Sunday, September 16, 2007

Document Dump number three: The War

Magnolia Pictures, 90mins, R

Written and Directed
by Brian De Palma

Brian De Palma hates the American military. No not just the American military, everyone IN the American military. Here he's done something few filmmakers have been brave enough to do win wartime, making a film in which the country in which his is living in depicted in the harshest and ugliest terms imaginable. The message of this film is very simple: America, you're a bunch of Nazis!

Had this been almost any other country De Palma would be in jail for something. God Bless the USA.

What De Palma has done is what is called a “mockumentary” a fictional film done in a documentary style, and is very loosely based on what might be an actual rape of an Iraqi girl sometime in 2006.

Starting with the HD video diary of PFC Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz) [he wants to get into film school], we're introduced, to his platoon, Corporal Gabe Blix (Kel O'Neill), who spends his time reading John O'Hara's "Appointment in Samarra"; a guy named Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney), who has a conscience [GASP!]; and racist a couple of morons: B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) and Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll). Their leader, Master Sgt. James Sweet (Ty Jones), is the only thing keeping them in line, Us Yankee scum being barbarians and all. Their mission is to guard the check points, which means that they have to shoot lots of innocent people. [Did you know that in the last 24 months 2,000 Iraqis were killed at checkpoints and only 60 proven to be insurgents?]

So between the shenanigans on Salazar's tape, and a pseudo-Franch documentary with utilizing an inappropriate rendition of Handel's "Sarabande", we are blasted with the full propaganda message again and again. Our boys blast away at a car containing a pregnant woman and her brother, and when word gets out, they go and arrest some of the relations. Not only that Rush and Flake decide to go and rape one of the women in the house.

Things get from bad to worse for our boys from there, and as the racist stereotypes they are, get what's coming to them. The film ends with photos of the carnage in Iraq, just to get the point across that the viewer is guilty of supporting a fascist regime.

Who, on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon would, in his or her right mind, go and see this thing? On the one hand, De Palma is a consummate professional. It's clear he knows what he's doing, but the acting is only mediocre, and the documentary style plays against the film, which really doesn't have much of a plot and characters we don't give a flying fuck about.

New Line Cinema, 121mins, R

Directed by
Gavin Hood

Okay, as to the title: Rendition refers to 'extraordinary rendition' -- a term which means that suspected terrorists in the US can be kidnapped and sent to prisons abroad to be questioned and detained without those pesky fifth amendment rights. In other words, director Gavin Hood and writer Kelley Sane have decided to make a propaganda film about how Evil Americans are. Hooray for Hollywood.

The film is in two parts, done in such a way as to mislead the audience as to what is exactly going on. The film begins with an assassination attempt on a certain Mr. Abasi Falwal(Igal Naor), in which a terrorist blows up everyone in a city square in an unnamed North African country, including the boss of a certain CIA agent named Douglas Freeman(Jake Gyllenhaal), who witnesses it all.

The Agency suspects a certain gentleman, and that fellow has been allegedly making calls to an Egyptian engineer with a green card named Anwar El-Ibrahimi(Omar Metwally), and kidnaps him just before he gets to passport control in Washington. When he refuses to give the right answers to the local spook(J.K. Simmons), assistant director Corrinne Whitman(Meryl Streep) orders that he be taken to a professional, Abasi Fawal.

Meanwhile, Anwar's wife Isabella(Reese Witherspoon) is wondering where her husband is, especially since it can be proven he was actually on the plane when it took off and he disappeared in mid-flight. Fortunately, she has friends in high places, an old boyfriend named Alan Smith(Peter Sarsgaard) is working for lilly-livered liberal Sen. Hawkins(Alan Arkin), and they agree to investigate.

At the same time we get to look at Abasi's home life, as his daughter Fatima (Zineb Oukach) has a romance with Khalid (Moa Khouas), who just happens to be the brother of a genuine, card-carrying terrorist with a martyr video and everything.

As Douglas watches as Abasi gives Anwar the third degree, waterboarding and everything, it's obvious that somehow the phone number was wrong and our hero is as innocent as the day is long.

It might have been more interesting if there were more intrigue, not just going through the motions of a propaganda exercise. This is to some extent pro-terrorist, and the ending and penultimate scenes are a cheat. The acting is good, but not great, which is what is needed for such an inferior script. Yeah, Hood is a great director, and deserved his Oscar for “Tsotsi,” but this shows why a script is so very important. This is not something that's important enough or entertaining enough to take the time out to blow real money on. Don't bother.

post toronto docurment dump part one

Cassandra's Dream
The Weinstein Company, 108mins, PG-13

Written and Directed
by Woody Allen

In the fifth year of his exile in Europe, Woody Allen has decided to give up on comedy. He's not in this particular film, and one can tell why. This is a “Greek Tragedy” in which not a single joke is cracked, and things go from bad to good to worse. He's tried murder before, but he's not Alfred Hitchcock, and while the genius of his direction is there, the writing isn't. He's been tired for years, and if it were not for the casting director, he would be in real trouble.

Terry(Colin Farrell) and Ian Blaine(Ewan McGregor) are brothers, Ian works for his parents(John Benfield and Clare Higgins) in their restaurant and doesn't like it at all, while Terry is an auto mechanic with a major gambling problem. On a rare winning streak, Terry manages to get enough money to pay off a sailboat named “Cassandra's Dream” and that gives them a place to relive their youth, and for Ian to romance women, especially the lovely Angela Stark(Hayley Atwell), an actress with an eye for bigger things.

Lurking in the background is the guy's Uncle Howard(Tom Wilkinson), a fabulously wealthy plastic surgeon and philanthropist, and the apple of his sister's eye. It just so happens that he's going to be in town when Terry has just blown £90 thousand on poker and needs a loan forthwith, and Ian has a business deal pending, so Uncle Howard agrees with one condition, a certain Martin Burns(Phil Davis) is going to testify before a commission, and possibly get Howard thrown in jail for a very long time, and thus Burns should be gotten rid of as soon as possible.

What follows is success and tragedy. Allen manages to get some excellent performances, especially McGregor and Farrell, who give one of the best performances of their careers, and a lovely little supporting role by Sally Hawkins as Terry's live-in girlfriend Kate, but he skips any semblance of dark humor, as he used to great effect in earlier films. Unless you're a “completeist” this isn't worth bothering with.

I'm Not There
The Weinstein Company, 135mins, R

Written and Directed
by Todd Haynes

They called Bob Dylan the “chameleon of rock and roll” during much of his career, when he changed his style from folk to hard rock to something else, changing his religion and all. So it when Todd Haynes came to him with an idea to do a fictionalized biopic with half a dozen or so people playing him at various phases of his life, Dylan agreed. This is, believe it or not, an authorized version.

It's not exactly Bob Dylan, of course, it's a slew of people named
Jack/Pastor John(Christian Bale), Jude(Cate Blanchett), Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin), Billy(Richard Gere), Robbie(Heath Ledger) and Arthur(Ben Whishaw), all of whom manage to have some sort of relation to a part of Dylan's personality and career.

Going back and forth in time, from when Woody, who's a black child riding the rails in 1959, to Billy, who's living in a Western fantasyland in a timeless present, Haynes tries to mine what Dylan is supposed to be at various times in his life, and to some extent succeeds. I say to SOME extent, because this is an uneven film, and the parts with Christian Bale and Heath Leger barely are touched and the part where Ben Whishaw is married to a version of Dylan's wife Sarah named Claire(Charlotte Gainsbourg) seems like it comes from another movie. However, the main focus is Woody Guthrie the Black kid, and Cate Blanchette as the electrified Dylan.

The Blanchett segments take up the greatest part of the film, when s/he's hanging out with the Beatles [the best gag in the film] and sparring with Edie Sedgewick clone Coco Rivington(Michelle Williams), poet Allen Ginsberg(David Cross), and a British journalist(Bruce Greenwood), who's out to expose Jude for what he really is. Not Andy Warhol with real hair, but something more sinister. This really brings together time and place, Still there's a disconnect, especially with Charlotte Ganesbourg's segment, where the Dylan clone barely shows up, and the Richard Gere one, which has nothing to do with anything and is clearly annoying.

Clearly Kate Blanchette's going to get all sorts of nominations for her brilliant performance here, and it's worth the price of admission, although one might leave shaking one's head perplexed, and I guess that's what Dylan himself would want.

No Country for Old Men
Miramax Films, 122mins, R

Written and Directed by
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

The last time the Coen brothers made a movie it was a version of Homer's “Odyssey,” this time it's a shaggy dog story of a different sort, a cartoonish chase across Texas by a bunch of slightly loopy people trying to get a suitcase full of money. Just up their alley.

The film begins with an unnamed sheriff's deputy(Zach Hopkins) arresting a mysterious stranger, who we later find out is named
Anton Chigurh(Javier Bardem) who is carrying a tank of compressed air. Once they get to the jail, Anton shows us what the tank is for, and we cut to a certain Llewelyn Moss(Josh Brolin) hunting in the desert, when he comes across the tattered remains of what would have made one hell of a cinematic shootout. Apparently, it was over drugs, and there's the aforementioned unattended suitcase full of money, which he takes, and an extra dying of thirst. Taking pity on the fellow, he tells his wife Carla Jean Moss(Kelly MacDonald) he's going to do something really stupid [it's called 'idiot plotting'], which is to return to the scene of the crime and give the extra some water. But of course, there's Anton and a some extras waiting for him. So begins the chase.

Fortunately for Anton, the money has a radio transmitter in it, and he goes around blowing people's brains in with his compressed air device while Llewellen heads off into the sunset in a failed attempt to get away. Meanwhile, the people who own the drugs and the money(Stephen Root and some extras) hire a man called Wells(Woody Harrelson), to find Llewellen before Anton could get him while Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) and his remaining deputy Wendell(Garret Dillahunt) try to figure out what's going on.

We think that the introduction of a whole bunch of what appears to be crucial characters would lead somewhere, but it doesn't. There are lots of red herrings that appear out of nowhere and return from whence they came, both confusing and infuriating the audience. The ending, while from the novel, makes things even worse. As was said, this is a shaggy dog story, and the punch line is just as vapid.

The acting is fine, the Coens always manage to get the top of the profession to get into their films, and the dialogue is punchy, especially when it seems that the film is actually going somewhere.

If you're a fan of the brothers, by all means, go for it, but this is not the best way to blow an afternoon.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Yet More from Toronto

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Focus Features, 115mins, PG-13

Written and Directed
by Shekhar Kapur

Here we go again. The Tudors are back. It’s the same old thing plowing the same old ground, generally with the same old people. Now I’m not saying that Elizabeth the First wasn’t a major historical figure, or that her life wasn’t dramatic, but when there’s the fifth or sixth film or TV series in as many years or more, it begins to get a bit much. Since 2005, there has been two miniseries; “The Virgin Queen” and “Elizabeth I” both of which plow pretty much the same ground as this one, and going back in time, there are between 25 and 30 films on the subject of the so-called “virgin queen.”

One can see making a film on a certain subject once every five or ten years, but we’ve been having Tudor overkill, what with these and the Henry VIII miniseries on Showtime® and they keep on going over the exact same ground.

The Spanish King Philip II (Jordi Molla) is extremely mad at English Queen Elizabeth I’s (Cate Blanchett) being an Anglican instead of a Catholic and keeping the former Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) prisoner in a castle, so he sends the Spanish Armada. Meanwhile, spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) is doing his best to frame Mary for treason, while that dashing explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) woos both the Queen and her lady-in-waiting Bess Throkmorton(Abbie Cornish). I don’t know if the Raleigh romance has been done much before, but it seems that like it does. HM’s jealous of Sir So-and-so’s playing around with some bimbo lady-in-waiting as the ships from Spain spread preemptive terror before they inevitably sink.

The film, unlike the first one from 1998, is an epic instead of a slasher film. Kapour spends a lot of money on fancy costumes and sheer spectacle as pretty nothing much happens. While Blanchett has a grand old time, and Owen does his best Errol Flynn impression, no one else has all that much to do, especially Morton, who just sits there looking pissed off.

The buildup of suspense as the Armada approaches is disingenuous, as pretty much anyone who’s interested in a film like this knows how it’s going to come out. We KNOW how it’s going to end, so why waste the money? Her great speech could have been done without the shenanigans. They say one way to damn a film is to praise the sets. Let it be done. The sets are magnificent, the acting is rather good, but the script sucks. Wait until it comes to cable.

Lars and the Real Girl
MGM Pictures, 106mins, TBA

Directed by
Craig Gillespie

Lars Lindstrom(Ryan Gosling) is a shy, sensitive soul, who has a bit of a screw loose. He lives somewhere in either the northern Midwest or central Canada in a bungalow just outside the home of his brother Gus(Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law Karin(Emily Mortimer). He’s not violent or really dysfunctional or anything like that, he holds down a job and all, but he has difficulty relating to people and hates being touched.

Everyone in town, wants to fix him up, but that’s not what he wants, well he does, but not exactly that way. When the coworker in the cubicle next to his (Max McCabe) comes upon a website [—quite genuine], and shows it to our hero, something strange happens. A large box arrives at Lars’ door and he suddenly announces that he has a new girlfriend named Bianca, whom he wants Gus and Karen to host in the spare bedroom. She's a wheelchair-bound Brazilian-Danish nun on sabbatical to experience the world. The pair are thrilled until they discover she’s plastic.

Poor Bianca has some health problems, so Lars and his family take her to see Dagmar(Patricia Clarkson), the local GP, who also has a degree in psychology. Her advice, play along. Soon, the whole town is into it, and Bianca is having more of a social life than Lars is, and our hero is forced into going on a date with coworker Margo(Kelli Garner). Screenwriter Nancy Oliver has come up with something really strange and wonderful. A film about mental illness where no one gets hurt and everyone is actually rather nice.

This is a story of recovery and growth, not a gross-out comedy like many a filmmaker would do nowadays. The acting is top notch, especially Gosling and Schneider, who could have easily been depicted as one-dimensional cartoons instead of real people. It’s refreshing and extremely likeable. This is one of those films which is worth going full price.

Sony Classics, 88mins, R

Directed by
Kenneth Branagh

Back in 1972, Anthony Shaffer adapted his play “Sleuth” to the silver screen, directed by the great Joseph Mankiewicz, and starring the greater Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. This is a classic film of it’s kind, was made by most of the same people who created the stage play, and stands the test of time. So why does this have to be remade? Surely, Harold Pinter, who’s a great writer in his own right, doesn’t need to piss on someone else’s work, and while Kenneth Branagh has had trouble getting a distributor of late for his previous couple of films, remaking a classic surely won’t help his reputation. So why do it at all?

Okay, as we know from the original flick, an actor named Milo Tindle(Jude Law) goes to the home of fabulously rich mystery writer
Andrew Wyke(Michael Caine), to demand that the latter divorce his wife so the former can marry her. This leads to all sorts of fun and games with that with Pinter rewriting all that wonderful dialogue that Shaffer originally wrote back in the day. Okay, while some tweaking is needed, in order to update a timeless work, Pinter does something completely unforgivable. He tacks on a completely new final act.

Now one can say,” But it’s HAROLD PINTER!!!! He’s a giant of the theater!” and that would be true, but, even though all sorts of things can be done with the staging and such, the text is generally held sacred, and a book isn’t a play, and this isn’t James Bond, where only the title makes it on screen, or a project where the first version was so bad that the original material cries out for a better adaptation. No. This is a movie that really has no right to be made, sort of like a remake of “Casablanca,” which by the way, came out in 1983.

As to the film itself, the acting is perfectly fine. Jude Law gives one of the best performances of his career, and Michael Caine, who was in the first version, has a wonderful time doing the other part. The thing is by no means bad. Everyone does a professional job from beginning to end, but this is still nowhere near as good as the first version. Rent that, or wait until this comes out on cable.

Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains
Sony Classics, 125min TBA

A documentary Directed
by Jonathan Demme

When I was 19, I went all the way from Washington, DC, where I was attending college, to Westchester County, New York in order to cast my very first vote in an election. I voted for Jimmy Carter and I’ve regretted it ever since. Jimmy Carter has been a force for evil in the world and his getting the Nobel Peace Prize was a travesty of justice.

Sure, he’s done SOME good during his extremely long ex-presidency, building all those homes for example, but for the most part, he’s spent his life coddling dictators and scolding democrats, making sure that American interests are fought at every step of the way. His victims number in the millions.

Late last year, he spewed out an anti-Semitic piece of rubbish called “Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid” and then went on a book tour. He got famed director Jonathan Demme to follow him while he flew around the country signing books and fighting the perfidious Jews, who generally were insulted by his bogus and bigoted meanderings.

This is a puff piece, a promotional video for the book. The Jews are generally depicted as a bunch of whining, ultra-sensitive losers, who loudly protest whenever their evil Zionist masters give the order. This goes from Alan Dershowitz to some jerk on the phone.

This is of course SAINT Jimmy, who carries his own bags and takes commercial airlines [okay, so he flies first class—he IS a former President, after all], and is polite to one and all, especially those who fawn on the autograph line.

Meanwhile, Israel and the “occupied” territories are depicted as Hell on Earth, using years-old footage juxtaposed with footage from the book tour in order to show that nothing has changed and that Gaza is still occupied by the perfidious Jews who won’t let the terrorists free access to Israel proper. The SHAME!

This is a promotional film. It was always supposed to be a promotional film, and while it may have a place showing at the Carter Presidential Library and Museum, it has no place getting money at the local bijou. Demme should be ashamed of himself.

Toronto reviews day something or other

The Brave One
Warner Bros. Pictures, 122mins, R

Directed by
Neil Jordan

Where have you gone Charles Bronson? I remember “Death Wish I” which was a hell of a good movie, followed by a couple more, which weren't. But that was years ago, and with the series completely forgotten by those younger than middle age, I guess father/son team of Roderick and Bruce A. Taylor, (with script doctor Cynthia Mort to correct mistakes in gender-related plotting) figured that it was about time for a disguised remake.

So the Bronson character isn't a pacifistic businessman this time, but a radio personality named Erica Bain(Jodie Foster), who goes around New York city with a microphone making aural portraits of various neighborhoods for her NPR-sh show. She's engaged to a nice guy named David Kirmani(Naveen Andrews) and they have a large apartment and a cute doggie. In fact, Erica is cute and mousy, that one's almost impatient for the bad guys to show up and ruin this lovely life they have. They do, in a Central Park tunnel at night, and David is killed while Erica is almost so. But she recovers damaged, gets herself a gun, and becomes a stranger to herself, a vigilante, who finds violence everywhere and does something about it. But there's someone on the case, a certain Det. Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard), who's surprisingly sympathetic. He's a fan of the show.

The film is rescued from mediocrity by the performances of Foster and Howard, Foster in particular, who acts the living daylights out of what's mostly a two dimensional cartoon. Her character isn't really real, but Foster manages to push out an extra dimension out of her while she blows people away, something Bronson couldn't actually do all those years ago, but didn't have to.

Not a great action movie by any means, but worth a bargain matinee.

Across the Universe
Columbia Pictures, 133mins, PG-13

Written and Directed
by Julie Taymor

You can't say that Julie Taymor lack's guts. She's done some really brave things in her career, the Broadway version of “The Lion King”, A film version of Shakespeare's worst play, some amazingly creative stage-work that has never been recorded properly, and now this, a noble failure of epic proportions.

This is not a horrible film. Well, parts are horrible, but for the most part it's not. The problem is that it careens between genius and gross incompetence with a breathtaking rapidity going from the ridiculous to the sublime and back with panache that is both glorious and heartbreaking. If you look “uneven” in the dictionary, you may very well see this film's poster.

The film does not begin promisingly. The film begins in the early '60s, where Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Jude (Jim Sturgess) sing to their loves [at this point not each other], early Beatles' songs on sets placed on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Lucy's beau (Spencer Liff) goes off to war while Jude goes forth in search of his lost father(Robert Clohessy), finding him at Princeton University, where our hero meets Lucy's irresponsible brother Max(Joe Anderson), who after taking him up north to meet the family, drops out and goes with Max to Greenwich Villiage, where they shack up with Sadie(Dana Fuchs), Jo-Jo(Martin Luther McCoy) and Prudence(T.V. Carpio) where they start an urban commune of sorts.

From here Lucy joins the bunch, Max goes to Vietnam, and everyone gets stoned, and yadda yadda yadda. There's not much character development, and the songs aren't exactly relevant, in fact many seem to be shoehorned in. Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite is absolutely horrible, while Joe Cocker in multiple parts singing “Come Together” is fantastic. It seems that Taymor and writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais don't have a clue as to what the Beatles and the '60s in general were about, and this subtracts to the whole experience. On many a review, mostly in jest, I have suggested that some films might be more fun to see while stoned, but this seems to be the mother of all those. This may get a slew of both Oscars and Razzie nominations. More's the pity. The performances are generally good, but the effect is a complete waste.

King of California
Millennium Films, 93mins, PG-13

Written and Directed
by Mike Cahill

Miranda(Evan Rachel Wood) is a sixteen year old working at McDonald's. She's been abandoned by her mother years before and her father's in a mental institution, and she's seem to have fallen through the cracks in the system. That's the way she likes it. Then her tidy little world is turned upside down when Charlie(Michael Douglas), that's her dad, comes home and begins to take over her life. He has a treasure map, and in order to make tons of money and restart his relationship with his daughter, he's going to go for it. Miranda, as expected, isn't too thrilled, but decides to go along.

The treasure map leads them to, of all things, a local Costco, where Miranda is delegated to infiltrate.

This is a platonic love story between father and daughter, and as such it works. The reason is that Wood and Douglas have such good chemistry together and the latter has such a good time chewing the scenery. It's really to his taste, and as a lunatic, he brings true joy to the proceedings, which makes the whole silly mess actually somewhat believable. There's talk about Douglas getting another Oscar nomination for this, and it's quite possible, although had it been in a better movie, it might have been a slam dunk.

Meanwhile, it's a harmless bit of fluff that'll be a fine addition to the Netflix cue or on pay-per-view sometime down the road.

Eastern Promises
Focus Features, 100mins, R

Directed by
David Cronenberg

Anna (Naomi Watts) is a midwife working in your average London hospital, when a badly bleeding woman named Tatiana(Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse), who leaves behind a baby and a diary before expiring. Her uncle Yuri (Donald Sumpter), reads Russian but doesn't really want to get involved, but his sister [and Anna's mother] Helen (Sinéad Cusack), convinces him to translate the diary, which holds within it a business card for a restaurant owned by a guy named Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who is using the place as a cover for his real job, head of the Russian mob.

The diary, of which Anna gives Semyon a copy, implicates him in all sorts of awful stuff, which leads him to dispatch his psychotic son
Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and smarmy chauffeur/clean up guy Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), to take care of the situation. From here things begin to get complicated. For not everyone is what they seem, and romance, albeit rather twisted, plus internal mafia politics begins to take center stage as layer upon layer of intrigue begins unfold in Steve Knight's nuanced script.

The partnership between David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen is beginning to progress, and although it was brilliant in their previous collaboration, “A History of Violence,” this is something which straddles the line between very, very good and truly great.

While Anna is nominally the main character, it's the relationship between Nickolai, Kirill and Semyon which is the actual focus of the film and the ins and outs of the Russian mob in at the end of it's first generation since the fall of the Communist party, the culture and the human element is thoroughly explored in a particularly graphic way. After all it is David Cronenberg. This is one of those films, which is going to be deservedly showered with award nominations. Definitely worth full price.

In the Valley of Elah
Warner Independent Pictures, 119mins, R

Written and Directed
by Paul Haggis

Always beware the term “based on a true story. I don't know how close to the actual events this film is, but I guess it doesn't really matter. This is an attack on the Bush administration, and the fact that something like this actually happened only adds to it's believability. However, this doesn't make this as good a thriller as it's supposed to be. It's a procedural drama like “Law and Order” or “CSI”.

Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) is a retired Military policeman, who lost a son in an accident years before. He has another son(Jonathan Tucker, who's seen only in flashbacks) who's just come back from Iraq. He and his wife Joan(Susan Sarandon) are looking forward to seeing him again when he gets a call from the base telling him the son is AOL. Hank decides to go and investigate himself.

Det. Emily Sanders(Charlize Theron) is a single mother living with a young son(Devin Brochu), whom she conceived with her boss Chief Buchwald(Josh Brolin), which is something everyone at the police station knows about and holds against her. But that begins to change when a gristly murder is discovered on what turns out to be Army property, which makes it the jurisdiction of Lt. Kirklander(Jason Patric), who may or may not be trying to cover up the acts of to of the victim's buddies(Wes Chatham and Jake McLaughlin). The victim, of course, turns out to be Hank's son.

With the investigation on the one side, and a bunch of videos from the war on the other, this is an exercise in agitprop, political propaganda in the form of theater, and as such, it works. Paul Haggis gets good performances out of his entire cast, and while the ending is entirely predictable, there's still quite a bit of suspense. This is definitely worth a bargain matinee.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Toronto day five.


Written and Directed
by Lee Kang-Sheng

Ah Jei(Lee Kang-Sheng), a young, penniless stock broker, is desperate. All he has left in life is his palatial, apartment, his indoor marijuana forest, and lots of women to have sex with. One of these is Shin (Ivy Yi), who sells betel nuts on the sidewalk dressed as a lingerie model or hooker. Apparently, Taipei betel stores resemble open-air strip joints. Which is the only cool factoid in this movie, which is for the most part both bizarre and boring. Most people would be more than happy with that situation except for the being penniless part. But being broke is a major thing for Ah Jei and feeling really depressed about the fact that he's going to lose his fabulous lifestyle,

So he calls the suicide hotline, where he's given to Chyi (Jane Liao) who's a bit on the zoftic side and has a pleasant telephone manner. Ah Jei falls in love immediately, and sets about stalking her, thinking that she looks like the supermodel-esque betel nut salespeople who we see in clothing that barely exists.

Chyi's husband(Dennis Nieh) likes to cook all sorts of weird dishes, and she's forced to bathe with eels, who are hanging out in the bathtub while waiting for the next fancy dinner (PeTA will love that) aside from this an a whole lot of gratuitous simulated sex, nothing much happens. Three's no character development at all, and as to the sex, there's not enough.

The whole thing's a tremendous waste of time, and it's probably not going to get a theatrical release in the “States anytime soon.


Written and Directed
by Anahi Berneri

It's an old story, hick chick goes to the big city. She becomes famous, then he goes home to no acclaim whatsoever because everyone thinks she's too big for her britches.

Aging B-list actress Encarnacion “Erni” Levier (Silvia Pérez) is getting by. Sure she's no longer Ms. Firecracker sex goddess, but she's still doing TV and commercials and getting in the gossip columns. When her niece
Ana (Martina Juncadella) sends her an invitation to her quincenera [a Hispanic bat mitzvah equivelent], she decides to pay the folks back home a visit.

Ana is thrilled, of course, and so is the guy who runs the hotel she's staying at(Luciano Cáceres). However, her sister and in-laws stick up their noses. This is a painful tale of rejection, which has a bit of genuine humor here and there, but is mostly a sad bit of business indeed. However, it will probably get the remake rights sold as a vehical for some ageing starlet who's glory days are past and needs a bit of a career boost.


Written and Directed
by Golan Rabbani

Bangladesh is one of those contries that seems cursed. Each year half the country gets inundated by floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, you name it. It's prominently depicted on commercials for missionary “adoption” programs, and is generally at the bottom of every list of prosperous countries outside of Africa. So of course, one would find filmmakers promoting the notion of money being the root of all evil, and this is about as blatant as you can possibly get.

Fazlu (Mahmuduzzaman Babu) hawks tiger balm with the help of young son Ratan (Ratan). They do okay, but not great in their land of intense poverty. One day, they get enough to get Ratan a new pair of used pants. This makes everyone in the family very happy.
But since the pants are used, Mom (Prachy) has to wash them. So she goes to the well, and empties out the pockets only to discover some strange banknotes denominated in the hundreds of thousands. There's a Black general on them, Zaire [Nowadays, the “democratic” republic of the Congo]. To be exact, which tells the foreign viewer that these things are completely worthless, but they of course don't know that.

So Dad goes to his old pal Siraj (Fazlur Rahman Babu), a local mucky-muck, who, for a slice of the proceeds, agrees to help our protagonist find out how much the bills are worth and where to have them changed into Bangladeshi rupees. The prospect of immense wealth soon begins to take it's toll on Fazlu and his family, as Siraj's gold-digging sister-in-law Rehana (Shamima Islam Tusti) starts doing her thing and Fazlu begins to fall in love, starting the local tongues wagging.

The film is reminiscent of many a tale going back to Mark Twain's “The Million Pound Note” and before, and with one or two exceptions concentrates on a gentle humor that's not all that common in south Asian cinema. It probably won't see an American release.


A documentary
by Guy Maddin

Winnipeg, Manatoba is one of those cities which has very little to recommend it, and Guy Maddin's very personal portrait of his hometown doesn't help the cause of tourism there. It is a poetic meditation - a docu-fantasia, if you will of what it was and what it is. A piece of twisted nostalgia which is both weird and unsettling, a place which has seen better days, but can't really remember when.

Madden, who's previous films have been off-the-wall explorations of defunct genres, is still adverse to color film, although he does use a clip of it or two in his otherwise black-and-white clip show. The new footage is of a person playing himself trying to escape from the town and failing, while reminiscing about multi-level swimming pools and disbanded hocky teams. There are some strange and silly reenactments of conversations between him, his siblings and their mother, but for the most part, the whole thing is rather parochial. The film was produced by the Canadian Documentary channel and is most unlikely to be seen outside Canada, which is just as well.

Chop Shop

Written and Directed
by Ramin Bahrani

HD video has revolutionized the movie business. With only an inexpensive camera, one can make a film on absolutely no budget which has the look and feel of a major Hollywood product, which is perfect for budding auteur Ramin Bahrani, who's “Man Push Cart” won great acclaim and made almost nothing at the box office. So another zero-budget feature might make the festival circuit and after that lead to a REAL movie.

Willet's Point, Queens, right near Shea stadium, where the Mets play, is a vast wasteland filled with garbage and auto repair shops. One can see why it interested Baharani, the place looks as exotic as India. Here 12-year-old Alej (Alejandro Polanco), an orphan of sorts who hustles his way through life in order to support himself and his sister Isamar (Isamar Gonzales), who also has to do a lot of things she's not proud of. They aren't homeless though, they live in a tiny apartment in Rob's (Rob Sowulski) garage, where Alej works grabbing customers. Isamar generally works selling food in a lunch wagon, while in the evenings, she has more lucrative and less savory ways of making money.

The main conflict in the film is between the siblings and the American dream. They want to get themselves their very own lunch wagon, which Alej's friend Carlos' (Carlos Zapata) uncle wants to sell them. The quest for money leads our hero to do some things he shouldn't.

This film was done, as was said before, on a zero budget and with ameture thespians. The two leads do a reletiveily decent job at it, and the script is more than adequate for something this intimate and exotic. It's worth a place on the netflix cue, but not full price, mainly because it looks like it's made for TV, and thus is better on the small screen.


Written and Directed
by Tamar van den Dop

Marie (Halina Reijn) a young albino woman struggling with her looks is hired to read books to a blind man named Ruben (Joren Seldenslachts), who's mother(Katelijne Verbeke) is very rich and is himself a violent brat. It's Marie's job to tame him. As she has low self esteem, she takes the job because she considers herself a monster and he can't see her. Thus begins an overly literary love story that's both glorious and horrible at the same time.

The glorious part is the acting. Both Reijn and Seldenslachts give bravura performances, especially after the plot twist and Marie's fleeing the mansion. But the film is itself maudlin and rather unbelievable. This is an above mediocre film, just above the “gilded turd” category. Don't expect it to play around the local arthouse anytime soon.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Toronto: stuff you're going to actually see.

Galas and stuff:

Michael Clayton
Warner Bros. Pictures, 120mins, R

Written and Directed
by Tony Gilroy

The people who brought you “Erin Brockovich” have returned with another anti-corporate melodrama, this time it's entirely fictional, which means that it can get a bit nastier in it's storytelling.

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is what might be called a glorified janitor. He cleans up the messes that the major law firm of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen can't exactly litigate above board. For this, managing partner Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) is eternally grateful.

One of the messes our hero has to clean up was made by master litigator Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), who disrobed in front of everybody at a deposition and scared the heck out of everyone, and so Michael is called in, but this doesn't happen until later, although we hear much of Arthur's rant. However, we do see our hero's car blow up in the first ten minutes, which is when everything goes into flashback…

The problem with Arthur is that he's been working defense on a case in which the evil U/North corporation allegedly poisoned a whole bunch of innocent people with it's pesticide sprays. Arthur knows that the charges are true and so does U/North chief council
Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), who knows that her career is on the line and Arthur has to be stopped.

Now this is compelling enough. The parts about our hero's other problems are to some extent killing time. Sure the kid who plays his son is cute, and the part about his being 80 grand in debt is certainly intriguing, but they detract from the main thrust of the story, which is really worthwhile in and of itself. Clooney gives a splendid performance, but it's Wilkinson who's the real star of the show. It's one of those performances which has “Oscar” written all over it, and there's no doubt that he's going to get at least a best supporting actor nom. His performance is sooo good it's worth the price of the movies in and of itself. Thus you should go see it.

The Jane Austen Book Club
Sony Classics, 105mins, PG-13

Written and directed
by Robin Swicord

How to be literary without being literary? Well, that's the mission of many a chick flick, and as this is one of those, why not focus on the inventor of the genre? Jane Austen is just below Shakespeare in the pantheon of British writers and has been in print longer than any woman in the history of the world, so using her oeuvre as a scaffolding on which to construct a slight romance seems like a good idea.

Jocelyn (Maria Bello) and Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) have been friends for, like, ever, and when we meet them, the latter and her husband Daniel (Jimmy Smits) are attending the funeral of one of Jocelyn's dogs. While laughing about the thing at dinner afterwards, Dan tells Sylvia for a divorce. He's in love with someone else. Syl is, naturally devastated, and in response, Jocelyn and her old pal Bernadette (Kathy Baker) decide to distract her by starting up a book club, where they'll discuss the works of the divine JA.

So, with three members already accounted for, plus Sylvia's lesibian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) [this is the '00z, remember, we have to have at least one lesbian in one movie], who's recovering from a parachuting accident, they need two more members to lead the discussion on the two other novels [Austen's snarky “History of England” doesn't count], a mousy French teacher named Prudie (Emily Blunt) and an SF fan named Grigg (Hugh Dancy), who is single and straight, and recruited.

So we go through six months where everyone gets their consciousness raised through the good graces of JA and, with some expected bumps on the road, everyone lives happily ever after. It's cute, and almost too saccharin for words, but that's almost, and as such is quite tolerable. This is something that a guy can bring his honey on a date to, and that way she'll be grateful.

The Assassination of Jesse James
by the Coward Robert Ford
Warner Bros. Pictures, 160mins, R

Written and Directed
by Andrew Dominik

Bob Ford shot Jesse James in the back in the spring of 1882 and instead of being thanked for getting rid of Missouri's worst terrorist, he has been saddled with a reputation as a coward and a turncoat. The murder of the murderer has been forever the stuff of legend, and auteur Andrew Dominik has decided to dissect said legend in the only way it deserves, in a three hour epic that doesn't actually seem that long.

It's the waning days of the Garfield administration, and Frank(Sam Shepard) and Jesse James(Brad Pitt) are preparing to do one last robbery before calling it quits after 14 years. They've brought along the membership of their usual gang who aren't already in jail, Ed Miller(Garret Dillahunt), the James' cousin Wood Hite(Jeremy Renner), Dick Liddil(Paul) and Charley Ford(Sam Rockwell), who brings his hero-worshiping baby brother Bob(Casey Affleck) along, much to Frank's disgust and Jesse's chagrin.

This is the story of hero-worship gone wrong. The great man not only has feet of clay, but is a sociopathic monster to boot. As an epic, the film goes forward on a leisurely pace, letting us get to know the characters in a way that we expect only in TV series.

This is Pitt's best role since “12 Monkeys” He manages to chew the scenery with a panache he doesn't always manage to have, and his chemistry with Affleck is an interesting one. The supporting cast is excellent, with Renner and Schneider giving surprisingly strong performances. Rockwell is great as comic relief, but it's Affleck's movie, and here he far surpasses anything his brother Ben has ever done. This is the year's epic western and one wonders why it took so long to get out of the cutting room. See it.

Run, Fat Boy, Run
Picturehouse, 95mins, PG-13

Directed by
David Schwimmer

Okay, first the bad news. The “Fat Boy” in the title is actually thin. Not anorexic, mind you, but Simon Pegg looks fit during the entire film. It's an insult to fat boys everywhere. Then there's Michael Ian Black's script, which is actually rather predictable. Our hero Dennis (Mr. Pegg) leaves extremely pregnant fiancée Libby (Thandie Newton) at the alter, and his life goes downhill from there. Fair enough.

He's now a security guard at a clothing store, and is still in love with Libby and their son Jake(), and of course, she's in love with someone else. That someone else is a rich stockbroker named Whit(Hank Azaria), who is perfect in every way so just has to be the villain. The usual competition starts out, and it's clear that our hero is going to have a time of it, but as this is a comedy, he has to win right? But how to do it.

Now marathon running is popular nowadays, and even London has one. So when Whit announces that he's going to paricipate, Dennis decides to get in the game as well, and so he's stuck. His friend Gordon(Dylan Moran) has money on him, and his landlady Maya (India de Beaufort) says that if he doesn't do it, she's going to throw him out on his ear. So her father, Mr. Ghoshdashtidar (Harish Patel), and Gordon start coaching, and there follows a number of minor laughs before the slightly surprising, but inevitable ending.

This is not Pegg's best work, or any of the cast's, but it's a harmless enough comedy, and as such works as a pleasant bit of fluff. Worth a bargain matinee.

toronto: foreign language crapola.


Written and Directed
by Bernard Émond

A woman is covered in blood and refuses to speak to the police inspector. There may have been a murder. So who dunnit?

International capitalism and globalization, of course! The woman, Réjeanne (Guylaine Tremblay) is a switchboard operator, and she and her truck driver husband, Gilles (Guy Jodoin), buy a beautiful house somewhere in the Montreal suburbs, and are about to live happily ever after when Giles has a stroke. They try their best to make ends meet, but the evil, heartless capitalists sell the company to another one, leaving Réjeanne and Gilles in a bit of a bind. Then he has another stroke.

We go back and forth in time between the inspector investigating and the sad decline and fall of our couple while we wait for her to do something really violent, which is why the film is so disappointing. There's little drama milked out of what is very fertile material. The thing plods along, and while Jodion does a serviceable job as a stroke victim, Tremblay and the rest of the cast just walk around in a daze, and that's when Tremblay isn't supposed to be doing that.

Emond just can't get the script to rise above the level of mediocrity, even though there's an actually interesting idea there. Oh, well.

CORROBOREE, (96', Australia)

Written and Directed
by Ben Hackworth

A dying theatre director hires a young man named Conor (Conor O'Hanlon) to visit him in a meditation retreat and perform scenes from the director's life. Why he does this is a mystery. But this is an obtuse art film, and auteur Hackworth isn't here to entertain but mystify us with his astounding intelligence and insight. He's clearly over our heads.

Now, Conor must visit different rooms over the weekend and in these rooms, and with five actresses who portray key women in the
director's life, live it, so when they actually encounter each other, Conor won't have to fake “compassion” for the old man. Hey, as long as the kid gets paid, why not? The conceit lets Hackworth film what has to be some of the worst acting ever put on film, or at least on film that made it to a major film festival. The women are far better than Conor, but that doesn't make them anything above mediocre.

The ending is out of left field, but it makes as much sense as the rest of the movie, which is none whatsoever. Exactly what is the great message here might never be known, but one thing is for sure, it's not even worth a look when it comes out on cable, assuming it ever does.


Written and Directed by
Adoor Gopalakrishnan

Apparently, somewhere in Bollywood, auteur managed to snag Nandita Das for her latest bomb. I'm sure that Ms. Das will survive.

This film is, in a word, horrible. Based on a quartet of short stories that, if the film is a guide, must all be less than a page long. The episodes are about half an hour long each, and they seem padded. Nothing happens at all through most of them (I walked out during the third one, so I can't tell if the last was any good) and the second one especially, where a groom spends half the episode eating food while everyone else looks on. Why waste the time and expense to film this?

The acting is horrible. India has a huge film industry, and there are plenty of excellent thespians running around. None of the people in the 2_ episodes I saw could emote. This was zombie city here, everyone sleepwalking through their lines, except for one guy in the second episode, and that was for about ten seconds. That doesn't help.

The chances of this actually getting a theatrical release in the United States is slim to none, so don't worry about this.


Directed by
Hana Makhmalbaf

Amidst the wreckage beneath the fallen historical statues of the Buddha blown up by the Taliban, a six-year-old Afghan girl named Baktay (Nikbakht Noruz) goes on a quest to get to school. She's convinced by her neighbor Abbas(Abbas Alijome) to go abandon her little brother, who's she's been watching for an absent mother, and procure school supplies.

No one really seems to care. This is Afghanistan, where nothing has been right since before the mother was born. The kids are all feral, and gangs of pretweens terrorize everyone else pretending to be the Taliban. It's clear to see what happens when a country is bombed back into the stone age. This is more sad than cute, and very exotic, although it's not all that interesting, but that's what makes Iranian cinema so endearing. This is about as far as they can go and not end up in the poky or in exile.

It's whimsical and has cute children, which are allegorical. However, as Freud famously said: Sometimes a “cigar is just a cigar.”

toronto again!

This is the eighth year I've attended the festival, and everything is routine, except of course for the bedbugs, and even then I've had them before once up here, so without further adoo, here's the first batch of reviews:

My Kid Could Paint That
Sony Classics, 82mins, TBA

A Documentary by
Amir Bar-Lev

There's a story I heard about a famous abstract artist who sold a piece to the Museum of Modern Art in New York somewhere between a half and a quarter century ago: It seems that years after he sold the thing, he was visiting the museum and noticed the work. He complained the thing was hanging upside down. One of my earliest memories was of my mother taking us to the selfsame museum and commenting that one of the pieces hanging looked exactly like the thing I had brought home from kindergarten some weeks before. How's that for a segue?

Abstract art has always to some extent been a fraud. It's more about marketing than anything else, or at least since about 1950. The famous “white on White” where someone with a puts up a blank canvas and everyone ooo's and ahh's isn't over by any means. There's just an alternative by people with real talent at painting and drawing. Sometimes it appears that this stuff is sooo bad that it might have been done by a slightly challenged child, someone like little Marla Olmstead.

Marla was two when her father began exhibiting her work at a local coffee shop. The stuff seemed so good that gallery owner and artist
Anthony Brunelli, offered to have a formal show at his gallery in mid-2004. This caught the attention of the editors of the local paper and they sent journalist Elizabeth Cohen to have a look. She wrote a piece, which was picked up by the wire services and then all hell broke loose. Little Marla was getting up to twenty five grand for her work, and everybody who was anybody wanted one.

Now Mark and Laura Olmstead were, and are rather protective of their kids, and Mom seems very wary of the term “prodigy”, something that the documentarian demonstrates by briefly showing old footage of little children playing violins and such in front of rapt audiences. But while everyone in the world seemed to agree that Marla was adorable, whether or not she was actually painting those so-called masterpieces was another question, and here, we get into problems. Was Mark Olmstead perpetrating a hoax on the artistic intelligentsia by painting the works himself and signing it with his daughter's name?

No less than Charlie Rose tries to debunk little Marla and does a pretty good job at it. The film switches gears as the Olmsteads and their entourage go on the defensive, and while there's a happy ending of sorts, it's still kind of fishy.

The film is really fun to watch and makes you wonder, which is what a good doc is supposed to do.


A documentary by
Neil Ortenberg and
Daniel O'Connor

Have you ever wondered why there are R-rated movies? Well, once upon a time, the definition of smut was a lot broader than it is today. What would now be considered PG-13 would be pornographic, you know the song: “in olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking…”
Well that was the way it was as late as the 1950s and '60s, and then a hero arose to change it all. His name is Barney Rosset, and around 1948 he bought a tiny, failing publishing house called Grove Press and with it changed the world. I think for the better, but not everyone agrees with me on that account.

Rosset fought titanic battles in court so he could put out some of the most forbidden works of the explosive post-war decades, including Lady Chatterley's Lover, Tropic of Cancer and Naked Lunch, all of which are considered today to be classics. The documentarians interview Rossit and a bunch of literati from both past and present, to tell the story of the rise and fall of one of the unsung heroes of free speech, because, after all, the term “banned in Boston” actually was true. Along the way, Rossit and his magazine, the Evergreen Review, introduced the wider world to underground comics and Allen Ginsburg, Waiting for Godot and I am Curious (Yellow). America is a different place because of Rossit.

This is one riveting documentary, and it should be seen by pretty much anyone who's the least bit interested in American history.


Written and Directed by
Lawrence Johnston

Night is dark. I bet you didn't know that, right? Oh you did. Well, then I've spoiled the movie for you. That IS after all the great revelation of this turkey. Every filmfest needs a stinker and that's why they invited this.

Award winning director Lawrence Johnston should be ashamed of himself and so should composer Cezary Skubiszewski, while the cinematography is okay and the score isn't horrible, the film is. It starts well, with an explosion of sorts, reminding one of “Koyaniskiatsi”, but then the narration starts and the film begins to lose it's way. As was said before, the main revelation is that night, unlike the day, is generally dark and most people actually don't work at their professions, but go out to the local pub or the movies, or even-¬GASP!-go to sleep! Who knew?

The thing starts getting old in the first fifteen minutes and gets lamer and lamer, with the possible exception of some pictures of the moon. The same pictures of people walking around Sydney and Melbourne is boring, and near the hour mark becomes well nigh impossible. Even the part where someone describes a murder she witnessed is tedious as can be, and well, why would anyone want to see this thing? That's the real mystery. Stay far away.


A Documentary
by Parvez Sharma

Yes, folks, there are homosexuals in the Moslem world, and they don't have pleasant lives, that is unless they live in India or Pakistan. If you happen to play for that team, this may be interesting in a kind of “National Geographic” kind of way, but for the most part, there is no there there. We know that most religious fanatics aren't particularly gay friendly, but that's not any real news. The same thing happens in the Christian world, and the reactions and situations are surprisingly the same, and this despite the fact that the Christian world is currently the far more tolerant of the two.

So we follow a gay imam in South Africa, some lovers escaping Iran in turkey, some Algerians in France, and some Lesibians doing research on exactly what the Koran has to say about THEM (apparently nothing).

It's all very nice, but there's not actually anything to write home about. Don't bother.