Monday, February 27, 2006

Domino: Grade B



Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, Delroy Lindo. Lucy Liu & Christopher Walken appear.

Cute young suburban woman (KK) becomes a tough, knife-throwing, gun-toting, numchucking bounty hunter. A second story of an armored car heist is intertwined with some good writing and editing. The movie would have earned an ‘A’ except the story collapses into incomprehensible chaos in the last 30 minutes. False bad guys appear, things start blowing up for no reason, and a guy gets his arm cut off because of a bad cell phone signal. What did they do, fire the writer at the last minute and start ad libbing? Completely nuts. Memorable photography, excellent editing, terrific music, good directing, costumes, and sets. KK has a cartoon character and no opportunity for acting. Rourke and Lindo are standouts. It’s a first class movie except for the flawed ending. (Note: Rated R for “pervasive language.” We can’t be having that!)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

North Country: Grade B


North Country

Charlize Theron, Francis McDormand, Sissy Spacek, Woody Harrelson

Based on the true story of the first class-action sexual harassment lawsuit filed by women working in a Minnesota mine in the 1970’s. Charlize, beautiful as ever, is the one person who finally won’t take it any more and turns to the law to seek self-respect at work. But out of fear for their jobs the other women won’t join her and continue to endure degrading insults and violence. The first hour is slow, repeatedly demonstrating how nasty the men are, the vulnerability of the women, and the indifference of the management. I got the idea after ten minutes, but it just went on and on. Maybe that is necessary to make the point, but I would think people today are at least somewhat aware of the issue. The last 45 minutes are an artful blend of courtroom drama and flashbacks. Some good photography, convincing sets and scenery, and it was nice to hear Dylan’s “Lady Day” from Nashville Skyline, even if its being there was a nonsequitur. Young women today may not realize how rough things were only a generation ago, so the movie serves as a history lesson, and taking on the project increases my admiration for Theron. Reviewed 2/26/06.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Lord of War: Grade B


Lord of War

Nicolas Cage, Ethan Hawke, Jared Leto

Cage is an international arms dealer, selling death for cash regardless of politics. Hawke as the interpol agent wants to be Tom Cruise. Eamon Walker as a crazy African dictator is a standout. It’s a narrative of how Cage's business goes; there's no particular plot. Individual, disconnected scenes provide dramatic tension. But the picture does vividly convey the sense of the arms trade and its horrific consequences, a serious lesson for those who are uninformed. John Le Carre did a similar story in The Night Manager a few years back. This story is handled with a light-hearted, almost comic tone, probably to offset the dark side of the reality. It's a grating marketing compromise. The result is that the characters and scenes are all two dimensional cardboard cutouts. Cute, funny warlords and merchants of death. Ha ha. The comedy is punctuated with sudden violence, however, so there is some balance. Cage's self-justifying moralizing falls flat so we don't really know what makes him tick. Leto acts his heart out, which is noticeable because nobody else does. There’s something weird going on with the green lighting. Memo to art director: people do not have green beards. Reviewed 2/20/06.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

In Her Shoes: Grade B


In Her Shoes

Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, Shirley Maclaine

I personally could have edited 30 minutes out of this movie. It is a very slow starter, but once it gets going, the acting is good and the story is satisfying. Two adult sisters become estranged but each discovers a long lost grandmother and through her, become re-united. It’s a family story. No guns or explosions. Cameron Diaz shows some signs of acting talent, which she had better develop before she gets much older. Toni Collette is surprisingly good. But Shirley Maclaine is a standout. She really knows what she is doing at every moment. Reviewed 2/19/06

Saturday, February 18, 2006

{Proof}: Grade B



Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal

Director = John Madden

The interface between madness and creativity is explored yet again, with Paltrow as the “Beautiful Mind” mathematician caring for her elderly father (Hopkins), himself a former luminary in mathematics but now gone dotty. Gyllenhaal is the love interest. The best part is the ambiguity about Paltrow’s mental state – is she clinical or justifiably depressed and discouraged? Is she brilliant or self-deluded? That’s good directing of a wonderful actor. Fabulous acting by GP and AH, as you would expect, but the story itself is derivative and plodding. Supporting characters are two-dimensional. No photog, sets, costumes or music to speak of. Dialog often seems forced. Reviewed 1/18/06.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Daltry Calhoun: Grade D


Daltry Calhoun

Johnny Knoxville, Juliette Lewis, Sophie Traub, Elizabeth Banks. Executive Producer Quentin Tarantino.

A family story of a local businessman in Tennessee and his long lost 14 yr old daughter coming to terms. No real plot, very little dramatic tension, undistinguished directing, clichéd costumes and sets. But good acting all around, especially Traub, makes it worth watching. I half expected somebody to get their arms cut off with a sword because of Tarantino’s presence, but nothing happens. Good music. Reviewed 2/13/06.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Aristocrats: Grade B


The Aristocrats

100 comedians.

A plethora of comedians take turns telling the world’s dirtiest joke which has the name of the documentary. The joke is really an ad lib story about a family stage act and the point is to make it as filthy, vulgar and obscene as possible, while preserving the comic’s own unique style of story telling. The joke is not funny at all, unless you are nine years old and find poop and fart jokes hilarious. But the comedians are funny, just because they are funny people. Includes Drew Carey, George Carlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Maher, Gilbert Gottfried, Howie Mandel, Bob Sagen, Sarah Silverman, Rita Rudner, the Smothers Brothers, Jon Stewart, and many others. With so many genuinely funny things to talk about, it’s a bit depressing that this joke is considered the pinnacle of inside the industry humor, but at least everyone knows the drill. Rated ‘R’ for Language. I can’t imagine what ‘X’ for Language could possibly be. Reviewed 2/12/06.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Corpse Bride: Grade A


Corpse Bride

Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Director=Tim Burton

This is frame-by-frame animation, where individual photographs of hand- made puppets are streamed to create the movie. It looks good, maybe a tiny bit better than digital computer animations such as Toy Story or The Incredibles, because puppets look more fully rounded than CGI characters, even though their range of action is more limited. So this proves that the old style of animation is still viable. But you have to ask, So what? From the viewer’s perspective, CGI would have worked as well.

This story centers on an arranged marriage in a 19th century English village.Lots of cartoony gothic castles with spider webs and bats. Victor, the young man, accidentally enters the underworld and meets a remarkably fleshy dead woman among all the dancing and singing skeletons in the land of the dead. But finally, he returns to the land of the living for his true love. One disappointment is that it starts out as a musical, or perhaps even an opera, but after the skeletons do their vaudeville routine, the movie seems to forget that it started as a musical. Too bad. Most of the characters and sets are clichés, (except the Peter Lorre maggot!) but the script is sparkling, the voices totally convincing, and the animation is a feast for the eyes. Reviewed 2/11/06.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Two For The Money: Grade D


Two For the Money

Al Pacino, Rene Russo, Matthew McConaughey

Wall Street + Boiler Room come to sports gambling. Pacino runs a sports gambling tip service, MM is his main prognosticator, and RR his gorgeous wife, still looking good. The movie requires that you accept what psychologists call “the gambler’s fallacy”: that past independent events predict future ones. It’s not true, as any intelligent person knows, but gamblers don’t know it, and either, apparently do any of these characters, or the director and writers. You also have to believe that there is, in fact, “inside information” that can be used in betting, when really it is all just talk radio chatter. Finally, you have to enjoy stereotyped, repetitive and clichéd football scenes with loud inane announcers. I am not a football fan nor a gambler, so maybe this was just not the right movie for me. Pacino and Russo give 100% acting, but they are fighting a mind-numbing, clichéd script. Reviewed 2/2/06.

Wedding Crashers: Grade C


Wedding Crashers

Own Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams, Christopher Walken, Jane Seymour, Henry Gibson, Will Ferrill.

A couple of mid-thirties divorce lawyers amuse themselves by crashing weddings to eat, drink, and find sex. Why this is later revealed as a "disgrace" is unclear. OW falls in love with RM, who is the rich daughter of a government cabinet minister (CW). VV attaches to her nymphomaniac sister. The story line roughly follows The Graduate (with JS doing the Mrs. Robinson thing), with a happy ending. The plot is clichéd and silly, but the jokes are just funny enough to sustain the 2 hr (!) run time. The humor is mostly adolescent farce, which quickly becomes tiring. Irony about weddings and the whole institution of marriage is a worthwhile theme but not well-examined here. CW is disappointingly not funny. Will Ferrill should have been edited out. He contributes nothing but must be too hot a star to overlook. Reviewed 2/2/06.