Monday, August 28, 2006

Where the Truth Lies: Grade C


Where the Truth Lies

Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth, Alison Lohman; Director Atom Egoyan

A reporter (AL) tries to find out who killed a young woman who was found in the hotel room of KB and CF, television stars, both of whom had alibis. She interviews the retired stars and the story is told in flashback to the 1970’s. However the flashbacks tell mainly about the sexual exploits of the KB character and offer no clues or story development about the mystery, which is virtually forgotten until the final scene when an arbitrary whodunit is revealed. So as a mystery movie, it is lame. As a character study, there is not much either. KB plays an arrogant womanizer, a stereotype. CF has a secondary role in the movie. Lots of women are shown prancing around naked and having sex, in prurient and gratuitous displays. The body doubles sometimes don’t even match within a scene. There is no point to the sexuality other than to show naked women. Acting is weak throughout, and the idea that KB and CF are entertainment stars is unconvincing, given the samples shown of their work. For a period piece, the interior sets are good, but the spirit of the times is not captured. Egoyan has been consistently disappointing for me, so I put him in the same category as Speilberg: vastly overrated.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Swindled: Grade C


Victoria Abril, Ernesto Alleria, Federico Luppi; Director Miguel Bardem.
Spanish (subtitled), Aka "Incautos"

A group of crooks sets up a real estate con with confederate “investors” so the real investor feels OK putting in his cash. The movie follows The Sting, Mission Impossible, Silver Bears, Heist, and other movies of this type, with the idea of hugely elaborate setups. But in the last half, there are so many twists and turns that the movie becomes about twists and turns rather than any story, and I lost interest. Not one false briefcase full of newspaper instead of money, but five. Not one false shootout, but multiple. Is that a real priest or a confederate? Why did the husband come back to life after having been poisoned, but then played no further role in the story? Why didn’t anyone open Gitano’s briefcase to see what was in it? Etc., etc. High dollar production values, good acting, but in the end, an unsatisfying story. It would have been better as a parody of con movies, but it takes itself seriously throughout.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ask the Dust: Grade D


Ask the Dust

Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Donald Sutherland; Director Robert Towne

Farrell and Hayek meet in 1930’s LA, he a struggling writer, she a waitress. They fight, argue, then predictably fall in love. Then she dies of TB. That’s it. There is utterly no plotline. The dialog is trite, scenes cliché, revealing racism. In depression-era LA? Shocking! No acting takes place (except Sutherland). The stars look good but there is no chemistry. Shouting is how emotion is expressed. Dreadful directing. The pace is mind-numbing. Dark, muddy, colorless photography. Poor period music. Costumes are too cute to be believed. The only saving graces are 1. Towne (who wrote Chinatown) has a good eye for period LA sets, and 2. You get to see both Colin and Salma stark bare naked. Is that enough to save this movie from utter failure? I’m feeling generous.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Pure: Grade B



Molly Parker, David Wenham, Harry Eden, Keira Knightley.
Dir=Gillies MacKinnon

A 10 yr old boy (DW) figures out that his mother (MP) is a junkie and what that means. She tries to kick it but can’t. Social services come to take the child into foster care. She finally gets methadone treatment and there is a quasi-happy ending. There isn’t much new here as far as the depiction of heroin addiction, or in the relationship between the boy and mother, but the outstanding acting, photography, and music raise this picture to above average. I think it's criminal to let or make young children be big screen actors, but I admit that David Wenham does an amazing job. Keira Knightley was a complete unknown then (2002) but puts out a dazzling performance. Molly Parker plays the junkie mom to perfection. The sugar-coated ending allows you to have hope, even though, intellectually, you know it doesn’t work that way.

Monday, August 14, 2006

V for Vendetta: Grade A


V for Vendetta

Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt

This allegorical political action-thriller is set in an Orwellian future when the fascist British government controls the behavior, thought and beliefs of the cowed population. “V”, a masked terrorist or freedom fighter (depending on which side you are on), is a mixture of Zorro, Batman, and the Phantom of the Opera. He kills government officials, blows up state buildings, and goes on TV to suggest that “We’re mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it any more.” Natalie Portman becomes radicalized after her head is shaven by interrogators in one of many scenes eerily evocative of the Nazi regime. She becomes sympathetic to V and the revolution. Detective Rea hunts them both, despite his conscience and obstruction by Hitlerian Chancellor Hurt.

The characters and story are derived from a comic book (or “graphic novel”), explaining the silly visual clichés. Perhaps to offset that two-dimensionality, when anything moves, whether a door opening or a hat being taken off, it is accompanied by ear-splitting, earth-shaking, irrelevant noise. Despite these contrivances, the movie carries a serious political message that is basically seditious if you look past the wild costumes and sets. It starts slowly, with stentorian speechifying and theatrical posturing, but once it gets going, the fine acting, excellent photography, and well-delivered message keep you hooked.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sorry, Haters: Grade A


Sorry, Haters

Robin Wright Penn, Abdellatif Kechiche, Sandra Oh. Writer, Director: Jeff Stanzler.

RWP is a phenomenal actor. Her performance is riveting in this psychological thriller. AK also does a superb job. Penn is psychologically distraught after a divorce she claims was caused by “home-wrecker” Oh. She meets AK, a cab driver from Syria with a single mom sister in need. Penn is a media person and decides to help the sister reconnect with her Syrian husband who has been sent to Gitmo after being “profiled” at an airport. Or maybe there’s more to it than that. The story is realistic, compelling, thought-provoking, and unpredictable. Great Mid-Eastern music in the opening.

The Confederate States of America: Grade B


The Confederate States of America

Kevin Willmott, writer and director

This satire of American history and social attitudes examines the idea: what if the South had won the Civil War? The movie is presented as a television show on American history since the “War of Northern Aggression”, complete with commercials, and using close up shots of expert historians giving sound bites, Ken Burns’ tinkling pianos over still photos, and actual archival historical footage.

The South won, slavery was imposed nationwide for economic and cultural reasons, Lincoln was exiled to “Red Canada.” The idea is fun, well-researched, and there are some ironically funny surprises, but it all becomes routine after 20 minutes. The commercials are the best part, for genuine American products like Darkie Toothpaste. Clearly a work from the heart, it has a genuine message about racism in America, but the movie takes the TV show joke too seriously, and that’s what keeps it from perfection. It needed more goofiness like the scene of Lincoln in blackface escaping to Canada with Harriet Tubman. It will be valuable in the college classroom.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Inside Man: Grade D


Inside Man

Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster. Director Spike Lee

With all that talent, how can a project go so wrong? It’s a traditional bank heist movie, and the photography, script and directing are as clichéd as you can imagine. Crooks disguised as painters, SWAT team and snipers surround the building, hostage negotiator DW plays cat and mouse by phone with bad guy CO. Seen it all before. The first half is like a really poor remake of Dog Day Afternoon. Then the story line takes a couple of implausible twists. Christopher Plummer is old, I admit, but there is no way he would have been head of a bank in 1940. Jodie Foster snaps her lines like a smart-alec, but does no real acting. The story is full of holes and the characters are unmotivated. There are a couple of creative moves by Spike Lee, one where DW walks or glides to his fate, and the interrogation room, which is done in a different kind of film stock or something to indicate flashforward. Why doesn’t he do the right thing with his creativity?