Opens Friday, December 9, 2005
Ledger; Jake Gyllenhaal; Linda Cardellini; Anna
Faris; Anne Hathaway; Michelle Williams; and Randy
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
is an audacious piece of cinema--an atypical love
story that soars above most of the films of 2005.
The lead characters happen to be male. The men
happen to be cowboys. The cowboys happen to fall
in love...with each other! The time period, which
feels like a century ago, is actually the early
1960’s into the early 1980’s. And
the place is Wyoming (and Texas) where not much
has changed in a century in terms of social acceptance
or intellectual development, which is probably
why it feels like such a period piece. (I completely
own up to AND am proud of the Blue state bias
obvious in the last sentence.)
by Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) and
Diana Ossana, based on a short story by Annie
Proulx, the spare plot involves the meeting of
two ranch hands, who are hired to tend sheep on
Brokeback Mountain. The brooding, laconic Ennis
Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and the animated, aptly
named Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) soon find themselves
with ample amounts of alone-time. An intense sexual
attraction begins to develop - one that neither
truly comprehend. That infatuation soon metamorphoses
into deep love, which they understand even less.
Once Ennis and
Jack leave their beloved mountain, they are forced
into respective fake “real-life” existences.
Both marry and have children, but four years later
they meet up again and begin an infrequent, but
Heath Ledger is
a revelation as Ennis. Nothing this actor has
done in the past (even his powerful, if too brief,
turn in Monster’s Ball) indicated
he was capable of such a rich, nuanced, heartbreaking
performance. Ledger crawls deep under the skin
of this seemingly simple rancher and tears open
the painful yearning he can’t understand
or control. Ledger’s acting is so raw and
honest it flabbergasts the viewer. This is the
acting performance of the year, one the Academy
is so extraordinary, it would be easy to underestimate
the power of Jake Gyllenhaal’s work. Although
the film doesn’t seem to devote the same
time and tenderness to Jack Twist’s world
as it does to Ennis’, Gyllenhaal is fearless
in his approach and nails the hurt, desire and
defiance of someone who doesn’t fit in the
time and place he was born into...and doesn’t
quite understand why--nor does he know how he’s
supposed to behave.
The film more than
hints that Jack falls victim to his untimate insistance
on being himself sexually, but the true victim
is Ennis since he never fully embrace his desires.
The wonderful supporting
cast is led by an indelible Michelle WIlliams
as Ennis’ distraught wife. Anne Hathaway
impresses in a part that is too underwritten.
Anna Faris and Linda Cardellini leave their respective
marks in smaller roles. And Roberta Maxwell manages
to be penetrating and heart-wrenching in an brief
but potent scene.
direction is deft and uncompromising. He has proven
before in gems such as Sense and Sensibility,
The Ice Storm and Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon, that he can take on practically
any subject matter and capture it’s true
essence. This may be his best work.
score is gorgeous and perfectly suits the film.
The picture is
stunningly photographed by Rodrigo Prieto. From
its sweeping mountain vistas to Ennis’ simple
farmhouse, Prieto allows the audience to feel
as if they are actually there with the characters,
not just onlookers.
We also get the
sense of heartland inertia necessary to believe
that such backward views could exist in the turbulent
and sexually-liberating milieu of the sixties
and seventies. The irony being that if Matthew
Shepard’s death taught us anything it’s
that these dangerous and repressive mores exist
and, actually, thrive today.
represents quite a historic leap for a film dealing
with homosexuality. And although the film shouldn’t
be labeled a “gay film,” it is quite
a landmark film in it’s unabashed sincerity
with it’s portrayal of ‘the love that
dare not speak it’s name!’
Not since the soapy
debacle Making Love in 1982 has a mainstream
film dealt so openly with love between two men.
That film was far too careful and contrite with
cardboard characters and whiny protagonists, directed
and scripted in a pathetically self-important
Hollywood-ized style. Philadelphia’s
lovers were never allowed to actually show any
real love towards one another. Even many a gay-themed
indie are sanitized, politically-correct concoctions
carefully made so as not to offend anyone or twinkie
flesh-laced sex comedies that have as as much
depth as Paris Hilton has.
achievement of Brokeback Mountain is
that it is daring because it allows its characters
to be real and behave in a painfully honest manner.
For that and for making a brilliant and groundbreaking
film, Focus Features and the entire Brokeback
team should be congratulated, showered with
accolades and, most importantly, the film itself
should been seen and appreciated.
Reviewed at the 43rd Annual New York Film Festival
Opens Friday January 27,
Reviewed by Frank
is a true wonder. The Oscar-winning director manages
to weave in and out of the Hollywood mainstream
(In: Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s
11 & 12, Out: The Limey &
Full Frontal) and is even able to merge
the two on occasion (Traffic, Out
His latest film,
Bubble, is about as far away from mainstream
filmmaking as one can get. Soderbergh is a savvy
and clever auteur yet his experiment with Bubble
seems like an attempt to return to cinematic purity.
There’s a deliberate lack of pretension
at work here that makes it a powerful and penetrating
is filmed docu-style and features non-professional
actors. The story (written by Coleman Hough who
wrote Full Frontal) is told in a straightforward
and simple manner. And it’s exactly in that
simple storytelling that Soderbergh is able to
transfix us...reach us.
to car crashes and super-human stunts may find
themselves perplexed, even bored by Bubble,
but those who are able to stay seated will find
themselves privy to something quite profound.
Doeberiener) is an overweight, lonely, middle-age
worker at a doll factory. She has an unspoken
crush on Kyle, her apathetic, teen co-worker (Dustin
James Ashley). The arrival of a young, pretty,
but shady new employee upsets their relationship
and ultimately drives the story to an astonishing
The film perfectly
captures the mundane world of a Midwestern small
town, pregnant with a host of larvelling demons
that boredom begets.
simply amazing as the ticking time bomb. One particularly
frightening close-up of her face says everything
about the film’s themes as well as the living
monsters that our (increasingly poverty-stricken)
country has created.
Ashley is either
a born actor OR he’s simply playing himself.
Regardless, it is a pitch-perfect teen portrayal.
Misty Dawn Wilkins handles the role of interloper/troublemaker
Rose, with tremendous zest.
Quite a number
of films (most recently Gus Van Sant’s overrated
Elephant) have attempted to deal with
the underbelly of Middle America and why we are
so prone to crazed violence. Bubble is
one of the few that is truly scary because it
feels so bloody real--filled with the nuances
of the ordinary that can lead to the catastrophic
is a filmmaker that continuously challenges himself
as an artist and, consequently, his audience.
As far as I’m concerned, he has yet to disappoint.
Down to the Bone
Opened November 25, 2005
34 West 13th Street New York, New York
Farmiga; Hugh Dillon; Clint Jordan; Caridad 'La
De La Luz; Jasper Daniels; and Taylor Foxhall
Reviewed by Eleanor
and harrowingly realistic, Debra Granik’s,
the Bone, tells the compelling story of a
suburban mother’s drug
induced decline, with no neat happily-ever-after
conclusion in sight.
and a mother of two young boys, Irene (Vera
Farmiga) struggles to sustain her passionless
discreetly and regularly using cocaine to relieve
her misery. Irene’s
painstaking dependence is methodically revealed
in a series of heart
wrenching scenes, one of which being when she
offers to pay her drug
dealer with her son’s meager birthday money.
Reaching the point
of sheer desperation, Irene admits herself into
drug rehabilitation facility that mirrors the
drab and dull existence from
which she is trying to escape. Granik finally
injects some much-needed
humor onto the scene, as the fellow patients work
recovery and engage in interpretive and therapeutic
While at the facility,
Irene develops a steamy affair with Bob
(Hugh Dillon), a nurse and former drug addict
and the two rely on
each other’s tenuous recovery to stay sober.
However, once Irene leaves
the facility, the film takes an unpredictable
turn when one of them
relapses and drives the other to revert to their
Vera Farmiga and
Hugh Dillon deliver stellar performances throughout
and lend the film the element of tragedy on which
it thrives. Vera
Farmiga will next appear opposite Paul Walker
in Running Scared,
in January 2006 and is currently filming Departed,
a police drama
starring Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio. Hugh
Dillon starred in
Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Lego
and starred opposite Ethan
Hawke in Assault on Precinct 13.
The strength in
this film lies in Farmiga’s portrayal of
and excruciating suffering, which she conveys
with gifted subtlety and
quietude. A mere cock of her head and a half smile
reveals the mounds
of deep seeded pain and quelled rage which she
is desperately trying
further enhances the dreariness and the banality
of each scene, as the camera vividly captures
the endless snow fall, the
dullness of Irene’s town and the dilapidated
nature of her home.
The camera retains the film’s integrity
by continuously focusing on
the ordinariness of the events and people and
objects that comprise
this very real film.
The film also succeeds
in raising questions about the nature of
patriotism and the ways in which the working class
is overlooked in
American society. At the core of this movie lies
the question of how
the very poor, leading redundant and colorless
lives are expected to
find meaningful and healthful outlets with very
Honored with Best
Director and a Special Jury Prize for Acting at
2004 Sundance Film Festival, Down to the Bone
shies away from
histrionics and is replete with genuine emotion,
and the stark reminder that for every recovering
addict, each day marks
a new and unchartered challenge.
(In Mandarin with English Subtitles)
Opens Friday December 16, 2005
New York’s ImaginAsian Theater
239 East 59th Street
Xiaotong Guan; Yihong Jiang; Haibin Li; Yu
Xia; Yijing Zhang
you imagine a Chinese Cinema Paradiso?"
(A quote from
the First Run Feature’s press release.)
Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams
is a sonata to the power of movies, their power
people out of their daily misery and allow them
to dream. The story begins in today’s
Beijing. A movie-loving-water-delivery-boy named
Dabing (Xia Yu) accidentally crashed his bicycle
into a pile of bricks and falls to the ground.
Ling Ling (Qi Zhongyang), who appears to merely
passing by, then picks up a
brick and inexplicably hits him on the head.
They are both taken to the hospital –
Dabing to be treated for his cracked head and
Ling Ling to be treated for her “cracked”
head and heart.
At the hospital, the injured Dabing furiously
confronts the mute Ling Ling who simply hands
him the key to her apartment and asks him to
go feed her fish. When Dabing arrives at Ling
Ling’s apartment, he find a veritable
shrine to the movies. He also finds Ling Ling’s
story-boarded diary which he promptly reads.
And there the story changes. It seems that Ling
Ling is his long lost friend from primary
school, the friend who (along with her mother)
befriended him when he was forced to live with
his abusive father. And Ling Ling was also the
friend who shared his love of all things cinema.
We are then treated to two stories: the present
day story in Beijing and Ling Ling’s childhood
story, the story of a little illegitimate girl
and her mother Jiang (Jiang Yihong). In the
past story, Ling Ling's mother's dreams of becoming
a movie star were cruelly shattered when she
became pregnant by a man who deserted her, leaving
her alone in the country village of Ningxia,
where she was ostracized as a counter revolutionary
by the local minions of the Chinese Cultural
Her only relief from this misery was her love
of the outdoor movies, a love she passed on
to her daughter Ling Ling.
is a beautiful film. The scenes that are filmed
in the backyard
of Ling Ling’s childhood home are simply
stunning – large white sheets
hanging to be dried providing virtual movie
screens for the young Ling
Ling and Dabing. And the child actors who portray
the young Ling (Guan Xiaotong as a child and
Zhang Yijing as a teenager), Dabing (Wang Zhengjia)
Ling’s brother Bing Bing (Zhang Haoqi)
are marvelously true. With the innocence of
children, they supply both humor and pathos.
And Ling Ling’s mother Jiang’s (Jiang
Yihong) story is a heartbreaking story of opportunity
lost. Jiang Xiao has made a stunning first film
and she is definitely a filmmaker to watch.
End of the Spear
Opens Friday, January 20, 2006
Louie Leonardo; Chad Allen; Jack Guzman; Christina
Chase Ellison; Sean McGowan; Cara Stoner;
Beth Bailey; Stephen Caudill;
Matt Lutz; Cheno Mepaquito; Jose Liberto Caizamo;
Magdalena Condoba; and Traci Dinwiddie.
Like a lot
of New Yorkers since 2001 I have been exploring
and entertaining the idea of spirituality
and how it fits into my life. I have come
to the conclusion that the God who created
me is a God of love, who doesn’t make
mistakes and who is proudest of me when I
am happy and not hurting anyone else. Like
almost half of the country, I am appalled
at people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell
and most regrettably President Bush when they
preach “eye for an eye” sermons
whose messages are fear based and hateful.
Most appalling, is that they have the nerve
to preach such messages under the “Christian”
name. To quote Margaret Cho, I can’t
wait for Jesus to come back to earth so he
can line all of them up and yell, “THAT’S
NOT WHAT I MEANT!”
To the frustration
and disappointment of the Christian Right,
openly gay actor, Chad Allen, plays Christian
missionary, Steve Saint, in the “based
on a true story” film End of the
Spear. It would be difficult for me to
review such a beautiful film with such a beautiful
message without mentioning the lead actors’
sexuality and the flack the casting directors
got from “Christian” organizations.
the Spear tells to story of the Amazonian
Waodani people; a tribe so violent that their
homicide rate has brought them to the brink
of extinction. When some Christian missionaries
land their plane on a sandbar near the Waodani
village, different cultures and languages
lead to misunderstandings that end in the
missionaries slaughter at the Waodanis’
hands. Shortly thereafter, the missionary’s
families (mostly the remaining women) risk
their lives to find, and forgive the Waodani
who have murdered their loved ones. Continuing
her missionary work, Rachel (the sister of
one of the murdered missionaries played by
Sara Kathryn Bakker) stays with the tribe
and eventually considers them (and is considered
by the Waodani) family. The film ends with
a confrontation between the son of the lead
missionary and the Waodani tribesman, played
by Louie Leonardo, who murdered him.
shot, the film’s message is simple:
stop attacking and you will eventually not
be attacked (paging George W. Bush…paging
George W. Bush…)
The films lead
players, most notably Chad Allen and Louie
Leonardo, all give excellent performances
and the stunning cinematography, accompanied
by an exciting soundtrack seriously made me
want to book a safari. It is the powerful
script, however, that makes the film so memorable.
The “Live and let Live” message
is simple, clear and beautifully exemplified.
Take note Christian Right…
the Spear is now playing nationwide.
Check local theatres for show times and tickets.
The 40 Year Old Virgin
Steve Carell; Catherine Keener; and Paul Rudd
Year Old Virgin is one of the funniest
films of the year, along with the hit summer
comedy, The Wedding Crashers.
Its adult humor
pushes the limits, but it is so cleverly done
that movie-goers are too busy laughing to
be offended. The film is intended for a younger
audience: those in their teens, 20's and 30’s,
who best relate to the bar settings and singles
If you enjoy
Steve Carell’s performance in the television
comedy The Office, or if you caught
him on The Daily Show, this film
will no doubt captivate you for two hours.
You’ll be waiting for something that
the character of Andy Stitzer has been waiting
for his whole life, four long decades: his
first time with a woman.
Call him “the
virgin with a heart of gold” –
Andy is both quirky and caring, the kind of
man you would want to run away from at first,
but he evolves, thanks to lessons from the
same co-workers who used to make fun of him.
His newfound friends encourage him to downplay
his odd habits and be a lady-killing machine.
Of course, it would take a lot of alcohol
to make a girl so non-discriminating. Where
better to pick up chicks than a dark nightclub?
His buddies introduce Andy to some very drunk
girls…with hilarious results.
whether the plot follows a formula: it’s
entertaining to watch a grown man with no
experience try to meet women. Although Andy’s
boss (Jane Lynch) propositions him, he devotes
his heart to Trish, the quirky brunette who
works across the street.
the screenplay with director Judd Apatow.
As the title suggests, many jokes are raunchy
and revolve around sex, but like a Farrelly
brothers film, they are done in an over the
top fashion for maximum laughs. The characterization
is a little more developed than it often is
in comedies. Glimpses into Andy’s modest
apartment in Southern California show his
obsession with collecting action figures and
miniature toy soldiers, re-painting them under
a magnifying glass…and talking to them.
However, his good-heartedness keeps the audience
rooting for him.
leaves plenty of room for jokes. In one scene,
Andy takes Trish’s daughter to a teen
seminar about sexuality, and he’s the
one with the questions. While his co-workers
battle to make their own relationships work,
they also play pranks on Andy, including an
infamous chest hair waxing episode.
When Andy falls
for Trish, played by Catherine Keener, it
borders on sappy a few times. The best parts
are Andy’s disasters, from when he lies
about imaginary ex-girlfriends to when he
gets in a car with a girl he regrets ever
Year Old Virgin is the first movie Carrell
stars in, but surely not his last.
Opened December 16, 2006
you go out in the woods today, you’re
in for a big surprise.” The Teddy
Starring: Anne Hathaway; Glenn Close; Jim
Belushi; Patrick Warburton; Andy Dick: Chazz
Palminteri; and David Ogden Stiers.
Reviewed by Wendy Williams
Hoodwinked is a clever animated retelling
of the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding
Hood, as narrated in the point of view
of Little Red Riding Hood or Red as she is now
called (voiced by Anne Hathaway), the Big Bad
Wolf ((Patrick Warburton), Granny (Glenn Close)
and a stupid woodsman (Jim Belushi). And it
is a modern fairy tale; Red and Granny are now
the kind of girls you would like to “get
your back.” Red knows karate and Granny..
well Granny can do almost anything.
I saw this movie the weekend it opened and really
expected to be in a theater full of children.
But most of the theater goers at my matinee
showing were adults who were obviously there
because they love animation. And this animation
is beautiful and fun. There are roller coaster
rides that are almost as thrilling as amusement
park rides. And they four main characters are
not the only ones being voiced by major talents.
The police Chief Grizzaly is voiced by Xzibit
and Detective Bill Stork is voiced by the always
hsyterical Anthony Anderson. Even Woolworth
the Sheep is Chazz Palminteri and Nicky Flippers
is done by David Ogden Stiers. And the bunny
is an absolutely hsyterical Andy Dick.
So go see Hoodwinked
for a clever retelling of a classic Brothers
Grimm (that certainly was an apt name) childhood
“horror” story, as told by some
of the major acting talents of our day. And
unlike the actual fairy tale, this film is suitable
for children. The film also has a very nice
soundtrack with original music by the director,
Cory Edwards. Directing and writing credits
are shared by Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards and
And for more about the origins
of Hoodwinked, here is a quote from their press
the first film from the brand new Kanbar Animation
Studio, a joint effort between entrepreneur
and inventor Maurice Kanbar (inventor of SKYY
Vodka, among others) and animation veteran Sue
Montgomery. Kanbar and Montgomery launched their
new company specifically to provide highly creative,
story-focused, computer-generated films for
increasingly sophisticated family audiences.
Both share a life-long love of classic fairy
tales. . . and they envisioned having a lot
of fun taking those same beloved childhood favorites
apart and turning them on their sides with a
thoroughly modern POV.
"In choosing their premiere project, Kanbar
and Montgomery were drawn to the talents of
two young movie-making brothers, Cory and Todd
Edwards, whose Christmas special, “Wobots,”
a children’s sci-fi adventure about a
rag-tag group of misfit robots, showcased their
skill at carving out moving, funny, original
stories in a compelling digital animation style."
The Ice Harvest
Opening November 23, 2005
Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams
Starring: John Cusack,
Billy Bob Thornton, Randy Quaid, Connie Nielson
and Oliver Platt
It’s Christmas Eve in
Kansas City and both the roads and the souls
are frozen and slippery. This is the world of
Harold Ramis’ new film, The Ice Harvest,
a funny sick place filled with morally corrupt
lawyers, Midwest crime bosses and strippers.
Here is a quote from the film’s
press release: “It’s Christmas Eve
in rainy, icebound Wichita, Kansas, and this
year Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) just might
have something to celebrate. Charlie, an attorney
for the sleazy businesses of Wichita, and his
unsavory associate, the steely Vic Cavanaugh
(Billy Bob Thornton), have just successfully
embezzled $2,147,000 from Kansas City boss Bill
Guerrard (Randy Quaid). Even so, the real prize
for Charlie would be the stunning Renata (Connie
Nielsen), who runs the Sweet Cage strip club.
Charlie’s fondest Christmas wish is to
slip out of town with Renata. But, as daylight
fades and a storm whirls, everyone from Charlie’s
drinking buddy Pete Van Heuten (Oliver Platt)
to the local police begin to wonder just what
exactly is in Charlie’s Christmas stocking.
For Charlie, the 12 hours of Christmas Eve are
filled with nonstop twists and turns, both on
the ice and off.”
film belongs in the same violent, twisted, noir,
buddy-film genre as Shane Black’s hysterical
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (with Robert Downey
Junior and Val Kilmer clowning around in a Christmas
themed Los Angeles). In both films, the good
guys are just the rotten apples with the least
spots. But in Ice, John Cusack’s
character, Charlie, is hard pressed to even
keep a buddy. Some of his so-called friends
and associates want to kill him and his only
true friend keeps falling into a drunken stupor.
All the Ice performances
are stellar. I totally believed John Cusack
as the morally corrupt Charlie. Billy Bob Thornton
took a step away from his usual thug-with-a-heart-of-gold
character to portray a truly frightening mobster.
Connie Nielson did an amazing Jessica Rabbit
like strip club manager, but this time Jessica
wasn't just drawn bad – she’s plain
old fashioned bad. And Oliver Platt, who I have
so loved-to-hate as a hard charging White House
Counsel on The West Wing, does an amazing
turn as an unlucky-in-love drunk.
Howard Ramis has done a great job of depicting
the opposite-of-Christmas. According to the
film notes, the film was actually shot in the
suburbs of Chicago. But Chicago or not, the
Kansas City of this film is gorgeous bleak town
with an as-painted-by-Edward-Hopper look about
it. And it would be worth the price of the ticket
simply to see Charlie's former home, an all
white 1950's modern bungalow decorated with
a white plastic Christmas tree. It looks as
souless as an ice cube and is the perfect metaphor
for this film.
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
Opens Friday January 20, 2006
Brooks; Sheetal Sheth; John Carroll Lynch; Jon
and Fred Dalton Thompson.
Reviewed by Wendy
You know a film
is really funny when an audience of film critics
(who are paid to never smile and probably wouldn’t
anyway) laugh at a press screening. Well, Albert
Brook’s new gem, Looking for Comedy
in the Muslim World, had just that effect
at the press screening I attended. We were all
in hysterics. And it wasn’t punch line hysterics
or pratfall hysterics, it was the same kind of
hysterical reaction created by last year’s
comic masterpiece Sideways. Both of these
films were made from the same classic formula
– create a believable world, populate it
with wonderful characters who are in an over-their-heads
situation and then let the pot come to a boil.
Here is a plot
description (this film is not a documentary) from
the film’s press release: "Looking
for Comedy in the Muslim World is the hilarious
story of what happens when the U.S. Government
sends comedian Albert Brooks to India
and Pakistan to find out what makes the over 300
million Muslims in the region laugh. Brooks, accompanied
by two state department handlers and his trusted
assistant, goes on a journey that takes him from
a concert stage in New Delhi, to the Taj Mahal,
to a secret location in the mountains of Pakistan.
Written and directed by Albert Brooks, Looking
for Comedy in the Muslim World is a funny
and insightful look at some of the issues we are
dealing with in a post-9/11 world.”
Albert Brooks has
never seemed more of a lovable everyman, and this
he is a lovable everyman trying to do something
decent for his country by
creating a FIVE HUNDRED PAGE report on what makes
Brooks willingness to take on this task is due
in some small part to the fact that
he is out of work having recently been rejected
by Director Penny Marshall
for the lead role in the remake of the movie Harvey.
He is then hired for
this research job by an hysterically deadpan Senator
Fred Thompson, actually
played by Fred Thompson. He is then assigned two
low-level State Department functionaries, ably
played by John Carroll Lynch and Jon Tenney. When
he reaches Indian he hires a Pollyannaish assistant,
Maya played by Sheetal Sheth. Maya's eternal optimism
is a perfect foil for Brook's moroseness.
The movie is filled
with wonderfully funny scenes. Some of the funniest
set in the seedy building where the project is
officed. Lining the halls of the building are
offices full of people on telephones. Now I don’t
want to tell you anything more about this, but
these scenes will confirm everything you have
ever suspected about who is on the other end of
the phone when you call a
help desk. There is also an hsyterical visit to
the local Al Jazeera television affiliate, a comedy
show where no one laughs and a totally bizarre
beautiful and the country itself is a major character
in the film.
The scenes set in the market places are a mosaic
marvel. The film company was unable to close off
any streets and so many of their scenes were filmed
while the city population went about their business.
And in one scene, the film company simply used
the crowd - handing out flyers for the comedy
show to the people who just happened to be in
the market place.
There has been some controversy
about this movie – mainly because the title
contains both the word Muslim and the word comedy.
But far from poking fun at the Muslim world, this
comedy of the film is centered around Albert Brooks
fumbling attempts to do a little good for the
world by trying to find out what makes Muslims
laugh. So he is the clown and the butt of all
the jokes, not India, Pakistan or Muslims. And
the film works. As I said, I laughed all the way
For more information, copy and paste this code
into your browser: htttp://wip.warnerbros.com/lookingforcomedy/LFC_content.html
Lars Von Trier’s
Reviewed at the 43rd Annual New York Film Festival
Opens Friday January 27,
Reviewed by Frank J.
An up front admission:
I consider Lars Von Trier’s Dogville
to be one of the most astonishing, audacious and
groundbreaking films of the last decade. I was
appalled by the way the film was completely mishandled
and barely-released by USA Films. I was outraged
by it’s lack of winning any year-end awards.
I was disgusted by how so many seemingly intelligent
critics dismissed it as anti-American.
remains a bold piece of filmmaking from a true
genius and will most definitely grow in stature
among cinefiles (and hopefully among audiences.)
Now that I’ve gotten that out...
Because of my obviously-strong
Dogville feelings, I approached the second
picture in a planned trilogy, Manderlay,
with excited anticipation and absolute fear. How
could it possibly be as good? And how could we
accept Ron Howard’s novice daughter as Grace
after Nicole Kidman’s brilliant, nuanced
performance? (Kidman pulled out due to scheduling
picks up where Dogville left off. It’s
1933 and Grace (now Bryce Dallas Howard) is traveling
with her father (now Willem Dafoe) and his mob
thugs through the South. While stopped outside
a plantation in Alabama called Manderlay,
they encounter a world where slavery is still
in full swing--despite the fact that it was abolished
some seventy years earlier.
Grace is flummoxed
by this and, against her father’s wishes,
decides to stay at Manderlay and right
the wrong she indignantly sees.
Upon the matriarch
Mam’s death (an intense Lauren Bacall),
Grace immediately frees the slaves and punishes
the owners, much to the dismay of the elder house
slave, Wilhelm (Danny Glover). And thus begins
the wildly fascinating and psychologically engrossing
story which I will not ruin by giving any more
Von Trier utilizes
the same Brechtian set (hybridizing theatre and
film), the same hand-held cam technique and the
same sardonic John Hurt narration--all of which
worked perfectly in Dogville and do so
here as well.
And while his hand
seems steadier and this film tighter, his writing
is just as sharp and his hypotheses, even more
daring as he relentlessly continues to probe the
evil inherent in human nature. It’s an engaging
and layered script that trumps the obvious for
much more absorbing and creative ideas and theories.
Von Trier is a
fearless filmmaker (ironic because in his personal
life he is so rattled with them--including a fear
of traveling). His ideas can be viewed as dangerous
simply because they go against popular opinion.
To complain that
Manderlay (or Dogville for that
matter) is anti-American, is to miss the point
completely. If presenting human behavior in a
realistic and accurate way is too painful, perhaps
we Americans need to take a good hard look at
the injustices we cause others and stop arrogantly
holding ourselves up as the example to the world.
does comment on the ridiculous and simplistic
notion that one can simply force democracy on
a people that have been ignorant to it, without
problems or repercussions via Grace’s need
to democratized the slaves. A timely theme with
the current situation in Iraq. But Von Trier does
not judge Grace for her naivete. Yes, she is thinking
too simplistically but her heart is in the right
Bryce Howard is
not Nicole Kidman. Nor does she try to be. Her
Grace is less compelling, more idealistic, but
she manages to deliver the goods necessary to
anchor Manderlay in place. We understand
her Grace almost immediately and, therefore, relate
to her. Howard is quite a find.
cast is uniformly outstanding. Of particular note
are: Mona Hammond, Zeljko Ivanek, and, most especially,
As he did in Dogville,
Von Trier surprises us in the last fifteen minutes
of Manderlay. And while the jolt may
not be quite as explosive, it packs it’s
own provocatively powerful punch and leaves the
audience wanting more (which we will luckily get
in the final chapter of his opus, Washington,
scheduled to shoot in 2007).
The auteur ends
Manderlay, same as Dogville,
with David Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’
on the soundtrack as images depicting U.S. racism
and violence flash onscreen. It is just as potent.
So while Manderlay
may not be quite on par with Dogville
simply because everything about the first film
was so fresh and inspiring, it’s certainly
a worthy second chapter and easily one of the
best films of 2005.
Opens Dec. 23, 2005
Bye-bye Bond, Hello Brosnan
Brosnan, Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis.
Reviewed by Christina
opens with a shot of Pierce Brosnan in bed with
a woman. We’ve all seen that before. What
we haven’t seen is his rummaging through
her purse to look for her nail polish and then
sauntering off to the bathroom where he rips some
pieces of toilet tissue to place between his toes.
And then he proceeds to paints his toe nails.
This is just the beginning of the unraveling of
his on-screen persona.
Brosnan plays Julian
Noble, a hit man having a mid-life crisis. He’s
a bit overweight, drinks a lot, has a bad haircut
and a mustache and he is a sex fiend.
The Bond suave is gone. He is the anti-Bond. And
to prove it, the film gives
a few sly nods to the 007 series. A shaking of
a drink tumbler is just one.
The biggest ‘wink
wink’ Brosnan bestows on us is that this
is the best performance he has ever given. He
is both funny and tragic throughout this dark
comedy. Even though Julian is vulgar, Brosnan
finds just the right (character) mix to keep the
audience rooting for him. Perfect comedic timing
from Greg Kinnear, Hope
Davis and Brosnan and a tight script from Richard
Sheppard make this film
one of the freshest hit man movies to come our
way in a long time.
Lane; Matthew Broderick; Una Thurman; Gary Beach;
Based on the Mel Brook’s Movie and the Mel
Reviewed by Terry
What can one say
about a musical film of a smash hit Broadway show
which was based on a classic 1968 Mel Brooks movie?
Any serious fan of Broadway or cinema is familiar
with the story and can recite by heart many of
the classic lines.
a cardboard belt!," "Under the right
circumstances you can make more money with a flop
than with a hit," "I was born in Dusseldorf
and that is why they call me Rolf" and "Did
you ever think you'd love a show called 'Springtime
for Hitler' "?
Does the new movie
hold its own with the 1968 Zero Mostel/Gene Wilder
version? No, it doesn't. This very theatrical
film drags in between the song and dance numbers.
But this is a musical after all and the singing
and dancing is wonderful!
Nathan Lane, one
of the funniest men of the 21st century, is hilarious
as producer Max Bialystock. He possesses perfect
comic timing and a strong Broadway voice. However,
his co-star Matthew Broderick seems awkward and
cartoonish as the nebbish accountant Leo Bloom
(a role played with a weird pathos by Gene Wilder
in the original film).
But when Broderick
sings and dances, he is a revelation! From "I
Wanna Be A Producer" to "Prisoners of
Love" (whether dancing solo or with others)
Broderick does a mean Gene Kelly imitation which
more than overshadows his non-musical interludes.
Uma Thurman as
the blonde bombshell Swedish "secretary"
Ulla acts well and dances adequately, but she
lacks the raw sexuality and delicate features
of Lee Merriweather (1968) or Cady Huffman (Broadway).
Will Ferrell overacts as Frank Liebkind the Nazi
playwright and he can't match the lovable insanity
which Kenneth Mars ("Malcolm in the Middle")
brought to the role in the original film.
cast member and Tony Award Winner Gary Beach is
perfectly cast as the flamboyant director Roger
DeBries. His performance of "Keep it Gay"
is a classic and he is also excellent as "Hitler"
(a part played as an aging hippie by the late
Dick Shawn in the 1968 film).
One major drawback
of most filmed musical shows is there is no audience
reaction, which in live theatre provides so much
of the energy and excitement. A few people at
the screening I attended (including Joan Rivers!)
applauded briefly after some musical numbers,
but stopped quickly when they remembered that
neither Lane nor Broderick were in the house.
If you (like this
critic) couldn't get tickets to see Lane and Broderick
on Broadway or were wondering what all the fuss
was about, this film is definitely worth ten 10
bucks (which is one-tenth of what you would have
paid to see it on the Great White Way).
Or, better yet,
rent the original 1968 film, laugh for 88 minutes
straight, and wonder why comic geniuses Mostel
and Wilder never did another "buddy film"
and Yolande Moreau's
When The Sea Rises
Moreau; Wim Willaert; Olivier Gourmet; Jackie
Berroyer; and Philippe Duquesne.
Reviewed by Brian Shirey
and a little bit weird, When the Sea Rises
is an original French film about the romance between
two quirky performers. One is an experimental
stage comic, the other, a designer and operator
of “carnival giants.” (You know, those
towering paper mache human figures, usually with
painted-on grins, that are often seen in parades).
Above all, what’s refreshing is that When
the Sea Rises is straight from the heart
of a middle-aged woman, the barely known (here,
at least) French comedienne Yolande Moreau. Co-director
and star, she’s made a sweet movie that
reveals the colorful lives of certain –
what should we call them? – fringe dwellers
of the entertainment world.
While France is
a country renowned for its high appreciation of
fine art, take a trip to the rural towns on the
Franco-Belgian border and you’ll encounter
garish, funny, even grotesque theatrical performance.
This is where Irene (Moreau) nightly acts her
one-woman show, called “Dirty Business.”
Masked onstage, Irene performs an odd murder skit
that requires the participation of an audience
member, whom she calls “chicken.”
It is a vagabond existence, and when When
the Sea Rises begins, we see how Irene is
resigned to the routine. Pointedly, the film opens
with a shot of Irene removing her wedding ring
so that she can apply stage blood; her status
as a married woman, living this life, is about
Stalled on a road
between towns, Irene is helped by Dries, a local
“craftsman” (see above). Appreciative
of his aid, she invites Dries to her show, and
soon he becomes the nightly “chicken.”
A romance develops shyly, but inevitably, defying
the expectations most movies have created about
what can happen to a plump, lonely, 50ish heroine.
Moreau’s co-director is Gilles Porte, a
cinematographer, and as the DP here he shows us
careful close-ups of Irene watching Dries. She
discovers his mutual eccentricity, and as that
energy is shared, When the Sea Rises
becomes a hymn to the allure of individual expression.
For my money, the film doesn’t succeed in
making clear what there is about Irene that has
caused her to create such a spare, macabre show.
Her freakish clown mask and dowdy uniform turn
her into a kind of matron from hell, like an asylum
escapee, and the humor is derived from the audience’s
discomfort. But there’s never any question
as to why Irene and Dries are drawn together…
I mean, the guy has a set of mechanical dancing
Adding to the
film’s intimacy is Porte’s understated
location photography. It captures the close, warm
atmosphere of small town life, in which a Main
Street parade is a high culture event. We can
see that Irene is not completely comfortable here
-- she always needs directions to get to the next
place – but the character is in her element
on stage. In brief moments, When the Sea Rises
reminded me a bit of Lost in Translation.
Irene makes calls to her husband so they can discuss
bathroom tile, much as Bill Murray’s character
did with his wife… and all the while, a
sense of individual alienation leads to closeness
with a kindred spirit, who is also lost. But Moreau
and Porte’s film is not about pretty, rich
people in beautiful places, and that’s what
makes it so unique.
Moreau, who in
real life wrote and performed “Dirty Business”
as a stage actress, couldn’t have hoped
for a better vehicle for her talents. When
the Sea Rises is cleverly edited, allowing
her relationship with Dries to progress while
smoothly inter-cutting snippets of her show. She
won the Cesar Award (France’s equivalent
of the Oscar) for this film, and it’s no
wonder. For bravery alone, I would suggest: At
one point, she appears nude, a bold move for a
woman who does not exactly resemble the typical
movie actress. For that matter, the scene is so
earnest about the characters’ idiosyncratic
affection for each other, I felt like a bit of
a voyeur. In great support is Wim Willaert as
Dries, appropriately awkward, goofy and unapologetic
about it, looking like a cross between Dudley
Moore and Jean-Paul Belmondo.
When the Sea
Rises has a comedy-drama mix that feels very
slice of life, except you may not recognize the
life. And Yolande Moreau is a traveling performance
artist, so her act – and by extension, her
movie – is certifiably loony. In the end,
I’m not sure New York audiences will get
the joke. I mean, when was the last time you went
to the circus? But as a portrait of renegades
with offbeat creative talents, When the Sea
Rises is an enlightening and entertaining
When the Sea
Rises opens Friday the 13th (of January),
at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Cinema Village.
Why We Fight
Opens Friday January 20, 2006
by Wendy R. Williams
Eugene Jarecki’s documentary, Why
We Fight, is an attempt to give a “fair
balanced” overview of the reasons why
America is such a war mongering nation.
The film feature interviews with military personnel
(including the two pilots who
were supposed to deliver the first surgical
strike in our current war - the one
that was supposed to hit Saddam), and Republicans
like John McCain, Susan Eisenhower (granddaughter
of President Eisehhower), and retired General
John Eisenhower (President Eisenhower’s
son). It also features interview with Republican
neocons like William Kristol and Richard Perle.
And for a non-Republican perspective there are
interviews with Gore Vidal and Charles Lewis.
The title of
the film was inspired by the films that Frank
Capra made during World
War II also entitled Why We Fight.
The film begins with news clips of President
Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell speech to
the American people in which he warned
that continuing to pump up U.S. defense funds
without the American people's
vigilance would result in the military-industrial
complex running rampant.
Here is a quote
from their press release: “During World
War II, the U.S.
government commissioned a series of propaganda
films (some directed by Frank
Capra) entitled Why We Fight. Now,
filmmaker Eugene Jarecki turns that
premise on its head, using the same title to
take an incisive, unflinching look
at the convention of warfare. Using as his starting
point Dwight D.
Eisenhower's declaration that a responsible
government "must guard against
the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether
sought or unsought, by the military-industrial
complex," Jarecki charges that in the current
climate, the government's ambitions -- stated
or otherwise -- in going to war
are often starkly different from the best interests
of its citizens. Why
do we lack the sense of wartime purpose that
previous generations proudly upheld? How large
a role do political and corporate agendas play
a U.S. call to arms? These questions and more
are addressed in a powerful
film that transcends polemical scapegoating,
forcing us to confront a new brand of imperialism
that cannot easily be justified or ignored.”
But back to the “fair and balanced”
part - fair and balanced or not, this film is
a devastating indictment of our war machine.
Through interview and narrative
the film depicts the revolving door between
Congress and the large military contractors
and the way the “military industrial complex”
by outsourcing (heavily lobbied to be sure)
the manufacture of parts for say
war planes to all fifty-two states. So if a
congressman votes against a military contact,
he would then be voting to decrease employment
in his own district. And this is an across the
board indictment – there have been plenty
of Democratic wars.
But why then
do the American people go along with the deployment
of our military juggernaut to solve our problems.
Why do we seem to always be either at war or
getting ready to go? And why do the American
people seem so confused about why we are in
Iraq and why for heavens sake were we ever in
we are "played." One of the most interesting
interviews is with a retired Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski
who was at the Pentagon in 2002. Here is a
quote from Kwiatkowski, “I could see that
war was going to happen. The decision had been
made and it was just a matter of bringing the
American people up to speed.” And from
retired New York City policeman Wilton Sekzer
who lost a son in 9/11 and then asked to have
his son’s name placed on one of the bombs
in Iraq. He talks about how incredulous, devastated
and exploited he felt when he heard President
Bush say that he had never suggested a link
between 9/11 and Saddam.
And from Chalmers
Johnson the author of "Blowback."
In the film, Johson
talks about blowback (a CIA term that means
retaliation, or payback) but for the sake of
accuracy, I am going to quote an interview about
blowback that Mr.
Johnson did with http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people4/CJohnson/cjohnson-con2.html.
“By blowback we do not mean just the unintended
consequences of events. We mean unintended consequences
of events that were kept secret from the American
public, so that when the retaliation comes,
they have no way to put it into context…..
The people on the receiving end know full well
that they hate us because of what was done to
them. It's the American public that are in the
dark on that subject……. Two days
after 9/11, when the president said to Congress,
asked the question rhetorically: "Why do
they hate us?" my response was: "The
people immediately around you are the ones who
could tell you in precision why. That is, Cheney,
Rumsfeld, Rice, Colin Powell, Richard Armitage."
Why We Fight
is certainly a thought provoking indictment
of the American government and also the complacent
acquiescience of the American people.
And it is more devastating because the documentary
is non partisan, looking at the United States
war mongering as a systemic problem, not a partisan
one. I would like to close my review of this
documentary by saying, if you really want to
find out what is going on with almost any situation
in life, you simply need to listen to Deep Throat
(of Watergate fame) and follow the money. So
why we are at war? Find out who is profiting
and you will find out why we are there.
Why We Fight
won the 2005 Sundance Film Featival Grand Jury