1/25/16

Hateful Eight

 

The Hateful Eight.

This country invented the western movie genre. Directors like John Ford, Anthony Mann, Raoul Walsh, John Sturgess, Sam Peckinpah, and Clint Eastwood all moved the genre forward and made great if not epic films. Tarantino’s  newest can be added to that list. While firmly rooted in the classic past and paying homage to his famed predecessors  He has made a film that is unmistakably his own.  In casting a team of great actors , many from his own previous films the play has the added gravitas that only this crew could deliver. 
There are four shining stars on display here.
One. Is the writing (Tarantino)
Two. The breathtaking 70mm cinematography (Robert Richardson)
Three. The haunting music soundtrack by  Ennio Morricone
Four. Samuel L  Jackson.  Undoubtedly the star of this film.
Jackson is to Tarantino, as Marcello Mastroianni was to Fellini
When he is on the screen, (A lot of the time) he owns it, its as simple as that.
That is not in any way to belittle the rest of the cast.
The mustachioed brilliant Kurt Russell as bounty hunter John Ruth
Jennifer Jason-Liegh as Daisy Domergue his much battered prisoner
Tim Roth as Brit Oswaldo Mobray
Michael Masden as Joe Gage
Bruce Dern wonderful as confederate General Sandy Smithers are the main players.
It’s a set up, they are all stranded in a remote cabin during a winter storm, Ruth taking his prisoner to the nearby town to be hanged so he can claim the bounty. They soon take sides form alliances and circle each other like a pack of dogs. It becomes clear that Ruth’s task will not go unchallenged. The climactic violence which Tarantino has become famous for slowly builds to a crescendo that will not leave fans disappointed. In casting these wonderful actors Tarantino much like Peckinpah in  The Wild Bunch chose exactly the right people rather than bending to any current trend. 
A Modern Masterpiece.

4/10/07

Documentary 2006-2014



Twenty Feet From Stardom;
                                         In this mesmerizing documentary about back up singers, most of whom you have never heard of and some (if you are old enough) you have. Merry Clayton who  did the iconic singing on the Stones “Gimme Shelter” as well as a ton of other work. Darlene Love who first sang with the Blossoms, worked with Phil Spector and Elvis Presley. The astounding voice of Lisa Fischer has to be heard to believed and who has gone on every tour with the Stones since 1989. There are current commentaries by producer Lou Adler, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder. Sting and Bette Midler. The music and harmonies are spellbinding, and the women are beautiful in every way. 5000 stars







Cave of Forgotten Dreams;
Master film maker Werner Herzog come up with another memorable documentary. This one about the Chauvet cave in southern France, which is closed to the public and home to some of the most incredible pre historic paintings that I have seen. These drawings estimated to be 30000 years old have only recently been discovered, their sophistication and subtlety are a revelation. Only a filmic artist of Herzog’s ability could make what could have been a dry and clinical recording of facts into a totally engrossing journey into a wondrous past.
438 stars not for the claustrophobic



The Magic of Fellini;
A great little documentary about this Italian master, who was born at the right time in the right count
ry with the right producers to help him bring forth his brilliant films. With interviews with Fellini himself as well as Anthony Quinn, Claudia C
ardinale, Anita Ekberg, Donald Sutherland, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Lina Wertmuller, Paul Mazursky, Ettore Scola, Giuseppe Tornatore No one has a bad word to say about him and if you have seen any of his films you can see why. A Netflix recommendation



Into the great Silence:
If any need of proof that silence is golden, then here it is.
This mesmerizing documentary about life in the Chartreuse Monastery in the French Alps, is at once hypnotic, meditative and serene. Shot over a period of one year, this film follows, in detail the lives of the monks in this renowned abbey. Their daily routines and prayers and all recorded with a great deal of reverence. The photography is stunning, all shot with available light, and without any added soundtrack. The editing just about perfect lingering on shots for just the right amount of time, intercutting the interior scenes with the glorious alpine exteriors.
At 2 Hours and 40 minutes it is too long, director Phillip Groning, having made his point after 2 hours, but those first 2 hours won’t be ones that you will forget soon.
300 stars bring your own snacks

49 UP;
This latest installment in what must be the longest film experiment/documentary ever, is just as riveting as the first one, started 42 years ago as a one off BBC documentary. The purpose of which, was to track the progress of a cross section of British youngsters that cut across class and social lines to see how their lives would progress, and what role class and education had in how their lives would turn out. Director, Michael Apted realizing he was onto a unique social and filmic opportunity, chose to extend the idea well beyond its original time span, and has returned every 7 years hence to the same people to see how they are getting on in their lives. This latest episode, intercut as it is with previous one’s give a unique insight into everyone’s dreams, ambitions successes and failures. At once fascinating and predictable, viewing this remarkable film will touch everyone who see’s it.
500stars


Heart of Gold;
Jonathan Demme (Stop Making Sense) as crafted a wonderful document of a recent concert by Neil Young and his band playing at the historic Ryman auditorium in Nashville. Shot in the most unobtrusive and yet celebratory way, with wonderful editing, this film showcases Young’s latest album, “Prairie Wind” a cd full of great and poignant new songs. It’s really gratifying to see these aging rockers (i.e. Cream) still being able to come up with the goods. Young’s singing here is better than ever, and he shows why he has more than stood the test of time. With Emmylou Harris as one of the backup singers, How’s that for clout A Joy to watch
20000 stars (Are you ready for the Country)



The Devil & Daniel Johnston;
An engrossing look at creativity and madness, and how the two intersect. Daniel Johnston, at one point a boy wonder musician/composer, in the 1970’s is slipped some acid at a concert which becomes the tipping point in his already precarious mental state. He becomes increasingly delusional, on one occasion while his father is flying him home after a performance in his single engined plane Daniel, grabs the keys and throws them out of the window,grabs the controls and almost kills them both. By now he has already been in and out of mental hospitals, and has to be under constant supervision, (ultimately by his now ageing parents) Like other eccentric artists,(Syd Barret, Robert Crumb) somewhere underneath the madness is real talent, and this is the case here. The film makers here give a poignant portrait of a very troubled performer, his still enthusiastic public, and adoring parents.
350 stars (stay on your meds!)



”Shine a Light;
Martin Scorsese’s take on the Rolling Stones in Concert in IMAX. Well here we have “The greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World” in concert at the Beacon theater in NYC. I suppose the fact that none of the band members were in wheelchairs or had on breathing equipment, is testament enough to their stamina, but taking into account (or not) their history, life style and drug intake over the decades, this is a remarkable performance, especially by Jagger, whose manic physical antics have not diminished over the years. The film is intercut, on occasions, with some very early footage of interviews, one of which when asked by Dick Cavett whether he though he would still be performing when he was 60, Jagger shoots back immediately “Yeah easily” and here he is proving the point. The rest of the band are in great droll form. Scorsese is too, some of the “finding focus” shots were a bit irritating as were the close-ups of Mick’s bad teeth. And seen in the Imax huge 50 foot screen, the close-ups of Keef were really frightening. Nevertheless a great document of a great band by a great film maker, what else is there. 500 stars & fix ‘em teeth.




Gonzo, The Life & Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson;
In this exhausting and exhaustive account of the drug addled life and sad demise of this remarkable counter culture journalist/writer who finally became a victim of his own fame, this documentary in great detail recounts the life journey of Hunter S Thomson, (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and on the Campaign Trail) from idealist patriot (albeit with a very jaundiced eye) to depressed cynic who orchestrated his own departure with all of the hubris of a Hollywood producer. This is nevertheless a well crafted, endlessly entertaining film about a fascinating , iconic writer. Narrated by Johnny Depp, with contributing clips by George McGovern, Gary Hart, Jann Wenner, Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan and Ralph Steadman, who illustrated many of his books. If you are old enough to know who this person was this film is well worth your time.
346 stars and keep the guns unloaded


Encounters at the End of the World;
Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) takes his world view and cameras to Antarctica, to record some predictably stunning images, but also to interview some of the oddballs that would be attracted to a job description that includes, freezing your ass off, diving into water that is 2 below zero Celsius ,6 months of darkness, followed by 6 months of sunshine, living in what looks like a strip mining camp and a complete lack of greenery. It is these interviews , plus the wonderful soundtrack that lifts this film from being just another gorgeous look at our disappearing world.
As he did with his study of Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man, it is Herzog’s fascination with people on the outside of mainstream society and what drives them that makes this film very much worth looking at. A Master film maker at the top of his game.
560 stars and don’t forget your thermals.

4/9/07

Drama / Thriller 2006-2014


Boyhood
What director Richard Linklater has done here is taken a completely mundane story of an ordinary family growing up with all the messiness, trauma, travails and disruptions along with some unintentional joys that this path we’ve seen a thousand times entails. The enormous difference with this  three hour opus is that the director has gone to the trouble of compressing the twelve year span of the story in real time. Waiting until the central character, Mason startlingly portrayed by Ellar Coltrane actually transitioned from his initial six year old appearance until his final eighteen year old final scene, along with I might add the rest of the central cast. It is this remarkable conceit along with the directors undeniable gifts coupled with seeing Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as Mason’s divorced parents take this same twelve year journey and delivering  seamless performances. The final results hoisting the stories aforementioned mundanity into what was for the most part a unique viewing experience.

                                  August: Osage County.
                                         An unflinching and somewhat depressing view of a colossally dysfunctional family as they reunite to bury their father and  husband  of their drug addicted  and terminally ill mother Violet, played with vicious and effortless gusto by Meryl Streep. Taken from the Pulitzer Prizewinning play by Tracy Letts who also wrote the screenplay with an authenticity of personal knowledge and directed by John Wells these portrayals are not for the faint hearted. The three daughters Barbara, played with startling intensity by Julia Roberts, Karen,  delivering  a great floozy  portrayal by Juliette Lewis, and Ivy, the mousey one by Julianne Nicholson. Of the three Barbara is the only one who dares confront Violet’s towering disgust for herself and the family that has gathered to comfort her. Chris Cooper and Ewan McGregor as the ineffectual husbands, play second fiddle to their women. Margo Martindale as Violet’s (sister?) is also a standout. The acting of the lead women is high voltage stuff, at the end of this film in which there is no redemption I was exhausted and glad  not to have been involved with  this mad bunch living on the plains of Oklahoma.
500 stars

 

Philomena;
 Once again the incomparable Judy Dench prevents what could have been a maudlin  tale of tragedy from descending into the mundane. With the very capable assistance of director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen) This tale based on a true story  written by Martin Sixsmith tells the woeful tale  of a woman  the child she was forced to give up in her youth by the catholic church and the search she embarked on near the end of her life to locate him. Aided a journalist (Martin Sixsmith)  on the way down his career ladder ably portrayed by Steve Coogan,who also co wrote the screenplay mostly known in the UK for his comedic work. An engaging screenplay, deft direction, solid acting by the cast and the aforementioned brilliance of Judy Dench makes this a worthwhile viewing experience.
   
325 stars (mostly for Dench)




Gravity;
Director Alfonzo Cuaron, (y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men) Has put together a space version on the Poseidon Adventure, albeit with stunningly breathtaking visuals.  Sandra Bullock (never a fave) does a decent job as playing the sole surviving  crew member of a space shuttle destroyed by space debris. Neither the wise cracking George Clooney or the visuals can save this film from the fatal piece of debris that finally destroys what could have been a fine film. The appalling script  written by the director and his son. Its the writing kids, the writing, how many times to I have to say this!!
56 stars for the stunning visuals


4/21/13



To The Wonder;
                       Unquestionably  director Terence Malick is an unsurpassed visual poet his newest release confirms this in grand style. Neil, mutely played by Ben Afflec meets Marina, a single mother with a ten year old daughter played with somewhat, but not much more verbosity by Olga Kurylenko  in Paris, they romantically traipse various locales including the stunning Mont Saint-Michele monastery in a series of vignettes that look like they were lifted from a perfume commercial. Then  Neil has to come back home to the states Oklahoma specifically and Marina, even taking into account the rapturous love she feels for him, inexplicably decides to leave Paris with her daughter and come with him. It is a testament to Malick’s visual mastery that he is able to make a new housing development on the flatlands of that state look as artful as he does. Despite Marina’s efforts  her relationship with the mute Neil unsurprisingly falters, she  heads back to la belle France, soon after her absence the mute Neil comes across an old flame this budding romance also flames out. There are more comings and goings. Javier Bardem does a nice turn as father Quintana a priest who has lost his faith also marooned in this existential  landscape. The star in this valiant effort are the stunning visuals no matter where Malick points the camera (even to an industrial waste site) the poetry is undeniable. If Samuel Becket had not high jacked the non narrative of this tale this film would have been a masterpiece in stead of the gem it is


Trance;
           In this tortuously complicated caper flic  auctioneer Simon played by James McVoy is involved  in an audacious art heist with a group of shady criminals who’s leader Franck played by expert baddy Vincent Cassel suspects is trying to double cross him, when said painting goes missing from the swag bag. Claiming memory loss  after Franck clocks him during the heist, Franck then goes about trying to jog Simons memory first with a spot of torture, when that fails Elizabeth, played by Rosario Dawson enters the scene, she’s a shrink specializing in  repressed memory, under hypnosis tries to find out where the missing canvas is. From here on in it gets really complicated but engrossing all the way. The leads all do a good job the direction is brisk, the writing given the aforementioned complexity is remarkably coherent. If director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 28days later, Sunshine, Millions.) hasn’t knocked this one out of the park, he swung for the fences.
329 stars







Side Effects:
                   In Steven Soderbergh’s last big screen effort, (so he says) he’s weaved a very entertaining thriller, cut from the usual material, greed, swindling, corruption, and revenge, he has made out of this tiresome formula an inventive tale centered  around a new fictitious (for how long) anti depressant drug in which a young wife under the influence, (or is she?) of this new drug prescribed by her new unwitting psychiatrist played, (not badly) by Jude Law, murders her newly released from jail for stock manipulation, husband. The plot thickens rapidly after the first third and with the help of a briskly written (by Scott Z Burns) and edited (by Soderbergh screenplay. Roony Mara is convincing  as the protagonist, and Katherine Zeta-Jones does a nice turn as a doctor Mara is in cahoots with. I don’t know what Soderbergh has up his sleeve for his upcoming projects but if this is an indication it will be worth a look     263 stars & read the label first


                      


Amour;
If love has any meaning at all, one of its most powerful aspects are displayed with unblinking intensity in this new film. Georges ,wonderfully played by Jeam-Louis Trintignant is married to Ann rivetingly portrayed by Emmanuelle Riva, both in their eighties, are retired music teachers. Ann one day unexpectedly falls ill, as her condition deteriorates and hope for recovery fades it falls to Georges to take care of her. It is in the end his display of the love he has for her that equips him for this sometimes harrowing task, that he has no experience  of. Their daughter played by Isabelle Huppert, also a musician, who on her occasional visits, is shocked and dismayed by her mothers increasingly frail condition and of her fathers insistence in solely carrying out  her care, having no experience of her own of the love that propels him. Michael Haneke’s rigorous, unflinching direction, which at times lifts the film from the screen into its own reality, coupled with Darius Khondji’s  mesmerizing  camera work, provides a film that despite its majesty is sometimes hard to watch, but unafraid to portray an unvarnished picture of what real love means under less than idyllic conditions, which in my world is where it counts.
        

  
Rust and Bone;

                        This French entry has an itinerant boxer + jack of all trades Alain played by Matthias Schoenaerts  traveling from Belgium to Antibes in the south of France with his 5 year old son where he moves in with his somewhat unwilling sister who is a cashier in a local supermarket. Having a casual attitude to women and sex he meets Stephanie, played by Marion Cotillard (who played Edith Piaf in La vie en Rose) who works at the local sea world as a killer whale trainer. She gets in a scrape at the club where he is working as a bouncer and he drives her home. She has an accident at work with one of the whales (not the whales fault) and looses both her legs at the knee. Alain accidentally comes to some kind of rescue at Stephanie’s invitation and awkwardly some kind of relationship develops. That’s what this film is about, Alain is the knuckle headed  guy who at the heroines (I don’t know why she would bother) encouragement backs into what might be the first meaningful relationship in his life.  The one magical scene in the film is where Stephanie after her accident goes back to where she used to work and  somehow connects with one of the whales in its tank. Cotillard is the star of the show with a nuanced performance and Schoenaerts  does a good job too even if his character is one dimensional. Above average, sensitively directed  and nicely shot.  352 stars





 
Hitchcock;
                A terrific film,  the story of the relashionship between Hitch and his wife Alam Reville  during the making of his biggest hit Psycho. Wonderful writing John McLoughlin and Stephen Rebello.  Nicely directed by Sacha Gervasi  Helen Mirren as  Alama is brilliant , and Hopkins does  great job channeling Hitch. Nice turns by Danny Huston Toni Collete and a startling lookalike performance by James D’Arcy as the young Tony  Perkins. I had middling expectations for this film which  were blown out of the water by the  film itself.






Skyfall:
           Back in the groove, an almost perfect rendition after exactly fity years of the classic James Bond caper. Flawless direction by Sam Mendez seamless editing, stunning opening title sequence, breathtaking photography, hair-raising chase sequences, and the reappearance in grand style of the DB5, not to mention in incomparable Judy Dench as “M”. Daniel Craig plays it just right although the Bond girls he is surrounded by are increasingly looking like is daughters. Javier Bardem is perfect as the new villain, Ben Whishaw does a nice turn as the new “Q” All in all an almost completely satisfying  Bond experience, and  its  almost $88 mil opening weekend, its biggest ever, shows that this remarkable 50 year old franchise has plenty of steam left in it


10/29/12


 
Cloud Atlas;
                  You’ve seen the themes in this engrossing film before but not presented like this. Normally a film with more than one director let alone 3 is a recipe for disaster but it may be that the scope of this film encompassing as it does events from the mid 1800’s into the future 
These 3 (2 Wachowski’s and one Tykwer) do an amazing job of producing a coherent tale about evil, kindness, love, and how these qualities pass through human history with each person having an influence, through their actions. The principals, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon and Jim Sturgess all do a terrific job and all play 6 very different characters in the film. The official plot synopsis is 3 pages long so I won’t burden you here. The visuals are beautifully rendered, the editing is seamless,  These 3 have produced a remarkable piece of work, that probably merits  more than one viewing.  412 stars






I very rarely review films I’ve seen on Netflix but this one was so good and compelling an exception has to be made.
Monsieur Lazhar, is the story of an Algerian immigrant trying to get political asylum in Montreal Canada as a replacement for a teacher who hung herself in a classroom. Having to deal with a traumatized class enables this new teacher to hide his own tragic past. This film is so beautifully written and acted that it more than deserves the 3 film festival nominations that it has already garnered. Mohamed Fellag’s portrayal of Monsieur Lazhar is pitch perfect, but the real acting stars in this film are the children. in the class. Some of the scenes they are in are so riveting that I reversed the DVD  so I could see them multiple times.  This film is a visual throwback, long carefully composed scenes beautifully framed, where the acting and emotional portrayal get their due.
An absolute gem 500 stars



  
Prometheus;
                  Much like the ship Nostromo in the original Alien  film, any attempt to make a sequel prequel or any redo of the groundbreaking  1st film  is doomed.  Even when the talented director of that butt clenching space monster epic  is  recruited  for the job. Despite having over 100mil to throw at the project this  is still only  a C. The writing as always is the main culprit. The story is at once hackneyed and almost predictable. In the intervening 33 years we have been subjected to such a barrage of eye popping special effects that whatever Scott pulled out of his green screen hat, failed to paper over the cracks in the story. There were a couple of nice explanatory scenes in this film that explained  some of the mysteries in Alien but apart from that…. Nothing, and I saw it in IMAX and 3d  (the 3d WAS cool)  The acting standouts were  Michael Fassbinder as David  the coolly androgynous  android, (still not as good as Ian Holm as Ash in the original) and  Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth who does some startling self surgery to rid herself of some kind of alien embryo . Charlize Theron is in there too, but doesn’t do much acting.
Disappointing, but as good as you could do on this kind of project.
200 stars






Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy;
In this film version taken from the iconic John Le Carre novel set in the 1970’s. George Smiley brilliantly portrayed by Gary Oldman is given the task of ferreting out a suspected mole in British intelligence. If understated restraint is your cup of tea, you have it here on an industrial level. The Brits have long been the masters of this at the upper echelons of power. Oldman’s performance is astounding in this regard, without hardly any visual histrionics he goes about his task with unrelenting unblinking fortitude. There is from the rest of impressive cast almost equally focused performances. Toby Jones, (last seen by me in a Truman Capote film) Colin Firth ( the Kings Speech) Ciaran Hinds, all play the main suspects. The structure of this film is a very old fashioned, long takes, careful attention to detail and leisurely pacing , so much so that the first third seemed painfully slow, but after this it gathers steam and keeps you attention until the end. Never having seen the seminal BBC version with Alec Guinness as Smiley, I have no point of reference. This one on its own merits is worthy.
300 stars




The Artist;
A nostalgic but unsentimental look back on film in the late 1920’s. As silent movie star George Valentin wonderfully played by Jean Dujardin fails to come to grips with the oncoming switch to “talkies” his star, due to his pride and intransigence fades. However before this happens his path inadvertently crosses with his unseen future in the form of an admirer who takes the name of Peppy Miller, played with perfect pitch by Berenice Bejo. She becomes star struck and is determined to get into the business. When their paths cross during her initial audition he helps her. Soon his help is no longer needed, as her fortunes rise his wane. He descends into self pity and the bottle.This is s story that has been told hundreds of times before, but thanks to director Michel Hazanavicius light and sympathetic hand on the tiller, this time worn tale takes on a fresh and entertaining tone. The two stars are brilliantly cast and do a terrific job, hamming it up to a perfect degree without becoming parodies of their characters. John Goodman puts in a good turn as the autocratic studio boss, as does James Cromwell as the faithful chauffer of the once famous Valentin. Complete with a redemptive ending I left feeling my time had been well spent. 375 stars




The Skin I Live In;
Despite this being the most unrelentingly creepy films I have seen in a very long time, it is the work of a master director at the top of his form. Pedro Almodovar, one of a handful of directors who’s films I will see regardless of critics reviews and in this case I did not even know what the film was about having read no reviews at all. A Story line unrivaled in its intricacies, intelligence and integrity, I was constantly in awe of what I was seeing on the screen. The story is of a highly regarded plastic surgeon/psychopath who having lost his wife in a fiery car crash kidnaps and imprisions a young boy who he thinks has raped his daughter, who subsequently kills herself, and through a series of skillful and lengthly surgeries fashions this young man into a copy of his deceased wife. This synopsis of the screen play is the most rudimentary reductionist distillation of what appears on the screen. Antonio Banderas is brilliant as the physician, haunted by past psychosis that he is mostly unaware of. Elena Anaya is the finished product of his obsession, she plays the part with cold vengefulness, a stunning performance. Jan Cornet plays the kidnapped victim of Bandera’s madness. Almodovar in this film has produced a work that is so elegant, sophisticated and brilliantly executed as to separate him from every other director working today. 5000 stars




Melancholia:

The opening prelude of this wonderful film, is quite simply the most jaw droppingly beautiful 8 minutes of imagery to be projected onto a cinema screen in recent years. The story which stars Kirsten Dunst and a startlingly assured performance as a woman about to get married, despite the handfuls of Prozac she must have taken to go through this ordeal in front of her terrifyingly dysfunctional family. Her mother, played by the still mesmerizing Charlotte Rampling is a bitter shell of a woman, who brief speech at the wedding ceremony would be enough to send any bride/daughter running to the kitchen for the scissors. John Hurt is in there as well as the failed father. Charlotte Gainsbourg is Justine’s (Dunst’s) sister Clair. Against this backdrop of doomed merriment is the specter of a much larger and profound doom. A planet (Melancholia) has suddenly appeared from behind the sun and appears to be on a direct collision course with the Earth. It is the reaction to this terminal event by then two sisters which is at the core of the second part of this film. Justine her depression becoming all the more encompassing finds release and justification in the impending apocalypse . Clair on the other hand, who has a family becomes increasingly terrified as the errant planet looms ever larger. Justine is no help. Neither is Clair’s husband John played, by Keifer Sutherland, who initially puts his faith in the fact that certain scientists predict a close fly by, and when he realizes this is a false assumption goes into the barn…… Without spelling out all of the details of this film. I think it is safe to say that despite his sometimes loony pronouncements von Trier has produced here a groundbreaking piece of work flawed as it might be in parts, I defy any loudmouthed critics to produce anything in their respective fields that would even approach in the tiniest percentage the opening sequence of this film, never mind the balance.

The Tree of Life;
I’m a big fan, I have seen most of the films that this gifted director has released, (not that many). So this visually stunning opus comes as a disappointment. It is basically a story of growing up seen through the eyes of an eleven year old boy set in Waco Texas in the 1950’s. With all of the trials and tribulations along with the joy and wonder, that comes with a white middle class life of that, and in a sense any era. The 1950’s when things were simpler and more direct than they are today, it’s easier to tell this kind of story. The problem is that Malick has blown up this simple tale into operatic proportions, and the acting and emotional content, such as it is, cannot support such a grandiose premise. Hunter McCracken plays Jack the eldest of the three sons who bears the brunt of his fathers stern hand, played by Brad Pitt, who does a fine job as the somewhat tortured and ultimately disillusioned head of the house, Jessica Chastain, as the mother offers a fine performance, trying to balance her husbands discipline with a loving poetic emotionally charged world view. Sean Penn puts in a mute appearance as the grown Jack trying to make sense of his life in the modern world while carrying the weight of his childhood and unresolved relationship with his father around with him.
There is s strange sequence in the beginning in which it appears that one of the sons has died in some accident, and the mothers attempts to come to terms with this tragedy is accompanied by some wonderful otherworldly 2001 inspired visuals. The story then continues with all three sons intact. Malick’s direction accomplishes the goal of offering us a unique filmic experience, and even if in my eyes it falls short that does not diminish its worth. 496 stars










Another Year;
Director Mike Leigh has produced a wonderful aria to the ordinary. An aging couple happily married played brilliantly by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, whose teeth probably belong in the Smithsonian are a couple surrounded by friends with varying degrees of grief in their lives, mostly of their own making. The star of this retinue of misfortune is undoubtedly Lesley Manville as Mary, a single divorced woman of such an unhappy desperate demeanor delivered with such aching pathos and brilliant acting that it does not seem like acting at all. Peter Wright as Joe is another standout, as is David Bradley as Tom (Broadbent’s brother) who’s recent loss of his wife has left him almost mute with grief. In fact the whole film is studded with such amazing performances from people you have never heard of that you’ll wonder what kind of cinematic genius Leigh is, his unflinching camera refusing to leave an actors face, until he feels the message of that face is conveyed, long after an American director might have been rolling the credits is testament to his conviction to his actors. He has managed to make gold out of straw. And yet this is a story of unremarkable people living what might seem to be uneventful mundane lives, Leigh has turned this into one of the most engrossing films I have seen for a very long time. 500 stars restores your faith in humanity, even if it is acting.








Black Swan;
What ever happened to nuance, subtlety, innuendo, giving the audience credit for some intelligence, gone I suppose, with the advent of the 400 character limit on twitter the 500million on Facebook yakking about how long it took to brush their teeth this morning, or floss their cats, (oh dear I’m sounding like Ed again) Never the less this blight of bashing the audience over the head with every detail of the plot spelled out for them in minute detail has even befallen a talented director like Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) Some wags have rudely called this latest opus Wrestler in a Tutu, (not Desmond) This tale involves an insecure ballet dancer, on her way up the artistic food chain, with an overbearing mother wonderfully played by Barbara Hershey, who is selected (finally) to play the lead in Swan Lake, by a prima donna artistic director of a New York City Ballet company again wonderfully played by Vincent Cassel. With twin goals of getting his new choice to live up to his expectations, and getting into her pants, his portrayal of a sometimes sadistic taskmaster borders on the stereotypical image most of us in the non dance world have of this type of talented letch. Replete with neurotically driven dreams (which Araonofsky spells out for us in great seat squirming detail) she is driven in the end, despite a triumphant performance to…..
Well I’m not gonna tell you, but suffice to say, it is overly dramatic, over the top, and unnecessary to the story, which can be applied to many parts of this intelligent dramatic and beautifully executed tale by a gifted director.
326 Stars






The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest;
In the final episode of this unlikely Swedish thriller, justice is served , the baddies are all arrested and sent to purgatory, if not jail, revenge is satisfyingly meted out and our weird pierced heroine who after going through unbelievable torture at the hands of her father, mutant half brother, and evil nazi sympathizers , and with the aid of an unfulfilled but satisfyingly moral editor, and a very pregnant defense attorney is ultimately redeemed in the eyes of the law, but maybe not by herself, which given the ordeals she has been through might not be that surprising. Never the less despite some of the jaundiced criticisms of some of the more mainstream commentators I found this to be a nailbiter right until the end, despite knowing how it would all turn out, even though I have not read any of the books. How the money grubbing American producers who are in the process of filming their own version of this gripping trilogy can possibly hope to improve upon this version is beyond me.





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The Social Network;
A brilliant telling of the founding of Facebook, with some editorializing to be sure, but this does not take away from what director David Fincher has achieved here. A great insight into what the current minds of internet invention might be like, and the world they inhabit. Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg is terrific as the obsessed nerd who will do anything to ensure the survival of his baby, Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker the flawed genius, founder of Napster, is also impressive and Andrew Garfield as the thwarted cofounder of Facebook is great as well. The pace is frenetic, the editing brisk, the dialog clever and engaging, the screenplay and writing by Andrew Sorkin (The West Wing) barely leaves room for you to catch you breath. There are barely any dead frames in this one. This is a very big production and director Fincher is at the top of his game an edge of the seat nailbiter till the end
500 stars remember its all in the code.







Life During Wartime;
The opening scene; In a low rent restaurant in a booth a tear rolls down the face of the ironically named Joy, played wonderfully by Shirley Henderson, across from her sits her husband Allen, played by Michael Williams, they are celebrating an anniversary, Michael asks Joy why she is upset, she responds, oh its nothing and stops her tears. Michael then gives Joy an unexpected present, which reignites the tears, Michael by this time also distraught starts to cry. The waitress appears and asks the couple if there is anything they want. Michael mumbles something, the waitress on hearing Michael’s voice recoils in horror spits at him in disgust and storms out. It turns out that Michael is a sex offender and the waitress was one of his victims, “I never forget a voice”
After this opening scene as the film progresses the tone unbelievably declines. The cinematic world that director Todd Solondz inhabits is so fraught with small terrible horrors that one wonders where it all could possibly end, and why the devil the audience wasn’t each given a handful of Prozac on the way in.
In another scenario Trish also played terrifically by Allison Janney a divorced single mother who has started a new relationship that she believes is love. On returning home she tells her youngest son completely inappropriate details of her evening while in a later scene she neglected to tell him that his father was not dead but a convicted pedophile (who has just been released from prison, and unbeknownst to all is headed back to the neighborhood). The hapless son finds out from his schoolmates.
Helen another sister played with quiet hysteria by Ally Sheedy, is so off the rails that she, despite her material success as a screen writer is unable to deal with any kind of reality at all. There is also a really creepy (in a master stroke of casting) appearance in several scenes by Andy, Joys deceased (as if things weren’t hear raising enough) boyfriend played by Paul Reubens aka Pee Wee Herman. Andy appears several times from beyond the here and now to further harass Joy as to the reasons for him offing himself over their failed relationship and what chances there were of them getting back together in a sort of trans dimensional rekindling of their former nightmare. The stunning Charlotte Rampling makes a cameo appearance as a vicious bitter self loathing woman who unknowingly picks up in a bar the returning pedophile husband of Trish for a one night stand of meaningless sex.
(Although meaningless sex and Charlotte Rampling would be oxymoronic)
I mean it takes a very special mind to put together this tsunami of misfortune and misery into a coherent film. But Solondz has out done him self.
This being said this ensemble of extremely talented actors are all at the top of their game, and give this film unrelenting depth and form. Solondz is a gifted director, his eloquent mining of human misfortune without resorting to too many clichéd stunts is un matched.
263 stars Don’t for get the Prozac






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The American;
Ex still shooter Anton Corbjin tries his hand at a big feature film starring George Clooney as Jack a professional killer on his last (so he thinks) mission. Taken from the novel “A very Private Gentleman” by Martin Booth, Clooney plays the that role to the max. In doing so Corbijn has squeezed every last ounce of that famous Clooney charm and screen charisma out of Jack, leaving a dour dimensionless character for us to try and relate to. It fails. We have little sympathy for Jack’s position and little admiration for his skill and technical expertise as a cold assassin. Its hard to know where to point the finger of blame for this one. Generally ex photographers do not make good film directors, their efforts tend to look very beautiful (not even this is true in this case despite being filmed in Tuscany) but they lack the narrative talent, (true here also) Or it could be that Corbjin has faithfully followed the book (which I have not read) which could have portrayed Jack and his relationships in the same way, in which case Corbjin missed an opportunity to correct this. In any event the director is mainly responsible for the film, and this one missed the mark.
156 stars (mainly for Jack’s stunning hooker girlfriend)





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The Disappearance of Alice Creed;
With a cast of 3 this gritty British thriller keeps you on the edge of your seat until the last frame. 2 ex cons kidnap the daughter of a wealthy businessman. The film opens as they are silently soundproofing and armoring the apartment that they will hold her prisoner in. The snatch is done with swift efficiency. The terrified woman his handcuffed to the bed with a hood over her head, most of the time. The kidnappers wear ski masks whenever they are in the room with her. The plan in the beginning goes smoothly. The 2 felons Vic a 40 year old played with cold fury by Eddie Marsan and his younger nervy compadre played by Martin Compston are both riveting as is the victim played by Gemma Aterton. What is the real star here is the screenplay. The writing and directing are taut and spare both by J Blakeson. I’m not giving away any of the story but it is full of surprises which is what lifts this thriller out ordinary by a long stretch. Not for the squeamish as ex cons with kidnapping and extortion in their game plan tend to be nasty and violent which these 2 most certainly are. However if you can get past that, then this is a good one.
357 stars double triple back double cross





Inception;
In this startlingly original thriller director Christopher Nolan ( Insomnia,, Memento, The Dark Knight) has fashioned a nail bitingly edge of the seat, I’m not going to the bathroom no matter what, caper. In which Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio is the best at the art of extraction, in which he enters the dreams of his victims and steals secrets for corporate rivals This has made him a highly desirable gun for hire and also an international fugitive (for reasons we are not told) However success has its downsides as we all know, and tied up in his own subconscious is an alternate universe in which his deceased wife is alive and well, and they frolic around together happily. Reality intrudes as it will, even in this futuristic netherworld in which a person could have trouble distinguishing dreams (especially if they have several levels and dimensions) from your workaday humdrum corporate espionage and assassinations. Given the opportunity to do one last job, enabling him to clear his name enter the US without the threat of immediate arrest and see his children in what he hopes is some kind of reality, he takes the job on. This time to insert into his victims brain an idea which will help a corporate rival. This is much more difficult than the mere “extractions” that he is so renknowned for. Anyway after he assembles his team and starts the assignment all kinds of mayhem ensues from the fertile imagination of director Nolan. The film has the requisite gun battles and eye popping CGI effects but because the concept and the writing is at the fore, (much as it was in the first Matrix film, which is a distant cousin) and it is used with reason and restraint, and that makes it ok in my book,(which is the one I’m writing from in this instance) The film runs for over 2 hours and I didn’t look at my watch once, although when the film was over I did leave with a somewhat truncated gait. The star here is Director Nolan, closely followed by DeCaprio, Ellen Page (who I love, what a face) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy Marion Cotillard, and a cameo appearance of Michael Cain. A terrific piece of work and for once a deserved recipient of the highest grossing film for its release weekend.
568 stars hoping your dreams are more peaceful



The Girl who Played with Fire;
The second in this thrilling trilogy taken from the best selling books by Stieg Larsson. In this episode the same cast is on the trail of the baddies who murdered to new staffers to the Millennium Magazine that is about to publish an issue uncovering some very high ups in the sex trafficking trade. The unstoppable and very hot Lisbeth Salander played by the equally hot and unstoppable Noomi Rapace is back trying to clear her name as she has been framed by the baddies for the murders. Head journo for the mag Mikael Blomkvist played by Michael Nyqvist (why didn’t they just use his real name?) is also back helping to clear Lisbeth’s (who he has a BIG crush on) name also. Battling the incompetent cops and dodging some very nasty and dangerous characters everyone has to be on their toes the whole time. The plot and screenplay are both complex and multilayered full of unexpected turns. The direction by
Daniel Alfredson is deft and light-handed and the acting, as with the first film is spot on. Alfredson is not the director of the first installment (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was directed by Niels Arden Oplev) so he has to contend with the fact that his installment lacks the element of surprise that the first film had (unless you read the books). Never the less this film is still a real gripper tense, taut and….. well…. gripping.
The most dangerous thing not in the film is that they are working on an American version of TGWTDT that will have to jump really high to compete with the original. The third in the trilogy (there ARE three of them) The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, is waiting in the wings. PS I just looked at the trailer for the next film and even in Italian it looks completely kool. 565 stars and aim carefully






Ghost Writer;

Director Roman Polanski has crafted a clever thriller loosely based on Tony Blair’s involvement in Iraq. I this fictitious version a ghost writer is hired to replace the previous occupant of this position who has died under mysterious circumstances, to “spin “ the memoir the ex prime minister has written into something the public might want to read. Things, as the writer, played by Ewan McGregor soon balloon out of control and he is involved in much more than his original assignment dictated. Pierce Brosnan plays Adam Lang the ex prime minister, but he has some difficulties in leaving “Bond” behind. Olivia Williams does a much better job playing his acerbic wife. All in all an engaging piece of work, with the r

equisite above par screenplay and the hand of a master director evident. I’m note sure the subject matter was worth the effort though.
247 stars and don’t take every job you agent hands you




The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo;
In this long but engrossing Swedish thriller, journalist Michael Blomkvist who has recently been found guilty of libel and sentenced to 6 months in jail, for outing a corrupt financier, is hired by reclusive industrialist Hendrik Vangar to find his niece, who he believes wasmurdered 40 years earlier, but the murder was never solved and the body never found. Obsessed by this disappearance he talks the reluctant Journo into taking on the case to fill the time he has to wait before his sentence must be served. What he finds out with the help of an extremely punk and disturbed hacker is that there is much more to this case than he originally thought. Involving, in no particular order, a sadistic probation guardian, several nazi sympathizers a serial murderer of women,(who has never been caught), most of whom are members of the family that Hendrik is the head of. A dense involving screenplay, moody Nordic overtones subdued Scandinavian direction along with his mysterious enigmatic side kick the twists and turns of the plot make this film, despite its length an engaging nail biter ‘till the end

349.5 stars and keep your laptop camera turned on.







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35 Shots of Rum.
A Parisien slice of life as seen from the cab of a subway driver. A widowed father and his soon to leave home daughter try and sort out their lives. A rambling narrative and yet strangely affecting. Nothing really out of the ordinary happens just folks trying to make the best of their relationships. To look at, this is an old fashioned film, long takes on faces emoting, everything in these ordinary lives gets noticed and is artfully given its time on screen. It is the sum total here given time to breathe by veteran director Claire Denis, that makes this one worth a look
245 stars + 3 brioche royals




Sherlock Holmes:
Director Guy Ritchie knows where his talent lies, he’s done a better job in updating this legendary sleuth than he did with Madonna. Purists will writhe and possibly vomit, but the rest of us will applaud. Robert Downey Jr continues his comeback with a stirring and yet tongue firmly in cheek portrayal, he inhabits the role with gusto giving us a disheveled absent minded slightly mad Holmes. His sidekick Watson is played terrifically by Jude Law (the nanny diaries) and is a match for Holmes at every turn. The plot, pacing, visuals and editing are all there in Ritchie style, which makes this unconventional reportrayal of a historically famous character fresh new and relevant, and cool as well.

Lots of fun 236.5 stars

Broken Embraces;
Another masterwork from director Pedro Almodovar. In this story a blind film director Mateo, retraces the events that led to his blindness,14 years earlier. A terrible road accident that not only robbed him of his sight but also Lena, the love of his life, who was also the mistress of a powerful business magnate, who in order to keep her, finances the film that he was directing at the time. A richly complex story full of wonderfully nuanced performances, insightful dialog, and a seemingly unparalleled understanding of the subtleties of human relationships and their interactions, add to this his breathtaking visual acumen and you have an almost flawless piece of work. Starring Penelope Cruz as Lena, Lluis Homar as the director Mateo Blanco, Blanca Portillo as his faithful producer, and Tomar Novas as her son Diego. Almodovar shows no signs of any lapse in his string of stunning cinematic achievements. If you have any interest in cinema at it highest realization, a must see event.
899 stars





An Education
Set in 1960’s London this coming of age film in which Jenny a high school student played by Carey Mulligan eventually learns some of the ropes of life, at the Hands of David played by Peter Sarsgaard, a somewhat oily character twice her age. Driving around in a fancy car (a very nicely restored Bristol). Easily impressed and chafing to get out from under the strict regime of her father, wonderfully played by the underrated Alfred Molina. She takes up with David and his wealthy neer do well friends for fun travel drinking cigarettes, soon getting used to this exotic lifestyle. The slippery David makes the effort to ingratiate himself to Jenny’s parents to win their approval of his courtship. (this is after all 1960’s England) Things like this have a habit of being too good to be true, and so they are in this case. While not ending in tears, after Jenny discovers the underside (so to speak) of this relationship, her parents seemingly pedestrian quest for her to attend Oxford University doesn’t seem so unimaginative. This is a tale that has been told countless times before on the screen but this telling is finely wrought and intelligently presented.

255 stars do your homework




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Adoration;
Director Atom Egoyan has crafted a densely intelligent multi layered story of a boy, Simon, played by Devon Bostick who at his French teachers behest takes a current news story of an attempted hijacking and makes it his own with himself playing the part of the son of the pregnant woman who’s terrorist husband has planted a bomb in her luggage. With the teachers encouragement Simon continues to develop this story and without the her knowledge posts it on the internet where in an explosion of chatroom frenzy it takes on a life of its own, no one knowing online that it is fiction, Simon thinking that if he reveals this fact it will lose its authenticity. Simons real parents died in a car crash when he was a young child and he has been raised by his mothers brother after her death. This fictional story of his parents demise is really a vehicle for Simon to try and come to terms with the real events of their death. His uncle a tow truck driver has no such devises to help him deal with his part in their deaths. Also the teacher has more to do with Simon and his history than is first revealed. The acting is first rate especially by Arsinee Khanjian who plays Simon’s teacher. This is such perfectly realized film, wonderfully written (by Egoyan) the structure is flawless and the directing completely transparent, which is to say brilliant. Another one to add to list, I have never seen anything that he has done which has been less than remarkable. This film was in Dallas for 7 days I just saw it on DVD (thanks Netflix)



Tetro;
This Byzantine family drama starring Vincent Gallo as Tetro , starts when Bennie the erstwhile younger brother played by Alden Ehrenriech pays a visit while the cruise ship he is working on is being repaired in Buenos Aires. After a warm welcome by his brothers lover played by Maribel Verdu, he is shocked by the hostile reaction to his appearance by his brother and hero. Trying to find out what happened to the promising writing career of his brother any why he is such a hostile shell of his former self is what this ingenious multifaceted tale is all about. All of this drama swirls about the head of their imperious father, a world renowned orchestra conductor played by the great Klaus Maria Brandauer. The wonderful complexity and operatic staging of this Wagnerian production shows that Coppola is still at the height of his creative powers, long after many of his contemporaries have faded. The visuals are stunning as are every other aspect of this terrific film. If you want to see creativity transferred to the screen unencumbered by a barrage of technical trickery, this is your ticket. A brilliant piece of work by a cinematic master. IF you are a Dallas resident you have already missed it but look for it on DVD 500 stars every family has its secrets hope your are not like this


Public Enemies;
The life and death of John Dillinger as imagined by Michael Mann,( Miami Vice, Ali, Collateral, The Last of the Mohicans, Manhunter). and Johnny Depp. A surprisingly restrained effort by director Mann, full of great visuals wonderful framing, thoughtful dialog great period detail, superb soundtrack, and for the action fans plenty of Tommy gun shootem up action. Christian Bale gives a somewhat wooden performance as Melvin Purvis the head G man, appointed by a pre cross dressing J Edgar Hoover, played by Billy Crudup, (what kind of name is THAT) who is leading the charge after Dillinger. All in all a very polished looking and sounding production artfully put together, you know the ending but that doesn’t matter. 256 stars





Moon:
Sam Rockwell (a fave), Choke, Frost/Nixon, plays a lone employee of a multinational mining company that has set up an outpost on the moon to mine rock, turn it into some kinda gas shoot it back to earth in capsules as a fuel to power all the generating stations on the planet instead of the fossil fuel they were burning thereby reversing global warming. (If only) Coming to the end of his very lonely three year contract, Sam starts to “see things” (wouldn’t you?) and on an excursion to one of the robotic mining machines his little rover crashes into it stranding him. Cut to the inside of the base and he is in the infirmary being tended to by the Hal like computer, voiced by Kevin Spacey (geddit?). Wanting to know what happened the computer tells him of the incident at the mining machine, and as he is getting better, thinks nothing more of it. When he recovers wondering around the base he stumbles upon another person, who looks exactly like him. Who is this person, how long has he been there, why hasn’t he seen him before, why does he look exactly like him. Answers to these intriguing questions can only be answered if you see the film. How ever the film is a disappointment not by it’s story line, but by the script and the budget, some of the moon scenes and the interior of the base look like they came from early star trek TV episodes, and although this shouldn’t be a problem, combined with an overly long and convoluted screenplay the cumulative result is disappointing. Rockwell soldiers on in a missed opportunity vehicle. Too bad I think the guy is great. 102 stars.


Limits of Control;
There is a small cadre of directors who’s films I will see without any previous references to other critics or prevailing public opinion. Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law, Mystery Train, Night on Earth, Coffee & Cigarettes, Ghost Dog) is one of them. His new film is as enigmatic refreshingly different and engaging (to me) as anything he has done. The premise is simple, a hit man ( Isaach De Bankole) is hired to off an executive. This hit man who is unnamed must have the fewest lines of any lead actor in the history of talkies, most of the film takes up his preparations for the hit, which takes place i
n an isolated mansion outside Seville Spain. He is contacted by unnamed heavies , given enigmatic clues and instructions as to where he is next to go and what to do. One o
f these messengers is played by Tilda Swinton in a hilarious disguise, another by John Hurt, and finally G
ael Garcia Bernal, each taking him further along to road to his mission. You really have to pay attention to this one and still might come out scratching you head, however the visuals, editing and music will make the ride worthwhile, if you are willing to put convention aside.

Star Trek;
The latest in this 30 year old franchise is nothing more than a western set in space, (as was Star Wars) However director JJ Abrams working on this prequel has reinvigorated this franchise much as Daniel Craig reinvigorated the much older Bond series. The plot such as it is doesn’t matter, it is a shootem up in which the rebellious James T Kirk and the emotionally devoid (almost) and annoyingly superior young Spok first cross swords but team up to quell a mad baddie out to destroy the federations planets, because he thinks that is what they did to his planet. Clearly future intellect has not advanced much in the year 2233. Nevertheless Abrams has cleverly made very good use of the emotional attachment that the country clearly has to this series which is now ingrained for better or worse into the national psyche. It does have it’s entertaining moments, which probably explains it’s over $72 mil take on the opening wee kend.
159 stars & keep your cool at all costs if you want to captain “The Enterprise”


Lymelife;
Everyth in g that is wrong with the soloist is right with this little gem. Set in the 70’s on Long Island New York this is a study of the precarious balance that can be lost in family life. Told through the eyes of 15 year old Scott, terrifically played by Kieran Caulkin it tells the story of his own coming of age, at the same time the fallibility and flaws of his parents are becoming painfully apparent to him. The skillful display of these two clashing emotions is what fuels this film. The entire cast display their wonderful acting abili ties and directors Derick & Steven Martini have the sense to stay out of their way. The puffy faced Alec Baldwin does a great job as the overbearing and confused father/husband. Jill Hennessy is also great as his put upon wife. Cynthia Nixon as Baldwin’s co worker and ultimate affairemiester is also terrific and Timothy Hutton as her out of it husband who may or may not be suffering from Lyme disease is great. The casting is spot on, the acting is top notch, the writing, also by the Martini bro thers is lucid and realistic, the editing and music are seamless. The Martini brothers, who also have bit parts in the film, have produced an aforementioned little gem.
343 stars and sta y away from those wood tics







The Soloist;
Lets cut to the chase. A terrible terrible film. Whoever edited the preview film deserves an Oscar and t he n should immediately be prosecuted for fraud. This is a classic case of a good s tory, which is t aken from true events, being squandered by an inept direct or with no se nse of narrative, timing, editing, how to handle a talented lead cast, a nd despite being a brit displaying a hugely inflated ego. The perpetrator of this mess is Jo e Wright (Atonement). The story (if you care at this point) is of a LA Times reporter, somewhat overplayed by Robert Downey Jr. scuffling around for a story to revive his flagging career, he comes across a homeless schizophrenic, Nathanial Ayers stirringly played by Jamie Foxx, playing a violin with only 2 strings in a park, this man and his music catches his ear and his journalistic instincts. He then discovers that he was an ex student at Julliard, and then Lopez (Downey), decides to take the man under his wing, try to get him back on his feet, along with his own care er. This could have been a sincere heart wrenching story but, the aforementioned ADD addled narrative never gives any segment of the film a chance to build up any emotional momentum, by the time you are involved with a current dramatic piece, the film flashes back to some horror of Ayers childhood, which along with THAT cast has the look of another film completely, this happens several times during the film by which time you have long ceased to care about the fate of our poor hero, and you are reaching for the lithium yourself. There are so many bases that the director is trying to cover, the homeless, mental health, the nobility of the poor, classical music’s curative powers, the advantages of having your life’s possessions in a shopping cart, the downsides of living under a bridge near a noisy freeway when you are playing a two stringed violin, that needless to say he achieves nothing, other than to waste 2 hours of your time an d in the process doing the seemingly impossible, mangling Beethoven.
If I have ever given any stars to this buffoon I want them all back and he owes me 10,000 stars to boot.


Duplicity;
A big time Hollywood production which pits two stars against each other in a game of double triple cross. Star #1 Julia (fab teeth) Roberts plays an ex CIA agent who crossed swords and other body parts with ex MI6 agent and current hunk Clive Owen. Their ostensible task is to secure a patent between two warring corporations. An implied past steamy relationship complicates the task these two smarties have in dealing with each other on this mission, where nothing is admitted, and no one is to be trusted especi ally if you have just shagged them. They come up with their own plan to screw both corporate parties and make off with the loot themselves to live happily ever after. This is just one of the subplots that comes up in ever increasing rapidity by a screenwriter who obviously has a near terminal case of ADD. Nevertheless there are enough glamorous locations, semi witty dialog and teeth on the screen to make this fanciful romp enjoyable. Tom Wilkinson plays a corporate bigwig who has the last laugh. Leave logic and plausibility at the ticket booth and you’ll enjoy this one.
227 stars and use that gleem



The Wrestler;
There is a shot at the very end of this film in which Mickey Rourke, aka Randy “the Ram” Robinson launches himself from the ropes of the ring into the air at his opponent. It is with this abandon that Rourke throws himself into this role. His last memorable one was as one of the animated characters in Sin City in 2005.
In this film he portrays a wrestler on the down side of his career, every aspect of his life is diminishing to the point that when a possible opportunity of redemption appears he fails to recognize it. This is a portrait of the underside of American entertainment and it is not a pretty sight. However “the Ram” is so invested in his history he has no choice, as he sees it other than to carry on until the end.
Marisa Tomei does a wonderful job playing a stripper and possible love interest, and Evan Rachel Wood is also great as his embittered estranged daughter.
Director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) treats the visuals much like a docum entary following Rourke down hallways and into the ring, without the intrusion of the irritating “jigglecam”. There is no slack in the screenplay and this grueling drama has moments of genuine pathos, without being maudlin. There has been lots of blab about this being Rourk’s comeback role, he does do a wonderful job and invests him self fully in the part, now if he stops shooting himself in the foot long enough there might be and good body of work to follow. 347 stars wrap your elbows and take your meds




Revolutionary Road;
A won derful picture. Kate Winslet gives a terrific performance as a reluctant housewife who refuses to let go of her dreams even though she is married to a husband who has given up on his. Set in the 1950’s Franks and April Wheeler move to the suburbs, for what they think is the ideal life thinking that this is what they want. April soon realizes that it is a trap they have fallen into, she convinces him that a move to Paris is what they need to revive their relationship, and reinvigorate their lives, initially Frank agrees , and they are happy, but an unforeseen promise of promotion, more money and Aprils unexpected pregnancy pulls the plan off the table. April cannot stand this capitulation by Frank and takes matters into her own hands, with disastrous consequences for Frank. Concise sure handed direction by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition). The aforementioned stunning performance by Winslet, and a c reditable performance by Leonardo DeCaprio, who is getting better with each screen appearance, and great art direction by Teresa Carriker-Thayer, John Kasarda,Nicholas Lundy, editing by Tariq Anwar and camerawork by Roger Deakins, ensure that the story by Richard Yates gets to the screen in style.
469.5 stars and stick to your guns no matter what




The Reader;
Based on a book by Bernhard Schlink and directed by Stephen Daldry (The Hours) this very dense complex literary tale of courage loyalty and shame weaves the tale of a teenage boys first affair with an older woman and the scars it leaves on his life. This takes place in post war Berlin where the boy played by David Kross is taken in on his way home one day after falling ill. The woman Hannah Schmitz played by Kate Winslet who works as a conductor on a tram soon starts a torrid affair with the much younger schoolboy. An integral part of the affair entails the boy reading to Schmitz from literary works each time he comes over. This lasts the summer after which she mysteriously disappears. Nearly ten years later as a young law student is observing a war crimes trail in which to his horror Schmitz is one of the defendants. During the trial Schmitz takes the fall for the other defendants rather than admit she is illiterate. Even though the student has the knowledge that might get her a lighter sentence, he does not come forward to present it and save her from the life sentence that she receives, as opposed to the four years that the other defendants get. Is this an act of coward ice or conflict, whatever it is it cripples his later emotional life. At the end of her sentence he finally and half heartedly at the behest of the prison chief offers her help so she can return to society, her response is at once sad, chilling and given her circumstances predictable, this further traumatizes the now grown Michael Berg played by Ralph Fiennes into trying to repair his relationship with his estranged daughter. This is a complex study of a relationship beset by many secrets and eventual heartbreak set against the backdrop of postwar German guilt over the atrocities that some of its citizens were involved with. A Wonderfully written story directed with sympathetic humanity by Daldry who is in top form. Kate Winslet is the star here she adds another fine performance to a string of recent impressive appearances.
456 stars.



Benjamin Button;
Direct or David Fincher best know for his heavy metal violent adventure films changes gear to bring us this fantasy/philosophical/ morality/romantic/adventure film. Covering so many bases in one go is bound to come to some kind of grief. Even with stars like Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett this one misses the mark. A broad sweeping life drama whose main party trick is that Benjamin who is born and abandoned by his father because of his geriatric looks, grows progressively younger as time goes by. Based on a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald this thin premise is not enough to support such a bloated (3 Hour) production. Blanchett plays daisy and young girl who Benjamin meets when she is very young and he is very old, they meets many years later when they are both about the same age, (she getting older, and he younger) they have a child, he then leaves to continue is journey towards infancy and finally returns to be taken care of be the now grandmotherly Daisy. This whole story is told by the now dying daisy who appears in the opening scenes of the film to her daughter to is by her bedside in hospital and reads from a heretofore hidden diary to discover her history.
George Carlin had a very funny routine based on the same premise in which proposes the idea that life would make much more sense if played out in the same way, i.e. starting out very old and ending in, well you know what.
That routine took about a minute and a half to tell, and was much more effective. 150 stars




Frost/Nixon;
This might be Ron Howard’s best directorial effort to date. Aided by a stunning performance by F ra nk Lan gella as the besieged and fading Richard Nixon who going for an enormous fee, gets suckered into a dangerous situation believing that talk s how host David Frost is no match for his int ellect, which initially proves to be correct. For Frost getting this interview would be his big chance at being taken as a serious journalist/interviewer. In the first 3 interviews as portrayed in this film Nixon proves to be a far more savvy adversary, hogging all the airtime and not giving Fr ost to get any time in at all. Howard’s deft directing and editing stops the film from being just a strait narrative run at the subject. Michael Sheen who played Tony Blair in The Queen does a very creditable job of playing Frost, as does Sam Rockwell as the hot headed James Reston Jr. Oliver Platt chimes in as Bob Zelnick, as the second of Frost’s “advisory team”. But it is Langella who is the magnetic draw here, his on screen presence is all powerful and Howard knows how to use it to wonderful effect.
350 stars and burn the tapes.



Doubt;
John Patrick Shanley the author and Pulitzer prizewinning director of the Broadway production of Doubt, has transferred intact his abilities to the screen. With the aid of Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in the roles of Sister Aloysius Beauvier and Father Brendan Flynn, (guess who plays who), both of whom are at the very top of their form, which in Streep’s case is all the more remarkable given that her form as been so long. This histrionic battle of wills takes place in 1964 at St. Nicholas school in the Bronx, where father Flynn a charismatic, progressive priest takes under his wing the first and only black student. After sister James, a young new teacher at the school, suspects, without any evidence some impropriety between the two, and relates here suspicions to sister Aloysius, sister Aloysius decides, again without any evidence to get father Flynn removed from the school. The confrontations between the two are very intense, beautifully written, and Streep’s towering acting in these scenes is quite frightening in it’s repressed rage and seeming authenticity. Hoffman more than holding his own albeit in a more histrionic way against what must certainly be the best female actor in the country. The title gives the film it’s reson a’etre, doubt being that most human quality and certainty, which the sister initially displays being it’s most misguided and dangerous. The genius of this film is once more in the writing and how Shanley has displayed for us how these two qualities can enlighten or poison the human condition.
798 stars and pay attention in class or else!


Milk:
In Gus Van Sants retelling of the rise and assassination of the San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk by fellow council board member Dan White. Sean Penn once more rises to the challenge and completely inhabits the role with his acting abilities. While the structure of the film is a very conventional tale of rise of a political leader of an oppressed minority to power and the almost inevitable quashing of that power by a radical opponent, to be followed by a groundswell of support that goes on to further the cause, this story has been told many times before, but Van Sants obvious affinity to this story coupled with Penn’s acting gifts makes this version compelling viewing nonetheless.
156 stars & keep your friends close and your enemies closer




Synecdoche New York;
In his first directorial effort Charlie Kaufman, (Adaptation, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) directs a rambling yet highly imaginative story about a playwright , wonderfully portrayed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who’s life seems to him to be slowly unraveling. Beset with mysterious maladies his middling career takes off when he is awarded a prestigious prize for a local production of Death of a Salesman. After his wife and daughter leave him for Berlin, where she is about to become a famous painter of miniature canvases, he mounts a massive production in a huge warehouse with a cast of hundreds, portraying the banalities of life (mostly his). This process which parallels his own life and goes on for almost as long. Switching back and forth between the play and his own existence is an intriguing device which is well executed There seems to be a lot of a certain Woodman in Mr. Kaufmanns world view, which would be completely tiresome if it were not for the fact that unlike Mr. Allen Kaufmanns imagination seems to be intact. While not a brilliant success this thoughtful, if not somewhat morose film, with it’s fine cast, Catherine Keener, Dianne Weist, Samantha Morton,Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson and Hope Davis, keep the whole thing afloat, and is worth seeing if you are in the mood.
265 stars + 6 handfuls of Prozac
linkhttp://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2617835545/ to the trailer;



Quantum of Solace;
In this, the latest in the longest running and most successful film franchise in history, our hero, Daniel Craig is once again on the trail of the baddies. Is he just doing his job or is it revenge, did he work out extra hard to look this buff for the film, are his eyes really this blue, or are they “enhanced” did he wreck that Aston Martin at the beginning of the film in one of the hairiest car chases since “Bourne”, just for fun or to piss off “M”, is he gay, do we care? Of course not. We (I) are here to have as much escapist fun and our $10 will buy, and Bond (being British) delivers. The plot is muddled and confusing, most of the supporting cast, (with the exception of “M” ) are forgettable, the scenery is opulent, the chases, in the sky, water, and on the road, are all spectacular. I would say that this film delivers on all the important fronts for this genre. Craig presents Bond as more of a sophisticated thug, rather than some of his more foppish predecessors, and it suits the times we are in. Judi Dench as “M” even with her minimal screen time shows us how to make limonata out of lemons. (there is a wonderful scene where she is putting on night cream while directing the operation remotely. Director Marc Forster (Kite Runner, Stranger than Fiction, Monsters Ball) has a firm grip on this lavish production and pulls it off nicely. 278 stars & always bring enough water for emergencies
link to the trailer;http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1024524313/



I’ve Loved you for So Long:
In this French production, Kristin Scott Thomas comes to live at her younger sisters house, after having served 15 years in prison for killing her infant son. (or so we are lead to believe) Shattered by the experience she tries to integrate herself back into society and family life. This proves to be very difficult on many fronts as the tenuous relationship with her now married
sister, her bewildered husband and the many misunderstandings prior to her imprisonment bubble back to the surface. This is a slow and painful film to watch, mainly due to the brilliant, multifaceted nuanced acting by Thomas who carries the whole film on her shoulders. This is by far her best work, and it is a shame that not many people will see it, maybe you will be among the lucky ones.
426 stars
link to the trailer;http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3842637849/



Slumdog Millionaire;
Director Danny Boyle, (Sunshine, Millions, 28 days Later Trainspotting) has crafted a compelling story about an orphan who while growing up in the slums of Mumbai somehow gets a spot in the Indian version of “Who wants to be a Millionaire”. While working his way through the questions, far beyond what his upbringing would supply the answers to, the police arrest and torture him believing that the only way a person of his class could get so far is by cheating. During his ordeal he supplies the answers to the police one by one with stories of how his brutal life so far has supplied him with the answers that he has given on the show. This clever premise shows (a) how the answers were arrived at and (b) the appalling life of the poor in India, which Boyle shows with an unflinching eye. So much so that I walked after about 40 minutes of this brutal depiction. If however you have a stronger stomach that I do, I would guess that the remainder of the film, (which I was told is less violent and more uplifting), would be well worth seeing. Boyle is an extremely talented director and every one of his diverse films has had something unique to recommend it, this one appears to be no exception.
Link to trailer;http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2220163097/


Let The Right One In;
If Ingmar Bergman rest his gloomy soul were to have made a vampire film it might look very much like this one by director Tomas Alfredson. Stylistically almost a parody of what a Nordic vampire film might look like this is a tale of Oscar a nerdy schoolboy who is the target of taunts and bullying by his class mates, who befriends and then falls for Eli an equally strange and socially inept girl who he meets one snowy night, sock less, in the play yard of apartment complex where he lives. Finding kinship in her weirdness they strike up a relationship, which transcends her liquid diet and appearances at nighttime only habits. This all takes place at a leisurely Bergmanesque pace but with equal visual attention the winter scenes, close ups of snowflakes, eyelids, hand holding, breath clouding the night air and the very occasional ripping out of someone’s throat. In fact calling this film a vampire flic might be a misnomer as the aforementioned throat chomping only plays a very minor role in this strangely engrossing tale of trans species romance.
276 stars and bring your own ludefisk.
Link to the trailer http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3480485913/



Goya’s Ghosts;
Milos Foreman’s newest effort is not really about Goya, it is about dictatorship, the abuse of power and terrorism. In this case it is the church, during the Spanish inquisition. Goya is simply a recordist, albeit a masterful one, of the times and circumstances that he lives in. The story tracks the power struggles of Brother Lorenzo a scheming monk in the church hierarchy. As one of the chief prosecutors in the inquisition, his henchmen select the daughter of a wealthy merchant, to be arrested, and tortured in order to gain a confession. The merchant, incensed, uses the same methods of torture on the monk to gain a confession of his own. The monk disgraced, flees arrest, to France, returns, with Napoleons army to arrest all of the church members who tried to arrest him, and has them thrown in jail. The British arrive, throw out Napoleons army, reinstate the church, who promptly arrest brother Lorenzo, and garrote him in public. This is the sketchiest story outline, one of many overlapping ones in this lavishly produced period drama. The style recalls Forman’s Amadeus in it’s flourish and sweep. The themes however are similar, power, corruption and revenge. Even though this genre is not one of my favorites, Foreman is the draw, and his directorial mastery is not diminished.
300stars

Live Free or Die Hard;
In the 4th of this very popular franchise Bruce Willis (the main reason to see this romp) is up to his tricks, this time saving America from the hands of a disgruntled ex government computer wizard turned cyber terrorist, bent on bringing the country to its electronic knees. As detective John McLane the very rough around the edges NYC cop with a heart of gold, he single handedly tracks down his prey, while all around the bumbling government agencies who are supposed to be heading all of this are reduced to being McLane’s assistants.Willis’s on screen charm in this series seems to be that while he is the extreme macho cop, he also has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, which makes this film lots of fun to watch. The storyline is just outside of plausible the acting mostly first rate, Justin Long does a good turn as Matt Farrell, McLane’s sidekick, picked up as a hacker, but really a target of the evil doers nefarious plot Added to which are some of the most spectacular chase scenes, hexplosions, car crashes, and other CGI induced mayhem you are likely to see this week ( I can’t predict any further into the future on these matters than that).
Great escapism, great fun.278 stars

Jindabyn;
In this Australian drama, Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney play a couple who’s strained relationship is further damaged by a fishing trip incident.
A young aboriginal girl is murdered by a serial killer and her body is dumped in a river in a national park.
This is where 4 buddies go fishing on their yearly outing,(Byrne being one of them). They discover the body, early on in their trip, deciding there is nothing that can be immediately done, they continue their fishing, and report the incident to the police several days later on their way out of the park. This delay causes uproar in their town, the media characterizing the men as heartless, for continuing their fishing after having discovering the body. There are also racial tensions that are exposed. This whole mess exposes the cracks in Byrnes marriage which are exacerbated by this incident. The acting is especially strong by Byrne and Linney, as well as the supporting cast. The direction is sure footed, the photography mesmerizing and the music haunting.
All in all a very engrossing drama thoughtfully realized.
200 stars

28 Weeks Later;
A sequel of sorts from the 28days later film of a couple of years ago.
A deadly “rage virus” has decimated England, and the country has been quarantined. In the intervening years the infected have been wiped out, and the country is slowly being repopulated. Robert Carlyle is back as the lead protagonist, his wife is one of the victims who he leaves behind during an attack in order to save himself. He assumes she is dead, but later on she is discovered alive and seemingly unaffected by the virus , she is a rare carrier. This unleashes all manner of new mayhem as the nato force is now in charge, and they in their wisdom decide that the only recourse is “code red” (firebomb the whole enclave where the now out of control population is now quarantined) This is a zombie film, no doubt, but it is done with more intelligence, and filmic style than most of the genre. The “jiggle cam” can be a bit dizzying at times, and there is plenty of splatter blood, but the tension is maintained all the way through, and on the whole it is a wild if not gut churning ride.
150 stars and eat a light meal before seeing this one.



Away From Her;
If I, or anyone else for that matter, with an interest in film, had on their first directorial effort produced a film like this, pride would be a justly held emotion.
28 year old Actress Sarah Polley has on her first effort delivered a film with such an assured, experienced hand, it makes one wonder where this talent comes from.
The story is of a couple who have been married for over 40 years, the wife, played by Julie Christie, who even at her advanced years can hold the screen as her very own, and whose ice blue eyes still can look right through you, is displaying the early signs of Alzheimer’s,(aren’t we all). Her husband wonderfully played by Gordon Pinsent carefully and lovingly guides her through the nightmare that is this disease. She decides that the best solution for her would be to be admitted into a assisted living facility, reluctantly he consents. As she slowly slips into her own world, he can do nothing but look on as an increasingly lonely bystander. The script, screenplay and acting are of the highest order, as is the handling of this difficult and depressing subject. One leaves the film marveling at the accomplishment of everyone involved.
300 stars and several handfuls of prozak



Hoax;
In this retelling of the Clifford Irving story, whereby he writes a fictitious biography of Howard Hughes, Richard Gere, (of the indiscreet Bollywood kiss) plays the oily creepy Irving, and does a good job too, and Alfred Molina plays his nervous but loyal sidekick.
As the increasingly desperate Irving weaves his web of deceit, tension builds, as he tries to convince the bigwigs in the publishing empire at McGraw Hill to buy his story and hand over the readies. Only to have the who virago come crashing down about him, as the truth will out, as it often does. The structure of the film is solid, a is the screenplay and script, the direction by Lasse Halstrom is deft, and accomplished, with a good supporting cast, Stanley Tucci, is especially good, as are Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden.
A mostly engaging well told story of a failed writer trying to bluff his way through with deceit instead of talent.
189.9


Fracture;
A highly polished Hollywood thriller, which due to the writers , the intricate screenplay and Anthony Hopkins, makes for a great evenings entertainment.
Hopkins plays an aerospace engineer who discovers that his wife is having an affair, not to be outdone she comes home one evening, and he shoots her, in a seemingly offhand manner. She is mortally wounded, but not dead. By happenstance the investigating police officer, is the one she has been having the affair with. The circumstances of the attempted murder and arrest have been committed in such away that none of the evidence, including a confession can be used at the trial, at which Hopkins has chosen to defend himself. Enter young prosecuting district attorney, played by Ryan Gosling, who after a brief stellar career, 97% conviction rate, is on his way out the door, to take a well paid job at a high powered law firm. He takes this seemingly open and shut case, while he has one foot out of the door. Needless to say this case is not “open and shut” and this is where the film gets interesting. It turns into a tug of war between the cocky young DA and the canny murderer, also between the veteran actor and the up and coming young buck. Great casting, writing, acting, makes for the aforementioned time well spent in the movie theater.
301 stars + don’t pull the plug



After the Wedding:
Here is the scenario, Danish aid worker in India is forced to return to Denmark to secure funds for the orphanage that he is working in, in order to ensure it’s survival.
He returns to the house of billionaire industrialist, who he must convince to sponsor his venture. While he is there, the donor invites him to stay for the upcoming wedding of his oldest daughter, who it is revealed is adopted (by him) and was the child of an affair of his wife’s prior to their marriage.
It turns out that the aid worker who has come cap in hand for the desperately needed funds is the father of said daughter. Needless to say the plot thickens very quickly after this turn of events.
The screenplay is clever, intricate, and well thought out. The acting is earnest and well above par, the photography is arresting (with lots of eye close-ups), and the direction is very hands on, (in a good way).
Being a Danish film, the drama is very dramatic, the emotions are somewhat Nordic in their expression, but this is a well wrought satisfying film, that has no car chases explosions or other CG tomfoolery, and is better off for it.
327.3 stars and bring your own lutefisk



First Snow;
Jimmy, (Guy Pierce) is a smart alecy scheming salesman who, while on a trip is stuck in a small New Mexico town getting his car repaired. To pass the time he stops in on a fortune teller (for a laugh) until the soothsayer comes across something nasty in his future, that he won’t reveal. Blowing off the whole episode he returns to his life on the road. Things get more serious when a couple of the soothsayers predictions come true. Paranoia enters Jimmy life in increasing amounts, including a couple of trips back to the soothsayer to find out more details of his future,(or the lack of it)
Director/Writer Mark Furgus weaves an ever increasing pattern of tension, the aforementioned paranoia and ultimately resignation, into this engrossing tale of fate.
Guy Pierce, ( Factory Girl, Memento, The Proposition) is the star of this piece, as he seems to be in whatever film he appears in. Well worth a look 275 stars and be careful what you ask for.



Inland Empire;
David Lynch probably the king of weirdness goes off the reservation in his latest (clocking in at nearly 3 hours) epic.
Ostensibly about an actress (Laura Dern) who gives an arresting performance, who is making a film with director (Jeremy Irons) there are hints of a possible affair with her leading man, but after this the narrative goes from enigmatic to completely indecipherable. Several parallel universes spring into view each more Lynchian than the next. One involves a TV family sitcom with a family of rabbits (not real ones but the Kafkaesque kind) There are several Polish interrogators, L.A. hookers, homeless street people, and many other weird scenes, you never know whether what you are seeing on the screen is the film that is being made or some nightmare in Dern’s head. In the end it doesn’t really matter. If you are a Lynch admirer, you will find this latest opus fascinating, if you are not. it will be an incomprehensible waste of time.
250 stars (mostly for effort and weirdness) leave you psychotropics at home



Notes on a Scandal;

Where do you start? The brilliant script, Judy Dench, the wonderful screenplay?
Dench is one of a group of English actresses (Maggie Smith, Glenda Jackson, Helen Mirren, Joan Plowright) who, the moment they appear on screen, suck all the air out of the spaces between the camera lens, which is what Dench does here, as she plays predatory spinster of a school teacher, in an inner city London high school.
Into this scholastic morass, comes Sheba (what kind of a name is that?) played stirringly by Cate Blanchett, a somewhat naive schoolteacher.. Barbara, (Dench) befriends Sheba, initially as she is a newcomer, but she has deeper motives. Sheba, who is in a boring marriage, decides to engage in a sexual liaison with one of her students, the results of which are far more disastrous than she can imagine. Most of this disaster is engineered by the enraged Barbara, who has her own designs on her. Thus begins a cat and mouse game, in which Barbara, is definitely the cat. The pain, venom, vitriol that Dench brings to her role is something to behold, even though you expect this level of acting from her, it is still startling to see, aided by the aforementioned brilliant script, this film is completely satisfying, with a great cast, including the underrated Bill Nighy, all acting at the top of their game
500 stars & keep your panties on

Children of Men;

Alfonso Cuaron (Y tu mamá también) has created and extremely apocalyptic view of the future, set in England in 2027 (not that far ahead) anarchy is in full bloom it looks more like Baghdad than London, the government is battling insurgent rebels with fascistic glee, pollution and mayhem have gotten so far out of hand that women are no long able to conceive and bear children, and England is held up as one of the last bastions of hope, so this gives you an idea of what the rest of the world is like. Into this hell Clive Owen strides, looking as disheveled and beat up as he has in any of his films. He somehow gets roped into, by his ex wife, played by Julianne Moore into saving a woman, who is miraculously pregnant, long after this was thought impossible. He has to deliver her to “The Human Project” another rebel group mysterious intentions, (but believed to be good). This is the plotline, but the star of the film is the scenery, Cuaron has crafted such a believable view of this future hell, that it is quite scary. Everyone’s acting is up to scratch, production design is fantastic, pacing is brisk, but the outlook is bleak, if you are looking for a bright sunny future, this one is not for you.
200stars and keep you head down



The Good Shepard;

This laboriously long, non thriller about Edward Wilson the privileged son of a would be diplomat, who founded the CIA, seems to be shot in real time. Switching back and forth between the beginnings of his career in the OSS and the time of the Cuban Missile crisis, it tells the story of a stilted upper crust civil servant who
s l o w l y works his way up to the higher echelons of his field. Matt Damon is in the starring role, and does a great job of displaying Mr Wilson’s cold ,aloof personality. Angelina Jolie plays his long suffering wife. To be fair the fifties and very early sixties when much of this film was set were particularly boring times. While the acting is mostly very good, the direction reminds me of Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People” in which he was so careful not to make any mistakes the whole film looked like a postcard, this is in the same league. It’s a good job DeNiro has the acting CV that he has.
100stars and don’t ever crack a smile.



The History Boys;

Taken from a play by Alan Bennett and turned into a film , with the same cast, this is at once a very old fashioned, and yet timeless piece of work. 8 Schoolboys qualify for the Oxbridge entrance exams, the headmaster sensing a feather in his cap for this unusual achievement hires a special tutor for the class. This is when the drama begins. Some kind of low level tension develops between the hired gun played by Stephen Campbell More, and their regular teacher brilliantly played by Richard Griffiths, a rotund, unorthodox, gay, motorcycling teacher, who irritates the principal, who is looking for a reason, (and finally finds one) to fire him. The boys and their journey through this term, which is the central story here hold him is some sort of bemused esteem. The acting by the whole cast is wonderful, the script and screenplay, (Both by Bennett) are stars in this film. An unlikely vehicle for an engrossing film, but one typical of Bennett. 250 stars and don’t ride pillion



The Queen;

Stephen Frears in his new film takes the Royals reaction to Princess Diana’s death in Paris, as his storyline.
Helen Mirren after she has been on the screen for 15 minutes, becomes Elizabeth 2, much as Jamie Foxx did in “Ray”
Mirren displays the royals inability to respond to the public outpouring of grief after the accident, due as much to her royal upbringing and training, as to her personal diffidence towards the public. She does a wonderful job, leaving the other cast members, (James Cameron, as Prince Philip, and Alex Jennings as Prince Charles) in her wake. At times funny and poignant, a riveting piece of work by Mirren.
300 stars



The Fountain;

At it core this is a film about coming to terms with death, even when it is unacceptable. This is also a love story, an intergalactic acid trip, and a medieval quest for the tree of life. These seemingly disparate subjects are woven together by director Darren Aronovsky ( Pi, Requiem for a Dream). This is a very ambitious effort which had a 7 year gestation period a switching of lead actors and a halving of the initial budget, these details shouldn’t matter, but they show.
The 2 lead character are played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weitz, The time period spans a thousand years (1500-2500) In the present time Jackman plays a research surgeon, whose wife (Weitz) is dying from a brain tumor that he is desperately trying to find the cure to, she in the meantime has written a book in which the Queen of Spain (Weitz) sends out her favorite conquistador (jackman) to find the fabled tree of life, on order for them both to live forever and thereby save Spain from the inquisition, which threatens to engulf everyone. The film switches back and forth between the present past and future. In this grand interweaving of stories there is a visual feast to be enjoyed, some great acting (mostly by Weitz) and if you have the energy, and despite it’s overwrought and over symbolized ending a lesson worth learning to be gleaned.
200 stars & leave the drugs at home

Babel;
In this latest thriller by Allejandro Gonzalez Inarrito (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) he tells a story much like the one of the butterfly flapping its wings, causing a hurricane on the other side of the planet, how inconsequential events can have a profound effect on a persons life.
Here is the outline, A Japanese executive while on a hunting expedition in Morocco gives his rifle to his guide as a gift, the guide then sells the rifle to a peasant farmer, who gives the rifle to his 2 sons to help ward off jackals from their goat heard. To while away the time the boys do some target practicing inadvertently hitting an American tourist, in a passing bus. The tourists, played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett cause somewhat of an international stir thin king that it might be terrorists firing at them, The hapless boys, have no idea what they have started, the alienated daughter of the Japanese executive, has even less of an idea. The Mexican nanny who is taking care of Pitt/Blanchett children, while they are in Morocco, and who takes them over the border, in order to attend her sons wedding, has even less of an idea of what is going to befall her whim. All of these interlocking events are masterfully intertwined, by director Gonzalez, greatly aided by his writer Guillermo Arriga much as he has done in his previous films. The end result is a thought provoking piece of drama that is well outside the usual Hollywood fare, and much better off for it.
385 stars and cut back on the tequila



Casino Royale;
Back in the early 1600’s when Oliver Cromwell, (the first James Bond) rolled across the British countryside, things were different, lots of swashbuckling for sure, less in the way of gadgetry but the motives were mostly the same, money and power. Over the ensuing 400 years (surely the longest franchise in film history) not much has changed either, we have gone through a variety of Bonds, some foppish and silly others macho and deadly, but they were a different class from us working stiffs.
Now comes Daniel Craig, (the 3015 ‘th Bond) his background whilst not entirely proletarian, is definitely more down to earth. The plot is tiresomely familiar, the bad guys, (this time terrorism financiers) must be stopped…. And done so with some style and panache, which is where our boy Craig comes in, looking more buff than Halle Berry in her Bond beach scene (which is hard to beat) Craig acquits himself nicely, mixing street smarts with dinner jackets and a piercing blue eyed stare, enough to unnerve the most evil foe. Kept moving along briskly by a sometimes inventive screenplay and script, this 9000’th installment has rescued this franchise from the dead.
225 stars and “just gimme the martini”



Little Children;

Todd Field (In the Bedroom) has created another masterful film. This is the story about how a trauma can obliterate one’s dreams and snap a person back to reality. Kate Winslett in a wonderful performance plays Sarah a somewhat reluctant mother who after discovering her husbands online fetishes realizes she is unhappier than she though in her marriage. She casually runs into Brad (a hunk) and stay at home mom, while at a park with the “girls” and their offspring.
Brad is unhappy too, having failed the bar exam once, and on the verge of retaking it (with dim prospects), his fading youth looming, he is married to a beautiful and successful, wife (Jennifer Connolly), so his self esteem is not at its height. After their initial meetings things as they will heat up and a full blown affair ensues. With Sarah cheering him on he joins a night league football team peopled by some aging cops and even though they never win, this fuels his boyhood fantasies. A subplot involving a child molester who returns to town after his prison sentence, and who is immediately the target of a vicious campaign initiated by an ex cop on the football team, with anger management and other unresolved issues. All of these characters have their various epiphanies at the end of the film, much like in the film Crash. It s the way they are masterfully intertwined that makes for the engrossing viewing. I am not in general a fan of voice overs, which are used on occasion in this film, but the final sentence sends chills down your spine. A brilliant directorial effort supported by top notch acting and casting make this one not to be missed.
500 stars and keep an eye one your kids



The Departed;


Everyone dies.
The master goes back to his roots, in this grand mean streets opus about an aging Mob boss, corruption, plants, spies, snitching, and revenge.
The aging Mob boss Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson (nuff said) puts a plant inside the Boston Police dept, played by Matt Damon. The police department puts a plant inside Costello’s crew, played startlingly well by Leonardo DeCaprio. Mark Whalberg plays a sadistic police department head out to get everybody, including his recruits. Martin Sheen plays his boss. The great Ray Winstone plays Mr. French, Costello’s main man, and Alec Baldwin plays Ellerby a department head
You mix all these characters together, with all the backstabbing , double triple crosses, a screen play that keeps you on the edge of your seat all the way through, an all star cast all at the top of their game. An authentic streetwise script, the fabulous Thelma Shoonmaker cutting up this wonderful piece of work, and Scorsese the master conductor also at the top of his game, playing in an arena that he knows and loves.
Despite the violence how can you go wrong.
500 stars point and shoot



The Last King of Scotland;

What we have here, is a brilliant performance by a wonderful actor, in a so so film. This is a story of a young Scottish doctor who goes to Uganda during the rise of dictator Idi Amin, and through a series of misadventures becomes his personal physician. This storyline is fictional. It is simply a vehicle to give a stage to display what kind of person Amin was. It is Forrest Whitaker as Amin who carries this film single-handedly on his shoulders. I’m not going to go through a list of superlatives to describe his performance, but they all apply. The tension he creates when his mood swings from playful to deadly is palpable, this takes some doing. And you just don’t want to be in the same room when things turn ugly, which they invariably do. Historically I suppose Amin was just a puppet of the west who didn’t realize this until it was too late, and the vicious killings of his enemies and others was just what paranoid despots do. Just don’t be in the same room when TSHTF. 350 stars mostly go to FW



Infamous;

Timing is everything, almost, and this version of the telling of “In Cold Blood” suffers from having to follow the Hoffman version, but that is all
This one starring Brit Toby Jones in the leading role. Jones’s Capote is not as intense as Hoffman’s, who took over the screen whenever he was on it. And yet in it’s own way it is just as powerful. Jones plays Capote as more devious and manipulative as well as having moments of pathos. The story is the same but with a more memorable supporting cast. Sigourney Weaver is great as Babe Paley, Gwyneth Paltro has a convincing opening scene as a cabaret singer, Hope Davis is in there as confidant, Slim Keith, Isabella Rossellini has a minor role as Marella Agnelli, . even Peter Bogdanovich as Bennett Cerf turns in a memorable performance .
Daniel (007) Craig is Perry Smith (one of the murderers) takes over the screen whenever he occupies it. The editing which is outstanding keeps the pace of the film lively without disrupting the narrative.
Anyone who saw the first version knows what to expect and yet this one stands on it’s own merits as a first class effort that is well worth a look
200 Stars and some stunning overcoats



The Black Dahlia;

Maybe I shouldn’t have seen these 2 films back to back, but it gives a good opportunity to see the work of a good director (de Palma) and a not so good one (Coulter). This too centers on an unsolved Hollywood crime, in this case the brutal murder of actress Elizabeth Short, who’s name presages her life and career.
This noirish effort is well placed, well directed, shot and acted, in that big Hollywood way. Josh Hartnett,(who seems miscast, being too pretty and young) nevertheless does a creditable job playing the lead gumshoe, with his partner played by Aaron Eckhart
Scarlett Johansson plays Eckhart’s girl, and does a terrible job, she’s all lips, hair and facial tics, which is her version of acting in this film.
Hilary Swank on the other hand delivers the real item, and does a great job in her role as the daughter of a Hollywood developer implicated in the crime. The writing is also a star in this film, taken from a James Ellroy book Josh Freidman’s screenplay contributes mightily to the films success’s. Much more cohesive and solid than Hollywodland 200 stars

Hollywoodland;

In this film which centers around the suicide of George Reeves, who played Superman on the first TV series. The director Allan Coulter has opted to try and give this piece a noirish look, even though it is set in the fifties. Adrian Brody (I’m sorry I just can’t get past that nose) plays the gumshoe who stumbles into the case in which he suspects fowl play .
Ben Affleck, as George Reeves, in his best performance to date, merely confirms his mediocre acting abilities, whereas Diane Lane as the wife of MGM mogul played expertly by Bob Hoskins, holds up the whole film with her wonderful portrayal.
The film flips back and forth between the current investigation and Reeve’s life too many times. And Coulter found it necessary to show us 3 possible death scenarios.
A mess, but an expensive glossy one 100 stars

Half Nelson:

Well, here’s the scenario. A drug addicted inner city high school history teacher, struggles with his addiction, while at the same time trying to help and bond with a 13 year old student, who is on the verge of going off the social rails herself.
Not exactly Animal House ,but despite it’s very gloomy premise, this is film is held aloft by very good acting by Ryan Gosling, as the school teacher, and even better acting by Shareeka Epps as the street tough student, who in the end helps the teacher redeem himself,(one hopes). Also starring is the taut editing, cinematography and unsentimental script.
200stars



Syriana;

George Clooney is in this thriller, which centers around the worldwide corrupt dealings in the search to secure reliable oil supplies for the U.S. Supposedly based on real events, Clooney plays a CIA field operative who is hung out to dry, along with everyone else who gets in the way, by his bosses. In a world where there are no rules, loyalties only extend as far as maintaining your upper hand. While the subject is depressing, the film itself, while difficult to follow at first is, taut, fast paced, multi faceted ,well directed and keeps you on the edge of your seat. 200 stars and a serious manicure.




40 shades of blue:

In this moody drama Rip Torn gives a bravura performance, which unfortunately hardly anyone will see. (there were 4 others in the audience) Never the less he plays a music producer in Memphis, (much in the mold of Sam Phillips) who is living with a statuesque Russian woman, several decades younger (who he met on a tour long ago) and their son.
Things are somewhat tense from the get go, but when Rips estranged son come for a visit, and then things get decidedly messier, and Mrs. Torn get a whole lot unhappier. All in all an engrossing piece of work, full of strong performances, great camera work, and editing ,and a refreshingly unglamorous visual look,
257 stars


Breakfast on Pluto;

Cillian Murphy carries this film on his shoulders. Directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Butcher Boy) This story set in 1970’s Ireland & London follows the early years of an abandoned baby, Patrick “kitten” Brady set on the doorstep of a priest,(Liam Neeson) by the mother, who then vanishes to London. Patrick grows up into fairly stunning cross dressing waif who then goes off to London in search of his mother, on the way falling into the hands, and other parts, of a variety of characters, who help make his story worthy of a film. All this is set against the backdrop of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, complete with terrorist gun runners, British police thugs, explosions, fires, and various other violences that Patrick mostly swans his way through, without paying much attention to the horrors that fly by. Deftly directed, a bravura performance by Murphy, lots of great Glam references. Inventive & Worthy.
350 stars ‘fantastic’ Stephen Rea


Transamerica;

Felicity Huffman is the only reason to see this raggedy film. Her performance is remarkable to say the least, she plays a pre op transsexual who, on the verge of her final operation, discovers she has a teenage son, who she bails out of jail and takes a long road trip, real and metaphorical, to mend and realize the relationship that she never had with this boy, played with great sullen anger by Kevin Zegers.
Huffman’s performance is the tent pole that keeps this film aloft, nuanced, and not at all overwrought, it is amazing to see. Otherwise the rest of the casting is over the top, full of caricatures i.e. his turquoise clad overbearing mother, living in a gaudy palace in Arizona, and a whole other parade of cartoons that waltz though this film. Never the less Huffman’s performance is well worth the price of admission
250 stars


Chache ;

In this French thriller, a middle class family is slowly terrorized by a series of video cassettes which are anonymously left outside their Paris apartment. At first they think this is just a crank but as the cassettes get more revealing and intimate, their fear increases. Eventually The husband Georges reveals to his wife Anne that he was brought up with an Algerian boy who his parents almost adopted, and that he mistreated to the point where his parents sent the boy away to an orphanage. 40 years later he finds out that this man, Majid has something to do with these tapes, but what? Majid’s son and Georges son know each other does this have something to do with all of this. All of these questions go unanswered. And you are left to figure this one out for your self (how un American). Never the less the films tension slowly builds from the beginning all the way through, and this without any exploding buildings or car chases. The films visuals are cleverly constructed, switching between the cassette images and reality without warning, keeping the viewer even more off balance. There is no musical soundtrack, so the silences, heightening the tension as well. Daniel Auteuil, who has been in every French film since the Montgolfier brothers took of in their hot air balloon plays Georges the husband, and Juliette Binoche never looking more frumpy, plays his increasingly nervous wife Anne. An engrossing film well above average.
300 stars = 3 dozen brioches


Ask The Dust;

A new film penned and directed by Robert Towne famed writer of “Chinatown” and many other notable films, is an intense literary look into L.A. in the ‘30’s and the story of an aspiring writer trying to make it big in tinsel town, but along the way he finds that life gets in the way. The struggling writer (Arturo Bandini) is played by Colin Farrell, who for once is more than just eyebrows, and does some creditable acting here, life comes in the form of Salma Hayek who plays a fiery waitress (Camilla) in the coffee shop Bandini frequents. The ’30 atmosphere that Towne recreates in this film is very affecting, and brings to mind Raymond Chandlers L.A. The acting throughout is first class including some cameo appearances by Donald Sutherland, as a boozy neighbor down on his luck. An old fashioned film (in that there are no car chases, explosions, or special effects) and this effort is all the better for it, If you like character driven stories, expertly told, with a director who has his own clear vision, and is at the top of his game, this small gem is for you.
300 stars and a beer in the spittoon.


V for Vendetta;

Despite what everyone says about this film I thought it was terrific.
It takes place in the near future, in Britain when a fascistic dictator has taken over the rule of the country. The population living in fear, under this Orwellian governments grip has relinquished all resistance. Naturally under these circumstances a resistance super hero appears in the form of our masked lead actor (Hugo Weaving) from the Matrix trilogy, (the Wachowski brothers produced this one) Our hero has based his reson ‘d etre on Guy Fawkes a real life revolutionary who tried to blow up the houses of parliament in 1605.
Anyway our hero uses his superhero powers to do an updated version of the same thing. Along the way he enlists the help of Evey (geddit? E V ) played convincingly by Natalie Portman, the daughter of radicals who paid the price of their own protests when she was little, and so now sees the opportunity to avenge their demise by siding with “V”.
Remember kids, this is just a MOVIE, taken from a COMIC STRIP, bearing that in mind, it is well written, acted, produced, and is very entertaining, and before you start whining about, “we’ve seen all of this before” You Haven’t. Lets see what you have done in the last year!!!
400 stars and a very close haircut


Inside Man;

Has Spike Lee (She’s gotta have it, Jungle Fever, 25th Hour) sold out? Does it matter, should we care? I dunno.
His latest film is a bank heist story (We’ve seen a million of ‘em) With a A list Cast, Denzel, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster Christopher Plummer, and despite some clever editing, and visual touches. It’s a bore,
Clive plays a thief with a perfect plan, who cares. Christopher plays the bank owner with a dark secret that Jodie is trying to protect, so what. Denzel is playing the good cop trying to do his job, stay clean and alive, yeah whatever. Giant bucks, a great cast, terrific acting, don’t always add up to a worthwhile watching event. Case Closed. 100 stars


Lucky Number Slevin;

A complicated gangster revenge flick that comes neatly together in the last half hour. Full of what wants to be clever, funny dialog, and MTV camera angles and editing, and enough plot twists to make you dizzy and yet…… Still not entirely satisfying in the same way Pulp Fiction was. (I hate to make comparisons), but it is unavoidable here. The script is the culprit in this effort.
Josh Hartnett plays the grown up survivor of a gangland killing, out for revenge, which he exacts, with breezy effectiveness, the always entertaining Bruce Willis plays an assassin and also Hartnett’s accomplice/mentor. Ben Kingsley & Morgan Freeman play rival mob bosses, and Lucy Liu, plays Hartnett’s love interest. None of the big names here do much in the way of acting, there is a flicker from Kingsley, and Hartnett is ok too. But it is pretty entertaining none the less. There is not too much gore but not for the squeamish. 150 stars


Brick;

An odd little effort, imagine a Raymond Chandler gumshoe detective, who’s ex girlfriend calls desperately for help 2 days before he finds her body. He then embarks on the trail of the killer, discovers that the said girlfriend is somehow involved with the doings of a local drug dealer-hood named “the Pin” creepily played by Lucas Haas, whose girlfriend is coming onto you, but is not to be trusted, and turns out to possibly be the instigator of this whole virago.
Take away Chandler’s prose, subtract 25 years from all the characters ages. Move the location from Los Angeles to a high school in suburban San Clemente , and you have this film. It is never the less engrossing, maybe because of the incongruity of it’s setting, but also for the acting of it’s star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who did such a mesmerizing turn in “Mysterious Skin” a few years back, and gives a strong performance here as well as our hero Brendan. The whole film is tightly edited, well paced, and has assured direction from Rian Johnson.
200stars


Wristcutters, A Love Story;

Unlike any love story you are liable to see on screen, ever.
The film opens on our hero, Zia, played with melancholy slackerism by Patrick Fugit, a distraught 20 something cleaning up his ultra messy pad, after which he saunters over to the bathroom to end it all (mercifully, the deed is not shown). He then wakes up in the afterlife (which is exactly like the earth, only a little bit worse.) He the realizes after he has met some other people in this flat, desaturated world that he has arrived in a parallel universe where all the inhabitants have “offed themselves” in some fashion. Teaming up with a Russian musician, who after a particularly bad gig, pours a beer into his guitar thereby sending himself into this hereafter. They set off on a road trip to find Zia’s girlfriend who some months after his own “trip” offed herself as well.
Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker named “Mikal” played by Shannyn Sossamon, who is there “by mistake” and is looking to get back to the real world.
Tom Waites makes an appearance as the head of a roadside camp, where everyone of the “guests” performs the occasional offhand miracle.
At some point an attraction develops between Zia & Mikal in which they learn lessons that might have served them well, back on Earth.
There are many truly hilarious scenes in the first half of this film, informed by Goran Dukic’s east European sense of humor, and the whole piece despite it’s somewhat morbid premise is ultimately uplifting and completely human.
Even without considering that this is his first feature, this was a terrifically inventive and well directed film.
450 stars, and watch out for the black hole under the passengers seat


The Great New Wonderful;

This film follows the lives of 5 people, living in New York City, in various degrees of difficulty in their lives.
Tony Shalhoub plays a psychiatrist trying to get an office worker, played by Jim Gaffigan, to come to terms with his suppressed rage over events in his life.
.Maggie Gyllenhaal, plays the owner of a pastry company, who is ruthlessly trying to unseat the reigning cake queen in New York, played by Edie Falco.
Judy Greer & Tom McCarthy play a yuppie couple who’s delinquent 10 year old sons behavior they are unable to face up to, or deal with.
Naseerudin Shah & Sharat Saxena, play a couple of security guards, who are immigrants in the country.
Olylimpia Dukakis, plays a woman stuck in a dreary marriage with a fencepost of a husband, who’s routine is upset, when she runs into and old high school friend, who re awakens her life.
This film ultimately is about the effects that a great societal shock can have of peoples lives, without them being aware of it.
Director Danny Leiner, has skillfully shown this in following the lives of the protagonists in this film. All of the acting is first rate, the script and editing are tight and well paced. The message in the film and in these peoples lives are brought into much sharper focus when at the end of the film, it is revealed to be the one year anniversary of the 9/11 disaster.
A powerful and thought provoking piece of work.
450 stars seize the day


Wha Wah;

Richard E Grant, (Withnail & I, How to get Ahead in Advertising, Henry & June, and many others) Has made an autobiographical film about his boyhood upbringing amongst the British colonial rulers at the end of their authority in Swaziland, Africa in the 1960’s.
A very personal film , almost a period piece in which I’m note sure will have a wide audience these days. Never the less, a terrific cast, with the great Gabriel Byrne playing his warm alcoholic father, the wonderful Miranda Richardson playing his icy imperious mother, and the always engrossing, Emily Watson playing his stepmother. Wonderful scenery, and if you are into that twittering period of British history you might find this story of a boys troubled upbringing engrossing.
200 stars pip pip



The Duh Vinci Code;

A very high end production full of Hollywood heavy hitters from a blockbuster novel, can’t go wrong…right? No. Basically a detective-treasure hunt story, with a lot of religiosity thrown in to muddy things up. Tom Hanks plays a lecturer who gets thrown into the hunt for the Holy Grail, with his side kick Audrey Tatou helping out.
Has some tense moments, a mostly good cast toiling away at this lame story, not really involving. This production has gone through the Hollywood filtration system and what you are left with is a lot of froth that is not very satisfying. 100stars and some ok shots ofParis.




MI3:

Tom Cruise (what’s with that name) rolls out another in this very successful franchise, and this one keeps you on the edge of you seat for most of the time. Fast paced, mega car chases, explosions, and other high powered effects rule. But the plot is clever enough to keep your interest as well as you adrenaline up and flowing. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays a great baddie and Ving Rhames reprises his role as Tom’s best buddy, along with Michelle Monaghan as the love interest who ends up knowing how to shoot a gun too. Really well directed by 43 year old JJ Abrams.
200 Stars and a rabbits foot.




District B13;

A French gangsta film? Could this be? Well, yes and a good one too boot.
This takes place in the near future in a crime ridden district of Paris, where things have gotten so out of hand that they have walled off the area, to try and keep the crime contained. The story involves the usual crime lords his gang of ruthless thugs some innocents who get caught up in the whole mess, and in this case, some corrupt politicians who think they can use a rogue cop and an ex con to install a neutron bomb in the area to take care of the whole mess once and for all. It’s really well done and affecting. With the baddies driving really hopped up Subaru’s, and the athletic & balletic foot chases called parkour which you have to see to appreciate, pretty amazing. All in all a pretty wild ride and it even has a happy ending.
280 stars and some really grippy sneakers.




Somersault;

This Australian coming of age film , is not your usual sappy Hollywood offering. This one is gritty and realistic, with a riveting performance by Abbie Cornish,(looking quite like a young Nicole Kidman, and well on her way to having her acting abilities) as Heidi, a young girl who runs away from home after a row with her mother, has a series of misadventures, with various men and after having traversed this rite of passage, emerges somewhat wiser. Star acting by Ms Cornish, well directed by Cate Shortland.
A worthwhile effort 250 stars





The Promise;

China’s Oscar entry last year, is another in a long list of exquisite looking films that have come out from behind the bamboo curtain in the last 15 years.
This is a fantasy tale with strong romantic content, about a poor little girl, the survivor of a raging battle who makes a deal with an angel, that in exchange for worldly goods and riches she is denied lasting love. Well if you were in rags and 6 years old, running for your life, would you turn that deal down??.
The rest of the film unfolds to test her deal, which can only be undone if time flows backwards, it snows in the spring, which , being a romantic fantasy you know it will . The intervening story which involves the murder of a king, huge army battles, a heroic slave who can run REALLY fast. The real star of this epic, are the visuals, costumes, and even the CGI which the Chinese have a firm grip on even though some of it is a bit ham fisted. Even if you have seen this genre of film before you’ll still be struck dumb by the beauty of some of the scenes.
243 stars




A Scanner Darkly;

Adapted from the fast becoming ubiquitous, Phillip K Dick, this latest offering from Richard Linklater in which he somewhat resurrects his visual technique from “A Waking Life” where he animates over live action footage. This tells the story of an agent set up to take the fall in order to infiltrate his friends on behalf of a company that is selling a banned drug to the public, so he thinks.(or something like that) I cannot make up my mind whether the visual technique that Linklater employs helps or hurts this somewhat gloomy picture of the future.(aren’t things gloomy enough now, and why are most of the views of the future so gloomy anyway?)
He gets points for trying something new and being inventive, and who am I to talk?
The ever mysterious Keanu Reeves, plays an agent/victim, Robert Downey Jr., does a great job playing himself/drug stoolie, and Winona Ryder (what a great name) is in there as well as a mysterious girlfriend/cop. The whole thing does not really get traction till about half way through, but you are so engrossed in the visuals,(at least I was) that it doesn’t seem to matter, but after that it seems to make some sense, in a drug addled sort of way.
Personally a bottle of Valpolicella and a brioche might be more palatable.
250 stars and a trio of D’s




The Night Listener;

Reprising his film role as the creepy loner (One Hour Photo) Robin Williams is, this time a night time story teller on a New York radio station.
Having just broken up with his lover, does not put him the best of moods, as he retells the story of a phone conversation he has with a 14 year old boy, who is a big fan, supposingly dieing of aids, who has just written a remarkable memoir.
He becomes involved in a mission to try and find this boy to interview him. The boys existence comes into question when confronted with his evasive caretaker/mother, played by Toni Collette, who is blind lives alone with the boy? in a small town. There are lots of creepy and suspenseful aspects to this film, which on the whole is well directed, acted and although the plot keeps your attention until the end, the result is less than satisfying.
(By now though, Williams creepy screen persona is becoming a bit one dimensional)
(lots of use of the word “creepy” in this one)
It’s from a story by Armistad Maupin , who also wrote the screenplay. (this does not seem to help though)
75 stars and don’t pick up the phone




Lower City;

Set in Brazil, this is a story of two young lifelong buddies who own a small boat eking out a living in the waters of Bahia, transporting what ever they can get their hands on.
When a twenty year old stripper comes by their boat asking for a ride to Salvador, is when the trouble starts. Sleeping with one of the men then the other she divides their loyalties to each other, which is not her intent, however this is the dramatic nexus of this tale.
This is a bit thin, and has been tried and shown many times before, but in this case it is still well handled with plenty of drama and authenticity. The films three major revelations are however, the terrific camerawork, convincing acting and the depiction of life on the very lower runs of Brazilian society. What on the surface seem like highly charged and erotic encounters, along with some pretty violent and gritty passages, are really scenes of desperately poor people caught in a social prison, trying to make some sense of their lives and find some kind of love. 150 stars



Factotum:

Life under the bottle. That’s what this film s shows and it’s not a pretty sight. Taken from his first novel, Henry Chinaski, the alter ego of real life drinker and writer Charles Bukowski, takes a series of very menial jobs, all of which he gets fired from, in order to finance, a; his drinking and b; his writing, (not necessarily in that order).
The women like the jobs come and go in a blur of inebriation, punctuated by retching up the previous nights endeavors, fits of writing, and mailing off unanswered manuscripts. The outcome of the writing efforts seem to be secondary to the writing itself.
Matt Dillon gives a great muted performance, as the dogged, charming alcohol soaked scribbler, and Lilli Taylor gives a wonderful performance as his equally inebriated girlfriend Jan, as does Marisa Tomei in a smaller role.
Bent Hamer the director gives the film a steady hand, and the fact that he hails from Norway, and the film was shot in Minneapolis, adds an air of authentic melancholia to this interesting film.
200 Stars and heads down the porcelain throne



The Illusionist;

In this period piece, (not my favorite genre) which a magician, played by Edward Norton, tussles with the archduke of Austria over his soon to be wife, who was also the magicians childhood sweetheart, and uses some deft slight of hand, to make sure their marriage is not consummated. The first two thirds of the film is rather slow and pedantic, but after the plot takes some interesting turns, close to the end things liven up.
Norton’s acting is mostly restricted to moody looks towards the camera. Paul Giamatti plays the chief police inspector, and is the acting highlight of the film. Jessica Biel plays the princess.
150 stars



Sunshine;

Director Danny Boyle, (Trainspotting, 28 Days) has turned his considerable talent to science fiction. In this tale a spaceship is on it’s way to the Sun, which is dying out and subsequently freezing all life on earth, to try and re ignite it. This is the second attempt, as the first ship went missing . Well structured, and written, Boyle keeps the tension up all the way through. Wonderful mystical visuals, and enough plot twists to keep you attentive all the way through till the end. Comparisons will be made to previous space epics, but there is more than enough originality here to say that this piece is Boyle’s own.
223 stars & wear your sunglasses



The Bourne Ultimatum;

The third in this hectic breathless thriller series, certainly lives up to the standard set by the previous two. Matt Damon, now comfortably in his stride, as the amnesiatic killer, who is trying to find out why he is so good at murdering people he does not know, is finally homing in on the answer. Not aided and abetted by his superiors at the CIA, who want him off the map for reasons of their own. Frantic visuals unaided by a steadycam, and lots of running through the streets of various world capitols, viscous fights, along with an intricate plot, help to keep you on the edge of your seat, and (judging by the rush for the bathrooms at the end of the film, in it as well). Joan Allen is superb as always, and David Strathairn as the CIA Chief is great as also. A well crafted, written and produced thriller that has set the bar for the future of the genre. (rumor has it that the tile of the next one will be “The Bourne Redundancy”
300 stars, and always rent a mobile phone


Interview;

This was the film that Theo Van Gogh was working on before he was murdered in Holland a few years ago. Steve Buscemi has taken up the mantle and directed as well as stars in, along with Sienna Miller. Buscemi plays a political reporter on the way down in his career, who is assigned to interview a movie starlet, who he has no interest in and very little knowledge of. This is a fascinating premise shot in an interesting way, with two very accomplished actors. However the film is let down by the writing, which although very good is not up to the task of realizing the full potential of the premise. There is an engaging revelation of the two characters to each other that unfolds as the piece progresses , tension, hostility, seduction, deceit, are all up there on the screen. A well crafted work, intelligently executed, and well worth a look if those ingredients mean anything to you.
189 stars & keep you eyes on the video tape


Eastern Promises;

Director David Cronenberg again teams up with Viggo Mortensen, to produce another treatise on violence. This time it is the Russian mob in London. Mortensen plays an erstwhile driver for a crime family who’s patriarch is involved in the rape and death of a girl who shows up in a hospital where a nurse, played by Naomi Watts works. This event unwittingly involves her in the workings of this unsavory group of thugs. The screenplay is complex and intriguing the acting is top rate and menacing the violence is brutal and unflinching, and the direction displays that Cronenberg is still at the top of his game, (even though there are passages in the film that the squeamish may not want to watch). Here is a director seemingly untouched by the Hollywood machine who still is able to get his work out of the door intact, and we are all better off for his efforts.
300stars


Michael Clayton;

Follow the money, as true in a good fictional plot as it is in real life. One of the stars in this thriller starring George Clooney as Clayton, is the brilliant writing and subsequent dialog. Clayton is a failed partner and fixer in a large law firm, whose major client has been hiding a defective chemical component in one of it’s agricultural products.
What to do? One of the firms lead lawyers, wonderfully played by Tom Wilkinson has been defending the client for over a decade and suddenly cracks, tries to spill the beans, and right all the wrongs in his world.
Clayton is in charge of papering over this mess, in order not to endanger the firms position in an upcoming merger, and all the while trying to extricate himself from a bad investment and be some kind of father to an estranged son. This is a densely rich, intelligent thriller in every respect. Direction is first rate as is the acting by the universally wonderful cast, including a standout performance (as always) by Tilda Swinton as the unbelievably tightly wound lead counsel for the agribusiness villain
A satisfying end caps of this cinematic treat.
342 stars and be careful what you ask for


Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead;

81 year old Sidney Lumet shows us that he still has it in spades, by directing this edge of the seat thriller, that prevented me from going to the bathroom from half way through.
2 sons, played by Ethan Hawke, the leg man, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman , the brains, (I use the term loosely.) They decide to rob their parents jewelry store to raise some cash for themselves, “a victimless crime”, they say as the parents will be reimbursed by the insurance company. Needless to say everything is botched and goes as wrong as is possible. The mother who is not supposed to be working there at all, is mortally wounded, but not before she kills the robber, who is recruited to help by Hawke. The main startling feature of this piece is the non linear editing, which despite showing the robbery very near the beginning of the film and then working its way backwards, from different points of view, maintains the tension all the way through until the end. Hoffman is his usual intense self, Hawke delivers an appropriately hysterical (not in a funny way) performance, and Albert Finney is wonderful as the malevolent father. All in all a startlingly tense and intelligently directed thriller.
437 stars and don’t always listen to your older brother


No Country For Old Men;

The Coen brother are back in top form in this tale of a drug deal gone bad. Set in west Texas, with Tommy Lee Jones as a grizzled (what else) sheriff who has seen to much, and doesn’t understand where the world is going, on the trail of a drifter who has come across 2 mil at the scene of the aforementioned drug deal, out in the desert. The missing loot also alerts the owners, who hire a psychopathic killer, menacingly played by Javier Bardem, to retrieve the money, his preferred method of offing his victim s is a compressed air gadget for killing cattle in a slaughterhouse. This somewhat cumbersome device gets the job done in a particularly nasty way, but also doubles as a tool for knocking the locks out of doors. The style and tone of this piece recalls the Coen’s “Blood Simple” their first startling effort. The visuals are spare and efficient, the acting, especially by TL Jones, who owns this film, is outstanding, and even though this is set in contemporary times it has the feeling of and old western, replete with it’s moral code and stern philosophy. A great piece of work.
450 stars and keep your air tank fully charged


August Rush;

A Young Boy (Freddie Highmore) is adopted at birth unbeknownst to his talented cellist mother (Keri Russell), this boy is the product of a union with an Irish rock & roll singer (Jonathon Rhys Meyers). Due to her fathers interference the couple are split up for the next decade. The boy grows up in the home firmly believing that his parents are still alive and that he can reach them through his prodigious musical talent, which unbelievably by the end of the film having him conducting the NY Philharmonic orchestra. This after an equally amazing series of adventures, which include being a runaway in New York City, where he falls into the clutches of an ex musician and now vagrant (Robin Williams) who plans to cash in on the boys amazing talent. Fortunately this all ends happily, although by the ending scene, the corn is piled so high, you can barely see the images on the screen.
This film would fall into the category of a “feel good movie” you can “feel” the heavy hand of the producers at every turn in this effort, which are prevalent at this time of year.
100 stars



I’m Not There;

Well one person in this convoluted rumination on the life of Bob Dylan, who is definitely not there, is the man himself. Starting at the beginning of his career and ending sometime after his motorcycle accident, director Todd Haynes, has assembled 6 actors to try and capture the various stages of the singers life. Kate Blanchett, in the most inspired piece of cross gender casting since “The Year of Living Dangerously” has deservedly the most screen time, playing the man called “Jude” she does a great job in somehow capturing the feeling of the time and his place in it. Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Richard Gere, in descending order also play Dylan at certain times in his career, with lesser success. The narrative, such as it is chops back and forth between the characters to no avail. I’m not sure what Haynes is trying to do here, we are no wiser at the end of this than we were at the beginning as to the workings of the man, which might be his point, but the interim is not that entertaining either. This film is based on the premise that we really care about the mans life and inner workings, when he did not seem to be very sure of what they were himself. My own opinion is that, it’s the music, that does the most eloquent talking.
200 stars (for Blanchett)


Margot at the Wedding;

This is a wonderfully concise , astutely observed portrait of family dysfunction in extremis. Margot, played with biting self loathing by Nicole Kidman, is invited with her young son to the wedding of her estranged sister Pauline, played with flighty distraction by Jennifer Jason-Leigh. The moment she steps into Pauline’s house she take her aside to question her choice of husband, played with his usual manic intensity by Jack Black. Margot’s constant criticism of everything connected with the wedding, along with the strain between the two sisters pushes the whole scenario towards an inevitable disaster. The remarkably self assured direction by 38 year old Noah Baumback (The Squid & the Whale) makes this film all the more watchable and authentic. One wonders where this insight comes from. The acting by this cast is needless to say beyond reproach. In an age of “feel good date movies” this one, to it’s credit would probably break up any relationship that was not on a firm footing
500 stars & get along with you neighbors


Atonement;

A grand sweeping overly embellished film with a kernel of worthiness that does not appear until the last third of this bloated epic. Set in pre war England, Cecilia Tullis played by the toothsome Kiera Knightly has the beginning of an illicit affair with a boy below her station, Robbie Turner, played with a stiff upper lip by James McAvoy. During one evenings entertainment a teenage girl is molested on the grounds by an unknown guest. Cecila’s younger sister Briony Tullis wonderfully played by Saoirse Ronan, for her own reasons falsely accuses Robbie of the crime. He is sent to prison and then conscripted into the army to fight the war. All the time Briony has held her secret and become for obvious reasons estranged from here sister. All through the war they both become nurses helping the troops. After the war Briony who has become a well regarded author, writes her final book in which the truth of what happened is revealed, albeit with a fictionalized happy ending, the real ending is revealed at the end of the film. The Elder Briony is given a moving soliloquy at the end of the film delivered by the mesmerizing Vanessa Redgrave. This is where the payoff comes, but for all it’s power, it is too long in coming, given what we had to sit through to get it.


Youth Without Youth;

Francis Coppola’s return to directing brings with it an elaborate tale of time travel, mysticism, romance and mortality. A 70 year old linguistics professor (Tom Roth) is struck by lightening, which causes him to become younger, (stopping at the age of about 40), His doctor, played by the great Bruno Ganz is mystified by this turn of events (being 1935 they have no explanation for this regression) from here the scenario becomes a bit muddy but it involves a fiancé who breaks off their engagement due to his absorption in his work, rather than in her.
Time travels, and after some WW2 mishaps and his emigration to Switzerland, to wait out the hostilities. He reunites with a modern version of the woman who broke off his engagement with, she has her own “personality issues” which in volve her going into trances and speaking in her dreams in ever more ancient languages, which is very handy for the professors work, however this has is own costs for her and their romance, and at some point the professor has to choose between the completion of his work (with her help) and saving her life and their romance. If this seems abit convoluted (I’m knackered just writing about it) then it is. However while seeing this film it seems engrossing nevertheless.
Coppola’s visual style remains intact and while the story might seem a bit esoteric, he is entitled. 200 stars and wear rubber boots.


Starting Out In The Evening;

Frank Langella plays an aging writer, in ill health working on what he believes to be his final novel, not having had anything published for a considerable amount of time, being out of the literary loop and in an isolated backwater. When along comes a collage student who wants to write a thesis on his work, believing that this can reintroduce his work to a new generation of readers.
He initially rebuffs her proposal, saying that he has not the time to devote, being that he is in the throws of trying to finish his latest opus. After failing to interest a friend publisher to consider his manuscript he reconsiders, and allows her to interview him on his literary endeavors.
These interviews become more pointed than he is comfortable with, as does the relationship with this student, which develops beyond it’s initial parameters, much to the dismay for his own daughter, played by Lilly Taylor, who has her own relationship problems. Langella does an admirable job of playing the isolated , emotionally repressed, fading literary star, as does Taylor who is in a similarly frustrating condition, just further down the age scale. The only bone of contention I have, is the age discrepancy between Langella and his college interviewer (she is young enough to be his granddaughter, and despite her creditable acting this relationship is view ably
squirm able) . Other than that this is an old fashioned literary film that is, on the basis of the acting, photography, and assured directing, despite its lack of CGI, car chases, explosions and inane dialog, is eminently watch able
200 stars & be careful what you ask for


The Diving Bell & The Butterfly.

Based on a true story about an editor at Elle magazine who in the prime of his life and career, is struck down by a stroke, which completely paralyses him with the exception of his left eye, which he can blink. After the trauma of his condition has dissipated somewhat, his speech therapist devises a way of communicating using his blinking eye. With this as his only way of communicating with the outside world, he ends up dictating an entire book, which describes his condition and his interior world, in which he is now forced to live.
Julian Schnable, the sometime painter, and director of “Basquiat” has crafted an unsentimental, visually inventive and ultimately uplifting portrait of what could have been a very depressing story. All of this ensemble cast do an outstandingly empathetic job of telling this remarkable tale.
Schnable though is the star here, with his directorial abilities in full song
300 stars & eat lots of greens and do your exercises.



In Bruges;

A sly British mob thriller, in which 2 hit men, Brendan Gleeson & Colin (where are my eyebrows) Farrell are sent to Bruges in Belgium after a hit, by their seething boss, played menacingly by Ralph Fiennes neither of them know why they have been sent to this medieval Belgian town to let things cool of back home. It turns out that the younger of the two, Farrell, during his hit accidentally killed a young boy, something that is knowing away at his conscience, as well as that of his boss. The real reason for their sojourn to this foreign town, (which I will not reveal) adds another interesting twist to this already lively and well written caper. Gleeson, does a wonderful job as does Fiennes, Farrell is mostly eyebrows but performs well too. There is a minimum of violence, but a couple of seat squirmers never the less. All in all a good evenings entertainment.
300stars & stick to your guns


The Bank Job;

Another British effort, this one involving a nefarious government plot to retrieve some compromising photographs of a Royal having a naughty fling on a Caribbean island. These snaps are being held in a bank safety deposit box by a drug trafficking slumlord , who is using them to avoid prosecution. The government, to avoid accountability gets a group of small time criminals to break into the vault, on the premise of stealing the loot, (which they do), however the sexy plant makes sure that the snaps are part of the haul as well. This is the bare bones of the plot. This events are based on a real case that happened in the 1970’s, the details of which will only be released to the public in 2054, I wonder what the delay is? Anyway the director Roger Donaldson and the writers, Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais have filled in the gaps with their own imagination and come up with a very entertaining and well realized film.
Jason Statham, does a great job as the gang leader Terry Leather, he could be the next acting export to make it big over here. Well worth a look.
356 stars & keep digging


Ironman;

Another Marvel superhero comes to the big screen. Robert Downey Jr. puts on the rustproof garb in this adventure. Playing an arms dealer who after being captured in the middle east and undergoing some unsavory treatment, our metal minded genius has a change of heart and decides to fight for the good of all. His loyal but evil lieutenant played by a bald bearded Jeff Bridges decides to try and play both sides of the deck, only to be undone by the forces of good (yea!). Good clean American fun, Downey makes very good use of a witty and tongue in check script, along with brisk editing and lots ‘O special effects this is big time Hollywood production is entertainment at its best
241 stars and keep the oil handy




The Visitor;

An interesting tale in which a stuffy hidebound professor, brilliantly portrayed by Richard Jenkins returns home from his college in Connecticut to his Manhattan apartment, which is seldom used, to find a couple living there, hoodwinked by an unscrupulous friend into thinking the apartment was vacant, both are in the country without papers and are from Africa and Syria. After the initial shock of finding these squatters in his house , Walter (Jenkins) has a change of heart and allows them to stay for a while, this while gets inevitably extended, during which time the exuberant life affirming world view of Tarek , richly portrayed by Haaz Sleiman starts to rub off on the aforementioned stuffy Walter. After a seemingly innocuous event at a subway turnstile Tarek is arrested by undercover police, who then discover that he is in the country illegally. This launches Walter into action to help his newfound friend, and at the same time reinvigorates his life. Other subsequent events take place including the appearance of Tareks mother. This film has a richly complex story, intelligent and heartfelt performances by the entire cast and sure footed , unmaudlin direction by Thomas McCarthy. A quiet film with a powerful impact
346 stars have fun be happy





Things We Lost in The Fire;

Halle Barry gives a compelling portrayal in playing the mother of two kids trying to cope with the loss of her husband, (David Duchovny) who is killed in a murder. Benicio Del Toro plays Jerry, the husbands lifelong best friend, who is a recovering heroin addict, and who Berry completely distraught, invites, to stay at her house to help in her recovery, despite her complete disapproval of his addiction, and his relationship with her deceased husband. A complicated co dependency appears, and has to be dismantled in order for Audrey (Berry) to come to terms with her loss. Powerful performances from the two leads, assured direction from Susanne Bier, and intelligent writing from Allan Loeb
357 stars it’s all good





The Fall;

Tarsem Singh directed this visual fantasy, (now here is someone with an imagination) about 2 patients in a hospital in California in the early 1920's One of the protagonists is a stunt man making an early silent motion picture who is injured, physically, and mentally due to a broken heart, and a little girl, wonderfully played by Catinca Untaru, the daughter of migrant field workers who broke her arm during a fall in the orange groves where she worked with her family. Being bored, she befriends the depressed actor, who tells her this fantastical story, which is vividly illustrated by Tarsem's stunning imagery, shot all around the world, (no CGI here), in order that she scores some morphine for the dispensary, that might, (help him sleep) Alexandria, who soon becomes engrossed, as I did, in the story, obliges. The screenplay alternates between the storytelling and the fantasy, sometimes intertwining the two. The narrative here is not the star, the visuals are, and they are sometimes so stunning that, the weakness in the story seems not to matter at all. Singh, who's other credit's include the equally hypnotic "The Cell" is a visual master, and he is in top form on this one.
596stars (for visuals)





The Dark Knight;

In this latest episode of the Batman saga Director Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins) has concocted an immense bombastic Hollywood blockbuster, that is so overwrought and breathless that you forget that this is just fluff adventure entertainment.
That being said, it is beautifully art directed and shot, the pacing is the aforementioned breathless, and there hardly seems a dud frame in the almost 3 hour (way too long) running time.
In the acting department it is Heath Ledger, who runs away with the film, his manic demented, psychopathic portrayal of the joker leaves all the other actors on the screen, (save for Michael Caine) in the dust. Where he went to concoct this character I shudder to think, suffice it to say that it is a mesmerizing performance. Christian Bale’s portrayal of the caped chiroptera one is stiff and shallow by comparison, (and he can’t have been to happy with it either judging by the dust up he is alleged to have given his MOTHER in London recently). Aaron Eckhart gives a sterling performance as city DA Harvey Dent, who’s face gets seriously dented later on in the film. Maggie Gyllenhaal is just cashing her check as the love interest, and Gary Oldman as the police commissioner, with the ridiculous glasses is sidelined in the acting stakes.
The story is the same as ever, a test of wills, good against evil, principles against mayhem and anarchy, maybe because these are such fundamental human dilemmas that we can watch endless permutations on this theme.
420 stars and better get the trash can size popcorn





The X Files, I want to believe (I wasn’t being ripped off);

This film is chicken mcnuggets masquerading as coq au vin.
Never having seen the original TV series, I was able to drink in the epic triviality of this big screen adaptation for what it was, the aforementioned mcnuggets.
Putting aside the cultural impact (none) this is a detective story is about some missing people, the first of whom is an FBI agent who, it turns out have a rare blood type and the FBI in their infinite wisdom have hired a loony pedophile priest played by Billy Conolly, as well as resurrected equally unhinged Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) who is persona non grata at the agency due to some previous unmentioned kerfuffle, to help in tracking down what has happened to these unfortunates. The extremely easy on the eyes Amanda Peet is completely unconvincing as the head agent. The screenplay has it’s moments but not enough to save this dog. The look is tired, as are the lead actors, and this seems like another one of those cynical Hollywood producer driven efforts to wrest the increasingly scarce money from the pockets of a gullible public
23 stars and no comment




As it is in Heaven;

You can’t go home again. We’ve seen this before, but this charming well realized film from Sweden tells it to us again and for the most part it is so well done, that we don’t mind. A world renowned conductor, brings his career to a sudden halt, he returns to his remote childhood village , where is asked to be the cantor for the church choir, he reluctantly accepts and takes this rag tag group and gives them some musical heart. He soon has several of the younger women in the village taking more than a musical interest in him, this ignites the ire of the local priest whom see’s his authority being challenged, when his own wife turns against him, the Fiskbullar really hits the fan. There are the usual stories of prejudice and abuse that various village members are hiding from each other and the new paradigm that this conductor brings into this little world brings them all to the surface, with much ensuing turmoil, but music seems to cure all eventually, and apart from the rather trite ending, this is a worthy heartfelt piece, full of authentic acting and universal truisms that most people can relate to.
375 stars and be careful on the ice.




Elegy;

Older men have been though everything before, you’re like a car they want gasoline from- Nastasia Kinski
In this excellent literate drama from a Phillip Roth novel Ben Kingsley plays professor David Kapesh a man without a moral compass who falls in love with Consuela Castillo played by Penelope Cruz, one of his students, but does not have the spine or ability to consummate the relationship in any terms other than sexual, which is what he has always done. This is simply the latest in a long line of similarly failed relationships that have peppered this mans life, he is a stilted emotional shell unable to connect with anyone on a meaningful level. The only difference here is that mortality has reared it’s ugly head and too late the professor realizes that fear may have prevented him from grasping some real meaning in his life for possibly the last time.
His friend and a partner in crime is another professor excellently played by Dennis Hopper. Also the luminous Patricia Clarkson plays Kingsley’s long time lover, who when she discovers the “affair” finally realizes the hopelessness of their deeply flawed relationship. Peter Sarsgaard plays his estranged son who is still suffering, in his adult life from the abandonment ,as he sees it that Kingsley initiated in his only marriage. The only 2 quibbles I have is on the somewhat overwrought ending, in which after an absence of 2 years after this relationship has also ended, Cruz reappears announces she has breast cancer, forcing the professor too late to see the error of his ways.#2 is that for Cruz, a stunning woman, to fall for Kingsley, not even remotely good looking, does not seem plausible anywhere other than Hollywood. This is a very well structured and edited film, director Isabel Coixet has a firm yet deft hand on the tiller, with the acting especially by Kingsley, Clarkson and Hopper are of the highest order 436 stars





The Edge of Heaven;

This German produced and directed film is essentially about a culture clash, but it’s human story is so cleverly and intricately intermeshed that the cultures seem to appear as merely a subtext.. An elderly retired widower of Turkish descent is living in Germany he talks a prostitute that he has visited into living with him as his mistress, all goes well for a while, the woman sending money home to her daughter in Turkey for her education. The daughter, who is a political activist, has no idea of her mothers profession. The widower has a son who is a professor in the university, who is extremely upset with his father, a) for taking up with this prostitute in the first place and b) when he discovers that, after he has struck up an informal l but friendly relationship with her, his father in a drunken rage, accidentally killed her. The father is arrested, sent to prison, and the son goes off to Turkey in search of the daughter. The story goes on and on and gets more complicated, more people get arrested, some other people get shot strangers who are looking for each other pass in the night some estrangements get reconciled others do not. In the end there is redemption. All in all this is a wonderfully complex and thoughtful piece of work that brushes all of the touchstones of the human condition in a graceful way. A sleeper of a film that could be easily overlooked…at you’re peril.
362 stars





Girl Cut in Two.

It’s hard to imagine that a great director such as Claude Chabrol one of the pioneers, along with Jean Luc Godard of the groundbreaking French New Wave cinema of the early 50’s and 60’s could produce such drivel .
The scenario; A famous well regarded author, who’s moral compass has long ago been flushed down the drain of the nearest bidet, living a luxurious bourgeois life in the country with an adoring wife whom he has been married to for 25 years and who by his own admission is a “saint” takes up with a blond girl, young enough to be his daughter, possibly his grand daughter who is a rising “star” on TV as a weather presenter( a future David Letterman?) This attractive young girl is mysteriously attracted to this old goat who sends her on her way after their initial tryst ( for her own good). Dejected she falls into the arms of an arrogant heir her own age, a spoiled twit with the mental acumen of a 9 year old (with dialog to match). There are hints of forbidden (read naughty) sexual behavior with the old man and his cronies, which initially intrigues the young girl, torn between this aging geezer and the wealthy heir, what is a girl to do, take up with the infantile obsessed twit, or hope that the famous author will leave his adoring wife and run away with her. This is a tired worn through scenario we have seen in a hundred French films better than this one. The translators of this subtitled mess had the opportunity to make the script more intelligent for the American audiences, but this was apparently beyond their abilities. The implausibility of this scenario (even in France) along with the appallingly bad script, swamps any potential this film had for believable entertainment, despite the generally good acting. It does not even have the backbone to be erotic, where it could have been, instead it titillates, it is a comedy of manners with out any. This is an argument for a once talented director not knowing when it is time to leave the lens cap on the camera, and keep the beret at home.
Pas en valeur toutes étoiles





Rachel Getting Married;

Jonathan Demme has brought in a film about the impending marriage of Rachel, who’s family, no more dysfunctional than the next, grapples with the rising tensions of this multicultural event. Kim, Rachel’s younger drug addicted sister is being released from rehab to assist in springing the lock from the skeleton crammed family closet. She is not so much a fly as a condor in the ointment, and by the time all the flapping is done there is ointment everywhere, so to speak. As she emerges from the car at the house she is carefully or though not successfully concealing her container load of baggage, that she will soon display for all the assembled guests. Completely self absorbed at the rehearsal dinner she delivers a speech ostensibly to the bride and groom, but really about her own travails of such seat squirming ineptitude that it is really a revelation of writing and acting. There are many and varied subplots all of interest adding to this goulash of family drama. The casting is first rate, Demme eschewing too many big time stars and populating this film with first rate actors instead. Anne Hathaway is outstanding as Kym, Rosemarie DeWitt is very good as the beleaguered Rachel, Debra Winger is wonderful as Abby her mother, and Bill Irwin delivers a fine performance as her father. The star one more is the writing, backed up by sure handed directing by Demme who to deliver this complex film in the fashion that he does proves he is at the top of his game. I do have one gripe however and that is the overuse of the hand held “jigglycam” which is unnecessary, distracting and adds nothing to the drama of the story
350 stars