Thursday, May 29, 2008

Teeth (2007)

Dad; There’s dinner – if you want a bite.
Dawn: I ate.

Bizarre horror film manages to combine a straight-up teen coming of age story with an outrageious, gore-filled concept, and its heart is always in the right place (although its teeth definitely are not).

Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a teenage girl who makes rousing speeches for The Ring, a group dedicated to getting teens to abstain from pre-marital sex. Straight-laced and angelic, she is the opposite of her heavy-metal, tatooed step-brother Brad (John Hensley).  Despite her burgeoning relationship with Tobey (Hale Appleman) she refuses to give in to sexual fantasy – let alone sex. When she does – unwillingly – the result is…painful for her, but so much more so for him. Strange film feels almost like a standard teen angst story, interepersed with occasional moments of pure blood-spurting (and sometimes hilarious) gore; most scenes have the added backdrop of twin nuclear smokestacks. It’s what every girl needs – the ultimate defense mechanism. Rating: 3 of 4

"Star Jess Weixler, exerting the command and persona of a young Meryl Streep, grants enough earnest innocence that instead of fearing Dawn, you fear for her."
- Phil Villarreal  (Arizona Daily Star)

"Extremely funny, very clever and still packs some cover-your-face bloody thrills that top any Saw or Hostel movie."
- Peter Hartlaub (San Francisco Chronicle)

"B+ A smart and convincing film with a lot to say about the power of female sexuality and the cultural forces that try to stifle it."
- Shawn Levy (Oregonian)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

Hank (Ethan Hawke): Well, Bobby said that he needed to rent a car, but that he did, uh, this was Friday night, and he didn’t have a credit card, so I told him that I would rent him a car and – I owed him some money – that’s, that’s it, I swear – I’m so sorry.
Chris (Aleksa Palladino): So what – so, you’re lieing? If Bobby wanted a car, he would have fucking stolen one!

Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman): The thing about real estate accounting is that you can, you can, add down the page or across the page and everything works out. Everyday, everything adds up. The, the total is always the sum of its parts. It's, uh, clean. It's clear. Neat, absolute. But my life, it, uh, it doesn't add up. It, uh... Nothing connects to anything else. It's, uh... I'm not, I'm not the sum of my parts. All my parts don't add up to one... to one me, I guess.
Justin (Blaine Horton): Get a shrink or a wife.
Andy: Uh, I got a wife.
Justin: Get a shrink.

At a glance: Veteran director and legend Sydney Lumet returns at age 83 to direct this torrid, unappealing, but highly rated crime drama, where perhaps the world’s most dysfunctional family gets to smother the screen for 2 hours.

(SPOILER ALERT) Hank (Ethan Hawke) is a divorced dad with money issues. His brother Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hatches a plan to rob their parent’s jewelry store. Hank has never done this kind of thing before, so he enlists the help of Bobby (). Bobby has done this kind of thing before; he brings along a handgun and an attitude. When he sees Hank’s disguise, he says he will do the heist alone, just asking Hank to drive instead. We learn early that the robbery is a failure; later, we find out just how much of a failure it is on so many levels. Then, through trips back in time, we see why people did what they did. Hank seems like the one with problems, but although Andy looks like he’s got it all under control, it is he that is embezzling, using hard drugs, and trying to save his failed marriage to Gina (Marisa Tomei). The deliberate pacing may not appeal to all viewers, nor will the fact that there is not one character with any redeeming quality (other than perhaps how good Marisa Tomei looks when she is topless). This is my first exposure to Hoffman, although I have had Capote on my to-view list for some time. And I wish I had watched it before this, as I believe Hoffman’s acting may be somewhat of an acquired taste that may come off as overacting at first glance. On that subject, virtually everyone overacts and pulls faces, especially Hawke – this is not subtle direction for the most part. By the way, Hawke has matured less than gracefully and and is looking very Nick Nolte-ish. There are moments and styles that I liked about the film – for example, the way Justin (Blaine Horton), Andy’s waifish heroin injector, is always filmed from a distance, with his face turned at an angle to the camera, to emphasize his status as a non-entity. Generally, however, I found it too distasteful and overwrought. Note that this film has generally received excellent reviews, so I’m going against the norm by rating it so poorly. Rating: 2 of 4

"Marisa's bored and frustrated sexpot trophy wife is pretty much kept around in the movie just for occasional guy sexual satisfaction, in Sid Lumet's human cesspool of murky madness."
- Prairie Miller (NewsBlaze)

"Marked by hammy performances and outlandish revelations, Sidney Lumet's film can barely hold a candle to his greatest work."
- Wesley Lovell (Oscar Guy)

"Bleak, brutal and quite possibly brilliant, this is a triumphant return to form for Lumet and further proof that Hoffman is on an incredible winning streak."
- Helen OHara (Empire Magazine)

The Prestige (2006)

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman): I never thought I'd find an answer at the bottom of a pint glass.
Cutter (Michael Caine): Hasn't stopped you looking, has it?

Sarah Borden (Rebecca Hall): Alfred I can't live like this!
Alfred Borden Christian Bale): Well, what do you want from me?
Sarah: I want... I want you to be honest with me. No tricks, no lies, no secrets.
Sarah: Do you... do you love me?
Alfred Borden: Not today. No.

"You always were the better magician. We both know that. Whatever your secret was, you have to agree, mine is better."
- Robert Angier (to AlfredBorden)

Alfred Borden: Everything's going to be alright, because I love you very much.
Sarah Borden: Say it again.
Alfred Borden: I love you.
Sarah Borden: Not today.
Alfred Borden: What do you mean?
Sarah Borden: Well some days it's not true. Maybe today you're more in love with magic. I like being able to tell the difference, it makes the days it is true mean something.

Alfred Borden: I love you.
Sarah Borden: You mean it today.
Alfred Borden: Of course.
Sarah Borden: It just makes it so much harder when you don't.

Hanging Officer: Do you have anything to say?
Alfred Borden: Abracadabra.

At a glance: This period piece about feuding magicians is so much more than the sum of its parts. It has science, magic, surprises, and mysteries to be solved by those willing to watch closely. Director Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins) has once again created a captivatingly layered story.

In the 19th century, two friendly magicians (Robert Angier, played by Hugh Jackman; and Alfred Border, played by Christian Bale) become enemies when Borden may or may not have accidentally killed Angier’s wife by tieing her hands incorrectly while she was part of an underwater magic trick. Angier becomes obsessed at both besting Borden as a magician, and destroying his personal life. Like two pig-headed countries, the battle slowly escalates, with neither willing to put an end to hostilities, and both insisting on striking back in retaliation. The story is told in real time, and is narrated by Borden and Angier reading each other’s stolen diaries. There are movements back and foreward in time to tell the story most effectively. There is imagery, such as when (SPOILERS) Sarah Borden hangs herself amid the birds hanging in cages. Along the way, we get to follow a rich plot with a few surprises. We learn a few behind the scenes tricks of the magician’s trade. The story is captivating, but does require that the viewer suspend their disbelief a bit. It worked for me, having just recently read about the crazed genius of Nikola Tesla. The real-life Tesla/Edison rivalry is a fascinating obsessive story in itself. It is only touched upon here, but someone will film it someday. Good supporting work by Michael Caine – again, and some quirky casting with David Bowie as Tesla. One scene that for some reason didn’t work for me as well as I thought it would was the final scene between Borden and Angier (especially Jackman’s lines and delivery). Rating: 3.5 of 4

"An example of old-fashioned storytelling, the kind of magical movie that could have been made fifty years ago and, consequently, will still be watched fifty years from now."
- Brian Tallerico (UGO)

"It's quite a movie -- atmospheric, obsessive, almost satanic."
- Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times)

"Nolan balances Hollywood and indie sensibilities pulling off a film that is smart, complicated and carries a big look."
- Ryan Cracknell (Calgary Movies)

"Odd, but brilliantly so. It's a small film that feels big, a period drama that looks modern, defying comparison to anything but Nolan himself."
- Dan Jolin (Empire Magazine)