to occur. Paul has to be best friends to both of his very different daughters, something I am sure real-life fathers have to do on a daily basis. Without ever letting Kym or Rachel feel like he’s taking sides, he has to play both of them throughout the entire film, waiting for the other shoe to drop. And not only does he have two emotionally demanding daughters to deal with, he’s got to contend with the presence of his bitter ex-wife while still dealing with the death of his son, something that he clearly still dwells on. There is a scene I will simply call the “dishwashing scene” which ranks as my favorite scene of any film this year. In its quiet power, you get a sense of who Paul is as a man, and through Irwin’s delicate performance, you grow to really love him as a person. It will be a crime if Irwin isn’t saluted by the Academy with a supporting actor nomination. In a film filled with perfect performances, his was my favorite.
Demme has had an eclectic career, to say the least. In the 80’s he shot to stardom with off-beat comedies like SWING SHIFT, SOMETHING WILD, and MARRIED TO THE MOB. He then won an Oscar for his brilliant direction of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in 1991, which is one of the best American movies of the last 30 years. He followed that film up with PHILADELPHIA, another critical and box office success. Then came a run of disappointments; BELOVED was ill-conceived and THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE was an extremely stylish but hollow re-make of Stanley Donen’s masterwork CHARADE. He then rebounded with his criminally underrated MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE remake before directing two documentaries (NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD and JIMMY CARTER: MAN FROM PLAINS). A filmmaker turned on by music (he’s made numerous docs revolving around various musical groups throughout his career) and the power of rhythm, Demme has always had a firm grasp of controlled style, which he abandons in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. There is a purposefully sloppy and off-the-cuff visual style in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. Cinematographer Quinn, who has worked with filmmaker Jim Sheridan on a few occasions, shoots from skewed angles, always with a jerky, hand-held camera, which creates a feeling of cinema-verite immediacy that pumps the film up with raw edge. It’s like a Dogme film in many ways; no extra music, no artificial lighting, no special effects. Just honest to goodness emotions and pathos.

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED stands as one of the year’s best films for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its power to hold the audience riveted by its use of words and narrative force. Lumet’s script has a distinct New England ear which informs it with a sense of authenticity that it might otherwise have had to poorly imitate. Lumet’s characters, no matter how sad, mean, or conflicted that they may be, all have the ability to generate sympathy and empathy, a task not often achieved by the writer. If the film feels New Wave-y, well, it does so for a reason; Demme and Lumet are interested in what’s happening in the moment for their characters. They aren’t distracted by artifice and pretension. This is the wedding film to end all wedding films. Lumet has stated that she was inspired by Robert Altman’s 1978 film A WEDDING while writing her screenplay. Emulating Altman isn’t the worst thing to attempt, and with RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, Lumet has crafted a poignant and deeply personal work of art. It’s a small masterpiece for all involved.


I am definitely checking out Kevin Smith's ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO. I think it looks extremely funny.

I'd also like to check out Clint Eastwood's CHANGELING and/or Gavin O'Connor's PRIDE & GLORY. Hopefully I'll see 'em both but I'll get to at least one of those. The other I'll catch up with next week.

On the Netflix front for the weekend is the classic BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, which I've never seen.

Recently from Netflix, I have caught up with STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE (***1/2), TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE (****), SMART PEOPLE (**1/2), and ELITE SQUAD (***1/2). I'll be posting a new DVD round-up soon.

Also on deck are full reviews for RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (****), which gets better and better the more I think about it, and W. (***)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


The release date change (from this past summer to this coming February) scares me a little bit. But I love the cast (Clive Owen and Naomi Watts) and the director, Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN, PERFUME) is a premier stylist. It's also rated R, another plus in my book. There's a nifty trailer at as well:

Monday, October 27, 2008

TOP 10 OF 2008

Tarsem’s THE FALL (****)
Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (****)
David Gordon Green’s SNOW ANGELS (****)
Jonathan Demme’s RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (****)
Andrew Stanton’s WALL*E (****)
Stephen Walker’s YOUNG @ HEART (****)
David Gordon Green’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (****)
Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES (****)
Joel & Ethan Coen’s BURN AFTER READING (****)
Ben Stiller’s TROPIC THUNDER (****)

I watched THE FALL again over the weekend. Nothing else compares. It's unfuckingbelievable. Seriously.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


W. (***) was solid but not spectacular. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Brolin is indeed incredible as our lame-duck POTUS. This is not the Oliver Stone of old, though, which ultimately is a disappointment for me. Lacking the visceral charge of both JFK and NIXON, which are both masterpieces, W. is content to be a right-down-the-middle biopic with a few moments of satire thrown in to sly effect. It's a good movie, but not great like his previous picture, the galvanizing WORLD TRADE CENTER. I like that Stone continues to make politically and socially relevant films but it appears as if he's lost a bit of his old edge. Still, W. is an interesting experiment in up-to-the-moment filmmaking and I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a reason to sit in a darkened movie theater for two hours.

Full review will be up soon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (****) is a small and intimate masterpiece for director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Jenny Lumet. I never thought I'd use the phrase tour de force when describing a performance given by Anne Hathaway. But I am know. She's a revelation here. Demme, shooting in a very Susanne Bier/AFTER THE WEDDING style, has crafted a penetrating domestic drama refreshingly free of cliche and stripped of any pretension. The layers of Lumet's tightly woven and deeply felt script are brilliant upon close inspection. Everything felt real in this engrossing film and I can't wait for my second viewing.

Full review soon.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Ridley Scott's exciting new spy thriller BODY OF LIES (***1/2) is yet another terrific piece of topical entertainment to come out of Hollywood and bomb with audiences and most critics. I am not sure what the hell is going on in our country when it comes to audiences shunning movies of this sort. We're seemingly becoming a nation of ostriches, content with burying our heads in the dirt and ignoring smart, relevant movies that deal with our current socio-political landscape. The movie casualty list just keeps getting bigger and bigger and it’s a fucking shame. BODY OF LIES joins a group which includes movies like THE KINGDOM (an excellent action flick), IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH (a somber, contemplative character study) , STOP-LOSS (a passionate coming-home story), RENDITION (a riveting political thriller), LIONS FOR LAMBS (a thoughtful drama), and REDACTED (a dark, searing, but flawed drama), which have all under preformed at the box office and have been met with mixed-to-negative critical response. True, there have been some critics who have praised the many strengths of these films and some were only given limited theatrical releases. While not all of those films are perfect in every respect, they all offer interesting glimpses of different aspects of our current "war on terror." But for whatever reason, most people have just decided that they can’t be bothered with movies that depict our current world situation. We’d rather go see soul-sucking horse-shit like BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHU or MAX PAYNE or SAW fucking 5. Says a lot about us as a country. And as much as the right-wing Republican base would like you to believe, these films are not anti-American or anti-government. Rather, they are intellectually probing and ask important questions, they don't always offer easy answers, and they remind us that we cannot become complacent as a society to the problems that our world currently faces.
In the case of BODY OF LIES, Scott and his excellent screenwriter William Monahan (THE DEPARTED, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN), have created a Bourne-esque narrative which swings back and forth between various middle-Eastern countries and Washington DC in an effort to show the complexities of working for the C.I.A, both on the ground level, and also in the control room. It’s quite a show to be perfectly honest. And while it makes one mistake during its climax (which I can’t discuss any further without providing some major spoilers) which keeps it from being in the same masterpiece-level as Scott's earlier middle-eastern war film BLACK HAWK DOWN, BODY OF LIES is urgent, visceral filmmaking that is already the most underrated film of the year. This is just the sort of movie that people should be going to see and enjoying. It’s got major stars giving great performances. A top-flight director working at the top of his craft. A twisty, dark-as-hell screenplay that is both a marvel of fluidity as well as an prime example of crafty skullduggery. And it’s got fantastic action sequences that only a filmmaker of Scott’s caliber could execute. What more do you need for a film like this?

A scruffy and confident Leonardo DiCaprio is Roger Ferris, a go-for-broke C.I.A. operative working the streets of whatever war-torn country that needs attention. Set up in Jordan, he is tasked with weeding out a major terrorist who has recently set off bombs in London and Amsterdam. Ferris, working with his conceited superior Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe, chubby, smarmy, and perfect as always) who is stationed in Washington DC, concocts a plan to create a fake terrorist organization as a way of bringing his enemy out of hiding. Hoffman, a family man seen dropping his kids off at school and cheering on the sidelines of soccer games, is a spy of a different breed. Barking orders into his Blue Tooth at Ferris, stuffing his face with food, and conducting war games via his laptop, Hoffman is constantly subverting Ferris at every turn. All in the name of what he feels is the greater good for the country. Ferris is also fighting for the greater good; it’s just that he sees the world completely different than Hoffman. Ferris is also working with the suave Jordanian Chief of Intelligence Hani Salaam (an excellent Mark Strong) in navigating the dangerous foreign terrain. The film cuts back and forth between Ferris on the ground and in many danger zones and Hoffman back at home, showing the various ways that our government reacts and responds to terrorist threats and actions.

Monahan’s screenplay is complicated without ever becoming incoherent, and while one subplot might seem slightly out of place (a romance between Ferris and an Iranian nurse), it has been included to show the differences in our cultures while also amping up the film's final act. Ferris is going through a divorce, and he meets a nurse after a pretty rough run-in with a pack of wild, potentially rabid dogs in an alley. They make small talk, he’s interested, but he has to follow the normal courting customs of the region. This makes for a particularly interesting encounter when Ferris goes to meet the nurse’s sister, in order to gain her approval. The script is subtle and smart while also being outraged by the idea that clueless government officials make heat-of-the-moment decisions that threaten the overall stability of what we're doing over there in the first place. Scott and Monahan make it clear that even with Predator spy-planes and modern technology, this is a war that is best fought with a low-tech approach; sometimes you just need to get in people's faces to get the information you need. There is a lot of plot in BODY OF LIES but the film moves at a breathless pace, never resting for more than a moment, and always keeping the audience appropriately informed of where this snaky story is headed.
Scott, as always, has brought his A-team of craftsmen to this project. Cinematographer Alexander Witt, making his debut as first-unit shooter after an unbelievable second unit career, shoots in moody, stylish tones befitting the customary polish that Scott always brings to his pictures. Editor Pietro Scalia, the genius of JFK and BLACK HAWK DOWN amongst many others, manages a ferocious pace which never becomes confusing. Production designer Arthur Max (GLADIATOR, SEVEN) gets to work in multiple countries and brings a gritty realism to all of the locations. It's a beautiful looking movie, which is no surprise given that Scott seems to be incapable of ever producing a boring or flat looking feature film. The action scenes are explosive and scary, with a major stand-out set-piece involving helicopter gun-ships and surface to air missiles. Scott knows the geography of an action sequence, using wide shots that establish location and position, and close-ups that take you into the middle of the fiery wreckage. Along with his brother Tony and Michael Bay, he’s the best in the business with this sort of stuff.

All of the performances are excellent. Coming off manly performances in both THE DEPARTED and BLOOD DIAMOND, DiCaprio yet again excels as a man of action. He’s slowly been maturing, and from role to role, DiCaprio is fast becoming the premier leading man of his generation. He’s got great taste in projects and the intensity he brings to each role is very apparent. I thought he was terrific in Scorsese’s incredible film THE AVIATOR, but since then, he’s just gotten better and better with each movie. Crowe, who put on roughly 50 pounds to play the always-eating, always-on-the-phone, man-behind-the-curtains, is despicable and disarming in equal measure; it's a more-than-meets-the-eye performance that could have been a complete snooze in lesser hands. Crowe is that rare actor that even when playing the villain, as he did in last year’s extremely satisfying western 3:10 TO YUMA, is able to charm you even when you want to punch him in the face. Like a companion piece of sorts to the work he did in Michael Mann’s masterwork THE INSIDER, Crowe gives in introverted and quietly forceful performance. And Strong, an actor new to me, is phenomenal as the oily and extremely well dressed Chief of Intelligence. He steals every single scene he appears in and be brings a level of intrigue to every portion of the plot his character figures into. He deserves a supporting actor nomination.
I wish that BODY OF LIES did one thing different in it's final moments which is the reason that I am not giving it a four star rating. When you’re playing with over $80 million of the studio’s money, it’s tough to do certain things within this sort of genre. Scott definitely takes chances in BODY OF LIES; it’s just that I wish that a certain scene ended in a different fashion. Still, this minor quibble aside, BODY OF LIES is more cinematic excellence courtesy of Ridley Scott. He’s been a favorite filmmaker of mine for years know. I consider his films to be events. This one is no exception. If you want a film to stimulate you both visually and intellectually, look no further than the riveting BODY OF LIES.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Tom McCarthy made a great, small film back in 2003 called THE STATION AGENT. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and rent it immediately. He's made an even better film in his sophomore outing, THE VISITOR (****). Career character actor Richard Jenkins, who you will recognize from everything from THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY to THE KINGDOM, gets his first shot at a leading role and he nails it. If there’s any justice he'll be nominated for Best Actor at this year's Academy Awards. He's tremendous. Playing an emotionally tired college professor named Walter who still hasn't fully recovered from the death of his wife a few years back, he gets asked by his boss to head to NYC to be a presenter/speaker at some sort of academic conference, for which one of his essays is being honored. He's been living a sheltered existence in Connecticut and at first, he's not interested in going into the city. He relents and heads to the big apple; it helps that he has an old apartment in the city where he can crash. What he doesn't expect to find when he gets there are two illegal immigrants squatting in his place; they've been swindled by someone into thinking that the apartment was vacated. At first extremely afraid and surprised (who wouldn't be?), he asks the two people (one a Senegalese woman named Zainab, the other a male, Syrian musician named Tarek) to leave his place. After realizing that they probably have no where to go, Walter invites them back into this place and tells them that they can stay there for a while. What develops is an unlikely but heartwarming friendship that does wonders for Walter's spirit and reminds Zainab and Tarek that there are still some good people left in the city. When Tarek is arrested, everything changes, and the film takes a critical look at the post 9/11 illegal immigrant experience in our country. Without patronizing the audience, McCarthy has created a quiet, emotionally charged drama that asks many questions about loyalty, trust, and dependence. Walter is a troubled, wounded soul, and his new friendships help rekindle his interior fire; it's a slow burn performance from Jenkins that's the best I've seen all year thus far. This is a small gem, a film that was met with excellent reviews and did some surprisingly strong box office in the art-house circuit. It's the kind of film that most viewers will discover on DVD and it's the kind of film that all too frequently gets left out of the year end awards derby. I hope that's not the case. THE VISITOR, like YOUNG @ HEART, has all the right ingredients: heart, smarts, humor, sadness, and finally, grace. It's one of the best films I have seen this year.
YOUNG @ HEART (****) is also one of the best films of the year. Director Stephen Walker has made a documentary that is everything great cinema should be: moving, funny, sad, hopeful, and finally, emotionally resonant. Centering on the old-timer choir Young @ Heart Chorus, Walker follows the various 80-year-old-plus singers inside the recital hall and outside into their daily lives and routines. Based out of Northampton, MA, the group is led by conductor and organizer Bob Cilman (a great mixture of sass and class) who preps his singers as if he's entering combat. Just because they're old doesn't mean he's going to slack on their training. All of the members of the group are interesting and lovable, and as you might imagine, some of them don't make it to the final concert; heartbreak occurs along the way in this film. The kicker of the production is that Cilman has the group learning pop-rock and classic rock songs from the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Killers, Sonic Youth, and James Brown, just to name a few. While the film hits a few sad moments and more cynical viewers might find it to be too depressing to be entertaining, I found YOUNG @ HEART to be one of the most uplifting films of the year. It's a movie that reminds you never to lose sight of what you love and to never give up on your passions, no matter how old or how healthy you are. I laughed, I cried, and most importantly, I cheered for these people. Just imagine your grandparents up there singing with the group and it'll be impossible for you not to be moved by this fantastic piece of work. Or to remove the well-earned lump in your throat.

Chris Bell's insightful and thought provoking documentary BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER (****) takes a critical and even handed look at our nation's abuse of steroids, and actually makes a solid case for the use of them, and for their banishment. I learned a lot of new stuff about steroids in this film, and I came away with a balanced set of views after watching this entertaining yet scary film. Focusing on his family (Bell's brothers are power-lifters who have been using steroids for years) and on society in general (action movie stars like Stallone and Arnold are brought up, as well as the many baseball players who were accused of steroid use), Bell presents all the facts (good and bad) in a straight forward manner and lets the viewer come away with an informed opinion of the situation. We're a nation built upon the idea that we need to be the best we can possibly be at everything we set out to do, and for some people, that means that steroids are the only way to success. Mixing heartfelt footage of his family and excellently researched archival footage, BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER is as entertaining as it is informative. This is an important documentary for many reasons, and I feel that it should be required viewing in high school health classes across our country.

Bharat Nalluri's MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (***) is a sweet natured romantic dramedy with a sparkling performance from the effervescent Amy Adams and a solid-as-usual turn from Frances McDormand. Light as air and always watchable, the film is a tad predictable but that doesn't take away from its ability to entertain and please its audience. McDormand is the titular character, a poor woman, going from one job to the other (she's a housekeeper of sorts) who lies her way into a job as a maid to Adams, a spoiled, trophy-girlfriend living a lavish lifestyle. Adams juggles a bunch of suitors throughout the movie, including Lee Pace from this year's masterful THE FALL, and it’s fun seeing her playing the role of a classy tramp who smiles her way into everything she wants. McDormand sets her eyes on a rich designer played by the always welcome Ciaran Hinds, but she has her work cut out for her as he's involved with a spiteful rival designer who knows Pettigrew's true identity. The film moves along briskly (it's 90 minutes on the nostril) and while there is never any doubt about the final outcome, MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY has great production values, a witty script (David Magee and Simon Beaufoy are the co-writers), and spirited performances from its game ensemble. It's a fun piece of light entertainment that will put a smile on your face.

HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY (**1/2) is a far cry from the stonerific original. It has its moments of weed-induced hilarity to be sure, but it's just not in the same league as the first entry. The writers of the original, John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, are not only back as the writers for this outing, but also serve as co-directors. Their abilities in the director’s chair are limited. Horribly shot and edited with bad pacing and many scenes that should have had their ends snipped, their technical deficiencies are made up for by their ability to generate a lot of laughs. Now, whether or not you find bodily function humor funny is one thing. I do. So I laughed. The plot is useless to describe but here goes. The stoner duo board a plane for Amsterdam but are thrown off when an old, racist white lady mistakes Kumar for a terrorist; she sees him lighting a homemade bong in the bathroom and thinks it's a bomb. They are snagged by a ridiculously incompetent homeland security agent played by Rob Corddry who throws them into Guantanamo. They escape and are chased throughout the south by the feds and all of the whack jobs that they encounter along the way. Yes, Doogie is back, and he's still pricelessly funny. But for a movie about two guys who love to toke up, it takes a long time for them to finally get blazed; there wasn't enough toking in this film. However, there is a TON of full female frontal nudity, so if you like that sort of thing, make sure you rent the unrated cut as I did. At one point in the film, the two guys end up at a "bottomless party." I will leave the rest of that to your imagination. One scene, late in the film, involves H&K getting lit with President Bush, who not only is a reefer addict, but enjoys dipping his joints in cocaine. There are a lot of funny sequences, John Cho and Kal Penn still have great chemistry, but the film overall is hit-and-miss to the point where I wished the narrative wasn't as jumbled. Some sly, satirical barbs are weaved into the script, the film clearly holds a fair amount of disdain for the U.S. government, and Hurwitz and Schlossberg are definitely in love with their characters. But what this film is lacking that its predecessor had a ton of is genuine interest in its characters, and a greater sense of the ganja. For a movie about two pot-loving dudes, the film is weirdly short on actual puffing. Still, it's worth a rental if you're in the mood for some disposable laughs.

M. Night Shymalan has hit rock bottom with THE HAPPENING (ZERO STARS), which is easily the worst film of the year, and easily one of the worst films of the decade. This is Ed Wood-style bad. Horribly incompetent writing, flaccid direction, and two beyond terrible performances from Mark Whalberg and Zooey Deschanel (who have both been great in the past so not sure who to blame for this travesty) all combine to make a laughably bad eco-horror thriller. The idea is actually pretty cool: Mother Nature has had enough of humans ruining her world and she’s pissed off. One random day, people start walking backwards, speaking gibberish, and killing themselves, if not before killing someone else before they commit suicide. People jump from buildings, plunge sharp items in their necks, shot themselves in the head, hang themselves from trees. But why? Who is behind this? Did terrorists release poison gas? Is it a government experiment gone awry? That's what Whalberg's character, a high school science teacher, is trying to figure out. He somehow deduces that plants and grass and trees are emitting a toxic, invisible gas that makes people go crazy. A cool idea, no? But wow, Shymalan butchers every single moment in this film. Working with his first R rating, he's not even up to the task of creating some memorable death sequences. Why go all out with an R rating if the gruesome moments are going to be played as after thoughts? There is one good shot -- count it -- one good shot in the entire production. And that shot was shown in every single trailer. The dialogue is puerile; I can't remember hearing a more awkward sounding film. And coming after his horrendous LADY IN THE WATER, this is another nail in the coffin for this once promising filmmaker. Full disclosure: I enjoyed THE SIXTH SENSE, I think UNBREAKABLE is his best work, I had fun with SIGNS, and I seem to be the only person in the world that enjoyed THE VILLAGE. But on his last two outings, Shymalan has really struck out. His next film is a kid’s movie based on a popular Nickelodeon property. It's bound to be a hit (one would assume…) and at this stage of his career, that's what he needs…another blockbuster. But his rep as a creator of cerebral and stylish thrillers is in the toilet at the moment. He needs to rebound and direct something that he didn't write because truthfully, he's become a shitty writer. And as I stated above, he's not helped by his cast; everyone gives an awful performance. And not just the leads -- the secondary stars, the extras, the bit players -- everyone is awful in this piece of junk. Shymalan made some comments around the time of the film's release that he set out to make the best B-movie ever made. Well, his concept is ripe with B-movie possibilities. But his execution is more like an F minus. I hated this film. It's pure trash. And the most insulting part of it is -- it has no ending. I mean literally -- no ending. I dare you to rent this film and try and make it the whole way through. I doubt you'll make it.


This weekend is a travel weekend for me, so not sure if I will be able to get to the theater. But I am hoping to sneak something in as there's a lot out there right now.

I hope to see Oliver Stone's W. this weekend. The film has been met with a positive reception from most critics -- Ebert has given it four stars and Dargis in the NY Times has written a beautiful piece about the film. I am expecting a solid film, though from what I have read, a more sympathetic portrayal of our current moron-for-a-president than I would have expected from someone as politically charged as Stone. If I don't see it this weekend I will certainly see it next weekend. I can't wait to see Brolin as our loony commander in chief.

Jonathan Demme's critically acclaimed new film RACHEL GETTING MARRIED expands wider this weekend; I really want to check that out as soon as possible. I am not the biggest fan of Anne Hathaway but she's getting a ton of Oscar buzz for her performance in the film.

Still out and of interest is the Larry Charles/Bill Maher documentary RELIGULOUS. The Ed Harris/Viggo Mortensen western APPALOOSA is another one I want to see soon.

The stylish-looking new actioner MAX PAYNE from director John Moore has taking an expected drubbing from critics, and the PG-13 rating indicates a surprising lack of balls for this video-game derived shoot 'em up. I will wait till it hits DVD. It looks like stylish garbage that's fit for a late night viewing down the road at some point -- I'm in no rush.

On the Netflix front is the new Errol Morris documentary STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE, which takes a critical look at the atrocities that have gone down at Guantanamo Bay. Morris, who is pretty much a genius, is a filmmaker that I always look forward to seeing work from.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I've been busy with Netflix the last few weeks, and I will be posting a DVD round up piece in the next few days.


A full review of Ridley Scott's BODY OF LIES (***1/2) is also in the works.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 13, 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 (****)
Stephen Walker’s YOUNG @ HEART (****)
David Gordon Green’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (****)
Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES (****)
Ben Stiller’s TROPIC THUNDER (****)
Joel & Ethan Coen’s BURN AFTER READING (****)
Matt Reeves’ CLOVERFIELD (****)

Roger Donaldson’s THE BANK JOB (****)
Martin Scorsese’s SHINE A LIGHT (****)
Kimberly Peirce’s STOP-LOSS (****)
Tom McCarthy’s THE VISITOR (****)
Jay Roach’s RECOUNT (****)
Chris Bell’s BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER (****)
Ridley Scott’s BODY OF LIES (***1/2)
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)
D.J. Caruso’s EAGLE EYE (***)
Bharart Nalluri’s MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (***)
David Mamet’s REDBELT (***)
Louis Letterier’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK (***)
Michael Patrick King’s SEX AND THE CITY (***)
Olivier Assayas’ BOARDING GATE (***)

Hammer & Tongs’ SON OF RAMBOW (***)
Anne Fletcher’s 27 DRESSES (***)
Zak Penn’s THE GRAND (***)
Sly Stallone’s RAMBO (**1/2)
Mitchell Lichenstein’s TEETH (**1/2)
Doug Liman’s JUMPER (**)
Kent Alterman’s SEMI-PRO (**)
Pete Travis’ VANTAGE POINT (**)
Peter Segal’s GET SMART (*1/2)
M. Night Shymalan’s THE HAPPENING (ZERO)

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Ridley Scott's exciting new spy thriller BODY OF LIES (***1/2) is not a masterpiece like his earlier war effort BLACK HAWK DOWN, but it's beautifully made, very well written, and features three manly but different performances from Leo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, and Mark Strong, which all adds up to yet another interesting take on this topical genre that audiences have yet been inclined to pay to see on the big-screen. The film is set to earn less than $15 million at the domestic box office on it's opening weekend, and it was met with 50-50 results by the critics (it has a 53% overall at Rottentomatoes with a 50% cream of the crop). Some people, like the inane Armond White, the too-old-to-be-in print Ken Turan, and the normally reliable A.O. Scott , who was one of the few big-gun critics to rave about last year's similarly themed film THE KINGDOM, have panned the film but other, wiser people like David Denby, Roger Ebert, and Scott Foundas are supporters. I really loved this film. It's like SYRIANA with lots of explosions and action sequences. William Monahan's screenplay operates on multiple levels and involves multiple reversals (all of which add up when you think about it as I have); it's pretty fucking awesome if you ask me. Oh yeah -- lots of shit blows up. And it looks fucking sick thanks to Scott's as-always painterly images, this time in tandem with first time regular cinematographer, Alexander Witt. Witt is an action vet, with an IMDB credit page that is just remarkable; he's been the go-to second unit guy for the last 10 years, and has one or two feature credits as director.) This is a smart, entertaining, and darkly thoughtful piece of spy-fare, and it comes across as a dark older brother to Tony Scott's underrated 2001 picture, SPY GAME. Full review to appear soon.

Tom McCarthy's delightful gem THE VISITOR (****) is one of those little films that's bound to get overlooked at year's end. Richard Jenkins, if there was any God, would get an Oscar nomination -- if not the win -- for his work in this film. A sensitive, timely, and very human screenplay from McCarthy, along with his casual directorial style made this is a first-rate drama. Full review soon.

THE HAPPENING (ZERO STARS) is an unmitigated disaster, easily the worst movie I have seen this year, and probably on the list for worst of the decade. I look forward to trashing this film in an upcoming review, but suffice to say, everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- in this film went wrong. Shyamalan can go press his nose to the opening of a jar that's holding his own fart smells for a while; he's truly off his fucking rocker. Mark Whalbergh should be ashamed of himself, as should Zooey Deschanel. They've both been great before, so I am left to assume that it's really Shyamalan who should take the beating. God was this film fucking embarrassing.

I will be seeing BLINDNESS today so more on that later.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I will be seeing Ridley Scott's BODY OF LIES tomorrow afternoon and Fernando Meirrelles' BLINDNESS on Sunday afternoon.

I have THE VISITOR coming from Netflix for the weekend as well.

Comments/reactions to all of the above will be posted soon, as well as comments on a few DVD titles from the last few weeks, including MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY, YOUNG @ HEART, and BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Saturday, October 4, 2008


YOUNG AT HEART, the old people form a singing group doc, is one of the best films of the year. My full review will be up soon. I haven't seen a movie this sad yet so uplifting in a long time. One of the best documentaries in years. I urge anyone who hasn't seen it yet to check it out.

Friday, October 3, 2008


In EAGLE EYE (***), the loony, paranoid new thriller from director D.J. Caruso (DISTURBIA, THE SALTON SEA), the number of movie influences and references called up by the four credited screenwriters (Travis Wright, John Glenn, Hilary Seitz, and Dan McDermott) is pretty staggering. Ideas and chunks from a host of better movies are thrown up on screen: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Tony Scott's ENEMY OF THE STATE, Alan J. Pakula's THE PARALLAX VIEW, David Fincher's THE GAME, and Alfred Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST all immediately leap to mind. And while not necessarily a bad thing, it creates a whiff of sameness in Caruso's otherwise energetic and stylish action picture. A solid cast is top-lined by star-of-the-moment Shia LeBeouf and pretty-thing Michelle Monaghan, and rounded out with fine supporting work by Billy Bob Thorton, Rosario Dawson, and Michael Chiklis. At one time a directing vehicle for Steven Spielberg (who apparently came up with the story a decade ago), it's the kind of pumped-up, Michael Bay-esque action flick that blows a lot of stuff up really well and entertains the audience for two hours. And like most popcorn movies, suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer is required. However, with EAGLE EYE, you'll need a crane the size of Milwaukee to do the suspending. A strenuously ludicrous blend of technological paranoia and government hijinx, the film is beyond contrived but works well enough from scene to scene to keep you from questioning the plot for too long.

And wow, there's a lot of plot in this overstuffed movie. You've probably seen the trailer, so to be honest, I don't want to go into a major discussion of what the film is really about, because the less you know about it, the better it will work. Jerry (LaBeouf) is a regular guy working a dead end job at a Kinko’s somewhere in Chicago. One day, after going to the ATM and seeing that somehow his depleted checking account mysteriously has $750,000 in it, Jerry heads back to his cramped apartment, only to be greeted with another, larger surprise -- an insane amount of guns, suitcase bombs, rocket launchers, 1000 lb bags of fertilizer, high-powered binoculars, and lots of fake passports. He then gets a call on his cell phone from a sketchy sounding female voice (kind of like the Verizon woman) who tells him that the FBI is about to storm his apartment and that he better leave immediately. Not knowing what to do, Jerry stalls for a moment, just as the FBI and SWAT teams crash his pad and put him in cuffs. Enter Rachel (Monaghan), a sexy single mother living in Chicago with a cute 8 year old son who's off to a concert recital in Washington D.C. She's out having drinks with some friends after dropping her son off at the train station when she gets a call from the same female voice, telling her to walk down the block and get into a waiting Porsche SUV if she ever wants to see her son again. Jerry, still in custody, is left alone for a moment in a briefing room when the phone rings. It's that pesky voice again, telling him to duck. He does so, in the nick of time, as a massive crane arm slams through the window, creating an escape route. The voice tells him to also go to that waiting Porsche. Jerry and Rachel meet at the car, and are immediately (and justifiably) suspicious of one another. Before they can talk, the feds are shooting at them, and the first of many turbo-charged car chases and shoot-outs occurs. For the next 90 minutes, the two of them must obey whatever the voice tells them to do in order to stay alive. Never quite knowing what's going on, they have no choice but to stay on the move, waiting for the next set of instructions from the voice. And this is one powerful voice on the other end, able to change traffic lights, summon drone aircraft from military bases, operate construction equipment, and even manipulate high-tension power lines as lethal weapons in one of the films more original sequences. Yes, you will find out who the voice is by the end of the picture, and yes, nothing is exactly what it seems in EAGLE EYE. It's the kind of movie that is both predictable and unpredictable at the same time; you know the lead characters are going to get out of this predicament alive, but it's how they get to their final outcome that keeps you guessing.

The movie looks fantastic. Shot in Bay-esque, saturated colors by the great cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (PIRATES 1-3, CRIMSON TIDE, SWEENEY TODD) and going for a Peter Berg-esque hand-held technique, Caruso goes for a glossy look with a gritty feel. He knows how to stage thrilling action scenes, with one set in a highway tunnel that is both completely ridiculous and highly enjoyable. It's clear that he knows how to work with a big budget (this film is his biggest yet) and I wouldn't be surprised to see him tackle a massive event film in the near future. He could have benefited from a few more wide shots during the first car chase, but Caruso is out for the visceral rush, and he gets what he wants. And when you cut through all of the action pyrotechnics, there are some really disturbing ideas at the core of the film's plot. Again, without giving away too much, the film, much like ENEMY OF THE STATE, imagines a U.S. government that is all-seeing, all-knowing, and corrupt around the edges. It's just that the corruption arrives in a different form than one might think. If you've got a cell phone or a car or a computer you can be tracked to your exact whereabouts, and the writers clearly demonstrate a distinct weariness when it comes to how advanced our technology has evolved, and how much people rely on being constantly connected. There is probably too much plot in EAGLE EYE for its own good. It works best when it's operating as a tense chase film; the byzantine nature of the convoluted plot requires some heavy thinking while watching and especially at the end. Which isn't a bad thing; movies should stimulate the brain and the eyes. But sadly, the more you think about what's happening on screen, the less sense the film makes. Still, it's an entertaining thriller with lots of real-time explosions and LaBeouf and Monaghan are a solid team. I saw the film on a rainy Sunday (and in the IMAX format; check your listings) and it did what I wanted it to do: entertain me. Don't expect high art, but you can expect some wild fun.


Well let the onslaught of the fall movie season begin. This week there are multiple films all debuting nationwide.

The one I most want to see is BLINDNESS, the new film from filmmaker Fernando Meirrelles, who previously directed CITY OF GOD and THE CONSTANT GARDENER, two of the best films of their respective years. The film has been greeted with mixed reviews overall, but it looks stunning based on the trailers, and the cast is excellent (Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal). And the idea, that of contagious blindness that sweeps the globe, is very intriguing to me. It sounds like a dark, tough movie, but sort of a companion piece to CHILDREN OF MEN.

Ed Harris' APPALOOSA, which he co-wrote, directed, and stars in, goes wide this weekend, after a week in limited release. It also stars Viggo Mortensen (one of my favorites) and Renne Zellwegger. It's a gritty Western that's been greeted with solid, though not overly spectacular reviews. I will definitely catch this one, if not this weekend, then sometime soon.

The heavily praised religion-basing documentary RELIGULOUS, from comedian Bill Maher and director Larry Charles (BORAT, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM) opens as well. Reviews have been extremely strong, and it looks and sounds like an hot-potato movie. Definitely want to check that out.

FLASH OF GENIUS, with Greg Kinnear, also opens this week, and has been met with solid response from the critics. I am also interested in checking out this David vs. Goliath true story about the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper, only to have his creation stolen by the major automakers. Marc Abraham, a veteran producer, makes his directorial debut with the film.