Friday, January 30, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Movie quotes:
"I’m not going to Oviedo with this charmingly candid wife-beater!"
- Vicky (Rebecca Hall)

Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem): I was in love with a most incredible woman, and, in the end…she put a knife into me.
Cristina (Scarlett Johansson): My god! That’s terrible!
Vicky: Well, maybe you did something to deserve it.

Juan Antonio: Maybe you will understand more about your own feelings once we’ve made love.
Rebecca: Yeah, or less.

At a glance:
Vicky Cristina Barcelona starts promisingly and is always pretty to look at, but its literal humorless narration and bland story and characters soon brand it as another disappointing latter day Woody Allen film

Our review:
Like a moth to a flame, I’m drawn to watch each successive Woody Allen film, each one slightly worse than the last, as his once great talent slowly slips away. But still, he gets good actors, and he makes ‘actors films’, heavy with dialogue, even if that dialogue is becoming cliched, the humor forced, and the stories derivative.

But this was going to be different ‘Vicky…’ was running at 81% on Rotten Tomatoes. I tried not to get my hopes up, as many reviewers seemed to be giving it a pass just because it wasn’t as bad as the last few Allen films (just as they had done recently with the most recent Guy Ritchie film, Rocknrolla). How strange to judge a movie not on its own merits, but on how it ranks in the writer/director’s oeuvre.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a competently made film – not groundbreaking, nor funny; not even provocative, although Allen seems to think it is. But the story of love, marriage, divorce, and affairs is presented more as a documentary, with painful narration inserted in case any of the character’s motivations or actions aren’t spelled out enough on-screen (which they are). The first 20 minutes are the best, setting up situations that could be funny, dramatic, or both. But the rest of the story goes nowhere, really – like ‘…a dead shark’, to quote from a much better Allen script from long ago, Annie Hall. It’s serious, but it has nothing to be serious about. (Granted, I’ve never fully appreciated Allen’s serious films; they just are not as good as his best comedies).

When Allen doesn’t cast himself, he always seems to get one character to take over his neurotic comedy voice. Here, it’s Vicky (Rebecca Hall), doing a fair imitation of Woody (although not nearly as good as Mia Farrow used to do). Vicky’s character has the most depth, and Hall breathes more life into her role than Johansson, but, after a promising beginning, her story is pretty much abandoned for most of the middle of the film.

To compensate somewhat for its faults, the film is well-acted and beautiful to look at, with Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz (who is Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actress), and Rebecca Hall all radiant in Spanish locations. Rating: 2 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"No amount of pretty scenery can conceal the tedium."
- Gregory Weinkauf (ÜberCiné)

"...audiences once cheered the notion of a new Woody Allen film. Now, instead, we merely endure them."
- Daniel M. Kimmel (Worcester Telegram & Gazette)

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the cinematic equivalent of a book on tape: a movie that watches itself for you and tells you what it sees."
- Christopher Orr (New Republic)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Ant’s Life (2006)

At a glance:
This children’s DVD has very basic CGI and a short 60 minute running time (that includes 5 tacked on old cartoons), but younger (4-6 year old) kids who don’t scare really easily will like it

Our review:
An Ant’s Life is the story of three ants who meet a Queen Ant, She asks them to help her build a new nest. A big-sub plot deals with their almost helpless caterpillar friend who has fallen from his tree and is being terrorized by geckos, a praying mantis, and a spider. The animation is extremely basic and very low budget, and the constant almost-eating of our heroes may actually scare some skittish kids, but, other than that, it’s an okay half-hour of disposable entertainment for 4 to 6 year olds (I doubt if your tyke will be asking to watch it again). My daughter picked it out at the video store, thinking, perhaps, that it was the vastly superior A Bug’s Life, which she had seen before and loved. It appears that the DVD design was meant to encourage this kind of confusion.

The DVD packaging has some other problems. It purports to have a 60 minute running time, and says it also includes 5 bonus cartoons. In reality, An Ant’s Life runs for only about 30 minutes; the 60 minute running time includes these cartoons. And the cartoons are actually Beany and Cecil – from 1962! They are probably in the public domain by now – free to distribute. The fact is, they were done by Bob Clampett, one of the better Warner Brothers directors from the 1940s and 1950s, so they are a lot of fun to watch – much more fun than the feature (at least for me).

The final oddity is that Rotten Tomatoes lists this DVD as year 2006, but the actual An Ant’s Life hails from 1998, and, of course, the Beany and Cecil cartoons are from way earlier. So there are quite a few problems with false advertising here.

Does anyone care? I included this review for those parents who would like to know what they are buying/renting. You can pay 10 bucks for this and you’ll be rewarding all that false advertising. My suggestion? Avoid these insects like the plague (of locusts)! Rating: 1 of 4

Wall-E (2008)

Movie quotes:
Ship's Computer: Caution: Rogue robots. Caution.
[points at screen with them on it, EVE fires a laser blast at the screen, destroying it]
WALL.E: Ohh...
[folds up inside himself]

Ship's Computer: Voice confirmation required.
Captain: Uhhh...
Ship's Computer: Accepted.

At a glance:
Pixar animation scores another triumph of visual imagery with this touching robot on robot love story that takes place within a deeply textured sci-fi world

Our review:
Little robot Wall-E is tasked with cleaning up an earth covered with eons of overflowing rubbish. With all the humans long gone upon a huge ship in space, Wall-E is alone, save for his one cockroach friend. So he’s thrilled when a star ship deposits a sleek feminine robot named Eve onto his world. Suffice it to say that Eve’s ‘directive’ is tied in to the Earth and the survival of the human race.

Imagine one of the great silent movies of the early 20th century, and transpose it with state of the art animation from the early 21st century, and together, you have the first 35 minutes or so of Wall-E: a unique film experience. This is not some lightweight kids' animation – it is full-blooded, detailed sci-fi. And it’s worth noting that it is driven by detail as well as by the plot; it’s fascinating to learn the intricacies of this world. The people at Pixar know how to use animation to its fullest – to create a truly alternative universe – and yet it also is an imaginative take on our possible future.

The decision to focus on technology rather than true sentient life could have made it difficult for audiences to connect with the characters. It’s a tribute to Pixar that they not only took that risk, but that they also succeeded. Rating: 3 of 4

Trivia: 'Andrew Stanton' and the Pixar team watched every single Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton movie (the short films and the features) every day during lunch for about a year and a half. This was to inspire the possibilities of pure visual storytelling.

Other reviewers said:
"If anyone doubted that Pixar is the most creative outfit in modern motion pictures, this movie should convince them. It is a genuine masterpiece, a word I don't use often."
- Paul Byrnes (Sydney Morning Herald)

"Not about high profile characters or big action, it delights by entertaining and inspiring more subtly. Who expected that from any movie these days, let alone an animated one?"
- Brian Webster (Apollo Guide)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Full List of Oscar Nominees and Winners for 2008

Best Picture

Best Actress

Best Actor

Best Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actor

Best Director

Best Original Screenplay

  • Dustin Lance Black, Milk (Winner)
  • Courtney Hunt, Frozen River
  • Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
  • Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
  • Andrew Stanton, and Jim Reardon; original story by Stanton and Pete Docter, WALL-E

Best Adapted Screenplay

Best Foreign Language Film

  • The Baader-Meinhof Complex (Germany)
  • The Class (France)
  • Departures (Japan) (Winner)
  • Revanche (Austria)
  • Waltz with Bashir (Israel)

Best Animated Film

  • Bolt
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • WALL-E (Winner)

Best Art Direction

Best Cinematography

Best Film Editing

Best Costume Design

Best Documentary Feature

  • The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
  • Encounters at the End of the World
  • The Garden
  • Man on Wire (Winner)
  • Trouble the Water

Best Original Song

Best Original Score

Best Makeup

Best Sound Editing

Best Sound Mixing

Best Visual Effects

Best Live Action Short Film

  • Auf der Strecke (On the Line)
  • Manon on the Asphalt
  • New Boy
  • The Pig
  • Spielzeugland (Toyland) (Winner)

Best Animated Short Film

  • La Maison en Petits Cubes (Winner)
  • Lavatory - Lovestory
  • Oktapodi
  • Presto
  • This Way Up

Best Documentary Short Film

  • The Conscience of Nhem En
  • The Final Inch
  • Smile Pinki (Winner)
  • The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Movie quotes:
Jamal: [agitated] There was no message, there was no message, there was no message!
 Salim: Shut up! The man with the Colt 45 says shut up!

At a glance:
Director Danny Boyle continues his uniquely successful genre-hopping career, choosing to film a confronting, stylish, visually sumptuous Bollywood lookalike about a boy raised in the slums of Bombay, his life struggles, and his undieing love for his childhood girlfriend

Our review:
Two brothers (Jamal and Salim), born in the slums of Bombay, are forced to live day to day when their mother is killed during a religious conflict. They endure hardship, poverty, and ‘adoption’ by a man who feeds, clothes, and houses them as long as they beg and prostitute themselves in exchange for this service. The two brothers escape and fend for themselves. Salim (Madhur Mittal) turns to a life of crime, while Jamal (Dev Patel) works in a call centre. His never-ending love for childhood friend Latika (Freida Pinto) leads him to apply to be on the television show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, where he knows she will see him. This all-Indian cast Bollywood type film is director Danny Boyle’s latest attempt at a new genre. He nails it in a big way, with an ambitious, stylized, intense and sometimes brutal opening third that leads us into the boy’s lives and through the back alleys of Bombay before the business boom transformed it into Mumbai. There is amazing cinematography and locations, especially early on in the film, when the boys are fleeing various perils. Later, we get the juxtaposition of the game show with the life of someone who is trying to raise himself out of the ghetto.

There is also excellent supporting work from veteran Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor, who plays the game show host as a slimy yet gray area character.

The questions in the game show form dot points to the story – that’s just one of the original touches. The film itself is brimming with energy, flooding us with images (some of them quite ugly). It’s a complete triumph and will be in the running at the Oscars; for me, the only negatives are the ugliness of the story and the lack of knockdown emotional impact – but those are personal preferences, and they are less important than the magnitude and originality of the film. Rating: 3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"With its fine performances and impressive, if deliberately melodramatic direction, it’s a crowd-pleaser which manages to be both distressing and, strangely enough, immensely entertaining."
-David Stratton (At the Movies [Australia])

"Slumdog Millionaire, a film so upbeat and colorful that, by the time you’re relaying its infectious air of optimism to friends, you could forget that it features orphans, slaughter, organized crime, poverty, enslavement and police brutality."
-Dave Calhoun (Time Out)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lakeview Terrace (2008)

Movie quotes:
"You’re a weed, that’s what you are. A junkyard weed. Spray your ass with some Roundup."
- Abel (Samuel L. Jackson) to drug dealer

Chris (Patrick Wilson): We’re not moving
Abel: Whatever.

At a glance:
Samuel L. Jackson is one mean and troubled dude – and he’s the main reason to watch this race and class-driven feud between neighbors

Our review:
At first, Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) seems like a normal enough guy. He’s a widower dad with two kids and maybe too many rules, but other than seeming a little depressed about his life (probably from losing his wife), he doesn’t otherwise seem like that bad a neighbor to have. But when an interracial couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) move in next door, he subjects them to his highly strict code of morals. The stress of a crazy neighbor complicates their own problems (with a little direct help from Abel), and soon their marriage is unraveling. As wildfires flare and advance on their neighborhood, the flames of their conflict are fanned and grow into a blaze.

Jackson is a powerful actor, and his performance is what makes Lakeview Terrace riveting to watch. As scary as he is, there are elements of his personality and moral code that are commendable on some level. And Jackson’s voice and delivery are easy to listen to – you want him to be on camera, even if he is doing mean things. Here, he is given an interesting script with plenty of gray areas – this is not a simple crazy neighbor film. Of course, as the movie goes on, it gets a little uglier, and that may not suit more sensitive types.

Director Neil LaBute, who is kind of an expert in making movies about bastards (see the excellent In the Company of Men) does a nice slow reveal of how mean and troubled Turner really is. One criticism: the music is pleasant, but doesn’t seem to have any relation to the mood of the film. Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Having an angry Samuel L Jackson as your nasty neighbor would be anybody's idea of bad news. Tense and terrifying, this is a smart thriller."
- Mark Adams (Daily Mirror [UK])

"As a thriller it’s solid three-star tension. As a Samuel L. Jackson showcase it proves a man can only coast through so many motherfuckin’ or milquetoastin’ turns before having to display his full and overpowering talent."
- Kim Newman (Empire Magazine)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mamma Mia! (2008)

Movie quotes:
Harry Bright (Colin Firth): What would the father of the bride normally do?
Tanya (Christine Baranski): Pay. [pause] Though my dad drew the line at my third.

At a glance:
Meryl Streep proves she can even excel in a musical comedy, and there’s a lot of fun in watching Mamma Mia!, but a little more choreography and a little less Pierce Brosnan singing would have made it even better

Our review:
I’ve never been an Abba fan; quite the opposite, really: I always found their music too simplistic. And so I had no intention of seeing Mamma Mia!. But when my daughter latched onto the music and made me keep playing the soundtrack over and over (and over), I found, much to my surprise, that the music was, as they say, growing on me. And suddenly, I found a newborn desire to watch the film. My daughter, who is only five, joined me and we watched together. She enjoyed the music and some of the silly scenes where the guys danced with flippers. I appreciated that Meryl Streep was able to enhance even this most unlikely of genres, and that brought back memories of how impressed I was by her organic charm the first time I saw her in a comedy, way back in 1991’s Defending Your Life. After being less impressed than most by Streep’s more heralded but less accessible roles, I fell in love with her as an actress and artist. Here she was again, fearlessly dancing her way through a series of Abba tunes.

So why have reviews for the film been so mixed? Well, Streep’s three suitors are noticeable weak. Stellan Skarsgård sleep-walks through the film and is devoid of the requisite charm required (you can probably tell I’m not his biggest fan). Pierce Brosnan’s singing is mostly awful (although he nails his middle number). Colin Firth is by far the best, but he’s given the least to do. Then there’s the choreography, or lack of choreography. Most dance numbers are loosely choreographed, with everyone doing their own thing. It would have been nice to have some tightly wound numbers. In a film that is supposed to be fun fun fun, some of the camaraderie feels a little forced. And finally, director Phyllida Lloyd’s unwillingness to use close-ups tended to minimize our ability to become intimate with and empathize with the characters.

None of this took away from my personal enjoyment; for me, the film was in the right time at the right place. I enjoyed my appreciation of Abba’s music; my daughter jumped up and did many of the dances, which added to my entertainment quotient, and, much like Pierce Brosnan’s Sam Carmichael, 17 years later, I got to fall in love with Meryl Streep all over again. Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"A film that actually earns the exclamation mark that adorns its title, thanks to the exuberance that Streep and her co-stars bring to the job of reviving the rituals of the movie musical."
- Sandra Hall (Sydney Morning Herald)

"I believe that genealogy would prove "director" Phyllida Lloyd a descendant of Ed Wood himself."
- Nathaniel Rogers (Film Experience)

"There might not be anything as utterly dispiriting as watching people pretending to have fun, and that is quite literally the only card the movie has to play."
- Tim Brayton (Antagony & Ecstasy)

"The movie gets by on sheer exuberance. Your appreciation of it, I suspect, will strongly depend on your mood and the enthusiasm of the audience members around you."
- Richard Knight (Windy City Times)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Alien Raiders (2008)

Movie quotes:
Seth (Mathew St. Patrick): What the hell what that? Was that Ken?
Ritter (Carlos Bernard): Define ‘Ken’.

At a glance:
Director Ben Rock proves that he can make a tense, entertaining alien horror film with relatively inexperienced actors on a shoestring budget

Our review:
There are plenty of directors who can competently direct action set pieces, but how many of them can also glean commendable performances from B level actors? Ben Rock has impressed on both these counts. On a shoestring budget, he has created a tense, suspenseful alien hunt film. That alone isn’t easy. But he’s also assembled a cast of unknown, low-experience actors, and, working with a script that gives each of them some personality, has shown an understanding of dialogue and how to deliver it.

The premise is simple: a gang breaks into a supermarket. They look like thieves but they are there to find and eliminate an alien creature that, like many of their ilk, burrows into the human body and uses it as a host. The situation for gang leader Ritter (Carlos Bernard) is complicated when his alien spotter is killed, and when he finds that one of his hostages is the step-daughter of the hostage negotiator Seth (Mathew St. Patrick).

This is a perfect example of how to make a suspenseful film on a low budget. Excellent casting pulls obscure actors who deliver effective, sometimes riveting performances, especially from Bernard as Ritter. Mathew St. Patrick’s pedigree emerges as well – he was excellent as a gay lover with a volatile personality on Six Feet Under. Here, he has a little less to work with but he still stamps the role with his intensity.

 Rating: 2.75 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Suffice to say that Alien Raiders has a few modest surprises up its sleeve, and that's more than most low-budget genre concoctions even attempt."
- Scott Weinberg (FEARnet)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Station Agent (2003)

Movie quotes:
Olivia (Patricia Clarkson): How about you? What made you pick Newfoundland?
Finbar (Peter Dinklage): I wanted to live near Joe.

Joe (Bobby Cannavale): Hey listen, if you guys do something later, can I join you?
Finbar: We're not gonna do something.
Joe: No, I know, but if you do, can I join you?
Finbar: We're not gonna do something later.
Joe: Okay, but, if you do?
Finbar: Okay.
Joe: Cool.

Finbar: You said you weren't going to talk to me if I sat here, Joe.
Joe: I haven't said anything in like twenty minutes.
[Finbar checks his pocket watch]
Finbar: Nine.
Joe: You timed me?
Finbar: Mm-hmm.
Joe: That's cold, bro.

Finbar: I'm retired, actually.
Emily (Michelle Williams): Aren't you a little young to be retired?
Finbar: No, dwarves retire early. Common fact.
Emily: Yeah, lazy dwarves.

At a glance:
Thomas McCarthy wrote and directed this gentle, slow-moving and thought-provoking slice of life about a train-loving man (who also happens to be a dwarf) who retires to an inherited station depot in the wilds of New Jersey

Our review:
Thomas McCarthy was, once upon a time, just a lowly television actor. In 2003, he turned his attention to writing and directing, and we are all the better for it. The Station Agent tells the tale of Finbar (Peter Dinklage), a train afficionado who lives in Hoboken and works in a small model train shop. When the shop owner dies, he is left with the inheritance of an old train depot in an out-of-the-way area of New Jersey. A lonely loner, this suits Finbar perfectly, until his life intersects with a couple of characters (Olivia, played by Patricia Clarkson; and Joe, played by Bobby Cannavale) who also inhabit this area. Gradually, his life and outlook changes.

McCarthy has made two films now (this one in good, but 2007’s The Visitor is even better), and each film reflects his love of trains – they figure somewhat in both stories. Both films also show that McCarthy is in no hurry to tell his story or to tell a conventional narrative; we are on a journey, and it is always very much in doubt where we are going to end up. That is so refreshing in these days of cliched plots and happy endings. It’s an actor’s movie, too (perhaps ex-actors do make better directors because of this), and the three leads shine, as does the always organic Michelle Williams in a slightly smaller role than the big three. Dinklage, a friend of McCarthy’s, is a standout, however, delivering a quiet, slowly evolving performance that has its burst-out moments as well.Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"...watching these friends interact is what the movie is about, not what they look like, not what they do, not what they talk about, but how they feel toward one another."
- John J. Puccio (

"It's The Station Agent's meditation on the smaller things in life that make it such a big deal."
- Damon Wise (Empire Magazine)

"The brilliance of Peter Dinklage’s performance as the ironclad loner is that he doesn’t much care."
- James Christopher (Times [UK])

Monday, January 5, 2009

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

Movie quotes:
"I'm a guy. You give me a two popsicle sticks and a rubber band and I'll find a way to fuck it like a filthy MacGyver!"
- Zack (Seth Rogen)

Zack: I've known her since the first grade, you don't fuck someone you met in the first grade.
Delaney: Excuse me, I met my wife in kindergarten, we got married senior year, and she's been the queen of my world ever since.
Zack: But what if you could do it all over again?
Delaney: I would jerk off and live by myself. That woman is the bane of my existence.

Zack: Holy shit! I get it. I fucking get it. It was a test! That whole thing was a fucking test, is that it?
Miri (Elizabeth Banks): If it was, how do you think you did?

At a glance:
Writer/director Kevin Smith pushes the boundaries of bad taste in this profane, over the top, but often hilarious and sincere look at two platonic friends whose relationship changes when they make a porno film

Our review:
Long-time platonic friends and room-mates Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are two marginal members of society, living in a run-down apartment and surviving paycheck to paycheck. When times gets even worse, and the water and power are shut off, they face life on the streets, unless they can raise money fast. Zack comes up with the bright idea to make a porno film, and, after a while, convinces Miri to do it too. They assemble a cast and start making an inept film, but all that changes when the sex scene between Zack and Miri turns into something more. Although it mostly relies on the shock value of profanity to boost its wittiness, there are still moments where director Kevin Smith flexes his talent and provides meaningful dialogue and sincere scenes filmed with good taste and beauty (like Zack and Miri’s lovemaking scene). It will be way too profane and truly tasteless for many people, who will sadly exclude it from being a huge success or gathering much acclaim, which is a shame, because in the end, it has its heart in the right place, and, in many ways, despite its raunchiness, it is the sweetest film that Smith has made to date. He’s aided in creating this sweetness by the radiant Banks, whose beaming literally pours emotion all over the camera lens. Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"For all his slacker street cred, [Smith] is at heart a romantic, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno may be the most romantic film Smith has ever made."
- Sean Means (Salt Lake Tribune)
"What I should add is that it's the funniest one I have seen in ages. And while it does feature an awful lot of swearing and cheerfully bad taste comic moments, it is also engagingly sentimental and sweetly romantic."
- Daily Mirror [UK]

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

At a glance:
Director Errol Morris applies his finely honed documentary skills to explore the facts and reasons behind the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, letting the pictures – and the perpetrators – speak for themselves

Our review:
My knowledge of Abu Ghraib prison and the events that transpired there during the US invasion of Iraq amounted to brief readings of internet news articles, and sideways glances at horrendous photos of prisoners being forced to pose in demeaning naked human pyramids. I didn’t feel like I needed to know more – I knew enough. There are strict international laws called the Geneva Convention, put into place specifically to protect prisoners of war, because the nature of war puts these prisoners’ rights at extreme risk. The concept is that they should be treated with respect, like all human beings should, despite the fact that they are currently the enemy. Apparently, these laws had been horribly violated at Abu Ghraib. Did I really need to know the details? I didn’t think so, but when I heard that Errol Morris (by far my favorite documentary filmmaker) had made a movie about it, I decided to watch. Years ago, Morris made the almost perfect and influential The Thin Blue Line; based on that film, I would watch anything with his name in the credits.

What I learned was a lot more about the ugly side of human nature – from interviews with the people who were either observers of the torture and humiliation, or were following orders to commit it. It’s fairly sickening to see the scenes of abuse and torture, and then to learn that many of the acts were merely classified as SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) rather than as criminal acts.

I also learned what a cover-up is, and how the US military protects those in its higher ranks (at the time of filming, no one above the rank of Staff Sergeant has served time in prison for the abuses at Abu Ghraib).

The story is almost unbearably sad, and it is augmented by the poetic images added by the infallible Morris. Morris has a way to make people say more than they should while they look into the ‘eyes’ of the camera (and seem to be talking directly to you, the audience). As always, Morris makes it about the people as well as the story. We try to get a glimpse inside the thinking processes that led Lynndie England to give a thumbs up and a big smile while posing in numerous photos of Iraqi prisoners being tortured. Danny Elfman’s moody music adds the finishing touch.

Note: this film goes a long way toward explaining the stressful situation of serving at Abu Ghraib; for more information, check the internet, and/or read this article Rating: 3.75 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"A film of great sadness about how we humans debase ourselves; it's also an important reminder to never jump to conclusions from appearances."
- Urban Cinefile Critics (Urban Cinefile)

"Fascinating and horrifying, especially if you take a step back and view it thinking about what it tells us about the society in which these abuses took place."
- Brian Webster (Apollo Guide)

"[Morris has] given the material his own personal stamp and added another film to an increasingly artistic and unique filmography."
- Jeffrey M. Anderson (Combustible Celluloid)

Friday, January 2, 2009

Joshua (2007)

Movie quotes:
Brad (Sam Rockwell): I think you're sick, Josh.
Joshua (Jacob Kogan): I don't feel sick. Not at all.

At a glance:
A nine-year old boy reacts badly when his parents welcome a new baby girl into the world, in this subtle psychological horror film, worth seeing for Jacob Kogan’s creepy turn as Joshua

Our review:
When the Cairns welcome new baby daughter Lily into the world, their prodigy son Joshua (Jacob Kogan) reacts negatively. So does Lily’s mom Abby (Vera Farmiga); initially thrilled, she plunges into post-partum depression (just like she did with Joshua) when Lily never seems to stop crying. But why is Lily crying? Like many horror films, there are ludicrous aspects of the script that need to be ignored; your tolerance for these moments will determine your opinion of the film. For the most part, the film inhabits that middle area; it tries to pass itself off as a serious psychological thriller, and so is unwilling to go over the top; but, like Flight Plan, this makes the script implausibilities stand out all the more. Still, it’s a solid little nail-biter, with Kogan’s performance as a kind of Stepford-wife variation well worth seeing – and it’s always great to watch Sam Rockwell squirm – he just seems to deserve it.

I haven’t watched one of these ‘Children of the Corn’ movies since my daughter was born over 5 years ago, but since I was babysitting her and her two cousins tonight, I thought this would be the ideal time for a good kiddie scare; fortunately for my heart, none of them woke up and showed up at my door unexpectedly while I was watching. Rating: 2.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"The stress that mounts throughout this strangely tame and quietly spooky horror thriller has a masterfully palpable asphyxiating mood to it that the director exploits for maximum audience discomfort and unrelieved dread."
- Prairie Miller (NewsBlaze)

"If you strip away all the meddling that Joshua does, it's clear to see the family is dysfunctionally psychopathic from the start."
- Kevin Carr (7M Pictures)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Elegy (2008)

Movie quotes:
"Beautiful women are invisible; we're so dazzled by the outside that we never make it inside."
- George O'Hearn (Dennis Hopper)

At a glance:
The gentle, lyrical tale of love between an ageing college professor and his young student is lifted by screenwriter extraordinaire Nicholas Meyer, Isabel Coixet’s direction,  and the performances of Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz

Our review:
David (Ben Kingsley), an ageing, sophisticated college professor enters into a passionate relationship with Consuela (Penelope Cruz), one of his young students. When she wants to make it something more than a fling, he hesitates as the cynic in him sees only failure and differences. It’s a simple story, but it is told with humor, wit, and flair. Ultimately, it’s as much about Consuela as it is about David. Kingsley is fantastic as always, and Cruz is captivating, and, at times, palpably sincere. Dennis Hopper and Patricia Clarkson add depth in important supporting roles. This film is good enough to sneak into the 2008 top ten of some reviewers.  Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Coixet's gentle hand and Kingsley's elegant voice give the movie a stately equilibrium."
- Sean Means (Salt Lake Tribune)

"What helps the film stand out is the less than melodramatic approach of director Isabel Coixet and the complex performances of Kingsley and Cruz."
- Richard Knight (Windy City Times)

"Elegy is a rare treat: a serious film that, thanks to Kingsley and the rest, doesn't seem to take itself too seriously."
- Bill Goodykoontz (Arizona Republic)