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Knowing

Knowing is a classic case of a movie that is crammed with interesting ideas but is unable to conceptualize them in a compelling fashion. Knowing doesn’t fail because of a lack of ambition or scope but because of flaws in execution. The movie tries to accomplish a lot of things, but it doesn’t do many of them well. The structure is confused, with a setup that is long and uninvolving, a middle section that is largely unnecessary, and an ending that is rushed. There are numerous red herrings; in fact, the first 90 minutes could be classified as such. The allegorical conclusion is also disappointing, mainly because it is anticlimactic. As cinematic failures go, at least this one is interesting in some aspects, but not to the degree that I can recommend it.

The film opens with a prologue set in 1959 at a Massachusetts elementary school. A time capsule is buried on school grounds with the view that it won’t be opened until 2009. Each student is asked to submit a drawing depicting their idea of what the world will look in 50 years. Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson) is hearing voices and they instruct her regarding what she should put on her sheet: a seemingly random series of numbers. A half-century later, once the capsule is opened, that sheet comes into the possession of Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury), who shows it to his astrophysicist father, John (Nicolas Cage). John becomes obsessed by the paper and determines that it’s a “crib sheet” listing all of the major disasters that have occurred over the past 50 years: date, death, latitude, longitude. Three future catastrophes are listed, and John is obsessed with trying to prevent these, to the point where he tracks down Lucinda’s daughter, Diana (Rose Bryne), and granddaughter, Abby (Lara Robinson, doing double duty), in the hope that they can somehow help. Meanwhile, mysterious strangers watch John and Caleb from afar, whispering in the night.

The director is Alex Proyas, whose previous efforts include the Crow, Dark City, and iRobot. Knowing represents the weakest script he has worked on to date. He squeezes some atmosphere from it (not unlike that which permeated The Crow and Dark City) and there are some generally creepy moments involving the strangers in the woods (recalling Dark City), but all these aspects accomplish is to make the film seem like less of a time-waster. The disaster sequences are effectively staged, although the heavy reliance upon CGI is evident. The train crash, for example, is less convincing than something similar in Die Hard with a vengeance. Knowing also concludes with a needlessly spectacular effects sequence where something simpler and less ostentatious might have been more poignant.

There’s a sense that characters often act in certain ways for no reason other than that’s what the script needs. For example, there’s a scene in which John races to the projected disaster site in New York City and starts yelling at a random cop that the area needs to be cordoned off. This is followed by a silly chase, lots of special effects, and ultimately no ramifications. The point of the scene is to give us a close-up view of the crash, but it’s a complete throw-away. The character of Diana is introduced awkwardly and no attempt is made to integrate her into the story in a meaningful manner. And the leap of logic made by John regarding a field trip to the elementary school’s basement (which results in him extracting a door) is the kind of thing that would make Sherlock Holmes envious. The titters heard from the audience during this scene are reasonable.

The marketing campaign will put a few butts in seats but it’s hard to imagine many of those viewers being satisfied on any level. Someone should have known better.


May 3, 2010 Posted by | Movies | | Leave a comment

G. I. Joe The Rise Of Cobra

I have very fond memories of my childhood, thanks to my active imagination, my bedroom transformed into Eternia, Tatooine, Cybertron, Arus, Doom or The Pit depending on the day.
Yes, Star Wars, Transformers, He-Man, Voltron and G.I. Joe.
In the last 10 years, we’ve seen some really cool fan boy projects brought to life from a comic book page, action figure or a video game to the big screen. In the last three years alone, Transformers was brought to the big screen in a way no one would’ve ever imagined just a decade ago.
As a kid who grew up in the ’80s, I’ve looked forward to seeing some – and by some I mean not all, like I don’t want to see Thundarr the Barbarian on the big screen, well, maybe I would, it would depend – of my childhood cartoons translated to the big screen and G.I. Joe was definitely one of them.
Yesterday the folks over at Paramount arranged for me and my girls to watch Stephen Sommer’s big screen adaptation of G.I. Joe on the Paramount lot, and boy was I excited!
Before they started shooting the film, I read three screenplays including Stuart Beattie’s draft which ended up being used and his was not my favorite, at that point, I preferred Skip Woods’ take on G.I. Joe that came previously. It was very Jason Bourne.
I felt that Stuart Beattie’s version was too cartoony and not for the 30+ year olds who grew up with the franchise, but nonetheless, I was still very excited to see the film.
The movie starts in 1641 laying down the foundation of McCullen clan, a family that’s in the weapons trade. An ancestor of Christopher Eccleston’s McCullen, James McCullen, is caught selling arms to both his King and to his opponent and is shunned for life and made an example by being forced to wear a metal mask (think Man in the Iron Mask look) for the rest of his life.
Something I caught onto, which I hadn’t previously, is that David Murray who was originally cast as McCullen/Destro but was unable to take the role due to some Visa issues, plays the McCullen ancestor, so he got to be a McCullen after all.
Cut to the “not too distant future” and we meet Duke, Ripcord and the Joe team battling it out against an as-of-yet unknown force and the action ensues!
Did I like it? Yes, hell yes!
The movie is exactly what it needed to be. The movie captured the essence of the original cartoon just as well as the first Transformers film did.
Bottom line it worked great. The cast looked great, the costumes looked good on screen, the weapons were awesome and the story moved along pretty smoothly without any major plot holes. There were enough references and cameos to keep die hard G.I. Joe fans happy. But if this film is your first encounter with the Joes, no worries, it did a great job introducing the core team to newbie’s.
I can use three of my daughters that came to the screening as an example. They are aged 5, 7 and 14 and have never seen a single episode of the G.I. Joe cartoon (my bad) and they were glued to the screen. They absolutely loved it. Even my 14 year-old who doesn’t think anything I like is cool said, and I quote, “That was badass!”
Ray Park as Snake Eyes was my favorite part of the movie. I swear I am going to get an Arashikage tattoo on my arm, he is so awesome.
G.I. Joe is exactly what this summer needed after all of the disappointments thus far. It’s easily the best action film of the year.
Some of the readers chimed in early on regarding Marlon Wayans as Ripcord. Yes, I too cringed when that announcement was made. But guess what? He was great, his humor wasn’t over the top as it usually is plus he has one of the best lines of the film involving the famous G.I. Joe Kung fu grip!
The casting worked 100% including Joseph Gordon Levitt and Sienna Miller who, based on early feedback, were the characters fans were most worried about.
I am glad the filmmakers took this path over the darker version of that earlier Skip Woods draft. Even though I liked it, kids, who are the main target demographic for this film, would have not been able to grasp the story.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty elements that adults will like. The eye candy was great. For the ladies you have Channing Tatum and the rest of the boys looking like well built action figures and for us guys you’ve got Sienna and Rachel looking extremely hot in their tight black outfits.
So with that said, you must go see G.I. Joe. For the fan boys who have been waiting over 20 years for this film to the new recruits who’ve never heard of G.I. Joe, come August 7, this film delivers what every summer blockbuster should have, 110% action and 110% fun.
Now you know…and knowing…is half the battle…
Yo Joe!

May 3, 2010 Posted by | Movies | , | Leave a comment

Drag Me To Hell

“Drag Me to Hell” is a true bubble gum horror movie — safe, vapid, fun and uniquely American. It was of course directed by Sam Raimi, whose name became synonymous with horror once “Evil Dead 2″ was released in the mid-1980s. Even though he hadn’t made any horror since the third entry in his “Evil Dead” series, Raimi has always been considered a master of the horror film, despite his going off and directing mainstream pictures like “The Gift” and “Spiderman.”

So it was with great anticipation that his return to the genre hit cineplexes in the summer of 2009. No one quite expected bubble gum. But that’s what Raimi delivered. The film opens pretty strong, with a young Mexican boy being literally dragged to hell by demons. His crime: stealing a silver medallion from the wrong gypsy witch.

It becomes clear the deeper we go into the film that “Drag Me to Hell” is directly inspired by the much better 1950s horror film “Curse of the Demon”. Like Dana Andrew’s skeptic in that film, in Sam Raimi’s 2009 adaptation, a loan officer (Lohman) is confronted with a demonic curse that threatens to send her to hell. While “Curse” had an Aleister Crowley-like warlock making the curse, this film has a foreclosed witch cursing the loan officer who won’t give her a break. Raimi gets plenty of gross-out mileage from the gypsy witch (Lorna Raver), who wears dentures that she frequently removes and eventually morphs into a sucking, toothless, granny ghost. We are also able to instantly identify with Lohman’s working class loan officer, who is just trying to make a living for herself and impress her professor boyfriend, only to wind up cursed. As in “Curse of the Demon,” the curse leads to bizarre visions and crazy behavior from the target, who must give an article back to the person that cursed her (in “Demon” the article was a parchment, in this film it’s a button) if she has any hope of surviving.

Unlike “Curse,” this film has a wicked twist ending. “Drag Me to Hell” makes enough nods to the “Evil Dead” films to please Raimi’s horror fans — and has enough gee-wiz Americana to satisfy fans of Raimi’s “Spiderman” films. It feels a bit like a cross between a “Spiderman” movie and an “Evil Dead” comedy. One gets the sense that the main character may have even been written for Kristen Dunst. Actually, Ellen Page was originally announced as the star of this film, before dropping out for “scheduling reasons” and being replaced by Lohman. With Page, the film probably would have been a box office hit, as Lohman just doesn’t have quite the charisma to draw crowds for a PG-13 movie like this.

“Drag Me to Hell” feels like an extended episode of “Masters of Horror” — a good episode at that. But it just ain’t a horror classic, something you’d expect coming from a guy like Sam Raimi. What may be worse is the fact that the film had a PG-13 rating, when Raimi knew his old-school horror fans would have preferred R. Ironically, the film’s rating may have actually hurt it as the box office — and proven that the PG-13 horror trend was coming to a well-deserved end. Despite its flaws, “Drag Me to Hell” is an effective little horror movie. It also brought Apple spokesperson Justin Long back to the genre. Many of us still remember his last horror appearance: “Jeepers Creepers” nearly a decade ago.

April 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Antichrist

Acclaimed Danish Director, Lars Von Trier, has melded art house and horror together with staggering effect in Antichrist. It’s the tail, told in four chapters, of an unnamed couple (“He” played by Willem Defoe and “She” played by Charlotte Gainsbourg), as they go through a grieving process following the death of their son.

 

“He” is a therapist and takes “She” on as his pet project and seeks to help her through the grieving process via a series of sessions that lead them to their isolated cabin in the woods called Eden. It does seem that the therapist is also seeking therapy from the sessions as “He” seems to revel in being the protector and the guide through the wide ranging emotions that “She” goes through.

 

If I told you anything more about the plot, I think it would most likely ruin it for you. And, as much of the plot is cleverly devised – much more so than other reviewers have given it credit for – it is the style and feel of the movie that really makes watching the film more of an experience. For some the movie seems to be more famous for particular isolated scenes rather than as a whole, which is a shame. The film is beautifully shot throughout. The opening prologue is made of up exquisite black and white, slow motion footage of the events that lead to the child’s death. The scenes in and around the cabin in Eden are full of lush green foliage and dark and twisted trees. It seems as though almost every shot in the movie is a composition in itself.

 

Though, this is no pedestrian block footage of scenery. Instead, almost all of the scenes have something going on within them that make you uncomfortable. It is a dark film, with strong undercurrents of doom and dread that is evoked entirely by using varying lenses and a rumbling soundtrack to stop the audience from sitting back too comfortably.

 

So, when you do reach those dreaded scenes that have grabbed the headlines, they do not come from leftfield. These are not scenes of gore for the sake of a shock; these are the culmination or a step on the path of the journey that these characters are taking.

 

Let us not forget that this is a horror movie. In comparison to other horror movies, the blood and gore count is minuscule, but what it does deliver in blood and gore really hits you. I don’t feel the movie pushes any major boundaries, as it is more of a continuation of a form of movie sex and violence seen in movies such as Base Moi and Irreversible. But, having said that, when you are in the theatre watching it, it does suck you in, chew you up and spit you out which is a sure fire sign that the sex and violence is well placed and used constructively within the confines of the story.

Once the movie ends, it will ensure that you have extremely in depth and revealing discussions with fellow Antichrist viewers. In a similar fashion to Memento and The Usual Suspects, you piece together the clues along the way that got you were you are at the end of the movie.

Watching the movie is an experience…shouldn’t all movies be like that?

 


November 5, 2009 Posted by | Movies | | Leave a comment

Watchmen

I read this graphic novel, Watchmen, in 1986. I have hoped this story would eventually make the silver screen since that moment in time. It would have been impossible a decade ago to create a movie which would require the level of CGI to bring forth the vision of Moore to the screen. I went in with humongous expectations for this film and I was not disappointed. About this Movie: The Watchmen Movie is based on the popular graphic novel (comic book) miniseries from the mid 1980’s by Alan Moore. This comic defined the term graphic novel with its graphic portrayal of an alternate universe where superheroes existed and had been outlawed in the 1970’s. The life of caped vigilante is shown to be a dirty and morally off center life for many of the characters. This story was revolutionary for the comic book genre and how fans looked at their heroes. This is not a movie for the kids. It is rated R for a reason. It has intense violence, gore, nudity (male and female nudity), adult language, and a rape scene. It is not your average comic book movie. What I liked about this Movie: I believe this movie stuck to the heart of Moore’s story. At 2 hours and 45 minutes, it could not add in every detail from the comic but it did bring the soul of the story to life. Unlike some other comic book adaptations, this movie stuck to the plot and often the very tiny details rather than just borrowing general concepts and character names only. The cinematography was beautiful and picturesque of the comic book panels. It was amazingly accurate on the details of the scenes. I dropped my jaw numerous times it was perfect on the important panels. Some of these panels were the breaking of glass when the Comedian is thrown out of the window, Night Owl wiping his glasses, and the clock on Mars. The casting of Rorschach was nailed. The actor that portrayed Rorschach not only had the look and feel of Rorschach but also had the voice and delivery of the lines. His every changing inkblot mask was freaky and cool at the same time. In the comic, Rorschach wore lifts to compensate for his short stature. This was not directly discussed in the film but you could visually see the height difference between character in disguise and without the mask in prison. The cast in general was great. I really believed these actors were the characters from the book.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | Movies | | Leave a comment

Inglorious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino‘s latest film, the long-awaited Inglorious Basterds, is here, and with it comes mighty expectations from his fan boys. Unfortunately, Basterds is Tarantino‘s weakest film to date – though that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Well-written and expertly crafted, Inglorious Basterds is an effective film; it’s just not the off-the-wall war epic one would expect.
It’s not surprising that Tarantino’s version of a war film is one built around character and dialogue, not around violence and action. Even his most action-packed of films - Kill Bill, volume 1 hinged on strong, dialogue-driven scenes. And yet, it’s a little disappointing that Tarantino didn’t channel his genius into a more focused narrative complete with a few lengthy action scenes and development of what one would assume to be the central characters – those mentioned in the title.
Inglorious Basterds is, roughly, about a group of nine Jewish-Americans called the “Basterds,” led by Lt. Aldo Raine, who travel to France and Germany to literally scalp Nazis and strike fear into the hearts of their enemies. Simultaneously, we’re introduced to a Jewish woman named Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), who, years after escaping the brutal execution of her family at the hands of the ruthless Jew Hunter (Christoph Waltz), is now running a cinema in downtown Paris. After a German hero takes a liking to her, he convinces the propaganda commission to premiere the latest Nazi war film at her theater. Subsequently, she decides that she’s going to burn it down with everyone – including Adolf Hitler himself – in it. Meanwhile, the Basterds are plotting to blow up the cinema themselves.
As is the case with most Tarantino films, his story is a collection of loosely strung-together scenes that engage by pure force rather than guiding us through a natural development of a group of characters. The development of Melanie’s character is pitch perfect, but, somewhat surprisingly, the Basterds themselves seem like afterthoughts. We don’t get to know the men all that well; the only one who is given a flashy back story is a Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger). Maybe this is okay, and maybe I’m the one to blame for setting false expectations based on Tarantino’s past storytelling approaches, but I found this a bit odd. Is this a complaint? I’m not sure.
In fact, I’m not even sure how much I liked the movie. That’s a bad thing for a critic to say, but Inglorious Basterds is, as most Tarantino movies are, incomparable to other films. I know that I didn’t enjoy it as much as his other movies, but it’s not necessarily fair to compare it to his other movies. He’s allowed to do something different. And yet, it’s also unfair to compare Basterds to other war films. I’ll admit I was expecting something more along the lines of Full Metal Jacket or Apocalypse Now, two over-the-top and at times tongue-in-cheek war classics, but in hindsight I should never have expected Basterds to be anything like those. Those movies were both developed to show the ridiculousness of war, whereas Basterds is just meant to be ridiculous.
So, let’s break things down by what works and what doesn’t work. The film is slow at times, almost to the point where you want to shout out to Tarantino, “Get on with it already!” and yet each plodding minute he dives deeper into a scene, the more the tension builds. Still, those expecting any semblance of an action film should be aware that Basterds is almost entirely dialogue driven.
The lack of action also results in a lack of character development for the title characters. The movie is, in many ways, about their “final mission,” and yet it begins with a bunch of young guys getting enlisted onto the team. Once Tarantino starts killing the title characters off, it’s unlikely you’ll know any of their names; they’re simply red shirts meant to die. Lastly, when things do finally boil over at the end, the climax is hurried and unsatisfying. I don’t know what Tarantino could have done differently, but a little more could have gone a long way.
On the flip side, a lot of things work great. On their own, each individual scene is pitch-perfect. The first sequence, a long, drawn-out affair where a Nazi interviews a farmer that may or may not be hiding his Jewish neighbor, is incredibly tense. Many other scenes follow a similar formula, providing seemingly innocent dialogue laced with suspense.
Pitt is also stellar, though in a much hammier kind of way. He’s ugly, nasty and yet, also, strangely charming, more so when he’s attempting to portray an Italian despite being unable to get rid of his Tennessee accent. Laurent is also extremely satisfying as Shosanna; she seems innocent and unoffending, but you can see the fear and anger simmering just beneath her skin.
When all is said and done, Inglorious Basterds is a superbly acted, well-written and suspenseful war drama of sorts… what sorts I’m not quite sure. It is the war film for Tarantino fans, or, more appropriately, Tarantino’s war movie. Still, the movie lacks the energy and creativity of Tarantino’s other works; this may be intentional, but it’s still off putting. The result is a war movie that succeeds minute by minute and yet lacks the holistic synergy Tarantino has been able to pull off in the past. Still, recommended.

September 29, 2009 Posted by | Movies | , | Leave a comment

Terminator: Salvation

The fourth installment of the Terminator Series: Terminator Salvation is a film that grows on you instead of striking an instant chord with the audiences unlike The Terminator (1984) and Judgment Day (1991), reason being its script. The previous blockbusters had those trademark face-offs and one-on-one tussles between a defensive hero (a member of the Connor family) and that one killer Terminator sent by Sky net to destroy John Connor who holds the key to the survival of human kind. 

Salvation set in the late 20th century LA (2018) keeps aside the one-on-one Connor V/S Terminator battle and in order to widen its collage and give the series a refreshing new look focuses on the human race V/S the machines war. Christian Bale is John Connor who leads from the front in human kind’s battle against the machines who are now way too powerful and too many for the humans to defeat. 

Machines now dominate the air space, water and land and their only motive is to destroy two men – John Connor and Kyle Reese. Can the ruthless machines break Connor’s Resistance and destroy humanity once and for all? 

As mentioned in the review before Salvation’s novelty comes with a price. It acts as a double edged sword as the very one-on-one chase between a man and a killing machine which made Terminator the brand it is, has been done away with by MCG. The clutter of Terminators (T-600’s in abundance) throughout the film makes them seem generic while John Connor has little to do and say as his character is more mechanical than the machines themselves! He acts and behaves like a robot with no emotion on display and is actually overshadowed by actor Sam Worthington who superbly essays his complex character Marcus Wright. It is Marcus’ track in the film which in fact makes it interesting and appealing. 

What make the film worth a watch in spite of the drawbacks are its superb climax and groundbreaking special effects and graphics. Watch out for the T-1000 Terminator making a come-back in the film towards the end (special appearance). The action scenes seem shockingly true and wont let you even bat an eye-lid while they are on. The war movie setting also gives the series a brand new look. The film’s metallic grey look also works in its favor. 

Do you miss Arnold in this one? Of Course you do and Bale has little to do in this film anyway so he has not ‘replaced’ Arnold and his presence in the film. Bale gets to play John Connor; Terminator’s most sought after character but as an actor gets little to do and speak (disappointing). Sam Worthington steals the show and fits his character with aplomb. Background score is again not up to the mark. 

Terminator Salvation is an all machine show with very little emotion and humor to it but that shouldn’t keep you away from the film… it’s a superb watch for its special effects and sleek action… tons and tons of it. 

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Movies | | 3 Comments

The Fox And The Child

ANIMALS are often depicted onscreen as four-legged versions of us. In the 1950s, when Disney first ventured into nature films, the creatures it photographed in the wild were assigned the same characteristics as the perky kids and put-upon parents of its domestic comedies.
Frenchman Luc Jacquet, director of The Fox And The Child , didn’t go quite that far with his 2006 Oscar winner, March Of The Penguins . He refrained from the condescension that stained the early Disney brand of anthropomorphism.
Nonetheless, his patient observations were accompanied by a profound and slightly teary admiration for the penguins’ stout-hearted attempts to keep their chicks safe from everything their Antarctic habitat could throw at them.
The French, it seems, are wild about wildlife films. Microcosmos and Travelling Birds display a forensic approach to rival that of David Attenborough, together with a matching sense of awe at Nature’s success in bringing such diversity into the world. And, although they haven’t tried to come up with a Gallic equivalent of Attenborough’s breathy narrations, they have no qualms about using a little stage management to enhance the dramatic effect of their furred and feathered stars’ desperate battles for survival and heroic feats of migration.
And there’s something very seductive in it – especially in the light of the new research we’ve been hearing lately about animal intelligence. If you’ve been following the exploits of Alex, the venerable African grey parrot who died recently – concluding a long, fond and garrulous relationship with a team of US researchers – you’ll have already retired “bird brain” as a pejorative.
Jacquet puts himself into the midst of this debate about anthropomorphism with The Fox And The Child , a contemporary fable recounting a 10-year-old girl’s efforts to co-opt a wild fox as her playmate. It’s set within sight of Mont Blanc in the Jura Massif, where Jacquet grew up, but he’s turned the region’s hills and meadowlands into a fairytale landscape by incorporating forested bits of Italy’s ancient Abruzzes National Park.
The result is Nature seen through the eyes of a solitary and fanciful child with Jacquet intensifying the theatricality of it all by playing around with scale, amplifying every sound and raising the wildlife count.
This small corner of the forest is home to wolves, wild boars, hedgehogs, badgers, stoats, frogs, a lynx and a bear. From this animal repertory company, he chose a fox as his lead because he’s always liked them. It’s a selective portrait he paints. There are no shots of the fox raiding the hen house.
The film opens in the honeyed light of an autumn sunrise. The girl is cycling to school when she spots her fox, which she pursues for a while before losing it. On her way home, however, she returns for another look and an obsession is born – or, in the words of the rather overripe first-person narration, delivered by Kate Winslet: “I had no idea that it was the beginning of a great adventure.”
Jacquet has now put himself at risk of false advertising – which is unwise because the action to come moves within a strictly circumscribed area and it doesn’t exactly gallop along.
The fox’s 10-year-old co-star, Bertille Noel-Bruneau, is the only human being on screen – her parents are present only as faintly heard off-screen voices – and the plot is composed of a series of vignettes built around the changing seasons.
When winter arrives and forest and meadow are snowbound, the girl falls and breaks a leg and while she’s confined to her room, we’re left to keep watch over the fox as it forages for food and dodges the forest predators. By the time the girl is back, it’s spring and she’s delighted to discover that the fox is a vixen. She’s given birth to a litter of cubs and in one enthralling sequence we watch her demonstrate a penguin-like devotion and tenacity in saving them from the attentions of the hovering lynx.
There’s great beauty in these scenes. Child and cubs bond over their shared sense of play, the fox itself becomes more responsive and the summery landscape makes a gilded backdrop to their games. But Jacquet is already getting serious.
Gorgeous to look at and frequently fascinating for the care it takes in recording the minutiae of animal life, the film is also ponderous in style and formal in tone, thanks to that po-faced narration.

September 14, 2009 Posted by | Movies | | Leave a comment

THE PROPOSAL

Blame the heels. In her new movie, “The Proposal,” Sandra Bullock, playing a Type A (rhymes with) witch, totters around in a pair of exquisite high heels, the kind that elongate the legs and give a woman’s derrière the gentle backward thrust familiar from fertility figurines. The character, a no-nonsense, no-smiling publishing executive, otherwise favors an aerodynamic look (pencil skirts and ponytails), but the heels betray her. They throw a curve into her straight line and force her to tilt, sway and wobble. She might be the mistress — the harsh and exacting mistress — of her universe, but she’s clearly been prepped for a fall.
Like most Hollywood romantic comedies these days, “The Proposal” is all about bringing a woman to her knees, quite literally in this case. The simple premise is partly telegraphed in the advertising tag line, “Here comes the bribe,” which evokes wedding bells and desperation. One day at the office, Margaret Tate (Ms. Bullock), a Canadian who’s let her visa expire, suddenly finds herself scrambling for a way to stay in the United States and the big New York office where she rules with an iron fist clutching a designer bag. She finds the means to her salvation, yes, in more ways than one, in the pleasant form of her assistant, Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), a beleaguered Guy Friday who slavishly attends to many of her needs.
A stud-in-waiting, Andrew will soon be attending to Margaret’s other desires, of course. Overlong story short: Margaret blackmails Andrew into a sham marriage proposal in exchange for a promotion. He agrees, though only after making her kneels on the sidewalk. They fly to a cute little town in Alaska, where she discovers his family lives on its own island in a mansion picturesquely surrounded by mountains. You can’t see Russia from the front door, but there are loads of amenities, if remarkably no visible hired help. Mom (Mary Steenburgen) and Dad (Craig T. Nelson) are on hand, as is Grandma Annie (Betty White), the resident unfunny old-lady kook who’s about to turn 90 and could use a little face time with a big pillow.
You know the rest because you’ve seen (and read) it many times before. After nestling in the bountiful bosom of family and some unexpected naked slapstick with Andrew, Margaret melts. He mans the ramparts, she lowers her defenses. He thrusts, she parries. He chops wood and loses his shirt. She loses her cell phone and ditches the heels. He rescues her, scooping her out of the water after she falls from a boat. She shivers and smiles and tears up as she talks about her tragic past, revealing the sad little girl who’s long been hidden behind the cruel disguise of a sensationally successful professional adult. Ding-dong the witch is soon dead and in her place, well, here comes the bride.
The director marshaling all these clichés and stereotypes is Anne Fletcher, whose last gig was the similarly obnoxious “27 Dresses.” Working from a script by Peter Chiarelli, Ms. Fletcher betrays no originality from behind the camera and not a hint of visual facility. The opening scenes, including shots of Andrew rushing through the streets while balancing coffee cups, are right out of “The Devil Wears Prada,” minus the snap. The scene in which Margaret runs around naked is borrowed from Give, though here the point isn’t that desirability transcends age but that at 44, Ms. Bullock still has an amazing body. The rest of the movie looks like many industrial entertainments of this type: it’s decently lighted and as lived in as a magazine advertisement.
Ms. Bullock, who excels at playing spunky, is as appealing as usual, but the role proves as awkward as those heels. (Mr. Reynolds is equally likable, though more decorative than anything else.) She’s always been better in fundamentally independent roles that allow her to grab the wheel (“Speed”) and take the spotlight (the “Miss Congeniality” flicks), an independence that persists all the way through the last-act coupling. She can smile as brightly at a man as well as the next leading lady, though, like all genuinely big female stars, she’s really more of a solo act. Certainly she’s no shrew in need of taming. She’s just another female movie star in need of a vehicle that won’t throw her overboard for sexist giggles and laughs.

September 8, 2009 Posted by | Movies | | Leave a comment

Public Enemies

It’s no secret how the life of John Dillinger came to an end; so when Michael Mann begins his telling of the Dillinger story in 1933 only allowing for just over a year’s worth of story to be told he isn’t giving himself a lot of time. However, in a matter of only a few scenes Mann establishes his lead as a calculated and loyal criminal capable of breaking his friends out of jail, but unwilling to lose one along the way — that is unless you are the man upon which Dillinger places blame. Here is our hero, or anti-hero as it is, and Johnny Depp plays him with an accomplished steely gaze. It’s a low-key performance surrounded by menace, desire and love, but at the same time this film won’t be for everyone as its slow pace and attention to detail are sure to bore many while enthralling others.

Public Enemies is based on the Bryan Burrough’s book of the same name and while filled with prison breaks, bank heists and a recreation of the shootout at Little Bohemia Lodge that rivals the classic gun battle Mann staged in the streets of downtown Los Angeles in Heat, this film is hardly an action epic. This film is a classical epic. It’s a period piece in every sense of the word, so much so the final moments while we watch Dillinger sit in the Biography theater taking in Manhattan Melodrama the only difference between the classic Clark Gable and William Powell feature is that it is in black-and-white while Public Enemies is drenched in high-definition color.

I would best describe this film as following a similar structure to Mann’sHeat, while carrying the pacing of David Fincher’s Zodiac. Public Enemies contains plenty of gunfire, but action is not on sale here as much as Mann is determined to dig into Dillinger and what makes him tick, even though it appears it may be an impossible task.
At one point Dillinger introduces himself to his soon-to-be love interest, Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), and tells her, “I rob banks.” She is startled by the statement, and rightly so, but that’s just who he is and he isn’t one for dancing around the facts. Dillinger’s a bank robber living in the now with no thought of tomorrow, and that’s just the way he likes it.

Of course, things change as J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) commissions famous law man Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to take charge of the FBI’s Chicago office and begin the manhunt for Dillinger. Bale plays Purvis with a dogged dedication to his job, a dedication that appears to overwhelm him at times, yet his ability to assess a situation never seems compromised. Both Bale and Depp are extraordinary in their performances, but in such a way that neither ever takes it too far and both thankfully stay clear of old-fashioned gangster stereotypes.

Depp never goes for the gangster role made popular by 1930s Hollywood and Bale doesn’t take his character’s dedication to catching Dillinger so far it becomes overcooked, something we certainly saw Bale do in Terminator Salvation. However, while Bale and Depp deliver, the true showstopper is Marion Cotillard playing Billie, a hatcheck girl that catches Dillinger’s eye and understandably he never wants to take it off her.
As much as Public Enemies is a film about a man who robs banks it is also about a man who seems to be on the verge of realizing there is more to life, but never quite gets a handle on it and it actually begins early on. A “staring into the eyes of death” theme seems to run through this film from start to finish as Dillinger deals with it in the film’s opening scene and Purvis encounters it throughout, in what seems like a calculated attempt by Mann to link the two foes.
Dillinger’s forward-thinking continues in his relationship (if you can call it that) with Billie, neither of them having any real direction in life, and the combination of her naivete and his dedication create an interesting, although not fully satisfying, pairing. As Billie, Cotillard is absolutely ravishing. Mann gives her wide-eyes and soft skin the treatment of a Hollywood goddess and she chews up every scene, but the beauty of this film doesn’t stop there.
Considering the release date and star power of Public Enemies you would think this was a summer tentpole feature, but to call it anything other than an art house period piece would be to mislabel it. Along with cinematographer Dante Spinotti, Mann manages to make the 1930s look like a version of the ’30s the cinema has never shown you before. Through the use of high-definition cameras Mann actually brings the ’30s into the Ought and the realism may set some back on their heels. It’s a striking visual presentation and it makes the scenery as much a part of the movie as the actors living in it.
With all of this said you would expect me to come away with a final paragraph slathering additional adjectives to describe the emotions I came out of the film with. However, this wasn’t an easy film for me to digest and it is one I will be returning to during its opening weekend as I was upset there wasn’t a second screening I could attend before writing this review.
Mann’s dedication to Dillinger’s lack of foresight throws me for a loop as it sometimes stalls the progress of the film, but I believe that was the point. Dillinger robs banks. That’s what he does and there isn’t much more he is looking for. He’s a loyal, yet ruthless, character filled with hatred, but his hatred isn’t for the people, it’s for the institutions. While robbing a bank Depp uses a similar line, “We’re not here for your money sir, we’re here for the bank’s money.” There is a method to his lawlessness and it earned him some level of respect with the public, but doesn’t make for a narrative that’s easy to instantly embrace. I am leaving room for this one to grow on me or slowly settle down to the middle, but one thing’s for certain, it had my wheels spinning and may likely end up an all-time classic of mine a few years down the line.

Relative links
http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/movie/public-enemies
http://www.publicenemies.net
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1152836/

September 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

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