Sunday, September 11, 2005

Batch #2

We've been busy, haven't we?

THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (USA)

Written and Directed
by Jason Reitman

Bill Buckley's son Chris wrote a novel satirizing the lobbying biz a few years back, and one would think that Liberal Hollywood would have kept far away as possible from this conservative screed. But no. What we've got here is a valentine to everything that's bad about American government and the joys of political correctness. It works too!

We have to call Nick Naylor(Aaron Eckhart) our protagonist, because we're not sure if he's a hero or a villain. What he does for a living is spokesman for the Tobacco industry, which as we all know, kills millions of people all over the world.

He's a great spokesperson indeed. We see him blowing away advocates for good health and envornment on TV, and laughing at how many people are killed by his pals Polly (Maria Bello) Bobby Jay (David Koechner) the chief lobbyists for Alcohol and Firearms respectively. They know what they're doing and they don't care. Fun, huh?

On the other hand, Nick's trying his best to be a good father. This despite the fact that his ex(Kim Dickens) is living with a doctor. His son Joey(Cameron Bright) idolizes him, and with reason. Dad is brilliant at what he does, and shows him when he taks him along on a trip to LA, where Joey gets to see a super-agent Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe) get product placement on a major science-fiction flick and his dad bribe the retired and bitter(Sam Elliott) get bribed into silence. It's a wonder to behold.

What's most fun is the depiction of the defenders of good health.
Vermont Senator Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy) is made to look like a moron and investigative reporter Heather Holloway(Katie Holmes) a slut. One can tell it was written by a Republican.

The star-studded cast is uniformly brilliant, and this is one swell hoot. See it now.

TIDELAND

Written and Directed
by Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam, one of the great movie directors of the twentieth century, has committed cinematic suicide. He's had trouble with producers and other executives before, many times. Usually, he's managed to create greatness despite all the trouble and expense. This time, he's not only failed, he's created a disaster of biblical proportions. To quote Cameron Crowe's “Elizabethtown:” “ People fail every day, it's the fiascos that people remember.”

Most of the film is unwatchable. When we meet Jeliza-Rose(Jodelle Ferland) and her parents(Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly), Rosie's cooking up some heroin for her father. It's all very homey, with Dad wanting to go to Jutland in Denmark and listen to his daughter read from “Alice in Wonderland” while Mom just wants her feet rubbed and to eat lots of chocolate. She dies in the first five minutes.

Dad and Rose have to hightail it out of town before the cops come. What's interesting is that Jeliza-Rose doesn't care about what's happened to Mom. She's happy now that she can have some candy now. They go to J-Rose's grandmother's house, now long abandoned, somewhere in the far Midwest, where there's no neighbors to be seen and the little girl begins to turn feral.

Dad's dropping dead of an overdose doesn't help matters. But before that happens, she meets the only neighbors with in miles and miles, and both of them are quite insane.

Dell(Janet McTeer) is in early middle age and is an amateur taxidermist who thinks that the bees of the world are out to get her, and her younger brother Dickens(Brendan Fletcher) is mentally “challenged.” He thinks the prairie is the ocean and the trains are killer sharks. J-Rose talks to her bodiless dolls, which might be somewhat normal, but Gilliam makes it downright creepy.

The whole thing is creepy. As the film goes on, this self-described combination of “Psycho and Alice in Wonderland” begins to look more and more like the former. The inferior Gus Van Zandt remake to boot. Gilliam's gifts have deserted him here and the last third of the film is genuinely horrible. Pedophilia and mummification. Yeech!

While it's still possible that “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” might still be made, the negative buzz generated at the Toronto film festival might ruin that chance. That would be a great pity, but the simple fact is: Terry Gilliam has no one to blame but himself this time.

MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS

Directed by
Stephen Frears

For a change of pace, Steven Frears, who gave us such gems as “High Fidelity” and “Dirty, Pretty things” now gives us what might be his greatest work of all, a delightful British musical set during the end of the inter-war and early World War II periods.

Laura Henderson's(Judi Dench) husband has just died, and as she's now a widow with too much money, she has to figure out what to do with her life. What she does is buy a theater on Windmill street on the west end of London, which she calls “The Windmill.” As she's an amateur in the impresario biz, she's introduced to a professional one, a Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) by name, who's had much success in the past. They get on each other's nerves from the start.

But they have faith in each other, and VD has some ideas for a new way of doing business, which is a major success at first, but then goes downhill as every other music hall in London copies it.

Then Mrs. Henderson has an idea, why not have nudie shows. But those are patently illegal. There is a loophole, however, if the naked ladies don't move, then it's considered art, and clothed entertainers can do pretty much what they want. The Lord Chancellor (Christopher Guest) says as much. So Bertie(Will Young) and the Millerettes(Anna Brewster,Camille O'Sullivan, Kelly Reilly et al)

Martin Sherman's script is flawless and the the supporting cast is delightful. Even though it's about nudity, this is most definitely family entertainment. Unless you're a prude and are sure they can't handle the sight of naked breasts, this is an excellent film to take the kiddies to. This is actually the kind of thing that a ten year old girl, if not to say a boy, would enjoy immensely. So would everyone older.

L'ENFER

Directed by
Danis Tanovic

“L'enfer” is French for hell. This is that all right. A very nasty film about very nasty people. It's about stalking and infidelity and needless suffering. No it's not a comedy. What it is, is anything but.

This is about three estranged sisters: Sophie(Emmanuelle Béart), Celine(Karin Viard) and Anne(Marie Gillain). Sophie is married to Pierre(Jacques Gamblin) and has two kids, Anne is having a fling with her archeology professor(Jacques Perrin), while the shy Celine is visiting their crippled mother(Carole Bouquet), to whom she reads excerpts from the Guinness book of world records.

The two gals with the active sex lives are rejected by the men they love, while Celine is stalked, or so we think, by a strange man(Guillaume Canet) who reads her poetry in the local pub then disappears. It's all very sad and mysterious.

These women are all indeed in Hell, and we feel every torment they go through. We wonder what exactly was the cause for this and as things go from bad to worse, we begin to wonder why we are being treated to this grand gonegal, okay, only the opening scene and one near the end are that, but there's plenty of misery going on off-screen as well as on. It might be worth a look.

ELIZABETHTOWN

Written and Directed
by Cameron Crowe

Sometimes discussing a film with colleagues after seeing it isn't that great an idea. You can like something and they might hate it and that can, retroactively diminish the enjoyment of it.

In “Elizabethtown” the sum of the parts are far greater than the whole. We've got some of the best performances of the year and some great direction servicing an at best mediocre script. The cast wrestles that sucker to the ground and if you don't mind the plot-holes, you can have a generally wonderful experience.

Drew Baylor(Orlando Bloom) designs shoes for a major company and when we first meet him, he's just produced a disaster. Everybody in the company knows this and he's going to get his head handed to him by the president of the company(Alec Baldwin).

Baldwin is great. His part isn't that big, but watching him and Bloom interact is a joy. Drew is has just constructed a perfect suicide machine and is about to use it when he gets a phone call from his mother(Susan Sarandon). His father had just died while visiting his relations in Kentucky, and he has to go back east to pick up the body and figure out what to do with the body.

So on the way over there, as the only person in coach, he meets an airline stewardess named Claire(Kirsten Dunst), who is almost too damn perky for her own good. She bends his ear for most of the trip. So far so good.

Once we get there we discover that apparently everyone back in Elizabethtown, KY loved Drew's dad. The relatives arrive by the dozen, and their all quirky from the grandma's generation to the little kids. Understandably, Drew decides to bed down in Louisville.

There's the problems with Drew's Mom and sister Heather(Judy Greer) back home, the picturesque relations in Elizabethtown, the gratuitous wedding party in Louisville and the budding romance with Claire. This is a failed epic, and as was said before, the parts are far greater than the whole. This doesn't mean that it's not worth watching. The parts are both funny and moving, there's just too much of them. The version shown here in Toronto wasn't exactly finished, and if this film comes out at an hour and forty minutes, it should be a work of sheer genius. Unfortunately, this version's over two hours long, can't win 'em all.

REVOLVER

Written and directed
by Guy Ritchie

When Guy Ritchie was first promoting “Snatch” he said that his next film would be a historical epic called “The Siege of Malta”, but alas, he married Madonna and then did a remake of “Swept Away” just for her. This was a creative disaster and many thought he would never recover.

Two years and a couple of kids later, it seems he has with a remake of “The Matrix.” No, scratch that. It's also one of “The Thirteenth Floor,” Cronenberg's “eXistenZ,” and “Vanilla Sky” as well. Part of a philosophical sub-genre of films who's name isn't exactly known yet. But this is definitely Ritchie back in form.

Jake Green(Jason Statham) is a gambler and a thief who's just spend seven years in the pokey, his mission in life is to somehow get even with his nemesis, a certain Mr. Macha (Ray Liotta). He and his cronies manage to get a vast amount of money from the guy via coin tosses, and is about to leave when he meets up with a pair of magical loan sharks named Avi (André Benjamin) and Zach (Vinnie Pastore), who, after saving his life twice, demand all his money or else he'd die of a rare blood disease in only three days.

So begins a complicated chase between Green, Macha, a Korean Drug dealer called Lord John and a never seen Mr. Gold. The question is not just about whether Green save his family and or Macha will get his comeuppance, but will anyone actually achieve enlightenment. This is a very interesting film, and I mean that in a good way. See it.

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