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Julian Jarrold’s
Becoming Jane
Opens Friday, August 3, 2007

Starring: Anne Hathaway; James McAvoy; Julie Walters; James Cromwell; Maggie Smith; Joe Anderson; Lucy Cohu; and Anna Maxwell Margin.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Tagline: "A woman especially if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can." Jane Austen

The cast and crew of Becoming Jane took on a Herculean task when they imagined and depicted an early romance for Jane Austen. Their theory was that Austen must have had some experience with love that she used as inspiration for the romanticism of her novels. And in telling this tale, they had very few historical facts with which to work. There are a few small references to Tom Lefroy in the remaining Austen letters (Austen’s sister Cassandra burned most of Jane’s letters when Jane died). Nevertheless, the filmmakers did not simply tell a story of an imagined girlhood crush, they told a story that is filled with themes from Austen’s novels. So the film's title, Becoming Jane, should not be interpreted as to simply the film itself. By telling this story, the creative team channeled the spirit of Jane Austen and literally became Jane.

Here is a quote from the press release for the film: “Becoming Jane, a romantic drama starring Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada), presents a fresh and daring view of Jane Austen’s early years. Set in the late 18th century, the film portrays Austen’s encounters with the modern, roguish young Irishman, Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland) and imagines how their romantic encounter could have influenced some of her most famous novels that followed.”

Anyone who ventures to film one of Jane Austen’s stories ventures into a drawing-room-minefield. Austen has millions of fans to whom she is their Jane Austen, a member of the family of their heart. And these fans rigorously defend the honor of their heroine and the heroines of her novels by doing things such as expelling a collective “Hmph” when Kyra Sedgwick (playing the newly married Lizzie Bennet) kisses Matthew Macfadyen (playing Mr. Darcy) at the end of director Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice. (There was no kissing in the book.)

Screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams had most definitely studied the Austen novels and the viewer is quickly transported into the world of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion. It is all there: the marriage market; the relationship between sisters; the romance; the emphasis on character and responsibility; and the suppressed carnality.

The Marriage Market: Jane Austen was born into a world where women of her class had only one option and that was to marry well. There were no colleges to attend; a smart young girl like Jane Austen could not even become a school teacher. And marrying well did not just require looks and charm, it required money. Austen’s novels are filled with details of this marriage market. No character is introduced without another character whispering just exactly what their income is in pounds per year. And in this world, a man or woman who ignored these monetary realities and married for love alone would not only consign themselves to financial ruin, they could easily take their families with them.

The Sisters: Jane Austen had a sister Cassandra to whom she was devoted. Cassandra’s fiancé died before they could be married and Cassandra remained unmarried and Jane’s confidante throughout their lives. This relationship between Austen and her sister was surely the basis for the relationships between Elinor and Marianne Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility and Lizzie and Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Having a sister must have been a comfort to Austen in her life and writing the character of the sister in her novels gave the Austen’s heroines someone in whom to confide and thus let us (the readers) see their hearts.

The Romance: One of the reasons I believe that Jane Austen’s novels are so beloved is that the heroines conduct their romantic life with honor. They behave the way that we (the readers) wish we had behaved in matters of the heart, always choosing the higher path and forever remaining a lady. And in this imaginary story, Jane Austen does not disappoint. Jane is shown to be a magnificent character, as memorable as the beloved Lizzie Bennet of Pride and Prejudice.

Character and Responsibility: Jane Austen had a keen eye for human foibles and she gave this eye to her heroines. She also gave them an overwhelming sense of responsibility for their families. Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility) shoulders the burdens of her family. Anne Elliot (Persuasion) forgoes a romance with the poor but dashing Captain Wentworth so she can take care of her irresponsible father and sister. And in Becoming Jane, we see the genesis of Jane Austen’s character’s character; it is the soul of Jane Austen.

The Carnality: In Jane Austen’s world carnality does exist but it is off on the sidelines of the stories - thunder off in the distance. In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon’s ward becomes pregnant while unwed. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia was certainly doing something she was not supposed to do when she ran off with Wickham. But in the film Becoming Jane, we see the carnality of the time. Jane Austen grew up on a working farm where she was surely exposed to the reality of sex. People had huge families and just where did all those pigs come from any way? In the film, we see LeFroy in a whorehouse, jumping into a river stark naked and in the scene where he first meets Jane, he reads a highly erotic passage from a nature book to her and quickly suggest that she read Tom Jones. Rabid Janites will undoubtedly be put off by some of this baseness. They may prefer to continue to view their Jane as a string of pearls on a white lacy dollie. But any sensible person must realize that Jane Austen herself must have been exposed to the realities of sex if not to the act of sex itself.

So how did our filmmakers do? To quote a character from an Austen novel, “Very well, indeed.”

The film is charming, poignant and fun, just like the Austen novels. The viewer is quickly transported back into 18th century England with the beautiful shabby chic homes. It is a time when people had time to visit and talk and village life was a social life.

And the romance between Jane and Lefroy is beautifully told. Jane Austen is depicted as a fearless heroine, a lady who knows her own heart and mind. And she has a worthy romantic interest in the irascible Irishman, Tom Lefroy. Theirs is a romance of both the mind and heart. And it is a romance that could so easily have gone a less honorable way because Lefroy certainly shows the capacity to be a cad like Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, but he becomes much more when he falls both in lust with Jane and in love with her mind.

All of the actors do superb jobs playing their roles. Anne Hathaway plays a beautiful spirited Jane Austen. James McAvoy plays a roguish, sexually attractive Tom Lefroy. And the films boast an amazing supporting cast: Julie Walters as Jane’s mother; James Cromwell as her father ; Maggie Smith as Lady Gresham (a Lady Catherine De Bourg-like character). Director Julian Jarrold is certainly to be commended for helming this beautiful film.


Gena Rowlands and Parker Posey
Broken English

Zoe R. Cassavetes’
Broken English
Opens Friday, June 22, 2007

Starring: Parker Posey; Drea de Matteo; Gena Rowlands; Melvil Poupaud; Justin Theroux; Tim Guinee; and Peter Bogdanovich.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Zoe R. Cassavetes’ Broken English is Sex and the City for the Lost in Translation set. Set in New York, it tells the smoky story of a New York single woman whose life has been reduced to the long-gone-down-lonesome-blues.

Here is a quote from the press release: “ Parker Posey plays Nora Wilder, a thirty-something Manhattanite who is cynical about love and relationships. Plugging away at her job in a posh downtown hotel, Nora can't help wondering what it is she has to do to find a relationship as ideal as her friend Audrey's (Drea De Matteo) "perfect marriage." It doesn’t help that her overbearing mother (Gena Rowlands) takes every opportunity to remind Nora that she's still unattached. After a series of disastrous first dates, she meets Julien (Melvil Poupaud), a seemingly devil-may-care Frenchman with a passion for living. Expecting another disastrous ending, Nora tries to avoid making the same mistakes and in doing so finds herself in Paris for the first time, with a new outlook on life and love.”

Nora is disaffected and with good reason. Her friend Audrey’s marriage is boredom at best and the only men left for Nora to date are the leftovers from the grand and glorious marriage marriage market that most New Yorkers enter in their mid to late twenties. Once you hit thirty, the only choices left are jerk and jerkier.

And then she meets a hot Frenchman, Julien (played by Melvin Poupaud) and something clicks. But Nora is still burdened with the baggage of her passive aggressive dating style and after all, the guy does live in Paris. So they go to Paris to find him, but Nora also takes along all of her self destructive impulses and…….

This film has a tone and a feel that is quintessentially New York and it tells a deeply psychological story of sadness and loneliness. It is a story of how people create their own lives by their own expectations and nothing can really change unless they change first.

Zoe Cassavetes’ follows in her family’s tradition of creating intense emotional films. Parker Posey does a magnificent job playing a woman whose life may not be that far from her own. Drea DeMatteo (of Adrianna in the Sopranos fame) creates yet another New York character that is filled with both cynicism and longing. And Melvil Poupaud is just plain sexy and if the French have more of him, they should import them to New York.

Anthony Giacchino’s
The Camden 28
Opened Friday, July 27, 2007

Reviewed by Julia Sirmons

An often overlooked cut incredibly significant moment in modern American history is finally given its due in Anthony Giacchino’s The Camden 28, a resonant and incisive examination the high-profile trial of twenty-eight anti-war activists in Camden, New Jersey in 1973.

Giacchino’s documentary focuses on a fact often overwhelmed by the modern-day stereotypical image of the drug-addled, long-haired peace protestor of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. In actuality, the massive cultural changes also sent shockwaves through many religious communities, particularly groups of pacifist Catholics – often referred to as the “Catholic Left” – who felt it their Christian duty to anything necessary to stop an unjust and senseless war. Many participated in very public and flagrant burnings of draft cards, which almost inevitably led to jail sentences for some of the movement’s most impassioned and valuable members.

Meanwhile, a group of pacifists based in Camden decided that more drastic measures were required to stop the killing. (A change of the entire political structure would also be necessary, they decided, but the first priority was to stop as many deaths as they could.) Together the group – who would later become known as “The Camden 28” and counted among its members four Catholic priests and a Lutheran minister –concocted a plot to raid a draft office and destroy as many records as possible. The office was ideally located across from the Episcopal church, where group members performed stakeouts to prepare for the break-in. For many members of the group, making this political statement in Camden was a highly symbolic gesture, since scores of the city’s poor African-American and Hispanic young men were being sent off to war while the neighborhoods they grew up in bore a striking resemblance to the devastated, burnt-out villages of Vietnam. What better place, they argued, to illustrate how the huge amount of money used to fund an endless war could be put to better use improving communities at home?

Through a well-edited mixture of archival footage, photographs, and in-depth, enlightening interviews with all parties involved in the affair, Giacchino reconstructs the Camden 28’s extensive planning for the raid, its execution, the bust by the FBI, the subsequent trial, and the group’s ongoing and complex relationship with the informant who betrayed them by tipping off the Feds. (The details of this subplot are just too juicy and well told to spoil; you’ll just have to find out for yourself.)

Giacchino uses several effective techniques to bring this dynamic moment of political history to life. He cleverly reunites all the major players – from defendants (most of whom were actively involved in their defense, delivering opening and closing statements and examining witnesses) to attorneys to key witnesses – in the same courtroom where the trial was held, and has them re-enact key moments in the trial and describe their emotions and reactions at the time, as well as their feelings about the experience with over thirty years of hindsight. Of the many poignant moments that arise from this scenario, particularly notable is the declaration of Camden 28 member Joan Reilly, while reenacting her time on the witness stand, that she hopes this reunion will rekindle the group’s determination to fight for peace; a fight which, she reminds them, is a lifelong battle.

Moments like this prove that Giacchino’s greatest assets are the members of Camden 28 themselves, tightly and permanently bonded by the experience they shared and the fortitude of their convictions, and so passionately committed to their beliefs that they were willing to sacrifice all the securities of conventional life to try and bring their dreams a little closer to reality. Giacchino never directly asks any of the Camden 28 their thoughts about the war in Iraq, preferring to let that dimension of the story remain a latent but profound undercurrent. However, he does include footage of many Camden 28 members marching in protests against the Iraq War just before the credits roll. It’s a subtle reminder that the insistent clarion call for peace and justice that sounded so loudly in the ‘60’s and ‘70s can still be heard. Enthralling and compulsory viewing, The Camden 28 is a timely reminder of America’s history of civil disobedience, and a compelling call to action for all persons of conscience living in the here and now.

Frank Oz's
Death at a Funeral
Opens Friday, August 17, 2007

Starring: Matthew Macfadyen; Keeley Hawes; Andy Nyman; Howard Ewen Bremne; Daisy Donovan; Alan Tudyk; Jane Asher; Kris Marshall;
Rupert Graves; Peter Vaughan; Thomas Wheatley; Peter Egan; Peter Dinklage; Brendan O'Hea; and Jeremy Booth.

Reviewed by Allison Ford

“Riotous mayhem and unfortunate mishaps” are not what usually happen at funerals. Not at the funerals that anyone I know has personally attended, anyways. Maybe if you’re British, these kinds of things happen often enough to be commonplace, but I’ve never been to a British funeral, so I can’t say for sure. I would imagine them to be intensely stodgy, somber affairs, where everyone wears black veils and sips tea and wears sensible shoes. I definitely do NOT imagine upended coffins, blackmail, hallucinogenic drugs, or nudity.

Death at a Funeral, the new black comedy directed by Frank Oz, explores the worst-case scenario for a proper upper-class British family that is trying desperately to remain dignified while chaos erupts all around them. Oz, best known as the voices of Yoda and Fozzie Bear, but also the director of such classic comedies as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Bowfinger, and What About Bob? has crafted a madcap, uproarious portrait of a dysfunctional family, complete with the requisite black sheep and skeletons in the closet.

In fact, this family seems to be comprised entirely of black sheep, except for the dutiful son, played by Matthew MacFayden, who tries to hold it all together as they attempt to give the family patriarch a proper send-off. Although played by venerable British actors, the characters in the film could belong to any family on either side of the pond; the narcissistic brother, the attractive cousin and her hapless fiancé, the chubby hypochondriac friend, the grieving mother who secretly enjoys the spotlight, and the cantankerous (and incontinent) great-uncle Alfie.

While the direction and acting are nearly flawless, the script is a bit contrived at times, and not always full of surprises. The dialogue tends to foreshadow the punchline of jokes before they have been fully played-out. When we meet the drug-dealing cousin, it’s pretty obvious that someone will mistake his Ecstasy for Excedrin. When we see the Mysterious Stranger lurking near the coffin, it’s not hard to figure out that he harbors a Big Secret. Madness ensues, and while Simon the Fiancé runs naked and hallucinating through the garden, Peter the Mystery Guest reveals his nefarious plot, and Uncle Archie tries valiantly to get to the loo in time. (Spoiler – he doesn’t make it.)

Although the idea that a family funeral is a perfect place for black comedy is universal, the film itself has a distinctly British feel. Much upper-class British comedy is based on emotion bubbling up beneath a buttoned-up exterior, and this comedy uses a perfect blend of highbrow and lowbrow comedic elements, from pithy bon mots to slapstick sight gags. A desperate, quintessentially British uptightness lays the foundation for characters to do desperately ridiculous things in the name of saving face. As Daniel, the stoic and dutiful son, Matthew MacFayden is calm and rational to a fault. We know that he harbors feelings of rage and fury, but his refusal to acknowledge them is what makes it hilarious when he’s eventually pushed over the brink. Alan Tudyk plays Simon, nervous about meeting his fiancé‘s stuffy father, and the tension between his raging inner life and calm outward façade makes it much more satisfying when he’s screaming obscenities on the roof.

Although some of the more contrived plot points feel quite American, the film makes no apologies for or explanations of its essential British-ness. They are relatable, though, and far from being American-imagined caricatures of the English (such as in Snatch). The Britain of this film is more Four Weddings and a Funeral than Benny Hill. The film also takes advantage of the feeling (among Americans, anyway) that anything is funnier when spoken in a British accent. Even British insults are funnier – calling someone a “wanker” feels much cleverer than calling them a “jackass.”

The film concludes with a primly happy ending, all the loose ends having been neatly tied up. Its success is owed more to the direction and performances than to the script, written by newcomer Neal Craig. While it does not contain some of the biting satire or social commentary of Oz’s earlier work, Death at a Funeral is a great lighthearted comedy. Frank Oz’s quirky direction as well as stellar performances by a great cast is what make this film a welcome respite from the rest of the end-of-summer doldrums.

For more information, log onto the movie's website:


Tom Dicillo’s
Opens Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Starring: Steve Buscemi; Michael Pitt; Alison Lohman; and Gina Gershon.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Tom Decillo’s Delirious is a fairy tale complete with a handsome prince, a beautiful princess, a good witch and an urban troll. And in this modern retelling of the Brother’s Grimm, it is the prince who is rescued and taken to an ivory tower to live happily ever after with his drugged-out princess.

Steve Buscemi plays hapless paparazzi (the troll) whose big dream is to get “the” photo that will catapult him to fame and fortune. But the only catapulting he finds is the kind that kicks him out of all the good parties and keeps him away from the A list stars, especially a Britney Spears-like pop singer named K’Harma (Alison Lohman). Then Les finds a protégé in the person of Toby (Michael Pitt), a homeless kid that Les “befriends” and takes under his wing as his unpaid assistant.

And then one night K’Harma sees Toby and they are immediately smitten with the spell of love because underneath Toby’s street gear is the gorgeous body and face of Michael Pitt. But as in all good fairy tales there are complications and the lovers are cast apart – K’Harma into her karma and Toby into the arms of the hot casting director Dana (Gina Gershon), the good witch of this urban fairy tale. Toby is now a fixture in the celebrity galaxy and Les is left behind to ruminate on the injustice of life.

But in the end, karma rights this celestial world. For Delirious is a true fairy tale, one where celebrities are Fairy Godmothers (just like they are in real life).

The film is blessed with talented stars. Steve Buscemi delivers the goods as always. And Alison Lohman, Michael Pitt and Gina Gershon all do what they do best, tell the story while looking good, really good.

The locations are terrific. For once a New York apartment of a regular Joe looks like the piece-of-shit dive and not like a Friend’s like palace. The clubs are the clubs, the streets of the Meat Packing district add grit and the ivory tower penthouses are true castles in the air. It is New York.

Good job.


Patrick Wilson and Claire Danes in Evening

Lajos Koltai's
Opens Friday, June 29, 2007

Starring: Eileen Atkins; Glenn Close; Toni Colette; Hugh Dancy; Claire Danes; Marnie Gummer; Vanessa Redgrave; Natasha Richardson; and Patrick Wilson.

Reviewed by Julia Sirmons

Just off an idyllic rocky coast, a young woman, swathed in virginal white, lies curled up in a small wooden sailboat. On the overlooking crags, an elderly woman, dressed in a spangled black gown, watches the girl affectionately, attentively, from a distance.

The young girl awakes – from a trance or a dream? – and looks up, anxiously, expectantly toward the older woman.

“Where’s Harris?” she asks, her voice querulous, anxious, expectant.

So begins Evening, the poignant, transcendent, and incandescent new film directed by Lajos Koltai and adapted by Susan Minot and Michael Cunningham from Minot’s novel of the same title.

This opening scene is, in fact, a dream or a delusion, generated from the mind of a dying second-string jazz singer, Ann Lord Grant (Vanessa Redgrave), confined to her bed, stuck between ruminations on and analysis of the sum total of her life and sometimes laconic, sometimes acute and pissy reactions to her current state of terminal illness.

The young girl she watches over in the dream is her former self, the young Ann Lord (Claire Danes), a college student who’s naïve, charming but slightly awkward, unsure of her ability or desire to pursue a singing career.

As old Ann dreams and ponders and curses fate in the confines of her sickbed – in a film replete with stellar performances from a cast chock-full of today’s finest actors, Redgrave is the center that holds the film together; schlumped over in bed with scraggly hair and no makeup, she’s still a gorgeous, dynamite force of nature – she calls out the name “Harris,” calling him the great love of her life and hinting that she and Harris were somehow involved in the death of a mutual friend of theirs.

This comes as a complete shock to Ann’s two grown daughters Nina (Toni Colette) and Constance (played by Redgrave’s real-life daughter, Natasha Richardson). Later on in the film, there’s an incredibly tender and well played scene between these two that takes all the clichés about grown-up children finally appreciating what their parents went through raising them and turns them into something subtle, honest and beautiful.

Nina wants to solve the Harris mystery; Constance thinks it’s best, at this late date, to let sleeping dogs lie. Of course, as is often the case with sisters, there’s another, deeper dimension to this conflict. Constance is the confident, capable supermom and wife, whereas Nina is the only slightly recovered bête noire of the family, who can’t tell her committed and smitten rocker boyfriend that she’s pregnant. She’s conflicted; half of her wants the boyfriend and the baby, and half of her is terrified that she’ll be making a terrible mistake – a mistake like the one she’s beginning to think her mother might have made. For their respective personal reasons, Constance wants to view their mother’s life as inherently happy, whereas Nina wants to see it as unhappy, tinged with bitterness and resentment of half-successes and missed opportunities.

Again, the issues run deeper. The differences between the sisters’ choices in life are often a source of friction between them, as they make each one question the decisions they made; choices they pretend they’re completely comfortable with. Again, a huge amount of credit is due to Koltai, Minot, and Cunningham – and obviously, to Richardson and Colette – for taking on this well mined territory and not sliding into Lifetime-movie schlock. Nina and Constance bristle against each other, and even flat-out fight, but even in these tensest of moments, an incredible amount of love, laughter, and mutual appreciation always shines through.

Meanwhile, through old Ann’s memories and reveries – often aided by the proddings of cipher-like, shape-shifting nurse (played with a fantastic mix of tenderness and practical pluckiness by Eileen Atkins) – the audience gets to go back into the past, and slowly discovers the truth about what really happened with Harris.

Koltai takes us back to Newport in the ‘50s, where the bohemian, fresh-faced Ann (played with a luminous youthful exuberance, vulnerability and subtlety by Claire Danes, who with this performance finally lives up to the great potential she showed so many years ago on My So-Called Life) arrives at the posh Newport estate of her college friend Lila (Marnie Gummer), who’s about to be married to a nice but dull society boy. Strictly against these nuptials is Buddy (Hugh Dancy), Lila’s brother and Ann’s friend, who hopes, that in between the revelry of a weekend of drunken carousing, singing, dancing, sailing and frolicking in the woods, Ann will find the time to talk Lila out of the wedding.

Dancy is another standout amidst a cast of excellent actors. In a conversation held at an advance screening of Evening, Minot credited Cunningham with developing Buddy’s character for the film, and there’s no doubt that it was an excellent choice. Buddy is a unique, compelling, charming and heartbreaking character – the only comparison that springs immediately to mind is Sebastian Flyte, the troubled, sexually confused aristocratic gadfly of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

Like Sebastian, Buddy both enjoys the pleasures of his life of privilege and abhors the pretensions that go along with it. He has a complicated relationship with alcohol and isn’t sure whether he’d like to kiss his girl or his boy friends. These complexities are combined with an irresistible, infectious urge to drain every Dionysian pleasure out of life, and an overwhelming desire to squeeze out every moment of happiness while the fruit is still ripe.

Dancy’s portrayal of Buddy sways through all of these elements like a beautiful, heartbreaking gavotte. An actor discovered through BBC adaptations of literary classics, Dancy has wasted too much of his time and considerable talent playing Price Charming roles in B-rate romantic comedies and using his smoldering, Byronic good looks to great effect in Burberry ads. It’s a great pleasure to see his impressive talent put to exquisite use in Evening. His ruddy, wine-filled face, alternating expressions of enthusiasm and hope, dejection and despair, happiness and exuberance, fear and vulnerability, is a remarkable ever-changing canvas that is both entertaining and heartbreaking as the film moves on.

Buddy wants his sister Lila to marry the oft-mentioned Harris (Patrick Wilson), the poorer, nobler, and more emotionally stable friend of the family who sails with Buddy and holds him up whenever he gets a little too loud or too wobbly. Lila is indeed in love with Harris, but Harris has gently but summarily rejected her advances, and so she’s decided to go ahead and marry a man she’s ambivalent to, much to the delight of her mother (played with perfect pinchy WASP-iness by an insanely coiffed Glenn Close).

The one Harris is really interested in is Ann, and the chemistry between the two – which even surpasses the lovely dancing duet they did to the tune of Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do” in a recent Gap ad – is a wonder to behold. It’s slow and realistic, yet simmering with the unique erotic tension of the possibility of first real love. Audience members in an advance screening complained about Wilson’s wooden stiffness in his portrayal of Harris. However, anyone who’s seen his incredible performance as a conflicted, closeted Mormon in HBO’s televised version of Angels in America knows that a stiff exterior with volcanic emotions bubbling just below the surface is Wilson’s specialty. When, at Lila’s wedding, Ann and Harris break into a spontaneous duet of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s “Time After Time,” all question of wooden stiffness melts away. There is only the exhilarating unpredictability of new, sparkling flirtation and romance and all the exciting promises they hold.

This blossoming, surreptitious romance is made even more of a treat for the audience by the efforts of cinematographer Gyula Pados, who make their surreptitious interludes in the woods foggy, magical and mystical – full of that very midsummer madness and bacchanals that date back at least as far as ancient Greece. It’s gorgeous looking and sensational and powerful enough to make a viewer feel as if she’s falling in love for the first time herself.

Naturally, this relationship comes as a great blow to Buddy, who isn’t sure whether he’d rather kiss Ann or Harris, and is afraid (like Sebastian Flyte) that his family and surrogate family will steal his friends (and possible loves) away, or that somebody else may be having fun without him. This deadly cocktail of feelings of betrayal can and will lead, we all know, lead to an unhappy end and the collapse of all these beautiful romantic dreams.

Here again, Koltai, Minot, Cunningham and editor Allyson C. Johnson perfectly manage the delicate movements between past and present, managing the tension like virtuosi, giving the audience enough information on each side of the story to leave them wanting more; desperate to see what we already know will happen, as well as what we know we’ll never see and what we hope against hope will never occur, even though we know it’s inevitable.

In the present time, the sisters make peace and find their own happiness, while thanks to a visit from the now aged Lila (played by Meryl Streep with all the delicacy and perfection we’ve come to expect from her) the dying Ann comes to terms with her unresolved issues with Harris, looking over her rich, full life, and concurring with Lila’s conclusion that “nothing is a mistake.”

A user comment on IMDb has already dubbed Evening a “great chick flick”. This same moniker – which can mean box office gold, but also a snooty attitude from critics – was used for the adaptation of Michael Cuninngham’s novel The Hours, a mega-indie powerhouse that made a huge impact, both at the box office and on the awards circuit.

So forget about chicks and dudes; let your sexual predetermination fall by the way side for 117 minutes. Are you interested in love, youth and beauty? The existential crises that make us wonder what our lives could have been? The impending threat of mortality and the questions it raises, both for the dying and those left behind? Do you have a pulse? Then forget about your chromosomes, and go see Evening.

Adam Shankman’s
Opens Friday, August 20, 2007

Starring: John Travolta; Michelle Pfeiffer; Christopher Walken; Amanda Bynes; James Marsden; Queen Latifah; Brittany Snow; Zac Efron; Elijah Kelley; Allison Janney; Taylor Parks; and Nikki Blonsky.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Tracy Turnblad (played by darling newcomer Nikki Blonsky) is a “big” little girl with big hair and an even bigger heart. She lives in John Water’s 1960’s Baltimore with her even larger shut -in mother Edna (played by John Travolta in a fat suit) and her loving but strange father Wilbur (played by the loving but strange Christopher Walken). Tracy and her best friend Penny Pingleton (the adorable Amanda Bynes) attend high school where they are among the misfits – Tracy because of her size and Penny because she is quashed by an over-protective mother (the always hysterical Allison Janney) who won’t even let her watch the local teenage dance TV show, the Corny Collins show. Tracy and Penny “love” the Corny Collins show and Tracy’s biggest dream is to be one of the show’s dancers.

Cute little Tracy (with the blessing of her father and the trepidations of her over-protective mother) catches the eye of Corny Collins when he sees her dancing at a high school dance. Corny decides to cast Tracy as one of the dancers, much to the chagrin of the show’s producer Velma Von Tussle (played by the always amazing Michelle Pfeiffer) and her daughter Amber Von Tussle (the third of the adorable teenage Hairspray actresses, Miss Brittany Snow).

Once Tracy is on the show, she wows the TV audience with her take-no-prisoners dancing style; Tracy also catches the eye of local heartthrob Link Larkin (played by teenage heart throb Zac Efron). Tracy also shocks Mrs. Von Tussle (who did not like Tracy’s size to begin with) when she announces that she (Tracy) would like for every day to be Negro day. (Negro Day is the one day a month when the show features black dancers and performers).

Tracy then befriends the local Negros: Motor Mouth Mabel (played flawlessly by Queen Latifah); Seaweed, a charismatic dancer who quickly falls for Penny (played by Elijah Kelly); and Little Inez (Taylor Parks), Mabel’s daughter whose dancing rivals Tracy’s in style and enthusiasm.

So the die is cast and change is about to hit Baltimore. Nikki, her newly energized mother Edna, Amanda and the troupe of amazingly talented black dancers led by Motor Mouth Mabel want to integrate the Corny Collins show. And in this goal, they have help from Corny himself; Corny isn’t a racist and he can see that adding black dancers would be good for the show. Velma is totally opposed; she is both anti-fat and racist and her only goal is to make a star of her Mini-Me, her bland and blond daughter, Amber.

Hairspray (the 2007 ) works. It is charming, good hearted, big and wonderful, just like its star, little Tracy. The film is not quite as subversive as the original 1988 John Water’s Hairspray film mostly because John Travolta plays Edna as an
almost-real-woman in contrast to Divine’s subversive over-the-top Edna. But real or not, he is very funny and the scene where Travolta and Walken dance in the backyard with a backdrop of hung laundry is simply wonderful.

But there are so many wonderful moments in this film: Michelle Pfeiffer is amazing as the snooty racist Velma and her costumes are sixties marvels. And Nikkii Blonsky was an incredible find for the role of Miss Tracy Turnblad.

Director Adam Shankman created some wonderful dance numbers and managed to hit exactly the right tone with film; the film is campy and fun but always manages to keep one toe on the ground. The costumes and sets are candy-colored marvels. Hairspray, with its message of tolerance and hope, is a film that is truly fun for the entire family.

Franc Reyes’
Illegal Tender
Opens Friday, August 24, 2007

Sin City invades Pulp Fiction in this smokin' hot gangsta flick

Starring: Rick Gonzalez; Wanda De Jesus: Dania Ramirez; Manny Perez; and Tego Calderon.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Fran Reyes has helmed a thrilling carnival ride with his new film, Illegal Tender. Tender tells the story of Millie, a smart (and hot) Puerto Rican mamma (played by Wanda De Jesus) who is quietly living in suburban Connecticut with her two sons: college student Wilson (played by Rick Gonzalez) and elementary school student Randy (played by the adorable Antonio Ortiz).

See this quote from the press release: “After the gangsters who killed his father come to settle a score, a teenage boy and his mother turn the tables on the killers. Producer John Singleton (Four Brothers, Hustle & Flow) and writer / director Franc Reyes (Empire) join forcers to tell the story of one family’s quest for honor and revenge as the hunted become the hunters in the new thriller Illegal Tender.”

Wilson is named for his father, Wilson De Leon Sr. (played by Manny Perez), a Bronx based Puerto Rican gangster who was murdered at moment of Wilson’s birth. Well, Wilson Jr. may now be a well-heeled Connecticut college student (he drives a BMW to class), but he is still pure Bronx, dressing in baggy pants and blasting gangsta rap from his Beamer’s speakers. He is more Bridgeport than Westport, more G Unit than Ralph Lauren.

Then one day Mamma Millie is shopping for groceries when she sees a “ghost,” a woman from her old Bronx neighborhood. She quickly grabs Ricky and runs home to inform Wilson that they have to move, “again.” (It appears that this is family that has been mansion surfing.) But Wilson has a great life and is less than receptive to his mother’s hysteria. He has an adorable girlfriend named Ana (played by Dania Ramirez), he is doing very well in school and he wants no part of this new move. He feels safe and just assumes that his mother is over reacting (as mothers occasionally do).

We then hit the top of the roller coaster. Mamma quickly tells Wilson that he is a man now and if he won’t leave, he needs to be prepared to defend himself and his girlfriend. And in one of the most unintentionally funny part of the story, Mamma takes her boy into the basement, unlocks the safe and distributes assault rifles to her understandably shocked son.

Mamma leaves and Wilson is then forced to defend his turf (and his girl) when the sins of his father’s past invade his luxurious Connecticut world. We are then treated to a scene from the Scream sequel that must have been filming in the sound stage next door as Ana (who is supposed to be "quietly" hiding in the basement so the bad guys and gals won’t find her), screams her heart out for what seems like five minutes. This is also unintentionally (I think) hysterical.

Wilson, who is rightfully perplexed by this turn of events, confronts his mother and makes her tell him the secrets of their past starting with just where did their money come from in the first place? (He just noticed that Mamma dosn't have a job.) So Mamma tells him. It seems that while they are from the Bronx, the root of their “problem” is the gang world of Puerto Rico; Mamma has a blood feud with a Puerto Rican based gangster, Javier Cordero (played by Gary Perez).

Wilson then decides to “cut the head from the hydra” and in this quest he gets ample help from his smokin’ mamma. Mamma Millie and Wilson travel to Puerto Rico where they undertake a Michael Corleone-type mission to make things right for their family.

This film is fun. I never once looked at my watch to see how much longer it would be; it moves. And yes, there are mixed genres – sometimes I was watching the Godfather and then it turned into Scream II. But there is so much to like. Wanda de Jesus is both heartfelt and hysterical as Millie and Rick Gonzalez gives a quietly sincere performance as the coming-of-age Wilson. And Tego Calderon bring in the goods as Choco, the more than capable assistant to Puerto Rican kingpin Javier Cordero. And you just have to see this film to see the two bad-ass Latina assassins (played by Mercedes Mercado and Carmen Perez) who are seemingly moonlighting from the set of Sin City II. They are pure camp.


In HBO’s Life Support, Life Goes On
DVD Release August 7, 2007

Reviewed by William S. Gooch

Unlike some films about HIV/AIDS, Life Support is about living with the HIV virus, not just dying from it. Life Support provides a glimpse into the lives of blue-collar, African American urban dwellers that work, love, and yes, even celebrate life in spite of HIV/AIDS, low wages, rough neighborhoods, and bad life choices. With a stellar cast that includes Queen Latifah, Gloria Reuben, Tracey Ellis Ross, Wendell Pierce and Anna Deavere Smith, Life Support details the everyday challenges of Ana Wallace (Queen Latifah), an HIV positive, former crack addict who struggles to transform her life and hold her family together.

As Ana Wallace, Queen Latifah delivers an authentically moving and nuanced performance as a woman who is coming to terms with past mistakes. And Tracey Ellis Ross (Girlfriends) as the angry sister of an HIV-positive-teen gives perhaps her best portrayal to date.

Nelson George, in his directorial debut, has created a movie that illustrates the current dilemma for African Americans living with HIV. Life is not over for most, so the challenge is how to live with the virus and keep on keeping on, so to speak.

During support group discussions in the film, real-life, HIV–positive women talk openly about life, love, choices, disclosure, and their future. Though loosely based on Andrea Williams' (Nelson George's sister) struggle with HIV, Life Support is more about responsibility and living life honestly.

To be released on August 7, the 87-minute DVD includes special features such as audio commentary from director, Nelson George, “The Story Behind the Story” featurette, including an interview with Queen Latifah, an interview with Andrea Williams and much more.


Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart

Michael Winterbottom’s
A Mighty Heart
Opens Friday, June 22, 2007

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Michael Winterbottom is one of the most prolific and fascinating filmmakers working today, yet he receives no accolades for his work and is less celebrated than lesser directors. This is a serious shame since he is one of the most passionate and best directors around. With his last few films he has made a serious study in diversity: The Road to Guantanamo; Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story; 9 Songs; Code 46; In this World; 24-Hour Party People; The Claim; and Welcome to Sarajevo. If there is one constant, it’s the fact that he continues to go back to political films. And the results are always extraordinary.

Prior to her Academy Award for Girl Interrupted, Angelina Jolie was one of the few promising and daring actresses on the horizon. Her astonishing performance in the HBO film Gia proved this. Unfortunately, her post-Oscar choices have not been the wisest (Tomb Raider anyone?) and her acting career has been recently overshadowed by her celebrity, which is not exactly her fault. Recently, Jolie and her beau Brad Pitt have decided to use their media exposure to speak out about political and social causes, with mixed results.

The merging of these two strong filmic figures (Winterbottom and Jolie) could have spelled disaster--another bleeding heart liberal Hollywood pic (anyone remember Kim Basinger in I Dreamed of Africa?). Lucky for us, Winterbottom refuses to compromise his artistry AND Jolie has returned to real acting.

A Mighty Heart provides a detailed docu-cine-document of the kidnapping and brutal butchery of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl in Karachi, Pakistan. Based on the account written by his wife, Mariane, the film is occasionally nonlinear and doesn’t follow any paint-by-numbers structure. What it does is tell a riveting and tragic story in edge-of-your-seat fashion.

On January 23, 2002, Daniel Pearl, while researching a story on the shoe bomber Richard Reid, disappears. A few days later, it is revealed he has been kidnapped by a group that calls itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. The pic chronicles the events that occur before and after the kidnapping as seen through the eyes of his pregnant wife, Mariane...up until the horrific conclusion.

Although A Mighty Heart is a condemnation of terrorism, it asks us to, at least, understand both sides. It’s also a powerful reminder of just how piranha-like the media can be. One gets the feeling that the Brangelina paparazzi attacks may have inspired certain scenes.

Now, of course this is a Jolie vehicle, but she never overplays her character. It’s actually a fantastic bit of acting and the moment she discovers her husband is dead is devastatingly real.

Winterbottom continues to provide vital cinematic evidence of the current topsy-turvy, hate-obsessed world we live in. In depicting tragedies like the Pearl execution and the egregious human rights violations at Guantanamo, audiences are hopefully rattled, shaken, perhaps even stirred into taking some kind of action. One can hope, anyway.

John August’s
The Nines
Opens Friday, August 31, 2007

Starring: Ryan Reynolds; Hope Davis; Melissa McCarthy; and Elle Fanning.

Reviewed by Tara Mikhail

In John August’s directorial debut, The Nines, we are launched into a mind-twisting adventure that leaves us questioning the world around us. A forewarning: be prepared to make this movie your first stop of the night because afterwards you will want to stop at a coffee house and talk about questions such as: Are we living in a parallel universe? And if so, is it the right one and is there also a wrong one?

The film boasts a stellar ensemble of actors including: Ryan Reynolds (Van Wilder, Smokin’ Aces); Hope Davis (American Splendor), Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls); and Elle Fanning (Because of Winn Dixie). Reynolds stars as three different yet connected characters whose lives revolve around the same people in three separate worlds. Reynolds, who has played every genre from cheesy (The In-Laws) to raunchy-yet-funny (Waiting, Van Wilder) to thriller (The Amityville Horror), is now carrying the lead in a thought inducing film.

The film plays like an unsettling dream. Startled awake, you fall asleep again and just as you enter a false-calm, you realize that you are in the same dream, only slightly modified. The film is shot in three different ways. Not one moment passes that is irrelevant, everything in the film (down to the music) ties into a broader picture. The overlapping of props, location, music, dialog, themes and name alliteration come together in pure genius as we journey with Reynolds characters. The boundary between reality and unreality is toyed with, not only making us wonder what is truly real, but asking us what reality truly is.

In all three parts of the film, Reynolds questions his existence and begins to feel as though he is not alone; he feels like he is watching himself in an outer-body experience. Part one,The Prisoner, revolves around the innate human desire to flea restraining conditions. Gary (Reynolds) is a TV actor who is under house arrest and being care for by his publicist and companion (McCarthy). Extremely lonely and bored, he develops a shallow and disconnected relationship with the house-wife-next- door (Davis). Part two, Reality Television, is based on reality and relationships, namely August and his relationship with McCarthy. Reality follows Gavin (Reynolds) as he writes a TV show for his very best friend (McCarthy) and struggles through a shallow relationship with a network executive (Davis). In part three, Knowing, the end and the beginning are now entwined. In Knowing we follow Gabriel, who is now living the plot of Gavin’s show. Gabriel’s car breaks down in the woods; he is stranded with his wife (McCarthy) and his daughter (Fanning). He seeks help from a stranger (Davis). See the connection in character’s roles? Just wait until you see how the number nine plays in.

In Nine, August, famed for writing movies such as Big Fish, The Corpse Bride, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, tries his hand at directing. His obsession with everything that embodies the best allows this movie to flourish. The thoughts behind the images drive the film - the movie is surreal without having ridiculous Matrix-esque qualities. Connecting the characters, reflecting on reality, questioning loops in time, pondering the difference (if there is one) between creator and created, this movie is high-brow, modern literature in the form
of film.

Steven Soderbergh’s
Ocean’s 13
Opens Friday, June 8, 2007

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

As a huge fan of both Ocean’s 11 (a remake of the inferior Rat Pack Ocean’s 11 from 1960) and Ocean’s 12 (which received a lackluster response, mostly because it was way too clever for audiences and most critics), I had high hopes for the third saga involving Clooney and his clan.

I was a bit upset by the exclusion of Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones (sooo good in 12), but the addition of master thesp Al Pacino got me giddy again. And Ellen Barkin is always fun. But could Steven Soderbergh pull off three good movies in a row without copying and compromising? I am thrilled to report that the answer is...a resounding hell yes!

Considering the typical cavalcade of crap that Hollywood heaps on the public during the summer--and there is plenty this year to be sure--there are also a couple of surprisingly smart studio flix for the discerning cinemagoer who has exhausted the terrific indie and foreign pics playing. Knocked Up, as flawed as it is, fits the quality bill, and Ocean’s 13 scores a royal flush!

As a matter of happy fact, this installment may actually be the funniest and cleverest yet! (taking into account the prettification of everything onscreen and the artifice at play).

Director extraordinaire, Steven Soderbergh, has a sly way of working within a particular genre while simultaneously paying homage to it and satirizing it. (His unjustly maligned gem The Good German was another example, albeit a cooler, more experimental one.)

Soderbergh is rarely mean spirited. Ocean’s 13 can be seen, in fact, as a celebration of and tribute to the oh-so-many male bonding westerns, comedies and adventure pics from Hollywood past. George Clooney and Brad Pitt could easily be Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin or John Wayne and Dean Martin or even Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn!

In the latest slick saga, the gang reunite for revenge. One of the 11 have been unfairly treated by a brandy new villain and the group must reband to take down the evil titan. If 11 was a heist flick and 12 was about survival, 13’s theme is loyalty.

Reuben (madcap Elliott Gould) partners with swarthy Trump-esque casino maverick Willy Bank (Al Pacino, having a blast). When Bank double-crosses Reuben leaving him broke and broken, Danny Ocean and the team come to the rescue with an elaborate screw-him-good scheme that is both fantastical and preposterous. They even include nemesis Andy Garcia on the plan.

Ocean’s 13 is loaded with cool, breezy banter (perfectly uttered with utter understatement by Clooney and Pitt). Screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien are to be commended on their wit and whimsy.

Clooney and Pitt have better screen chemistry than most male/female stars. Many a highlight in the movie involve these two pals simply speaking.

There is a hilarious moment when Clooney is caught watching Oprah, tears welling. Pitt makes fun but is soon overtaken himself. Another terrific and truly poignant scene has the duo reflecting on how much Vegas has changed. They could very well be discussing Hollywood in general and motion pictures, in particular. But, with Soderbergh hard at work, classic Hollywood pics are not dead at all. They’re just reimagined and redesigned with new charismatic leading men (and sometimes women), and most importantly, with their souls intact.

The entire cast is to be commended on their joyous performances. Pacino, in particular, delights in playing evil and we love to...well we love him even if he’s evil!!! Newbie Ellen Barkin fits right in and is especially hysterical in her scenes with Matt Damon.

Tech credits, as always with the Ocean flix, are stupendous. Most outstanding is David Holmes’ score and Soderbergh’s camerawork (working under the pseudonym Peter Andrews).

This 13 proves quite the lucky number for summer moviegoers!


John Carney’s
Opens May 16, 2007

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Once is a unique and engrossing film that ambitiously sets out to present an atypical love story in which songs are just as important as the script. A reinvention of the motion picture musical genre, if you will. Said songs are performed in the film a la Cabaret and The Commitments and not like Dreamgirls or The Sound of Music.

The result is a gritty yet charming film fable where realism always has the upper hand.

The story is as simple as they come: poor Irish boy (Glen Hansard) meets poor Czech girl (Marketa Irglova). He is a street musician who dreams of recording a cd of his work and going to London. She is a bit of an annoyance at first, but turns out to be musically inclined as well. She lives with her mother and infant daughter. Her estranged husband is in the Czech Republic. They bond over his music and begin a courtship that, at first, is all about getting the funds to record his demo cd.

Writer-director John Carney is a master at spell casting. He has fashioned a heartwarming, bittersweet flick while avoiding most of the cliché's of the musical and romantic-comedy genres.

Carney also knows that the key to the success of a film of this nature is in casting his two leads perfectly. And, although neither have any extensive screen experience (he was in The Commitments back in 1990 but is mostly the lead singer in a band known as The Frames, she has never acted before), they exude charm and charisma and have a plethora of endearing qualities that shine onscreen. They also have fantastic chemistry!

The original songs rock, literally and descriptively, with the ballad “Falling Slowly” proving one of the best. And when was the last time 10 original songs appeared in any film written SPECIFICALLY for the film??? Yentl in 1983? Just a guess. And most of these songs are terrific. When was the last time that a simple demo recording provided the dramatic climax of a film? And it sent chills down my back (in a good way!)

My only complaints: I wanted more time with the leads; I wanted to follow the Hansard character to London; I wanted to see what the Irglova character would do and I wanted to hear more songs. Come to think of it, those are the best complaints I’ve had about a film in a long while!


John Dahl’s
You Kill Me
Opens Friday, June 22, 2007

Reviewed by Ryan Eagle at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival

The problem with so many dark comedies is that they have plenty of dark and no comedy. You Kill Me is director John Dahl’s latest film about a hit man battling alcoholism and stumbling upon a fortifying relationship in the process. The balance between humor and pain makes for an unusually pleasing romantic comedy devoid of the predictable exchanges between male and female leads. Ben Kingsley is an unlikely choice to play Frank Falenczyk, an aging, liquor repository who is slipping up as his Polish mob family’s hired gun. After establishing his character’s honest and sincere approach to a livelihood that is less than angelic, the unlikely choice looks like the perfect one. Kingsley’s appeal as a damaged man is obvious to the audience from his first vodka laden scene. He is equally appealing to Téa Leoni who plays the part of Laurel, herself a damaged person who finds Frank’s straightforward approach to life irresistible. Theirs is a May/December romance that works well on the screen in part because of a script that doesn’t try to do too much.

Laurel accepts Frank’s alcoholism and his struggle to overcome it just as she accepts his profession, not because either one is terribly attractive, but because his honesty about what he does and the way he wishes to do it is a welcome change from what she’s used to. Just what has haunted Laurel in the past is not dragged out in the light. Omissions of pat explanations from the script, like those that would cheapen Laurel’s appeal in the movie were they present, are a hallmark of the delicate subtleties that set this film apart from many of its romantic comedy brethren. The film’s success is thanks to more than just a thoughtful script. Kingsley and Leoni share a dry comic sensibility that comes to life in a story filled with some unsavory subjects. Because both characters have been around the block and neither is game for the childish back and forth one associates with newfound romance, the onscreen couple exudes a freshness that younger Hollywood talent might not be able to sustain. Leoni is still beautiful in spite of her character’s darkness and Kingsley’s charm allows his role tremendous sympathy.

Hit men have been called “cleaners” in other films dealing with mobsters. Cleanliness indeed comes to mind when describing this movie. Frank is forthright when he opens up to Laurel and to strangers at his AA meetings. His conscience is clean. His temporary job while on hiatus from killing is preparing bodies in a funeral home – literally cleaning and even beautifying death. Even the liquor in this film is unmolested. Nearly all of the drinks drunk by all of the characters are neat. No ice, no mixers, no garnish. This no frills approach is refreshing and the film’s total commitment to it is easy to see.

Supporting performances by Dennis Farina, Philip Baker Hall, Luke Wilson, Bill Pullman and Marcus Thomas all help shoulder the film’s driving force, which is a man’s struggle to right his life through avenues of work and love. No supporting role overpowers a scene with either of the two main characters. Such scenes are not stolen by solid performances, but offered up to the greater good of the film as a whole.

You Kill Me lacks the flash of some mob movies and the graphic filler that is so often tacked on to films that can’t survive on mere suggestions of love, sex or violence. This is a thinking viewer’s mob movie and a dark, but clever comedy as well.






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