Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Smokin' Aces

A few years back, Joe Carnahan wrote and directed a taut Indy thriller called "Narc" starring Ray Liotta and Jason Patric. "Smokin' Aces" doesn't even come close as a follow up.

Starring Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds, Andy Garcia, and Alicia Keys, the film is a bad live action cartoon. The characters are poorly written and what passes for acting is a downright shame. Mr. Liotta phones in his FBI agent. Mr. Garcia plays his role on sleep aids and Jeremy Piven just dissolves deeper and deeper into a messy drug stupor.
Ms. Keys does an adequate job in her first role (a strange choice) in a major film. And since his is the best written character, Mr. Reynolds outshines everyone else in the film. No wonder Ben Affleck and Matthew Fox have unaccredited cameos. The film is a mess.

The ending, in particular, is truly terrible. While it's effect is dramatic, it makes no sense at all and stretches what little credibility the film has beyond the limit. Another fine example of the junkyard January has become for movies.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Notes on Oscar Nominations

The Oscar nominations were revealed this morning and while most were expected, there were still a few surprises. Taking a look at each major category-

Lead Actor- Only surprise here was that Leonardo DeCaprio got nominated for Blood Diamond rather than The Departed, which was the far better film and role for him. He couldn't even keep his accent straight in Blood Diamond. Nice to see Ryan Gosling get recognized for Half Nelson, a terrific Indy drama. Early favorite to win- Forest Whitaker for Last King of Scotland.

Supporting Actor- No surprises here. I'd love to see Jackie Earl Haley win for a fearless role in Little Children. This is a tough one though.

Lead Actress- No surprises here either. Helen Mirren should be a lock.

Supporting Actress- Nice to see Abigail Breslin get the nom for Little Miss Sunshine but this is a lock for Jennifer Hudson.

Best Animated Film- Strong choices and I hope Cars runs over the cute penguins of Happy Feet

Best Foreign Film- Pan's Labyrinth should run away with it but could be upset by The Lives of Others. I'm pulling for Pan.

Best Director- A very tough category as all nominees are extremely strong. Personally I'd go with Clint Eastwood but many think this is Martin Scorsese's year.

Best Film- Probably the toughest choice to make. All five nominations are well deserved. babel took the Golden Globe but I think it's going to come down to a fight between Clint & Marty again. I'd like to give the edge to Letters From Iwo Jima but Departed may just take it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tears of The Black Tiger

Strictly for film aficionados, "Tears" is a Thai film that has finally found a U.S. distributor. Stealing liberally from '60s filmmaking and multiple genres, "Tears" is part tragic love story, western, gangster film, and soap opera rolled into one vivid Technicolor visual treat.

The story concerns a young pleasant boy, Dum, who falls in love with Rumpoey, the daughter of a wealthy family. Of course their love is forbidden and sets the stage for a melodramatic tragic love story. Dum grows up to become a bandit known as "The Black Tiger" and Rumpoey grows up as the daughter of the Governor and fiancé of the local police captain.

Filmed in a vivid color palette, the film is visually stunning. Stylistic camera work adds to the fun, including slow motion shootouts with liberal blood splatter ala Sam Peckinpah. Sergio Leonne inspired music coupled with a traditional Thai score and songs make for an eclectic soundtrack.

This is a film, the likes of which, today's American audiences have never seen. If you are interested in sampling something truly unique, you can't go wrong with this Thai treat. Unfortunately it's only playing at the Film Forum on Houston street but if this review has you intriqued, make the effort to venture downtown.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Alpha Dog

It's January and the tradition of dumping the Hollywood trash continues with the release of "Alpha Dog". Another in a long line of films about wealthy disaffected California youth, "Alpha Dog" is memorable only for a decent turn by Justin Timberlake and the scary thought that's based on a true story.

In 1999, A lowlife drug dealer "kidnapped" the younger brother of a druggie who owed him money. This is the story of that incident in all it's tattoo'd glory. Emile Hirsch is miscast as Johnny Truelove, the dealer with a dopey plan. If this is supposed to be based on a real person, I don't know how he ever became a successful dealer in the first place. Playing Frankie, his right hand man, is Justin Timberlake. With tattoos all over his body, Timberlake brings life to his pseudo-gangster and acts as the somewhat moral center of the story. Playing the "kidnapped" teen is Anton Yelchin, best known for playing Birdie on Showtime's "Huff". Yelchin is a very good one dimensional actor. If you need a naïve, innocent, virginal character, he'd be the first one to call. As his drugged out and really scary older brother, Ben Foster continue to shine in very edgy roles. Picking up a paycheck is Bruce Willis as truelove's father and Sharon Stone as Yelchin's step mom. I'm sure they, along with Harry Dean Stanton, only did this film as a favor to director Nick Cassavettes.

If you're attracted to reenactments of true crime tales or a major fan of Mr. Timberlake's, then wait for the DVD otherwise adopt a different film than "Alpha Dog".

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Good German

Director Steven Soderburgh newest film staring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett is an interesting experiment in filmmaking. Shot in black & white using old style cameras and cinematography, Soderburgh strives to recreate a 1940's melodrama. For the most part he succeeds but whether or not today's audience will embrace a film like this remains to be seen.

The story takes place in Berlin just at the end of the war. Clooney is a war correspondent who comes to the city to cover the peace talks and instead finds himself caught up in the murder of a G.I. and helping his old girlfriend, played by Blanchett, get safely out of Germany. The film also stars Toby Maguire and Robin Weigert (Calamity Jane from HBO's Deadwood).

The closing moments of the film deliberately mirror Casablanca's ending. Clooney channels Humphrey Bogart and Blanchett, Ingrid Bergman. The mood, lighting, score and seamless integration of stock footage all contribute to a faithful film noir of the period. The only thing that breaks the mood is the contemporary use of explicit language and one scene of a topless dancer.

"The Good German" is intriguing and well acted. Blanchett is an amazing chameleon (especially after just seeing her in "Notes From A Scandal"). Clooney is the classic stoic hero and Toby Maguire tries hard to shed his "Spiderman" image. If you're looking for something different besides sequels, remakes, and teen comedies, this "retro" drama fits the bill.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Notes On A Scandal

Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett give a master class in acting as they go head to head in this intimate little drama of secrets, desires, and their consequences.

Dame Dench is a single teacher at a middle school in England who is befriended by Ms. Blanchett when she comes to teach at the same school. When Dench discovers an ugly secret about Blanchett (an unfortunate subject happening more now than ever), rather than tell, she decides to use the information to further her relationship with the younger teacher for her own purpose. Ms. Blanchett becomes trapped between her family, her secret, and the older woman's increasing intrusion into her life.

There are amazing moments between the two women as their forced relationship continues to build and finally boil over. Dench, who narrates the film, speaks volumes with just a look and Blanchett's growing anxiety is painfully real. Bill Nighy plays Ms. Blanchett's husband and more than holds his own in the company of these two wonderful actresses.

It's a smart script and wonderful acting. To reveal more would be scandalous.

Friday, January 05, 2007


What seemed like a dream project on paper doesn't quite turn out that way on screen. Don't get me wrong, "Dreamgirls" is very entertaining but it fails to raise the bar for movie musicals the way "Chicago" did a few years ago. The screenplay and direction by Bill Condon basically portrays the Broadway show on film. Having an opportunity to use the medium to enhance the story, Mr. Condon plays it safe and doesn't bring anything new to the screen. If you missed the play, you will probably appreciate the film all the more for it's accurate reproduction. For me, this was the same problem with the filmed version of "The Producers". "Chicago" got it right by adding a new dimension to the story and actually made it better.

The cast of "Dreamgirls" put forth a mighty effort and standouts include Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy. Beyonce is a wonderful singer but her acting is pretty stiff. Jamie Foxx shines early in the film but as his character ages, his initial energy diminishes. Danny Glover does a fine job as the road weary manager. The costumes, dancing, and singing are terrific but bursting into song/speak rather than dialog stops the story dead rather than moving it forward. As written, the story and pace follow the stage performance perfectly. You realize the end of act one and almost expect the intermission sign to light up.

If nothing else, see "Dreamgirls" to discover Jennifer Hudson. A loser on "American Idol", she proves they made a mistake by lighting up the screen with her acting and singing. If the name hadn't been already taken, "Dreamgirls" could have been called "A Star Is Born".

Thursday, January 04, 2007

For Your Consideration

Christopher Guest's latest comedy, while not up to the high standards of his earlier work, is still a fun send-up of Hollywood with solid work from his usual ensemble of actors, including Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy (who co-wrote the film with Guest), Parker Posey and Harry Shearer.

The story concerns a small budget film, "Home For Purim", starring Ms. O'Hara's character, Marilyn Hack. When a tiny article appears on the internet calling her work "Oscar Worthy", a buzz begins to grow about the film and it's stars. Soon, Oscar buzz is growing not only for Ms. Hack, but for Mr. Shearer's character as well as Ms. Posey's. Producers, publicists, managers, and TV talk show hosts all get in on the growing buzz which builds towards the actual day nominations are announced.

The rest of the large cast, including some fun cameos all contribute to the satiric script. Fred Willard and Jane Lynch, in particular, are very funny as a clueless "Entertainment Tonight" duo. There are many laugh out loud moments but the subject matter may be too much of an inside joke to the general public.

"For Your Consideration" has all but disappeared from theaters but is definitely worth checking out in a few months when it hits DVD.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Best And Worst of 2006


10) 13 Tzameti- Excellent yet disturbing film commenting on the decadence of man and how low we can go.
9) Little Children- Desperate Housewives meets Happiness. Strong work from Kate Winslet and a heartbreaking Jackie Earl Haley.
8) The Departed- Excellent crime drama from Martin Scorsese. Great work from a great cast and an American version of a Asian hit that actually worked.
7) The Queen- Helen Mirren is brilliant as Queen Elizabeth dealing with the death of Princess Diana and Britain's complicated relationship with the royal family.
6) Babel- Terrific human drama connected by a single element dealing with both intimate and global issues.
5) Apocalypto- Say what you want about Mel Gibson, he’s a great filmmaker. This is a well crafted, exciting, powerful adventure and a wild ride.
4) The Proposition- Gritty and realistic Australian western with beautiful cinematography and great acting by Guy Pearce, Danny Houston and Ray Winstone. It recalls early Sam Peckinpah.
3) Crime Novel- Brilliant Italian film about three friends who become notorious gangsters in Rome during the 70’s.
2) Flags of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima- Excellent individual films examining themes from the same battle from American and Japanese perspectives. Taken together, a masterpiece on the futility of war.
1) Pan’s Labyrinth- Simply amazing. A perfect blend of fantasy and reality creates a captivating and remarkable adult fairy tale.

Honorable Mention

Man Push Cart
Little Miss Sunshine
The Illusionist
Casino Royale
The Last King of Scotland
United 93
Inside Man


10) The Fountain- Full of leaks. A metaphysical mess.
9) Poseidon- Used the wave from "The Perfect Storm" to do a lame remake.
8) All The King’s Men- Sean Penn tries to keep it interesting but dull and miscast remake.
7) Crank- Bad live action road runner cartoon.
6) V For Vendetta- P for Pretentious.
5) Running With Scissors- Some strong acting but depressing story and non-likable characters. Good 70’s soundtrack though.
4) Kettle of Fish- terrible comedy with miscast Gina Gershon and Matthew Modine.
3) The Omen- Shot for shot remake without the suspense. Rent the original.
2) The Wicker Man- Lame, lame, lame remake of the British cult thriller. Rent the original.
1) Lady In The Water- The worst movie of the year. What were actors like Paul Giamatti and Jeffrey Wright thinking? Shyamalan sinks to new depths.