Sunday, July 30, 2006

Side-Effects: Grade B

B

Side Effects

Katherine Heigl. Director=Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau

KH plays a pharmaceutical salesperson, calling on doctors and trying to persuade them. She battles her way forward in the fast lane, hyping the drugs, ignoring dangerous side-effects. She burns out and decides to tell nothing but the truth about the drugs to the doctors. Her success consequently becomes phenomenal and she is the star sales rep. Finally she gets conscience and quits in a dramatic ending.

The film is an indie made on a shoestring, and that may be the reason why it does not quite hit on all cylinders. The acting is superb, the story line important, the script funny, and the photography competent. Music is several pop bands overlain (not my cup of tea, but quite adequate). The problem is that we don’t know why she burns out, or why the doctors start buying more when she tells the truth, or how her crisis of conscience comes about. There is just not enough detail there (not enough scenes). So it is more of a sketch of a movie than a finished movie. The directing is good except for one slip-up, a gratuitous nude scene, for which the director essentially apologizes in the DVD extras.

Billy Connolly Live in New York: Grade B

B

Billy Connolly: Live in New York

Billy Connolly

BC is a very well-known British comic who doesn’t really tell jokes, but relates autobiographical stories, in the style of Ellen DeGeneris, perhaps. His observations are acute, his humor self-effacing. He has a good sense of irony, and of course, the charming Scottish accent. I found the act to be light-hearted, not angry, and despite mandatory overuse of “fuck,” not vulgar. But it was also not very edgy, politically or socially, and consequently, not really sharp or memorable. Funny, but too tame for me.

Second Best: Grade B

B

Second Best

Joe Pantoliano, Jennifer Tilly. Writer, Director=Eric Webber

JP plays a failed NYC editor, now an unpublished author and unemployed “loser” living in New Jersey. He hangs out with his buds at Cheers-like taverns and plays terrible golf at a muni while writing sardonic flyers that he staples to telephone poles, about the life of the loser. JT is his loopy (and married, of course) girl friend, also a loser. We get access to the flyers when he reads them to his gang and in voice-overs. They are witty, angry, and depressed rants about mindless living, pretension, and bad luck. Then his successful friend visits from Hollywood and his jealousy goes into overdrive. The acting and writing are first class. The photography does some interesting things with orange filters. But I just didn’t buy the premise of a natural “loser” personality. The solutions to his woes are obvious. Since I never related to him as a real character, the movie was like a mildly amusing stand-up comedy act. Above average though, worth watching.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Matador: Grade B


B
The Matador

Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis. Dir=Richard Shepard

Brosnan gives an electrifying performance as a paunchy, grizzled, drunken, burned-out assassin having an existential crisis. This is not the monosyllabic James Bond, but a garrulous, vulgar, debauched character with enormous range of expression. It completely changes my opinion of Brosnan as an actor. Where has he been? One is tempted to credit director Shepard for drawing out such a stunning performance, but who knows what goes on in filmmaking.

PB meets businessman Kinnear in Mexico and they go to a bullfight together (implying that PB was once the “matador” of assassins) and form an unlikely and hilarious friendship. There is no overall story. A lot of themes and suggestions don’t go anywhere and some scenes don’t make any sense. There is no particular ending. It seems like either bad editing killed the story or good editing salvaged an incoherent mess. The result is worth looking at either way.

One Last Ride: Grade C


C
One Last Ride

Patrick Cupo, Chazz Palminteri, Charles Durning

Cupo plays a compulsive horse race gambler. The movie shows his self-delusion, predictable humiliations coverd by bravado bluster, spiraling loss of friends, family, job, marriage, and of course, money. Written by somebody who obviously knows compulsive gambling, it is completely convincing. However, this story has been told many times, and there is nothing new here. Chazz Palminteri plays a marvelous, patch-eyed, evil loan shark. The acting is competent throughout, but the dialog is repetitive and clich├ęd (no problem, I got it covered), and the characters are stereotypes. It plays more like a bland television drama than a theatrical movie.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Find Me Guilty: Grade A

A
Find Me Guilty
Vin Diesel, Ron Silver, Annabella Sciorria, Peter Dinklage
Director=Sidney Lumet

Vin Diesel can act. Who knew? This is a lightweight piece, with VD as a mafia gangster defending himself in court along with 20 other mobsters who have attorneys. He wisecracks his way to acquittal. Only the fact that it is a true story, using actual trial transcripts, makes it believable. The directing adheres to a realist theme, which kept me engaged throughout. VD's performance is funny but genuine, so the film is not a comedy. The cool jazz music is excellent, although unrelated to the movie. Mobsters don’t like jazz, do they? Just laying down a sound track is an improvement over the usual use of a score to inform us what we are supposed to feel. A rousing Louis Palma number is thrown in for the credits. Ron Silver does an outstanding job, as does Peter Dinklage. Annabella Sciorria leaps off the screen in her brief scene. She has incredible presence.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Nine Lives: Grade A

A

Nine Lives

Rodrigo Garcia, writer and director. With Glen Close, Dakota Fanning, Joe Mantegna, Aidan Quinn, Holly Hunter, Sissy Spacek, Robin Wright Penn, Elpidia Carrillo, and others.

This is a tour de force for Garcia. The nine short stories present vignettes of women’s lives in 10 to 15 minute slice of life mini-dramas. Each mini-movie is shot in one take – no editing, so the quality of the performances is edgy and alive, and the camera becomes a character in the scene. But the real star of this picture is the writing. Each of the stories is an existential gem. Women (and the people around them) confront death, love, confusion, aging, loneliness, memory and tragedy. Each story is poignant and intellectual at the same time. Not all are equally effective. The opener, in which Elpidia Carrillo plays an inmate in a women’s prison, is riveting and memorable. The second one is also commanding, then the third is a little flat. Glen Close’s scene with Dakota Fanning in a cemetery is extremely well acted, but doesn’t do anything. Others, such as the woman (Kathy Baker) in surgery prep for a mastectomy with her husband (Joe Mantegna) are absolutely gripping. The dialog on that one reminded me of Samuel Beckett. Stunning performances all around.

Imagining Argentina: Grade D

D
Imagining Argentina
Antonio Banderas, Emma Thompson

Banderas directs a children’s theater in Buenos Aires during the mid 1970’s during one of South America’s “dirty wars” in which thousands of ordinary people were “disappeared” by the dictatorial government. His wife is disappeared and he tries against hope to find her. The movie is a plodding docudrama of a dirty war, but then it takes a surprising and improbable twist and Banderas becomes psychic, able to locate or at least tell people the status of their missing loved ones. This was probably done to keep boredom at bay. It is an important political commentary, about events that few Americans know anything about, so for getting the message out, it gets high marks. But as a movie, it stinks. Banderas mutters inanities stone-faced while Emma Thompson acts circles around him. But since she is the one that gets disappeared, early in the movie, we don’t see much of her. There are no other redeeming qualities.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Jesus is Magic: Grade A

A

Jesus is Magic

Sarah Silverman

Stand-up comic Silverman does her act, intercut with video scenes of her doing comedic skit-songs she wrote. Her material is provocative, edgy, vulgar, and would even be racist if it weren’t so funny that it couldn’t possibly be taken seriously. There are childish and adolescent jokes about sex and body functions and some sharp and subtle social commentary, often about ethnicity, especially Jewishness. She appeared in The Aristocrats, and that performance is included on the DVD extras. She has obviously studied the greats: Lily Tomlin, Ellen DeGeneris, Rita Rudner, and the influences show, but she is an original. Her act may not be sustainable since it depends heavily on a sort of “Omigod!” valley-girl cuteness that won’t age with her. Her songs are retreads of tunes from Grease, although the lyrics are hilarious and her voice is quite adequate. Funniest material I’ve heard in a long time.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: Grade B

B

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan

RDJ is an apprentice detective to VK in Hollywood. I couldn’t make any sense out of the plot (it is apparently for a younger audience than me), but the important thing is that the movie has a high corpse count. The script is self-consciously clever, funny in its own right though not believable. The tone is noir, with a hard-boiled Sam Spade voiceover, but it is not a serious movie. Not a comedy either, despite the wise-cracking and sexual anxiety. More of a “romp.” Enjoyable but forgettable.