You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2007.

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Since I don’t consider watching movies on edited tv as really watching the movie, I have never seen an installment of the Die Hard series. As a result, the fourth film, Live Free or Die Hard has been my first foray into John McClane’s one man against the world antics. Now this is actually somewhat ironic because in order to get the PG-13 rating that the producers wanted, there has been a lot of overdubbing of lines, and it’s noticeable. So in effect, my first experience with this action series has been an edited theatre viewing—I’m sure I’m not the only one to find that humorous. Despite the cleaning up of language, however, this film really delivers on all promises. We are given non-stop action, explosions galore, a somewhat intelligent screenplay, and terrific one-liners to lighten up any overwrought moments. Like Mission Impossible 3 last year, this film really opened my eyes to how entertainingly good action flicks can be.

Now, what I know about the first three films is that it is always a European baddie terrorizing the US so that McClane can save the day. Here, though, we have an American leading the destruction in order to show how vulnerable our government is. I found this an intriguing way to freshen the concept while commentating on current events and the need to look on all sides for the enemy. Because we don’t get the outsider foe, we in effect don’t get a one-man show to pit against Bruce Willis’ McClane. Sure we have Timothy Olyphant, doing what he does best as in films like Go and Girl Next Door, leading the crew, but as Willis cracks, he has many henchmen at his side doing all the dirty work. As a result, the enemy by committee doesn’t quite succeed in holding terror over the audience. Instead it is the total annihilation of all computer and electronic devices in the country that is the true feared entity, although Maggie Q does do a nice job at showing some martial arts activity. The fight between her and Willis is at once awesome, funny, and brutal. (Is it just me though, or is it weird that all the computer geeks on the good side are nerds and those on the bad side are built for war once their keystrokes are complete?)

Because of the high-tech storyline, Willis can’t do it all by himself. He does try, very admirably, and shows that age is not a factor in him still being one of the best action stars around. His comedic delivery is right on and he just knows how to kill and destroy with brute force. John McClane is definitely a guy that punches first and asks questions later. But I guess if he’s been on the other end of craziness like this for three past films, he has the right to do so. This old-school mentality can’t succeed alone in a film of this era of electronics and because of this we get the Mac himself, Justin Long, to help out. I will admit that although a fan, I really didn’t think any good could come of this casting. Thankfully I was wrong because he really does a good job at playing off Willis and getting it done as far as what is needed hacker-wise.

Besides Willis stealing the movie with his charisma, the film’s action sequences are fantastic. Len Wiseman, of Underworld fame, has really upped the ante and infused this movie with explosions left and right. Between a helicopter being killed by a car, an on-ramp bridge being destroyed by an F-18 at close range, and an elevator shaft sequence perfectly orchestrated, we also get Cyril Raffaelli doing acrobatic fighting and contorting in order to fall from huge heights and yet able to get right back up. The bells and whistles rarely interest me enough to keep from being bored, but I must say this one fired on all cylinders to great effect. Even Kevin Smith’s small cameo brought a smile to my face. Again like MI3’s Simon Pegg role, Smith delivers a gem of a comic relief part at just the right time to lead into our final car chase/utter destruction sequence. If this is the fourth installment and it is this enjoyable, I can’t wait to finally visit the originals, because if they are better, I’m in for a fun time.

Live Free or Die Hard 7/10

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photography:
[1] Bruce Willis is reluctant everyman hero John McClane. Photo credit: Frank Masi
[2] Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) makes a big mistake when he kidnaps John McClane’s daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Photo credit: Frank Masi

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It seems that the best Stephen King films are culled from his short stories (Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me among them). However, those also tend to be the dramatic films with little supernatural scares. So, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the new film 1408. It is a short story, so it would hopefully be concise and to the point, but it was also a thriller/horror which never quite make the jump from book to screen successfully. What works in words at creating imagery in your head doesn’t pack the same punch when someone else shows you what it looks like to them. The film has been garnering good buzz though, and I’m a John Cusack apologist; the man can still be loved even in the drivel he associates with lately. So, the question becomes, was the film a successful thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout? My answer here is actually yes, but with numerous reservations. There was a lot to like with this movie, but unfortunately there was just as much to shake your head at.

The real winner in all of this is Cusack. He gives a fantastic performance while being the center of attention throughout the entire duration. He must get through many emotions as we slowly find out the motives that led him to being a cynical occult writer, estranged from his wife. His story is a tragic one and Cusack delivers on the repressed anger and sadness he has tried to keep buried inside. Once he enters room 1408, however, all those feelings are used against him and brought to the surface, creating the most horrific hour of his life. Horrific in the psychological sense; he deals with his own demons in the film, not ghoulies and monsters. The way in which director Mikael Håfström deals with these manifestations of Cusack’s soul is very effective.

As far as the progression of what was happening to him in that hotel room, I couldn’t have been more pleased. The set pieces were creative and the climate changes that transformed the room with every increase in the scale of terror were effective. Sure the jump scares were tried and true, (a crazed person with a knife that popped up every once in a while, the high tension of walking a building’s ledge— Cat’s Eye anyone?—and the dead man trapped in the ventilation system), but they were also paced right and less boring than just common. All the effects were good, the tv-like holograms of the dead walking around the room was handled well if also the norm in all horror films these days, and the room’s destruction seemed real rather than computer-generated. I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually destroyed the set rather than dressed it up to look that way.

Where the film really fails is in the supporting characters and the misstep that occurs towards the end. For a movie that works when it is just Cusack in a hotel room, we are given too many outsiders and too many scenes outside of the room. Not to ruin anything, but there is a moment when our lead exits the hotel towards the conclusion of the film. This ends up derailing any suspense that had been building for me. Not only does it kill the claustrophobia that was settling in, but it kills the pacing and makes you think they are going in a specific direction which I just keep saying to myself, “I really hope they don’t do what I think,” instead of watching to see how it plays out. The use of twists these days is so common that when utilized correctly or not, the audience finds themselves thinking about the structure of the trick rather than letting it happen to them.

As far as the supporting roles, I’m not saying they were poorly acted, they were poorly written and fleshed out. Besides Mary McCormack as Cusack’s estranged wife, all the roles were made to seem more important than they are. The real failure, to me, is the Gerald Olin role, played by Sam Jackson. What begins as a setup character, someone to give us the hotel’s history and create mood becomes something else completely by the end. If Jackson never came back onscreen after Cusack goes into the room, I would have been happy. He soon becomes our lead’s default person to blame for the crazy events happening, and that is ok. What isn’t is that as the film goes on, we start to see Jackson some more, almost like he is really orchestrating it all. The truth is though, that it makes no sense because all that is happening is inside Cusack’s head. It is the final scene with Jackson that put me over the top on hating his role. The moment takes place outside of the room and therefore is real, but it is so cryptic and unnecessary that it just makes you subvert all you were thinking for absolutely no payoff whatsoever.

So, overall, the mood and atmosphere were effective, Cusack was amazing throughout, and the way the psychological horrors play out, right to the end scene with his tape recorder, is spot-on. Unfortunately, the actual scares were generic and the writing of the supporting roles weak. While it is definitely not a total loss, I wouldn’t recommend seeing it in the theatres. A rental or tv-sitting is all that’s needed here.

1408 5/10

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photography:
[1] John Cusack (Mike Enslin) and Samuel L. Jackson (Mr. Olin) star in Mikael Håfström’s 1408. Photo by: David Appleby/The Weinstein Company, 2007.
[2] Jasmine Jessica Anthony (Gracie) and John Cusack (Mike Enslin) star in Mikael Håfström’s 1408. Photo by: Benoît Delhomme/Dimension Films, 2007.

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The story of Daniel Pearl is a tragic one. I remember following it all on the news until the fateful day of his horrific beheading. Just imagining what his family and friends could have been thinking during the whole ordeal is tough to fathom, but when his wife is there with him in Pakistan, pregnant with his first child, your heart must go out to them. Pearl’s widow, Mariane, used her journalistic skills to write a novel on what transpired from his kidnapping to eventual murder. Her words are, I’m sure, haunting and filled with an unbearable amount of love, both lost and strengthened. To have the courage to allow that story be told to the world is amazing. Director Michael Winterbottom is definitely the man to be trusted with such material and he does not let us down here with A Mighty Heart.

Being a story of nonfiction that so many people know, it takes a bit of craft and ingenuity to make it fresh and interesting to the audience. Winterbottom, as a result, shoots the film handheld and up-close with numerous cut-ins of actual news footage for added realism. The editing of documentary stock with the actors portraying our leads, both in the present and in flashbacks to the past, is expertly handled. There are no missteps visually at all as Winterbottom knows how to evoke emotion with economy. When the men on the search for Pearl finally confront the atrocity, it is in their reactions to the video that makes us understand the brutality. We don’t need to be shown the carnage because the faces of these men say it all.

Give credit to Angelina Jolie for coming into this project with dedication and professionalism. Her real life persona is nonexistent as she is fully taken over by Mariane Pearl. Her accent is impeccable, especially watching scenes where emotions take over and yet the accent still never falters. She embodied the strength that allowed Pearl to deal with the days and weeks desperately seeking answers. It all culminates in a heart-wrenching moment of grief and release of all the feelings she refused to let take over until absolutely necessary. I was completely impressed by her performance.

The other actors are fantastic as well. Dan Futterman plays Danny Pearl with integrity and love; he was a fearless man who believed in his job and the search for truth. Irfan Khan follows up his brilliant turn in The Namesake with another solid role as the police captain, and Denis O’Hare, Will Patton, and Archie Panjabi are wonderful as others trying their hardest to get through it all. This is not a vanity project for Jolie as there is a good portion in the middle of the film where she disappears. The movie’s supporting cast does an admirable job in never letting it falter without the one character in the middle of it all.

Much like United 93, A Mighty Heart is a story that is tough to experience, but also one needing to be seen. There are few things that I can say went wrong with the film, and although I may never have the necessity to view it again, I’m glad I took the time to sit down with this tale of hope, compassion, and life in the midst of devastating tragedy.

A Mighty Heart 8/10

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photography:
[1] Angelina Jolie as “Mariane Pearl” stars in Michael Winterbottom’s “A Mighty Heart”. Copyright: © 2007 by PARAMOUNT VANTAGE, a Division of PARAMOUNT PICTURES. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Peter Mountain
[2] Irrfan Khan as “Captain” stars in Michael Winterbottom’s “A Mighty Heart”. Copyright: © 2007 by PARAMOUNT VANTAGE, a Division of PARAMOUNT PICTURES. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Peter Mountain

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I’ve said it many times; I am not a fan of biopics. They always overextend themselves to the point of unbelievability because of the same actors playing everyone from 20-80 years old. The ones that work are those that take a slice of life rather than the entirety of it, like The Queen and Capote. Let’s say I was very surprised to find out how much I enjoyed Frida. From her college years until her death, this film never feels like we are learning about her life—it never seems like a history lesson. Instead we are treated with a story of love and love lost, a tale that intrigues on a literary level rather than an, “oh that’s what her life was like” one. Much of this success, I’m sure, is due to the stunning visual imagery utilized by director Julie Taymor. She has taken this story and infused it with her own imagination and interpretations of Frida Kahlo’s work and has created a piece of art herself. At the end you don’t think how now you know Frida’s life; what you say is that you know her work and the emotional turmoil needed to create it.

Kahlo was a woman in love while also scorned by it, along with fate, throughout her life. She faced love’s hurt as well as the physical pain of accidents and a crippled body. The real trouble though, was that through it all, she was always full of joy and happiness and a willingness to give it to those around her. Just by looking at her artwork, I always assumed Kahlo was a woman in pain, showing her suffering on the canvas. However, if this film is true, she was full of life and optimism. No matter what was thrown her way, she never let it get to her. If anything, this helps me understand her paintings even more now. Her body failed her and she allowed her canvases to become vessels for her soul.

This film would be nothing without the performances of Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina. Molina has always been a favorite of mine, but after this role I am even more impressed. The way he channels the aggression mixed with compassion is impressive. His exterior can be menacing and his ideals can bring up an unmatched anger, but at the end of the day Diego Rivera is a man led along by love. If he could never stop the infidelity, he still could unequivocally love his wife. Frida was the one woman that kept him going. The many chapters in their relationship had pain involved, but their connection to each other always won out. As for Hayek, I have never seen anything special come from her. After this, though, I can say she truly deserved the Oscar nomination. Fully encompassing the artist, any preconceptions of her as an actress are thrown out the window. She is Frida Kahlo for the duration and you never question her authenticity or emotion. Working through the pain of life, Hayek displays how a strong will can help battle God’s numerous follies set forth for you.

Both leads have career performances here, but the rest of the cast isn’t too bad either. Besides Taymor’s artistic prowess, gaining her start after directing the Broadway production of “The Lion King”, she seems to have the star power draw. Ashley Judd, Edward Norton, Antonio Banderas, and Geoffrey Rush are just a few of the big name cameos seen throughout. None of them have too big of a role and all of them complement the stars perfectly. The best supporting player, however, is the artistry on display. Sure there are some gorgeous transitions between some scenes, and wonderful montages of collaged still work and filmed motion, (the arrival to NYC), but the real masterpiece lies in the living paintings. The use of this trick, showing a Kahlo work whose subjects come to life, is phenomenal to behold. Not only visually stunning, this gimmick helps show the parallel of her canvas to her true self. The body holding her ideals and thoughts on earth was not it. Kahlo put pieces of her inner being on display each time she worked. The way this little maneuver worked here has only made me feel more excited for Taymor’s next film Across the Universe, and has whet my appetite to seek out Titus to see what this visionary has done and think of what she could do in the future.

Frida 8/10

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photography:
[1] Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina in Miramax’s Frida – 2002
[2] Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Ashley Judd and Alfred Molina in Miramax’s Frida – 2002

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The Assassination of Richard Nixon has been a film that I have been trying to catch up to after the brilliant turns by Sean Penn in Mystic River and 21 Grams. This film was the one that completed the trifecta of critically acclaimed performances. While from what I remember of the trailer and the buzz made me think he was a guy who knew what he was doing and figuring out a way to commit the act of the title, this is not the case at all. Penn plays Sam Bicke as a man of high hopes and optimism if not a touch of too much naïveté. He has a smile on his face through all the hardships of his failed marriage, sub par professional life, irreconcilable differences with his brother, and a best friend who tries to help but knows that Sam will never change. Bicke is a man on the road for a terrible downward spin and the film shows us how a kind man can turn into a monster once the pressure becomes too much.

The film itself is very well put together. Director Niels Mueller has a nice flare for the visual and a good handling of pacing and exposition. He never shows us too much of Bicke’s rough life to make us think, “ok, we know he has it bad, let’s move on,” or too little so that we can’t comprehend the change that is made inside his head. We open onto his completion of the tapes being made to tell why he is doing what he is doing and the rigid stance he has at showing how one man cannot be pushed around, but instead can destroy the world. This is a nice technique to show us what the crazed man is before showing us the evolution to that point. After watching the opening scene, you will be totally caught off guard by meeting the real Sam Bicke, trying to pick up the pieces of his broken life.

Sean Penn literally embodies this man completely without a shred of himself coming through. Bicke is a shy and simple man with an infectious smile and a propensity to allow others to push him around while thinking that small parts of his life are too important to be taken lightly, (an example being his moustache as a simple of his love to the wife that no longer wants him). The film is very much dialogue driven and Penn is onscreen for every single frame. This is his movie and he takes the pressure and responsibility without looking back. No matter how good this performance is though, the supporting cast also does a stellar job. Naomi Watts is almost unrecognizable with dark hair and an attitude of both resentment and sorrow towards her ex-husband, Don Cheadle is great as always as the best friend who is trying to give Bicke the big picture on how one has to let things go in order to survive in this world, and Michael Wincott steals his brief scene as the brother who’s love has finally run out, being replaced by pity and realism.

All those involved in this picture should be credited for letting the story be told through words and emotions. Sure the final scene aboard the hijacked plane, which is the crux of the tale, is both riveting and heartbreaking; the rest of the movie is allowed to build up slowly and intelligently to that point. Penn shows once again why he is among Hollywood’s best in talent and choosing the right films to both showcase the skill and entertain the audience.

The Assassination of Richard Nixon 8/10

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The original Hostel was a film that allowed the viewers to sympathize with the victims of an underground Eastern European killing club. With Eli Roth’s newest entry into the “torture porn” genre, he has subverted his protagonists. Hostel: Part II is very much a film about the killers, the men who have come to Slovakia in order to gain the power and knowledge of having killed another human being. I am a huge fan of the first film and thought that it was both stylish and smart while also bringing suspense and danger to the table. The pacing was great, as we learned who the characters were and created a bond to them once the movie turned dark halfway in. Roth knows that he has lost his element of surprise and as a result he can’t hide all his players behind the facades of friendly locals like he did. While this is very freeing in the fact that as viewers we now get to see more behind the scenes dealings—the people pretending to be on the up and up now get to be shown doing their jobs in acquiring their prey—it is also detrimental to the overall package. In order to be kept interested, we need to be given more blood and carnage, (and we do—talk about a literal blood bath), because the exposition is already there.

Unfortunately Roth still feels a need to show us the victims as humans. This is a shame because while we get to see them, we find they aren’t exactly model citizens. Heather Matarazzo is actually very annoying and you find you can’t wait until she is killed and Bijou Phillips is your run of the mill promiscuous party girl who you know will have to get hers in the end. Only Lauren German is allowed to have a shred of decency so that the audience can somewhat relate to her plight. However, like I said before, this is a film about the killers. All the scenes showing us these three American girls are used solely to benefit us by leading into the men who have paid to kill them. So, while the beginning does drag a bit in parts showing things we already know, I guess it works because by showing us how utterly superficial and unintelligent these girls are, we become more interested in the torturers’ motives. With that said, though, nothing can redeem the first twenty or so minutes of Jay Hernandez and Jordan Ladd. The scenes are used for one reason and one reason only, to connect us to the first film, (totally unnecessary because there are a ton of subtle easter eggs hidden throughout, like the photo in the mansion of our new Euro-hottie with the two from the previous installment). Not only is this bridge not needed, just the fact that they rehash the first movie makes me feel like a kindergartner, being fed everything by a spoon.

I will say, though, that I really walked out of the film with a smile on my face. The performances by our true focal points, Roger Bart and Richard Burgi’s torturers, are fantastic. Burgi is manic and hilarious at the same time while he tries to contain his excitement for the blood and Bart is conflicted and truthfully unsure of why he had agreed to come along. It is this indecisiveness that holds the film’s suspense together because you never know what his character will do in the end. As a companion piece, Roth has done a bang up job showing the other side of the coin and how broken and scared the murderers are as well. The final actions of these two men come as a surprise and a very successful one at that.

I credit Roth for not just redoing his first film with girls, no matter how much I thought he was at the start. Once the film is fleshed out and looked upon closely, you will see how he has changed the players and their motives. While the ending is nice, I don’t think it is as crazy as the hype has been saying. The final actions at the hunting club were fresh for this type of movie, but also obvious in the context of the story. I do have to say the final scene is a true joy, though. It is good to see Roth’s warped sense of humor from the conclusion of his debut Cabin Fever come through with the “gum kids” and a little game of soccer here.

Hostel: Part II 6/10
As comparison: Hostel 8/10

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photography:
[1] Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) in Eli Roth’s HOSTEL PART II. Photo credit: Rico Torres / Lionsgate
[2] Roger Bart as Stuart and Richard Burgi as Todd in Eli Roth horror movie ‘Hostel: Part II.’

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Many people I have heard from plain despised Ocean’s 12 when they saw it. They complained of its weak plot and unreal goofiness. However, I found it to be very entertaining despite all of that. What the first film had as far as intelligence and wit, the second had in cool and fun. Sure the story was far-fetched and convoluted, but I’d pay to see these guys having fun onscreen anytime. I don’t go to a film like this to be intellectually stimulated, I go to be entertained. What all this really boils down to is that I was looking forward to the third installment, appropriately named Ocean’s 13, to see where these characters would go. Steven Soderbergh does not disappoint and, in fact, creates a nice mix of the first two movies. We are given a smartly orchestrated heist along with the great one-liners and facial expressions that made the second such a good time. I may say it is the best of the three, but if not it is at least as good as the first.

Once again revenge is paramount. Our crew’s backer, wonderfully played by Elliot Gould per usual, has been double-crossed and bedridden by a heart attack as a result of another casino owner played by Al Pacino. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and their cohorts offer Pacino a peace offering, but once that is thrown in their faces, the movie starts hitting its stride. Stylistically you can’t argue about the structure used to show the viewers how the plan will work. While trying to speak about a problem that needs fixing to a friend, Clooney and Pitt go through how everything will go down while we are visually shown the progress in each. This maneuver is at first a tad distracting, but once you get used to it you find how effective it was in getting a whole lot of info out in a short amount of time. The rest of the film then just leaves the boys to make sure the job gets done. There are pitfalls and unforeseen alliances that come into play, and of course comedy follows them all.

As with the first two films, especially the second, we have a lot of characters that just cannot get ample screen time to really be effective. It is not as noticeable here, though, because they are oftentimes onscreen separately doing what they have to do rather than all together with only two of the group talking. Everyone gets a decent sized monologue or gimmick to show their stuff, and I’m sure all were satisfied as a result. You know these guys have to be having a ton of fun because with the sheer amount of talent involved, they can’t be making too much money. Now with the addition of Pacino, who plays himself again like most films he has done in the past couple decades; Ellen Barkin, a tad over the top, but then she was drugged for most of it; David Paymer, in a funny bit part/running joke; and Eddie Izzard, somewhat underused here; the multitude of characters can be a bit overwhelming.

Overall it all worked for me. The plot twists are never too out there that you shake your head, many times you actually smile thinking that that was how it would be anyways. The filmmakers don’t go out to confuse you, they just tell it how it has to happen and let the pieces fall into place. All the acting ends up being real good, maybe due in part to everyone having shortened time to not risk screwing up. My favorite is still the sarcastic banter and education void between Casey Affleck and Scott Caan. These two really have a great rapport with each other and every line out of their mouths is hilarious. Just watching them running through the halls of the casino when they have multiple tasks to accomplish made me laugh out loud.

Ocean’s 13 7/10
As comparison: Ocean’s 11 7/10; Ocean’s 12 6/10

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photography:
[1] (L-R) MATT DAMON stars as Linus Caldwell, GEORGE CLOONEY stars as Danny Ocean and BRAD PITT stars as Rusty Ryan in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action adventure “Ocean’s Thirteen,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon
[2] Ellen Barkin, Al Pacino and Noureen DeWulf in Steven Soderbergh drama thriller’s Ocean’s Thirteen. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon

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Guilt and how it affects the lives of those it surrounds seems to be a big factor in the writings of Raymond Carver. A few of his short stories were interweaved together a while back by Robert Altman in his masterpiece Short Cuts. One of those stories caught the attention of Australian filmmaker Ray Lawrence who’s very Aussie Lantana was an enjoyable film that came out six years ago. With this new entry, Jindabyne, Lawrence has taken this tale, about a group of fisherman that stumble across a dead body and decide to finish their vacation before reporting her corpse to the authorities, and made it wholly Australian, complete with subplots involving the fragility of life, the malleable hold of friendship and family, and the politics between the white population and the indigenous one of country. All in all, I would put this film on par with his previous effort. It is a sight to behold, and the way he expanded on the story to make it his own is admirable. When all is said and done, however, the artistry and acting don’t completely overcome the plodding pace and choppy progression separated by numerous fade-outs after scenes of just a couple minutes length.

The act of leaving this girl in the river that they found her in for three days while they continued fishing becomes a situation that not only effects their own lives, but the lives of the entire community. This selfish act could have been prevented very easily. What ends up happening is that upon their return home, they are looked upon as cowards and uncompassionate monsters. The family of the deceased becomes incensed about the body’s desecration, believing that her being indigenous was the reason they felt they could wait. While this event is the crux of the film, what really matters is how this misstep in judgment effects the lives of those involved, and helps bring up buried emotions and feelings that had long been dormant within. Everyone’s faults are soon thrown in each other’s faces, excuses are made up, and relationships are torn apart. One act by a person does have the possibility of changing how others look at him; most times it happens for the worst.

All the acting is top-notch. Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne are fantastic as usual, showing a strained marriage and flawed character traits on their sleeves while also portraying the deep-seeded love they have for one another. Some questions about why they did things in their pasts are often mentioned, and sometimes seem to be finally solved, but never are. This is one of the detriments to the movie as a whole; we are treated to so many tales that help us see who these people are, but we never get the whole story. As a result, the film seems incomplete in many regards. The cast is rounded off with many actors that are recognizable if their names are unknown. Everyone plays their part to perfection, and the emotions run high and true throughout.

Jindabyne’s real point of success is the beautiful cinematography. It is true that many of these gorgeous exposition shots slow the story down to a crawl, but either way they are a wonder to behold. The mountain and river moments are a glorious sight as well as moments like Linney swimming from underwater. With angled framing and carefully orchestrated composition, you can’t fault this movie on its visuals. The entire funeral scene is shot so well that I almost forgot completely what I found wrong with all that came before it. The smoke, the singing, and the tension of asking for forgiveness really end the story on a powerful note. Unfortunately all is brought back to reality with the final short shot of the killer, who appears throughout the course of the film. This scene reminds you about how no matter how many things were great, the film just didn’t have the consistency of tone needed to make the sum as great as some of its parts.

Jindabyne 6/10

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photography:
[1] Laura Linney as Claire Kane. Photo by Matt Nettheim © April Films (JINDABYNE) P/L 2006, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics. All Right Reserved.
[2] Gabriel Byrne as Stewart Kane, Stelios Yiakmis as Rocco, John Howard as Carl and Simon Stone as Billy. Photo by Anthony Browell © April Films (JINDABYNE) P/L 2006, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics. All Right Reserved.

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Wow.

That’s it, one word review…Wow.

This is the movie of the year for me right now, and quite possibly will stay that way until next January. With what has to be the simplest story I’ve seen onscreen in a long time, it gets everything right. Once is a perfect little gem, both concise and powerful in a small but infinitely memorable package. Literally, a guy and a girl meet on a street corner in Dublin while he plays guitar for loose change. This chance encounter sets into motion a series of events that will bring kindred souls together with the strongest bond of love and friendship as they both try to reconcile with themselves and give their lost loves a second chance. You can’t portray the unfathomable link love holds people together with better than this. These two are not lovers in the traditional sense, but neither will ever be able to forget the friendship they forged and how they helped pull each other out of their respective emotional ruts. They are lovers of the mind and soul.

I’ll admit that I am a huge sucker for brilliant music in film. Whether it be a musical like Moulin Rouge!, or a story that is enhanced by its soundtrack like The Royal Tenenbaums, or a visually stunning piece set to a haunting score as in The Fountain, I cannot get enough. The power that an assault on the eyes and ears simultaneously has can’t be beat. This entire film is shot with handheld camera, many times subversively, (for instance when our lead Guy and Girl go to a diner for lunch, the camera stays outside looking in, but you can tell the sound is coming from within by tape recorder as the background noise is very noticeable). The graininess and intimate quality shown by this style of filmmaking only makes you feel the realism that is pouring from each frame. These two actors are singers themselves and accomplished musicians. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are truly and utterly remarkable. Their interactions are never forced or fabricated, this film feels like a behind the scenes documentary on the creation of an album.

Once is definitely a musical above anything else. Half of this film takes place with songs either being sung in real time or being played over a montage sequence. Rather than use the words of the music to tell the story, writer/director John Carney uses them to set-up the emotional core and existence for our two leads. The words they sing are meaningful to their characters and how they react after uttering the lyrics can be both joyous and heartbreaking. He must be credited with having the guts to stage many musical moments in single takes, letting the performances and the music take over the scene. To go from the sheer happiness of laying down a track in the studio, to the sorrow-filled moment of Irglová unable to finish singing the song she wrote for her old love, back to the comradery of finishing their demo is a rollercoaster of emotions that sum up the whole film completely. There is not a misstep in sight. From the fateful meeting at our start to the bittersweet perfection that is the final scene, you don’t get many opportunities to see original work like this in cinema anymore.

Once 10/10

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[1] Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard in ONCE. TM and ©2007 Summit Entertainment LP and Samson Films Limited. All Rights Reserved.

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It’s almost comforting to know that when trailers for action thrillers are in paint by numbers structure their film counterparts are as well. The Harrison Ford actioner Firewall seemed like a redundant, rehashed plot regurgitated for the umpteenth time and that is exactly what it ended up being, minus any real action. Sure the plot tried to be high-tech, utilizing the firewall protection systems that battle against hackers and computer viruses, taking pace away from the story to show us that Ford really knows his stuff—isn’t him being vp of security enough for us to believe he is good at his job? We aren’t watching this film to see technospeak and impressive feats of keystrokes, no we want to see Ford kick butt and save his family. Unfortunately, any real semblance of taking things into his hands only happens within the final twenty or so minutes. Throughout the rest of the runtime we just see battles of intellect and words instilling fear and danger in what the kidnappers are capable of doing.

Like always, we have the bankrobber staking out a bank’s corporate manager, taking his family hostage, and making him do their dirty work in order to save his loved ones. We have all seen this story before, we know they won’t let them live after the deed is done, they are collateral damage and no longer of use. So, we know Ford will have to fight with all he’s got to get through it all, it is just a shame that it takes so long for this realization to finally occur. Also, we have seen him do this film so many times before, it just isn’t believable to see his fear and shakiness from killing someone; come on, this is Harrison Ford, he eats bad guys for breakfast. Truthfully, between his phoning in the performance, Virginia Madsen being the token wife in distress, and a who’s who cast in five-minute roles, what is the point? Does having Alan Arkin, Robert Patrick, and Robert Forster on the bill really help this film? Their insignificant, blip roles surely don’t do anything except serve as stopgaps to progress a very intricately laid out plot, which will fall apart if one thing doesn’t happen along the way. We are made to sit through some scenes and quick quips of dialogue because if they weren’t there we’d scream plothole. It’s as though the writer wrote the story, saw the holes, and added lines back in to cover his progression— pure genius.

The film is not a total failure, though. Some stuff is marginally inventive, for instance the elaborate plan set into place for the robbers to go away free and clear rather than just killing everyone themselves. Also, our villain seems well written in most part due to the performance of Paul Bettany. It is nice to see an actor of his caliber not just take the paycheck, but instead have fun with the role and actually do a good job. When he is watching “The Flintstones” and eating cookies with Ford’s son, his delivery is classic. He can play the nice guy turning malicious on a dime well, and if you must see this film, he is the reason to do so.

Firewall 4/10

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[1] Virginia Madsen as Beth Stanfield, Jimmy Bennett as Andy Stanfield and Harrison Ford stars as Jack Stanfield in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action thriller, ‘Firewall.’ The film also stars Paul Bettany.

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