Friday, November 28, 2008

Sleuth (1972)

Movie quotes:
Inspector Doppler (Alec Cawthorne): Is there nothing you would not consider a game, sir? Duty; work; even marriage?
Andrew Wyke (Lawrence Olivier): Oh please, Inspector! Don’t include marriage. Sex! It's sex! Sex is the game - marriage the penalty.

At a glance:
Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine perform brilliantly in this sometimes stagey, occasionally over-the-top, and often incitefully clever battle of class, wit, humiliation, and murder

Our review:
Anthony Shaffer wrote the stage play and adapted it for the screen. Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine bring it to life. It’s a simple structure – for the most part, just two men in a house, having a battle of wits. One man (Caine) is sleeping with the other man’s wife, just to complicate matters. The other man wants some sort of revenge for this. But it goes much further than that. Olivier is brilliant, although the part he plays naturally calls for him to be hammy. Caine is, well, more than brilliant. His character is that of an up-and-coming hairdresser who owns two shops and has made the jump from poor Italian immigrant to someone who is a part of the British upper class, and he effortlessy slides back and forth between cockney and cultured. In fact, suffice it to say that the brilliance of Caine’s acting here will only be appreciated well into the film.  Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Joseph Mankiewicz directs this deft satire on the detective genre of literature that is both a metaphysical thriller and a psychological cliff-hanger."
- Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat (Spirituality and Practice)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Machinist (2004)

Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh): Are you okay?
Trevor (Christian Bale): Don't I look okay?
Stevie: If you were any thinner, you wouldn't exist.

Ivan (John Sharian): You shootin’ coke or somethin’? You look like a dope fiend to me. No offense.
Trevor: I don’t use drugs. Normally, I don’t even drink.
Ivan: How ‘bout abnormally?

At a glance: Christian Bale produces a terrifyingly haunted, must-see performance as an emaciated insomniac living in his own personal nightmare, in this dark, moody, and effective film by talented director Brad Anderson

Having recently seen and been wildly impressed with Brad Anderson’s Transsiberian, I was interested in viewing this, his earlier work. In this film, Christian Bale is Trevor Resnik, and emaciated, lonely machinist. To call him an insomniac would be slightly understating his condition. His isolation, lack of sleep, and perhaps his life history combine to place him in a endless purgatory of existence, one in which the only escape may be to disappear – or face the truth. Bale is as haunted by his portrayal as we are; he is also frighteningly skeletal. I’ve seen many an anorexic woman, but I haven’t seen a man’s body this skinny since I gazed at photos from World War Two concentration camps. Reportedly, Bale dropped 60 pounds, from 180 to 120, for the role. Bale’s build looked especially shocking since just a couple of days ago, I saw him all bulked up in The Dark Knight. Brad Anderson’s compact and picture-perfect direction turns a somber, brooding story into images of dark poetry. Rating: 3.5 of 4

"An absorbing and eerie study of paranoia and psychological torment."
- Chuck O'Leary (Fantastica Daily)

"Anderson's use of lighting, editing, sound design, and score hit just the right nerve endings, creating a film that keeps turning over in your mental gears for days afterward."
- Brian Mckay (

"[Bale's] is a great performance, full of commitment and sacrifice, and The Machinist is one of the year's best films."
- Roger Moore (Orlando Sentinel)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The House Bunny (2008)

Shelley (Anna Faris): They're kicking me out?
Marvin: Maybe it's because of your age.
Shelley: But I'm 27.
Marvin (Owen Benjamin): But that's 59 in Bunny Years.

"Shell – just a quick little sidenote – uh, I don’t think some of the girls in this house have even seen their own bodies naked, so they probably don’t want to see your perfectly engineered boobs."
- Natalie (Emma Stone)

[After the mute Lily suddenly delivers a long soliloquy]
Natalie: Lily, you talked!
Carrie Mae (Dana Goodman): And you’re British?

At a glance: The story of a rejected Playboy bunny who becomes the House Mother for a misfit college sorority doesn’t have much going for it in either the plot or comedy area, but it somehow manages to be light and charmingly inept, and will be a pleasure to watch for any man who enjoys women dressed as hookers

Shelley (Anna Faris) is an orphan girl grows up into a beautiful woman and is ‘adopted’ into the Playboy mansion, where she becomes the ‘House Bunny’, the social organizer in a world of glitz, glamor, and parties. But all that ends abruptly when she is kicked out for being too old. Her next gig is as the house mother of a failed college sorority, when the 7 female members are tops as campus misfits and the target of jokes. Shelley’s new job is to make these girls appealing and save the doomed sorority. Lighter than a feather, the film occasionally shows no respect for the intelligence of the audience (it is no surprise that Adam Sandler’s name pops up on the production side), but on the positive side, it gives a talented cast of female comic actresses a chance to shine, and, or course, there are the multitude of women in bikinis and ‘lady of the evening’ attire. Faris’ performance varies from clumsy to brilliant; in a better director’s hands, she may very well shine in another film (but not this one). Hugh Hefner gets a C+ for his acting, as he proves that he’s much better at assembling a houseful of overendowed blondes than he is at delivering lines on camera. By the way, if Oliver’s face looks familiar, that could be because he is played by Colin Hanks (son of Tom). Rating: 2 of 4

"It's computer-written stuff, stiffly directed by first-timer Fred Wolf, but it's light and fun and sports a decent quota of passable gags."
- Jim Schembri (The Age [Australia])

"Depressingly for a film written by two women, it's relentlessly sexist in its insistence that, in order to attract men, women must appear brainless and dress like a hooker."
- Christopher Tookey (Daily Mail [UK])

"It is not a classic and it’s not going to win any awards but it is great, simple, stupid fun - it does exactly what it says on the tin."
- Heart 106.2

"There's a sublimely goofy tone to this profoundly inept film that keeps us smiling from start to finish."
- Rich Cline (Shadows on the Wall)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Dark Knight (2008)

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale): [after running into Harvey and Rachel at a restaurant] So, let's put a couple tables together.
Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart): I'm not sure they'll let us.
Bruce Wayne: Oh, they should. I own the place.

Bruce Wayne: I need a new suit.
Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman): Yeah, three buttons is a little '90's, Mr. Wayne.
Bruce Wayne: I'm not talking fashion, Mr. Fox, so much as function.
[hands him a diagram]
Lucius Fox: You want to be able to turn your head.
Bruce Wayne: Sure would make backing out of the driveway easier.

"Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight."
- Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) [last lines]

At a glance: An A-grade cast, an epic story, and a very dark and evil villain (played to perfection by Heath Ledger) mark this long, intense, violent, and wildly successful  Batman film – the second time Christian Bale has donned the cape.

Batman is pitted against a brutally evil foe: the Joker. Christian Bale is back at Batman and Christopher Nolan is back to direct; for both, it is there second outing (Batman Begins was the first). This is an amazing action film with an amazing cast: read the first seven names, for example: (Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman…and then further down to Cillian Murphy. This was, of course, Heath Ledger’s final performance before his untimely death. Ledger’s amazingly evil, thoroughly psychotic, and naturally quirky Joker provides a more than ample adversary for Bruce Wayne / Batman. It’s somewhat sad to think that Ledger’s very fate may have been shaped by his tendency to allow his roles to bleed into his real life (reportedly, he spent six weeks alone in his apartment studying and honing his performance – so sad to have lost an actor with his talent and dedication). Christian Bale brings a suave nonchalance to the role and could easily make James Bond green with envy. It’s established early on that this Joker is not a flamboyant jokester: he’s a sick, cold-blooded killer with some serious psychological problems. This is a darker, more violent Batman film, and this is not cartoon violence – people get shot in cold blood and don’t get up again (although it must be noted that almost all the violence happens off-screen). Rating: 3 of 4

"Can one great character carry an entire movie? ....the answer is obviously yes. Ledger does it."
- John J. Puccio (

"An amazing piece of filmmaking that rockets the Batman legacy to heights never imagined, fueled by Heath Ledger’s amazing re-invention of The Joker."
- Pete Hammond (

"The movie is two-and-a-half hours of almost non-stop action, which while often enthralling, eventually gets tiring. It's just go-go-go."
- Brie Beazley (

"Nolan gives in a bit to bloated-sequel syndrome ... but this is still one of the most riveting, trilling and wrenching movies of the year."
- Rich Cline (Shadows on the Wall)

"You will exit the cinema with an enhanced respect for Nolan's intelligence, for Wally Pfister's pin-sharp cinematography, and, sadly, for an acting talent tragically curtailed."
- Anthony Quinn (Independent)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pineapple Express (2008)

"It makes everything better! It makes food taste better; it makes music better; it makes sex feel better, for god’s sakes! It makes shitty movies better!"
- Dale Denton (Seth Rogen)

Saul (John Franco): Just sit back and get ready to enjoy some of the rarest weed known to mankind.
[he lights a joint and inhales]
Dale Denton: It's really that rare?
Saul: [exhales] It's, like, the rarest.
[he examines the joint]
Saul: It's almost a shame to smoke it. It's like killing a unicorn... with, like, a bomb.

At a glance: Judd Apatow’s normally reliable comedy hand wavers with this occasionally funny but mostly loud, violent, and annoying story of two potheads on the run

Two potheads are plunged into peril when one of them witnesses a drug-related gang murder. It’s rare for me to find a comedy that I want to fast-forward through. Usually, I don’t mind if there are unfunny stretches, as long I get a few good laughs from time to time. Pineapple Express delivers zero big laughs, and lots of dead stretches, making it unbearable. Occasionally, it is mildly funny (especially early on, when it nails the drug dealer / drug buyer relationship perfectly), and in its rare quieter moments, I could appreciate the chemistry between Seth Rogen, John Franco, and Danny R. McBride. But often it is  excruciatingly loud, unfunny, annoying, and ultimately violent – with lots of scenes where Dale and Saul yell in yet another one of their hysterical paranoid weed-induced frenzies. I would have appreciated less mindless noise and dribble, and more Amber Heard. This is a baby that Judd Apatow should have sent back to be rewritten, re-shot, or just rolled and burned. Rating: 1 of 4

"The theoretically fail-safe team of the writer/actor Seth Rogen and co-writer/ producer Judd Apatow – the Knocked Up duo – deliver a funnybone- clobbering spree with more energy than wit."
- Nigel Andrews (Financial Times)

"The first half-hour floats by on a cloud of mildly funny lines ("couscous – the food so nice they named it twice"), but then slumps into a derivative action caper that's weirdly and unappealingly reminiscent of Eighties dross like Beverly Hills Cop."
- Anthony Quinn (Independent Reviewer)

"Though there are funny one-liners early on, the script becomes increasingly lazy, while the violence which takes over the second half feels as if it belongs to a different picture."
- Christopher Tookey (Daily Mail [UK])

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Man on Wire (2008)

"If I die, what a beautiful death!"
- Philippe Petit

At a glance: James Marsh directs this compelling documentary about Philippe Petit, who, in 1974, walked a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center; Petit is mesmerizing, and the ups and down of his sometimes motley crew adds to the suspense

If you heard that a man desired to walk a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, you might think he is a psychotic with a death wish. Philippe Petit might be psychotic, but he developed his skill so completely that he was the only man capable of safely walking between the towers. And that’s just what he did in 1974, for an amazing 45 minutes and 8 crossings. This documentary about Petit is not only the study of a dedicated performer with a burning passion for his art, it also serves as a nice homage to the now-deceased World Trade Center. Copious footage of a young Petit and his crew are melded to good effect with current interviews. It perhaps bogs down just a little during the relatively long sequence dealing with setting up the required  equipment. Rating: 2.75 of 4

"James Marsh's documentary is the story of the dreaming and scheming that went into the walk, which I hesitate to call a stunt. It seems too glib a word for a feat that inspired the poignant complex of emotions uncovered by Marsh's narrative."
- Sandra Hall (Sydney Morning Herald)

"Marsh uses a combination of interviews, film of Petit as a young man, authentic newsreels and enacted reconstructions to produce an unforgettable experience."
- Evan Williams (The Australian)

"The simplicity of Philippe's vision is intoxicating, as is his self-assurance."
- FILMINK (Australia)

"It's a hell of a story, and Petit is a mesmerising storyteller, with an extravagantly poetic turn of phrase and the glittering eye of the Ancient Mariner."
- Jake Wilson (The Age [Australia])

"It's a story worth telling, yes -- but after 90 minutes, it's hard not to wonder if the storyteller can talk about anything else."
- Noel Murray (Onion AV Club)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf): You’re - a teacher?
Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford): Part-time.

Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen): I'm sure I wasn't the only one to go on with my life. There must have been plenty of women for you over the years.
Indiana Jones: There were a few. But they all had the same problem.
Marion Ravenwood: Yeah, what's that?
Indiana Jones: They weren't you, honey.

At a glance: Despite his age, Harrison Ford stills seems naturally suited to playing Indiana Jones in this invigorating remake/homage that benefits from an ambitious, clever script and Steven Spielberg’s loving direction

Harrison Ford returns after a 19 year hiatus as an older, but still spritely Indiana Jones. This time, he is involved in a Russian plot to steal a crystal skull that may have special powers. The story takes place in 1957’s climate of communist hysteria that affects Jones too; despite his record as a hero, he is suspected of being a sympathizer. His adventure begins in a military warehouse that made an appearance in the first film (and there is a quick homage to that) and ends with Mayan ruins and spinning saucers. In between, Indy fights, wisecracks, and jumps from moving vehicles just like the old days. Of course, Indy needs an obligatory wise-cracking slacker teen-age sidekick (Shia LeBeouf) to appeal to the younger movie-going demographic. Other talented supporting cast members Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, and John Hurt help to lift this beyond the typical action film, as does the obvious huge budget. But it’s Ford, seeming so much at home in this role, who makes it worthwhile. Quite frankly, it is by far the best work that Ford has done in a long time (his latter-day efforts and films have often been disappointing). Ford got himself into excellent physical shape so that he could do many of his own stunts.

Steven Spielberg again demonstrates his talent as an action director; the long action sequences (except for the last one, which, for some reason, is too ambitious to work) are as good or better than the best of the other Indy films. Perhaps because the action sequences are so good, the talky scenes in between often seem a little boring, especially some of the early ones. Rating: 3 of 4

"Fun, entertaining, genuinely amusing, and made with an abundance of what appears to be honest-to-god warmth, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is a worthy addition to one of the great movie franchises."
- Erin Free (FILMINK [Australia])

"In spite of an over reliance on CG, and one too many obvious moments of George Lucas-involved tomfoolery, this is a great piece of studio-produced escapist entertainment."
- Garth Franklin (Dark Horizons)

"At its best, sublime. Overall, the great moments make up for the mediocre."
- Michael Adams (Empire Magazine Australasia)

"While we can never go home again completely, 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' reminds us of why we fell in love with Indiana Jones in the first place."
- Lori Hoffman (Atlantic City Weekly)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

"When an individual acquires great power, the use or misuse of that power is everything. Will it be used for the greater good? Or will it be used for personal or for destructive ends? Now this is a question we must all ask ourselves. Why? Because we are mutants."
- Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart)

At a glance: The third X-Men movie has many moments of high drama and action, but they come at the expense of violating the X-Men canon; and, once again, some viewers may find it difficult to feel empathy toward our heroes. But it’s still a lot of fun to watch

When a ‘cure’ is discovered that can make mutants normal, it becomes a rallying point for Magneto to amass an army. Among others, he enlists Jean, whose violent personality (known as Phoenix) has been unleashed, resulting in the deaths of some of our familiar gang of mutants. I have the feeling that this movie branched away from the established canon of the comic to make it a better film. It worked for me, because I am not familiar with X-Men canon, but I am familiar with canon in Star Trek and how some fans writhe in pain when it is not adhered to according to their standards. It must have been terrifyingly disgusting for those that are and that care about such things in the X-Men universe.

I’ve never been able to fully connect emotionally with X-Men. I’m not sure why that is. All the elements are there – drama, action, a name cast performing and directed well – although Brett Ratner is inferior to Brian Singer. But somehow, I can’t make myself care about the characters as much as I’d like. Nonetheless the powerful ending sequence did finally grab my emotions just a little.

By the way, here’s another Star Trek-related comment: when Xavier visits Jean early on in the movie, Patrick Stewart is made to look younger  – perhaps around 30 - using digital technology, and it works. So if anyone has any doubt of his ability to keep doing Star trek movies…he looks like he could keep going for 20 more years. Too bad this isn’t going to happen – I love listening to his delivery. As I’ve said many times before, he can even make bad scripts sound like Shakespeare. Rating: 2.5 of 4

"Whilst those involved didn't save the best for last, they have delivered a film worthy of the title and an entertaining little vehicle to boot."
- Garth Franklin (Dark Horizons)

"It has no passion, no connection to where we are now, and in a series whose stories have heretofore spoken dark truths about American intolerance, that matters."
- Rob Gonsalves (

Friday, November 7, 2008

Burn After Reading (2008)

Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand): Does he look like he would have a sense of humor?
Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt): Looks like his optometrist has a sense of humor.

"PC or Mac?"
- Russian diplomat, asking an important question about a CD containing state secrets.

At a glance: The Coen Brothers comedy of intersecting lives in Washington is polished and very well-acted, but is surprisingly meaningless, almost devoid of humor, and is populated by unappealing, stupid characters.

A state department consultant (John Malkovich) gets demoted and quits his job in anger, setting off a series of revealed affairs, divorces, espionage, and other calamities. It’s really a simple, highly meaningless plot of mistaken identity, populated with unappealing and/or stupid characters, but a combination of the Coen polished direction and a truly stellar cast make it worth watching. For me, the Coens recently have walked a fine line: they often create eccentric characters; sometimes, they still respect these characters and make them likeable (Intolerable Cruelty) but other times, they insult their characters, making them so torturously stupid as to be unappealing (O Brother Where Art Thou). This is definitely a case of the latter. And, for a comedy, I laughed hardly at all (mostly at the end, as the patter between the two CIA agents about how meaningless the story was finally got to me). This movie had a slight latter-day-Woody-Allen feel to it: professional, polished, filled with A-grade stars dieing to work with talented writer/directors with a huge reputation, yet somehow still lacking in purpose. And of course, like their previous effort (No Country For Old Men), it has a couple of moments of shocking violence that this time are supposed to be funny, but aren’t.

Movie connections: When Chad (Brad Pitt) meets with Osborne Cox, he uses the code name ‘Mr Black’. Coincidentally, Pitt starred in a movie called ‘Meet Joe Black’. Rating: 2.25 of 4

"Big stars act like darn fools in this broad black comedy, a lesser effort from the Coen Brothers."
- Kevin Lally (Film Journal International)

"Burn After Reading is a disposable lark, and it's treated by the filmmakers as such; Forget After Seeing would be a far more honest title."
- David Fear (Time Out Sydney)

"Even black comedy requires that the filmmakers love someone, and the mock cruelties in Burn After Reading come off as a case of terminal misanthropy."
- David Denby (New Yorker)

"Burn After Reading is untranscendent, a little tired, the first Coen brothers picture on autopilot. In the words of the CIA superior, it’s 'no biggie.'"
- David Edelstein (New York Magazine)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Square (2008)

"We have to take it, Ray. We have to take it."
- Carla (Claire van der Boom)

At a glance: Fine acting and a clever script lift this Australian thriller about an affair and a heist that go horribly wrong.

Ray (David Roberts) is a middle-aged married man having a secret affair with the younger, married Carla (Claire van der Boom). When Carla pressures Ray to follow through on his promises to leave his wife and run away with her, he agrees to steal a bag of cash from her dodgy husband. Trouble ensues, and it’s great to watch how far Ray will go – first, to bring passion to what he must feel is his stagnated life, and second, to try to cover up his sins. This thriller has all the normal plot points of the genre, but, as they say, the devil is in the details, and the Australian actors and setting, along with some clever ways of interweaving the plot (such as Santa having to leave the picnic to fight a fire) make it more than worth watching. Talented director Nash Edgerton elicits powerful, modulated performances from the cast. It misses being a classic only because of an ending that is perhaps not as imaginative as it could have been.Rating: 2.75 of 4

"Though it falls ever so short of being tagged as great, this accomplished and genuinely gripping crime drama is worthy of your time, money and attention."
- Leigh Paatsch (Herald Sun [Australia])

"It’s filled with tasty elements, intriguing characters and a strong sense of place."
- David Stratton (At the Movies [Australia])

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tropic Thunder (2008)

"Man, I don't drop character 'till I done the DVD commentary."
- Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr)

At a glance: Ben Stiller’s over-the-top action/comedy about the making of a war movie is high on volume but low on laughs

A bunch of actors with varying degrees of talent and drug addictions are plunged into the middle of a drug cartel in Asia when their performances in a war movie are not deemed up to scratch. Ben Stiller directs and stars as the semi-talented action hero Tugg Speedman in this ‘comedy’ that is low on laughs and high on loud and gross-out raunchy humor. It works much better as an action movie than a comedy; by those standards, action movies buffs will probably love it. Robert Downey’s performance as a white Australian playing a black man (in full makeup) is both brilliant and offensive; I got a real hoot out of his brief lines delivered in a pretty solid Australian accent. The ‘Scorcher’ trailer that precedes the movie was the funniest moment for me everything went downhill after that. One note: the film is at least partially redeemed by the casting of a big star in a role (and makeup) that makes him basically unrecognizable (I refuse to give any more away and risk that someone reading this will miss out on the surprise). Rating: 2 of 4

"Nothing but mild vulgarity mixed with explosions and entitlement, a piss-take on Hollywood excess that doubles as an example of it."
- Time Out Sydney

"This comedy about movie-making that allows the cast to play knowingly with their careers and public personae. But the film feels only half as funny as it should be, falling back too often on big action sequences that are too ridiculous to work on any level."
- Rich Cline (Shadows on the Wall)

"Stiller can do battles and pyrotechnics, no worries there, Tropic Thunder has more explosions than Krakatoa, yet he can't make 'em laugh - not consistently and not for near on two ponderous hours."
- Chris Laverty (Mansized)