Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Home Video: Diggers

Directed by Katherine Dieckmann
Released April 27, 2007 (in theatres) & May 1, 2007 (on DVD)

"Diggers" is one of the recent independent films that was released in theatres and then on DVD just a few days later. I thought this looked like a great independent gem, but unfortunately it is quite lacking. There is nothing bad per se, but the film never quite takes off from a rather meandering start. Paul Rudd and Lauren Ambrose, the only two of the cast who I am very familiar with, are very much typecast as the occasionally humorous straight man and the philosophically-inclined, intellectual outcast artlover, respectively. They have done much better work, Rudd recently in "Knocked Up", in theatres Friday, and Ambrose as Claire Fisher in "Six Feet Under". The rest of the cast is pretty much undistinguishable in quality. It is a slow, generally unexciting film that occasionally rises to the opportunity and provides some quality scenes with decent acting.


Home Video: Infernal Affairs

Infernal Affairs
Directed by Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak
Released September 24, 2004

This sleek and stylized Hong Kong thriller was the inspiration for the recent huge hit "The Departed". Much of the plot is the same, but this is a very different movie. It is less about the characters themselves and more about the grand opposition of moles within the entities that are the gangs and the police. "Infernal Affairs" clocks in at an hour less than the runtime of "The Departed", but tells a story just as compelling. The performances are great, and Andy Lau and Tony Leung infuse the central characters with humanity and personality despite their limited character development. Anthony Wong is also fantastic as SP Wong, the police officer in charge of handling the mole in the gangs (Martin Sheen's part in "The Departed"), and gives a minor role a memorable performance. I personally liked "The Departed" better, but I think I am inclined to do so because I am more accustomed to American filmmaking tendencies. I applaud the creators of "The Departed" for taking an already great movie and crafting into something just as good, and in my opinion better, much like the American version of "The Office". I am also impressed with the creation of Dignum, Mark Wahlberg's character, featured solely in "The Departed".

The Departed: A
Infernal Affairs: B+

Romantic and Funny: Paris, Je T'aime

Paris, Je T'aime
Directed by many directors
Released May 4, 2007

"Paris, Je T'aime" is a wonderful compilation of romantic stories set in Paris, told one after another, and featuring stars from Elijah Wood to Catalina Sandino Moreno to Nick Nolte. The film flows very well, and each vignette, no matter how bizarre (one involves vampires), presents some endearing moment. Highlights include Gus Van Sant's "Le Marais", which tells the story of two boys who have a brief encounter, Sylvain Chomet's "Tour Eiffel" story about mimes, Tom Tykwer's "Faubourg Saint-Denis", starring Natalie Portman as an actress involved with a blind Parisian young man, and Alexander Payne's "14eme Arrondisement", featuring Margo Martindale ("The Riches") as an American with a very transparent accent finding enjoyment and love in Paris. An entertaining and heartwarming experience.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Don't Do It: Hannibal Rising

I just saw a commercial for "Hannibal Rising", coming out on DVD soon. I wanted to take a minute to strongly recommend to anyone who is a fan of "The Silence of the Lambs" and/or the sequel/prequel, do not see this film. I loved "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Red Dragon" and thought "Hannibal" was interesting for the first half but terrible for the second half. "Hannibal Rising" does no justice to the saga at all, and especially not to the character of Hannibal Lecter himeslf. His M.O. as a cunning killer is reduced to a careless and petty drive for revenge. I have tried since seeing this pretty subpar and generally poorly done film to disassociate it in my mind from the other films, even "Hannibal", of which I was not a huge fan. Just a warning! There is plently of better stuff out there. For anyone who has not yet seen "The Silence of the Lambs", it is in my opinion the best serial killer film ever made (beating out "Seven").

For the record:
The Silence of the Lambs: A
Hannibal: C
Red Dragon: A
Hannibal Rising: C- (stay away!)

Home Video: Apocalypto

Directed by Mel Gibson
Released December 8, 2006

Mel Gibson's latest film is an extensive bloodbath centered around the final days of the Mayan empire. The story centers around Jaguar Paw, a courageous and determined leader in his tribe. Gibson's film was praised for its daring cinematography and excellent asthetics. The cinematography is in truth uneven, and the set is occasionally well-decorated, though most of the film takes place running through the forest. The brutality is a bit extensive. While it is representative of the society at the time, Gibson seems to take a certain pleasure in showing every detail of every bloody death. The film is only 2 hours and 20 minutes, but feels unbearably long. An interesting premise which is ultimately lost, like Jaguar Paw among the massive Mayan empire, in the great undertaking which is "Apocalypto."


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mindless and Terrible: Pirates of the Caribbean 3

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Released May 25, 2007

I loved the first "Pirates of the Caribbean." I predicted Johnny Depp would receive an Oscar nomination from the beginning, and thought he wholeheartedly deserved a win. I was decidedly disappointed with the second film, which I thought focused too much on unnecessary and overdone slapstick comedy and the plot was sort of dumb. Depp's performance seemed tired and hardly original. The third film only expands upon my negative feelings about the second film.

Some who I have talked to about my hatred of "Pirates 3" remind me that it is supposed to be merely a kids' entertainment film. If that is the intention, it is an awfully creepy one (the first scene contains numerous hangings, for starters). The main problem is the absolutely inane construction of the interactions between characters, which can hardly even be described as a plot. It is hard to fully describe the extent of its convoluted nature without revealing too much, but even as popcorn entertainment it just makes no sense at all.

Depp's performance is again fairly effortless, all the more unfortunate because of his brilliant work in the first film. The rest of the actors' performances are not worth a mention, although all of them were great in the first film, and similar to Depp, their performances have decreased majorly in quality. At one point, one of the characters sits in the brig and for a moment, it looks like she is texting someone because she is so bored. In another scene, Keith Richards actually sits down and just starts playing a guitar because he has nothing better to do.

The film clocks at a torturous 2 hours and 45 minutes, which feels are the more long because the action onscreen is generally unexciting. The token amazing music from the first film is absent until nearly 2 hours and 15 minutes in, and the score up to that point feels lacking. A sweeping zoom-in to a view of the ocean feels like a rip-off of a "Bad Boys" or "Miami Vice"-style cinematography. Overall, the film tries to capture the brilliance of the first film by attempting to be clever but fails miserably and comes off as irritating and mind-numbing.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Home Video: Breaking and Entering

Breaking and Entering
Directed by Anthony Minghella
Released January 26, 2007

I had wanted to see this film for such a long time during its theatrical run a few months ago, but it was only playing at one theatre and I never got around to it. Starting the film and seeing who some of the supporting cast were (Martin Freeman from the British "Office" and Ray Winstone from "Sexy Beast" and "The Departed"), I was more than thrilled. Unfortunately, the film was terribly unsastisfying and unengaging.

Jude Law turns in an effortless, throway performance as an architecht struggling to find happiness with his family and catch the culprit who broke into his office. Robin Wright Penn's accent is not quite on track, and her performance as Law's wife suffers as a result. Juliette Binoche is able enough as the mother of the criminal boy. Ray Winstone is forgettable in a minor performance. Martin Freeman, however, shines as comic relief in an all-too-small part, and Rafi Gavron, in his screen debut as Miro, the thief, is great. Vera Farmiga is the one who truly takes the case with a despicable performance with a horrid accent as a chatty prostitute. People keep saying she has done great work, but coupled with "The Departed," I am less than impressed. She was fine in "Running Scared" and I have yet to see her supposed breakthrough in "Down to the Bone." All in all, this film is a lackluster bore.


Sunday, May 6, 2007

Home Video: The Minus Man

The Minus Man
Directed by Hampton Fancher
Released October 8, 1999

Owen Wilson stars as Vann, a calm and polite drifter who kills people that seem ready to die by poisoning them and hiding their bodies. He settles down for a bit and moves in with a friendly but unhappy couple, and takes a job as a postal office worker, all the while taking more lives while wrestling with inner voices, including two imaginary cops on his trail.

An extremely intriguing premise does not go far in this unexciting and truthfully uneventful film (I cannot in good conscience call it a thriller, because it is simply not interesting enough). The film drags unbelievably, and thinks far too much of itself in the way that the director composes and blocks some of the scenes. None of the characters are compelling enough to care about, and as a result, the plot fades quickly into oblivion (as presumably did the film, which I had only ever heard about after seeing a preview before some equally obscure movie on DVD).

Owen Wilson could have been the right choice to play Vann, but he is too wishy-washy and grinny to be a serial killer, in what is supposed to be a meditative, artistic film. Janeane Garofalo does well as Ferrin, his unsuspecting sort-of-girlfriend, but it would be nice to see her come out of her shell a bit and play a more dynamic character. Dennis Haysbert stands out in a pre-"24" performance as one of Vann's imaginary pursuer cops, a chance for him to play a role like the one Mark Wahlberg got an Oscar nomination for in "The Departed" (of course, the latter role is far better-written). Brian Cox hands-down gives the best performance in the film, as Vann's landlord, and he demonstrates a willingness and ability to go beyond the script and hand in a masterful and enjoyable performance in a deeply sub-par film.

D -

Friday, May 4, 2007

Endearing and Witty: Waitress

Directed by Adrienne Shelly
Released May 2, 2007

Keri Russell stars as Jenna, a discontent waitress stuck with an abusive and oppresive husband who makes amazingly delicious pies. After discovering she is pregnant, Jenna begins a desperate affair with her nervous doctor, Dr. Pomatter while continually trying to figure out how to get away from her horrible husband. Adrienne Shelly's last film (she was tragically murdered in Greenwich Village last fall) is a sympathetic and fun story with equally loveable and hatable characters in it.

Keri Russell hardly expresses any emotion, but perhaps that is why she is a good choice to play Jenna. Her awkward chemistry with Nathan Fillion, who plays Pomatter, is enjoyable. Cheryl Hines is great as Jenna's friend Becky, and Jeremy Sisto plays the perfect asshole as Earl, Jenna's husband. Eddie Jemison and Lew Temple fill the background well as a suitor for Jenna's fellow waitress Dawn, and Jenna's annoying employer, respectively. Andy Griffith is likeable as the generally poorly-liked Joe, the owner of the pie diner where Jenna works. But the greatest performance in the film comes from Adrienne Shelly herself, in the role of the aforementioned Dawn, Jenna's nervous but likeable friend. It is nice to see that Shelly did a great job both behind and in front of the camera in her final feature. The theme of pies that carries through is also a lot of fun, and makes you very hungry.


Heavy but Light: Stephanie Daley

Stephanie Daley
Directed by Hilary Brougher
Released April 20, 2007

Amber Tamblyn stars as Stephanie Daley, a teenager whose life is troubled by the media's obsession with the story about how she murdered her unborn child. Stephanie's experiences are revealed through flashbacks, as legal consultant Lydie Crane tries to understand what happened, while facing a troubling pregnancy of her own.

That summary would indicate that this film would be greatly interesting, but unfortunately its plot is so complex and serious that the resulting film bears little of that complexity. The sequencing is often confusing, yet suprisingly little actually occurs, and very little is discovered throughout the film. The seemingly short running time of just about 90 minutes feels miserably longer.

Tilda Swinton, so fantastic in 2001's "The Deep End," is stuck in a poorly developed role as the conflicted Lydie. Timothy Hutton is hardly memorable as her less-than-present husband. But Amber Tamblyn, formerly seen as the title character in "Joan of Arcadia," as Stephanie, stands out in a role that could have been much better, in a movie that should have been much better.


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Silly but Fun: Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3 (United States Premiere)
Directed by Sam Raimi
To be released May 4, 2007

You may have heard of this movie called "Spider-Man 3," in theatres literally everywhere this Friday. Attending this advance screening, part of the simultaneous five-borough New York/U.S. premiere, was certainly fun with all the crazy diehard fans who more than vocally shared their enthusiasm with the rest of the auditorium.

Like the first two films, and especially the second, "Spider-Man 3" is low on plot but heavy on campy action. Very little actually happens in the movie, but it is amusing enough without being overly obnoxious. The events and characteristics of Peter Parker/Spider-Man are presented in a much more humorous fashion than was likely intended by the comic series (I have read several issues, but not enough to consider myself anywhere near an expert).

Tobey Maguire is the same as he was in the first two films, a bit too gleeful but highly sympathetic as our hero Spider-Man. Kirsten Dunst does little acting and more fearful raising of her eyebrows, but there is hardly more to be expected. The usually great James Franco alternately grins and sneers throughout most of the film as the sloppily-written Harry Osborn. Thomas Haden Church hardly moves his face as the staunch but somewhat cool Sandman. Topher Grace is amusing as annoying reporter Eddie Brock. Bryce Dallas Howard does an able job as potential love-triangle-creator Gwen Stacy. The best role of the film is held by J.K. Simmons, as Daily Bugle editor J.J. Jameson.

For those who loved the second film, it is more than likely that they will enjoy this film. Without giving too much away, there are some scenes Spider-Man fans will get insanely excited about. There is an equal amount of frustrating elements and Spider-Man stories that have been mutilated or underdeveloped. Watch for Venom, however, because he is pretty awesome.


Unoriginal and Bland: Lonely Hearts

Lonely Hearts
Directed by Todd Robinson
Released April 13, 2007

"Lonely Hearts" is the story of two cops in pursuit of a vicious pair of con artists who earn the nickname the "Lonely Hearts Killers." The story is interesting to be sure, but the film brings nothing new to the table. It is a generally unexciting hour and 48 minutes which feels dated, but not in a stylistic way, rather in a boring and trite fashion.

John Travolta gives a terribly unenthusiastic performance as deadbeat cop Elmer C. Robinson, the lead investigator on the Lonely Hearts Killers case whose family life is in serious trouble after the mysterious suicide of his wife. James Gandolfini gives a decent enough performance in a boring role as Robinson's partner Charles Hildebrandt. The killers themselves are less than convincing. Jared Leto is very jumpy and a bit over-the-top as Ray Fernandez, the seducer who cheats women out of their fortunes. Salma Hayek is awful, and often funny by accident, as Fernandez's partner-in-crime, Martha Beck. Scott Caan has an unimportant but occasionally entertaining performance as obnoxious cop Reilly. The film is not terribly worthwhile, but it is by no means a very bad film.


Moving and Powerful: Snow Cake

Snow Cake
Directed by Marc Evans
Released April 27, 2007

Alan Rickman stars as a just-released ex-con who gives a lift to an overly chatty girl, a decision which will affect his life more than he could have predicted. The film is profound yet simple, nicely shot and well-directed. The complex relationships between characters in the film are developed in a subtle way which heightens the effect of the film.

Alan Rickman gives a tremendous, understated performance as Alex, the conflicted ex-con trying to resolve his troubled life. Sigourney Weaver is very good as Linda, the autistic mother who cannot grieve appropriately. Carrie-Anne Moss is seductive and well-suited for the relatively insignificant role of Linda's next-door neighbor Maggie. Overall, the film is an affecting dramatic experience.