Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Red Road (2006)

Clyde (Tony Curran): Do you know what I wonder about you?
Jackie (Kate Dickie): What?
Clyde: How your cunt taste like.

At a glance: After a riveting first half, Red Road is diminished somewhat by its credibility-stretching finale, and can tax with its Glasgow accents, but first-time director Andrea Arnold deserves the awards she won for her work

A sad, lonely woman (Kate Dickie) zombies through her job as a CCTV operator. She voyeuristically scans a score of cameras each night and reports to police when a crime is about to – or has just been - committed. When one of her cameras focuses on an early release prisoner (Tony Curran) who, we learn, did some un-named bad thing to her or her family, she begins obsessing about him. She falters in her job, but it goes much further than that, as she infiltrates his life. What did this man do, and what is he doing now? What death haunts this women’s family, and why is she sleeping with an urn? Captivating, obscure, and shrouded in mystery, the story is almost indecipherable, partly because of the skilled direction, and partly because of the Glasgow accents. I enjoyed Jackie’s obsessive focus and Clyde’s creepiness. In a stroke of bad timing, I had just previous to watching this film spent some time transcribing the musings of a particularly mumbly grammar school teacher, so perhaps I was even less receptive to trying to decipher Glasgowian. My overall opinion of the film was not helped by my perception that the woman’s act of ‘revenge’ was not a believable one.

First time director Andrea Arnold should still be commended, however, for the first half of the film, which is riveting. Others agreed with this assessment; the film won the 2006 Jury Prize in Cannes.

Inspired by Danish director Lars von Trier, this is the first in a trilogy of films, each directed by a different new director, and starring the same cast. Rating: 2.5 of 4

"A brilliantly conceived thriller that keeps us guessing right up to the very end, Red Road intrigues but frustrates by its slow development and often incomprehensible Scottish dialogue."
- Urban Cinefile Critics (Urban Cinefile)

"Red Road is an atmospheric little thriller made up of equal parts paranoia, loneliness and anxiety."
- Liz Braun (Jam! Movies)

"A woman-directed film that aspires to compete on that predominantly male turf, not with an opposing and challenging female perspective, but by stepping up to the plate to make a sexually voyeuristic, sluttier than thou movie about women."
- Prairie Miller (WBAI Web Radio)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Happening (2008)

Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg): [to house plant] Hello. My name is Elliot Moore. I'm just going to talk in a very positive manner, giving off good vibes. We're just here to use the bathroom, and we're just going to leave. I hope that's okay.
[Elliot touches leaf]
Elliot Moore: Plastic. I'm talking to a plastic plant. I'm still doing it.

At a glance: M Night Shyamalan adds his usual offbeat and out-of-context moments of humor in a horror story that is as lightweight and inconsequential as the wispy wind that carries it

People are suddenly compelled en masse to commit suicide, creatively using whatever implements are currently at hand (a just used gun, a lawn mower, their own car). Elliot (Mark Wahlberg), Alma (Zooey Deschanel), and Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) are on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the evil wind that carries the airborne disease, which may be terrorist-created, or may have been launched by plants as a revenge for the way mankind has ravaged the earth. Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan is a little like the Woody Allen of horror and offbeat; his movies are always watchable because of their originality, but his recent efforts have been below par. The Happening is perhaps a notch above Lady in the Water - it has many nice moments of almost Hitchcockian style - but it lacks anything of real import happening on the screen, and stills forms a formidable trio of sub-par efforts that began with The Village. Here’s hoping Shyamalan can get inspired (and can continue to get financial backing) long enough to get back to the level of his first 3 efforts (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs). Rating: 2.25 of 4

"The M Night brilliance is there in quick jolts of suspense and terror, but those moments are the exception in this otherwise flat little thriller."
- Lori Hoffman (Atlantic City Weekly)

"Sadly for Mr. Shyamalan, the ideas that have been coming to him since his brilliant first hit The Sixth Sense are progressively worthy of less merit and more deserving of ridicule."
- Urban Cinefile Critics (Urban Cinefile)

"Usually Shyamalan can hide his limitations as a screenwriter behind his skill as a director. Here, that skill fails him as well, and the whole movie falls apart."
- Michael Dance (The Cinema Source)

"[A]n astonishment, so idiotic in conception and inept in execution that, after seeing it, one almost wonders whether it was real or imagined."
- Christopher Orr (New Republic)

Iron Man (2008)

Christine Everheart (Leslie Bibb): Have you ever lost an hour of sleep your whole life?
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr): I'd be prepared to lose a few with you.

Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges): How ironic, Tony! Trying to rid the world of weapons, you gave it its best one ever! And now, I'm going to kill you with it.

At a glance: Robert Downey Jr and an A-grade supporting cast raise this story about the superhero called Iron Man to a much higher level than most comic book movies

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), the world’s top weapons designer, is captured by terrorists while in the Middle East. He escapes by using his top-shelf design skills to build a special suit. When he returns to the US, his life-changing experience causes him to try to convert his weapons manufacturing company to do good for people instead – but his co-manager (Jeff Bridges) sees the suit as the ultimate weapon, and has a few other, more destructive ideas. Not just your typical comic book movie, Downey Jr adds a lot of charm and gray areas to his character, and with A-grade supports like Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow, Iron Man is great to watch, even for those who like good acting. One cringeworthy point: once again, the USA is painted as a ‘superhero’ who can go in and fix problems in the Middle East. Rating: 2.75 of 4

"Ironman is great fun, but it could've been better. And judging by interviews with director Jon Favreau the sequel sounds like it'll be a corker."
- Marc Fennell (Triple j)

"One of the strongest entries into the superhero movie canon of recent years. While featuring a few flaws, this is one of the most entertaining comic book adaptations…"
- Wesley Lovell (Oscar Guy)

"Visual sizzle, top actors and a witty script, yet it could have been so much better if only it didn't try to cobble together a pacifist warrior."
- Kyle Smith (KyleSmithOnline.com)

Get Smart (2008)

Siegfried (Terence Stamp): How do I know you're not Control?
Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell): If I were Control, you'd already be dead.
Siegfried: If you were Control, you'd already be dead.
Maxwell Smart: Neither of us is dead, so I am obviously not from Control.
Shtarker (Ken Davitian): That actually makes sense.

At a glance: Steve Carell steps into Don Adams shoes to play Maxwell Smart, the bumbling secret agent, in a movie that is lightweight, fun, but is somewhat lacking in big laughs

The television series Get Smart aired from 1965 to 1970, and centers around a bumbling secret agent named Maxwell Smart, and his efficient sidekick 99. Created by Mel Brooks (when Brooks was in his prime) and Buck Henry, it was ahead of its time in many ways, and it set the standard for the spy spoof genre for many years. It is my opinion that spy spoof/parody movies are not an easy genre to master, since spy movies in and of themselves tend to be bigger than life. Don Adams as the original Maxwell Smart did a great job; Steve Carell steps in here and does okay, carefully deciding not to emulate Adams, who often played the role like the standup comic that he was – mugging for the audience and playing hard for laughs. Anne Hathaway is an exciting 99. Carell and Hathaway are let down a little by a script that just does have enough laughs. For fans of the original show, there are plenty of homage moments (almost like somebody had made a checklist, and they made sure each box was checked), including a very clever way to work in the original car and shoe phone. Are those old jokes just as funny today as they were 40 years ago? The answer almost. The funky soundtrack helps a little, too. Rating: 2.5 of 4

"Stunts, gadgets and Bill Murray in a tree: Get Smart hurls everything at the screen in the hope it’ll stick. Shame all the money went on the dopey action finale instead of some halfway witty gags and a decent script."
- Total Film

"Overall this is a limp parade of recycled gags and gadgets: an action movie with no surprises and a comedy with nothing like enough laughs."
- Tom Huddlestone (Time Out)

Drillbit Taylor (2008)

Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson): I'm Drillbit Taylor... US Army ranger, black-ops operative, decorated marksman, improvised weapons expert.
Wade (Nate Hartley): Are you still in the military?
Drillbit Taylor: I was discharged - unauthorized heroism.

At a glance: Owen Wilson’s considerable on-screen charm is wasted – or overextended – in this poorly written, sometimes creepy story about a never-do-well who is hired to be a bodyguard for 3 nerdy high-schoolers.

Wade (Nate Hartley) and Ryan (Troy Gentile) are the quintessential nerds. When they start high school, the school bully Filkins (Alex Frost) makes their lives a living hell. Frustrated, the boys pool their meager funds to hire a bodyguard. And they get what they pay for: a homeless man named Drillbit (Owen Wilson) who claims to be an Army ranger, but in reality dropped out of the army as soon as he sensed confrontation and violence. Through a series of errors Drillbit ends of being a substitute teacher at the school, and he looks after the boys while romancing fellow teacher Barbara (Beth Littleford). Everything goes awry when the bully discovers that Drillbit is actually homeless. Everything also goes awry with the movie – and the writing – at this point. Suddenly, Drillbit is lieing to everyone, even the boys, as he tries to explain who he is. He tells so many stories, none of them funny, that we end up being confused about his past, rather than being sympathetic. Eventually, there is a slim, unbelievable redemption story hidden within a kind of sick revenge story, where a grown man is beating up schoolkids under the pretense of doing good. The movie ends after he credits with a strangely creepy scene where Drillbit, now working as the school nurse, whispered to a kid with a bloody nose to ‘just tell me who did this, and they’ll never do it again.’ Rating: 2 of 4

"...silly, sentimental, sometimes cruel, often clumsy, mostly unfunny, and frustratingly inane."
- John J. Puccio (DVDTown.com)

"Wilson proves again that he's a quick-witted comedic treasure—he's the sort of actor who gets hired to make mediocre movies almost good by his sheer force of comic will."
Peter Canavese (Groucho Reviews)