The Blanchett sequence borrows generously from Fellini, specifically Otto e’ Mezza (8 1/2), and in there might lay my chief problem with I’m Not There. I adore Fellini. He’s one of my favorite auteurs. Fellini (along with Bergman) was able to concoct his own personal vision hatched from his lunatic/genius head, put it onscreen and, somehow, it was miraculously accessible--most of the time. Haynes’ film is most definitely personal, almost too personal—somewhat impossible to penetrate. He has distilled his own Dylan from all his research and all his love. So it feels like it’s exclusively Haynes’ Dylan—and not one we can embrace or even understand. Yet, perhaps that is the point. Perhaps it’s okay for this film to be a trip into the mind of Haynes via Dylan (instead of vice versa). I’m truly not certain. Perhaps after repeated viewings I will come to totally embrace the pic…or loathe it.

What does work, works supremely well. Heath Ledger is quite powerful and his scenes with Charlotte Gainsbourg are wonderful to watch. And there are many sequences that astound (specifically one that involves Allen Ginsberg and Jesus Christ—I will say no more). The Gere scenes are less enthralling and that has less to do with the actor than with the fact that those moments never meld with the rest of the film.

But as soon as Cate Blanchett blasts onto the screen as the freaky, androgynous Dylan the movie takes off to tremendously joyous heights. Blanchett has proven that there isn’t much she can’t do. From Elizabeth onward, she has shown her versatility and her bravery in making choices. No one else in her peer group (with the possible exception of Kate Winslet) can come close to her remarkable body of work these last ten years.

Her Jude isn’t so much an impersonation—although she is the closest to a real Dylan that we get (whatever that means), it’s an exhilarating immersion into Haynes’ most richly written ‘subject.’ Blanchett’s scenes are what one remembers most after the credits roll and the lights come up.

I love the film’s theme of identity, certainly something that all artists (all people probably) struggle with. Haynes puts forth the notion that ultimate freedom is escaping the pigeonholing and being able to reinvent yourself as you go through different life cycles. (Jane Fonda is a great example of an artist who has metamorphosed more than most and has always fascinated with her next incarnation.) And why not? Isn’t that what a realized life should be? Constantly searching for answers to that eternal ‘why am I here’ question?

I came to this film as someone who appreciates Dylan--the power of his music. I wouldn’t call myself a fan. The film made me crave more. So I went right out and picked up the four-hour Scorsese documentary and I bought a few Dylan CDs. I am very happy I did. If the film does the same for others, then maybe we’ll all develop our own visions/notions of Bob Dylan and who he is…who he needs to be…to us--individually.



Jason Reitman’s
Juno
Opens December 25, 2007

Reviewed by Corey Shtasel-Gottlieb


There is a movie each year, it seems, that emerges quietly and suddenly to touch audiences with its unassuming charm. Such a film works by repackaging the depressing and the mundane into a product that allows us to laugh at ourselves—to find humor where sadness typically lives. In 2007, that movie is Juno. Witty, ballsy writing and an endearing cast allow Juno to function successfully as both biting and adorable. A story of real substance emerges from behind the curtain of the prototypical dark comedy, producing a final product that is raw and hilarious and true to life. It may not be the year’s best picture, but Juno will be remembered as the sleeper film that took 2007 by surprise.

Set on a definitively Minnesotan middle class landscape, Juno tells the story of Juno Macguff (Ellen Page), a high school sophomore who finds herself pregnant after a one-night romp with best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Spooked by a less than comforting trip to the abortion clinic, Juno decides to give her baby up for adoption. Her awkwardly evolving relationship with the adoptive parents-to-be (played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) is painfully humorous, as she belly-flops gracelessly into their white-bread lifestyle. Such is the way in which she approaches each of pregnancy’s seemingly fragile obstacles, trampling over maternity outfits and ultrasounds like a bull in a china shop. At face value, Juno may be the picture of inelegance, but in truth she is just the opposite: super witty and free-spirited, she exudes a depth of confidence that is admirable, even shocking, for a person in her situation. She embraces her role as the elephant-in-the-room with a self-deprecating sincerity that renders her deeply lovable. The core of the film’s success resides in screenwriter Diablo Cody’s development of such a character.

Embedded within the story of Juno’s pregnancy is her relationship with Paulie Bleeker, the film’s ultimate boy-next-door. Bleeker is Juno’s soft spot. A goofy gold headband and tiny track shorts uniform his innocent dorkiness; his quiet sensitivity clashes with typical depictions of teenage fathers. Like Juno, he appears to appreciate his own awkwardness for what it is, though his admission at the film’s end that “Actually, I try really hard” makes clear that he is a bit less secure. Nevertheless, his lack of cynicism is disarming, and melds almost seamlessly with Juno’s no-bullshit approach. The love story into which the film ultimately evolves is a product of this dynamic—it is untraditional, perhaps unrealistic, but mostly just, well, sweet.

The strength of Juno’s storyline is complemented by first-rate acting on all cylinders. Ellen Page makes the movie. She is so fully entrenched in this role, so believable, that I find it difficult to believe that she is not Juno Macguff in real life. This is, without question, her coming out party, a performance that should be awarded with her first Oscar nomination. Cera is good, too. Although he doesn’t deviate much from his soft-spoken Superbad shtick, he is perfect for the part. It is the supporting acting, though, that elevates Juno to next-level quality. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney are excellent as Juno’s father and stepmother, and not merely from a comedic perspective; both portray a depth of emotion that gives credence to the notion of parents as actual people. The same is true of Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, whose stereotypical yuppyness melts to reveal a real, struggling couple at movie’s end. These are the types of performances that will provide Juno the same warm reception that made Little Miss Sunshine a hit in 2006.

In one of the strongest years for film in recent memory, Juno stands out among 2007’s brightest. Smart, funny, and original, it infuses something dark and taboo with genuine warmth. It is a must-see.



Bharat Nalluri’s
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Opens Friday, March 7, 2008

Starring: Amy Adams as Delysia Lafosse; Shirley Henderson as Edythe Dubarry; Ciarán Hinds as Joe; Frances McDormand as Miss Pettigrew; Lee Pace as Michael; Tom Payne as Phil Goldman; Mark Strong as Nick.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a frothy confection of a film; farcical and fun, it is the perfect chick flick. The film is advertised as a fairy tale for grown ups and it certaunly fulfills its advertised promise.

Here is a quote from the press release: “In 1939 London, Miss Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is a middle-aged governess who finds herself once again unfairly dismissed from her job. Without so much as severance pay, Miss Pettigrew realizes that she must – for the first time in two decades – seize the day. This she does, by intercepting an employment assignment outside of her comfort level – as “social secretary.” Arriving at a penthouse apartment for the interview, Miss Pettigrew is catapulted into the glamorous world and dizzying social whirl of an American actress and singer, Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams).”

Delysia has a complicated love life, three love lifes to be precise. When Miss Pettigrew arrives at Delysia’s stunning penthouse apartment, one of the love lifes is still asleep upstairs, Phil Goldman (Tom Payne). Phil is the son of a theatrical producer and has the power (maybe) to cast Delysia in his father’s new musical. But career benefits aside, he must get out of bed because Delysia is late for a lingerie show. And as a further complication, Delysia's boss at the nightclub where she sings, Nick (Mark Strong), is about to arrive and Nick would also like to spend some time in the presently occupied upstairs bed.

So Delysia is desperately in need of the services of a sensible English governess. And Miss Pettigrew, in all her frumpy glory, jumps right in. She removes lingerie from the chandelier, stuffs clothing under the bear skin rug and dispenses sensible advice. And advice is needed for it seems that Delysia has yet another love interest, Nick (Lee Pace), the piano player at the nightclubs where Delysia works. Delysia truly loves Nick, but of all three men, Nick can do the least for her career.
Miss Pettigrew quickly dispenses with all three men and Delysia and Miss Pettirgrew leave for the lingerie show.

The lingerie show is a frothy delight, a pink bonbon for the eyes. At the lingerie show, Miss Pettigrew is introduced to Delysia’s friend, Edythe (Shirley Henderson), a brittle and sophisticated shop owner. Miss Pettigrew also meets Edythe cuckolded fiancée, Joe (Ciarán Hinds), an honest wholesome sort of man who was drawn into the smart set when he left the sock business to become a lingerie designer. Miss Pettigrew is attracted to Joe because she can see beneath his worldly exterior to view the decent man Joe really is.

So the die is cast, the players are on the stage. Just who will Delysia choose? Will Edythe be able to draw Joe back into her web? Will Miss Pettigrew ever get something to eat and will someone please do something about her hair?

Miss Pettigrew is set in a world that is about to drastically change. Indeed, we see the outlines of the first German bombers flying over the English sky. And in the world, all is not exactly as it seems for Miss Pettigrew and Delysia have one secret in common – what they do in any one day can truly throw them into the poor house the next day.

The cast in Miss Pettigrew all give wonderful performances: Amy Adams is utterly "Enchanting" as Delysia; Frances McDormand embodies goodness under extreme stress; Shirley Henderson delights as Edythe Dubarry, the evil witch of this fairy tale; Ciarán Hinds as Joe delivers the same rock-solid performance that has made him Ciarán Hinds. And the male love interests are all delightful in their own ways: Tom Payne plays an adorably vain Phil; Mark Strong is sexually exciting as the venal and menacing Nick; and Lee Pace, with his soulful eyes, makes the audience totally forget what our mothers told us about not dating musicians.




Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi's
Persepolis
Opens Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Reviewed by Julia Sirmons

A film about angst and rebellion under the thumb of an oppressive Islamist regime may, at first glance, seem like unlikely holiday movie-going fare. Nevertheless, tales of the resiliency of the human spirit and the triumph of rebellion and dignity in the most of trying of political circumstances are very much in keeping with the greatest story every told. With that in mind, there's no better way to keep the seasonal joie de vivre going than by checking out Persepolis, the visually arresting, earthy and affecting animated film adapted form Iranian author Marjane Satrapi's intensely personal graphic novels.

The film's narrative spans the course of both books; beginning with the young Marjane witnessing the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Islamist revolution, following her to school in Vienna then back home to Tehran and finally off to Paris to begin a new life as an artist.

As graphically striking as Satrapi's print illustrations are, the live animation gives the story a new vitality and depth. Shaded entirely in blacks, whites, and greys, the illustrations and images manage to convey a wide variety of emotions: the warm and homey feel of Marjane's close-knit family, the eerie and magical depictions of young Marjane's fantasy world, the traditional Persian aesthetic of the segments that explain Iranian history, the neo-noir punk feel of Marjane's sojourn in Vienna, and the bleak, ominous look of the scenes of political protest and rebellion. The visual complexity of Persepolis is truly dazzling; it looks unlike any film you've ever seen.

As much as the narrative of Persepolis is inexorably entwined with the history of modern Iran, it really is a much more universal story – that of a smart, tough, rebellious girl struggling to come into her own when all the weight of circumstance and society are fighting against her. One of the great delights of seeing the story on celluloid is that the character of Marjane (voiced by Gabrielle Lopes Benites as a girl and by Chiara Mastroianni as a teenager and adult) really comes to life. To see the character develop from a fearless kung-fu-loving young badass to a moody and an outraged teen and finally a defiant, self-confident woman is heartrendingly real. The superb cast of powerful, memorable characters is rounded off by Marjane's formidable and supportive parents (voiced Simon Akbarian and Mastroianni's real-life mother, Catherine Deneuve), and her doting but gutsy grandma (the incomparable Danielle Darrieux).

In this day and age, when oppressive regimes stamp out personal freedoms across the globe, Persepolis is an empowering call to arms; a strong reminder that the human desire for liberty can thrive under the most difficult circumstances. A more inspiring Christmas message would be difficult to find.



Martin Scorsese’s
Shine a Light
Opens Friday, April 4, 2008


Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Are the Rolling Stones the greatest Rock ‘n Roll band in the world? It depends on your definition of great and the criteria you use for deciding such ridiculous, but fun, things. If sheer force, courage, stamina, potency, longevity and true musical talent top your list of evaluation standards, then perhaps they are. If you agree that they happen to be the only group to have had such a massive influence on music and culture decade after decade after decade after decade…after decade, then they certainly are.

Martin Scorsese’s mesmerizing concert film, Shine a Light, does exactly that: capturing the Stones up close, intimately and pretty personal. Scorsese does the job by simply filming them doing what they do best, what they’ve always done best: perform. He also, intermittently, sprinkles old newsreel footage into the movie to great effect.

Scorsese is no stranger to concert films, having shot the extraordinary final performance by The Band, The Last Waltz in 1978, and, just recently, helming the documentary, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.

Shine a Light began as an idea that Mick Jagger had knowing they were about to play their biggest concert yet in Rio de Janiero, as part of their Bigger Bang tour. He and Richards decided they wanted Scorsese to direct (Mick: “It’s good to start at the top.” Richards: “I have studied every one of his films.”) Scorsese loved the idea, but decided a more intimate venue would best serve his vision. After a little coaxing, he convinced Mick that the Beacon Theatre in New York City was the perfect place.

Scorsese gathered some of the best cinematographers working today. Under the supervision of Academy Award winning genius Robert Richardson (JFK), the group included a slew of other Oscar winners: John Toll (Braveheart); Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood); Andrew Lesnie (Lord of the Rings Trilogy) as well as Albert Maysles, who shot the now infamous Gimme Shelter in 1969.

The endeavor has resulted in a hypnotic and captivating film that stands as a terrific concert as well as a stunning motion picture. Scorsese captures the group’s vitality and energy (Jagger is still more dynamic than most 18 year olds!), yet we see glimpses of the aging process taking it’s toll (Keith Richards ravaged face is forever sexy, but also scary). What we also experience is a band devoted to their passion. The songs and the performances rule the day.

The set includes most of their best work. (I did miss “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Out of Time” but you can’t have everything). Mick’s attitudinal strut is on display with a vengeance as is his powerful bluesy vocals on the best of the best, specifically: “Shattered;” “Far Away Eyes;” “Tumbling Dice,” “Brown Sugar,” “Satisfaction” and, the classic rocker, “Sympathy for the Devil.”

One of the first songs Jagger and Richards wrote together is the haunting “As Tears Go By” and they perform it with a poignancy and intensity that sent chills down my spine. A dynamic and underrated cut, ‘She Was Hot’ provided a major high in an evening filled with highs.

I was a bit disappointed that political correctness took over on the “Some Girls” vocal and a certain highly-controversial lyric went unsung, but such are the censorial times we’re all living in.

Special guests include: Jack White; Christina Aguilera and Presidential rock star Bill Clinton, who introduces the band.

One of the wonders of Shine a Light is how Scorsese (as well as the Stones) never tries to tell us that we are seeing genius at work (and play). The film does not reek of self-importance. In fact, Scorsese takes a very self-reflexive tone pre-concert which results in some moments of genuine hilarity. And once the concert begins, the director is all but out of the picture.

Near the beginning of the film, Scorsese is told by a technician that Jagger cannot stand in front of a specific light for more than 18 seconds or he will burn. Scorsese incredulously asks: “You mean go up in flames?” The reply is yes, to which Scorsese seriously states: “We cannot burn Mick Jagger.” He then has a chuckle about it. As do we. And, we are soon hyper-grateful that Jagger does not go up in flames, otherwise we would not have been transcendently transported for two hours by a master director and, well, the greatest Rock ‘n Roll band in the world!

 




Alex Rivera’s
Sleep Dealer
New Directors New Films
March 26–April 6

filmlinc.com

Starring: Leonor Varela; Jacob Vargas; Luis Fernando Peña; and Giovanna Zacarías.

Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu

Alex Rivera’s first film, Sleep Dealer, is a science fiction adventure film that is both entertaining and smart, a rare combination, and a particularly unique intellectual experience for the sci-fi genre. The film follows its protagonist, Memo, a young Mexican man living in a remote village, and his journey to the big city. In this archetypal storyline, Memo is a quintessentially flawed hero. He is obsessed with technology, and dreams of bigger things than his current life. This becomes his downfall, however. Memo ends up in a futuristic factory that outsources Mexican employees and to the US- through technological advances. These employees work from a virtual reality type station in Mexico, to accomplish menial, low wage jobs in the US, without ever having to cross the border.

It is with this futuristic construction that Rivera transcends the genre and delves into an exploration of immigration and technology and their relationships with society as a whole. The film asks real questions, and stuns the audience with a future that seems entirely plausible and completely terrifying. Not only are low wage jobs outsourced, remote soldiers also control detonating machines from afar, blowing up villages from a world away, disconnected entirely from life and death. In fact, these soldiers resemble teenaged boys playing video games, instead of men making real decisions between life and death.

Sleep Dealer is also a solid love story, between troubled Memo, and “writer” Luz. Luz takes advantage of Memo’s compelling life story, and shares his memories online, profiting from their relationship. Their relationship is beautifully written, and wonderfully acted. It is an honest look at the complexities of love, and a reminder that the world is not black and white.

In fact, Sleep Dealer as a whole resides in a deep truth, even if its context is an imagined, unreal future. Regardless, Rivera’s film manages impressive honesty, complexity, and fullness. His actors are subtle and true, their lives are rich and regular, and the world they inhabit is strange… but also somehow strangely familiar. It is a movie worth seeing whether or not you are a science fiction fan. Freshman filmmaker Rivera demands immense respect for accomplishing what so few can… a film that is watchable and enjoyable, but also leads you to see the world in a new way… or at the very least question where it is we might be going.




Channing Tatum and Ryan Phillippe in Stop-Loss

Kimberly Peirce’s
Stop-Loss
Opens Friday, March 28, 2008

Starring: Ryan Phillippe; Abbie Cornish; Channing Tatum; Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Victor Rasuk; Linda Emond; and Mamie Gummer.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

“With all due respect, sir, fuck the president!”

These audacious yet cathartic words are spoken by battle-scarred Staff Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) after he is told by his superior that he’s being ‘stop-lossed’—ordered to return to Iraq for another tour even though his term of service is over. This ‘back door draft’ was first used by George Bush, Sr. during the Gulf War and has been widely used during the Iraq conflict.

Through extensive research and interviews with returning soldiers, director Kimberly Peirce (along with co-writer Mark Richard) have fashioned a powerful and deeply affecting film that examines the effect of war on a trio of soldiers, during combat, and later, at home.

Peirce has not made a film since her 1999 stunner debut, Boys Don’t Cry, which justly won Hilary Swank her first Best Actress Oscar. Stop-Loss more than proves she’s a picturemaking force to be reckoned with. Passionate and ballsy, Peirce has the filmic talents to back up her polemics. And while Stop-Loss brings to mind some of the best Vietnam-themed war films including: Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July; Hal Ashby’s Coming Home; Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, it is in the vein of homage, not hybridization.

The opening sequence is filled with blood, guts, mayhem…enough carnage to make anyone squeamish (my guest almost had to leave, he was grateful he stayed) and sets the bar pretty high for the events to come. Eventually, the soldiers return home and attempt to re-assimilate into their old lives, which is difficult for some and near-impossible for others.

Phillippe’s Brandon is the hub that holds his buddy-spokes together. They include: his best friend Steve (Channing Tatum), the tortured Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Steve’s fiancée, Michelle (Abbie Cornish).

The film is uncompromising in it’s portrait of these Texans, how their patriotism led to their enlisting, but how the atrocities they witnessed and took part in overseas have forever scarred them.

More often than not, Peirce opts to investigate the grey areas—not just with insights about a soldier’s duty but when it comes to moral and ethical questions as well. There’s a terrific scene involving Brandon chasing a group of thieves that have just broken into his car. We sense his outrage comes from how he has just returned from defending his country FOR these boys and here they are stealing from him. As audience members we are quick to want a certain type of justice from this scene, but immediately find ourselves questioning that vengeful nature in ourselves. Why it’s there. And how far we are willing to take it.

Too many critics have charge Stop-Loss with melodramatic excessiveness. I don’t see it that way. The subject matter demands that the stakes be higher than the norm. And while the film sometimes goes slightly over the edge—especially when depicting Tommy’s anguish (his shooting his wedding gift and his predictable fate)-- much like with the work of Oliver Stone, we can forgive the excesses. They’re almost required.

And Peirce and Richard are savvy enough to avoid most of the Hollywood-by-numbers script trappings. I applaud the filmmakers for never taking the Phillippe/Cornish relationship to that oh-so-predictable level. They also manage to end the film on a strong and true note. I have read a few negative reviews from respected right-wing critics that completely missed the point of the ending. This is not surprising since supporters of Bush and the war usually see ONLY what they want to see anyway--or what they're told they should be seeing.

Ryan Phillippe, so effective in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers last year, does his best work to date as the beleaguered Brandon, at first content to do his duty, but slowly waking to certain realities. It’s a bracing and complex performance.

Newcomer Channing Tatum makes good on the promise he showed in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. Tatum takes some great acting risks and they pay off resoundingly while Joseph Gordon-Levitt adds another terrific performance to an ever-growing resume’ of impressive turns. Victor Rasuk is heartbreaking as Rico, a wounded soldier who’s spirits have not yet diminished.

Atypical for any type of war-oriented film, women are allowed some great moments as well. Abbie Cornish (who resembles a young Nicole Kidman) is perfectly understated as the confused Michele. Linda Emond embodies everymom with a quiet power that is breathtaking. And Mamie Gummer leaves her mark in a smallish role and proves spookily reminiscent of her mother’s (Meryl Streep) Deer Hunter performance thirty years ago.

Production values are excellent throughout with the great Chris Mendes doing stunning camerawork. John Powell’s score is potent and appropriately haunting.

At one point Peirce uses a song by country superstar and resident war-monger, Toby Keith to highlight just how misguided so many of our young men were post-September 11th. The ditty, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” was written to inspire our boys to want to seek revenge for that tragedy. The problem was it also asked us to blindly trust a President with his own agenda. And while Keith never had to take responsibility for the blood on his hands, true Americans like the Dixie Chicks were vilified and demonized for speaking out against an unjust war and a horrific President.

If you haven’t guessed, I do not support the evil that is George W. Bush. And I do not understand how so many Americans were blinded into believing he was invading Iraq because of 9/11 when one thing had NOTHING to do with the other. Finally, I will never understand the mindset that says we are not allowed to be critical of our President—especially when he blunders big time. I state all this so all my biases are up front.

Stop-Loss has the guts to say certain things that desperately need to be said. It is not only the best film of 2008 to date, it happens to be the first relevant film to deal with the Iraq War.

It was recently reported that, in the five years since we invaded Iraq, over 4,000 Americans are now dead. And, as far as Bush is concerned, we are staying put. Even the promise of a new President may not make a withdrawal possible for a while to come since there are many political factors to take into account. Leaving, at this stage, might be more detrimental for us. It’s all terribly frightening and no one seems to care as much any more. Call it Iraq War-fatigue, but Americans seem disinterested.

Stop-Loss is an important reminder that our boys are still dying AND is an accurate account of just one of the legion of ways the Bush Administration has turned our country into a borderline fascist regime where the Commander-in-Chief can ride roughshot over laws that have existed for over two hundred years—laws that are supposed to protect us as a democracy.

I urge everyone to see this remarkable film; it has something important to say and does so in a damned entertaining and inspiring way.



Tia Lessin and Carl Dean’s
Trouble the Water
New Directors New Films
March 26–April 6

filmlinc.com

Starring: Kim Roberts and Scott Roberts

Reviewed by Marguerite Daniels

Documentary film can be a tricky genre to navigate. Often documentary directors insert so much of their own images and ideas into the film that it become’s about the director and the subject can be lost. This is far from the case in Tia Lessin and Carl Dean’s Trouble the Water where the documentary-makers give free-range to the subjects, and what results is a film of sheer brilliance.

The film follows aspiring rap artist Kim Roberts and her husband Scott Roberts who endure Hurricane Katrina and the horrific after effects of the storm. A week before the storm, Kim fortuitously purchased a camcorder on the street for $20, and begins using the camera the day before Katrina hits landfall. Kim quickly proves an expert camerawoman with deft instincts: she is a natural storyteller, and she provides narration while she captures the lives of people who attempt to escape the storms wrath. Though Kim and her husband cannot leave their home because they don’t have transportation, they make provisions and invite friends and neighbors to their house to wait out the storm. Lessin and Dean use Kim’s footage and intertwine it with news reports their own to give the film vastly different perspectives. As the storm worsens, more neighbors arrive, and it becomes clear that the storm will be far worse than anyone anticipated. Kim continues to film as the levees near her home in the 9th Ward break, and flood her house so completely that the inhabitants are forced to crouch in an attic to await an emergency rescue that will never come.

When all hope fades Kim bravely asks the 911 dispatcher, “So we’re going to die?” and the dispatcher timidly answers back, “Yes.”

But Kim and Scott and the others don’t die. They form their own rescue party, and search for a drier residence. Though Kim and Scott have lost everything including family members and loved ones, they continue to work and find lodging for neighbors. Ultimately this film is not about what Kim and Scott loose to Katrina, but what they gained in spite of the storm. It’s humbling to see what Kim and Scott are able to accomplish through Kim’s remarkable optimism. She is awe-inspiring. She is not only a tremendously talented rapper (under the name of the Black Kold Madina), she provides strong and steady shoulder for all to lean on. Here, Lessin and Dean capture a woman who is not only street-wise but fiercely independent, honest and truthful. Her will to > film interview miss wendy music new york stories theater home live is infectious. She gives hope to others when no one believes they will survive. Kim believes, and she makes everyone around her believe in not only the possibility of surviving the storm but thriving afterward.

Throughout the film Kim and Scott’s relationship is solid and remains remarkably unshaken despite the stress of their lives. And while they have opened their lives to being explored by the filmmakers, they are never exploited. Kim and Scott aren’t displayed as anthropological case studies. No aspects of their lives are judged; not their drug dealing pasts, and not the things they have to do to endure in the present. That’s what is remarkable about this film. While there is a story to be told, it doesn’t need to be scripted, or manipulated by the directors. This film is a shining example of all a documentary can and should be.



Tom McCarthy’s
The Visitor
Opens in Select Theaters Friday April 11th 2008

Reviewed by Alejandra Serret

The Visitor, directed by Tom McCarthy, tells the story of a lonely, discontent, middle-aged widower whose life is transformed by a weekend trip to New York City. Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under and There’s Something About Mary) plays Walter Vale, a respected professor, who takes little pleasure in the class he teaches. He is a familiar character, weighted by boredom, but disinterested in change. He fumbles through New York Cool: In this Issue   what's up for today!
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Walter Vale begrudgingly travels to New York City, from his home in Connecticut to participate in a three day conference at NYU. When he arrives at the apartment he has owned for twenty years, he finds Zainab (Danai Gurira) submerged in his tub. Her screams alert Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), her boyfriend, who angrily pushes Walter against the wall. But Tarek and Zainab learn quickly that they are in fact intruders and the victims of a real estate scam. As illegal immigrants, Tarek, a Syrian man and Zainab, from Senegal, have few options. Softened by their plight Walter asks them to stay, while they look for another place to live. Over the next few days, their awkward attempt at conversation burgeons into a friendship that is found and forged through music.

Tarek, a talented drummer, eases Walter into playing the African drum. Walter’s uptight disposition begins to unravel, revealing a man willing to learn new things, a man eager to play in drum circles and visit jazz clubs. What starts off as a film focused on the possibility of unlikely friendships, morphs into another, when Tarek is arrested for a trivial, imagined, offense. Tarek is held in a detention center in Queens with several hundred other illegal immigrants.

And this is where McCarthy stumbles. Walter devotes himself to helping Tarek regain his freedom and from it, forms yet another “unexpected” relationship with Tarek’s mother, Mouna (Hiam Abbass). While they grieve Tarek’s tumultuous situation, they find comfort in one another. The scenario is believeable (anything is believable if done in the right way) but it doesn’t translate through Mouna, Walter, and Tarek. McCarthy is overeager in his attempt to transform these characters and to make a statement from their disastrous predicament. He falters in character development. Yes, I understand that bonds can be made quickly, but I didn’t believe theirs. So Tarek and Walter play in a drum circle and share a meal. But I don’t believe Walter’s reasons for doing it. And then McCarthy falters further with Mouna. Okay, mother comes to rescue her child and forms a friendship with the man who is helping him to regain his freedom. But a romantic connection—really?

After Tarek’s incarceration The Visitor’s core begins to crumble. If you’re going to build a film on the unlikely relationships of its characters, you have to make the viewers believe in the possibility of them. And I didn’t. The characters themselves need to be rich, whether it’s in their indifference, passion, monotony. McCarthy made a bold attempt with The Visitor, a film with an important message at its core, but it did little to inspire.


 


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Roger Donaldson’s
The Bank Job
Opens Friday, March 7, 2008

Starring: Jason Statham (War, Crank, The Italian Job) and Saffron Burrows (Reign Over Me, Enigma)

Reviewed by John Janusz

The Bank Job, an action thriller about a bank heist set in early 1970s London, is inspired by a true story. This film has all the makings of a real man’s movie with sex, scandals, mystery, espionage, graphic violence, corruption, profanity and the gratuitous nudity of beautiful women.

In a welcome change from some recent super-action roles, in this film, the hero (played by Jason

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this as his last chance for the one big score that will finally put the life of small time thievery behind him, letting him live happily ever after with his wife and family. He and his most trusted mates form a gang and go for the gold. What they do not realize is that the contents of these boxes belong to some very prominent and dangerous individuals, individuals who will stop at nothing to regain their possessions. But escaping the police becomes the least of Terry’s and his gang’s worries. In this story the bank thieves turn out to be the most innocent among all of the parties involved.

If you enjoyed Ronin, Payback or The Italian Job you will love The Bank Job.

The Bank Job is directed by veteran filmmaker Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, Thirteen Days, The Recruit). It is written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Across the Universe, Flushed Away, Still Crazy and Tracey Ullman: A Class Act)




Asia Argento in Oliver Assayas' Boarding Gate

Olivier Assayas'
Boarding Gate

Starring: Asia Argento;Michael Madsen; Miles Rennberg; Carl Ng; and
Kelly Lin

Reviewed by Julia Sirmons

Asia Argento in a black bra, thong and stilettos. Holding a gun.

I’ve got you, right? That’s all it’s going to take to have you shell out you ten clams for Boarding Gate, the new neo-B-movie existential thriller from French director Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep, Clean, Demonlover).

But there’s plenty more to enjoy in this fun, intriguing, surprisingly philosophical and unsettling film.

For one, there’s a refreshing amount of depth and intrigue to Argento, a fascinating actress who’s made some unfortunate (albeit often interesting) career choices in the past. She’s definitely gritty and sexy enough for her role as Sandra, the tough, enterprising sexpot and Jill-of-all-underworld trades who goes on ae to becoming “prom king,” he falls in love with the principal’s quasi-Goth daughter Susan (a charming Kat Dennings with lots of red lipstick) and finds his nemesis in person of the manically-depressed-alcoholic-high-school-principal, Mr. Gardner (Robert Downey, Jr.).

transcontinental and transgressive adventure over the course of the film. But there’s also a lonely, vulnerable quality perfectly suited for this complex role as a strong yet frail and lonely person trying to make her way in a dangerous world that often seems incognizant of her very existence.

There are two other performances of note: the first an all-too-brief appearance by the too infrequently seen Michael Madsen as Miles, Sandra’s ex, with whom she had a very kinky relationship. Sparks – be they of passion or hatred – are still flying and an extended conversation between the two in which they dissect their relationship is one of the films most deliciously deviant and best. Kelly Lin, already a star in Asia, turns in a chilling performance as the devilishly cool and staid half of a couple (her husband is played by Carl Ng) with whom Sandra also becomes extricated with in a complex and mysterious plot involving S&M gone wrong, drug trafficking and shady international finance.

Assayas has always had strong detractors, but even fans may not enjoy the convoluted and ultimately unexplained almost existentially meaningless plot. But the impenetrable nature of the story falls cohesively in line with what Assayas is trying to say about the seedy side of the postmodern world. His deconstruction of traditional thriller aesthetics and B-movie conventions coheres well with his aims as well. Fuzzy shots that come into focus, soft misty cinematographic look contribute to an atmosphere of mystery and confusion.

It’s dark, confusing, thought provoking, and still a helluva lot of sexy fun. Worth more than just the bra and the gun alone, I’d say.



Jon Poll’s
Charlie Bartlett
Opens Friday, February 22, 2008

Starring: Robert Downey; Anton Yelchin: Hope Davis: Kat Dennings: Murphey Bivens

Reviewed at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival by Wendy R. Williams

Charlie Barlett is a quirky charming saga that tells the story of the new guy at a suburban a high school, a charismatic misfit who parlays his unassuming wit and charm to become the most popular kid on campus. And along his rout Statham) is an anti-hero. Terry is a luxury automobile dealer with an unstable past. He is married with two children and he owes a large debt to some wrong people. Terry is approached by an old flame with a golden opportunity, a chance to rob a bank vault of its safety deposit boxes. Terry sees Here is a quote from the Tribeca Film Festival press release, “Failing to fit in at a high school run by a disenchanted principal (Robert Downey, Jr.), awkward Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is running out of options for making friends--until he names himself the school "psychiatrist." Davis), with whom he has a Hansel-and-Gretel-in-the-woods relationship. The family obviously has money (there is a chauffeured Bentley), but are also obviously over come by some mysterious melancholy. There are so many hysterical scenes: (1) Charlie looking up psychiatric drugs in pharmacological texts and then surfing psychiatric couches describing the exact symptoms that can be cured by the pill-of –the-month (2) Charlie setting up his psychiatric office in the men’s room (he in one stall the supplicant in the other – Catholic anyone?). This movie has an amazing tone and the credit can only be given to the director, John Poll. He kept his symphony under tight control.

And now about Robert Downey in his role as the principal, Mr. Gardner. Downey plays Gardner as a total whack job, but as the scariest kind of whacko – the one where all of the rage is tamped down so far you can only “see” it when the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The scene where Downey is drunkenly shooting mechanized toy boats in his swimming pool should be taught in acting class. He is terrifying but he also seems trustworthy??? He is enraged by Charlie; but who doesn’t become enraged when forced to watch someone else walk on water?



Ramin Bahrani’s
Chop Shop
Opened February 22, 2008


Reviewed by Mindy Hyman

“A Whole New View of Making It In New York”

The amount of care and planning that Ramin Bahrani put into the production of his latest film, Chop Shop is evident throughout every single scene. The characters are so intricately portrayed that the viewer slides right into the story, losing oneself in the plot and forgetting that he/she is in a movie theater. CHOP SHOP redefines the meaning of independent filmmaking through the director’s ability to create a rawness, which only occurs, in real life.

Bahrani and his cinematographer, Michael Simmonds, spent months in the Queens neighborhood where the film takes place in order to get a feel for the community. The result was a natural script.

The storyline depicts the life of a twelve-year-old boy and his sixteen-year-old sister one summer in New York City. Alejandro and his sister Isamar (these are their real names) are orphans who live and work in an area called Willet’s Point, Queens, also known as the “Iron Triangle.” Willet’s Point is a twenty-block stretch of auto body repair shops. The businesses are called “chop shops” because they use parts from stolen cars, which are stripped, or chopped up, for their parts.

Alejandro plays the part of one of the workers that steers passing cars into the shop that pays him. Alejandro and his sister Isamar dream of having their own business and so they set off to make this a reality. The two hustle to save money throughout the summer to make their dream of buying a food cart come true. The film reveals the passion and love that these kids have for each other and their perpetual determination to create a better life for themselves.

Chop Shop takes us on an intimate journey into the harsh world of what “making it in New York” can encompass to some New Yorkers. Moreover, the film teaches us that love can get us through any type of struggle.

If you enjoy movies that depict real-life New York scenarios not often seen, then this is a film for you.






Paulo Morelli’s
City of Men


Starring: Douglas Silva, Darlan Cunha, Jonathan Hassgensen, Rodrigo Dos Santos, Camila Monteiro, Naima Silva, Eduardo “BR” Piranha, Luciando Vidigal, and Pedro Henrique.

Reviewed by Marguerite Daniels

20 years ago a green Dan Quayle drew comparison between himself and John F. Kennedy and received the famed verbal smack-down response from Lloyd Bentsen who uttered: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.” Sadly, the same can be said of Paulo Morelli’s City of Men, a film which is being billed as a companion piece to the Oscar®-nominated City of God, directed by Fernando Meirelles. City of Men is no City of God.

There are obvious similarities: the names of the films are similar, both films are shot in the favelas of Rio, both are coming of age stories, and both films share the same young actors, but unfortunately for City of Men it lacks the searing direction found in the original film and the matching-monikered television series. The film borrows the frantic action-filled high adrenalin rush of City of God but doesn’t deliver the poignant desperation of the original film, and without perilous anxiety the film falls flat.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t like City of Men, When he starts doling out advice, and the occasional pill, to classmates, his popularity soars in this witty take on teenage insecurity.”

This movie is funny on so many levels. Charlie lives in gothic mansion with his eccentric mother Marilyn (played by the mega talented Hope I liked it fine, but I really wanted to love City of Men as much as I loved City of God and City of Men, the television series. In City of Men we are reintroduced to Acerola “Ace” (played beautifully by Douglas Silva) and Laranjinha “Wallace” (the endearing Darlan Cunha). Those familiar with the television series (and it does pay to have familiarity with the television series before seeing this film) will be pleased to see Ace and Wallace fully grown at eighteen. Both are enduring personal hardships: Ace has become a father, and Wallace is searching for the father he never knew. While they seek to understand themselves, a secret from the past threatens to destroy both of them, and the two young men are thrust into opposing sides of a gang war. And what a scary gang war it is. Everyone’s lives are altered in the favelas as the ruling drug dealer is challenged. Innocent people die, families are torn apart. None of this is new territory for the series. The new theme in City of Men deals with how the lack of fathers in the favelas affects the young people. Alas, the long-lost father theme isn’t subtly executed. Viewers of the film are repeatedly told that Ace shouldn’t be like his father and abandon his son. When Wallace finally locates his father (played masterfully by the ruggedly handsome Rodrigo Santos) the audience is told over and over again that he’s a bad father for not caring for his son.

Of course, we already know all of this. The boys have grown up in dangerous, gun-infested shantytown, after all. What’s of greater concern in this film is a theme that is never explored: even with present and available paternal units, how could our fair heroes find safe-havens in such squalor? The same economic divide that creates the environment still exists, and the missing daddy issue just seems pat. Without real social change in Brazil, criminal enterprises will continue to prosper.

So, ok, City of Men isn’t a great film, but the art direction presented by Adriano Goldman (Director of Photography) and Rafael Ronconi (Art Director) is equally picturesque and haunting, and I’ll be purchasing the soundtrack (kudos to composer Antonio Pinto) as soon as it is available. I suppose this is a classic example of familiarity breeding contempt since I know the story of Ace and Wallace well. Over the past six years I’ve watched Ace and Wallace grow-up. I guess I simply yearned for a more poignant vehicle for their send-off.


Oren Jacoby's
Constantine’s Sword
Opens in select theaters Friday, April 18th, 2008

Reviewed by Alejandra Serret

Constantine’s Sword, a thought provoking documentary, delves into the controversial debate on religion, and how the institution has been used as a weapon throughout history. The documentary follows James Carroll, a writer and former Catholic priest, on his exploration of the darker side of Christianity. Carroll, with the help of Oscar nominated documentarian Oren Jacoby, travel to different parts of the world in hopes of unearthing and bringing to light a side of Christianity that is often over looked and ignored.

The documentary begins in Colorado Springs at the U.S. Air Force Academy. A Jewish cadet tells of the constant discrimination he deals with because of his faith. The Evangelist Mega Church proselytizes at the Air Force Academy in an aggressive, forceful manner. This particular story becomes the basis of Constantine’s Sword. It serves as the foundation for Carroll’s argument—that the institution of religion is used and has been used to breed hatred, separating rather than unifying.

Carroll talks of his own past, as the eldest of son of a large Irish Catholic Family—his father a decorated Army General. From a young age Carroll had felt it his duty to serve the church. He became a priest in 1969 and served for five years. He argues it was during this time period that he was able to ask the most challenging questions of the church—beginning with its violent and turbulent history. It is what led him to leave the priesthood.

He travels to Europe and speaks with historians on the beginnings of Christianity. This unearths the story of Constantine, a Roman Emperor, who was violent. Carroll’s journey through Europe takes us through the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust. These religious wars all targeted a specific group of people based on their religious differences. Carroll beautifully links this turbulent history with the way in which Evangelism is proselytized at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The documentary ends on a truly scary note: President Bush’s declaration of the current war in Iraq as a “crusade on terror…a war of good vs. evil.” He compares Bush to Hitler, begging the question: what does that make us as citizens? Accomplices? Constantine’s Sword beautifully tackles a truly complex topic.

For more information about Constantine's Sword, log onto: constantinessword.com




Julian Schnabel's
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
French with English Subtitles
Opens November 30, 2007

Starring: Mathieu Amalric (Jean-Dominique Bauby); Emmanuelle Seigner (Céline Desmoulins); Marie-Josée Croze (Henriette Durand); Anne Consigny (Claude); and Olatz Lopez Garmendia (Marie Lopez).

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Julian Schnabel (Basquait, Before Night Falls) has made a gorgeous, sensual feast of a film about the sad story of Jean Dominique Bauby, the editor oce.

Working from a script by Ronald Harwood (The Pianist, Love in the Time of Cholera, Oliver Twist) the first half of the film is told through the camera-eye of Bauby's left eye. As the story opens, we as Bauby's eye, awake to see kindly worried people hovering over our bed telling us that we have had a stroke and now that we are awake we should be just fine. Then one of the doctors asks Bauby to say his name, he does and no one hears him except us, the film audience.

Bauby then narrates his own movie, telling us the story of his old and new life. Bauby's affliction has not made him into a saint. He is instead the same sardonic hedonist that he was before the accident.

The story follows Bauby's work with his gorgeous therapists, Henriette (played by Marie-Josée Croze) and Marie (Schnabel's wife Olatz Lopez Garmendia). Henriette devises a method by which Bauby can communicate with the world - a chart with the letters of the French alphabet arranged in most-used order. She painstakingly goes through the alphabet and Bauby blinks when she reaches a letter that he wishes to use. Bauby signals that he would like to write the book that he had contracted to write before the accident and the therapist make arrangements with his publisher to have yet another beautiful woman take dictation, Claude (played by Marie Anne Consigny).

This film is never maudlin; it is beautifully shot by Janusz Kaminski, also Steven Spielberg's cinematographer. We leave the viewpoint of Bauby's eye and see the world around him. The hospital room is a green marvel and the hospital itself is located by the sea; the entire setting is lovely. And to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, oh the things Bauby saw. Bauby receives visitors, the gorgeous mother of his three children, Celine (played by Emmanuelle Seigner). We see them on the beach with Celine's skirt being lifted by the wind. His equally gorgeous children visit and play in the sand. And Bauby's beautiful view of the world is not restricted to his present "diving bell." We follow the butterfly of his imagination as he remembers his past and takes flights of fancy into the future. And we follow him as he drives former girlfriend to Lourdes, her hair beautifully blowing in the wind. Bauby was a lustful man and the film is permeated with Bauby's (and Schnabel's) lust for life.

Bell is one of the best films I have seen this year and that is quite a complement with films like Gone Baby Gone and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead for competition. Schnabel won the prize for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for Bell and this film will surely be an Oscar contender for Schnabel, Harwood, Kiminski and the talented (and gorgeous) cast.




Leelee Sobieski and Al Pacino in John Avnet's 88 Minutes

Jon Avnet's
88 Minutes
Opens Friday, April 18th, 2008

Reviewed by Alejandra Serret


After sitting through 88 Minutes, it’s hard to believe that Al Pacino, the film’s star, is in fact the same man who played Michael Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy), Tony Montana (Scarface), and Lt. Colonel Frank Slade (Scent of a Woman), a role that won him the Oscar in 1992. These characters were interesting, complex, multi-layered, flawed—human. And yet, over recent years, the characters he has played have varied little: Detective Will Dormer (Insomnia), Walter Burke (The Recruit), Walter Abrams (Two for the Money), and his most recent, Dr. Jack Gramm (88 Minutes). They are so similar; they begin to blend, leaving little to the viewer’s imagination and to the actor’s creativity. We’ve all seen Pacino play the lonely, intense, slightly insane, middle-aged man. Unfortunately, his role in 88 Minutes as Dr. Jack Gramm does little to dissuade the sinking feeling that Pacino’s comfortable, and maybe even a bit content, to play the same character again and again.

88 Minutes, Directed by Jon Avnet (Up Close and Personal and Fried Green Tomatoes) and written by Gary Scott Thompson (The Fast and the Furious) is a psychological thriller. Dr. Jack Gramm, a forensic psychiatrist and respected professor, makes a living tracking and profiling serial killers. The film begins in 1997, with the grisly death of a young woman, the work of the notorious Seattle Slayer. Dr. Gramm’s testimony convinces the jury to find Jon Forster, played by Neal McDonough, guilty of the crime. Jump ahead to present day and it’s the night before Forster’s execution. Gramm receives a cryptic phone call stating that he has 88 minutes left to live. A series of incidents follow: his graduate student is found dead in her apartment, the woman he went home with the night before is also murdered (both women are, of course, killed in the same “Seattle Slayer” way), a bomb threat, and the persistent phone calls that remind him of how much time he has left. It is Gramm against the clock. He suspects everyone around him: his students (there are many—played by Leelee Sobieski, Benjamin McKenzie, Amy Brenneman), his friends/colleagues, his student’s boyfriend, the list goes on. As the film progresses and the plot unravels, we learn of Gramm’s difficult past and the significance of 88 minutes.

Suspense and an intricate, intelligent plot are necessary elements of a successful thriller. 88 Minutes’ weak plot does little to inspire suspense or even surprise. The greatest moments in a thriller are in collecting the clues and piecing them together. There was nothing of this in 88 Minutes. No subtle hints alluding to the truth, just a mess of over-acting and obnoxious “scary movie” stereotypes. It also falls into the trap of allowing the audience to believe that the killer could be anyone. A great thriller is not calculated by the number of possibilities it cf Elle France, who at the young age of forty-three suffered a stroke that left him in "locked-in" condition. Unable to move any part of his body except his left eye, Bauby (played by Mathieu Amalric), wrote a book (also titled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) about his experien