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Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Andrew Dominik's
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Opens September 21, 2007

Reviewed by Alejandra Serret

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, written and directed by Andrew Dominik, tells the story of how the notorious outlaw’s life ended. Based on Ron Hansen’s novel of the same title, Dominik pays homage to classic westerns through slow, rhythmic story telling, voice-over narration, and the occasional distorted shot—rounded at the edges giving the illusion of looking through a magnifying glass. New Zealand born Dominik approaches his second feature length film (the first is 2000’s Chopper) with Terrence Malick-like grace. He gives the film time to unfold, anchoring the characters in a substantial storyline.

Like Malick, Dominik took the risk of losing viewers along the way, but his lyrical cinematography is captivating. At times the voice-over seems unnecessary — viewers can see that Jesse James is sitting at the kitchen table flipping a deck of cards over absentmindedly. The narration that accompanies the scene initially feels like over kill. Yet as the scene progresses the soothing tone and beautiful prose matches the fluidity of the action, creating a harmonic pairing.

The film opens with the James gang executing their last big heist—a train robbery in September of 1881 — a mismatched bunch looking for a last score. Robert Ford, played skillfully by Casey Affleck, is among them. A ninteeen-year-old, fidgety, eager-to-please Ford, stays on with Jesse James, after the robbery. Slowly, his idolatry is exposed: small magazines of the original James crew kept beneath his bed, a list of unique commonalities he shares with Jesse (of which he can recite with too much ease), and his longing to be accepted. Jesse James, then thirty-four years old, appears accustomed to such flattery, but maintains a sense of unease, which grows into paranoia.

Dominik follows various members of the James gang as they go their separate ways. The lazy-like unraveling of the subplots pays off as they merge to strengthen the main current that holds it all together: Jesse James’ death, his incredible fame.

The all-star cast allows The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to flourish: Brad Pitt’s subtle craziness and paranoia, Casey Affleck’s quiet obsession, Sam Rockwell’s constant fear and guilt. Like the film’s cadence, the actors take their time, allowing themselves to fully embody the characters.
The film ends with James’ death and the celebrity status he is raised to: his body kept on ice for weeks to accommodate thousands of visitors, the photograph of his corpse that sold for two dollars a piece, and the play of his death which filled the theater for weeks. Robert Ford played himself, killing James an estimated 800 times. While James had been a wanted man, Ford began his own demise by killing his idol. Notorious, not as a gunslinger or American Outlaw, but as a coward, Ford was later killed to right what many felt, was a wrong.

Dominik creates a truly breathtaking film: filled with picturesque scenes and gorgeous acting. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford savors the story of an American legend, divulging of it with grace and ease.


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 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.

Eytan Fox’s
The Bubble (Buah, Ha-)
Opened September 7, 2007

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella at the 2007 Newfest

As far as I’m concerned (and with great respect to Save Me) the best film shown at this years Newfest and one of the best of the year so far is Eytan Fox’s The Bubble. This West Side Story for today tackles the controversial with great wit and inspired power.

Romeo meets Romeo at a checkpoint along the Israeli-Palestinian border and pretty soon the Jew and the Arab have fallen in love. Just how doomed is this relationship? Well, the gifted Fox (he co-wrote the excellent script with Gal Uchovsky) allows the men to get to know one another and allows us to truly believe in their love. We are also glaringly aware of the political goings on around them.

Ohad Knoller (Yossi & Jagger) is Noam, the Israeli and Yousef ‘Joe’ Sweid is Ashraf, the Palestinian. Both deliver effective and affecting performances. Sweid is particularly compelling. The entire ensemble is to be commended. In addition to the two leads, Daniela Virtzer is a stand-out as Lulu, Noam’s gal-pal and Alon Friedman is very good as the flamboyant Yelli.

Maverick director Eytan Fox gave us Yossi & Jagger a few years back and here he proves he’s an international filmmaker to watch as he deftly handles the heavy themes presented with great humor, pathos and understanding.

I really loved this film and everything it had to say about the nature of religious conflict and the, unfortunate, never ending promise of retribution. It can be seen as a plea or a depiction of the way things will always be. Depends on where you fall on the glass half-full/empty question.

The Bubble is unsettling, thought-provoking and daring. I highly recommend it.

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.


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.




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.





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