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Film
What's Up For Today?

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Austin Chick's
August
Opens Friday, July 11, 2008

Starring: Josh Hartnett; Naomie Harris; Adam Scott; Emmanuelle Chriqui; Andre Royo; Robin Tunney; Rip Torn; and David Bowie.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Austin Chick's new film, August, takes the viewer time-travelling through the world of the late nineties' dot com boom. Dot com-mania was a fantasy world, populated by true believers like the towns people in Hans Christian Anderson's The Emperor's New Clothes. And like the story of the fairy tale, when the dot com bubble collapsed, the world finally realized that the information highway was populated by naked kings. Yes, the internet was the future, but almost no one was making any money.....yet. And no one wanted to be the first to say, "The Emperor has no clothes."

John Hartnett plays Tom in August (named for the month just before 9/11). Tom runs an internet company with the help of his hard working brother Joshua, played by Adam Scott. Their internet company is staffed by a large group of attractive older children (twenty-somethings) who, according to Tom's father, David (played by Rip Torn), sit at Ikea desks and eat Oreos.

The dot com boom was a sexy world; a world where youth ruled; a world where no one wanted to say that they did not UNDERSTAND the internet because that would mean they themselves were not COOL. It wasn't COOL to not understand the buzz words and to not be in-with-the-in-crowd who was developing the alternative universe called cyberspace. So we all drank the kool aid and admired the Emperor's new clothes.

Josh Hartnett plays Tom with James Dean style angst. He mopes, he sulks, he charms, he bulllshits. And he uses: uses his brother; uses his girlfriend (played by Naomie Harris); uses his assistants (played by Robin Tunney and Andre Royo); and most of all, uses his long-suffering brother Joshua (played by Adam Scott). Tom is a man who is going down, the only plot point in the film being just when will Tom hit rock bottom.

But in the bleak world of August, there is also a touch of redemption. When Tom's world finally collapses at the feet of a bail-out investor (played by David Bowie), Tom finds a touch of nobility in his soul and uses it save some of the people he has harmed.

The film is at its best when it depicts the dot com world - the clubs, the offices, and players of that fume-powered universe. It is an atmosphere flick, a slice of life in a time now gone. And Austin Chick's August does a good job of portraying this fantasy world, filtered through the smoke-and-mirrors-magic of pre 9/11 Manhattan.



Jan Hrebejik's
Beauty in Trouble (Kraska V Nesnazich)
Opens June 13, 2008

Written By: Petr Jarchovsky, story by Petr Jarchovsky, Jan Krebejk

Starring: Ana Geislerova; Roman Luknar; Emilia Vasaryova; Jana Brejchova; Jiri Schmitzer; Josef Abrham; Jan Hrusinsky; Jiri Machacek; Andrei Toader; Nikolai Penev; Jaromira Milova; Adam Misik; Michaela Mrvikova; andRaduza.

Mememsha Films

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Grade: A-

This stunning film which deservedly won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Karlovy Vary Festival and Best Feature Film at the Denver International Festival, at base asks the question: Which is more important—hot sex with a rough, working-class thief, or material splendor with a rich, gentle, older fellow? But this is where any similarity between "Beauty in Trouble" ("Kraska V Nesnazich" as it's called in Czech), and soap opera, ends. Jan Hrebejik's film written by Petr Jarchovsky from the writer and director's story contrasts culture with boorishness, loyalty with change, the urban sophistication of the Czech capital with the rustic beauty of Italy's famed Tuscany. The acting is superb all around with a lovely soundtrack featuring some songs taken from the movie Once. The multi-character story is rich in human dimension, Hrebejik and Jarchovsky shucking off all caricatures to show that people (like you and me) have both positive and negative sides which can emerge either without apparent cause or in response to the way we're treated at any moment.

The writer-director team's previous feature Up and Down—about small-time smugglers who discover an abandoned baby, triggering consequences among a disparate group of people—selected the challenging title of this one from a Robert Graves poem which became the inspiration for a popular Czech song which goes "Beauty in trouble flees to the good angel/ On whom she can rely/ To pay her cab-fare, run a steaming bath,/ Poultice her bruised eye" and which concludes "Virtue, good angel, is its own reward."

We're made privy to the lives of disparate people, as in Up and Down, folks who are imperfect in different ways but who deserve our sympathy even as they choose wrong actions. Marcela Cmolikova (Ana Geislerova), for example, is fated to love two men for different reasons, a woman who may live out the rest of her life as though in conflict with society's mandate to select and remain loyal to only one. Her husband, Jarda Smolik (Roman Luknar), is a thief who steals cars and quickly remakes them for sale in his garage. Criminality aside, we understand that he and his family were wiped out by a flood that hit Prague in 2002 and destroyed their uninsured home. Jarda and Marcela must provide a decent life for themselves and their two adorable kids, Lucina (Michaela Mrvikova) and Kuba (Adam Misik). In one of the film's many comic scenes, the children cover their ears as they must do nightly as their parents have loud, incredible sex in the adjoining room. When Jarda is caught and sent to jail, the rest of his family are forced to move into the cramped home of Marcela's mother, Zdena (Jana Brejchova) and Zdena's surly second husband, Richard Hrstka (Jiri Schmitzer), the latter resenting their presence and making efforts to get them out. Even here we are invited to find sympathy for Marcela's stepfather, as he is sick with diabetes and is eager to get back to his own sexual life with his wife.

When Marcela meets Evzen Benes (Josef Abrham), the wealthy owner of the car whose theft led to her husband's imprisonment, she is surprised, after a brief courtship, to be invited to the gentleman's lavish Tuscany digs—an invitation she accepts despite the large difference in age in order to keep her family together. This new courtship is opposed by her mother-in-law (Emilia Vasaryova), a fervently religious woman sticking up for the sanctity of marriage.

Class differences allow for comic scenes, particularly at the dinner table where in a restaurant overlooking the Vltava River (which the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana immortalized in The Moldau) she is introduced to sushi and makes the mistake committed by Sam Malone in one episode of Cheers of taking in a full mouthful of the hot green wasabi condiment. While Benes, a vintner, relishes a glass of dry wine, Marcela finds the grape tolerable only when she combines it with a cola.

Among the cast members who excel we'd have to include Jiri Schmitzer who, in the role of the nasty stepfather Richard tells his nephew and niece the unvarnished truth about their dad after having some time before rhetorically asked the teenage girl "Have the boys in school felt you up yet?" He redeems himself in one heartbreaking moment. Ultimately the film belongs to Ana Geislerova, the conflicted Marcela who, upon her husband's release from prison must decide between a life of material and psychological security with a much older man or her less predictable situation with a sexual dynamo. A fast-paced conclusion provides an interesting, complex answer.

Photographer Jan Malir exploits the russet beauty of Tuscany and the medievalflavor of sections of Prague in a film that has enough respect for the character to treat them in all their conflicting dimensions.

Note: The Czechs produce fine films of their own, obviously, but Prague, with its Barrandov Studio, is also a favorite spot for Hollywood film-makers. See my article in Film Journal November 2007.

Not Rated. 110 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online.


 


John Crowley’s
Boy A
Opens Wednesday July 23, 2008


Written By: Mark O'Rowe, from the novel by Jonathan Trigell
Starring: Andrew Garfield; Peter Mullan; Shaun Evans; and Katie Lyons

Reviewed at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival by Frank J. Avella

John Crowley’s Boy A is the best narrative feature I’ve seen at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. If handled correctly (delicately), it could be (should be) an indie sleeper. Granted the film does not have the comic uplift of a Juno or a Little Miss Sunshine but it does have some important and thought-provoking things to say about our society and the world we live in and how we view rehabilitation and redemption. It also contains an incredibly nuanced, star-making performance by newcomer Andrew Garfield (seen last year in the underrated Robert Redford gem Lions for Lambs).

The film opens with a 24-year old “boy,” about to be released from a British juvvy prison, choosing a name as he sits with his devoted caseworker. As the film flashes back and forward, we become privy to his unbelievable story. At the age of ten, Boy A was involved in committing a heinous crime and was hauled away. A decade later, the case is still fresh in the minds of the public as well as the media so “Jack” must start afresh and live his life carefully and wary of revealing who he really is to anyone.

The pic meticulously takes us into Jack’s daily life as he nervously makes new friends and even begins dating a co-worker (an impressive Katie Lyons). Jack is obviously still a young boy in a man’s body. He is forever haunted by memories of his past, and worried about whether he is even deserving of a second chance.

His caseworker, Peter (the always extraordinary Peter Mullan), has been his champion, mentor and protector but must now deal with his own mess of a son moving back in.

As the movie moves towards an inevitable reveal and people’s predictable reactions, the film keeps true to it’s bleak but honest themes about the difficulty of forgiveness and the dangers of the mob (and media) mentality. Jack may very well be a changed boy, but will he ever be allowed to live any type of normal life?

Based on the novel by Jonathan Trigell, the screenplay (by Mark O’Rowe) is smartly structured and probes the complexities of Jack’s impossible situation. We grow to like him and then we flashback to the murder, which makes our feelings all the grayer. Along the periphery the film also examines class and how that effects the boy’s situation.

Throughout the film, Garfield holds our attention, showing us Jack’s fears and newfound joys. We watch how he learns about the world anew (never having heard of a dvd), experiments with drugs (a hilarious scene with him dancing on Ecstasy) and clunkily stumbles through the awkward moments of falling in love for the first time. It is a truly remarkable performance.

Boy A does omit an important part of Jack’s story (possibly deliberately). We are never shown any moments from his time in prison. I would have loved a glimpse of his world and what it was like to be inside his head during some of the defining period of adolescence. But then that’s what a really good film does. It makes us want more.



John Crowley’s
Boy A
Opens Wednesday July 23, 2008

Written By: Mark O'Rowe, from the novel by Jonathan Trigell
Starring: Andrew Garfield; Peter Mullan; Shaun Evans; and Katie Lyons

The Weinstein Company
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten
Grade: B

At times Boy A looks more like a propaganda piece for penal reform, or more specifically, a plea that society understand that when prisoners are released, they've paid their debt. Society does appear at first to honor this idea when a fellow commits a heinous crime at the age of ten, is incarcerated in a juvenile facility for fourteen years, is given a new identity, apartment, job and a caring social worker who seems to have only one client. What's more, he appreciates what he's getting, is well-liked on a job he's overjoyed to have—one which comes with an outgoing girlfriend. Yet when "society" finds out that he was in jail not for stealing cars for joyrides but for murder, albeit far below the age of maturity, the people who heretofore accepted him think nothing of casting him out. His big mistake was to return to a Manchester nabe rather than to disappear in London, but that's another story.

Perhaps Boy A will deserve a rating better than "B" from Brit-crix. The biggest problem in this superbly acted downer is the dialogue, which is not as bad as what we put up with in Trainspotting (don't expect to understand Scottish if you're an all-American, but at least that pic had English subtitles—which Boy A could most decidedly use). One wonders why Peter Mullan, who plays a social worker who presumably has had a college education, must talk with a thick brogue, though we accept this as cinema verite from the mouth of his favorite client.

John Crowley's film, adapted by Mark O'Rowe from Jonathan Trigell's novel, is nicely edited by Lucia Zucchetti, who takes us seamlessly from the present to the protagonist's past at appropriate moments. Andrew Garfield, who played student Todd Hayes in Lions for Lambs, anchors the story in a career-making performance as Jack Burridge, a 24-year-old released from juvenile custody after fourteen years for a senseless murder he helped commit at the age of ten. He's most fortunate to be under the wing of a Terry (Peter Mullan) social worker who if anything is too dedicated to his job, a seriousness that ultimately proves disastrous to his client. Jack, whose real name is Eric Wilson, enjoys his job with a delivery company, a gig that affords him not only friendly co-workers but also girlfriend, Michelle (Katie Lyons) who is immediately attracted to the lad: From time to time, photographer Rob Hardy shows us that Jack is tormented by the past by allowing us to eavesdrop on his (Alfie Owen's) hanging out with the wrong company, namely Philip Craig (Taylor Doherty). His current fortune will prove all too good to be lasting.

Aside from its execution as a downbeat story, the real find is Andrew Garfield who evokes the shyness of a guy whose best years have been ruined in a prison cell, where in one scene he is tortured by fellow convicts. Katie Lyons as girlfriend Michelle convincingly brings the young man out of his shell while his caseworker, who is in loco parentis, provides more adult support. Peter Mullan, whose bio includes the starring role of Joe Kavanagh in the working-class study My Name is Joe, plays the sort of guy we'd all want as a dad—even if his own son takes exception.

Not Rated. 100 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


 


Julian Jarrold's
Brideshead Revisted
Opens July 25, 2008

Written By: Andrew Davies; Jeremy Brock; from Evelyn Waugh's novel.

Starring: Emma Thompson; Michael Gambon; Matthew Goode; Ben Whishaw; Hayley Atwell; Stephen Merchant; Greta Scacchi; Ed Stoppard; Jonathan Cake;and Patrick Malahide.

Miramax Films
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten
Grade: B+

"The rich are very different from you and me," said F. Scott Fitzgerald, to which we can add by contrast that emotions remain the same in every century, across whole demographic strains. Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece, Brideshead Revisited, illustrates this point, the film adaptation by Julian Jarrold flawlessly illustrating the way a wealthy, aristocratic British family during the decades preceding World War II spend their days, seeking pleasure yet restrained by religious influences. What the viewer must remember, though, is that the restraints of the Catholic faith, to which Waugh converted, must not be looked upon as a negative. The major theme of the novel is that Divine Grace enters into the lives of people when they open themselves up to the Deity no matter how late in life the conversion, a process sometimes called being "born again."

The Evelyn Waugh novel was given an eleven-episode treatment on TV in 1981 under the direction of Charles Sturridge and Michael Lindsay-Hogg with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews assuming the roles of the two principal characters. Compressing the novel (now available for just over ten bucks at Amazon) into just over two hours required Julian Jarrold to omit several minor characters from the tapestry, concentrating particularly on the relationship between young Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode, Match Point and The Lookout) and Sebastian Marchmain (Ben Whishaw, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), a friendship that began when each entered Oxford University.

The current film gets the treatment we've come to associate with Merchant-Ivory productions, punctuating the privileges of the very rich during the decades that the aristocracy was to decline in Great Britain. Without sentimentality or preaching, Brideshead Revisited, adapted from the novel by Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones Diary) and Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland), evokes the principal motifs: The importance of Catholicism; nostalgia for the age of English nobility; and the passionate, though platonic, relationship between Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte.

The story opens on Charles Ryder, a British officer during World War II who moves his men to a castle known as Brideshead. He wistfully recounts his days among the Marchmain family inhabiting what Charles considers the most beautiful home he had ever seen. While now a middle-aged, somewhat disillusioned fellow, he was just a naïve freshman at Oxford when he is introduced by Sebastian to an intimidating crowd of students. His friendship with Sebastian leads the latter's family to invite Charles to spend the summer, whereupon he slowly develops an affection for his friend's sister, Julia Flyte (Hayley Atwell, Cassandra's Dream). Though an atheist (an agnostic in the novel), he gains the trust of Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson), who takes her Catholicism seriously, though her husband, Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon) has moved to Venice with another woman, Cara (Greta Scacchi) Charles's atheism, however, makes him a poor match for Julia, who has been ordered by Lady Marchmain to marry a rich, boorish, Canadian businessman. Sebastian, an alcoholic who will eventually move far from his home to get away from his devout mother who controls him through guilt, proves to be a handful for both his family and Charles. As Charles's bond with Julia becomes firmer, we in the audience question the man's motives. Is he in love, or is he (despite his newly acquired fame as a painter) all too hungry for the trapping of aristocracy?

Filmed by Jess Hall to evoke the incredible wealth and privileges of the 20th century aristocracy in Britain, Brideshead Revisited is both a compelling piece of cinematography and a slow, painstaking look at the diverse fortunes of the anointed. As one non-believer after another—including to some extent Sebastian but more directly Sebastian's father, and even Charles—becomes "born again"—their dissolute lives become more constructive in ways that should be seen rather than revealed in a review. Brideshead Revisited is smart, handsome film-making without the usual summer panoply of special effects and computer generative industry, a picture graced by solid acting and a rich empathy with people who find themselves through religion rather than wealth.

Rated PG-13. 120 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online



Felicity Jones as Cordelia Flyte, Hayley Atwell as Julia Flyte,
Emma Thompson as Lady Marchmain and Matthew Goode
as Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited.

Julian Jarrold's
Brideshead Revisted
Opens July 25, 2008

Written By: Andrew Davies; Jeremy Brock; from Evelyn Waugh's novel.

Starring: Emma Thompson; Michael Gambon; Matthew Goode; Ben Whishaw; Hayley Atwell; Stephen Merchant; Greta Scacchi; Ed Stoppard; Jonathan Cake;and Patrick Malahide.

Reviewed by Julia Sirmons

A film adaptation of a literary classic is difficult at the best of times. The situation is only complicated when said classic has already been televised in an epic, 13-hour mini-series starring a gaggle of Britain's literary talents, the prospect becomes even more daunting. Fortunately, director Julian Jarrolds has had the testicular fortitude to attempt a new version of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, resulting in a compelling and innovative take on one of Britain's
finest and most nuanced pieces of literature.

Needless to say, when condensing a 30-page book Page book (or an 11
hour miniseries) into a 2-hour, much will be lost in translation. Certain plot points are excised, several characters are reduced in significance, but this is all in aid of Jarrolds' intent, which is to shift the main focus of the story toward the bizarre love triangle between seductively charming siblings Julia (Hayley Atwell) and
Sebastian (I'm Not There's Ben Whishaw) and their lesser-born, introspective friend Charles Ryder (played by Matthew Goode; Goode strongly resembles Jeremy Irons, who originated the role in the miniseries.)

Obviously, this approach loses some of the epic sweep and deeper political and philosophical concerns of Waugh's vision. The book and original adaptation can be viewed as a Canaletto canvas, with the characters carefully and distantly through the grand landscapes of Oxford, Venice, and the titular stately homes, their emotions carefully (if barely) in check. Jarrolds, on the other hand, has filmed Brideshead as a Caravaggio, where the rich settings are a backdrop for the desperate passionate grappling and anguish of lovers trapped in murky waters.

This approach is aided immensely by powerful performances by the three
leads. Atwell is positively dazzling as Julia, a woman torn between a nature of vitality and passion tempered by a sense of duty and devout Catholic faith. As Sebastian, the outwardly vivacious but deeply fragile and insecure gadabout, Whishaw balances impish charm with heartbreaking pain and fragility. Goode, the most enigmatic of the trio, is something of an unsteady chameleon, but with a great deal of emotion and compassion.

While this trio works beautifully together, the standout performance in Brideshead is Emma Thompson as Lady Marchmain, Sebastian and Julia's mother. Almost un recognizable in grey set curls, Thompson doesn't shy away from the staunch domineering, aspects of Marchmain's character, but also brings moment of exquisite vulnerability and uncertainty that makes her character much more human.

With this new focus, some of Waugh's intent falls by the wayside. There's much mention of the film of the Marchmain-Flytes being Catholic, but little demonstration of how their faith guides their actions. Nevertheless, this new angle on Waugh's complex story is teeming over with romantic, lustful and tender, and the social formalities that labor in vain to constrain them. Gloriously set and
sumptuously costumes, it's a drama of emotion and passion not to be
missed.


 



Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan’s
The Dark Knight
Opens Friday, July 18, 2008

Starring: Christian Bale; Heath Ledger; Aaron Eckhart; Michael Caine; Maggie Gyllenhaal; Gary Oldman; and Morgan Freeman.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is easily the best action film to be released so far this summer. I almost hesitate to label it an action film because it is smart, clever, dark and disturbing. Audiences will probably not leave theatres feeling good about their fellow man. They may leave pondering certain moral and ethical issues the film brings up (and, mercifully, does not necessarily answer) and that is reason enough to celebrate!

Nolan, who helmed the terrific Batman Begins, along with his writer/brother Jonathan and David S. Goyer, probe the gray and dig deep down into the grim in order to hypothesize about the point where hero becomes villain. Can anyone hold onto his own code of ethics in a fickle and rush-to-judgment society? Does power always corrupt? Why do heroes matter so much to us? And if we knew the real truth about those we are led to believe are models of propriety, would we ever be able to believe in anyone or anything?

Heavy? Sure. And thank God for that!

The plot is deliberately confusing and repeat viewings are encouraged. Suffice to say that our caped crusader has his work cut out for him this time around. The mob, led by a smarmy Eric Roberts, is getting away with murder and a new D.A.; Harvey Dent (the terrific Aaron Eckhart) is on the scene to battle crime in Gotham City. His girlfriend is Bruce Wayne’s former squeeze, Rachel Dawes (a perfectly cast Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes).

Batman is more brooding and angst-ridden than usual and Christian Bale has pain and suffering to spare. He’s at a moral crossroads and the arrival of a new and unpredictable threat tosses him into a confounding tailspin. From American Psycho onward, Bale proves he is one of the best and most fascinating actors working today.

“The which doesn’t kill you, makes you stranger.” The Joker.

The threat arrives in the form of the initially bumbling Joker (Heath Ledger). But don’t let his first few scenes fool you--this villain is vile and wicked. With his mussy, stringy hair, repulsive yet beguiling (white) face and badly painted smile to accentuate his scars, this card (pun intended) believes in chaos and anarchy. His evil cannot be predicted, reasoned or controlled because he doesn’t want anything other than to cause mayhem, destroy and prove the malignant nature of man. As Michael Caine’s wise Alfred puts it: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” He doesn’t even want Batman dead. Quite the contrary, he stares at him and freakily states, “You complete me.”

If the Joker’s reasons are buried in childhood trauma or abuse we are never given his real story and Ledger’s performance is the better for it. As a matter of creepy fact, the Joker actually provides a few horrific childhood scenarios, but we soon realize that we can’t ever trust what he says; he’s simply having a macabre laugh at his victim’s expense, after all, he is a sadistic fuck. He’s also a masochist. It’s a mesmerizing, messy portrait, loaded with mad nuances.

There has been much posthumous Oscar speculation among critics, prognosticators and Hollywoodites regarding Ledger’s performance--and with good reason. It’s an all-immersive, vanity-free portrayal and a fitting swan song to a promising career cut tragically short. Ledger should have won his gold dude for Brokeback Mountain, so it would not be surprising if his genius turn here gets him the prize.

The look of the film is stunning and spectacularly gloomy. All tech credits are extraordinary.

The Dark Knight proves a superhero film can be more than a cacophonous, pyrotechnic, effects-driven video game. It can have non-stop action, amazing effects and still have an untidy, topsy-turvy plot and performances that strive to be more than simply good and actually achieve a kind of transcendence.




Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan’s
The Dark Knight
Opens Friday, July 18, 2008


Written By: Jonathan Nolan; Christopher Nolan; Story by Christopher Nolan; David S. Goyer from characters in DC Comics. Batman created by Bob Kane.

Starring: Christian Bale; Heath Ledger; Aaron Eckhart; Michael Caine; Maggie Gyllenhaal; Gary Oldman; and Morgan Freeman.

Warner Bros.

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten
Grade: B-

It's difficult to criticize a movie in which a fellow who is considered "a White Knight," "the best of us," goes by the first name "Harvey"—a District Attorney who has locked up half of Gotham (filmed by Wally Pfister in Chicago). The picture is a mixed bag, one that might be summarized by part of a terrific commercial that appeared years back before trailers, in which one moviegoer is pondering whether to attend a film that's "visually arresting but ultimately pointless." Not that The Dark Knight is pointless, but on the other hand comes across as though it were a series of trailers. Christopher Nolan who directs from a script he co-write with his brother Jonathan Nolan, appears to make a few moral points: that even the best of us can turn rotten when pursuing vengeance; that a caped crusader can be disliked by much of the city he protects because he is blamed indirectly for quite a few murders; that you can't negotiate with a terrorist, because (at least in this case), the demon has no interest in money or power but only in fomenting as much chaos as he can.

The Dark Knight is graced by an astonishing performance from Heath Ledger as The Joker, one scary fella who covers up scars he received from his knife-wielding dad with makeup that gives him a face covered with white paint while leaving lips to be decked out in dark red. If an Oscar can be awarded posthumously, Mr. Ledger should be guaranteed at least a nomination for portraying what will probably be this year's most exciting portrayal of a villain. The movie comes to life whenever he is on the screen, but becomes pedestrian whenever Christian Bale, so fearsome and authentic as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, enters the screen. Bale is a dull Bruce Wayne and a less than awesome hero.

There are two fundamentally distinct ways to judge the quality of this plot. One group of moviegoers and critics are going to find gems in its complexity, stating even that the film deserves multiple viewings (at two and one-half hours a pop) to figure out who's who and what's what. Others will take an opposite approach, holding that the story is so incoherent, one might as well throw up his hands and consider the film of value only because of some awesome visual delights. I'll have to take that latter point of view. David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, or for that matter Christopher Nolan's Memento, have trajectories which become clear by the second or third viewing. The Dark Knight, by contrast, throws together a pot pourri of criminals and crime fighters that are nearly impossible to sort out or make even comic-book sense of. Additional screenings are likely to be fruitless.

Gotham is portrayed as a city rife with police corruption, organized crime, and one weird, psychopathic killer who seems motivated to get revenge against the father who scarred him for life. He takes out his anger on an assortment of citizens. His chief nemesis is the incorruptible (at least for a while) District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), but The Joker is not eager to kill Batman. He considers the caped crusader someone who "completes" him, someone to play with to prove his skills to the entire city. The Joker is an expert at demolition: in one scene, he blows up a hospital and buildings surrounding it, walking away laughing to himself. When he gets the drop on an individual, he licks his lips, slowly, calmly explaining to his victims why he has become the psycho he is. Every actor wants to play the bad guy, Heath Ledger providing a textbook example--as the D.A., Bruce Wayne, and Batman are dishwater-dull by contrast (until one of them shows his dark side, thereby helping to prove the maxim). The film can be interpreted as an indictment of American foreign policy. In one scene, a scientist sets up a system of wiretapping that will allow Batman to spy on millions of Chicago's citizens. In another, Batman mercilessly delivers a beating to a prisoner, hoping to get information about a kidnap victim's whereabouts.

There are faux Batmans, bank robbers, Hong Kong businessmen, all thrown into the mix helter-skelter along with the usual array of car crashes, truck somersaults, and a terrific-looking Batpod. There's even a romantic triangle as Bruce Wayne's former squeeze, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), has shifted her loyalties to the district attorney—an unusual switch considering that she once had the attention of a billionaire playboy. Gary Oldman shows up regularly with a restrained performance as a detective about to become the city's police commissioner, Morgan Freeman as a scientist, Michael Caine as Bruce Wayne's lifelong butler Alfred.

If you thrill to visual mayhem, try to see the picture on the IMAX screen, which delivers the goods particularly when Batman descends quickly from skyscrapers or spreads out his bat-wings to fly across buildings. By now, though, the usual visual thrills have become a common-enough staple in blockbusters. Ditto the thumping soundtracks, in this case provided by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. What's missing is a solid, coherent story, one that pares down the numbers of subplots and subplots to subplots.

Rated PG-13. 152 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online



Wayne Price's
The Doorman
Opens July 18, 2008

Written By: Lucas Akoskin, Wayne Price

Cast: Lucas Akoskin, Matthew Mabe, Peter Bogdanovich, Thom Filiica, Denise Qunones, Amy Sacco

Gigantic Release

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Grade: C

At my age, gaining access to the right club is picking up the appropriate Ace when I'm holding a ten, Jack, Queen and King of clubs. For me, watching a movie about a doorman at a night club is in equal parts a trip down memory lane and a voyage to a foreign land. A movie about a doorman? It's not a bad idea at all to hone in on some of the people who act in society's supporting roles, though one might not necessarily find a doc about a bathroom attendant to be compelling viewing—unless, of course, Judd Apatow has a hand in the writing.

The Doorman is a mockumentary, a subgenre that tends to add interest to a movie rife with talking heads. As a maker of this mockumentary, though, Wayne Price in no way even begins to match up to the talent of Christopher Guest (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman). His principal character may be charming and comic at first, but quickly becomes so irritating (particularly when he peppers virtually every sentence with the adolescent filler "you-know") that the movie outlives even its brief seventy-six minute length halfway through. What's more most of the men and women, many of whom play their real-life selves, comes off as superficial as the consumerist quartet in Michael Patrick King's Sex and the City.

The title doorman, known allegedly by the hippest people in New York, Miami and Vegas, calls himself Trevor W., though he is played by the Argentinian actor Lucas Akoskin—who sports a heavy Latino accent. He is the creation of writers Wayne Price and Lukas Akoskin, who originally thought of making a short video about a guy who imagines himself to be a subway doorman, emerging from the train with a list and refusing to let most people board "the VIP car." That sounds like something that could be funny for about three minutes. Instead, Akoskin and director Wayne Price extended the idea to focus on a guy who is clueless about his real importance but believes himself to be a celebrity, an authority figure who could bar entrance to hip night clubs to all he does not like or who are not wearing the right shoes, or maybe too old, too uncool, or what-have-you. During the film he is shown using his Great Powers at the door—though one big guy who is denied entry simply barges through and, since the doorman is not a bouncer , he can do nothing about that.

Lucas Akoskin, then, tells "his own story" in a movie that has far too much improvised dialogue, the principal raison d'etre presumably being to show off a cast of real-life movers and shakers, none of whom I know (except for Peter Bogdanovich who inexplicably invites Lucas to dine with him and to listen to Lucas's plea for a film part). The conversation involves one of the few genuinely humorous lines: Bogdanovich tells the waiter that he does not eat dairy, while Lucas curries favor by adding, "Yes and I don't eat dirty either. Clean it up and maybe I'll order it."

Lucas is at the top of the game when he shows up in an assortment of purportedly high-fashion threads at a New York Club and is also invited to work at special events at Las Vegas and Miami. While VIPs like Thom Felicia, a notable interior designer, and Amy Sacco, owner of Lot 61 club, tell the interviewer their impressions of Lucas, Lucas eventually finds himself on hard times when he is fired from his job presumably because he did not recognize Nicolas Cage and refused him entry. He applies for jobs as a rock singer, a TV actor, and a film star, in all cases showing himself to be boorish, ill equipped to sing, and obnoxiously insistent on his qualifications. The point of the film appears to be that when one is given a little authority in a small sphere of operations, he becomes grandiose—emerging as a sad caricature of a man. Again, good idea, Mr. Price and nice try, Mr. Akoskin, but while the tagline is valid, "Trevor W. knows people. More importantly he knows people who know him," those of us in the movie audience may find little to cheer in a vehicle that falls short of entertainment.

Not Rated. 76 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online



Marcos Carnevale's
Elsa & Fred
Opens June 27, 2008

Written By: Marcos Carnavale, Lily Ann Martin, Marcela Guerty

Starring: China Zorrilla; Manuel Alexandre; Blanca Portillo; Roberto Carnaghi; Jose Angel Eglo; and Gonzalo Urtizberea.

Distimax Inc

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Grade: B

For every hundred movies about romance among the young, there's maybe one that deals with the chemistry of folks over the age of sixty. In this case, the Elsa of the title is eighty-two, her "boyfriend" is seventy-eight. When the emotions of people over seventy are given expression, their children are more than likely to say "ewwww," as though there's something perverted about dirty old people, who should presumably keep their bond private—certainly not show their exuberance by stomping about Rome's Trevi Fountain.

Elsa and Fred are two people of different temperaments—she is bubbly, outgoing; while he is by her own judgment subdued. But their kinship works in this small film featuring the Montevideo-born China Zorrilla and Madrileno Manuel Alexandre in the roles of an Argentinian lonely-heart and a Spanish man who is grieving the recent death of his wife, a self-absorbed hypochondriac with a bevy of varied-colored pills.

Marcos Carnevale, Argentinian by nationality, examines the partnership while at the same time paying homage to the movies, in particular to La Dolce Vita, undoubtedly Elsa's the number one favorite, one that has her comparing her own youthful self to Anita Ekberg. The movie serves as well as a travel poster for Spanish tourism, featuring a vibrant Madrid with upscale restaurants and urban sophistication.

Elsa and Fred meet cute after she has accidentally broken the headlights of a car parked behind hers. Fred's daughter, Cuca (Blanca Portillo), the woman whose car was damaged by Else, is meddlesome, playing the role of her dad's overseer—entering his apartment without knocking while urging him to invest in a business which he passively agrees to do. But when he again has someone to live for, he reconsiders putting his life on automatic pilot. With Fred pulled reluctantly, at first, into living once again, the film gains its heartening motif.

Else & Fred will likely be seen by people long past their prime, which is unfortunate. Young people, who likely caricature those in their declining years, as irrelevant at best and deplorable at worst, will gain insight into the real selves of people beyond the age of seventy who are, like these two delightful folks, teenagers in oldster bodies.

Not Rated. 106 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


 

Peter Tolan's
Finding Amanda
Opened June 27, 2008

Cast: Matthew Broderick; Brittany Snow;, Peter Facinelli; Steve Coogan; Maura Tierney; and Bill Fagerbakke.

Written By: Peter Tolan

Distributed by Magnolia Pictures

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten
Grade: B

Anyone reading the supermarket tabloids is familiar with the number of stories about celebrities entering rehab—for drugs, usually, some for drinking, others for gambling. But whoever heard of entering a classy rehab center in Malibu for hooking? Peter Tolan, did, that's who. His film, Finding Amanda, is about a twenty-year-old prostitute whose uncle, a TV comedy writer in Pasadena, heads over to Las Vegas to find his niece and get into a center which he had already paid for. If there's really no such thing as "curing" a prostitute, who cares? The movie uses that theme to show us that the forty-three-year-old uncle is more in need of help than the woman who is half his age. Tolan has cast his film well, especially in the person of Brittany Snow in the title role of Amanda, one who determines that eight clients in a weekend would give her more money, a fabulous apartment, and even more fun than her job at the International House of Pancakes could give her in an entire month. The story has a tonal change that's quite acceptable, as many light comedies turn serious during the final third of a story. In this case the switch works: it's competently prepared for by all that precedes.

Money seems no object, at least for a while, for Taylor Peters (Matthew Broderick), a richly rewarded TV comedy writer whose show is in the toilet with low ratings and who seems oblivious to his chances of being more canned than its laughter. When his wife, Lorraine (Maura Tierney) prods him to convince his niece to enter rehab, he agrees with no objection, not because he really is into helping the young woman but because going to Vegas gives him the chance to continue his gambling addiction—to the horses and then to the card tables—even to go off the wagon and become the drunk he once was. He finds Amanda in a hotel lobby aggressively out to seduce the men, meets her idiotic boyfriend, Greg (Peter Facinelli), who finds nothing wrong with bringing girls into her home, and is not too concerned that she is not convinced from his pitch. He has his own problems by steadily losing at his favorite hotel, where he is welcomed big just as all losers are, and convinces the casino host, Jerry (Steve Coogan) that the check he bounced will be covered by a bank transfer.

The weakest segment of the picture deals with boyfriend Greg, an odd-looking, hostile fellow who does his best to get rid of Uncle Taylor, even pouring pasta and sauce all over the older man's clothes. Aside from a splendid side role by Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People), who somehow is not credited with the role on the Internet Movie database imdb.com, much credit goes to Brittany Snow, whose Amanda is happy-go-lucky for the bulk of the movie but in one scene finds her exploring herself in some depth and finding a core of self-loathing. Matthew Broderick, who at the age of forty-six looks not a day older than when he played Ferris Bueller in 1986, turns in his usual reliable performance as a man who loses his money, his sobriety, his soul.

Rated R. 90 minutes. (c) 2008 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online.




Courtney Hunt's
Frozen River
Opens Friday, August 1, 2008

Starring: Melissa Leo; Misty Upham; Michael O'Keefe; Mark Boone Junio;Charlie McDermott; James Reilly; Dylan Carusona; Jay Klaitz; Michael Sky;John Canoe; and Nancy Wu.

Reviewed by Bryan Close

Don’t let the fact that Frozen River won the dramatic grand prize at Sundance fool you. Director Courtney Hunt’s low-budget indie about two poor mothers – one white, one Native American – who risk their lives smuggling illegal immigrants across the Frozen St. Lawrence river is not just a complex, well-acted, authentically naturalistic slice of forgotten lives; it is also a tightly plotted, gripping thriller.

Frozen River tells the story of Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), a poor upstate New York mother who lives in an insulation-free trailer with her fifteen and five-year-old sons. When her gambling addict husband relapses a week before Christmas and runs off with the cash for the doublewide of her dreams, leaving Ray and the kids (Charlie McDermot and James Reilly) to live on popcorn and Tang, Ray goes looking for him. Nobody’s victim, she brings along a revolver, which she immediately uses to shoot a hole in the side of the camper where she finds husband’s car. The camper is on the Mohawk reservation that straddles an unpatrolled section of the US-Canadian border, and in it is Lila Littlewolf (Missy Upham), a luckless smuggler who is trying to get her own baby son back from her late husband’s mother, who, she says, “stole him.”

From this inauspicious meeting, the partnership is born. For a while, the river holds and the money flows. But complications ensue. These involve, in no particular order: deep-seated racial tensions, the law, a finicky blowtorch, gunshots outside a strip club, looming blindness, ingrained bitterness, single motherhood, the suffocating realities of poverty, the (at best) indifference of nature, possible complicity in a variety of heinous crimes (including, Ray suspects, of terrorism) and both metaphorical and literal thin ice. Along the way, the women may even participate in an authentic Christmas miracle involving a pair of unwanted travelers and an infant that somehow doesn’t feel the least bit cheesy.

The leads are so strong that it is difficult to imagine other actresses in the roles. Leo (best known for the 90’s TV series Homicide: Life on the Street) anchors the movie with a tough, vanity-free performance as a woman with whom life has not been gentle, but who retains a core of decency. Upham’s open face conveys worlds of emotion beneath a deep mistrust not only of white people and their world, but of almost everyone around her. The bond they share as single mothers fighting for their broken families is unspoken but palpable and one of the films biggest strengths.

The other main players deliver as well: in an especially well written role, McDermot expertly navigates between the poles of teenage selfishness and maturity, pettiness and generosity. And old pros Michael O’Keefe as the local sheriff and Mark Boone Junior as a thoroughly scummy human trafficker give strong support.

Hunt’s writing is crisp and unsentimental, and her pacing is unusually taut for a low-budget indie. Cinematographer Reed Morano shoots the bleak Plattsville, NY location in all its gray oppressiveness and natural grandeur, and the score (several composers are credited) is haunting, further contributing to the thriller-like atmosphere. That it was done on the cheap in less than a month in sub-zero temperatures makes the accomplishment all the more impressive.

But don’t take my word for it. Sundance jury president Quinten Tarantino, a guy who knows a little something about provoking a reaction from an audience, said the film “put my heart in a vice and didn’t let go.”


 

 


Peter Segal's
Get Smart
Opens June 20, 2008

Written By: Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember

Starring: Steve Carell; Anne Hathaway; Dwayne Johnson; Alan Arkin; Terence Stamp; James Caan; Masi Oka; Nate Torrence; Ken Davitian; Terry Crews; David Koechner; and Dalip Singh.

Warner Bros/ Village Roadshow

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Grade: B-

People under the age of twenty-five probably can't believe that on the TV series Get Smart that began in 1965, a secret agent's gadget consisting of a shoe with a wireless phone inside was considered a far-out, James-Bond style toy. Remember that as recently as then, a telephone in your car was considered an expensive luxury: few could have conceived that more Americans would own cells today than not. In adapting the Get Smart concept for a big-screen movie, director Peter Segal (The Longest Yard, Naked Gun 33-1/3) pays homage to the old episodes created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry which starred Don Adams and Barbara Feldon while simultaneously updating the story to throw in some more gadgets. At the same time, though, Barbara Feldon in the role of Agent 99 for 131 episodes was already a liberated woman who did not defer to Adams's Maxwell Smart (138 episodes). In a sense, then, the small-screen and multiplex versions are not dissimilar.

Get Smart has a lot of action shots filmed by Dean Semler—a low-flying propeller plane threatened with breakup; a car about to collide with a train; some skydiving with and without parachutes; explosions within a bakery; car chases; people chases; gunplay; all punctuated by Trevor Rabin's pulsating music with breakneck speed encouraged by editor Richard Pearson. But comedy is scripters' Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember's primary consideration, the laughs coming out of the situations that the agents of CONTROL find themselves in, while verbal wit is virtually nonexistent. In fact there is just one quip worthy of the term in the entire one hundred ten minutes of the movie, that involving an essay on existentialism that Maxwell Smart has written on an exam that he takes for a hoped-for promotion in the agency.

Steve Carrel anchors the show as CONTROL agent Maxwell Smart, who will turn out to confirm the Peter Principle: "In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." An expert at analysis, he picks up chatter of enemies of the U.S., delivering valuable information to the staff of the clandestine agency. When he passes an exam that should have promoted him to agent, the bureau chief (Alan Arkin) wants to keep him doing what he has been doing, though circumstances change. He becomes a field operative, Agent 86, is teamed up with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), and is no longer responsible for preparing dull reports for Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson). The job is to uncover nefarious activities by the head of KAOS, Siegfried (Terence Stamp), suspected of considering sabotage somewhere in the U.S.

The laughs are designed around essentially a series of Saturday Night Live skits involving the relationship of Agent 86 and Agent 99, with Anne Hathaway's character resenting a man who is brand new to the job and could compromise her safety. After all, she proves herself several times during the story by being able to run with high heels, kick, punch and shoot like the best of the men. Inevitable bickering between the two will give way to sentiment, with Agent 86 finding herself sufficiently attached to her partner that she will presuambly crumble if he is hurt or killed.

As in the James Bond series, gadgets are the co-stars: 86 and 99 appear competitive even in showing off what they're carrying, the paraphernalia including the shoe phone, a pocket smokescreen, a small flamethrower, a hook, a blowgun; while sports cars formerly seen in the TV series strut their stuff—the Opel GT, the Karmann Ghia, the Sunbeam Tiger. James Caan turns up as our country's chief executive, a man who is not identified but who cannot pronounce "nuclear" and who falls asleep during a concert of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Not surprisingly, Steve Carrel is the man to watch, his Agent 99 being out of his depth in the field, but unlike The Pink Panther's Inspector Clouseau, sensitive enough to be taken aback by criticism. Bond wannabees have included Mike Myers's Austin Powers, Dean Dujardin's Oss 117, and in real life quite a few people in Britain who want to join M16 thinking that they will really be license to kill. There is only one James Bond: his comic imitators on the screen are pale by comparison.

Rated PG-13 110 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


 


Alex Gibney's
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson
Opens Friday, July 4, 2008

Featuring: Interviews with former President Jimmy Carter; Democratic Presidential Candidate George McGovern; Conservative Commentator Pat Buchanan; Jann Wenner (the publisher of Rolling Stone); Author Tom Wolfe; singer and song writer Jimmy Buffett; and cartoonist Ralph Steadman. Narrated by Johnny Depp. Produced by: Graydon Carter; Jason Kliot and Joanna Vicente; Eva Orner; and Allison Ellwood.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Even if you were not around for Hunter Thompson’s glory days, the days when he rode the bus/planes to cover the Presidential campaigns of Senator George McGovern and President Jimmy Carter for Rolling Stone, you might have become enchanted with Thompson when you saw the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (starring a whacked out Johnny Depp as Thompson). And you would have become enchanted as in “That was one funny fucked-up guy. I think I would have liked him.”

Here is a quote from the press release for Alex Gibney's (of Academy Award winning Taxi to the Dark Side fame) new documentary film Gonzo: “Gonzo is a three-dimensional portrait with a focus on Thompson's work, whose legendary status is due as much to his scintillating writing as his outrageous antics. A die-hard member of the NRA, Thompson was also a coke-snorting, whiskey-swilling, acid-eating fiend. While his pen dripped with venom for crooked politicians, he surprised nervous visitors with the courtly manners and soft-spoken delivery of a Southern gentleman. Careening out of control in his personal life, Thompson also maintained a steel-eyed conviction about righting wrongs. Today, in a time when “spin” has replaced the search for deeper meaning, Thompson remains an iconic crusader for truth, justice and a fiercely idealistic American way.”

Thompson created a creative form of interpretive journalism which he called Gonzo Journalism. He wrote spoofy coverage stating things like Senator Ed Muskie was under the influence of a psychoactive drug, Ibogaine. He could also be mega goofy, acting for home movies while wearing a Richard Nixon masks and swimming in his pool. No one was immune from his scathing comedic coverage, but it was never just name calling - Thompson was clever; his words are a delight to read. But underneath the humor is a lot of anger, anger about the state of affairs in this our United States of America. And the anger that Hunter felt resonates today; we are still surrounded by reaming buckets of hypocrisy.

Director Alex Gibney obviously had a hell-of-a-time making Gonzo. He interviewed George McGovern, Jimmy Carter AND Pat Buchanan. He also incorporated Hunter’s home movies, psychedelic clips from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (starring Johnny Depp) and interviews with both of Hunter’s wives into his film. What emerges is a definitive biography of (as described by director Alex Gibney) America’s first blogger, Dr. Hunter Thompson.

For more information about the movie, log onto: huntersthompsonmovie.com




Peter Berg's
Hancock
Opens Wednesday July 2, 2008

Starring: Will Smith; Jason Bateman; Charlize Theron; Eddie Marsan; Johnny Galecki; Thomas Lennon; and Jae Head.

Written By: Vy Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Grade: C

Moviegoers across our fair country have accepted, nay even embraced, the idea that summertime calls for light fare: books we can read at the beach, theater that leaves us feeling good, and big-studio movies that allow us to check our brains at the door. Prone as we critics are to seek out indies that help us to explain the human condition, there are exceptions that give us hope for big-studio fare. Pixar studio's Wall-E is one major offering this summer that appears to have almost unanimous critical acceptance. But for the most part, we understand that the megaplex will offer the likes of Hellboy 2, The Incredible Hulk, You Don't Mess with the Zohan and The Love Guru.

Thanks to Mike Myers's vanity project in that last citation, Hancock cannot be called the worst movie of the summer. However, even by action-adventure standards, namely those movies targeted to the 16-25 year-olds, Peter Berg's creation scripted by Vy Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan, is a dud. You'd think that with a budget of $150 million, money that could go quite a way toward hiring hundreds more Wall-E's to clean up our waste, you could dream up a movie that does not assault us with CGI and stunt work involving a human being's ability to take off like a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound, and who, more powerful than a locomotive, cannot make a soft landing in L.A. Every time the title character, a sometimes airborne superhero played by Will Smith, sets himself back down on terra firma, he uproots enough concrete to assure employees of companies with government road-repair contracts of steady jobs even during our current recessionary times.

Aside from a clever twist that I couldn't see coming at just about midpoint, director Berg (The Kingdom) must have figured that the public would eat up a film with an original idea, and it is an intriguing one: that a superhero who has lived for centuries without aging—just as do Captain Marvel, Superman, Wonder Woman, maybe Spiderman—would be so sick and tired of his job that he would drink himself into a stupor, not bother shaving, and take naps not at a super-home but on a park bench. A fallen superhero, not bad. Premise notwithstanding, the hackneyed car crashes, train wrecks, building destructions, automatic artillery still dominate the picture while the human angle, which should have been exploited more and with greater subtlety, exists as a throwaway. The dreary explanation of Hancock's origin sounds like pure gobbledygook.

As for the human angle: We first meet Hancock (Will Smith) sleeping off a hangover on a park bench, called an a-hole by a kid as he will be called many times throughout the story. Having aroused the public to dislike him because everywhere the superhero goes to stop crimes, he creates wreckage, Hancock is about to get a makeover by a public relations executive, Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), whose life he had saved albeit at the cost of wrecking cars and a locomotive in the process. Embrey teaches Hancock to say "Good job" to police, a start toward gaining the public's affection, and to try to do his superwork without so much collateral damage. If Hancock is to change radically though, it will not be through another man's counsel but through the chemistry he develops with Embrey's gorgeous wife, Mary (Charlize Theron). Almost needless to say, there a kid in the picture, Aaron (Jae Head), who adores Hancock and is about the only guy who doesn't call him an a-hole. On the other hand, Eddie Marsan plays Red, a villain who winds up in jail thanks to a Hancock intervention during a crime, and who is determined to locate the hero's kryptonite and do him in.

Hancock tries to appeal to everyone, mixing genres so quickly that the movie cannot bear the weight of its central theme: that nobody's perfect, that we all have vulnerabilities that should be worked on while at the same time we must accept what we cannot change. Explosions give way to sermonizing, romance steps aside for tragedy. The feelgood ending is even more absurd than any mystical notions introduced in the movie about the hero's origins, while subtlety and nuance take a summer vacation.

Rated PG-13. 92 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online



M. Night Shyamalan's
The Happening
Opens June 13, 2008

Written By: M. Night Shyamalan

Starrung: Mark Wahlberg; Zooey Deschanel; John Leguizamo; Spencer Breslin; Ashlyn Sanchez; Betty Buckley; Tony Vevon; Victoria Clark; Frank Collison; and Robert Bailey, Jr.

20th Century Fox

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Grade: C

Leonardi da Vinci once said, "The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men." Given the way the vast majority of human begins think nothing of subjecting defenseless animals to horrendous living conditions and the degradation of the slaughterhouse, one is not surprised to find that we homo sapiens have been unkind not only to animals but to all of nature. But nature is not defenseless at all, taking revenge on us with regularity. Think of Katrina, of the floods this month that inundated Cedar Rapids, Iowa, of a tornado that killed four children in a Boy Scout camp, of fires that claims the lives of thousands, of earthquakes that have recently destroyed the lives of tens of thousands, particularly in the poverty-stricken Asian lands like Bangladesh. Nature may be a friend, but it can be awfully hostile as the residents of the American Northeast find out in M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening." Foods that have caused salmonella like, most recently, a breed of tomatoes, are just a taste of what is to come, as grass, trees, flowers and plants in general have their day destroying lives and putting fear into the minds of millions. Killer trees: Maybe President Reagan knew what he was talking about, because in Philadelphia, plants have spread deadly toxins into the air, affecting everything with a pulse in the City of Brotherly Love. What's different about these poisons is that they do not make people keel over, get sick, even die, but affect their brain cells to cause them to become suicidal.

There's a big shop of horrors going down in Philly, the opening scenes of The Happening being the only truly scary segment of the story. In fact the very first scene has the needed effect, after which the picture gets duller by the minute thanks some wooden acting and redundant suicides. In Central Park, two women are sitting on a bench when they note that people around them have become immobile, as though paralyzed, perhaps by chemical warfare. One of the women slowly pulls a dagger-like pin from her hair and, just as you expect her to plunge it into her neighbor, she slides it casually through her own neck. Minutes later, at a construction site, workmen begin throwing themselves from the roof of a building, one shot being tragically reminiscent of an experience at the World Trade Center on 9/11. While the talking heads on the news programs suggest a possible terrorist attack, the truth eventually comes out: plants, whether by vindictive design or by some freak occurrence of nature for which the green things are not at all responsible, are messing up our brains, causing us to want to die.

Since all the action takes place within a twenty-four period, the populace could not imagine that staying indoors with windows closed could save their lives. Instead there is a mass exodus from Philadelphia, which is hardly the thing to do since the plague is to spread throughout the Northeast. (This makes us wonder what trees have against New York, Pennsylvania, Maine and company since logging takes place in the Pacific Northwest!)

But of course there's an intimate story, one that revolves around high school science teacher, Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) who has a nutty problem worrying that his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), is having an affair when all she did was enjoy a tiramisu one day with a guy named Joey, who keeps calling her. (Joey's voice is played by the writer-director.) Elliot's friend Julian (John Leguizamo), with an eight-year-old daughter in tow, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), has the real problem, as his wife is not with him during the epidemic. He leaves his girl with the Moores to search for her. As the Moores and Jess bolt from Philadelphia by train, they become stuck in the small town of Filbert, as railroad communications have broken down, whereupon they seek help from one of the nuts, Mrs. Jones (Betty Buckley).

The film's problems are that given the blandness of the leading two Moores, the dialogue is bereft of wit. Nor can the formerly remarkable Zooey Deschanel save the pic, an actress who is still playing loopy roles as she did in Miguel Arteta's The Good Girl but who has lost her former cuteness with advancing years. There's a lack of any real scares (even people seen hanged on trees are caught for just some three seconds by cameraman Tak Fujimoto), There is not a single surprising revelation: no dead Bruce Willis as in Shyamalan's great debut The Sixth Sense, no surprise when some people find a highway in The Village. There is no explanation of this plant terrorism, though the writer-director just might be telling us that we are paying a price for messing with Mother Nature, polluting the atmosphere and causing global warming.

The problem with turning out a strong debut, whether of a book, play or movie, is that the public expects more of the same in the years to come. Given our expectations of Shyamalan after his exceptional thriller, The Sixth Sense, where Haley Joel Osment's performance towers over that of anyone in The Happening, we stood disappointed with the New-Age nonsense The Signs, the overly detailed The Lady in the Water, and now The Happening.

Rated R. 88 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online



T. Sean Shannon's
Harold
Opens July 11, 2008

Written By: T. Sean Shannon, Greg Fields

Starring: Spencer Breslin; Nikki Blonsky; Ally Sheedy; Cuba Gooding, Jr.; Fred Willard; Chris Parnell; Rachel Dratch; and Colin Quinn.

City Lights Pictures

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Grade: B

While America is the land of tolerance, it's not much fun being different, especially in the 'burbs. Adults may pretend to notice nothing unusual about people who are not like them or who do not resemble the norm, but in high school and junior high, kids are not afraid to speak their minds. In T. Sean Shannon's Harold, a 13-year-old kid has male pattern baldness. Somehow he was able to fit in quite well in his community until he moved to another suburb where all hell breaks loose. All this makes for a quirky, satisfactory, low-budget comedy, thankfully without a phony sentimental ending. No, the kid's physical condition is not diagnosed leaving him with a huge head of hair—not even of the green variety. While Harold is no Ferris Bueller's Day Off (it's much too low-key for that), it deserves a respectable audience and is targeted to the junior set, while adults should have no trouble digging the movie as well.

The title character, played by 16-year-old Spencer Breslin (The Happening) and who looks a lot better with his natural mop of hair than he does after the producers shaved his head, is the new kid in town. When his mom, Maureen (Ally Sheedy) gets a job promotion, moving to a new town with a reluctant Harold but with his optimistic, pretty sister Shelly (Stella Maeve), his troubles mount geometrically. The school bully and his clique play pranks of the pie-throwing nature, the coach (Chris Parnell) makes sure Harold is in the middle of a dodge-ball game, leaving Harold to be pursued mainly by the family's horny, middle-aged neighbor. Harold is well-liked, though, by the school janitor, Cromer (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who becomes an adviser and father-figure to the boy, and by the overweight classmate, Rhonda Baxter (Nikki Blonsky—who starred exquisitely in "Hairspray" not long ago).

If Harold follows a predictable trajectory, the side characters make for particular fun, especially the always hilarious Fred Willard in the all-too-small role of Harold's internist. Writer-director T. Sean Shannon keeps moves the cast at a rapid pace, all filmed by Christopher Lavasseur in the tony New York suburb of Great Neck, Long Island.

Rated PG--13. 105 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


 


Guillermo del Toro's
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Opens Friday July 11, 2008

Cast: Ron Perlman: Selma Blair; Jeffrey Tambor; Doug Jones; Luke Goss; John Alexander; Luke Goss; John Hurt; and Anna Walton.

Written By: Guillermo del Toro, story by Mike Mignola, Guillermo del Toro
Universal Pictures

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten
Grade: B

Who's to say that Pan's Labyrinth is an art film while Hellboy II: The Golden Army is mere comic-book fantasy for the younger set? Surely not Guillermo del Toro, credited for directing both, using the kind of imagination that most of us are said to lose by the time we're fourteen years of age. Pan's Labyrinth gets its "art" label partly because of its original title, "El labyrinto del fauno," but largely because it's anchored by an actual historical event, the Spanish Civil War, whereby in the fascist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world. Let's say, then that Hellboy II may be (hopefully) not set during any realistic period, though its Manhattan location brings to mind Al Pacino's character, Lt. Col. Frank Slade's comment in Scent of a Woman, calling New York "freak show central." Where else can people who look like Hellboy, aka Red (Ron Perlman), a literally flaming woman, Liz (Selma Blair), and a goggled, green, something from the depth of the ocean, Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) appear on the streets without regular human beings looking twice?

If you skipped the original Hellboy in 2004, also the work of del Toro, you won't be at much disadvantage. Just remember that a demon, raised from infancy after being conjured by and rescued from the Nazis, grows up to become a defender against the forces of darkness. Remember also that this is an adaptation of Mike Mignola's comic books, or illustrated novels if you prefer snob appeal, and judge the movie not for its story (it's no War and Peace) but for its intricate visual details. In the general mayhem that takes up the major part of the film, you won't get much character development outside of the love between the title character and Liz (who is pregnant but keeps that detail hidden), but the picture is about good versus evil—and there's not much negotiating going on between the two forces.

Consider the Mexican director's imagination as without limit, especially since he is obviously given quite a budget for letting his creative side take off. In the story, Hellboy has allied himself with Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) who is with the secret organization based in Trenton, New Jersey known as the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. The organization is not unlike our own Homeland Security department except that it deals with supernatural enemies. What causes the latest problem with the forces of darkness? A truce between human beings and an underworld group has been broken by Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), intent on raising a Golden Army of giant warriors to lay claim to the Earth. Hellboy is determined to fight the bad guys with his fists, while the prince has the jump on him, literally, with his ability to turn eight somersaults in seven seconds and flip a sword or spear around his arm with more class and pomp than the captain of the Trenton High School cheerleaders. Princess Nuada (Anna Walton) serves as the prince's sister, a traitor to the cause as she sides with the human beings. She hides the third part of the prince's crown—which of course is recovered by his highness in time to awaken the ferocious golden army. This leads to the climactic battle in Northern Ireland, of all places: Red vs. Prince, with the army agreeing to follow the command of the winner.

Special effects are paramount, including hundred of cockroach-like creatures that devour a lot more than your Sunday picnic and are not the nice guys as represented in Wall-E; a gorilla with antlers, an aquatic creature with the green head and goggles, and some faceless hordes from the titled golden army. The proceedings are filmed by Guillermo Navarro, whose camera takes in some occasional wisecracking by Hellboy (nothing worth mentioning here unless you find a drunken rendition of Barry Maniolow's "Can't Smile Without You" by Hellboy and his pal Abe). If anyone doubts that movies are the visual medium par excellence, this picture will serve to convince.

Rated PG-13. 113 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


 

Louis Leterrier's
The Incredible Hulk
Opens Friday June 13, 2008

Starring: Edward Norton; Liv Tyler; Tim Roth; and William Hurt.

Reviewed by Adam Ritter

Help the Green One

It's been five years since that angry, just-the-other-side-of-irradiated…"hulk" last rampaged across movie screens, and not surprisingly, he's still mad as hell.

The Hulk's previous movie incarnation, though cleverly crafted and visually creative, angled for melodrama as fans were craving excitement. The disappointing box office seemed to SMASH hopes of an encore, but give Marvel credit for knowing there's plenty of green left in this franchise.

While NOT an origin story or technically a sequel (all the principals have been replaced with able and eager performers), this chapter more or less continues the Hulk's perpetual storyline, unencumbered by details of the first film.

Doctor Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) still pines for Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and still races to control that raging spirit dwelling within. Can he find the cure before the relentless Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt, amazing as always) turns his curse into the military's next super weapon?

This of course, is the MacGuffin at the heart of all Hulk stories. What we really want to see is that startling metamorphosis that occurs when evildoers make Bruce Banner angry. You see, most people wouldn't like him when he's angry.

Thank goodness the brilliant doctor has not found a way to channel his fury into anything creative, like painting or writing or as we do at my house, by drinking.

Thus it's pretty straight forward mythology at play here. Some World War Hulk action would have been a delicious twist, but as you might expect, studio law demands Marvel exhaust all of the traditional material first.

Fans of the comic will therefore recognize the Hulk's menacing nemesis, The Abomination (and allusions to The Leader) as he tramples across the screen, though audiences' tolerance for computer generated MMA style fighting may be pushed to its limit, assuming there is one.

(Let me digress to mention that colorful metaphors are the bane of superhero movie reviews, since many of them actually seem to reference another comic character; e.g. Bane, Venom, Rampage, Mammoth, Juggernaut, Shrinkage…wait, strike the last one.)

Of course the recurring homage to past Hulk representations will not go unnoticed here and does not require a degree in comic geekdom to appreciate.

Although this Hulk is superior to its moody predecessor, more suspense certainly would have resulted in greater emotional payoffs. Bruce Banner never seems to struggle making the right decision, so the audience is not asked to invest anything in the outcome.

And even though special effects have clearly evolved far beyond green body paint, they are sometimes a heavy-handed alternative to some much needed humanity.

So while The Incredible Hulk writes a check his green ass definitely covers (that is if his fingers were nimble enough to manipulate a pen), he does not quite satisfy on the same level as Marvel's other summer blockbuster Iron Man, whose success the studio was naturally anxious to exploit.

Was it really necessary however, to rob fans of EVERY secret by actually incorporating Hulk's cameos into the trailer? Coming attractions used to entice, but now we are pummeled over the head by gamma-dosed ad blitzes.

It would be a surprise to be surprised in a movie these days.

Perhaps the only strategy to evade movie spoilers in this super-conducting information age is media abstinence….A complete commercial and print ad blackout (and ducking that Chatty Cathy friend of yours) up until the moment you set foot in the theater, like that collision avoidance system we engage after having TiVo'd the game.

These revelations not withstanding, if he smashes, you will come; so Go Green this summer puny humans, otherwise wait for the stealth of the Knight.

For more information about The Incredible Hulk, log onto the website.




Steven Spielberg’s
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Opens Thursday, May 22, 2008

Starring: Harrison Ford; Cate Blanchett; Karen Allen; and Shia LaBeouf.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

After almost two decades, Indiana Jones is back and, I am stunned to report, he’s in better shape than ever. As a matter of fact, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (a bloody mouthful) is the best Indy yet! And I do not say that lightly.

I recently revisited the trilogy on DVD. The major revelation for me was how my least favorite, Temple of Doom, has now become my favorite; it’s certainly the strangest, but also the most original. Raiders of the Lost Ark, the most revered, seemed like a prologue (a damned good one).

After so many years and so many nixed scripts, David Koepp (with story credit going to series conceivers: George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson) manages a smart, clever and exciting screenplay filled with the expected as well as a good dose of the unexpected. In particular, the explanation of the origins of the crystal skulls is pretty creative and thought-provoking stuff.

It’s 1957, twenty years after Last Crusade, and the Cold War is at freezing temperature, the atomic age has arrived and UFO’s are the latest craze. Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” plays over the opening credits to perfectly ground us in a particular place and time.

Professor Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, not looking his age at all) has found himself the subject of governmental suspicion and is forced to take a leave from his University post. Here the filmmakers smartly capture the paranoia of the time where everyone’s patriotism can be called into doubt regardless of your past heroism and proven loyalty (hmmm…resonates pretty sharply today…)

Enter, Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a young, hair-obsessed rebel riding a motorcycle who could be a hybrid (mutt, get it!) of James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and Sal Mineo. Mutt desperately needs Indy’s help.

Our generation-gapped duo soon find themselves being chased by Soviet spies, led by the cunning, calculating and captivating Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) who is described as “Stalin’s fair-haired girl,” despite her brunette cereal-bowl do. Irina and her gang of Reds are on a mission to realize the new annihilation frontier: psychic warfare.

Before you can say: Roswell, Indy is on the run and lands right in the midst of an atomic testing site. The insane way he survives a nuclear blast is one of the film’s best sequences and the screen tableau of Ford with mushroom cloud is unforgettable.

Soon, it’s off to Peru where Boy-hybrid and our snake-fearing hero become enmeshed in a search for yet another rare and life-changing archaeological find: the Crystal Skull of Akator, a legendary relic that has supernatural powers.

Monkeys, giant ants, Karen Allen and, yes, a large snake get in their way and many terrific CGI effects later, the gang find the “Kingdom”…the city of Gold, which houses the 13 Crystal Skulls leading to quite the climax.

Steven Spielberg has assembled a kick-ass ensemble peppered with a bevy of tremendously talented Brits (redundant?) including: John Hurt; Ray Winstone and Jim Broadbent. Each bring their own unique gifts to their roles.

Chameleon Cate Blanchett, speaking with a strong ‘where-are-moose-and-squirrel Russian accent, is deliciously evil as Irina Spalko, Soviet baddie. Irina is cunning and determined and Blanchett plays her to the hilt, having a villainous field day. And as with all Blanchett interpretations, there is more than just villainy afoot. Her final moments are particularly extraordinary.

It’s a delight to see spunky Karen Allen back as Indy’s great love, Marion Ravenwood. Allen looks fantastic and brings out the sparring-best in Ford. She was sadly missing from Doom and Last Crusade. Kudos to the person who had the good sense to bring her back.

And who knew that Shia LaBeouf was the stuff of matinee idols? I can totally see a Young Indy series taking off based on the charm and dash he displays as Mutt. Whether he’s all leathered-out a la’ Brando in The Wild One or sword fighting with Blanchett while on separate Jeeps (an astounding scene), LaBeouf proves he’s got what it takes to give the Leos in the business a run for their millions.

Now, about Mr. Ford. I must admit: I’m not a fan. Truth to be told, except for Han Solo and a brilliant performance in Peter Weir’s highly underrated, little seen gem, The Mosquito Coast, I’ve never been impressed with his talents. He has played it too safe with his choices as well as his portrayals. So it is with shock and bewilderment that I say his performance in Crystal Skull is not just one of his best, it’s refreshingly self-mocking and, at times, even poignant. The cockiness is still there but has melded into a more pensive and reflective arrogance. If action-adventure performances received Oscar nominations, Ford would be a shoo-in. Come to think of it, The Fugitive, an overrated, overblown Ford starrer, did receive a Best Picture nomination back in 1993, but Ford’s performance (rightly) did not. Perhaps it’s time to justly reward Ford with recognition for going above and beyond what anyone expected and proving he has what it takes.

Tech credits are sensational from the great Janusz Kaminski’s breathtaking camerawork to Mary Zophres’ period-perfect costumes. The rousing John Williams’ score is as defining as it is contagious. And the visuals are mind-blowing. I could have lived without some of the cute creatures created only for merchandising purposes…so unnecessary from Lucas and Spielberg who can collectively buy the world with their monies!

Spielberg is a fascinating study. I happen to think that Munich is his masterpiece. I find his later work more interesting than his earlier films. Genuine love for the medium, a commanding technique, along with a solid handle on characterization permeates most of the second half of his filmography. So even in an action-adventury, thrill-ride like Indiana Jones, we find more attention given to what the characters have to say to one another via dialogue or simple facial expressions. Spielberg is no longer afraid to slow things down a bit to tell a better, more nuanced story.

A small handful of Skull naysayers have been speculating that Spielberg might have been bored directing this follow-up; insinuating passion is not evident in the end result. I would argue the contrary for he is not only reverential to the history of his characters but highly aware of the need to take the saga to a more urgent and timely level. He succeeds masterfully.


Alex Holdridge's
In Search of a Midnight Kiss
IFC First Take

Opens August 1, 2008


Written By: Alex Holdridge
Starring : Scoot McNairy; Sara Simmonds; Brian Matthew McGuire; Katy Luong; Twink Caplan; and Robert Murphy.

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten
Grade: B

A recent study by sociologists (who are probably not in their seventies) indicates that people in their eighth decade of life are generally happier than folks who are middle-aged. This might be explained by the possibility that happy people live longer, but who knows? In any case, movies that are popular to the principal audience at Sundance festivals shed a good deal of light about those in the twenties. Given the impact of hormones that make people crazy in adolescence and continue to a large extent in the third decade of people's lives, a twenty-something is likely to be either miserable or deliriously happy, methinks. The movie In Search of a Midnight Kiss, written and directed by Alex Holdrdige, depicts one young couple who appear happy as larks while another twosome are miserable. This concept, which reminds some of a Woody Allen romance such as in Manhattan, is also reminiscent of Richard Linklater's Before Sunset, in which two characters meeting up nine years later as the man passes through Paris on a book tour, spend the day together, talking about their feelings toward each other when they first met.

Filmed in black-and-white Midnight Kiss is cited in the production notes as a love letter to Los Angeles. The parts we see in the downtown area are rarely shown on the screen; for example, there's one building of dramatic architecture that looks like the Sydney Opera House. What's more we see people who actually go from one place to another in the subway, just like us here in New York. The film has several humorous touches and, like many romantic comedies, has a bittersweet ending.

Those of us who believe that young people today do not "date" but simply "hang out" or "hook up" will be surprised, as was I, to note that not only is dating still in fashion, but so are blind dates, just like in the 1950's. The difference is that such meetings are moderated by technology as people put their life stories on Craigslist and other computer venues. Through the magic of the 'net, a little blindness is removed. Vivian (Sara Simmonds), a 27-year-old high-strung woman plays the game even more straight. Before she goes through with a date, she interviews the guys she meets through Craigslist, giving each five minutes in a coffee shop to see whether they click. (This is not so unusual: some matchmaking groups actually set up a similar system of musical chairs whereby a guy gets to talk for five minutes to a gal, then moves on to the next victim.) The man that Vivian decides to spend a few hours with—on New Year's Eve to boot, where you wouldn't expect a good-looking blonde to seek company at the last minute—is Wilson (Scoot McNairy), who despite, or actually because of, his relationship with Jacob (Brian Matthew McGuire), is desperately lonely. He has the hots for Jacob's two-year steady, Min (Katy Luong), in one scene spanking the money to Min's picture on the computer. Most of the film deals with the hours Scoot and Vivian spend together, a challenging time as any blind date would be but one made even more hyper by the chain-smoking, pill-popping woman who talks a touch game but has a secret vulnerability.

Happy or not, you take away the idea that people pushing thirty are pretty immature, awkwardly playing games to avoid closeness, though Wilson, who calls himself a misanthrope, seems to have his head on his shoulders. The language that these young 'uns use regularly, the sorts of words that in the fifties prompted men to say, "Pardon my French," are voiced even more regularly by the woman, at least in this case, making this a story that features romance, comedy, and tenderness, all partly ruined by an over-the-top episode wherein Vivian's ex-boyfriend, Jack (Robert Murphy, who doubles as cinematographer) demands that Vivian return to him lest he burn some items in her flat.

While some moviegoers are likely to find LA prettier in black-and-white than in full color, I'd have to say that b&w is an affected choice that does nothing for the pic. Scoot McNairy stands out here as a geeky, awkward guy who seems clueless about women.

Not Rated. 98 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online



Jon Favreau's
Iron Man
Opens May 2, 2008

Heavy Boots of Lead

Starring: Robert Downey Jr.; Gwyneth Paltrow; Terrence Howard; and Jeff Bridges.

Reviewed by Adam Ritter

It took forty-five years and a cruel succession of false starts, but Iron Man has made the inevitable crossover from comic books (and later cartoons) to the silver screen.

After heavyweights like Cage and Cruise were considered in the 90's to play the man-who-would-be-Iron, it was at long last Robert Downey Jr. who nabbed the role and for that we are grateful.

Mr. Downey is cast perfectly as billionaire genius inventor Tony Stark, the weapons inventor extraordinaire who has continued the legacy of his deceased father, manufacturing magnate Howard Stark.

Tony cleanly dismisses suggestion of the collateral death toll of his nefarious masterpieces (cluster bombs with repulsor technology as a 'for instance') by espousing the fallacious-but-familiar neocon philosophy that imagines a safer world thanks to the mutually-assured-destruction he provides.

Of course, not one to be easily categorized, Stark counterbalances his conservative side with a compulsive rock star lifestyle that would be the envy of any Hollywood jetsetter.

His only genuine relationships are with faithful assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), buzz-killing Colonel James "Rhody" Rhodes (Terrence Howard in a role that might grow substantially in potential sequels) and Papa Stark's business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) who has evolved into a mentor for Tony.

The origin of Iron Man has been updated from Vietnam to Afghanistan but the movie is mostly true to the core elements of the comic.

As is often the case with lecherous cinematic playboys, circumstances beyond his control cause Tony to reassess his ideas about the value of life and the legacy he intends to leave behind.

Unfortunately, although there are surprises in the movie, it will be difficult to experience them thanks to a monolithic advance media blitz that seems to relish in revealing key elements of the movie to anyone with a cable-connection or newspaper subscription.

Therefore, rea