You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2007.

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I will preface this review by saying if you did not enjoy the first two Pirates movies, you shouldn’t be seeing the third. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is the final part of a very cohesive trilogy. There are no recaps between the films; they consist of a single story that is to be followed part by part. You must watch the first movie to be introduced to our heroes and supporting players because it is their actions here that make them the people they are later on. I would recommend seeing at least the second installment again before viewing the finale, however, it is not necessary as being a fan I was able to compose myself very early on with where we had left off. Credit to the filmmakers for realizing that this was the second half of the long tale that makes up parts two and three and not a standalone entity. The fanbase is intact and if you didn’t like the previous, why should they cater to your needs of refreshing when the film isn’t made for you? With all that said, I believe this film to be on steady ground with the two it follows, rounding out what is a very successful trilogy—a tough thing to come by lately.

We enter the film with a prologue showing the singular will of the pirate community, something that is strong and will come into play later on. The sequence is effective in giving the audience a chance to rejoin the dirt and atmosphere that these movies have so effectively portrayed. Our main action soon follows as our heroes continue their quest for Jack Sparrow and his Black Pearl. Some need the ship to free the bonds of servitude for loved ones, some need Jack to assuage their conscience, while others just want the ship back in order to fulfill a promise that brought them back from the dead. Each character’s motives are held tightly to their chests and we are privy to numerous changes of allegiance and multiple double crossing, although not always crossing the ones we think. Alliances are struck and pirates join together in order to save their kind from the East India Company’s tyranny and Davy Jones’ renegade, murderous bent created from his sacrificing the one being that ever loved him. Don’t worry, though, if you have been having fun and following along, all the twists and turns make perfect sense. Also, the intricacies of the plot really impressed me because whether or not originally planned as a trilogy, the attention to detail and past occurrences truly allow one to become totally wrapped up in the action.

Once again the acting is top-notch. True it is oftentimes over-the-top, but that is what is expected here. This is a fantastical adventure story seeped in mythology, history, and romance. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have evolved into very serious people who have seen much pain and death. There is little humor with them as in previous installments, however, their love for each other still exists and whether they trust the other or not, they do what they have to do to keep that bond alive. Johnny Depp is again in top form and just adds to the Jack Sparrow role. The laughs still exist, but we also get to see a side of Jack that has been missing, a true drive to fight and a willingness to sacrifice himself for the victory.

These three do see a bit of a push to the background as we are bombarded with characters from all sides, though. Barbossa is back, and this is a great thing. Geoffrey Rush was one of the best pieces that the original film had going for it, and to have him and Depp together again, this time on the same side, is a treat indeed. Naomie Harris returns with effectiveness and the ability to still look gorgeous even under her gypsy woman garb; Bill Nighy proves once more that no matter how much cgi is used, it is his skill as a performer that truly overcomes; Tom Hollander portrays his villain with the same amount of sleaze mixed with a false arrogance that he is covering all his bases as in the second, when in reality he is working with pirates, they swear allegiance to no one; and Chow Yun-Fat adds a nice air of professionalism in an intimidating role whose motives are never really known.

Besides the writing being true to the franchise and the acting never missing a step, the real success again lies in the animation and visuals. Director Gore Verbinski has a superb eye and a creative streak shown at numerous moments. The visual effects are once more the best in the business and some sequences, such as Hollander’s descent amidst an imploding ship or the final ship battle inside a giant maelstrom, are truly breathtaking to experience and wonder how long it could have taken to orchestrate to perfection. Some moments crossed the line a bit, like every time Depp’s psyche brought out multiple versions of himself, whether in Davy Jones’ locker or out. These instances showed some nice effect in superimposing many Jack Sparrows interacting with each other, but they were overly long and ultimately totally unnecessary to the story at hand.

After it all, I can’t think of a better way for this franchise to finish. There was no degradation in my opinion throughout the series and with a fully fleshed beginning and end, I hope that this will be all we see. Verbinski needs to continue on to other things, bringing his singular vision with him to create new and innovative films. As for the characters, I believe they have finished strong and whole, any more entries will only demean the integrity that has held thus far. Don’t be surprised too if people die that you do not expect, Pirates does not cop out, and as a result succeeds that much more.

POTC: At World’s End 8/10
As comparison: POTC: The Curse of the Black Pearl 8/10; POTC: Dead Man’s Chest 8/10

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[1] Captains Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat), Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp)
[2] Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and The Flying Dutchman Crew

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I’m not sure whether my wanting to see Waitress was due to its off-kilter humor, shown via its trailer, or because of the horrible tragedy surrounding writer/director/supporting actress Adrienne Shelly. Her murder definitely overshadows the dreamlike comedy she has left behind as her final foray in Hollywood. This is a tale of a poor girl dragging through life, desperately looking for a way out. As far as style goes, I can only think of Edward Scissorhands as having the same hyper-real environment filled with quirky characters and fantastical sequences grounded in reality. There is a definite fairytale quality at work here and, if anything, that lightheartedness helps you enjoy what is on screen for what it is and not for being Shelly’s final time in theatres.

Keri Russell plays our lead role—a pie making genius whom is married to an emotionally abusive husband (if not physically) and spends time with her two older friends from the diner she is employed at. One fateful day brings her the news that she is pregnant, despite only making love to her husband once in the past six weeks. She despises the child for what it stands for—a broken marriage and a bond to keep her from running away for good. Needing to make sure the child is healthy, she goes to the doctor, only to find a new resident physician. What starts as awkward flirting soon escalates into an affair and Russell’s character finally sees some happiness at the end of her dark tunnel.

The story is ultimately a simple one, yet it is told intelligently and with many eccentricities to keep a viewer’s attention. Each change in emotion for Russell is soon followed by a comical interlude of a newly invented pie to help ease the tension. All the characters have a bit of country-bumpkin in them and their exchanges throughout are laced with a naïve seriousness to every single word uttered. Their inability to take what is said with a grain of salt just makes it funnier for the audience to laugh at the reactions to seemingly innocuous dialogue. Credit for this must go to Shelly for creating an environment on set for all the actors to feel comfortable enough to really believe in and encompass themselves with their roles.

Russell is magnificent, and that says something because besides Mission Impossible 3, I can’t even think of something else I have seen her in. She allows for all emotions to come out and never goes too far into camp or over-the-top flamboyancy. Shelly herself is perfect as the friend with low self-esteem and not so quick intelligence. The mousy façade and little girl smile seemed misplaced at first, but as the film continues on it becomes exactly what her character is. Jeremy Sisto gives a nice turn as the bad boyfriend, conveying the misplaced aggression as well as the insecurity and longing for love that manifests it. On the other hand, Nathan Fillion truly shines as the knight in shining armor doctor. His nervousness and awkward mannerisms show his feelings towards our lead. Both his and her smiles are infectious when they are together; the chemistry is effective to portray the bond they create, as well as the mirrored relationship to Russell and Sisto. Last, but not least, is Andy Griffith bringing the heart and soul to the film. His crotchety old man, hiding his real feelings inside, helps lead our heroine onto a path of happiness without regret. Their moments together bring a smile to your face.

Although there was a lot to enjoy about the movie, the acting and humor especially, the film is not without many flaws. I am not quite sure on the timeline, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Shelly had been killed before the final cut was edited. There is some strange pacing at times, grinding the action to unnecessary halts before going forward again, as well as awkward cuts. Whether it be the out of place quick cut to Sisto at the beginning or the abrupt transition from one scene to that of a wedding towards the end, the film seems a tad hacked up at times. Its moments of creativity are also somewhat out of place, if only because there are so few of them. The circular panning around a romantic embrace is utilized twice and an interesting bit of blurring to accentuate Russell in an end scene once. While fascinating techniques, their innovativeness is almost too risqué for what we have been witnessing.

It is a shame that a review for Waitress must be weighed down with the tragedy surrounding it. There is a very good film hidden here, that may have shown through with a bit more editing and tightening. Had Shelly gone on, she might have rectified some problems after screenings and feedback. Instead we are given a very heartfelt story that shows how close to her it was. The film displays the promise of a filmmaker just hitting her prime; she could only have improved upon the talent she so obviously had. Just like the Tim Burton film I compared it to in tone at the start, this film ends bittersweetly yet realistically, (I applaud the fact that the fairytale happily-ever-after ending didn’t seep in completely), but after everything there is a sense of hope and happiness that was missing in our lead’s life at the start.

Waitress 6/10

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photography:
[1] Keri Russell floats on cloud nine as Cheryl Hines and Lew Temple look on. Photo Credit: Alan Markfield
[2] Nathan Fillion tells Keri Russell of his fond memories. Photo Credit: Alan Markfield

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I will preface this review by saying I have never been the biggest Steve Carell fan. I love his bit parts, but seeing him in a lead role after having a start on “The Daily Show” rubbed me the wrong way. Believing that I would hate his writing/lead role debut as much as I do Will Ferrell’s multiple attempts, I shied away from checking the film out. Being that director Judd Apatow’s sophomore film Knocked Up is hitting theatres this Friday, I decided to bite the bullet and finally see if the hype was true. All I can say is that this is the funniest movie I have seen since Hot Fuzz, and that says a lot since most American comedies of this ilk are fart jokes and horrible. The 40 Year Old Virgin is definitely the funniest film of 2005 and deserves all the praise it gets. Everything worked and I was laughing out loud throughout its entire duration, from the opening sequence of Carell trying to urinate to the ending song and dance routine of “Age of Aquarius”—absolutely priceless.

As everyone who owned a tv two years ago knows, this film revolves around Carell’s Andy and his revelation to coworkers that he is a virgin. The film soon progresses with their attempts to give him advice and his journey to get laid and find love in the process. Usually a premise as flimsy as this would not be able to sustain my interest for two hours, especially a comedy because it would be filled with filler gross-out moments that are so random you have to roll your eyes instead of laugh. The 40 Year Old Virgin never has a moment like this at all. Every gag or set piece is true to the story and nothing seems contrived for cheap laughs at the expense of the real story going on. Andy is a dork who has given up hope and decides to play video games and collect vintage toys rather than join the club scene. Although a dork, his coworkers soon find out that he is a funny guy with a lot to offer and they become close during the crusade. The underlying theme of love over sex and the power of friendship are there for sure, but the jokes are what make it all work. The touching moments are never sappy and when the sentimentality reaches the line of cheese, a one-liner or gag is thrown in to keep the pace fast and the story moving forward without pause.

Sure the writing is top-notch. Carell and Apatow have woven together a wonderful tale here. The jokes are continuous and smart. There are bodily fluid moments, but the film doesn’t rely solely on them. Really, though, it isn’t always the script that succeeds, but the actors delivering the words. I can’t think of a better foursome than Carell, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, and Seth Rogen. I have been a Rudd fan forever and he definitely lives up to the reputation; Malco, brilliant in “Weeds,” comes in and uses that role with a bit more everyman insecurity and hits it out of the park. As for Rogen, I haven’t really seen him in anything. Supposedly he was in Donnie Darko, but don’t ask me where. He really shines here and by this performance alone I have made my decision that Knocked Up is my movie choice this weekend and not something more serious and dramatic. Rogen is pitch-perfect in delivery and timing and his facial expressions and body language is fantastic. Mention should also be made for Catherine Keener, an actress whom I am also a big fan of. Her role needs to show her insecurity about dating a “good guy” when she has always gone in the opposite direction. There is the right amount of awkwardness between the two leads, but also a perfect dose of chemistry to make the relationship real.

Every supporting role is great as well and there are too many to name. Let’s just say that I couldn’t believe how many bit-players were played by people I recognized from other tv shows and movies—Carell even gets his wife into the action. With the ensemble assembled and the writing as good as it is, I don’t know why I waited two years to finally experience the phenomenon. Even the soundtrack was mindblowing. Using the songs that are, in the context here, is ingenious. The final song and dance moment had me on the verge of crying and will not be forgotten any time soon. Do yourself a favor and see this film if you have not already.

The 40 Year Old Virgin 9/10

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[1] STEVE CARELL, PAUL RUDD, ROMANY MALCO and SETH ROGEN in The 40 Year Old Virgin.

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Canadian actress Sarah Polley has crafted a tale about love in the midst of great adversity by adapting a short story into her new film Away From Her. I have been a fan of hers, acting-wise, for a few years now since Go, and was pleasantly surprised to see that she had written and directed a film garnering a lot of good buzz. What she tells here is a story about an older couple grappling with the wife’s slow deterioration from Alzheimer’s. Although there is little action and few characters, everything portrayed onscreen more than makes up for the lack of scale with emotion. This is a heartbreaking story of enduring love and sacrifice in relationships, while also showing how an indiscretion, forgiven years ago, can sometimes never fade.

The true worth of this movie is in the performances by Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. Sure the supporting roles are very good as well—credit to Kristen Thomson, who’s bubbly nurse was a bit too much until a scene with Pinsent later reveals her home life, and Michael Murphy, almost unrecognizable as the mute, incapacitated eventual friend of Christie—but the stars really shine. During the process of Christie’s slow descent into emptiness, she never falters from character and her confusion and helplessness is etched into her facial expressions. The way in which her responses go from clarity to canned phrases and back again show her trying to grasp for what little memory she has. While her performance is very well done, it is Pinsent who is the true heart and soul of the picture. He must deal with his wife’s breakdown and subsequent quarantining for 30 days, in effect all but erasing himself from her mind. Watching his never-ending attempts to break through to her again is tough to sit through, but he never gives up and never puts himself before her. His love is real and he is willing to fight through the abuse and the blank stares to never leave her side.

What could have been a simple story of the affliction soon becomes more. We learn early on that Pinsent had some extramarital affairs during his teaching years in the 70s, and while his counterparts left their wives, he stuck by his and she ultimately forgave him. Because of the nature of the disease, Christie’s short-term memory is the first to go and she soon remembers only what her husband did to her, at some times thinking he left her all those years ago. Watching Pinsent experience these moments is heart-wrenchingly difficult, he knows he is there with her, but can’t say anything, as she won’t know how to deal with the confusion. She soon falls in love with a man at the nursing home because he is someone she sees at all times and never confuses her with having to try and remember the past. I think the best scene of the film occurs as a result, while Pinsent visits for Christmas. He sits alone, watching his wife and her friend enjoy themselves, when a girl comes over to get away from her depressing family. When he explains why he isn’t sitting with his wife, you can see the love he has for her coming out in full. The girl’s response saying that she wishes she could be that lucky is a wonderful validation for him and what he is doing.

Throughout the film we are shown numerous instances between the couple, sometimes good and sometimes bad. While at times this seems a tad long and monotonous, you do need to sit through it to truly grasp the finale. As the nurse says, once you get to the second floor, there will be days of no recognition and others of her asking when they can go back home. During the course of the tale, Christie is always so close to clarity that she hides from it in order to not disorient herself too much. Only when Pinsent finally gives into his feelings and decides that her friend inside may make her happier than himself does he have the first real moment of clarity since she has been away. She always loved him for not leaving her behind when he could have, but instead giving up his job to be with her unconditionally. He never wanted to be away from her, he knew that the day she proposed to him forty years prior. Sometimes you need to be willing to let go in order to realize that no matter what happens you will always be together.

Away From Her 8/10

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[1] Julie Christie (“Fiona”, left) and Gordon Pinsent (“Grant,” right) star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s drama Away From Her DVD.
[2] Gordon Pinsent (“Grant,” left) and Kristen Thompson (“Kristy,” right) star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s drama Away From Her DVD.

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This was definitely a film that I didn’t see any necessity for. 28 Days Later was a fantastic genre film whose main success was not really being the film people expected it to be. What worked there was that we were able to wake up into the world just as our main character did. We experience the disorientation and the horror right along with him, as well as the humanity still within him having missed the original outbreak—unlike the disheartened and beaten comrades he meets along the way. When we enter the quarantined world of England, now seven months past infection, we see a country trying to rebuild, all the infected dead of starvation. It is inevitable that there will be some way in which the virus is released again, or else we would have no movie. The real question is, then, will the film work when we already know what will happen? I wasn’t quite sure because we had exhausted the running for freedom motif with the first one, however, the filmmakers sure do surprise. What 28 Weeks Later may lack in originality and story depth, it more than makes up with suspense, emotion, and non-stop action.

The original film was new and different because it wasn’t about fighting the undead, but about surviving against mankind’s brutality. Its one flaw was that it got away from this a bit towards the end as Cillian Murphy went on a one man killing spree, yet it worked because he was killing men and not infected beings. I expected this film to be that ending for two hours, but instead, it actually stayed consistent with the running and surviving. Whereas the first needed that shift in order to get its storied point across, this one already had it as a backdrop. Our only story here is trying to get two kids, who may hold a cure to the virus, out of England in the midst of total extermination. Therefore, the story needs the chase, and the film delivers to its utmost.

Our opening scene, showing how Robert Carlyle loses his wife and stays alive to eventually reunite with his children sent away on a school trip, puts us right into the action. The jerky camera style remains, showing us the brutality without the graphic details. These people care for each other and there is as much fear on their faces as there is sorrow and helplessness in being unable to help. It is a great entry into a story that soon slows down a bit to catch us up with what has happened in the weeks since our last visit. Repopulation has begun and Carlyle’s children have finally been allowed back in. Their reunion is short-lived on the happiness factor with him explaining how their mother died, and soon the children set off into forbidden territory to find a photo of her before the youngest forgets her face. To everyone’s surprise, the children find their mother at the house, infected but not raging. The military take all back into District 1 and we soon have chaos back in action.

What occurs as a result of the re-infection of society is a mass extermination by the hands of the US army overseeing the reopening of England. They have failed and must cover their tracks so the virus can’t leave the island for mainland. Caught inside, though, are the two children, played effectively by Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton, an army doctor, (a favorite of mine, Rose Byrne), trying to keep them alive because a cure might be inside their blood, and a sniper who could no longer handle killing innocents, (Jeremy Renner doing a great job). It is their race to keep alive that drives the final three quarters of the film and it never gets tiring. With the infected and the military on their tails, attempting to do them in, only Harold Perrineau’s pilot can get them off the island.

Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo does an admirable job in keeping the same tone and aesthetic as his predecessor. I have to believe that Danny Boyle staying on as producer helped keep the two films as consistent as possible. 28 Weeks Later never falls back on jump out of your seat moments and never takes the easy way out. The utter destruction of England at the hands of those trying to salvage it is a sight to behold and the death count of characters that you would think were untouchable, is astounding. You cannot blink once because you really have no idea what may be coming, and the brilliant industrial score keeps tension high throughout. Unfortunately, though, the filmmakers didn’t quite trust their audience as they spell out what happens at the end in a short epilogue, possibly trying to segue into a third part. What could have been an ominous final shot of our young hero gets subverted by the unnecessary showing of what transpires as the survivors leave the island for France.

Rarely do sequels live up to their predecessors, especially those that probably never need to be made. Much like Aliens and Underworld: Evolution live up to their originals, by upping the action and suspense in a story without the depth needed for a part one, 28 Weeks Later holds its own with Days. To sum it all up, if you enjoyed Boyle’s vision of horror you will not be disappointed at how the story continues.

28 Weeks Later 8/10
As comparison: 28 Days Later 8/10

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photography:
[1] The group walks through the abandoned streets of London. Left to right: Scarlet (Rose Byrne), Doyle (Jeremy Renner), Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), and Tammy (Imogen Poots).
[2] Don (Robert Carlyle) is chased by the infected.

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In anticipation for the sequel 28 Weeks Later, I decided to revisit the superb zombie entry 28 Days Later from director Danny Boyle. I remember back to when I first started hearing the buzz about this film and how surprised I was that it came from the guy who brought us Trainspotting and A Life Less Ordinary. However, because this was the guy who made those films, I decided to give it a try, as I am not the hugest fan of the zombie flick or even horror in general. As far as these films go, though, 28 Days Later has got to be my favorite entry to the genre. It could be that there is an actual story involved and an intelligence that is usually lacking in favor of gore and sex, or it could be that this film isn’t really very much a zombie film per se at all. The movie is not about humanity surviving against a race of undead beings, but instead about man fighting man, as they always have. The only thing these infected beings bring to the forefront is that rage inside us all, on the surface and unable to be suppressed behind a falsely neutral façade.

Our zombies here are not dead and living to kill. The victims have been infected by a virus, which makes pure rage takeover their bodies. One does not need to be dead in order to become a zombie; all that is needed is a drop of blood or saliva to enter the bloodstream. Whether through a cut, your mouth, your eye, or any other exposed orifice, one tiny drop is all it takes for you to crave murder and flesh. Thankfully some people have stayed behind in England to survive and try to find others who have luckily escaped exposure. Our heroes are than common people striving to get through the horror that is happening all around them. Cillian Murphy plays our lead protagonist, helping out his new cynical friend Selena (played realistically by Naomie Harris who has been seeing more and more roles since), yet holding on to his feelings of compassion and needing to help others. Selena is very in the open about her own survival and the fact that when push comes to shove, it is her neck she will save. Murphy’s character Jim tries to bring a bit of humanity back to her, tries to subvert the carnage she has seen that has darkened her soul. I believe this is the true crux of the story right here—what is the point of saving humanity from extinction if you can’t see the invaluable worth of the life of those around you?

You cannot survive alone. This moral comes up often in the film and really drives it during the numerous stretches without zombies. True, the action scenes are completely riveting throughout, the quick paced editing and sharp movements of blood and violence are harrowing to watch, and the chase scene in the tunnel while trying to change a flat tire gets the pulse running high. However, it’s the quiet points really allow the story to mean something with the viewer. The relationship between Brendan Gleeson’s father and Megan Burns’ daughter are heartbreaking moments. They are only alive because they have each other, someone to love and survive with within the growing isolation and loneliness surrounding them. Their bond shows what living is about and helps break the harsh façade Harris’ character has built up to cope. Each does their hardest to never give up hope and their emotions run high at times, but also have show lapses of joy and happiness to counteract it all. I love the scene at the supermarket when they go shopping for food. Gleeson’s rant about good wine and his leaving the credit card at the end brought a much-needed smile to my face and totally entrenched my attention into what would soon happen afterwards.

It is the end that brings up the political connotations of what has happened and the necessities of life. Whereas most zombie films end with the military coming in and saving everyone from death, here Boyle subverts that into a more telling truth—cynical yes, but true nonetheless. These army men, led by a fantastic role of duality from Christopher Eccleston, have created a bunker to try and rebuild society with. Their answer to the zombies is to arm themselves and make a life inside their quarantined home. This is a military state, however, and a utilitarian one. In order to recreate society you need procreation to keep the generations going. With only two female characters in the movie, you can imagine where this goes.

Sure the ending becomes a bit too much like your run of the mill actioner, but overall, one cannot ask for more from it. You learn what it is to survive and that you need to have a reason to live and someone to live with. Murphy and Harris deliver the goods during their fight to get out of their island prison. You see, as we later find out, the virus has been contained on the island. England has been quarantined from the rest of the world and sacrificed in order for society to continue on unfettered. The infected are dying of starvation, and salvation seems to have finally come. Now if that doesn’t scream sequel, I don’t know what does. Hopefully Boyle’s producing credit on the follow-up will mean quality and a keeping of tone as well as meaning from this well-done original.

28 Days Later 8/10

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[1] Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later – 2003
[2] Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later – 2003

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I have yet to see Noah Baumbach’s debut film Kicking and Screaming, but I can only hope it shows the sarcastic wit and heart that his later effort The Squid and the Whale does. What is supposed to be a very personal story that mirrors his life growing up with his intellectual writer father and misfit family, really hits all its marks. While a film like Running with Scissors fails because its comedy is at the expense of flawed characters, Baumbach’s film succeeds because its people aren’t trying to be goofy and insane—they are just being who they are, self-absorbed and clinical when it comes to feeling love. They create circumstances that are humorous for outsiders looking in rather than for themselves. Every actor is fantastic and whether that is because of the writing or vice versa, it doesn’t matter because the movie works on all levels.

We have a family consisting of a father who is a famous author on somewhat of a decline and a mother who is finally coming into her own with the same field. Her past indiscretions and a mounting sense of loathing between the two, both personally and professionally, inevitably lead to their separation. In the middle of this are their two children, one in high school (Jesse Eisenberg’s Walt) and one in middle school (Owen Kline as Frank). For more of a staying on equal footing with each other rather than the good of the children, the parents decide on joint custody, using their favorite child as both a pawn and a spy. Each member of the family strives to be special and always at the expense of each other.

The Squid and the Whale is a dramedy that shows the division of the Berkman family and how they cope with it all. Yes, there is an evolution of character for both of the sons as they finally figure out what truly matters in life and how much their parents have been using them against the other. However, this result is inevitable in a film of this kind. What really matters is whether the audience enjoys the road that is taken to get to that point. With the assembled cast, you couldn’t want more. Kline can be a tad out of bounds with some of his roles’ activities, but I fault the writing here, (its only misstep although forgivable), and overall he is wonderful as the younger child acting out for the attention that he needs to feel he matters. Eisenberg really shines as our main conduit into the story, so much like his mother, yet constantly wanting to be his father to the point where he does everything like him. It’s these moments that really deliver the laughs because the father, played impeccably by Jeff Daniels, is so pretentious and pompous that hearing his words come out of his son is priceless. These kids confuse their parent’s activities as canon and find themselves losing everything they enjoy in life as a result.

Laura Linney is perfect as the mother who can’t help herself from speaking candidly and with everyone no matter what age. A woman who cannot see the differences that age creates between people, she talks of her infidelity with her older son, much to his disgust, and allows her youngest to drink alcohol. The real payoff here is that while treating them as adults much too early, she still calls them “chicken” and “pickle” respectively. As far as Daniels goes, his self-loathing and generally angry demeanor make you kind of feel for him, as he does try to be better, but just can’t change. Early success seems to have made him alienate himself from society and his outlook on life is one-of-kind. His flippant remarks about “minor-Dickens” and Kafka being his predecessor are so deadpan that I was laughing to the point of tears. The big laughs, though, are these little remarks from his son, like that of a Kafka story being very Kafkaesque. Hmmm…go figure.

Through all the laughs, however, there is a lot of heart on display. While misplaced, each member of the Berkman family does love each other; they just have a hard time displaying their affections. All their run-ins never seem too contrived and the evolution that goes on is always real. I also must give credit to Baumbach for his subtle yet perfect conclusion. Eisenberg’s run through the streets to the one place he remembers being utterly happy makes you finally realize the hold his parents have on him—both holds of compassion and destruction.

The Squid and the Whale 9/10

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[1] Laura Linney (Joan Berkman), Owen Kline (Frank Berkman), Jeff Daniels (Bernard Berkman), and William Baldwin (Ivan) in Samuel Goldwyn Films’ drama The Squid and the Whale – 2005
[2] Left to right: Jeff Daniels (Bernard Berkman), Halley Feiffer (Sophie) and Jesse Eisenberg (Walt Berkman) in Samuel Goldwyn Films’ drama The Squid and the Whale – 2005

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I have been eagerly awaiting the release of the short film anthology Paris, je t’aime for a long time. Once I heard of the project it really interested me as something that could be amazing, with some enormous talent attached. To my disappointment, I read about the finished shorts and how good they were, but alas no release date stateside for the entire experience. It will eventually come to the US (limited early May, Buffalo? Maybe), however, I could wait no longer and made the purchase for the special edition Region 3 disc. Thankfully I did, because this work of art is gorgeous to behold—visually, lyrically, emotionally, and intelligently beautiful. At the same time it makes me feel like I need to visit the city sometime in the near future, and yet also that I have been there already.

Oftentimes, films of this nature come across as a mixed bag of great work along with slight drivel to fill the runtime. Whether it is the big name support or the project itself, Paris, je t’aime never falls into this realm. Always intriguing and meaningful, even the lesser pieces become integral to the overall outcome. I believe I can truly say that the movie as a whole is better than its parts. Between the wonderful transitions and the fantastic ending sequence, merging characters together in one last view of love in Paris, I think the film would have suffered if any cog were removed. True, there are definitely a few standouts that overshadow the rest, but in the end I have a lasting image, even if just a split second of each short vignette. Love takes many forms, and the talent here rises to the occasion, to surprise and move the audience through shear poetry and elegance of the emotion’s many facets.

Here are some thoughts on each of the eighteen entries, (alphabetical by director):

Quartier des Enfants Rouges: Maggie Gyllenhaal surprises as a drug-addled actress shooting in Paris and meeting with her dealer. The reveal at its conclusion leaves you a bit off-balance as the infatuation between the two changes hands.

Quartier Latin: Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands (recreating a relationship from an old Cassavettes film?) bring some great sharp wit and sarcasm as they meet to discuss their impending divorce. What of their conversation is true and what is just to piss the other off, who knows? It is all enjoyable; leaving a smile on your face.

Quais de Seine: Director Gurinder Chadha gives us a touching portrait of love existing beyond religious and racial differences. It is a sweet little story of shy love between two people obviously feeling a connection, but unable to quite vocalize it.

Tour Eiffel: I will admit to being disappointed that Sylvain Chomet did not get an animated sequence together, however, this live action tale of mimes falling in love at a Paris jail has the same quirky nature as his film Les Triplettes de Belleville.

Tuileries: The Coen Brothers stick to their strange sense of humor and deliver some fine laughs. Steve Buscemi really shines and sells the performance without speaking a word. His facial reactions to the verbal abuse of a disgruntled Frenchman are priceless.

Bastille: Here is a heartbreaking portrait of a couple, about out of love only to have it come back in the face of tragedy. Sergio Castellitto and Miranda Richardson are moving as the couple dealing with trouble and finding how strong the bond of true love is.

Pére-Lachaise: A surprisingly funny little tale from horror master Wes Craven. A little Oscar Wilde humor can add levity to any relationship.

Parc Monceau: Alfonso Cuarón looks to be practicing the amazing long-takes he perfects in Children of Men with this tale of two people in love, walking down the street. As Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier eventually come into close-up view, we also find the true context of their conversation of “forbidden love.”

Porte de Choisy: A very surreal look into the glamour of Paris. This is probably the most odd entry, but so intriguing that you can’t look away from the craziness that ensues. Do not anger your Asian beautician, whatever you do.

Pigalle: An interesting look at a relationship undergoing a role-play that seems to have been stagnant for years. A little variety from Bob Hoskins is necessary to keep the fire kindled.

Quartier de la Madeleine: Even vampires in Paris can find love amongst the feeding hours. I don’t know whether to be happy for Elijah Wood as a result or not. Beautifully shot and muted to allow the vibrancy of the blood red, this short is strange, but then so is love.

14th arrondissement: Leave it to Alexander Payne’s odd sense of humor to really add some depth to this voice-over story told by an American in Paris to find what love is. Her harsh, uneducated French is a very stark contrast to the authentic accents we’ve been listening to until this point—just off-kilter enough to be both funny and totally true to the story.

Montmartre: An interesting introduction into the proceedings. Paris can be a city reviled for everyday activities, like finding a parking spot, yet when love is discovered, it will take its prisoner anywhere to continue the journey.

Loin du 16éme: Catalina Sandino Moreno brilliantly shows what love for a child is through her subtle performance as the tale is bookended by her singing to a young child, yet totally different each time.

Place des Fetes: My favorite tale of the bunch. Seydou Boro and Aïssa Maïga are simply fantastic. The cyclical nature of the story and how fate brings the two characters together twice in order for Boro to finally ask her for coffee are tough to watch. Sometimes love at your final moment is enough to accept one’s leaving of this earth.

Place des Victoires: Another of the best stories, about a mother trying to cope with the death of her young son. Juliette Binoche is devastating as the mother, desperate for one last glimpse of her son, and Willem Dafoe is oddly perfect as the cowboy who allows her the chance.

Faubourg Saint-Denis: Sometimes one needs to think he has lost love to accept that he has not been fully invested with it. Melchior Beslon reminisces, trying to find where they went wrong through a series of sharp, quick cuts from his meeting Natalie Portman to eventually “seeing” how much he needs her.

Le Marais: Leave it to Gus Van Sant to show us a story about the gap in communication and understanding as his films almost always deal with some form of alienation. His photographer from Elephant is an American working in Paris who is the catalyst for Gaspard Ulliel’s artist’s ramblings of love and soul mates. Sometimes one doesn’t need to know what is being said to understand what is going on in the pauses.

Paris je t’aime 8/10

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photography:
[1] Natalie Portman star as Francine in Paris, je t’aime. (segment ‘Faubourg Saint-Denis’)
[2] Gena Rowlands star as Gena (segment ‘Quartier Latin’) in Paris, je t’aime.
[3] Elijah Wood as The Tourist in Paris, je t’aime (segment ‘Quartier de la Madeleine’)
[4] A scene from Paris, je t’aime (segment ‘Place des Fetes’)

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Very few war movies will actually give you an insight into the men and the ideas that are being fought for. Usually we will be shown carnage and battle or at least, amidst the strive, a substory about soldiers rallying together in order to save someone. Some of my favorites include the classic Gettysburg. Here is a film about civil war and brother against brother, ideal vs ideal. We are given amazing fight scenes with rifles that have one shot apiece yet often times listen in to the generals reminiscing about their lives before the war and the future that awaits after victory. Finally a war film, a genre which I could do without due to the fact that few really need to be seen twice by me, has come along to give me reason to feel for the cause and the men fighting for it. Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a truly moving portrait of a nation desperately wanting to be free from the clutches of the tyrant English. This is a small film and as a result relies immensely on its characters to drive the pace along rather than heavily orchestrated battle scenes, however, when we get gunshots, the moments do not disappoint. What could be the smallest scale war epic I’ve seen—it could very well pack the biggest punch.

This film is definitely about the IRA’s fight for a free and autonomous Ireland, but at its heart it is about the Irish and how their lives and customs lead them forward into the battle. In order to get the audience engaged into the fight, we are given a pair of brothers to root for and care dearly about. Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Padraic Delaney) are caught in the middle of the fight and join up to help free themselves. Teddy is a leader of sorts who rallies those around him for a brutal attack on the enemy. Damien, on the other hand, is a doctor ready to leave the country and pursue his dream of helping the sick. Only after he sees firsthand the brutality of the armed occupants running wild inside his country does he realize that he is needed at home more. Damien becomes his brother’s second hand man and slowly watches his own soul disappear, turning into a shell of man with only victory and freedom on his mind. A man once living to help those in need, he soon finds that the cause calls for him to cross the line into territory he can never cross out of again until the victory is complete and final.

What really hit home while watching the movie was the brilliant acting by both Murphy and Delaney. The two are strong individuals who have the confidence to watch out for one another but also to question the validity of what they are doing. As the film evolves, we soon find that the two brothers slowly change, almost into how the other began the story. Our early look into this is when, after a court decision finds a man guilty, Teddy takes the man out of the bailiff’s hands and out into the street. He says that the man is needed to bankroll their weaponry and prolong the fight for freedom. His brother Damien is quick to call him out, though, saying how by not upholding the court they would be no better than the British. It is then ok to have ideals to fight for, but during the course of the war they don’t necessarily need to uphold them to battle for them. This scene is an integral turning point as we are finally shown the strength of mind Damien has built up, the fight his sibling started needed to be fought the right way and the reasons for his fight could not be compromised. On the flip side of the coin, though, Teddy shows that compromise is not something he is adversely opposed to. Small victories seem to be enough for him, but you can’t watch your kinsmen die around you for less than what you set out to accomplish.

The beauty here is in the dialogue heavy sequences between the IRA as they contemplate what to do next. Scenes like those in the jail cell once turned in by one of their own, or discussing whether a treaty with the British should be ratified, or the editorializing from their priest during Sunday mass tell more with words than any battle scene could. At its core, the fight for Irish freedom was one of politics and idealism, the war and death was only an accompaniment. The war of words showed more direct hits than the ambushes planned as a result to send their messages. I also must credit writer Paul Laverty and his fantastic cyclical story. The allusions at the end to moments from the start really weigh on a viewer’s conscience, slowly uncovering the true motives behind these men we have been rooting for throughout. When Delaney’s Teddy finds himself in the exact same position as his brother having to deal with a traitor at the start, it is truly heartbreaking to watch his face as he realizes what he must do. This is truly a war that turns from driving out a common enemy to civil unrest, as the man who fought by your side soon becomes a proxy for the entity you battled to rid yourself of. One can’t expect a soldier that is told victory is the only option to be happy with anything short of it. Sometimes you train those you love a little too well.

Whether it be the fully engrossing story told, the magnificent acting telling it, the ending that knocks the breath out of you yet perfectly encompasses the whole, or the fact that Irish culture just intrigues the hell out of me, (I even had to listen to The Corrs’ album Home as I drove away from the theatre), I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The way these men fought, for a goal as important as freedom, while never losing their faith or conviction, is truly inspiring. Each man, no matter how brutal or unapologetic for the actions they must take, never forgets himself or the God he cherishes. Before any execution, the victim is allowed to write his goodbyes to those he loves and they are given to God as men. After each death, the sign of the cross is given in prayer for the fallen. The Irish are big Catholics and it is this attention to detail that gives the story its heart and emotional resonance. Loach never shows us robots fighting because they are told to—no, these are men fighting for what they believe in and if not for themselves, then their children who will one day live as all humanity should, completely free and accountable to no one.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley 10/10

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photography:
[1] Pádraic Delaney as Teddy, Aidan O’Hare as Steady Boy and Cillian Murphy as Damien in THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY directed by Ken Loach. Photo credit: Joss Barratt. An IFC First Take release.
[2] Liam Cunningham as Dan in THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY directed by Ken Loach. Photo credit: Joss Barratt. An IFC First Take release.

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I often wondered, after seeing “Reno 911” and the other TV/movies done by the Michael Ian Black part of MTV’s “The State,” what had happened to Ken Marino? Sure he was in a couple bit parts with “Reno,” but never a regular with any of the future endeavors by his old comedy troupe. Thanks to HDNet Films, Marino has been brought into the film world with his writing debut Diggers. This film is a drama to its core, yet also one of the funniest movies I have seen in a while. It’s good to see that my old MTV comedians are all seeing some sort of success today.

Diggers is a tale of a small clamming community on Long Island. Like most working class towns, the people all know each other from school days and just growing up in close proximity with parents of similar occupation. A huge conglomerate has come to town, restricted the best clam areas, and taken away much of the towns financial opportunities. Some have defected and sold out to earn money for their families, however, the diehard diggers at the forefront of this tale refuse to give in. They go out there and work for what little they can to scrap by and support their loved ones. Our main conduit into the story is Hunt, played perfectly by the always great Paul Rudd. He is a dreamer, taking photos wherever he goes, but still does his clam digging, meeting up with his father later in the day after sleeping in first. This day changes everything, though, as Hunt’s father dies on the water. Everyone comes together for the funeral and you start to see a change for this group of friends and how they will continue their lives.

Rudd has the right mix of sarcasm and protective mindset for those he loves along with bottled up emotions just waiting to be let out. Diggers is at its core a story of how he finally looks at his life and decides to do what he wants; first though, he needs to accept himself and deal with the tragedy that has followed his life to this point. His mother always wanted to take him to the city when he got older, but she never got the chance. Maybe through the course of events in this film, he can finally get the courage to see what is out there for him.

Rudd is not the only shining spot in the movie. This is a great cast of “those guy” actors. Maura Tierney is effective as Hunt’s sister, coping with the loss of her father and a burgeoning relationship with an odd choice for a suitor; Lauren Ambrose is fun as the city girl on vacation, “silent flirting” with Rudd until he ruins the façade; Ron Eldard shows his comedic worth as he always does in small roles; and Sarah Paulson plays the mother of five with love and compassion, but also an edge to counteract the verbal tirades of her husband. That husband steals every scene, and is played by our writer, Ken Marino. The scene that introduces his character in the bathroom is priceless. You have to give him credit for writing the role for himself so effectively—the hypocritical speech, swearing in front of his kids yet jumping at them when they swear is hilarious, and the verbal wars with his wife, always ending in a smile, are fantastic. Anytime a father can yell at his kids to go outside and play as punishment, and have it work, I’m totally with that role waiting anxiously for what he may do next…like sending them outside in the rain to finish their breakfast.

Overall Diggers is a wonderful little gem to enjoy. The laughs are big, but they surround a story that is really about friendship and family and the love necessary to work through it all. If nothing else, Marino infused his script with plenty of heart and you are with these crazy people from the start, experiencing how one tragedy can open their eyes and change their courses for the future. I can’t wait now to see his follow-up The Ten.

Diggers 8/10

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photography:
[1] Ken Marino, Josh Hamilton, Ron Eldard, and Paul Rudd in DIGGERS, a Magnolia Pictures Release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
[2] Lauren Ambrose and Paul Rudd in DIGGERS, a Magnolia Pictures Release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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