Leelee Sobieski and Al
Pacino in John Avnet's 88 Minutes
Opens Friday, April 18th, 2008
Reviewed by Alejandra
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
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.
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 creates behind a mystery, but by how well construed
a possibility is. At one point, every character
(even Gramm himself) is a suspect, but there is
no real motivation behind each of them. Without
motive, the audience isn’t challenged. Gratuitous
nudity, silly dialogue, and exaggerated acting
(although not on Pacino’s part) bloat this
film. At the end, I was neither surprised, nor
interested. 88 Minutes misses the mark.
The Incredible Hulk
Opens Friday June 13, 2008
Norton; Liv Tyler; Tim Roth; and William Hurt.
Reviewed by Adam
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.
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.
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
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
(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.
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
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal
Opens Thursday, May 22, 2008
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Opens May 2, 2008
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
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
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, readers of most reviews and of course
fans of the pulp Iron Man will recognize
Tony's arch nemesis "Iron Monger" as
he blooms to life throughout the course of the
film. Their confrontation has a familiar Transformers
feel, however the overall experience is not
diminished in spite of this.
This movie does not "quite" reach the
upper echelon of comic book crossovers, which
is certain to include the original Superman,
Batman Begins and possibly Spiderman
2. However, Iron Man unquestionably
flies far higher than most comic incarnations
of past years (Hulk, Fantastic Four,
We have Robert Downey Jr. to thank for this, for
it is his performance (ironically "without"
the two hundred lbs. of armor), which carries
the most weight in the film.
And as for Tony's alter ego, sleek and sound in
his CGI crucible, it's difficult to imagine a
man encased in iron (though it's actually a gold-titanium
alloy, as Tony points out) looking cooler than
director Jon Favreau's vision of him, breathed
into a brilliant existence here.
There is one substantial
diversion from the comic-origin storyline that
could be an allusion to more recent developments
in Iron Man's "Civil War" life.
You can be the judge of this.
Be sure to stick around until the very end of
the credits for a minute of bonus material that
alludes to an exciting future for Iron Man.
La Sconosciuta (The Unknown Woman)
Opens Friday, May 30, 2008
Angelika Film Center
18 W. Houston Street, New York City
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
at the 2007 Open Roads: New Italian Cinema at
Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema
Paradiso) has not made a film since Malena
in 2000. In his long awaited return to filmmaking,
Tornatore has crafted an ultra-violent, gruesome
yet extraordinary film about true evil and one
woman’s struggle for redemption.
I admire Tornatore
for making an honest and no-holes-barred thriller
that will certainly turn a lot of people off...ah,
but for those who stay with it...the rewards are
Nothing is quite
what it initially seems ot be in La Sconosciuta
(The Unknown Woman)--specifically
Irena (Kseniya Rappoport), the anti-heroine in
Tornatore’s riveting saga, is not who and
what we first assume she is. The Ukranian immigrant
is first seen conning her way into a housekeeping
job, then befriending a fellow maid and then violently
tripping her down a large flight of stairs!
As the film unfolds
with small flashes of flashbacks, Irena’s
tragic story becomes all too clear and we begin
to see how she fell victim to a ruthless monster
known as Muffa, played with villainous zest by
the incomparable Michele Placido. I will not give
any more of the plot away because part of the
joy of watching this film unfold is not knowing
what is going to happen next! Tornatore tells
his story in just the right way so we are constantly
feeling anger, disgust and empathy for Irena--sometimes
into the role face first and she is remarkable.
The entire cast does great work here including:
Claudia Gerini; Pierfrancesco Favino; Margherita
Buy; Alessandro Haber; and Piera Degli Esposti.
are excellent across the boards with the great
Ennio Morricone providing an exciting score.
Sconosciuta is unrelenting in it’s
depiction of violence but there is a beauty in
the brutality onscreen (reminiscent of Martin
Scorsese’s Taxi Driver) and, in
the end, the film is mesmerizing and transcendent.
Tadanobu Asano and Khulan
Chuluun in Mongol
Photo Credit Alexander Zabrin
June 6, 2008
143 East Houston Street, New York
Lincoln Plaza Cinemas
Broadway Between 62nd and 63rd
Mongolian With English Subtitles
the Iron Curtain came down, a massive change in
perception accompanied the change in decor. Everything
that was old was new again: western culture, democracy,
the Russian monarchy and Genghis Khan!!!
Genghis Khan! Yes
Sergei Bodrov does not like stereotypes and the
story of Genghis Kahn appealed to him. Both Russian
and European history books tell the story of Kahn
with the same venom used to talk about the rise
and fall of Adolph Hitler. In fact, it was against
the law to even speak the name of Genghis Khan
in the Soviet satellite state of Mongolia. But
as Budrov explained, history is written by the
victors and the Mongols were eventually conquered
and sent back to Mongolia. And the Mongolians
were not historians.
Bodrov's film Mongol
tells the story of the early years of Kahn's life
based on a poem that survived from the 12th Century
(Bodrov is seriously considering filming a trilogy
similar to Lord of the Rings). Mongol
follows Kahn from the age of ten when the young
Temudgin (the future Genghis Khan played by Tadanobu
Asano) first meets the love his life, Borte (played
by Khulan Chuluun).
Termudgin loses his father and becomes a fugitive,
running and hiding from Targutai (Amadu Mamadakov),
the warrior who takes over his father's tribe.
Mongolia was a cruel and beautiful land and young
Termudgin is forced to live a life where truly,
"Only the strong survive." And survive
he does, fighting Targutai and then fighting the
tribe of his "blood brother," Jamukha
(Honglei Sun). And with each fight, he becomes
stronger and attracts more and more followers
until he finally unites the Mongolian nation.
And the rest of history, even if it is history
only told by the historians of the eventually
victorious Russians and the Europeans. And eventually
took centuries because the Genghis Khan's descendents
rose up to conquer all of Russia and Eastern Europe.
is an epic film. The scenes set in the Mongolian
plains are simply stunning. The costumes are luxurious
(Karin Lohr, SFK)and the interiors of the tents
are richly appointed (Dashi Namdakov). The fight
scenes are simply spectacular (credit to stun
choregraphers Zhaidarbek Kunguzhinov and Jung
Doo Hong). The film is also blessed with a great
soundtrack with contributions by Finnish composer
Tuomas Kantelinen and by Altan Urag, an eight-person
Mongolian folk-rock band.
But the real beauty
of the film is the love story between two strong
characters, Termudgin and the love of his life,
Borte. For Termudgin may have been a brutal warlord,
but when he fell in love with Borte at the age
of ten, he fell in love for life.
also benefits from a talented and charismatic
cast. Tadanobu Asano is quietly noble as the young
Genghis Kahn. Khulan Chuluun plays Borte as a
worthy partner and advisor to Khan. And Japanese
actor Honglei Sun gives a powerful performance
as Termudgin's friend/enemy, Jamukha.
Mongol was nominated
for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2008. It (not
Borat) was the entry from Kazakhstan.
Opens Friday, May 9, 2008
Starring: Tim Robbins;
Bridget Moynahan; William Hurt;
Margarita Levieva; Gabrielle Brennan; María
Ballesteros; and William Baldwin.
Reviewed by Allison
bills itself as "a comedy of ideas."
The central conceit of the film, a man so aggravated
with noise in Manhattan that he feels compelled
to seek justice by vandalizing car alarms, is
indeed a comedic idea, but without a sturdy plot
to stand on, it darts out in confusing tangents,
ultimately resulting in a peculiar, quirky film
that is funny at times, but muddled.
Tim Robbins stars
as David Owen, a mild-mannered fellow living with
his beautiful wife and child on the Upper West
Side of Manhattan. He is driven to distraction
by the constant assault from car alarms, security
alarms, garbage trucks, and all manner of city
nuisances. The only relief he can find from the
barrage is to vandalize cars. He styles himself
as "The Rectifier," intent on retribution
on behalf of peace-loving citizens of New York.
This, of course, draws more than a little the
ire from his wife, played by Bridget Moynahan
in a thankless and shrill role.
In the film's
first act, we see Robbins lose everything and
build himself back up again as The Rectifier,
in a sly nod to a superhero movie. Robbins has
become the defender of the public good, the person
who "does something about it," and fights
the good, albeit mundane fight on behalf of everyone.
The frustrating thing about Noise is
that Robbins' character has no identity outside
of his hatred. He is infuriated by noise, but
consumed at the same time. It's all he has. Ultimately,
Robbins' win comes easily, and results in domestic
bliss and self-actualization for all. Hurrah!
It's not that
the film is bad, but it isn't so good, either.
Lots of Hegelian philosophy mixed with the heavy
metaphor of impotence make for a slightly confusing
film, and one that never generates enough of a
plot to develop anything other than mild curiosity,
and never generates anything resembling sympathy
for the characters. Robbins doesn't go on a journey
as much as he has a serious of tenuously-related
misadventures, and he is so preoccupied with car
alarms that the threat of losing his wife and
child only register as small speedbumps along
the way. If the film had stayed with the original
theme of the superhero, the loss of family could
have fueled his emotional fire, much as the loss
of family begat Batman or Spiderman, but the filmmakers
drop this theme, so the family unit becomes only
a minor inconvenience. The metaphor of sexual
impotence tramples through the film. Emotional
frustration accompanies sexual impairment, just
as emotional fulfillment accompanies intense sexual
prowess. The metaphor is more than apt, but it
is never fully explored in the film, save in a
few graphic sequences that only seem to serve
as an excuse to show a little skin.
The film's use
of sound, however, is subtle and intriguing. Sound
effects including street washers, trucks, backhoes,
and alarms are blended together and played over
dialogue at perfectly uncomfortable volumes, until
the viewer accustoms themselves and tunes the
noise out, just like having a conversation on
a real Manhattan street. There is a parallel between
the cognitive and audio dissonance that pervades
the film, and the droning, whining, and unrelenting
background noise begins to slowly drive the viewer
is more of a morality tale; a fable intended to
teach a lesson. At times, the lesson is the importance
of action over complacency. Other times, the lesson
is to not allow oneself to be defined by that
which bugs you. The lesson at the heart of the
movie is that noise can harm just as much as physical
assault. Noise has many good ideas, but never
fully explores them enough to make the film cohesive
or engaging, and the characters are not fully-formed
enough to draw the viewer into the drama. By the
end, the film itself feels much like the noise
that everyone's trying to tune out.
Anders Danielsen Lie,
Viktoria Winge in Joachim Trier’s Reprise
Opens Friday, May 16, 2008
Landmark's Sunshine Cinema
- 143 East Houston Street
Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on Broadway Between 62nd
Starring: Anders Danielsen
Lie; Espen Klouman-Høiner; and Viktoria
Joachim Trier is a filmmaker
to watch. His debut film, Reprise, is
quirky, sad, funny and imbued with a jaded and
sophisticated tone. Reprise tells the
story of two friends: Philip (played by Anders
Danielson Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman-Hoiner)
who aspire to be cult authors. But Trier does
not restrict himself to simply telling their story,
he also tells the story of their imaginary lives,
cutting back in forth from reality to dream with
a deft hand.
The film begins
as Phillip and Erik both post their scripts in
a mail box. We see their dreams of success and
then we see reality. Suddenly it is six months
later and Philip’s book has become an overnight
success and Erik’s has not. But Phillip
has also suffered a mental breakdown and been
hospitalized and his friends are trying to help
him reestablish his life.
We then follow
Philip as he attempts to reconcile with his girlfriend,
Kari (played by the beauteous Viktoria Winge)
and restart his career. We also follow Erik’s
as he reaches some measure of success.
But the story is
not what drives Reprise, it is the world.
Reprise is set in world of the affluent
Norwegian bourgeois, a world where educated young
men live lives filled with the pursuit of the
avant-garde in both literature and music. Like
other young men the world over, they run in posses,
but these are very different posses. The Norwegian
urban posses are not motivated by sports, but
by books, art and the latest and best punk band.
was a hit at the Lincoln Center and MoMA sponsored
2008 New Directors New Films. Reprise reminded
me of another New Director’s New Films break-out,
Nimrod Antal’s Kontroll
(2005 selection). The story of Kontroll
is very different from Reprise; the posse
of young men in Kontroll is comprised
of disadvantaged Hungarian subway tickets inspectors.
But both films show worlds inhabited by young
men that are very foreign to the average USA film
audiencer. Foreign, yes, but universally human.
And both films were helmed by filmmakers who very
obviously never went to film school in the United
states and most certainly never read Syd Field’s
Screenplay – The Foundations of Screenwriting.
Reprise is distributed by Miramax Films.
Michael Patrick King's
Sex and the City: The Movie
Opens Friday, May 30, 2008
Starring: Sarah Jessica
Parker; Kim Cattrall; Kristen Davis; Cynthia Nixon;
Chris Noth; and Jennifer Hudson.
by Frank J. Avella
Prediction: most heterosexual
male critics are not going to like this film;
most women, homosexuals and heteroflexible males
are going to love this film. Why? Because, like
the groundbreaking HBO series, the pic is about
women--all about women. All types of women. And
it turns the tables on men.
Key moment: Samantha
(the delicious Kim Cattrall) is ogling her hot
surfer neighbor while eating guacamole. She gets
to treat men the way they’ve been treating
women for centuries.
Of course you are.
Threatened, guys, Just a little bit. Admit it.
But how refreshing
to have a series (and now a film) where women
take center stage and men show up in supporting
roles. Pity some of the women still need to be
defined by men (notably the new character played
by Jennifer Hudson, but I am getting ahead of
Is Sex and
the City a chick flick? Hell, yes! But after
a legion of crappy teen-boy oriented action flicks,
thank Christ we get something different! Even
if it’s not really different at all. Not
from the sitcom anyway.
Lovers of the series
will be in girly-heaven, but folks not as familiar
with the show, will still find things to love
about it, if they allow themselves.
For those living
on Uranus: Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker)
is a very successful writer of columns, books,
articles, etc. She is BFF with three very different,
very unique NYC gals: sex-crazed Samantha Jones;
too-sweet Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) and brittle
Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon). The four women
have spent over a decade looking for love, sex,
success, trendy shopping, romance and magic in
the most enchanting place in the world—New
York City! (Anyone dare to disagree with me on
As the film opens,
Carrie is now forty and about to marry the infamous
love of her life, Mr. Big (Chris Noth). BTW, the
character is finally given a name in the film.
Four years have gone by and: Carrie is still lovestruck;
Samantha’s gotten seemingly softer; Miranda’s
a bit harder and Charlotte is, well, more Charlotte!
En route to the
altar, Carrie is jilted by Big—although
the circumstances surrounding the way it exactly
happens is muddled at best. The point is that
series creator and writer/director of the film,
the gifted Michael Patrick King, needed to break
the two up—regardless of how questionable
the plot point might be (my date had never seen
an episode of the original series and enjoyed
the movie but, tellingly, did not buy Big’s
So Carrie is now
depressed. Samantha is going through what most
MEN go through after a long time with one person;
she’s getting itchy and antsy and basically
misses indiscriminate sex. Miranda has tossed
Steve out for cheating on her once in their almost-completely
sex-less relationship. (I found that plot contrivance
annoying since it makes Miranda such an unforgiving
bitch—yet it leads to such a fantastic late
scene involving the Brooklyn Bridge—enough
said!) Finally, Charlotte, after adopting a Chinese
baby, has miraculously become pregnant herself.
The film, like
the show, is more a series of vignettes than a
cohesive narrative, try as the writer’s
may, but it works magnificently because the terrific
one-liners are there as well as the amazing NYC
locales and the oddball but fascinating costumes
(and shoes, let’s not forget the shoes).
But it works, most especially, because of the
quartet of ladies onscreen.
Whether there was
any onset cat-fighting or jealousies, you would
never know it from watching these truly talented
gals “exist” in the best roles they
will probably ever play. Career-defining portrayals.
Davis is hilarious
as ever. Her moment of confrontation with Big
is a keeper but it’s a certain scene in
Mexico that will have you holding your sides in
pain. Nixon’s nuances are all there. I just
wish King hadn’t hardened her so. Cattrall
can make a cat food commercial sexy and she does
her best in the first half where poor Samantha
is stuck in a rut. Thank God the film does her
character justice in the end—even though
we never really see her do what she does best.
(A quick ogling to Gilles Marini who plays Samantha’s
hot object of lust…gangway boys and girls
and look out for a close up of the perfect ass!)
The one male allowed
to do more than have a nice scene (or nice butt
shot) is the terrific Chris Noth, bringing more
to Big than the role as written.
Finally and foremost,
Sarah Jessica Parker has never displayed more
versatility and vulnerability. This gal gets better
with age and does fabulous work here. I commend
her for allowing herself to look her age when
At almost two and
a half hours, Sex and the City, never
feels long, although subplot involving Carrie’s
new assistant (Hudson) felt superfluous and detrimental
to positive role models for women. Yet on further
reflection, the character does fit nicely into
the Sex and the City scenario—
a world where women have choices. They may have
what they want: on their terms; at any age. And
what better message to send--even if it still
may be a fairy tale. (Can anyone argue that Hillary
has been treated fairly?)
Yes, the film could
have been more psychologically penetrating, less
predictable, more naughty and less cliché’.
But we’ll save those expectations and sexpectations
for the sequel.
For more information,
log onto: http://www.sexandthecitymovie.com/
Helen Hunt and Colin Firth
Then She Found Me
Then She Found Me
Opens Friday May 9th
Starring: Helen Hunt; Colin Firth; Bette Midler;
and Matthew Broderick
Reviewed by Alejandra
Helen Hunt makes
her directorial debut this month with Then
She Found Me, a beautifully made film on
the intricacies of relationships, adapted from
the book of the same title. Hunt also stars in
the film, alongside Colin Firth, Bette Midler,
and Matthew Broderick. She plays April Epner,
a forty-something elementary school teacher who
longs for a child but is on the brink of divorce
from her husband and colleague, Ben (played by
Matthew Broderick). The film opens with their
wedding day—a quaint celebration peppered
with wonderful sarcasm (mostly from April’s
adoptive mother Trudy, deftly played by Lynn Cohen).
As quickly as the
film opens to an optimistic setting, it goes sour
for April Epner: Ben leaves her, her adoptive
mother passes away, and her birth mother seeks
her out. In the midst of this chaos, she meets
Frank Harte (Colin Firth), the single parent,
of one of her students. The easygoing, romantic
and lovely bond that they form becomes challenged
by April’s desire to be a mother, her convoluted
relationship with her husband/ex husband, her
reunion with her birth mother Bernice Graves (Bette
Midler), and Frank’s distrust of women.
She Found Me tells the convoluted and often
beautiful story of relationships. It explores
the intricacies of varying types—how two
people connect, how they fall in and out of love,
whether between siblings, parents and their children,
or spouses. Hunt keeps the film simple as the
director—she keeps it honest. It is the
perfect juxtaposition to the complicated story
line. There is a very organic feeling to the film—as
though watching friends or family muscle their
way through life and the obstacles that complicate
and enrich it. Hunt took part in every aspect
of this film. She wrote the beautiful script along
with Alice Arlen and Victor Levin. Then She
Found Me is a smart, funny film—a true
Opens Friday, June 27, 2008
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?
An action film starring Scottish
thesp James McAvoy (so amazing in Atonement)
and a sinewy, heavily tatto’d Angelia Jolie,
based on comic books and directed by a Russian.
Hmmm. For me, that’s not exactly a draw. I
will admit I have a built in problem with the action/adventure
genre, or I should say, what it’s become:
a cartoonish, ultra-violent, sense-bombardment computer
game! I do admire the two leads, though, so I had
a few miniscule hopes…
This is the U.S. debut of celebrated
Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch,
Day Watch) who is comfortable enough with the
genre that he appropriates from some of the best
American films (I’ll let you decide what you’ve
seen before), while imploding and exploding it at
his whim—but always to great filmic effect.
Bullets slow down; back up through the body they’ve
already penetrated, and zoom back to where they
were first fired. Our protagonist is beaten to near
death, only to find himself in a rejuvenation tub,
fully healed in a few hours. But the dazzling effects
are just the icing on a wild cakeride.
The basic plot surrounds Wesley
Gibson (McAvoy) who is stuck in a dead-end job,
has a cheating girlfriend, a betrayer best friend
and a general sucky life. That is until Fox (Jolie)
and her gang of assassins explodes their way into
his life and takes it over. The group, led by Sloane
(Morgan Freeman, having a blast), are members of
a thousand year old gang known as the Fraternity
and Gibson’s absent father was a member. He
has just been killed and his son is being initiated…initially
against his will.
Smartly scripted by Michael Brandt,
Derek Haas and Chris Morgan, Wanted has
the requisite non-stop action, pulse-pounding thrill
sequences and stunning chases (in particular, a
dazzler scene involving Jolie shooting up a storm
while upside down over the front end of a car),
but the film also puts forth some fascinating and
thought-provoking ideas involving trust, faith,
loyalty and the nature of courage. Imagine: actual
ideas in an action film?!
In some of the more harrowing
sequences, Wesley is brutalized as part of his indoctrination.
The moments seem never-ending. I don’t recall
a film protagonist suffering so onscreen in such
a sadistic manner. Not since Fight Club,
McAvoy is a revelation, so appealing
yet so believable once he’s become an assassin
himself. Is there anything this young actor cannot
do? Jolie speaks less than Clint Eastwood in one
of his spaghetti westerns, but is a potent presence.
And there’s nothing cooler than watching her
handle firepower! Her Fox is Mrs. Smith after a
few too many lifefucks.
Wesley’s narration crackles
and moves the film along nicely. Near the beginning
he ponders why his father vanished when he was an
infant, spewing the following in the third person:
“I wonder if his father looked into his baby
blues and thought, Did I just father the most insignificant
asshole of the Twentieth Century?” It’s
self-deprecating, hilarious lines like that that
separate Wesley from most of the cocky and annoying
protags out there and make us really want to follow
him around for two hours.
Boobs? Tons. Plot?
None. Weird? Oh man, yes.
It’s part of
the human condition to label unfamiliar people,
things, and experiences “weird”. Maybe
we judge too quickly. Maybe we should look beyond
the surface and try to understand unfamiliar territory.
Maybe. I know I certainly tried. But after eight-five
minutes I still walked out saying, “That was
Pere Portabela wrote and directed Warsaw Bridge,
now playing at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
Portabela’s inspiration came from a newspaper
headline: “The body of a scuba diver was found
in a burnt forest.” Don’t be fooled.
Although it’s categorized as fiction/documentary,
only a few minutes are devoted to the plight of
our ill-fated scuba friend. The rest? A whirlwind
of disconnected segments complete with an autopsies,
dead fish, and lots and lots of naked opera-singing
Don’t get too
excited guys. Very few of these women are under
age 50, or under 300 pounds for that matter.
As the opening credits
roll, we find ourselves at a party in a museum somewhere
in Spain. The author of Warsaw Bridge,
a novel detailing the story of a scuba diver’s
body found in a forest, accepts a prestigious Literature
prize for his work. We meet his beautiful wife and
a few of his friends. These first ten minutes seem
to offer the perfect elements of exposition. I was
confident it would all piece together, maybe going
back and forth between the museum party and the
life of the scuba diver? Maybe we will learn more
about this gentleman’s writing process and
how it affected his relationship with his wife?
Wishful thinking. These characters are never heard
we did see: a fish-gutting factory scene that dragged
on for an unnecessary eternity, an endless series
of large bathtubs with the aforementioned naked
women, a busy subway train at rush hour turned horror
flick, a symphony conducted in an outdoor shopping
mall, and a man and woman screaming in a library
about the anatomy of a squid. Yes, I’m serious.
It is an art film,
so perhaps plot is secondary to beautiful cinematography
and other impressive artistic elements. Pere Portabela
captured breath-taking views of the burning forest
and mountains surrounding the scuba diver. The music,
both operatic and instrumental, was unbelievably
powerful throughout the film. Also, the camera and
sound techniques used in the subway horror scene
were clever and effective. Portabela cut the sound
out of the scene, which made it far more powerful.
As one man begins to lose control, tearing through
the subway cars, ripping out seats, screaming, and
causing mayhem, the truth of those horrific moments
are apparent on the faces of the innocent passengers.
It was the lack of sound and unique camera angles
that made the scene memorable.