You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2007.

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That quote above could not have been more correct, however, not in the way Pa Cox intended. I was thinking more along the lines of wishing young Dewey had cut me in half, because had I been unable to watch the rest of the hour and a half to come, it would have been a much better experience. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is easily the worst movie I have seen all year long. There have been some bad films, but this was the first that made me look at my watch numerous times, praying that the horror would be over soon. No disrespect to John C. Reilly—I think he is pretty good as the titular character—the main faults, instead, lie in the writing, and for that I can only blame Judd Apatow. You may say, but Jake Kasdan co-wrote it too, and that is all well and good. The reason I blame Apatow is because his last three ventures (40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked-Up, and Superbad) have been good if not great. He should have known better with this and made it differently. I think I even liked this less than Anchorman, and anyone who knows me will understand how bad that is.

This thing is poorly written throughout. From the need to use full names when addressing any character so the joke can be understood, to the blatantly obvious descriptions coming out leaving nothing to the imagination or intelligence a person with a sense of humor has, Walk Hard talks down to the audience at every turn and bores the hell out of them. Some gimmicks are funny the first time, but than by the fourth it is way too old, (sorry Tim Meadows), and how many different ways must we see Dewey and Darlene partake in masturbatory motions while courting each other? Even the playing with time and the fact that he is 15 with a hit single, wife, and five children stifles any laughter later on because the writers seem to just want to beat a dead horse over and over and over again. It is really a shame, because this thing had potential.

Reilly is fantastic as the hapless singer/songwriter pushed into the life of a rockstar by shear dumb luck. All the other cast members are funny as well; it just takes so much out of you watching the same situation relive itself that when the good parts come you just feel too tired to laugh. I actually contemplated walking out of the theatre, but could not bring myself to do so because I really wanted to see the Beatles scene. When it finally came, I could only manage a chuckle and by that time I figured I might as well see if the ending could bring anything to the table. Sadly it did not. Besides a montage of what appear to be gag-reel footage playing during Cox’s final song, there is nothing but gratitude that the train wreck is over.

There is a lot of talent involved and I kind of feel sorry for them. Maybe they all had a lot more to do and I should be blaming Kasdan for poor directing, using bits that aren’t funny and throwing the rest out for deleted scenes on the DVD. What happened to Jack White’s “cut a man in two” line from the trailer—that was funny. Instead his Elvis is pretty stupid and only brings out a reaction from me when he pulls out a pocketknife in the aforementioned end scene gags. The goofy music wears out its welcome fast too unfortunately, because each scene is orchestrated well, the jokes just fall flat. Even when it seemed there’d be a winner with “Duet” song’s use of innuendo before each verse is completed, the sequence goes on too long. I yawned more than laughed throughout the duration.

Big applause to Jenna Fischer for being absolutely stunning and for holding her own opposite Reilly, in his element at all times. Raymond J. Barry is good as the father without love in his heart and it was fun to see SNL’s Chris Parnell and UCB’s Matt Besser adding a little flavor. The highlight, though, and only genuinely funny part for me—like the gang war in Anchorman—was The Beatles. Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Jason Schwartzman, and yes, even Jimmy Fallon, are fantastic. I guess that scene alone, before it became a cartoon, was worth the dollar I paid to watch it.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story 2/10

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(short and sweet and to the point)

10.) Feist: The Reminder
9.) Bloc Party: A Weekend in the City
8.) Porcupine Tree: Fear of a Blank Planet
7.) The Receiving End of Sirens: The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi
6.) Interpol: Our Love to Admire
5.) Athlete: Beyond the Neighborhood
4.) Kent: Tillbaka till samtiden
3.) Band of Horses: Cease to Begin
2.) Editors: An End Has a Start
1.) The Shins: Wincing the Night Away

Honorable Mention:
Explosions in the Sky: All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
Stars: In Our Bedroom After the War
The Academy Is…: Santi
Blackfield: Blackfield II
Turin Brakes: Dark on Fire
Radiohead: In Rainbows

2006 albums I first heard in 2007 that would have made it:
Silversun Pickups: Carnavas
Incubus: Light Grenades
The Pipettes: We Are the Pipettes
The Frames: The Cost
The Kooks: Inside In/Inside Out

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Ladies and gentlemen, a hand for director Joe Wright; he has crafted a masterpiece. With resemblances to films like Cold Mountain and A Very Long Engagement, Atonement is just so much more. Visually stunning, intellectually stimulating, and forever heartbreaking, Wright has made a movie like no other this year. Sure I have seen “perfect” films this year, for lack of a better word, but even Gone Baby Gone winds up far down the list when compared to all 10/10 films I’ve seen and given that mark to. This is the first film all year that I can truly say is something I will buy and share with everyone I know. I can only imagine how much greater Ian McEwan’s novel upon which this is based can be. From the start right on until the end, we are shown a glimpse into the lives of the Tallis family and those surrounding them. It is a time of social status and proper manners, an era led along by its rules and prejudices. For a young girl—too naïve and innocent to fully grasp what it is she sees—that world is a very dangerous playground.

The backbone of the tale lies in the fact that everyone sees events and history through their own eyes. What is the truth anyway? Unless you are privy to every second of an occurrence, from its cause to its effect, you can never really comprehend if that which you saw was real, and even then it is a very fine line to walk. Atonement is at all times playing with this notion, showing us sequences from the eyes of the viewer and than again through those of the participants. Whereas the two lovers are afraid to let slip their social faux-pas of a relationship outside of classes, the accuser is so set in the warped truth she believes that to think about the situation objectively is not at the front of her mind. Now I knew from the trailers what was to occur, that a sexual encounter would lead the young girl to incriminate an innocent man, but I never believed that instance could be as brutal as it was. The groundwork laid down for young Briony Tallis to even consider her girlish crush Robbie could ever do such an atrocity was what I thought would tear these people apart. Boy was I wrong.

It is amazing how one moment in time can so utterly devastate the lives of all involved. The consequences of which can never be imagined until years later after they have already occurred. Between Robbie having to go to jail and than join the army in WWII for a crime he did not commit, (it is tough to watch his return to the house with the two young twins that he had been out trying to find, totally oblivious to the crime that transpired while he was gone), and his love Cecilia Tallis losing the one thing she didn’t know she even had until a couple hours before, it is tough to believe the orchestrator of all that sorrow would have it even worse. Cecilia’s sister Briony did what she thought was right, led into a lie by the victim herself, and she would have to live with that regret and guilt for the rest of her life, without any means to vindicate herself or make amends. I don’t even know if what she did could honestly ever be forgiven; her sheltered aristocratic upbringing and wild storytelling imagination can be held accountable. The times are at fault too for holding the weak words of a 13-year-old as fact against an inferior servant boy, no matter how much a part of the family he had become or how educated he was.

The acting is phenomenal across the board. From the supporting players out, everyone holds their end of the bargain and shines. The improper sexual attraction between Benedict Cumberbatch’s chocolate tycoon and Tallis cousin Lola, played by Juno Temple, is exuded perfectly; the confused girl at the center of it all, Briony, is brought to life remarkably by all three incarnations during her lifetime with Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, and Vanessa Redgrave; and Daniel Mays is unforgettable as Robbie’s friend in the war as they travel to reach Dunkirk. Mays’ steals some moments in a brief role, complete with the wonderful view on the war, “the French hate us. We already have India and Africa, let’s just let Germany take France and Italy, heck, who has ever been to Poland anyway?”

Despite all the support, though, it is the lead characters that carry this film. Keira Knightley is amazing as Cecilia, growing out of her groomed lifestyle to be with the man she knows she has always loved. The pain she must express and the hurt her love causes herself is believable at every turn. I will admit to never seeing all the hype with her as an actress, but that opinion has totally been wiped away. As for Robbie, the man at the heart of it all, James McAvoy has really come into his own. Sure he has been great in previous work, even stealing scenes from Oscar winner Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland, but it is his portrayal here that shows his true worth. Knowing his place in society, he accepts his fate. Only when he finds out a few years later that his love was not a tenuous one is he allowed to breakdown and fight to survive. The scene where he meets Briony again many years after that fateful night is powerful to experience as emotions run high and wild. All three actors in that scene deliver.

Not to be overshadowed, director Joe Wright deserves a lot of praise and credit too. His handling of the material is impeccable and the end result glorious to behold. From the editing style, showing us all viewpoints of every situation, to the sweeping crane shots following characters, to the brilliant performances he gets out of all involved, Wright has a steady hand and complete control. The film would be a top ten candidate as a result of just two sequences, even if the rest were trash. When the war hits Briony’s hospital, the montage of carnage, grief, and compassion is overwhelming, however, it is the arrival of Robbie and his two friends at Dunkirk that takes the prize. This elaborate long take is absolutely astonishing. It begins with their arguing to a superior about getting back home, going on to the slaughter of horses and automobiles, a group of men singing, some men on an amusement park ride, losing the three men to eventually join up with them again as they rejoin each other at the bar across the way, ending on an all encompassing view of the chaos on the beach. Stunning to behold, that scene sums up the whole film with its artistry and attention to detail. Complete with a startling revelation at its conclusion, I can’t think of a better word than perfect for when I am ever asked what I thought of the film.

Atonement 10/10

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photography:
[1] Keira Knightley (left) and James McAvoy (right) star in Focus Features’ ATONEMENT, the romance based on Ian McEwan’s award-winning best-selling novel, directed by Joe Wright (PRIDE & PREJUDICE). Photo: Alex Bailey

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Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is not your run-of-the-mill Broadway spectacle. This thing is dark, gory, and bleak to the end with little in the way of joy and hope seeping through. I had seen the staged production featuring George Hearn and Angela Lansbury a couple years back, so I was familiar with the story before sitting down to experience Tim Burton’s vision. I guess by knowing Sondheim’s other musical Into the Woods, he is accustomed to darker, off-kilter works, however, this one is way out there. A story that involves a falsely imprisoned barber returning to London in order to seek revenge on the judge that put him there, and subsequently stole his wife and daughter, by slitting throats and hiding the bodies in the city’s best meat pies is not winning any feel-good awards. More a cult phenomenon than a huge Broadway success, I think it may find a new audience in theatres, if for nothing else but the inclusion of Johnny Depp. He alone will draw some viewers in, especially those that the trailer fooled into thinking it isn’t wall-to-wall singing. Oh, and so I don’t mislead you, when I say musical and non-stop singing, don’t think you’ll be toe-tapping on the way home. These songs won’t be sticking in your head.

Aesthetically, Burton has knocked this one out of the park. The muted grays really help the bright red blood pop off the screen as well as make the “fantasy” dream sequence even funnier than it is by itself, allowing it to have such vibrant colors. This is London at its dingiest, grime-filled in every shot. Cinematically, all the framing is unique and never boring, especially in scenes where our two leads share a duet and we see them in fore and background, even through reflections on the straightedge razor. As for the blood—besides the hokey, watered-down red streams coming from bare necks—it is handled well. It’s more realistic once the initial spurts are concluded—turning into thick ooze on the floor—but I guess the fakeness helps add a little necessary humor to the otherwise depressing tale.

This film is by all accounts a Tim Burton enterprise. From the look and feel to the casting of his wife and Depp, this is a much-anticipated return to his earlier films for me. After his recent string of horrible remakes in Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I was almost ready to write him off. If not for the wonderful Big Fish in the middle of those, I might have been really apprehensive in going to see this, especially since it is pretty much a remake itself. Thankfully, besides it dragging a bit in the middle, (the play does too, though, so I don’t fault Burton), and the storyline with Anthony and Joanna being so thin and almost thrown in haphazardly, the movie really surprised me with its humor and unabashed use of violence. I would have been very disappointed if he toned it down rather than amped it up as he does.

All the acting is surprisingly great too. Depp is fantastic and subtle in his portrayal of Benjamin Barker turned Sweeney Todd, hiding the pent-up aggression as best he can before finally needing at outlet of murder. He could have gone over-the-top with it, as he unfortunately did in Charlie, but instead reined it in and probably came off funnier as a result, specifically with the facial expressions in the fantasy scene and throughout. While I don’t think he could have done the play on stage, I still think vocally he did a superb job. The rasp and the deep baritone fit perfectly and his depressed state adds to the tragic end soon to come. Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Timothy Spall are all good in their roles, nothing special, but totally fitting the aesthetic—if anything Carter and Spall may be a bit too creepy. The real supporting standouts, though, are young Ed Sanders as Toby and the hilarious Sacha Baron Cohen as Signor Petrelli, a rival barber. Cohen is a master of priceless voices and adds a nice layer to the proceedings.

Sweeney Todd is not a perfect film and definitely not one for the masses, but as far as a cult musical with gore, it does the job. If anything, I hope this means good things for Burton’s cinematic future. He is at his best with dark tales like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Batman and should stay away from the remake machine. Always gorgeous to watch, this one has some substance to it as well. A perfect ending definitely helps make up for the missteps along the journey too.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street 8/10

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Director Marc Forster once again shows that he will not be pigeonholed into a genre. After doing family, drama, comedy, and thriller, he has decided to do foreign-language with his adaptation of The Kite Runner. Khaled Hosseini’s acclaimed novel has been on my list to read, collecting dust on my bookshelf, but I never really knew what it was about. Sure you see in the trailer that two former childhood friends part ways and the one in America must go back to Kabul to retrieve the others’ son, however, that is not even a quarter of the tale at hand. This is a story of finding oneself amidst political strife and personal feelings. The friendship of these two boys is of the strongest bond possible, leading to the necessity for one to shut out the other from his life. Sometimes love can be a driving force in pushing someone away. By no means is this film a feel good story, nor is it easily accessible for most Americans, as it is about 90% in Middle Eastern languages, but it is one that deserves to be seen and experienced, as it truly is powerful, heartbreaking, and also hopeful for the future.

Let’s just say I cancelled my vacation to Afghanistan about halfway through. What at first is shown as a beautiful country is later shown as the warzone it has become—trees all cut down by the invading Russians and buildings and roads demolished from the fighting by the Taliban. It is a nice breath of fresh air to hear anti-Taliban sentiment be so prevalent what with most films these days trying to show how wonderful the Middle East would be if the US wasn’t entrenched there. Sure there are references to the fact that the country has never taken kindly to strangers and that they always find themselves driven out, but it show a lot of the horrors that were occurring before 9/11 brought our nation back to the Middle East. To see how people looked upon the politics and tenuous control their own people had on their country through their own eyes is very interesting and adds to the realism of setting, helping flesh out the more personal tale at the heart of the film.

Two boys, one of aristocratic status and the other a Hazara servant, are best friends and inseparable. Young Amir is a quiet intellectual who never gets involved in conflict. Whenever violence arrives, his companion Hassan always comes to the rescue. A boy without formal education, he lives through the stories and imagination of his friend and boss’s son, becoming rich with ideas and experiences for which his social status won’t allow him to have for real. In payment, Hassan will do anything to protect Amir, whether fighting or going where he shouldn’t, he is his bodyguard for lack of a better word. These boys are just too young to really comprehend the prejudice and racism going on in their country. When confronting older boys, bigoted towards the Hazara, these friends treat them as normal bullies, not as the monsters they have been brought up to be. Much like Palestinians and Israelis are brought up to hate each other, these Afghanis are raised to not accept this lower class as equals. As a result, a key moment in their lives changes the young boys forever. In a stand of defiance for his friend, Hassan is raped as Amir looks on, unable to help, torn between his class status and his humanity. This results in him thinking he has committed the greatest crime imaginable, in the words of his father, theft. His unflinching acceptance of Hassan’s devotion has in effect stolen the boy’s innocence from him. By standing and doing nothing as he was molested, Amir could do only one thing now, let his friend go. As long as they were together, Hassan would always let harm come to himself before his friend and Amir could not let himself be the cause for that much pain.

It is a powerful bond and after seeing the boys onscreen for so long, it is quite jarring to then continue the tale in America as Amir grows up with his father and eventually gets married. He was fortunate to get out of his country during its harshest years and makes the life for himself that he always wanted. Only when he receives a call, requesting his return home, does he understand the full weight of what happened those many years earlier. It is easy to let pain go and continue on like nothing occurred, it is completely different to be able to stand up and accept responsibility, allowing your heritage and past to come back and make amends for mistakes made. There are many twists and turns, as well as startling revelations that show face throughout, slowly exposing more to the story and allowing the strength that has been hidden inside Amir for so long to rise to the surface.

Forster does a great job crafting this tale from its many locales across four decades. The visuals are stunning and never static, allowing all the actors to take front stage and do their thing. I loved the kite scenes and the joy Kabul had for the flying contests. You know that it is all computer-generated, but nonetheless believe it is all real. Much of that realism can be credited to the two young actors as Amir and Hassan, Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada respectively. These boys are fantastic throughout, selling the bond completely and portraying their breakup perfectly, as a result of a “stolen” watch. Homayoun Ershadi, as Amir’s father, and his friend played by Shaun Toub are also remarkable. Ershadi, evolving from his relocation to America, has a couple scenes that are emotionally strong and unforgettable.

With Afghan customs displayed at all times and the inner turmoil involving our lead character Amir, I thought of another film from earlier this year with similar themes, The Namesake. While not as good as that Indian film, The Kite Runner has the same weight and ability to draw the audience into this world, foreign even to those who grew up there. Amir’s journey is traveled as much inside himself as it is across the span from America to the Middle East. Forster has once again given me a spectacular cinema experience, touching on themes that he hadn’t in the films preceding it. His selection as director of the next Bond film is an inspired choice, and I for one can’t wait to see what he does with it.

The Kite Runner 8/10

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photography:
[1] Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada as “Hassan” and Zekiria Ebrahimi as “Amir” star in Marc Forster’s “The Kite Runner”. Copyright: Motion Picture Artwork, Photos © 2007 DREAMWORKS LLC and KITE RUNNER HOLDINGS, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Phil Bray
[2] Khalid Abdalla as “Amir” stars in Marc Forster’s “The Kite Runner”. Copyright: Motion Picture Artwork, Photos © 2007 DREAMWORKS LLC and KITE RUNNER HOLDINGS, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Phil Bray

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National Treasure: Book of Secrets will always be known as the film that prevented Helen Mirren from meeting Queen Elizabeth after the success of The Queen. I mean really, I would have made the same choice, because this film is truly high art. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the first installment for its poor-man’s Indiana Jones feel mixed with glossy effects and convoluted plot lines (Bruckheimerisms as I like to call them) and for the most part had fun with this one. Well that is until the discovery was complete, then the film just dragged on and on for what seemed like hours. This is a Disney film people, you know they will find the treasure and all will be well with the world. Therefore, all the intrigue and the discoveries to find the location of their desire, complete with massively annoying cross cuts between four different locales and ten different characters every five minutes, was totally subverted by the ending’s adventure nonsense with no stakes because we all know how it would turn out. There were two things going for it though, I became real nostalgic for “Legends of the Hidden Temple” and found out that yes, Lyle Lovett is still alive.

I give director Jon Turteltaub and screenwriters The Wibberleys credit for coming up with some real interesting set pieces and situations for our adventurers to partake in. Weaving the Lincoln assassination with ancient Native American lore and United States historical mythology and rumor is quite a feat and it is successfully handled in my opinion. What goes wrong here is the whole mentality that sequels need to be bigger and better. The first film achieved a sort of balance with its amount of characters, but this one just goes too far. We have to now work in the President and our hero’s mother, who just happens to be one of a handful of people that can decipher the language needed to complete their quest, not to mention throwing Harvey Keitel a bone by giving him five minutes of screentime just so we have continuity with a friendship from the previous story. Honestly, while I enjoyed National Treasure, I never asked for a part two, and I don’t think too many people did. Unfortunately, however, it appears we will probably be seeing a part three in the future if the setup here means anything.

The movie is if nothing else a good time. I admit to being a big Nicolas Cage fan and enjoy his over-the-top shenanigans—they are in full force here and I loved the scene at Buckingham Palace that showcased them. Also, Justin Bartha is priceless as the hapless and underappreciated partner. His expressions and one-liners really add a much-needed dimension here. The rest of the cast is adequate if very underused. There are a lot of familiar faces with thankless roles and many famous ones with little to do. Diane Kruger looks gorgeous as usual, but her role is more female in distress than really adding anything necessary to finding the treasure, unless you count watering rocks.

So, in the end, this film is going to be huge regardless of quality. If you liked the first, you will have a good time. It is not an Oscar winner or any Nobel Prize winning commentary, it’s just a good old-fashioned mindless romp. As far as action/adventure goes, you could do much worse. With some great laughs and some really fascinating connections from history, you may actually learn something on the journey. Never preaching its intelligence, you are allowed to glean nuggets of truth at the same time as the characters that are still in the dark do. Fun is fun, and as far as that goes this one succeeds, despite the fact that it doesn’t in any other cinematic category.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets 5/10
As comparison: National Treasure 6/10

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Anton Corbijn has finally joined the ranks of his contemporaries Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and Mark Romanek in directing his first full-length feature. No one could have been a better choice than this still photographer and music video director of cutting edge bands like Depeche Mode, Echo and the Bunnymen, and, of course, Joy Division themselves with the video for “Atmosphere” (albeit eight years after the death of frontman Ian Curtis). Corbijn has the sensibilities to craft a gorgeous study of a man on the cusp of greatness and the humanity of himself, which keeps him from taking that next leap. The cinematography is glorious in its stark, high contrast, black and white, the performance scenes feel realistic and genuine, and he gets some monster performances from every cast member. Just a few hours ago I was once again mentioning to a friend my apprehension and dislike for biopics, and then I am treated to Control. Not only a biography that seems to truly capture the subject at hand, but also a superb film to stand alongside any genre out there.

Joy Division’s lead singer, as portrayed here—I will admit to knowing next to nothing about the band before viewing, possibly enhancing my pleasure as there were no trace of annoyance when something didn’t mesh to reality—was not your run-of-the-mill rockstar. Ian Curtis was an everyman like you and me, a fallible creature, both confused and naïve in his young age. Marrying so early in life, Curtis had a child, a day job, and a gig fronting one of the hottest bands of the time. What started as a way for expression, however, soon becomes another slice of trouble in his already crumbling life. When diagnosed with epilepsy, a condition for which he once tried to help afflicted gain employment, he begins a regiment of medication concoctions, hoping to find a combination to alleviate the suffering. Mixed with his late night shows and high alcohol consumption, both frowned upon by his doctor, Curtis maybe the only star I know to have fallen into his psychological descent from prescribed drug use. Ever more depressed as his love blossomed between his wife, child, and mistress, Curtis could never find the balance to deal with the fame and the fans. After all he gave in life and onstage, they just had one answer for him…We want more.

Truthfully, Sam Riley is quite a find. Whether his talent is real or just catered perfectly to this role—I’d like to believe the former—he is amazing. Totally embodying Curtis, Riley’s face is never shown with a shred of “acting” noticeable. His blank stares, the weak smiles, the crying, and the pain of his seizures all come across as though we are viewing a documentary. Complete with Curtis’ unique dance style, it is like watching history as it happens. Credit the rest of his bandmates for adding to the realism in each performance sequence, as well as the supporting cast. I was a bit unimpressed at first with Samantha Morton as his wife Debbie, but that feeling quickly went away. What appeared juvenile and trying too hard to play 20 years old eventually came together as a pretty solid piece of work. Always great, Morton shines when the world begins dissolving around her, but her love for her husband never wavers behind the tears and anger. Besides her, mention also needs to be made for Toby Kebbell as manager Rob Gretton. Starting as comic relief, his character plays a tremendous role in Curtis’ life. While the band seemed to be unable to deal with their singer’s affliction, Kebbell stays by his side throughout, doing what he can to try and keep him together.

Control is a remarkable achievement that succeeds by adhering to the one aspect I like in biopics, keeping it simple. We are only shown a few years in his life, the meeting of his wife and bandmates and the short-lived tenure of what was Joy Division. This capsule in time is allowed to evolve and flesh out all the emotions and turmoil that went on. From the highs to the lows, the comradery to the adultery, Curtis is always portrayed as the tragic hero he was. Everything his music did for its listeners, all the power and hope it instilled in the fans, came at a steep price. Draining himself of life and confidence and love, Curtis was never going to be able to keep the ride going into the US. Corbijn gets every moment correct, straight through to the inevitable conclusion. Never trying to shock us, he treats the ending with immense compassion and love. Subdued and heart-breaking, Curtis’ demise is allowed to be as beautifully touching as the rest of his ever-so-short time on earth.

Control 9/10

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photography:
courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival

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Here we are, the middle of December, with Oscar-bait films being released left and right. Has my trifecta of must-sees, There Will Be Blood, The Kite Runner, and Atonement, showed face here in the sleepy town of Buffalo? No, of course not, they are too afraid to leave their big cities for the threat of blizzard conditions. What is there to do then? Oh, yeah, go see I Am Legend at the local multiplex. At first glance, I thought it was kind of weird to be going to a Regal on opening night. It is quite the anomaly that it had been so long since I did so. Well, maybe not, because whether subconsciously or otherwise, there was a reason I steered clear of mainstream fare at stadium-seated arenas. The crowd was laughing at inappropriate moments, people wanted to see Will Smith kick butt and not act with the talent he so clearly contains, and children decided to talk throughout the entire duration. Funny as it was to hear a 14 year old say to his friend that he couldn’t believe this film wasn’t R, it was like nails on a chalkboard. Those indie darlings can’t come to our quaint little Dipsons soon enough. Wait…this is a movie review right?

Francis Lawrence had impressed me with his very underappreciated Constantine and I was somewhat psyched to see what he could do with this material. Based on the novel of same name by Richard Matheson, I Am Legend has the potential to be a great psychological thriller, commenting on man’s quest to be God, while instilling some nice scares and monster work. For the most part, Lawrence succeeds on all counts.

I will admit to being drawn in completely right from the start. In a film that potentially follows Smith around, alone, for two hours, I was completely taken aback by the introduction. We are shown a television interview between an uncredited Emma Thompson and Ms. Klugh from “Lost”—I was not expecting that. Soon enough, though, we are vaulted right into the action, three years later, to the deserted and overgrown city, ground zero for infection/home to our hero Robert Neville. The filmmakers really handle the exposition brilliantly, showing us the day to day routine for our immune scientist spliced together with memories of the final minutes before quarantine with his family. You really do become quite engrossed with the environment and on edge from the subtle hinting of the Dark Seekers (don’t you dare call them vampires).

Will Smith is a powerhouse here. I don’t care what your feelings are towards the man, he truly is good at his craft. As far as making one film a year, he knows how to pick a role that will challenge him into giving his all, whether or not the work itself succeeds. His emotions are always realistic, the relationship with his dog Sam is heartwarming, and the moments showing how cabin fever has set in (talking to mannequins that he has set up strategically throughout the city) help explore the fractured soul he now must carry alone, while also lending some nice comic relief. It was all working so well, everything was methodical and relevant, his quest for finding a cure vastly important. And then, of course, it all fell apart.

Showing the enemy, completely made from computer graphics, is one thing, showing them for extended periods of time is another. When shrouded in darkness, the creatures are very effective, when they all of a sudden become conscious and intelligent, they become utterly laughable. Why does the leader have to hold such a dorky smile the whole time? Just be menacing and non-committal; I wanted monsters devoid of humanity. Sure Smith’s Neville says they have finally lost all human qualities, but he is wrong. The fact that they have learned to fight back smartly and risk exposure to sunlight in order to catch a glimpse at him shows they have become more human. They are no longer roaming wild for blood lust, now they want to have some fun with personal vendettas. What’s more human than that?

Even then, the film could have been forgiven, but alas, it tries to tidy everything up with a nice bow on top. Much like Signs, where the minutiae of the first three-thirds of the film all of a sudden gain mystical meaning to the point of scripture—rectifying all—I Am Legend takes its slow burn and turns it into a race for the finish. It is all too quick and way too easily done. If only it was all hinted on throughout, it wouldn’t have felt so tacked on. This disappointment, however, makes me want to read my copy of the 1954 novel to see how much was changed. The credits say based on the 1971 screenplay for The Omega Man before they say based on Matheson’s book. I won’t be surprised if the ending is what was taken from the old film version, the effective character study being what was gleaned from the original source.

I Am Legend 6/10

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I have thought that Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy would make some very interesting films ever since I read them almost a decade ago. The fantasy and utter intrigue that they instilled in me never left my consciousness. When I heard that American Pie director Chris Weitz would be helming it, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’ve seen many movies in my time to know that past work means often little when it comes to future endeavors, but I admit to enjoying the Pie movies as well as loving his third film About a Boy. With a movie like The Golden Compass, it will generally come down to the special effects and story to decide how much of a success it will be. I credit the director for taking it upon himself to adapt the story and get some wonderful talent involved. It is just unfortunate that New Line was unable to put up the money to do the trilogy all together much like their last foray into magical worlds. I say this, not because this film fails—I actually think it does quite well at telling the novel’s story—but because we may never see another in the series made.

Rarely does a movie open up with close to $30 million, $15 million more than second place at the box office, and be deemed a failure. The budget here is just too steep, and although it is gorgeous to view, that money was well spent, the recouping process may be too much to conquer for subsequent entries. As a result, the film just can’t stand up by itself. Without even the misguided decision to hold off the dark end of the book, (although it has been filmed), in order to begin a hopeful second installment, this entry really doesn’t go anywhere except for delivering exposition and character development. The novel sets up the world that is falling apart around our heroine Lyra in order for her to make the leap into parallel universes and find a way to save her people. As a result, we have two hours crammed with so many characters and so much backstory that it feels very daunting at times. I myself was fine with it, but I read the story previously. If you are unfamiliar with the tale, I can see frustration setting in quickly and never dissipating. It is a real shame because it was a good start that may never payoff with a finish.

As a condensed adaptation, I have to give all involved a lot of credit. Everything that you need is included and it all makes sense. To a novice of this parallel earth, I would suggest a second viewing to comprehend it all, but it is in fact all there. Resulting from the almost Cliff Notes-like speed, there are many actors that receive very small screen allotments. Daniel Craig, as Lord Asriel, is virtually nonexistent except in spirit and name. By not keeping the end intact, the audience never gets the payoff as to what the man is truly capable and willing to do. This is too bad because the build up is sufficient to have created some real fireworks at the end, maybe even making those a tad lukewarm overall to anticipate what might happen next. Nicole Kidman is adequate—I hate to beat a dead horse, but she just hasn’t been the beauty or talent she was two years ago or more, and it really hurts my viewing of her—but almost too vague in her role. She is the orchestrator of what is happening with the Magisterium, but that whole subplot kind of takes a back seat to Lyra’s joining of her ragtag group of warriors.

A lot of the acting is superior in form, however. I think Eva Green is brilliant casting as the witch Serafina Pekkala, although her role is chopped to almost five total minutes on screen, and who could argue with the great voices of Ian McKellen and Ian McShane as the Ice Bears? It is Sam Elliott, though, that shows he still has the stuff to be successful. You don’t see him much anymore, but his Scoresby is flawless. Last but not least is newcomer Dakota Blue Richards as our lead. For a first-timer, she is a joy, bringing to life the fearlessness and curiosity that allows her role to be as uniquely heroic as she is. I’d love to see what she does in the next two films.

Rounding out the film as a whole are some nice special effects—the Alethiometer is gorgeous, the disintegrating daemons upon their host’s death into “dust” well-done, and the environments beautiful to behold. Also, I guess I couldn’t really speak of the film without at least a mention of the controversy surrounding the author Pullman’s atheism. I don’t quite remember it when reading, but upon viewing here, it is kind of prevalent. Not atheism in general, but a mirroring of a church-like establishment trying to force its ideals on society for its own means. Heck, that is what the Catholic Church does whether you like it or not. Does that mean it teaches a belief that God does not exist? No. All it does is show that man is corruptible and sometimes it takes a strong being to set things right. That being here is young Lyra Belacqua, using technology sure, (for all you Darwinists out there), but also an inherent ability to read symbols and be a part of a long held prophecy. Despite that prophecy being held by witches (pagans maybe?) it is something that shows a higher form’s existence. Let your children experience life and other ways of thinking; nothing here says God is dead, it just shows that beliefs can be individually manifested. Faith is a powerful thing that exists whether you are a member of an organization or not.

The Golden Compass 7/10

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photography:
[1] Dakota Blue Richards stars as “Lyra” in New Line Cinema’s release of Chris Weitz’s THE GOLDEN COMPASS. Copyright © New Line Cinema. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Daniel Craig stars as “Lord Asriel” in New Line Cinema’s release of Chris Weitz’s THE GOLDEN COMPASS. Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham/New Line Cinema. Copyright © New Line Cinema. All Rights Reserved.

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Simply breathtaking.

For a band as atmospheric and deep as Sigur Rós, one could not think of any natural visions worthy to accompany the music. It ends up, though, that you don’t have to look too far after all. Just take some time to see the beauty and infinite space right in their own home of Iceland. This documentary, Heima, shows the world one of the last untouched visages in existence. The island country is exotic and devoid of pollution of nature and man. Sigur Rós decided to come back home to do a sixteen-city tour, for free, in order to give back to the community that gave them life. Without the hectic bustle of traveling the entire earth from venue to venue, the band is able to bask in the glory that is home, calm themselves down for a short respite, play the music to their own people, and get nothing out of it except the joy from bringing together an entire country through the sounds they have created. It is a touching story of art and life that simply needs to be seen to be understood.

Sigur Rós’ music has always been such a visceral and aural experience for me. It is the kind of work that cleanses my mind from all thought to fully envelope my body and soul as one. If you are ever feeling stressed or unable to cope with something in your life, just put on any of their albums, all are masterpieces. The layers meld together for a wall of sound that takes you over, washing away all your fears, filling you with hope and joy for a future coming towards you; a future that can be battled with the knowledge that you can overcome anything.

I am just overjoyed to finally see a little insight into the artists behind the music. The members of this quartet—along with the foursome of women as their string section—are all soft-spoken, down to earth people. They tell of their inhibitions and inability to do many interviews or press junkets to support them. Not because they are standoffish or uncaring for those who enjoy their sound, the band just wants to lead normal lives out of the spotlight that would overtake them if they bought into the machine. With abrupt cuts to the group having fun with each other, we see the good-natured humor they all have. As one member says, he was 21 when they first started and became a sensation. These men didn’t quite know what was in store, and rather than become destructive to themselves and the music, they decided to go in the other direction. More a family than a business, Sigur Rós takes great pride in their work and say that they may even take too much time honing everything to the point of perfection. I myself don’t care, because the time spent seems to have worked each and every time.

The visuals that director Dean DeBlois has added to enhance the music are magical. For one, the cities chosen for each concert are amazing and diverse. From concert halls, to giant festival stages, to an abandoned fishing complex, to setting up between a couple country houses, to even in front of a newly created dam in the highlands for a protest show, Heima shows Iceland with an eye of wonderment and unfiltered beauty. To see how the band uses layers of projections and cloth curtains, harkening to the elaborate cd artwork they hold each album in, helps to explain the detail and perfection really at work. Seeing them play an acoustic show outside a dam they feel ruins the natural landscape of the city, in order to create the electricity they refuse to use, is fantastic. Also, the cut scenes to static shots of the world surrounding them show the country in all its glory. The kites in the air, the juxtaposition of the rundown fishing wharf with black and white footage of the time it once bustled, the mountains shrouded in fog, the ice melting, and the water flowing (forwards and backwards) leave you without words as it all encompasses you into the world of their sound.

All the band members share anecdotes and insight into their motivations and creative process, as well as why they still come home and stay in Iceland despite the notoriety and money they have earned since their first album. Through it all, though, it is the music that shines. True artists, their renditions of songs like Starálfur and Hoppípolla can bring a tear to your eye for their sheer emotion. I loved how they sprinkled in motifs of the band throughout, from the Takk… man to the Ágætis byrjun alien, to the birds flying, silhouetted from the sky. Heima gets to the core of what Sigur Rós and their music is while also showcasing a country that many people may never think twice about. I for one now see that I must visit Iceland at least once before I die to experience its beauty for myself.

Sigur Rós – Heima 9/10

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