You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2006.

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I had heard a rumor going around that writer/director Michael Mann was having a real tough time cutting his feature adaptation of his own 80’s television drama “Miami Vice.” Supposedly he wasn’t finding a balance in the material he shot that would support his vision of the update. Whether this is true or not, I believe he was finally able to come to terms with the brutal look at underground police justice he had filmed. The movie has an edge to it that works well with Mann’s forte of shooting city-life at ground level like his recent Collateral and classic Heat. However, with that said, the movie is definitely rough around the edges. Many times it feels as though we are at a sneak preview screening seeing a preliminary cut of what will be trimmed into a powerful film. I can’t wait to see the finished version. It’s just a shame that that final cut is in fact what I saw.

Colin Farrell’s Sonny Crockett and Jamie Foxx’s Ricardo Tubbs are Miami detectives in the midst of a bust when they are contacted by a former informant, the always-trustworthy character actor John Hawkes. They are soon enveloped into an agency snafu where it turns out that the two partners are the only people not compromised on a mission and will have to go deep undercover to set things right. The proceedings are shot very close-up and grainy with a deliberate approach to showing emotion on behalf of the actors. Miami Vice is a dark film, both atmospherically and contextually. We are shown dangerous dealings, without a safety net throughout, and see the danger these men risk their lives on. As most movies of this ilk show, we are privy to violence, role-reversals, bad women falling for the good guys, high-octane vehicular speed, and all the other action clichés one can think of. On the most part, though, they work and help make up a compelling if not convoluted storyline.

On the acting front, all bring their A-games. Farrell continues to surprise with a nice turn as the cop on the tightrope of becoming that which he hunts. It’s a shame people don’t give him as much credit as they should; everyone should see his range in movies like Tigerland, Intermission, and even most moments of Phone Booth, before totally writing him off. Foxx shows us again that with the right direction he could be a great actor. Maybe not his best work, but performances in both this and Mann’s Collateral help us to forgot debacles like Stealth and an over-the-top job in the otherwise underrated Jarhead. Gong Li is great as the woman playing both sides and Naomie Harris takes another small role to a higher level like she did in the Pirates sequel a couple weeks ago. On the other hand, we see two actors, who need to get more work in Hollywood, as wasted space. Isaach De Bankolé is seen for a flash in the opening scene and Justin Theroux is relegated to multiple, “it’s your call,” quips to Crockett and Tubbs. I will, however, be on the lookout for John Ortiz in the future to do some good things in movies. His villainous turn here as the middle-man/coordinator José Yero is very effective, and probably the best part of the film.

The acting just can’t quite carry the film above its choppy feel. There are many instances where quick cuts between scenes feel as though something is missing. We are treated to short scenes like that of Foxx talking coordinates when flying a plane, that have no relevance at all, while also then cutting between locations with no sense of how everyone got there. Do we really need two gratuitous shower scenes that have no meaning in the plot other than to show how Foxx loves his and girl and Farrell loves his just as much? It’s a real shame, for at many times during the sloppiness, there are signs of greatness. Even the music appears as though to just be placeholders until the real songs are added in post-production. The soundtrack is very good, don’t get me wrong, it just feels misused in the scenes it tries to accompany. Also, when you have three songs by the same artist, (either Chris Cornell solo or with Audioslave), play at different moments it should have meaning. There are no comparisons to be made that the music links, they are just there. It confused me and did what a soundtrack should never do in a movie, be noticeable rather than enhancing.

I went into Miami Vice with very low expectations. The acting was admirable, the mood engrossing, and the action scenes well done. Each small explosion of violence was effective and jarring. If only the movie itself was allowed more tweaking and honing, all that would have meant more. Mann had a vision that he just couldn’t quite convert onto film. It’s a great first draft. Maybe one day he will go back and tighten it up to make it what it has all the potential to be.

Miami Vice 6/10

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[1] Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) in Universal Pictures Michael Mann directors’, Miami Vice – 2006
[2] Gong Li, John Ortiz and Colin Farrell in action movie Miami Vice – 2006

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I have to applaud writer/director Eli Roth for what he has created in Hostel. To me this film is not as much a horror flick as a thriller told with all the gruesome brutality intact. There are no scares, no haunting music crescendoing, and no jump in your seat moments that we expect from the genre. Yes, we get blood and gore and uncut severing of body parts, the film is definitely not for the squeamish, however, Roth tells it in such a way that we as an audience are involved and invested in these characters. We saw the torture in the previews and think this is what the movie will be in totality, when instead we are shown a couple of kids backpacking through Europe before grad school. These kids roam free until their better judgment lead them to their destruction.

Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson are perfectly cast. Hernandez’s Paxton is ready for a good time, or as many as he can with as many different women possible; Richardson’s Josh, on the other hand, has just broken up with his girlfriend and is reluctant to join in the fun. His nervousness is portrayed realistically and you can believe these two guys are old friends and have each other’s backs. They even meet a horny Icelander Oli played with comic genius by Eythor Gudjonsson. He is a kindred spirit, although probably a decade older than the boys, and the three are having a blast in Europe when the suggestion of perfect, sex-crazed girls in Slovakia is dropped into their consciousness. They continue their trek east and all goes to plan, meeting two vixens, including the gorgeous, Monica Bellucci lookalike, Barbara Nedeljakova, who show them a good time. A good time, that is, until Oli goes missing and hell begins.

Eli Roth has woven a suspenseful yarn that totally came out of left field. He shows us a more serious take on a premise like the comedy EuroTrip for the first forty or so minutes of a ninety-minute film. We know what is going to happen, and yet he teases us by giving the exact opposite to the gore we have come to see. This tactic allows us to settle in and get to know our protagonists, learn their backgrounds and motives. The attention to detail here makes what happens in the second and final act that much more visceral. These are innocents roped into an underground game of deception and profit. They don’t deserve what is about to happen and we root for them that much more. Each small bit of exposition into their lives also pays dividends later on to help us cope with some of the things they do. Remember the memory shared by Jay Hernandez about a drowning girl from his past. This story helps setup why he does what he does towards the end. Old horror rules don’t apply here, people don’t act stupid and run towards the killers; they have distinct reasons for what they do and the entire film is carefully orchestrated as such.

Other reasons to see the film include actor Jan Vlasák as the Dutch businessman our leads encounter on their journey east. He has the intellectual creepiness his character needs to be a success. The mannerisms and involuntary shake of the hands add substance and layers to a role that isn’t explained as much as the others. Each action of his speaks louder than any words could. Also, the cinematography is worth watching on its own. We are treated viscerally by grimy, disease-infested scenery shrouded in darkness. Roth uses abstract angles throughout the film keeping the audience off-kilter and prone, so that the assault has the utmost impact. More than visuals, though, is the aural quality of many scenes. On multiple occasions we are stopped on static framing while the sounds of what’s about to happen fill your ears. If you feel any fear during this movie it’s in the anticipation perfectly laid forth by the sound preceding every act seen, as with thunder being followed by lightning.

Hostel has everything you could want in a horror/thriller. The suspense is heavy and never overplayed to cause boredom from the waiting. I think this fact might actually hurt the planned sequel being written now by Roth. Hopefully the fact that he is continuing the story at the exact point the first ended will help in getting the audience involved right away; not having the same long period of setup before the payoff, making it essentially the same movie with different characters. Either way, count me in for part two. Any movie that includes great songs like the Sneakerpimps’ How Do and pop culture cameos like horror-maestro Takashi Miike is good in my book.

Hostel 8/10

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[1] Paxton (Jay Hernandez), Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) and Josh (Derek Richardson) in HOSTEL. Photo credit: Rico Torres
[2] An American businessman (Rick Hoffman) in Eli Roth’s HOSTEL. Photo credit: Rico Torres

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M. Night Shyamalan has really matured as a filmmaker the past few years. After an auspicious beginning with the much-adored Sixth Sense, he followed with a slow, poorly paced Unbreakable and the not quite sure what it wanted to be Signs. At this point I pretty much wrote him off, except for the brilliance in marketing that seems to make his trailers must sees. I grudgingly went to The Village in 2004 and to my surprise loved it. Everything that didn’t work in his previous two films was corrected almost as though he needed those slips to hone his timing and writing. The Village was a masterpiece in my opinion, a touching love story; not only between the young lovers, but also the band of old friends who chose a lifestyle to free their children from the harsh reality of the real world. Which Shyamalan would we get with the new Lady in the Water? I was on the fence a bit due to the lack of any redeeming critical reviews, but the knowledge of how he left Disney for their asking him to compromise his vision made me respect him as an auteur and want to see the finished product. Lady in the Water is a modern fable, gorgeously told and acted, bringing back a communal sense of survival among seemingly disparate apartment complex tenants. These people are brought together under duress and truly show what humanity is and how love and compassion really can conquer all.

Cleveland Heap is a lost soul going through the motions of his mundane existence as the superintendent of The Cove. His activities, leading him through the complex, allow us a glimpse into each tenant’s quirks at the film’s start. Paul Giamatti is wonderful as usually here, playing Heap as a sad sack with an intelligence suppressed underneath. His loss of breath stutters are consistent and never feel forced. Giamatti truly inhabits the role. The horrors of his past weigh heavily on his character and form the basis for his actions, in trusting a pretty young lady and the myth she tells in order to glean some sort of protection. This eponymous lady, named Story, is portrayed by the radiant Bryce Dallas Howard. She once again shows her immense talent with an understated performance, exuding emotion in an almost emotionless, stone-faced delivery.

Story is a Narf looking for the one human she has been sent to unlock. As the stories go, Narfs have been in contact with humanity for centuries as muses to help release new thoughts and ideas onto the world. Society, however, has made man a ruthless and hungry race, so protective of their property that they have shut all emotion out. They no longer hear the sea-nymphs and have all at once forgotten their existence. The vessel Story seeks will one day be very influential in the continuing of our species, and she needs to help him see clearly and allow his knowledge to flow out for future generations to experience and cause change in the society that is slowly draining freedom and identity from the masses.

Every character in this bedtime story has a purpose. An unknown force has drawn them all to The Cove to eventually help this Narf on her journey. Their powers are latent, only to be unearthed by a series of tragic events leading up to the film’s climax. These characters need to put aside their differences and their cultures to unite as one in a greater cause. Jeffery Wright, on of my favorite actors working today, takes a nice realistic turn as Mr. Dury, expert crossword puzzle-solver. His intellect has bred a uniquely gifted child as well as an open-mindedness needed in Story’s quest. Bob Balaban is great as the harsh, self-absorbed new tenant who plays a major role in the plot although unknowingly. His character brings to mind Wes Craven’s unique idea, while poorly executed, for Scream where each person understands the rules to the story they are in and try to take comfort in them before discovering reality doesn’t have a set system of rules at all. The best of these supporters has to be M. Night himself, though. While he has put himself in each of his movies, not counting his two first films that no one seems to know about, although he might be in those too, here he is a lead role. He handles himself very competently and, while definitely an amateur, shows some real feeling in the progression his character takes. A lot of responsibility is laid on his shoulders and that Christ-like conflict of whether to live up to the future set before him or to sit back and let life plummet to destruction is etched on his face throughout.

Shyamalan has come into his own as a screenwriter and director. His stories no longer have spells of long drama that just becomes boring. The pacing is carefully orchestrated and the suspense is perfectly timed. Like he did in Signs, leaving the alien to our imagination for as long as possible, he shrouds the evil Scrants, enemies of the Narfs in the Blue World, in darkness until absolutely necessary. The CGI work on these creatures is amazing, and realistic, I’m sure in most part to M. Night’s decision to show them at night only. His camerawork is inventive as well, carefully hiding events that would look fake otherwise. A perfect example is at our finale when he shoots a scene from under the ripples of the pool water, meticulously distorting events above water, showing us the action, but without the necessary fake animation work bringing us out of the story. He keeps everything realistic, helping the audience stay immersed in the story without Hollywood moments to remind us we are watching a movie. This ability, in his last two films, has vaulted him onto my list of must-see directors. You feel for the characters and stand by them as they try to accomplish the impossible.

Lady in the Water 9/10

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[1] Paul Giamatti as Cleveland Heep and Bryce Dallas Howard as Story star in Warner Bros’ Lady in the Water
[2] (Left to right) JARED HARRIS as Goatee Smoker, MARY BETH HURT as Mrs. Bell, GRANT MONOHON as Emaciated Smoker, ETHAN COHN as Glasses Smoker, NOAH GRAY-CABEY as Joey Dury, JOHN BOYD as One-Eyebrow Smoker, JEFFREY WRIGHT as Mr. Dury, PAUL GIAMATTI as Cleveland Heep and JOSEPH D. REITMAN as Long Haired Smoker in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ “Lady In The Water,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. The film also stars Bryce Dallas Howard. Photo by Frank Masi

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Who would have thought twelve years ago that the small indie film Clerks would be a success, a classic, and eventually spawn a sequel? I don’t think even writer/director Kevin Smith would have thought he’d be working in Hollywood let alone having all that occur. Alas, it did. While a movie that I love, I have to say there were many reservations going into the announcement of a follow-up to Smith’s premiere feature. It was a View Askew film, however, and it was going to be made, so I decided to go for the ride and have been following its’ progress with the Train Wreck video blog. The behind the scenes footage was hilarious of course, but still didn’t show me that Dante and Randall talking about mundane pop culture and sexual innuendoes could sustain another hour and a half. Thankfully Clerks II pulled it off, making any Askewniverse fan wonder, “you know, maybe he’ll do a third in another 12 years.” I’ll be there opening night for sure.

It has been over a decade since the Quick Stop employees last graced the big screen with their vulgarity, immaturity, and down-right laugh out loud comedy. Everything that made the first film remains in tact, from the dialogue driven story, sparse sets, potty-humor, Star Wars debates, and customer abuse. Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson are Dante and Randall, two old time buddies who have been close since school days. After working a decade at the convenience and video store respectfully, they move onto fast food fun at the neighborhood New Jersey Mooby’s. Of course a life altering change like this wasn’t premeditated, those two couldn’t make a game plan like that without the accidental coffeemaker fire which destroyed their former employ. At Mooby’s they once again have a small customer base and with their relaxed boss Becky, played superbly by Rosario Dawson, no real rules allowing them to basically do what they want. While still having the occasional bickering filled, profanity-laced rant with each other, the added characters add a great dynamic not letting it get monotonous watching the same two actors talk the whole time. Also, the utopia shattering event of Dante moving to Florida the next day to get married turns the heat up.

Dawson is great as the easy-going manager who is only there to help out her ill uncle, a two-week fill-in grown to two years and counting. She is totally having fun on screen and has the fortitude to hold her own with a character as brazen as Randall. Fast with the quips and spot-on with facial reactions, she fits right into Smith’s world. Trevor Fehrman is also top-notch as sheltered Jesus-freak Elias. The direction he has taken the character is hilarious and he plays it well. With nerdy awkwardness, Fehrman is the perfect punching bag for Randall to wail on verbally. Elias loves the comradery and takes the punishment without a second thought, along with a healthy dose of naiveté. After watching the video-blog the past few months and seeing Jeff Anderson and Trevor joking around and playing pranks, I was totally caught-off guard with the entrance of the Elias character. I thought he would be one of them, cynical and elitist. Instead Smith treats us with yet another disparate component to add to the pot of asinine yet enthralling conversation that drives the film.

Unlike the failed sequel Superman Returns, Smith successfully peppers his script with callbacks to the original. Whether it be catchphrases—that work due to being character specific—or eccentricities like Dante’s seeming fetish of painting women’s toenails, it all works within the constraints of the plot and doesn’t seem tired. As an audience, we are genuinely seeing these characters twelve years later; it’s as though they have been living during the layoff and we have just decided to check in on them again. They are still haunted by old high school classmates that have done something with their lives as well as a slew of quirky personas passing through. The only difference here being that they are now filled by star cameos rather than friends of the filmmaker. Through it all, though, the real heart and soul lie in the never stale rapport between our two main men.

Of course, a review of a Redbank tale couldn’t be complete without mention of our favorite stoners Jay and Silent Bob. The miming from Smith is as good as ever, but the star of the duo is by far Jason Mewes. After missing out on Jersey Girl a couple years back, Mewes has exited rehab clean and better than ever. Rather than trying to have him pick up the nuances of being high, Smith brilliantly makes the characters straight now too. We aren’t then treated with a shell of the comedy Mewes’ inebriation, unfortunately, had in the past, but instead a reborn slacker gone through an evolution; still comic gold and the best dancer around.

Any fan of the original Clerks needs to go out and see this film. It lives up to its predecessor like few do. Albeit definitely not for everyone, the prudish and sensitive should stay far away, it is the Smith we love. Hopefully he is back after the last two subpar films, in his oeuvre not in general, Jay and Bob and Jersey Girl. Clerks II is smart, crude, condescending comedy infused with heart and compassion as Smith has evolved himself, as a writer. The ending also bookends the film perfectly harkening back to the old days of one of grunge’s best Soul Asylum.

Clerks II 9/10
As comparison: Clerks 9/10

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[1] Jeff Anderson and Brian O’Halloran reprise their roles as Randal and Dante in Kevin Smith’s Clerk II. Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company/Darren Michaels, 2006.
[2] Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith reprise their roles as Jay and Silent Bob in Kevin Smith’s Clerk II. Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company/Darren Michaels, 2006.

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Michael Cimino’s masterpiece The Deer Hunter is one of the greatest films ever made. Concerning a group of steel worker friends in Pennsylvania, the movie shows us the comradery and good natured fun they enjoy together leading up to their departure for Vietnam. We open on the day of Stevie’s (John Savage) wedding, a joyous time before the hell that will soon swallow them whole. A very traditional Russian ceremony leads into a raucous reception at a friend’s bar (George Dzundza), where at its conclusion Robert De Niro’s Michael and Christopher Walken’s Nick make a pact to not leave each other behind during the war. These two are best friends of the kind that nothing else matters. Michael says before their deer hunt, one last go before shipping off, that if it wasn’t for Nick he’d go alone, the other guys are just idiots, he doesn’t need them.

There is an abrupt cut over to the jungles and helicopters of Vietnam. De Niro is killing with anger in his eyes; the hunt has higher stakes now that humans are involved. Who knows how much time has passed, but coming off the helicopter is Nick and Stevie, physically having to hit Michael out of his cold stare to acknowledge the reunion. It’s short lived, however, as they are captured and taken to a hut to be used in a game of Russian Roulette for entertainment. Here is where we see the leadership Michael has had all his life come to the front. Only he has the courage to get them through the game for an escape. Once he and Nick carry Stevie off into the jungle and see a friendly aircraft to save them, we reach the moment of disconnection. Savage’s Stevie is in no shape to board the chopper and after Nick goes in, De Niro jumps down to save his friend. This one action leads each character down a path they cannot turn away from. Michael knows his friend Nick is safely away and that he can bring Stevie to safety, Stevie realizes the utter futility of his situation and the lack of courage to have pulled through without Michael, and Nick knows nothing of his friends, but the abandonment of being saved and letting them be lost down in the trenches.

Stevie’s disillusion, Michael’s strength of character, and Nick’s sense of abandoning those he loved will drive them throughout the rest of the epic three-hour film. The acting is riveting and the emotion palpable. What of their travails can be spoken of upon returning home, shells of the men they were before? The war has scarred them to the point where they are distant to their friends who wish to shower them with love that they don’t think they can share anymore. De Niro’s second hunt towards the end of the film perfectly shows his evolution, once he stands face to face with his tracked buck and realizes what he must do. De Niro is entrancing throughout and gives one of the greatest performances of his career. He is the tough guy, older brother to his friends who must sacrifice his own happiness for those he loves.

Besides the three main actors, the supporting cast holds true throughout. The late great John Cazale, who died shortly after filming completed of bone cancer, plays the friend whose attitude can be forgiven in the beginning, but not post-war, where he becomes childish and unlearned in the real value of life. A late confrontation with De Niro is a powerful scene showing the huge distance Vietnam has put between those who went and those who stayed. Dzundza is a giant teddy-bear of a man constantly shown with an infectious smile and good-natured life. Meryl Streep is top-notch, as always, playing the woman loved by both Nick and Michael. Her photo becomes the main crux of the film when De Niro’s glimpse of it tells him he must go back home after he made sure his friends were out of the line of fire and Walken’s glimpse just reminds him of those he thinks he left behind and seals his decision to never return to America. Christopher Walken is by far the showstopper. His slow and believable descent into hell is heartwrenching to watch. What once was a fun-loving man, looking to marriage upon return home, becomes a broken vessel with no reason to live. The climax of he and De Niro sitting across from each other in one last game of Russian Roulette will be ingrained in your mind forever.

The Deer Hunter 10/10

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Waydowntown is Calgary, Alberta’s Gary Burns’ satiric look on the office workplace. While a film like Mike Judge’s Office Space goes for the laughs and absurdity of the daily grind, Burns gives us something more palpable with his take. We are looking in on a group of corporate ants roaming through their cage, seemingly free in their small existences. This film is a sociology project showing relationships between people and how their environments affect not only themselves, but also those they interact with. However, it is a cynical, comedic look on a workday of four young adults trying to get through another eight hours of essentially the same activities they completed each day previous.

Our story is centered on a bet between the four main characters. In Calgary, there is a cityscape that was built to connect together. With enclosed walkways and tunnels, each mall, office complex, and apartment building is linked so that one could conceivably go through his/her life never going outdoors. Because of this, our protagonists have each bet a month’s salary to see who can stay inside the longest. We enter into the story on day 24, where each lets the pressure finally crack through. Between sexual repression, the breathing of recirculated air from the vents over and over again, and the utter monotony of their jobs, each goes a little bit nuts as they try to drive forward to win the prize.

Fab Filippo plays our lead Tom. He smokes a joint before work to cut the edge off of his straying mind and heads up to his desk. The stress has caused him to see things of late that just aren’t there. Floating through the promenades he tries to get under the skin of his follow bet takers by playing to their weaknesses. Filippo plays the role nicely as he has the charisma of the kind of guy everyone likes to hang with, but always gets a jab in and never misses the opportunity to belittle someone. He narrates the story with well-written voiceover observations about superheroes taking their little connected city into the sky and on whether the dead-end life he is leading has made him cold and ambivalent to the world he cohabits with humanity. Marya Delver delivers as the lone female bet taker whose throat slowly closes subconsciously as the day progresses from the “dirty” air that keeps going through her. Among many hilarious moments are her spinning the front doors fast to get the influx of “pure” air into her system and her use of a magazine perfume sample to keep her from passing out. Also, giving a pitch-perfect performance is Don McKellar as Bradley. His droning voice and fed-up with life attitude oozes out as he has finally snapped, after two decades of the same work everyday. The deadpan expressions are great as he starts to staple words of encouragement to his chest.

Besides these quirky characters and their activities of the day, which we follow for the duration, we are shown funny vignettes on society. For example, there is the discussion on the unwritten rule of getting out of another person’s way when walking towards each other. The security guard realizes that these men in suits just don’t abide by the rules and continue walking no matter the obstacle. He finally decides to hold his ground and gets knocked over for the trouble by a straight-faced extra oblivious to the other people around him. Waydowntown is a world of self-absorbed drones who’ve become lifeless and uncaring by a society which has confined them to created controllable order. Watching the cast of eccentrics as they try and break through the sameness is fun intelligent humor. A blend of socially conscious commentary and laugh-out-loud humor, Gary Burns has created a great film to help office workers everywhere crack a smile.

Waydowntown 9/10

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What if the government turned one of its own into that which it serves to rid society of? If it enlisted anonymous employees for a mission, while necessary, that called for them to turn their recruit into an addict? The only way to infiltrate an illegal operation is to send one of its own inside. One sacrifice needs to see darkly in order for humanity to one day be able to see clearly again. A Scanner Darkly is a dark and personal descent into hell. Set in a not-so-distant future, our players are constantly under surveillance in order to capture those who are corrupting the world with the drug Substance D. We are thrown into the underground to see first hand the destruction of humanity, one delusion at a time. Science fiction has never been better and a story by Philip K. Dick never adapted so intelligently.

I have seen many Dick adaptations to film over the years, the favorite being Ridley Scott’s artistic and intelligent Blade Runner. Not until now, however, have I really wanted to go straight to the bookstore to pick up his entire catalog of novels. Never having read his stories I wasn’t sure what his tone really was. Minority Report was a good film until the tacked on sappy ending that only Spielberg can do, and Paycheck was a dismal waste of time. But then you have the dark despair of Blade Runner and the corruption of Total Recall, two movies which succeed greatly in my mind. After watching Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Darkly, I have to believe the heavy, cynical outlook on life is what Dick does and have to wonder whether the two failures changed his stories to go mainstream (which wouldn’t surprise me in the least). His works need independent visionaries like Scott and Linklater to say screw the mainstream, we need this story to go out right.

We are introduced to Keanu Reeves character, after the credit sequence, and learn that he is a government agent working to stop the distribution of Substance D. Like the others in his job, he must wear a scramble suit to conceal his identity on the job. This suit makes it impossible to know who the agent really is. When off the clock, they actually are junkies themselves, infiltrated into the culture to play the addicts off each other and get a big arrest. Reeves is perfectly cast as a man of principles who has slowly gone off the deep end into psychosis. He recalls to himself the wife and children at home, while at the moment he is a low-life named Bob Arctor, living with his user friends/suspects. Only Keanu can pull off the heady aloofness needed when he is assigned by his boss to watch Arctor, (yes, himself), to see if he slips and can be arrested. His employers know he must be in that circle of people, but there is no way of knowing which one he is, making this seemingly ludicrous assignment possible.

While Keanu’s split personalities drive the plot, his friends make the ride enjoyable. Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane are hilarious. The three are in a permanent state of delusion, leading to paranoid inferences and activities. No one besides Downey Jr. can stop on dime and go off into tangents and unintelligible brainstorms when provoked by his own thoughts. The rapport between this crew is amazing and they play off each other brilliantly. Even Winona Ryder does an admirable job as Arctor’s girl/dealer Donna. She plays a junkie on D, but with a heart. Her character allows us to see deep into Reeves’ character emotionally. A side effect of D for females is the shutdown of the sexdrive; the utter disgust at being touched affectionately. We are shown the feelings that Donna and Arctor have for each other that can never be fulfilled. Hopefully her shoplifting hiatus has come to a close and Ryder follows this comeback with more roles in the future.

The story runs at an exciting pace, keeping you on the edge of your seat to continue through and find out Bob Arctor’s fate. Will he be arrested although he is taking surveillance of himself? or will he be able to find a bigger fish to fry while making his cover and descent to hell mean something? The layers Linklater has sewn together here are all superimposed on each other to great effect. The language has many quotable passages that you can almost feel are Dick’s words, and for this I commend Linklater for the courage to stick to the real heart of the story. I almost don’t have to mention the rotoscoping effect used, similar to the director’s previous gem Waking Life. Without the freedom animation allows, the movie could not have been as successful as it is. I applaud all involved as this journey continues with its laughs and tears all culminating in the heartbreaking finale, that when looking back really is the only way it could have played out. Also, it was a very nice touch, before the credits, having Philip K. Dick’s memoriam for all his friends that had died or suffered immensely from the effects of drugs. A Scanner Darkly tries to give meaning to their descent and a glimmer of hope for the future to one day rid itself of the voluntary plague.

A Scanner Darkly 9/10

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[1] Keanu Reeves as Bob Arctor in director Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, based on the Philip K. Dick novel. A Warner Independent Pictures release. © 2005 Warner Bros. Entertainment.
[2] Robert Downey Jr. as Barris in director Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, based on the Philip K. Dick novel. A Warner Independent Pictures release. © 2005 Warner Bros. Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

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Why did Troy Duffy need to open his mouth and burn every bridge he had in Hollywood? After making an amazing movie like The Boondock Saints, more so for being his first feature film script and direction, fans are told a sequel, All Saints Day, is planned. Unfortunately no one will probably ever see that film because of Duffy’s arrogance and pride. After being given money and trust to create the movie, he repaid his backers with public insults during his drunken stupors. It is a real shame as his talent is apparent and could have molded into something very good.

Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus are the MacManus brothers, two Irish boys that are highly spiritual and modestly intelligent. They live in virtual squalor, work at a meat factory, and drink with their buddies. After a self-defense killing, which triggered a shot of adrenaline against heavy odds to be victorious, they begin to believe they have a purpose on this earth. While spending the night in jail after the incident, to avoid the mob of reporters outside, the brothers both wake from a dream which gives them their duty, (from God?), to dispatch of the evils of the world. They become vigilantes, killing those dangerous criminals who once captured would eventually be let go by the system. Both are very good in their roles, using what they know of Charles Bronson and James Bond to get the job done. Each hit is done with folly and “that only happens in the movies” moments, but in the end they are completed professionally and effectively. The knowledge by the characters about their own blind luck is a nice touch and helps the audience go along for the ride as they never take themselves too seriously, except of course for the reasoning behind their murderous deeds.

Although the two boys are the stars and drive of the movie, the outstanding performance belongs to the great Willem Dafoe. He plays a homosexual FBI agent named Paul Smecker and is always able to orchestrate in his head, along with the help of classical music through his headphones, every nuance of the past days’ atrocities. Smecker follows closely behind the brothers trying to crack the case, slowly leading him down the path of reevaluating what it is his job truly accomplishes, and if these killers are actually doing more good than he. Duffy shows great visual flair showing Smecker as he reconstructs each crime. We always see the incidents through his eyes and not the MacManuses themselves. This style eventually gives us the best scene—a fight at a poker game of criminals. Here instead of quick cuts between the orator and past events, we see Dafoe in frame, calmly narrating as the vigilantes do their work alongside. The scream of “There was a FIREFIGHT!” has amazing bravado and theatricality that would be laughable anywhere else, but ultimately poignant and fitting in context here.

Along with one of Dafoe’s career turns come some very nice supporting players. The non-actor David Della Rocco does an amazing job as the brothers’ Italian low-level mobster friend, actually based on himself by friend Duffy. He is the “Funnyman” as he is called in the film, adding the best instances of comic relief besides the scathing retorts of Dafoe. His heart and naïveté help us understand our antiheroes’ intents. They both protect him like a brother and try to show him that what they do is for good; they only kill evil men, those that laws can’t seem to rid society of. We also get nice turns from Billy Connolly and Gerard Parkes. Seeing Connolly in a non-comedic role is a nice change for me; his remorseless assassin Il Duce is a brilliantly constructed character. I give full credit to the director for getting a performance against type from him. As for Parkes, from “Fraggle Rock” fame, we get nice comic relief with his stuttering, Tourettes afflicted bartender.

The Boondock Saints is a high action, intelligently told story filled with violence, comedy, and drama. Duffy’s style is uncommonly polished for being his first outing and it’s a real shame that it will probably be his last. Hopefully, one day, he will become man enough to take the bullet and apologize for what he did, so that we can see what else is in him artistically. I haven’t seen it yet, but the documentary Overnight tells the story of development and filming activities during which his descent into hell happened. A burgeoning cult classic, Saints will hopefully be remembered for the energetic ride it is and not the off-camera mistakes of its’ creator.

The Boondock Saints 9/10

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What a nice surprise this movie is. The trailer always piqued my interest, but I just never had Sky High at the top of my movie to see list. I must now do the shameless plug of OnDemand television; it is a great little technological advancement allowing me to finally see the flick. It was an entertaining ride, skewering the “hero” genre while also sending it up. Each character served a purpose to the end means of the plot, and the audience really gets to see how they evolved from sidekick to hero.

As with all superhero stories, this one is a far-fetched yarn pitting an evil nemesis, long-thought dead, against those who defeated him. Or more correctly, the offspring of those victors. We are given a Hogwarts type training ground for the young kids learning how to control their powers. However, we aren’t given the serious side of the spectrum like Potter; we are shown the light side, people who can do incredible things and enjoy showing their abilities off to do so. Sky High is a pulp comic, heightened from reality and bent to that extreme rather than trying to ground itself into the “real world.” High school has never been cattier or more cliquish, as the heroes beat up on the hero support.

While the kids are the focal point of the film, it’s the adults that really shine. These actors, most with very little screen time, bring comic relief as they parody the genre and sometimes themselves. Everything we know about superheroes that makes us laugh and think of the absurdity of it all comes through. Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald are wonderful as aloof teachers trying to relive their youth of crime fighting vicariously through their students. The nervous-twitched, orchestrated personas from their long-running sketch based “Kids in the Hall” is used to nice effect here as they never made a mark during their careers, but try to act hip and popular now. Kevin Heffernan is memorable as Ron Wilson – Bus Driver. I hope that this is sign for future parts sans the rest of his Broken Lizard troupe as he is a real funny actor. Lynda Carter has some fun with her Principal Powers, at one time even referencing her famous role as ”Wonder Woman”. Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston work well as the greatest heroes in the world. Their crossover between real estate agents and saviors is handled well with nice moments of discussing parenting problems while dispatching of villains. Even the Clark Kent glasses disguise is poked fun at, at Russell’s expense. Lastly, on the adult front, one can’t not speak of the incomparable Bruce Campbell. His Coach Boomer is the loud and obnoxious role we love and expect from Campbell. I love the laid back ex-jock façade, especially when he calmly eats his cake while all hell breaks loose around him.

The kids also do a decent job in the film. They do have to carry the story on their shoulders, and might not be as successful as needed, however the cameos from the seasoned vets discussed above help lessen the burden. Michael Angarano does a nice job as our protagonist showing teen angst as well as genuine feelings and emotions when called upon. Danielle Panabaker is good as the bestfriend/love interest; she appears to have a good career ahead of her with this and HBO’s Empire Falls, she just hasn’t broken out yet and appears a bit stiff at times. Steven Strait annoyed me towards the beginning of the film, as it seemed he could only do gruff and pissed off, even when trying to be soft-spoken. I eventually warmed up to the performance though when he takes a turn reminiscent to Heath Ledger’s in 10 Things I Hate About You. Probably the best of the high schoolers is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Gwen Grayson. She plays the femme fatale nicely, is very attractive, and was good at being both sweet and conniving.

Overall, Sky High is well worth a look. On the surface it is a kids movie, but really has a little something for everyone; it’s a parody of the hero cannon while also containing all the elements we love from it. (Having the logo fly by for cuts was a bit of overkill, old school ”Batman” style.) The effects were surprisingly good and not overly flashy and even the soundtrack was enjoyable. Consisting of 80’s era hits all covered by current bands, the music helps add to the John Hughes coming of age feel. Besides the awful Bowling For Soup remake of I Melt With You, each sounds so much like the originals that I didn’t quite know they were all covers until the credits.

Sky High 7/10

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After seeing the dismal Jonathan Demme film The Truth About Charlie, I was left aghast. The film had so much going for it, but besides the surreal, New Wave feel of the end, just before the credits, it was a major letdown. I flipped the disc over upon completion to check out the bonus movie, Charade, which it was based on. I fast-forwarded it a bit and discovered the dialogue was much the same in that part, so I took it out and returned the rental. Now, four years later, I finally took the plunge and sat down to watch Stanley Donen’s highly acclaimed Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn vehicle. This one is a winner.

After only seeing Grant in Notorious, I wasn’t quite ready for the comic chops he shows here, (even though I have heard so much about them from lovers of Bringing Up Baby). The quick wit was enjoyable as he and Hepburn were a great comic team. Sarcasm flowed freely from their lips and helped lay the tracks for why a love tryst could work between a 60 year old man and a 30 year old woman. I’m not quite sure if they tried to make Hepburn’s Reggie older, as she looked it in parts, but either way her youthful mannerisms came out on top. Surprisingly, I kept thinking back to Thandie Newton’s take on the character from Demme’s film, and marveled at the similarities. Their faces are alike, especially the large eyes to get lost in. Grant and Hepburn really looked like they enjoyed each others company and it helped propel their characters through the intelligent, twist-laden script.

When Reggie discovers her husband Charles has been killed and that his accomplices, from an old army booty theft, are looking for his money, she doesn’t know who to turn to or who to trust. Everyone she encounters has a hidden agenda or identity, tripping up her plans to find the loot and save herself from her husband’s fate. Nothing is as it seems and everyone is in on the “charade,” including her deceased spouse, whom it seems she really didn’t know at all. Her life has been full of strangers and they are all trying to get to know her now, with hopes of finding the spoils. Among the many men she encounters are top-notch performances from James Coburn, Walter Matthau, and George Kennedy. Coburn and Kennedy are great as the mystery men from Charles’ past, causing trouble and just being plain maniacal. The funeral scene, where the two of them are introduced, is hilarious and all involved are pitch-perfect. Matthau also does admirably playing against type, as I’m familiar with him, as a serious character. While his CIA administer Bartholemew has many instances of comic relief, it is his dramatic presence that really surprised me.

Charade has it all: mystery, intrigue, romance, confusion, and an abundance of fun humor. Hepburn is radiant and sharp in her delivery, while Grant is comical and yet on a dime turns deathly stone-faced. The script is clever at most times, but never goes overboard to the absurd. I credit the actors and director Donen for steering it with enough reality to make us care for those involved in the plot. Unfortunately, it seems Demme decided to let his actors run loose in his adaptation, causing it to be a farcical retelling, making everything from the original that came close to being too much, fly right over the top. Charade needed to be grounded to succeed and that succeed is exactly what it did.

Charade 8/10

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