Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hamlet 2 (2008)

Movie quotes:
"Chuy, you're going to have a magical life. Because no matter where you go, it's always going to be better than Tucson."
- Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan)

At a glance:
The laughs are almost non-existent, but the final staged play is entertaining, as the usually very funny Steve Coogan overextends himself in a starring role as a high school drama teacher

Our review:
A struggling high school drama teacher (Steve Coogan) is told that budget cuts mean that his beloved drama department will close – forever – at the end of the semester. His only chance is to produce a play that will change people’s minds. He hand-picks and writes a sequel to Hamlet (aptly titled Hamlet 2) and uses a motley crew of students to play the parts. Coogan milks every soliloquy, dragging out his comic speeches without actually saying or doing anything amusing (unless, perhaps, you are one of his dedicated fans). It’s a shame, really, because Coogan is usually very funny in smaller roles, but here, the writing, and perhaps his ability to convey a range of emotions with sincerity, lets him down. The film is almost devoid of laughs, and yet, because it just doesn’t seem to care about that, it remains captivating and impossible to look away. The play itself is very entertaining, with production values well outside the scope of most struggling high school drama departments. Rating: 2 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Coogan is a master at playing jerks, but Dana is too silly, too stupid, and too unappealing to enlist us on his side."
- Andy Klein (Los Angeles CityBeat)

"Oddly, what's supposed to be a great comedy about a bad play is in fact a bad comedy about a play that looks pretty frigging amazing."
- Amy Nicholson (I.E. Weekly)

"Witless spoof on Hamlet that is more irritating than funny."
- Dennis Schwartz (Ozus' World Movie Reviews)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Movie quotes:Doris (Maureen O’Hara): Would you please tell her that you're not really Santa Claus, that there actually is no such person?
Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn): Well, I hate to disagree with you, but not only IS there such a person, but here I am to prove it.

At a glance:The original Miracle on 34th Street may be occasionally talky and slow-moving by today’s standards, but it still remains one of the all-time great family Christmas fantasy films

Our review:
It’s Christmas eve, 2008. What better time to re-watch and write my review of Miracle on 34th Street, one of the classic Christmas and family movies? We’re talking about the original Miracle; it was remade in 1994 into what is considered to be a very inferior version. I haven’t seen that one yet, but of course I am curious to find out if it is bad and why.

But back to the original: The story focuses on a man who believes himself to be Kris Kringle, the real Santa Claus. Played wonderfully by Edmund Gwenn, he lives in a nursing home, and through circumstances ends up playing Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Soon after, he is hired to play Santa and see kids in the store as well. Putting kids first, he gets his bosses angry when he rejects his job instructions and starts telling people to go elsewhere when Macy’s does not have exactly what the child wants. But this helpful attitude is such a successful public relations strategy that it makes Macy’s immensely popular, and soon, against all odds, major competitor Gimbels follows suit. Problems occur when Kringle gets on the wrong side of company psychologist Sawyer (Porter Hall). When Kris’s battle to convince skeptical boss Doris (Maureen O’Hara) and her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) fails, he purposely flunks a psychological test and is committed. His friend Fred (John Payne), who is also a suitor for Doris, convinces Kris to fight the charge, and a court battle ensues, with Fred attempting to prove that Kris is the one and only Santa.

You can see why any remake would fail when you think about the implausibility of that plot. But the movie is carried by the incredible performance of Gwenn. He plays Santa like he is the real thing, and the truth is, whether he is Santa or not, he proves beyond a doubt that the concept of Santa is real. Good supporting work by Natalie Wood also helps – she’s  a joy to watch. Her face looks like a little bonsai version of her grown-up one. The film also remains relevant in its look at how commercialism often interferes with values.

Overall, there are talky sequences and plot problems (Doris’s transformation takes place in the blink of an eye) but this is still one of the best family fantasy movies of all time. Note that this film will probably bore kids under 6, and will also be too slow for older kids (and any adult who lacks nostalgia for this era in movie-making). Rating: 3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:"You want the spirit of Christmas? It's all right here."
- Christopher Null (

"One of a half dozen Christmas movie classics."
- Steve Crum (Kansas City Kansan)

"Christmas wouldn't be complete without it."
- Kevin Carr (7M Pictures)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Seraphim Falls (2006)

Movie quotes:
Hayes (Michael Wincott): Reckon we ought to camp somewheres else?
Carver (Liam Neeson): Afraid the word of God will spoil your digestion?
Hayes: I never was much for scripture.
Carver: Nothing to fear, Mr. Hayes. Them's just words. Ain't no God out here.

At a glance:
There’s the nucleus of a good man vs man western and some beautiful location filming in Seraphim Falls, but it is ruined by Pierce Brosnan’s overacting, and by a script that veers from reality to fantasy

Our review:
Gideon (Pierce Brosnan) did something really nasty to  Carver (Liam Neeson). I know this, because Carver has hired 4 helpers to track down and kill Gideon somewhere in the snow-covered mountains. Suffice to say, Gideon did a very bad thing, but the film tries to make out like Gideon just kind of didn’t think it through – just a mistake, really. That’s just one of the fuzzy plot points in the uneven Seraphim Falls.

The movie opens as Gideon gets shot, jumps into an icy stream, survives a drop over a 40 foot waterfall, removes the bullet from his arm with his knife, heats the knife and cauterizes the wound, then keeps on running from his attackers. Somehow, he survives all this, mainly by moaning and groaning non-stop. When he is taken in by a ranching family, he changes to mumbling and breathing his lines in a kind of Grizzly Adams slash Godfather style. And yet, even though Brosnan’s acting is lacking, it’s still true that when the story moves away from him as the pursued mystery man, things get a little boring.

The second problem is that the movie can’t decide if it a realistic survivalist documentary (there are plenty of scenes of Gideon lighting fires, setting traps, whittling saplings, etc.) or a mythical story. Toward the end, the mood changes, and the film suddenly becomes dreamlike and all symbolic, populated with supporting characters (Angelica Huston and Wes Studi) that spout prosaic advice. The beautiful mountain and desert locations can’t compensate for the all-over-the-place script.

By the way, the brilliant stunt of falling over the waterfall won Mark Vanselow and Craig Hosking a Best Specialty Stunt - Taurus award. The performer was cabled to a helicopter; the cable was slackened to allow a free fall into the falls, and a bungee was used for retrieval. No CGI was used for the stunt. Rating: 2 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"An unremarkable revenge/chase western, bolstered by its name cast, matter-of-fact violence and Toll’s pristine photography. Eventually a little pretentious – with Anjelica Huston’s cameo the nadir – but if you love oaters, it’s just worth the time."
- Nev Pierce (Total Film)

"An unconvincing attempt at an old-fashioned western, Seraphim Falls works best as a chase thriller but falls apart when it tries to harness the mythic power of the American frontier."
- Jamie Russell (Channel 4 Film)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008)

Movie quotes:
Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor): [talking about Krauss] I like the way he takes charge.
Liz Sherman (Selma Blair): You think?
Tom Manning: He's efficient, and precise.
Liz Sherman: Add resistant to that and you got yourself a new watch.

Abe Sapien (Doug Jones): Precisely. All these things do is eat and eat, than poop. Than eat again.
Liz Sherman: [sarcastic] Remind you of anyone?

Hellboy (Ron Perlman): Eh, Mr. Kraut, sir?
Johann Krauss (John Alexander / Seth MacFarlane): Krauss, agent. There's a double s.
Hellboy: SS. Right, right.

[Hellboy and Abe look at Liz, sleeping]
Hellboy: [drunk] Look at her, Abe. She's my... she's my whole, wide w... I would... I would give my life for her. But she also expects me to do the dishes!
Abe Sapien: [also drunk] I would die and do the dishes!

Johann Krauss: Your temper, it makes you sloppy. Try to control it, Agent Hellboy. Before it controls you. [walks away singing in German]
Hellboy: Glasshole.

At a glance:
Guillermo del Toro’s sequel to Hellboy (2004) is even better, with stunningly original character design, ambitious action sequences, and multiple story threads and supporting work, all anchored by another solid performance by Ron Perlman

Our review:
In this sequel to 2004’s Hellboy, Ron Perlman is back as the horn-shaving freak who battles against the darker forces of nature. Here, he is pitted against the passions of Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), whose goal is to crush humans for their violations of treaties against the mythical world. To do this, Nuada needs three pieces of a crown to be joined so that he can awaken and command an invincible Golden Army of mechanized, self-healing killer machines. Hellboy teams with love interest Liz (Selma Blair), Abe (Doug Jones) and new team leader Johann Krauss (John Alexander / Seth MacFarlane). Their paths cross with an endless array of dream/nightmare creatures, all imaginatively realized. Not since The Fifth Element have I seen such incredibly original character design – and this far surpasses that effort (Mike Elizalde gets the screen credit for this). Amid scenes of epic battles and one-on-one combat, there are also moments of hilarity and touching emotion. My favorite scene might be the fight between Hellboy and Krauss, featuring a series of slamming locker doors, but I also enjoyed the side story of the love affair between Abe and Princess Nuala (Anna Walton). Only Guillermo del Toro is capable of making an action/horror/comic book movie into a love story of exquisite beauty. Co-written by del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, and with music by Danny Elfman, this is just about as good as it gets in the genre of graphic novels realized for the screen. I’m ready for the sequel if one is forthcoming! Rating: 3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Some the magical images conjured here are absolutely unforgettable."
- Leigh Paatsch (Herald Sun [Australia])

"Prepare for some devil worship. Hellboy is the hottest, strangest and most fun comic book hero around."
- Sun Online

"At times the creaky dialogue can be cliched, but it can’t change the fact that Hellboy II is a hoot, aided considerably by star Ron Perlman’s wisecracks and laconic surliness, and Del Toro’s imaginative storytelling and intricate Faberge-egg visuals."
- Jarrod Walker (FILMINK [Australia])

"Playful, offbeat and with a decidedly droll sense of humor, Hellboy II’s a richly rewarding superhero film with moments of gleeful comedy that films like Get Smart can but dream of."
- David Edwards (Daily Mirror [UK])

Monday, December 15, 2008

Session 9 (2001)

Movie quotes:
Doctor (Lonnie Farmer): And where do you live, Simon?
Mary Hobbes (Jurian Hughes): I live in the weak and the wounded... Doc.

Henry (Josh Lucas): [motioning to Jeff's blaring stereo] Mikey didn't tell you about these?
Jeff (Brendan Sexton III): What?
Henry: Rule one: Music creates sonic vibrations. Vibrations jiggle spooj dust into the air. It gets into the air, it gets into your lungs. This music you plannin' on listening to?
Jeff: Yeah...
Henry: Yeah, you tryin' to kill us all? Either turn it off or put on something else. Like Yanni, or John Tesh or something.
Jeff: Who's Yanni?

At a glance:
Things start going wrong when an asbestos removal crew, led by an overstressed boss, is tasked with cleaning up the rotting interior of a creepy derelict mental hospital

Our review:
An asbestos removal crew takes on a rush job to clean up the spooky abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital, and finds themselves driven mad by the ghosts of the horror that happened there. Cruises along, all portentious for much of its running time, before exploding into something that is truly horrible (at least, on a psychological level, as little actual gore is shown). This is my second Brad Anderson film (he directed, and co-wrote with Steven Gevedon, who plays Mike) and he seems to like to hold back on the gruesome stuff until right near the end – hope I’m not giving too much away. Some good red herrings will keep you guessing about who the baddy or baddies really are. Every dollar is used effectively in this low-budget, no-star horror film starting with the selection of Danvers Hospital for filming. In the end, it’s a small, good movie that is far from great, but it serves to show the potential of the director (realized in Transsiberian (2008)). Rating: 2.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Playing to a classier tune, the film is one that is immersive even in its understatedness, weaving a tale that is all the more effective because of how believable it is."
- Dustin Putman (

"Atmospheric chills and some solid performances ... keep the tension up for a while, until the nasty and disquieting finale."
- Sean Means (Salt Lake Tribune)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ghost Town (2008)

Movie quotes:
Bertram (Ricky Gervais): Look at Pappah. They buried him with everything a dead guy doesn’t need: household pets, money. They even put his penis in a big jar. Why would they do that?
Gwen (Tea Leoni): You saw that penis; it wouldn’t have fit in a little jar.

At a glance:
How you react to the abrasive Ricky Gervais will determine whether or not you enjoy this satisfying high-concept rom-com about a dentist who talks to dead people

Our review:
During a routine operation, dentist Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) dies for seven minutes. Afterward, his cloistered New York existence is constantly mobbed by dead people needing him to resolve outstanding business. One of them, Frank (Greg Kinnear) convinces Bertram to break up the pending re-marriage of his wife Gwen (Tea Leoni). But Bertram ends up falling in love with her. Off-beat rom-com successfully contrasts the abrasiveness of Gervais (and Kinnear) with the grounded sincerity of Leoni (who, by the way, just keeps getting better and better with each film appearance). As good as Leoni’s performance is, too much of the film is spent in proving that Gervais is unlikeable, while too little of the central concept is mined. Waits a long time, perhaps too long, to redeem Gervais, but when it happens, it feels very good. Writer/director David Koepp adds to the many strings in his bow with this dabble into romantic comedy – most of his other efforts (like the screenplays for Panic Room, Secret Window, War of the Worlds, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) have been more in the genres of action/suspense, but they always are strong in the area of characterization. Rating: 2.75 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Enjoyable as it is to see Gervais trying (and often succeeding) to make something of the mediocre dialogue, it’s not enough."
- David Jenkins (Time Out)

"Ricky Gervais and mainstream Hollywood rom-com are initially uneasy bedfellows but ultimately, and largely due to co-star Téa Leoni, it's a match made in its star's brand of comic purgatory."
- Leigh Singer (Channel 4 Film)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Duchess (2008)

Movie quotes:
Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes): This will be the mistake of your life.
Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley): No, I made that many years ago.

At a glance:
Keira Knightley leads us through the tormented life of the Duchess of Devonshire, as she tries to balance her dreams and desires against the obligations of the wife of a Duke

Our review:
I’ve got a couple of very good friends – let’s call them Ron and Jan – who watch a lot of movies. They are movie lovers, and they generally like – or at least appreciate – almost every movie they see. But they have one secret to this formula: they don’t watch period dramas.

Maybe I should do the same.

I watched The Duchess, but, like I say when I am reviewing a horror or martial arts film, I’m not qualified to review these types of films – certainly, I am not qualified to review these films for those who love the genre and watch lots of these types of films. But I’ll review it anyway.

The Duchess is the based-on-a-true-story of Georgiana (Keira Knightley), who realized her life dream when the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) chose her as his young bride. Although she appreciates the affluence this affords her, she soon learns that the Duke is a cold, unfriendly husband of little words whose only real interest is in fulfilling his duties by fathering a son. Instead, she gives birth to two girls (and is also mother to a third girl that the Duke fathered in another relationship). The Duke spends a lot of time in affairs with various other women, and even maintains a long-term relationship with Georgina’s live-in friend, Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell). When Georgiana proposes a deal whereby she could also have an affair with Charles Gray, the man she truly loves, the Duke simply says no. When she does so anyway, he threatens to take her children away and ruin Gray’s political career.

Knightley is excellent as she inhabits the life and emotions of the Duchess, and Fiennes plays the cold Duke as a man who is also a prisoner of the society in which he lives. And there is my question for the day: why must we see story after story about this backward time in British history, where aristocracy was king, men ruled with an iron hand, and strong, intelligent, passionate women had to give in? I just don’t want to see these stories, nor do I feel like I take anything away from them, other than a warm feeling that we no longer live in those times.

My second question is: I wonder just how accurate these period dramas are. Viewed through modern eyes, the sadness and torment of the Duchess (and Duke) trapped in the mores of their era makes sense, and there is some drama in seeing what choices they will make, but was there the same sadness, torment, and drama at the time? Somehow, I think not; in most cases, it would have been a no-brainer that the Duchess had to be subservient to the Duke, or her life would be ruined. She would know nothing of 21st century equality, and therefore would not be missing it as much as the current audience.

The final question (that you might ask) is, why did I watch this film? Well, as a reviewer, I feel somewhat obligated to review all major films, regardless of genre. Secondly, it allowed this duke a shared experience with his duchess. (Ironically, if this was the 18th century, I as Duke could have dictated the movie we would watch, and I would now be reviewing Hellboy 2) :).

Anyway, back to the review: I thought it was a good period drama, played very straight – no added humor, self-referential moments, or distractingly modern camera angles or jump cuts. This purity helped ground the story and give it plausibility, while perhaps taking away a little fun. Rating: 2.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"The film's real power lies with Knightley. She easily could have gone over the emotional top, but instead gives a measured performance that increasingly draws you in."
- FILMINK (Australia)

"It’s a curiously inert, workmanlike production: a whole lot of pomp and incircumstance."
- Kimberly Jones (Austin Chronicle)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Into the Wild (2007)

Movie quotes:
"I read somewhere... how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong... but to feel strong."
- Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch)

"I'm going to paraphrase Thoreau here... rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness... give me truth."
- Christopher McCandless

"The core of mans' spirit comes from new experiences."
- Christopher McCandless

At a glance:
The true story of a young man who travels led him to seek truth in the harsh Alaskan wilderness is presented artfully by director Sean Penn, and features a stunning and emotional performance by Emile Hirsch and Chris McCandless

Our review:
I’m an advocate of compacting storytelling, and I believe that most stories can (or should) be told on film in under two hours. Almost any yarn can be improved with proper paring and editing.

Into the Wild is an exception to this rule. Director Sean Penn waited ten years to gain permission from the McCandless family to film the true story of their son, whose long journey to truth began as an escape from a dysfunctional family and ended in the harsh Alaskan wilderness. You as a viewer will spend almost 2 ½ hours to make the same journey, and by virtue of Emile Hirsch’s remarkable acting transformation (he lost 40 pounds while making this film), and Penn’s artful direction and deep understanding of the subject, you will feel like you have traveling within and without this incredible young man. This is not an expose of mistakes; instead Chris McCandless is treated almost as a deity. The film is at its best when it concentrates on the inner workings of McCandless’ mind and motivation, and at its worst when it attempts to make the story more interesting by introducing a parade of eccentric, overly dramatic fictional ‘characters’ for McCandless to meet along the way (but this diversion is brief). Based on Jon Krakauer’s best-selling book. Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Sean Penn deserves huge credit for the gentle hand he has used in telling this incredible story. "
- Brian Webster (Apollo Guide)

"Often too concerned with how smart he's being, Sean Penn gets the quiet moments right while some of the more dialogue-intensive come off poorly."
- Wesley Lovell (Oscar Guy)

"Penn's best movie to date rests on a brilliant performance by Hirsch, who gets under the skin of the fascinating character at the centre of the piece."
- Jamie McLeish (Channel 4 Film)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hellboy (2004)

Movie quotes:
"In the absence of light, darkness prevails. There are things that go bump in the night, Agent Myers. Make no mistake about that. And we are the ones who bump back."
- Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt)

"I wish I could do something about this. But I can't. But I can promise you two things. One: I'll always look this good. Two: I'll never give up on you... ever."
- Hellboy (Ron Perlman) to Liz (Selma Blair)

Abe Sapien (Doug Jones): Remind me why I do this again.
Hellboy: Rotten eggs and the safety of mankind.

[nearby phone rings as Hellboy fights Sammael]
Hellboy: It’s for you.
[Hellboy hits Sammael with the phone]

Hellboy: Hey Myers, you're a talker. What's a good word, a solid word for "need"?
John Myers: Well, "need" is a good, solid word.
Hellboy: Nah. Too needy.

"What you having? Six library guards, raw, plus belts and boots. Man, you're gonna need some heavy fiber to move that out."
- Hellboy (to Sammael while he is eating)

At a glance:
Director Guillermo del Toro creates a lower budget and basically perfect take on the comic book hero movie, with Ron Perlman brilliant as an unlikely but appealing horn-filing devil beast named Hellboy

Our review:
A Nazi plot to open a rift and invite in seven evil demons is foiled, but not before a little red horned devil baby with an oversized rock-like arm makes it through. 60 years later, ‘Hellboy’ (Ron Perlman) is a prisoner/volunteer for a secret American paranormal branch of the FBI, where he fights the good fight against evil, including the same diabolical enemies that opened the rift the first time. Perlman is probably the best-suited (perhaps only-suited) actor for this role, and he makes Hellboy not only believable, but appealing. Hellboy’s action hero wisecracks are top shelf, too – the script has lots of memorable quotes. Director Guillermo del Toro uses lighting to great effect, softening some scenes to create what at times is a very beautiful film – even when tentacled monsters are attacking. del Toro also has a welcome feel for pacing; the film moves along briskly, flowing from scene to scene in a way that makes it smooth, palatable, and yet still exciting.

Note: For years, I avoided this film, basically because I assumed that any movie titled "Hellboy" would be too violent for my taste. As a matter of fact, the violence is toned down to avoid an R rating, and it was well within the range that I can tolerate. And so, because of this misunderstanding, I denied myself for many years my first glimpse at director del Toro – and of Selma Blair. Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Del Toro, in love with his source but never overawed by it, keeps things moving; Perlman ties it together with some of the driest witticisms this side of Indiana Jones. Like we said: fun."
- Time Out

"Del Toro and Perlman essentially make you forget that Hellboy's this bizarre creature because Perlman invests him with such humanity. And maybe what makes him most human are his flaws."
- Beth Accomando (

"Perlman has not only the towering body, sculpted face, and commanding voice for such a role, he exudes a very humane heart."
- Steve Crum (Kansas City Kansan)

"Perlman, at age 53, strides in like a hungry young actor itching to prove something, only with 22 years of experience lending him charisma and confidence."
- Rob Gonsalves (

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Edge of Love (2008)

Movie quotes:
William (Cillian Murphy): No harm will ever come to you, not from me; not from anyone else – not when I’m here.. No word of mine will ever hurt you.
Vera: (Keira Knightley): Sounds like a vow.

At a glance:
This British World War Two story of the lives and loves of Dylan Thomas suffers from an emotional detachment led by the ice queen herself, Keira Knightley, who once again seems unable to play an aloof character that can still connect with the audience

Our review:
Dylan Thomas’ first love, the detached singer Vera (Keira Knightley) is the focus of this British World War II drama about lives, loves, and poetry. Accurately evokes the period including having basically everyone smoke like chimneys); the snippets of Thomas poems are captivating, but if you are unfortunate, as I was, to not connect with any of the main four characters, the first 40 minutes of the film will seem tedious. Knightley is beautiful as always, and her character is supposed to be aloof, which is a perfect role for her. The problem, as with all her performances, is that all she offers is porcelain-doll aloofness – eventually, her character does unfold, but early on she gives the audience no emotion to latch on to. Where is does succeed is in telling the deterioration of returning war hero William (Cillian Murphy).

I found the ‘multiple funhouse mirror’ love scene both confusing and conflicting; I wanted to be aroused, but was too afraid that I might find the arousal was being caused by a bit of Cillian Murphy’s body, and not Keira Knightley’s – so I opted out. :) Rating: 2.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Dylan Thomas's life is represented here, but John Maybury's hollow romantic drama is more interested in his women than in his literary art."
- Des Partridge (Courier Mail [Australia])

"While the period drama has several redeeming features, tonally it's all over the map, veering between artsy stylization and hum-drum, sometimes almost twee melodrama."
- Leslie Felperin (Variety)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

You Kill Me (2007)

Movie quotes:
Laurel (Tea Leoni): What do you do?
Frank (Ben Kingsley): I’m in personnel.
Laurel: Hiring?
Frank: Firing, more like.

"It isn't that I'm sorry I killed them; it's that I'm sorry I killed them badly."
- Frank

Stef (Marcus Thomas): Look, I know you think you know Frank pretty well, but there's probably a few things you're not gonna wanna hear.
Laurel: Like that he came back to Buffalo to kill Edward O'Leary so he could stop him and the rest of the Irish from getting into bed with some Chinese sugar daddy and wiping your family off the map? Oh, and he's a really big drunk.
Stef: [pauses] Wow. He's really opening up.

At a glance:
Ben Kingsley adds value to this light, slight, but extremely effective and enjoyable black comedy about an alcoholic hit man who is forced to change his ways

Our review:
Frank (Ben Kingsley) is an alcoholic hit man who finds drink is starting to compromise his job performance. When he sleeps through an important hit and it leads to the downfall of the Polish snow plowing mob he works for, he is banished to San Francisco to get sober. His path back is aided by his gay mentor Tom (Luke Wilson) and by love interest Laurel (Tea Leoni). There’s an almost clumsy divide between Kingsley’s quieter scenes in the film (he’s in a separate city for the most part, with Leoni and Wilson) and the inferior ‘mob’ scenes, but this just enhances Kingsley’s status as outsider. This would be a forgettable film if Kingsley and Leoni were not in it…but they are. Bill Pullman reappears as a sleazy, face-screwing real estate agent; if you’re accustomed to his charmingly bland roles from ten years ago, you’ll be impressed. Director John Dahl even evokes a beautiful, naturalistic performance from Luke Wilson. Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"An uneven black comedy-thriller that’s nonetheless worth catching for Téa Leoni’s bracingly sharp performance and the inspired idea of putting hit man Ben Kingsley into AA. Just focus on the well-etched characters and don’t worry too much about the plot."
- Tom Charity (Total Film)

"The film isn't without its flaws, but in defying Hollywood convention, it manages to reach parts other comedies cannot reach."
- Stella Papamichael (BBC)

"Not a masterpiece, mind you, nor the funniest thing you could see on a lazy summer afternoon; but a fine motion picture."
- Tim Brayton (Antagony & Ecstasy)

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Winnipeg (2007)

Movie quotes:
"Every day, the show runs at noon. The same over-sensitive man takes something said the wrong way, climbs out on a window ledge and threatens to jump. And every day, his mother appears at the nearest window and tells him to remember all the reasons for living. By the end of each episode, the son is convinced to come into safety. But the next day, he is back out there again."
- Narrator (Guy Maddin) describing the fictional Winnipeg television show ‘Ledge Man’

At a glance:
Guy Maddin’s semi-autobiographical documentary of his home town, Winnipeg, doesn’t always work, but there are some incredible gems of history and insight

Our review:
This documentary by writer/director/star Guy Maddin features archival and recreated footage of old Winnipeg, as Maddin documents his supposed attempt to leave his place of birth, despite the strong psychic ties that keep him from doing so.  In black and white, and combined with linking segments of a nodding-off man on a train ride, Maddin delivers the narration in a sleepwalking monotone. Some viewers may think he is trying to put them to sleep, too, but every time you start to nod off, there is a flash of outrageous history or modern wit to jar you back awake. Highlights include: Ledge Man, Sleepwalkers with keys, the Drowned Horses, Maddin’s ability to film in the style of old cinema, and the true (and somewhat true) history of Winnipeg. Meant to be seen not on home video, but in the darkened hollow of a theater, amid an open-minded film festival audience. Rating: 2.75 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"(1) Shot for shot, Maddin can be as surprising and delightful as any filmmaker has ever been, and (2) he is an acquired taste, but please, sir, may I have some more?"
- Roger Ebert

"Given its unusual blend of fact and fiction, the film is a real head-scratcher. Like most -- if not all -- of Maddin's films, it's as bewildering as it is visually arresting. And yes, that means it's an acquired taste."
- Jeff Vice (Deseret News, Salt Lake City)

"It's sometimes uneven, but it's glorious, too, with constantly churning invention and the guarantee that you have never seen anything like it before -- unless it came from Winnipeg and Guy Maddin."
- Shawn Levy (Oregonian)