Archive | April, 2010

Don McKay

15 Apr

Title: Don McKay
Year: 2009
Director: Jake Goldberger
Writer: Jake Goldberger
Starring: Thomas Haden Church, Elisabeth Shue, Melissa Leo, M. Emmet Walsh, Keith David
MPAA Rating: R, language and some violence
Runtime: 87 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 45%

Oh Don McKay is a really interesting film, a mix of quirky comedic bits with noir elements thrown into a thriller, a true genre-bender. Thomas Haden Church is the titular character, and he’s really great as him, a quiet school janitor who’s past comes back to him as an ex-girlfriend gets him to come back home because she’s dying, or is she? Every single person in this film is shady as fuck, and when you have actors like Mr. Haden Church, Elisabeth Shue, who plays Sonny, the ex, and the great Melissa Leo, who plays Sonny’s housemate you gotta love how it all comes through.

This is writer-director Jake Goldberger’s feature debut, and while he does get some parts right the majority isn’t right, it’s kind of right, but not entirely there yet, and what is actually really right is not that much because of him as it is because of Thomas Haden Church, who really gives a powerful performance here and because every single element that’s outstanding in this one came out from the playbook the Coen brothers used in Blood Simple, and Goldberger is obviously no Coen. Just sayin’.

Grade: C+

The Good Guy

15 Apr

Title: The Good Guy
Year: 2009
Director: Julio DePietro
Writer: Julio DePietro
Starring: Alexis Bledel, Bryan Greenberg, Scott Porter, Andrew McCarthy, Aaron Yoo
MPAA Rating: R, pervasive language and some sexual content
Runtime: 90 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 8.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 43%

The cast The Good Guy has is filled with some of my favorite television stars, Alexis Bledel is a favorite of mine from her Gilmore Girls days, Scott Porter is a Friday Night Lights MVP and Bryan Greenberg is currently being great in HBO’s How to Make it in America. The film, though, has a so-so plot and not really much to offer other than these three great young thespians.

I like it however that the film offers a completely different, if not entirely unbelievable look at Wall Street, telling us there are some guys who work there who live to party with the money they make from trading stocks. This is a film that doesn’t look at the Wall Street business like any other film we’ve seen does, not once do they refer to any knowledge about the trade, they just refer to the money they make and what they do with it.

Scott Porter plays one of the biggest up-and-coming guys in the business, he’s a guy that’s good at what he does, and what he does also includes going into bars to pick up the best girls in town and play silly teenage drinking games and just having a good time. Greenberg plays the new guy at the business, Daniel, he’s the opposite, he’s good at his job, probably not as good as Tommy, the Scott Porter character, but still very good, but he’d rather have a night at home eating something and then reading something before going to bed than partying.

Tommy then gets promoted as the head of it all and on a hunch that takes everyone else by surprise, because apparently you have to party to be a good trader, promotes Daniel and has to train him at the job. And then we find out that Tommy has a girlfriend, Beth, who’s the Alexis Bledel character, Daniel notices that Tommy is feeding bullshit to Beth, who’s really more his type than Daniel’s anyways. She likes to read, you see.

You know the type of film this one is then, a dumb-ish romantic comedy with this Wall Street background, which I found new and quite refreshing really, and the writer-director DePietro is a former trader so this look at traders, though probably exaggerated, may be right to some extent, which would be awesome, really.

The characters are smartly written, they just don’t have much to be that smart about I would say, but the protégé-becomes-rival-in-love situation is quite spectacular to see developed and it’s always nice to see this people, especially Bledel, make a big-screen appearance.

Grade: C+

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

15 Apr

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Year: 2009
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writers: Nikolaj Arcelo and Rasmus Heisterberg, adapting from the Stieg Larsson novel
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Runtime: 152 min
Major Awards: 1 BAFTA
IMDb Rating: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%

Yes, this film may be too long, and yes, the violence depicted may be too intense and upsetting, some, like the great film critic A.O. Scott, saying it does the narrative a huge disservice, but I personally found The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to be an exceptionally rare film, one that I found myself loving and being extremely engaged to, this is a film that, whether it’s for the wrong reasons, like Mr. Scott, or for the right reasons, like me, you definitely won’t forget, and that’s mostly because of the riveting performance Noomi Rapace gives, her character is also the best part of this film, and I can’t wait to have the two sequels at the ready for me to love just as much.

The character Ms. Rapace plays is Lisbeth Salander, she’s a goth, she’s super thin, she’s small, she has piercings and tattoos, she’s damaged as hell and she’s a genius computer hacker. The intensity of the performance Ms. Rapace gives is beyond words and it translates well into Lisbeth, because Lisbeth is also a very intense, compelling girl, and as she starts investigating the disappearance of a young girl nearly four decades ago she finds a pattern of weird attacks on women that have been hidden for the duration, and she herself was a victim of abuses in her past, that’s when Rapace just turns it the fuck on, this is truly a magnificent performance we witness.

It helps that she has Michael Nyqvist’s character to play against, his character Mikael Blomkvist is a passive investigative journalist that is about to go prison in six months, and with Lisbeth he forms the most unlikely of partnerships as he is hired by a wealthy man to investigate the disappearance of his niece all those years ago, the story of the little girl being interesting as well. Nyqvist is great as well, the passivity of his performance contrasting in a great manner with the intensity of Rapace.

Their partnership is great to watch functioning, their research, everything they do really is not only interesting and well acted, but it is also well presented by Oplev, who also crafts a great look that complements this film as a terrific thriller, the inhabitants of the island the girl went missing in, the whole chilly look of it all, it’s just a fuckin’ brilliant film.

Now I’ll adress A.O. Scott’s two things he didn’t like about the film, and let me just note that Mr. Scott is someone I admire, aspire to be like, and is one of my three personal favorite film critics out there.

About the length of it all, which has been questioned by many, I personally find it not only not bothersome, but actually great, I’m a sucker for lengthy films that don’t bore, and not only does this one not bore us, but it’s positively fast and keeps us going at a pace an average-length film can aspire too, not to say it doesn’t feel as long as it is, it does, it just makes bloody good use of its time.

And about the extreme violence, it is in fact extreme, many are perturbed by it, and I don’t blame them, the scenes involving rape, assault and a number of other horrid things are seriously shocking, but they’re not there just to cause shock, they’re not there as a cheap stunt to grab your attention, they are there to illustrate something, and it’s a horribly tough thing to illustrate, thus their use, but what I liked is that I thought that they were shown with a sort of feminist viewpoint engraved in them which I always like.

This is a masterful film, I saw it and thought it would definitely be remade by Hollywood, and sure enough, it will be, and it seems as though David Fincher is set to direct and names like Kristen Stewart and Carey Mulligan (two of my personal favorites) have been thrown out there for the Lisbeth role, what I mean by this is is that it may turn out to be a really good remake, I just hope people not only see that one once it comes out, but check this one out before, as it will probably turn out to be the superior out of the two.

All in all this is a masterful film, it’s not only an action thriller with sex included, yes, it’s that in a way, but it’s also so much more in many other ways, it’s a terrific story, with capable direction and narrative capped off by a really solid performance by Nyqvist and a tour de force from Rapace, who I’m still gushing over from the sheer power of her performance.

Grade: A-


14 Apr

Title: Defendor
Year: 2009
Director: Peter Stebbings
Writer: Peter Stebbings
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Sandra Oh, Kat Dennings, Elias Koteas, Michael Kelly
MPAA Rating: R, drug use and language throughout, violence and sexual content
Runtime: 95 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%

Canadian actor Peter Stebbings comes forth with Defendor, his screenwriting and directorial debut that filmed in different parts of Toronto and Hamilton, and, on paper, Defendor was a film that I should have loved for two different and seriously valid reasons. One was its subject matter, a normal guy who pretends to be a superhero, I’m a huge geek so that obviously appeals to me, and within that pro one can say, as many actually have, that this was the film to hold us until Kick-Ass was released (and it comes out this Friday!). And lastly, it has Woody Harrelson as a star, and he’s an unbelievably great actor who I love in pretty much anything he does (excluding 2012), and it also stars Kat Dennings, who I not only have a huge crush on but is also actually a pretty damn good actress on her own. So yes, on paper, this one should have been outstanding.

And it was. It was good, not a masterpiece, not an five-star, A-graded geniality of a film, but good enough to have me wait for Kick-Ass to get here, yes, if you haven’t noticed already I have seriously high expectations from Kick-Ass, but Defendor is on its own, Kick-Ass expecatations aside, a truly remarkable little film, Harrelson plays this man-child who wears black tights and used ducktape to make a huge D on his chest and pretends to be a superhero. And he has silly gadgets and wants victory over the evil drug lord Captain Industry.

Yes, in many ways Defendor is obviously a comedy, Stebbings wants you to laugh, but he also wants you to consider this guy beyond the silliness of him, beyond the laughs his stunts provide, he wants you to consider the heroism of Defendor and what that means. This is a more complicated film than one would think, Arthur Poppington, the man behind the shoe-polish eye mask of Defendor, was abandoned as a child by his mother, he uses the costume and mission to escape from it all to be a better man, as he says so himself.

There’s a mystery surrounding Arthur the man, we get to know some stuff from flashback scenes with the Sandra Oh character, but not everything, we want to know more, but we are given what we get, but aided by a terrific Harrelson, and a shining Dennings in a supporting role as prostitute who finds refuge in Defendor’s lair, the movie is just terrific minding a few small missteps, and not only does it succeed in making us hold until Kick-Ass arrives, but it holds pretty damn well on its own, too, and I’ll be delighted to buy it once it comes out on Blu-Ray next week to enjoy it way after Kick-Ass is released and once that one comes out on Blu-Ray I’ll enjoy my very own themed movie night.

Grade: B+

Leaves of Grass

14 Apr

Title: Leaves of Grass
Year: 2009
Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Writer: Tim Blake Nelson
Starring: Edward Norton, Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon, Melanie Lynskey, Keri Russell, Tim Blake Nelson
MPAA Rating: R, violence, pervasive language, and drug content
Runtime: 105 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 52%

Oh Tim Blake Nelson, what a seriously wacky film you just made, yes, I got you to thank for that, you wrote and directed the film after all, but I guess that where the real thanks have to go is to Edward Norton, the guy you wrote the film for, saying if he didn’t take it you wouldn’t do it, the guy who actually took a huge cut from his usual paycheck to star in this film. This is a great film you two just made.

Norton tackles a dual role in this one, of twin brothers, one an intellectual, the other one a pot farmer. If you take a look back at Norton’s career he’s done not a single crappy film, not one, he’s a guy that not only has an amazing talent, he is one of my five favorite living actors after all, but that also knows how to pick them like few others do. And Tim Blake Nelson, who’s first and foremost an actor, has only done three films before this one, not a large number, granted, but the three of them have been quite good, reason enough to believe this one was going to be awesome.

Norton’s first character is a philosophy professor at Brown University, Bill Kincaid, who’s talking about Socrates as the film opens. He’s great at his job, published author, a rockstar amongst the intellectuals, but then he gets a call saying his twin brother, Brady, is dead. That’s when the marijuana part of it all kicks in, that is, after all, the substance around which this film in a way revolves, and it’s a seriously messed up but incredible ride to be in.

He goes back home, not because he’s a huge family man, he has severed all ties with them really, but because that’s the kind of good guy he is, but there he finds out his mom, played by Susan Sarandon, is still a pothead, and finds out that his brother is actually very much alive, as his brother’s best friend, played by Nelson himself, informs him, they just needed Bill there to be an alibi for Brady when he goes to Tulsa to meet with the main marijuana dealer over there.

It says a lot about Norton that he can be so masterful at these two very different characters in the same film, he’s two completely different men, one the intellectual who’s a great guy, the other a huge stoner that’s growing the best material in town. Norton is simply a master of his craft, he’s too good at this, and part of the credit has to go Nelson who creates these two beautiful characters so well, they are both different in ways of living, and Norton plays them accordingly, but they are both incredibly smart, Bill in the more conventional sense, but Brady has crated a pot farm that’s revolutionary, he’s a smart guy too, just in a different way, and the dialogue Nelson creates for them both is outstanding.

Tim Blake Nelson is a Tulsa native, and it shows, his portrayal of the Jewish community within Tulsa is incredible for once, and during the film his knowing of the territory is truly on display. The dialogue is unbelievably well-written, the acting is superb and not just by Norton, just look at the cast, it even has Keri Russell! So yeah, go see this one, it’s a great story, has tremendous characters, outstanding acting and a great philosophical viewpoint presented with utmost care and insight by Nelson.

Grade: B+

The Girl on the Train

14 Apr

Title: The Girl on the Train
Year: 2009
Director: André Téchiné
Writers: André Téchiné, Odile Barski and Jean-Marie Besset, adapting from the play by Jean-Marie Besset
Starring: Emilie Dequenne, Catherine Deneuve, Nicolas Duvauchelle
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 105 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%

Deneuve and Dequenne are outstanding in this film which I quite enjoyed from that very first extended traveling shot in which we were the train, inside the tunel, speeding fast towards that light we’re seeing at the end of it all. This is a fact-based film, and incredible at that, and its a terrific character study of Jeanne, a woman that’s beautiful in her own different way and who lives with her mother, Louise, near a train track. Jeanne rides the train, she roller blades, she tries to get a job.

Then Jeanne meets Franck, a rough athlete that seduces her until they move in together, but then their relationship turns bad, and Jeanne ends up pretending she was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack. I said this was a story based on actual facts, the facts are ones that made news in 2004, about this woman who said she was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack by six African men who she said pulled her hair, slashed her clothes, made swastikas on her body and pushed over the stroller where her baby was.

You can see how these news would shock the world, the then-president of Frances, Jacques Chirac condemned the attack, Israeli authorities urged the Jews of France to leave to avoid further incidents like that. But then, the victim of the attack, who wasn’t even Jewish, came forward saying that she had made up the whole thing.

The film doesn’t focus on the political issues and further complications and extended consequences of this, Mr. Téchiné, with whom I share a first name, is a filmmaker that likes it better to explore more the emotions and psychological complexities beneath it all, he doesn’t do it like a filmmaker that pretends to understand, he’s just a filmmaker that likes to illustrate. The scenes in which Jeanne rollerblades to nowhere may seem as just that, but they also feel like much more.

Téchiné divides his film into two very distinct parts, the circumstances and the consequences, and he does a fine job exploring the story, introducing a Jewish family along the way. Yes, this is a fact-based story, but it doesn’t focus on the lie, it focuses on the woman, on why she did why she did, on how much she wanted love, and on every thing else that can be read between the lines of the obvious things other filmmakers would have rather focused on, and in that way this one succeeds.

Grade: B


14 Apr

Title: Chloe
Year: 2009
Director: Atom Egoyan
Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the film Nathalie… written by Anne Fontaine
Starring: Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Nina Dobrev, Max Thieriot
MPAA Rating: R, strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity and language
Runtime: 96 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 7.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 52%

Some critics haven’t received Chloe, the remake of the 2003 french film Nathalie…, that well, claiming that it doesn’t deliver the thrills it promises and falls into clichés of the sexual thriller genre, I personally loved the film, especially because it showcases three fabulous actors who I love, especially Amanda Seyfried, who was convinced to take the titular role by executive producer Jason Reitman.

Atom Egoyan is outstanding in directing Chloe, the film in which a woman, played by Julianne Moore, sees a girl outside her office window who looks and acts like a super fancy call girl, then she finds a photograph on her husband’s phone that she finds suspicious, goes back to where she first saw the girl, makes eye contact with her and starts taking to her in the powder room. The girl, played by a wonderful Amanda Seyfried, is wonderfully nonchalant when she tells her women are not usually her clients.

Amanda Seyfried is a young actress I’m completely nuts over, one of my Hollywood crushes if you will, but still, crush and bias aside she’s still a terrific actress and how she plays Chloe is superb, this is a character that obviously has personal motives to do what she does, but those aren’t apparent, and that’s what fuels this incredibly complex film because it’s not so much about actually doing something, as much as it is about thinking about doing it.

The plot after the initial scene I just described goes like this: Catherine, the Julianne Moore character, tells Chloe, who’s actually quite smart aside from her obvious beauty, that she suspects her husband of being adulterous and wants her to try and seduce him as an apparent test of her husband’s fidelity, or lack thereof.

The psychology behind it all is great, how Chloe, showing how smart she actually is, doesn’t sell her body, that’s for cheap whores, but instead uses her intelligence to work her clients and find out what it is what they really desire first, and then giving it to them, in a way that, whether they want it or not, they’ll be tempted to take. She meets David, the husband, at the place where he usually has lunch, a tip given by Catherine. And she tells Catherine what she says she found out.

I would go on describing the rest of the story, but I’ve decided I won’t, if you have read anything about the film you’ll probably already know there’s an sapphic scene between Moore and Seyfried, but the thing is the film is incredibly complex, more than just the sex bits, and it’s a treat to really enjoy and figure out as you go, this is a film about a young girl, wise beyond her years, who knows how to psychologically control people and enjoys it, it’s a film about Chloe’s real motives and what moves her and her way of thinking, and it’s truly fascinating to watch how Egoyan delves into this.

This is a serious mindtrip more than it is a thriller, it’s about the complexities of love, I would say, it raises a lot of questions about the titular character and it raises a lot of questions about the questions this character asks, and yes, it tells this tale and asks this questions in a sexual manner, but there’s really no other way this could have been told to illustrate it properly, and it helps it has Neeson performing his role as a true enigma at such a high level, this was, after all, the film he was shooting when he found out about his wife’s unfortunate death, it also has Moore in a great part, but then again Moore never disappointed, and Seyfried going deep into the intelligent, complex and beautiful Chloe.

Grade: B+

The Warlords

13 Apr

Title: The Warlords
Year: 2007
Director: Peter Chan
Writers: Xu Lan, Chun Tin-Nam, Aubery Lam, Huang Jian Xin, Jojo Hui, He Jiping, Guo Jun Li, James Yuen
Starring: Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Xu Jinglei
MPAA Rating: R, sequences of strong violence
Runtime: 126 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%

Yes, this is a 2007 film, but it only got a U.S. release in 2010, so I’m counting it for the year’s reviews. The film is outstandingly large in scope, and the epic battle sequences are extremely well done, the main one actually being over 20 pages of detailed descriptions in the script, but I found myself not really enjoying the film outside of those battle scenes, yes, it is also a personal drama of male bonding, but at that level I thought there was just something missing.

Jet Li’s performance is quite good though, he’s the main star of the film, playing General Pang, the only one who survived a massacre that killed his whole unit and a man that carries with him a dark secret. Li earned a paycheck of $15 million for this part, which accounted for over a third of the movie’s budget, the excessive paycheck being attributed to the fact that having him cast guaranteed an international release, which is a good enough reason I would say, though I doubt this one will captivate audiences that much this side of the globe.

Pang is apparently a man with visionary ideas, and he gets two bandits to align with him via a blood oat to battle the rebels but years pass and Pang’s idealism seems to be gone and the bandits start to show mistrust towards him.

Yes, the scope is fuckin’ epic, not only do the battle scenes look great but they feel great as well, we connect with the characters whilst they’re in battle, unfortunately, even though the acting is solid and the story of the bonding is nicely told, I just didn’t feel myself connecting to them in the story as much as I did to in the battles.

Grade: C+


12 Apr

Title: After.Life
Year: 2009
Director: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Writers: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Paul Vosloo, Jakub Korolczuk
Starring: Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long
MPAA Rating: R, nudity, disturbing images, language and brief sexuality
Runtime: 95 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 20%

I’m a big fan of Christina Ricci, I would have graded the movie lower had the Anna role gone to Kate Bosworth like it was originally supposed to. Anna, by the way, was killed in a car crash, but, as you would correctly assume from the film’s title, she’s not really dead, she comes back and tells her mortician Elliot, a role that was originally supposed to go to Alfred Molina but that is now played by Liam Neeson, that there’s been some sort of mistake that she’s not really dead, he tries to reason with her, but then again, she’s seeing her right there, arguing right back at him, she seems alive.

This is a bizarre film, I usually like bizarre films but something about After.Life seemed too odd to me to really embrace it, there’s a little boy who sees Anna from the window and tells her boyfriend that she’s alive, and that makes complete sense to him for some reason, he had been really struggling with her dying and he quickly accepts what this little boy tells him.

We never really know if she’s alive or not, she gets buried (alive?) and we still don’t know, if we’re Anna we think we are alive and we think we are being buried prematurely, Deacon is just as split up, yes, he saw her alive, but he thinks he has this sort of gift, he has been doing this for too long and he sometimes thinks he talks to the dead people he has to deal with.

This is an okay horror film, but it is one that never fuckin’ settles for an identity, it is as though director Wojtowicz-Vosloo, who makes her debut with this one, was only trying to make a cool art-house film and in the middle of that forgot her plot and the effectiveness of this thriller was completely lost.

Grade: C

Happy Tears

12 Apr

Title: Happy Tears
Year: 2009
Director: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Writer: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Starring: Parker Posey, Demi Moore, Rip Torn, Ellen Barkin
MPAA Rating: R, language, drug use, and some sexual content including brief nudity
Runtime: 95 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 5.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 36%

There was a time when quirky indie dramedies were super new and original, and while that’s still mostly the case, there have so many of them that this is a genre which now has clichés, clichés that are employed to their fullest extent in Happy Tears, which by following a rather stale formula lets truly fine performances, especially those by Moore and Posey, go to waste.

It’s the story of these two sisters, one completely different from the other, and how they deal with their aging father. Rip Torn plays the father, and it made me remember how good an actor this man, who’s closing in on 80, really is, he plays extremely well the role of an old stubborn man who’s becoming senile and now being visited by his two daughters to be told just that. He also has Ellen Barkin as a “nurse” though it seems to us as though she learned her nursing skills from television shows and the only time she’d be wearing a nurse outfit is in the bedroom, and Laura, one of the daughter’s notices this right away when she comes to visit.

Laura is played by Demi Moore, and the other sister, Jayne, a shopaholic, is played by a wonderful Parker Posey. The rest of the film, even though is filled with clichés of the genre is still a nicely enough assembled story, these are two completely opposite women who love pot and who are played by two extremely capable actresses.

Ms. Moore especially is terrific as Laura, probably because I wouldn’t have initially assumed she would have been this good in this genre, as opposed to what I would have thought of Posey who’s still terrific, Moore looks amazing and her turn in this one has me thinking this genre is something she should try delving into more and more.

This is a film that even though is, I repeat, completely addled in clichés still does have great performances by four capable thespians, a really nice family story that’s told with a distinct sense of humor, but I’m not giving it a high grade because I think it should have been more.

Grade: C