Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Movie Review: Eastern Promises

May 6, 2008

I have this rule about full-frontal male nudity: If a movie features it, I almost always end up liking the movie. Thus, I am a big fan of Ewan McGregor’s oeuvre with the unfortunate exception of the odious Velvet Goldmine (don’t get me started; still can’t make it past 40 minutes).

Though Eastern Promises boasts an extended naked fight scene in a Russian bathhouse, with Viggo Mortensen’s meat and two veg getting flung all willy-nilly and then some, it was not enough to counterbalance horrendously written dialogue (“If we give them accents, it doesn’t matter that the script sucks!”) and the miscasting of the truly awful Naomi Watts and her everpresent gap-toothed expression. The ridiculousness of Watts’ London midwife hopping on her kicky motorbike, complete with retro helmet and fighter ace goggles, around the 35-minute mark was enough to drive me into hysterics.

Long story short: A mysterious birth and death inexplicably make a midwife go all Miss Marple and investigate the Russian mob. Whatever. Even typing it makes me feel stupid. Each Russian character is more stereotypical than the last: All making beeg trahbull for moose and squirrel. With merciless amounts of borscht, vodka, and a heavy helping of radical implausibility, Eastern Promises gestates into a wheezing pathetic vision of newly gilded Iron Curtain nonsense.

Grade: D.


Movie Review: The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

April 2, 2008

jesse james

This DVD sat atop my TV for weeks before I overcame my fear of its 2.5 hour running time: That’s a lot of movie for a weeknight. But last night, I conquered! And lo, what spoils awaited me! This fairly lengthy but totally un-boring portrait of the central figures of one of the most famous crime syndicates in American history explores issues of trust, family, violence, intimacy, age, isolation, and the nature of celebrity. Stylishly filmed with scattered shots evoking the impression of wavy glass, The Assassination Of Jesse James… creates a dangerous rural landscape, littered with well-dressed thugs with impressive vocabularies and murderous tendencies. It’s the James brothers’ last score and they’ve hired a ragged band of local hooligans to assist. Casey Affleck portrays Robert Ford, the youngest and most ambitious hooligan, obsessed with possessing and becoming Brad Pitt’s Jesse James. The chemistry between these two actors is unique, palpable, and beguiling; but smartly, the film keeps its focus on Ford. Watching Affleck deliver what has got to be the performance of his young career, is like staring at the lit fuse on a bottle rocket: This kid is going to be huge. I haven’t felt this optimistic about an actor’s potential since I spotted Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko. Pitt embodies James with the smoldering intensity and refined subtlety typically reserved for David Fincher’s projects. Acting also as executive producer, Pitt was a vital supporter of this film: His affection for the script and concept are obvious and well-represented. Grade: A- 

Movie Review: Rude Boy

March 21, 2008

Set amid the tumultuous political, economic, social, and racial unrest of 1978 England, Rude Boy follows Ray, a 20-year-old sex shop clerk who becomes a roadie for The Clash and falls prey to the forces of alcohol, The National Front, and life on the dole. While The Clash was strongly opposed to this movie when it was originally released, I found it to be an innovative and thrilling time capsule. The concert footage is some of the best I’ve seen, particularly the Rock Against Racism concert and some club footage wherein the band was basically chased off the stage by an aggressive crowd. The studio moments where Strummer records his vocal track for White Riot, though I’d seen them in Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, were the high points for me. And through it all, the filmmakers give us a subtly nuanced doomed protagonist who, like so many of his fellow youth, just doesn’t get it: He fails to grasp The Clash’s socio-economic messages, and descends into a self-medicated haze. An honest representation of tour life, street life, and the hopeless desperation that led to the rise of the monstrous Margaret Thatcher, Rude Boy captures public moments that should not be forgotten. Grade: B+

Movie Review: The Darjeeling Limited

March 21, 2008


As much as I wanted to love this movie as much as I loved Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, andThe Royal Tenenbaums, I ended up only mildly entertained. With The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson continues his unfortunate slide toward fashioning glorified mix tapes, dotted with quirky dioramas, masked as films. The feature kicked off with a lousy short film entitled The Hotel Chevalier, a horrendous bit of eye candy that seemed scraped from the cutting room floor. I will never forgive Anderson for inflicting Where Do You Go To, My Lovely? on me repeatedly. Finally, the feature film starts with obvious journey overtones and excessively boxy characterizations of the three lead roles, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzmann. They’re all neurotic, secretive, and distrustful, on a train traversing India after their father’s death. Predictably, the three protagonists experience a spiritual awakening by film’s end, and all the difficult loose ends get neatly tied up. It’s a challenge to accept the rose-colored ending though after such emotional darkness amid Anderson’s trademark Technicolor set design. I also was a bit unsettled with the heavy hand Anderson took with injecting music into the film: he apparently listened to a lot of The Kinks and watched loads of Merchant-Ivory films while conceptualizing this one. The Darjeeling Limited is a light confection with deceptively depressing characters: it satisfies the sweet tooth while leaving the body malnourished. Grade: C+

Movie Review: This Is England

March 12, 2008

This Is England poster

Set amid the depressed and desperate suburban squalor of Thatcherian England circa 1983, this semi-autobiographical film details the misguided adventures of a lonely boy who falls in with a band of skinheads. With a dead soldier father, an overwrought mother, and a lot of bullies at school, outsider Shawn, portrayed superbly by Thomas Turgoose, responds to the kindness offered by skinhead leader Woody (played by the lovely Joseph Gilgun. More of him, please!) and slips snugly into the welcoming multicultural family-like group. All goes straight to hell when Stephen Graham’s hate-filled Combo gets out of jail and returns to what he sees as his rightful role as leader. His introduction of fierce racial hatred masked as nationalistic pride shatters the group and sends the film careening toward its ultimate (and fairly predictable) conclusion. With such powerful subject matter, it’s disappointing that this film wasn’t better. But this is the first film I’ve seen that marks the differences between what skinheads originally were (a nonviolent social group that evolved out of the Mods and dressed in boots and classic working-class details) and what they became once their image was appropriated and perverted by neo-Nazis. The film deftly shows the contrast between the mischievous semi-innocent skinheads playing boardgames and breaking windows versus the organized antisocial bigoted seriousness of the supposed nationalist future. Grade: C

Movie Review: Letters From Iwo Jima

February 20, 2008


Clint Eastwood’s daring gamble — simultaneously directing two films depicting two sides of the same war, one in a language and culture not his own — paid off in this brilliant and important film. Through the eyes and letters of two primary protagonists, Eastwood gives us a Japanese army completely weakened, unsupported, and totally screwed, but clinging to its samurai roots and fight-to-the-death code of honor. Ken Watanabe, mesmerizing as the indomitable General Kuribayashi, the doomed eternal optimist, desperately trying to stave off complete obliteration until nonexistent reinforcements arrive. But the film truly belongs to Kazunari Ninomiya as a working-class baker just trying to get home to his wife and baby. Vulnerable and fascinating, Ninomiya’s Saigo experiences strokes of luck and misfortune and carries the film with his burning desire to survive. Shot beautifully, acted wonderfully, and written meaningfully, this is one of the best war films ever. Grade: A

Movie Review: Flags Of Our Fathers

February 20, 2008


This half of the Clint Eastwood Iwo Jima duo details the pre- and post-photo lives of the six American soldiers immortalized in the iconic flag-raising image. Disjointed and choppy, not even Ryan Phillippe’s charming likability could keep William Broyles Jr.’s and Paul Haggis’ predictable and unclever script above water. The story suffered mainly from trying to encompass too much: training, war, fame, politics, family, memory. The story is, by its very nature, powerful and would have been better served with far less engineering. By the time voiceover became the primary storytelling device, I was long gone. With the heart-wrenching tale of Ira Hayes wrapped up in this nostagic blob, Eastwood didn’t need to go for the heartstrings. But go for them, he did, with an unabashed and pathetic “sorry I was a lousy father” scene. Perhaps if this film didn’t have such a formidable sibling in Letters From Iwo Jima, it wouldn’t have suffered so greatly in comparison. There’s just no contest between the two. Grade: C

Movie Review: Blowup

February 13, 2008

Blowup poster

Ugh, wake me when something happens. As dull as it is stylish, Blowup was a great disappointment to me, squandering the efforts of Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Birkin, Sarah Miles, and Verushka. The plot was so uneventful, that I found myself focusing instead on the luscious bits of modernity and bohemian flash scattered around the various sets. Released in 1966, this supposed murder mystery drips with hipster style and fashion fashion fashion, as David Hemmings’ mod photographer tries to determine whether he inadvertently photographed a murder, while navigating swarms of leggy shaggable wannabe models in vivid swinging London. But there’s only so much surrealist intesity I can take. Pretty vacant. Grade: D+.

Movie Review: The Bourne Ultimatum

February 11, 2008

Bourne Ultimatum poster

Hands-down the weakest of the franchise. This film was crammed with action and thrilled with much nausea-inducing steadicam work, but ultimately fell short of giving me a nice satisfying projectile boot. Poor Joan Allen was trapped in horrendously unforgiving lipstick while Julia Stiles’ skunky highlights made me wonder what part of “blend in, superspy” her hairdresser didn’t understand. Matt Damon delivers the goods in the role that was made for him. But the film lets him down by getting too hung up in providing a summary of how we got to this point. How many people are going to watch this movie without having seen the previous two installments? They deserve to not kow what’s going on. Don’t waste my time by giving Cliff’s Notes. Sheesh. And would it kill them to bring back Franka Potente for just one measly flashback? Damon + Potente = awesome. Oh, and the title blows. Grade: C-.

Movie Review: The Lives Of Others

February 11, 2008

Lives of Others poster

Set in 1984 East Germany, this taut thriller details the lives of a controversial playwright and his controversial actress girlfriend and the Stasi operatives who monitor their every move via surveillance equipment. Engrossing, gripping, and fascinating, this film provides a glimpse into the underbelly of one of history’s most perverse government organizations and provides a thoroughly unlacquered portrayal of life behind the Iron Curtain. Smartly written with multifaceted characters who thankfully develop even more as the film carries on, I loved it loved it loved it. Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, this film features killer performances from its three lead actors and perhaps the most interesting and unpredictable female lead role since The Piano. We need more movies like this one. Grade: A.