Thursday, October 30, 2008


expect reviews of Rocknrolla and Tropic Thunder late Sunday night or the early hours of Monday morning

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Body of Lies

Body of Lies is a solid thriller and the first war on terror movie of recent years to put entertainment first. That could be problem number one, but the filmmakers are aware of the need for the audience to stay engaged with the material when others have put messages and political posturing ahead of said entertainment. There are politics involved, but most of the heavy-handedness is left behind in favor of a lesser form of Tony Scott's Enemy of the State's satellite views and board rooms and Peter Berg's The Kingdom's street battles. Leonardo Dicaprio acts through his Southern Twang and curiously bushy beard (you get used to it - you shouldn't have to really, but you will) to play the CIA's man on the ground in the Middle East. Russell Crowe acts through his Tom Cruise in Collateral hair, accent, spectacles and protruding paunch (and more effectively than his counterpart) to play the CIA suit back in the U.S. of A.. And the excellent Mark Strong plays a Jordanian intelligence head. All the performers sink their teeth into their parts, adding considerable bravado to their roles. I bought into it, though the push to ACT may irk some. The film, like writer William Monahan's breakthrough The Departed, is an excercise in genre. Unlike The Departed (a film I still declare is overrated), Monahan's Body of Lies script doesn't have any overtly memorable dialogue. In truth, it entertains without being memorable. It's better than a one-watcher, but doesn't hold up to the shadow of the underrated and already forgotten August film Traitor. And after the entertainment ends in Body of Lies, I'm left to wonder what if anything I have learned, or more importantly if I should (given the setting, plot, and current world politics) be learning anything. Well directed, acted, and filmed but not lasting in impact. And then Traitor comes to mind...The problem is that Body of Lies is entertaining in a fun way - all the violence, backstabbing, and spying I appreciate in a CIA thriller...only it's really happening somewhere in the world right now. And maybe I should rethink entertainment in general. Because Traitor is entertaining AND says something more than just the reality of the complexity and difficulty of international intelligence. Plus Don Cheadle is as fine as any other actor out there right now. Here's me asking P.T. Anderson or Steven Soderberg to cast him in another one of their ensemble dramas again.

Traitor ***1/2
Body of Lies ***

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tell No One - Criticinema

I missed this one in theaters, but here good things. Dan at Criticinema said this:

DAN - Tell No One is a thrilling French mystery from director Guillaume Canet, based on a novel by Harlan Coben. The film follows Alex Beck, a doctor whose wife was murdered eight years ago. When new details emerge concerning his wife’s death, Beck must run from the law in search of the truth.

After seeing this film, I think it’s safe to say that I’m a sucker for French movies. Maybe it’s the romance of their language, or maybe I just don’t expect to see such well-made films from foreign countries. Either way, I liked this one.

Fran├žois Cluzet plays the protagonist well. I’ve never seen him before, but I enjoyed this performance. The supporting cast of characters, a few of whom I recognized, also works well.

One thing that I found somewhat odd about this movie was the music. There are a lot of lighthearted songs that don’t seem to fit the story, and it doesn’t help that most of them are in English. The presence of U2's “With or Without You” was especially jarring for me, but it led to a moment that suggested a romantic side of the film.

I loved the stunts in this film. Beck takes a few punches, jumps from windows, and nearly gets run over on a highway, and it all looks convincing. Even something as simple as tripping and falling onto the pavement made me cringe. It looked painful.

There were several points in the movie where characters made references to something I didn’t understand, and I’d say to myself, “What did I miss?” But it would all be cleared up before the end of the film. There’s a particularly lengthy scene of exposition that ties a lot of loose ends together, and it was a relief.

Tell No One threw me for some loops, but it all worked out by the time the credits rolled. I was never certain what to believe, and I didn’t see the twists coming, which is a good thing for any mystery. Good story, good performances, and good direction.


Body of Lies - Criticinema

I'm not likely to see this movie in a timely manner, so here are some trustworthy guys' opinions: from the Criticinema blog.

STEVE - Leonardo Dicaprio and Russell Crowe star in the latest film from Director Ridley Scott. Body of Lies is a spy film set in the middle of the Iraq War. DiCaprio plays Agent Ferris, a solo on the ground CIA spy who tries to stop terrorism single handedly, while Crowe plays as Ferris’s ever watchful boss Ed Hoffman, who is always observing from the sky.

Real locations and sets serve the mise-en-scene in creating Ridley Scott’s dirty and depressing modern day Middle East. The cinematography aids in creating a stylized and fast paced film that unfortunately becomes sluggish due to a creative but Hollywood contaminated plot.

I recall talking to a friend about the overall plot after viewing the film. There where many sideplots and subplots and loveplots and subparplots. And the main plot (for which the title is named) becomes sandwiched between all these other plots and ultimately is left with itty-bitty-little space to breath. I believe when attempting to describe how the main plot was executed the word my friend used was, (insert high pitch voice) “Bloop!” And I think that pretty much sums it up.

Body of Lies isn’t anything special. Good acting and decent cinematography regrettably doesn’t make up for a poor plot(s) that could have been salvaged into something superior. It’s an ordinary, middle-of-the-road, run of the mill film that leaves you with nothing more than a few, fun, distracting hours. The movie attempts to send a message, but it ultimately was lost. After watching I just kinda felt like… well… I’ve had better.



DAN - Ridley Scott’s latest film is an espionage thriller set chiefly in Jordan. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a CIA operative with a plan to infiltrate a terrorist organization, and Russell Crowe acts as his boss at Langley.

There’s not much more to it. This film follows the recent trend of terrorist-related movies set in the Middle East (Syriana, The Kingdom). Throughout most of the movie, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen it before. I wanted something new, but this felt like a rehash.

Near the end of the movie, Crowe’s character says, “Ain’t nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There’s nothing here to like.” As far as films go, I tend to agree. I’m bored by the deserts, worn buildings, and warfare.

I didn’t have an emotional investment in any of the characters, and I rarely felt that they were in danger. There’s a romantic subplot that develops halfway through the film, and it seemed out of place.

I was bothered by a couple of things that should have been irrelevant, but they caught my eye. Most of them aren’t worth mentioning, but here’s one example. Ever since I saw the trailers for this movie, I’ve been annoyed by the characters’ hair. I know it should be trivial, but there’s no reason to dye DiCaprio’s hair pitch black (including his goatee). And Crowe’s hair doesn’t need to be grey and spiky. It was noticeably fake and distracting.

I was surprised to see Mark Strong as a Jordanian character, but he pulled it off. Strong has played supporting characters in several notable movies, such as Sunshine, Stardust, and a few Guy Ritchie films. Sure enough, his character in this movie has awkward grey streaks in his unnaturally black hair.

Even with all of my complaints, Body of Lies is a decent movie. It’s just not very inventive. I want more from the likes of Ridley Scott.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Hoax

I cannot believe I almost forgot to review this movie. This was the most fun I've had with a movie in a long time. Richard Gere gives a standout performance Clifford Irving, as the daring writer of the notorious Howard Hughes fake autobiography. He fooled smart people into giving him a million dollars to make up the famous Aviator and billionaire's life story, and he did it with guts, bravado, cunning, luck, and brilliance. It was an art. The fact that Gere as Irving is also self-centered, a liar, and a bit depraved is not lost in his performance nor the performances of the excellent supporting cast that includes Alfred Molina, Hope Davis, and Marcia Gay Harden. But Gere and Irving are charming and convincing of dubious lies and half-truths in a way that allows the audience to see his attractiveness and winning qualities. For all the lies and ruined lives that he left in his wake, Irving created what may be the most beautiful, complex, and artistic lie ever. His hoax is art. In an age when James Frey is vilified for his inauthentic memoir on Oprah, I wonder if in time and retrospect Frey's hoax will become art. The Hoax's director, Lasse Hallstom is the director of several acclaimed films including Chocolat and The Cider House Rules, yet his talent is often slighted by critics for his tendency toward Oscar-bait and heavy-handed material. Hallstrom guides The Hoax with a subtle hand. I never saw his hands on the film except for a CGI-lite plunge off a hotel balcony. Praise is due because he sculpted the performances, tone, and drive of the film in such a way that I rarely if never left the reality of the film while watching it to gauge his skill. The Hoax is the best forgotten or overlooked film of 2007. And Gere's performance in The Hoax (when included with other standouts roles in Chicago, Unfaithful, and underrated The Mothman Prophecies) cements his status as an actor of note after a subpar romance and thriller-filled decade in the 1990's.



The film is a construct of its conceit, and therein lies it's chief attraction. Synopsis:
Five men waking up in a chemical warehouse and realizing they don't know who they are and how they got there. But through time they deduct that some of them are hostages and some are kidnappers. The men now must figure out who is who as they've learned the lead kidnapper is on his way and plans to kill the hostages.
-Yahoo Movies

It brings the best part of the first Saw to mind, but Unknown has a solid cast and better than average plotting. Its setup and thrust into the action and confusion is thrilling, but the film struggles to maintain that level of excitement and believability through the climax. Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear, Joe Pantoliano, Jeremy Sisto, and Barry Pepper (you go, boy!) are the five men and Bridget Moynahan is the fretful wife of one of the hostages on the outside. The writer and the director aren't aces at their crafts (as evidenced by cliched visual cues and slighted yet prominent characters), but there is enough mystery and slight of hand to keep the audience guessing. Even when I had it figured out, the film had one twist left. Though that last twist may be to the film and audience's detriment. It added apathy to what had been up to that point my mild enjoyment. Still, I can recommend the film to fans of the cast and someone looking for something new on the shelves of Blockbuster (do people still go to video stores?) on a Saturday night.

I will say this: Jim Caviezel's performance in Unknown shows a vague but familiar hint of the untold potential he showed first in Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line. I don't think Caviezel can realize that potential again unless he is revived by another visionary director with the right part.



There are many showstopping moments in Dreamgirls. When they're singing, the actors fully embody the full magnitude of their characters' emotional dramatic potentials. When they're not singing (which is rarely), the performances can come off a little stale. I can see why Jennifer Hudson won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2007 for her performance as Effie White: it's for her tumultuous, gut-wrenching, powerful rendition of the song "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going". Wow. Breath-taking. Her handling of dialogue between songs: so-so and equal to the less acclaimed performance of superstar Beyonce Knowles as starlet and Diana Ross avatar (new favorite word) Deena Jones. The knock may be that while the production values, performances, and general entertainment are uniformly solid, Dreamgirls is not transcendent. None of these elements surpass the peaks of the musical genre. And perhaps my biggest knock is that none of the songs remain memorable to me save for Hudson's "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" and Knowles' "Listen". The one surprise for me was that the hype and praise for Eddie Murphy's performance as James "Thunder" Early is earned. It's an exciting, volatile, and entertaining performance that appears just as spontaneous as it does calculated.


Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda seems slight in substance. However, upon searching my memory, it's endlessly entertaining. The comedy and kung fu makes what probably would have been my favorite film if I was 11 or 12. As an adult, I can still see the seeds of calculated cunning. First, cast Jack Black as our hero Po. It seems an easy choice, and it is: because it's the right choice. He is able to infuse his onscreen avatar with his zany, boasterous humor, but temper it with a vulnerabilty and meekness that shows range (if only in his voice). Second, The script is smart and knowing. It understands that it is a cartoon for today. That's why any hint of self-seriousness is tossed away in favor of good-natured fun. That's why there're action figures with authentic battle damage. There's a lesson, but for the life of me I can't remember what it is. Maybe "believe in yourself"? Meh. Cue Rob Schneider (he's not busy): "You can do it!" The animation is also top-notch with character designs that put Kung Fu Panda in a league above other Dreamworks animated films like Shrek and Shark Tale. It's not up there with the Pixar elite, but it's a belly bounce in the right direction. Skidoosh.


The Rocker

Comedy check: did I laugh? Yes. A lot? Not really. The problem with The Rocker is mainly that every beat is as predictable as the last. There's nothing unexpected to the humor in The Rocker. And the trials and tribulations of the protagonist's mediocre band are as old and tired as a VH1: Behind the Music rerun. The only unique thing about this band is the old guy playing drums. And Rainn Wilson was miscast in his role. He seemed blatantly out of place as the has been wannabe black sheep drummer uncle. I don't want to typecast the guy into his Office persona: Dwight Schrute, but it's clear this direction was not the way to go. Chalk Emma Stone, who was so good in her supporting role in Superbad, up to miscasting as well. Her character's meant to be an awkward-friend-outcast, but Stone's clearly gorgeous and charismatic and eminently noticeable to everyone but supposed teen heartthrob and singer Teddy Geiger. Geiger's as dull as a doornail and must cop to the easily most cliched and boring character. Bright spot - Wilson chasing down his fleeing former bandmates on foot as they make their getaway in a van. An inspired comedic moment that only made the subsequent lack more apparent. Bright spot - Josh Gad as Wilson's awkward nephew. Gad's performance is genuine in a movie reeking of artifice.


Get Smart

I'll preface this review by saying that I have only passing, vague memories of the original television show.

Get Smart as a comedy shall be judged by genuine, well-earned laughs. I don't remember laughing once, though I may have cracked a smile once or twice. As an action film, Get Smart shall be judged on thrills. I wasn't impressed by any of the action sequences. I approached the movie with a certain amount of expectations based on Steve Carrell's starring role. However, it seemed that Carrell was playing at a character rather than embodying a character. His performance was more a kin to his shoddy work in Evan Almighty than the highs of Dan in Real Life or Little Miss Sunshine. He was straining to turn the lackluster dialogue and hijink setups in the script into laughs and the strain showed always. Anne Hathaway was gorgeous and dull and not at all believable as a spy (even in a comedy). Dwayne Johnson should not act. And Alan Arkin made me cry with his grumpy/fuming/hoarse company man routine. He's done it better in better films (i.e. - Glengarry Glen Ross, 13 Conversations About One Thing). In short, I was unentertained by the whole spectacle, and I cannot think of one interesting thing to say about it.


Me You and Everyone We Know

I think this film is best seen through the eyes of its creator - a performance artist. So I see the movie as as art outside the realm of what I am used to in terms of narrative, character expectations, acting, and so on. What it seems to be is an uniquely quirky film about odd-yet-easily-recognizable characters finding their way through love in its various forms. I was never bored. My interest remained peaked throughout. It was not always successful in cohesiveness - each of the "story" threads (July and Hawkes' love, Hawkes loves kids, creepy wannabe pedophile loves girls, online miscommunication) don't add up together despite writer/director/actress Miranda July's attempts. The sum of the parts is not the whole - and yet these are not vignettes. July's dialogue scratches her characters' surfaces, but it's the unsaid hurt and longing and apathy that lend her film gravity. As a performer, July is lacking. As an experimentalist, she's intriguing and refreshingly bold. Me You and Everyone We Know is not a complete thought. And I don't know that I get it all. But I want to know more...about everyone July knows or will know. I want to start with actor John Hawkes who has sparked my interest with tiny but memorable work in American Gangster and Miami Vice.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Best Actors Working Today?

I came upon this article on The Movie Blog (which I have never visited) interestingly enough. Here's the list and the link to the article and comments from yay and nay-sayers. Fun to make lists. Harder to agree.

Movie Blog's List:


Honorable Mention (In no particular order)
- Philip Seymour Hoffman
- Christian Bale
- Edward Norton
- Joseph Fiennes
- Ed Harris
- Johnny Depp
- Tom Cruise
- John Cusack
- George Clooney

It made me recall a similar list I flipped through in my teens in Entertainment Weekly - Top Actors of the 90's (on the cover as "Hollywood's 25 Greatest Actors)

I believe in no particular order:
Sean Penn
Johnny Depp
Harvey Keitel
Nicolas Cage
Anthony Hopkins
Ed Harris
Robert Downey, Jr.
Kevin Spacey
Samuel L. Jackson
Kevin Kline
Jeff Bridges
Gary Oldman
Alec Baldwin
Robin Williams
William H. Macy
Tom Hanks
Morgan Freeman
Denzel Washington
Kevin Bacon
James Woods
Daniel Day Lewis
Laurence Fishburne
Ralph Finnes
Robert De Niro
John Malcovich

small print:2-3 top-notch performances in the last five years [released in the U.S. 2003-2008] establishes A)more than just potential and B)best work is not just behind them. "Top-notch" is a designation I will leave loosely defined - though I'll admit it must surpass "a lot of fun," "merely charismatic," or "personal favorite," - and is the word most easily and welcomely contested in debate. Choices limited by what I have seen within the last 5 years.

4 round process: each rounds results available upon request

Final Rankings:

1.Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages, Capote)
2.Robert Downey, Jr. (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints)
3.George Clooney (Syriana, Michael Clayton)
4.Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl)
5.Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
6.Cillian Murphy (The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Sunshine, 28 Days Later)
7.Clive Owen (Children of Men, Closer)
8.Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac)
9.Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James, Gone Baby Gone)
10.Matt Damon (Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum, Syriana)

11.Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator, The Departed)
12.Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass, Garden State, Jarhead)
13.Paul Schneider (The Assassination of Jesse James, All the Real Girls, Lars and the Real Girl)
14.Steve Carrell (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Dan in Real Life, Little Miss Sunshine)
15.Brenden Gleeson (In Bruges, 28 Days Later)

comments are welcome

Anybody have a list they want to post?