Friday, October 28, 2005

Kiss Kiss, Bang, Bang - Movie Review

Kiss Kiss, Bang, Bang - 2005

What to do with a movie that is too clever for its own good? Dislike it? Well, no. Love it? Certainly not. Recommend it to our legions of fans? That’s a tough decision. With Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, we found ourselves smiling uncontrollably at the smart dialogue and audacious first half, and then like a bucket of cold water thrown upon us after a three day bender, we were yanked unmercifully from our moviegoing daze and found ourselves checking our watches at the midpoint. Never a good sign.

The things we enjoyed most - sadly happened in the first ten minutes. From the cringe inducing childhood prank gone wrong opening sequence, to the James Bondian inspired opening credits (which for you know nothings includes the title itself) we thought we would be in for a wonderful ride. But like those haunted house rides to be found at neighborhood carnivals, we felt cheated upon release. The set-up is fairly simple, petty crook finds himself running from the police after an amateur heist that goes horribly amuck, straight into the arms of an open audition for a cop flick. He lands the audition due to his unintentional method appropriateness and finds himself in Hollywood, rubbing tanned elbows with the D-listers. Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer head the cast . . . please compose yourselves and no, we are not typing this in 1987. And for all its shortcomings and premature ejaculations, Downey and Kilmer are a treat to see on the big screen after both their careers took nose dives for various reasons. Newcomer, Michelle Monaghan, most recently seen in “North Country” plays the de rigeur neo-noir heroine to the former star duo. Miss Monaghan gamely gives the role her all, while never exactly setting the screen on fire. She should be proud of her work, but should not be clearing any space on her mantle for any acting awards. Ever. Hey, there’s always porn.

The film also features Corbin Bernsen. Now, we’ve gone and done it. You’ll never believe we’re not in 1987 now. Well, all we can say is that clearly we are in present day Hollywood, which you can tell from the incredibly snarky and postmodernish dialogue that is initially very entertaining but like most things postmodern, quickly derails itself due to its veneer only appeal and dog-chasing-its-tail attempts at one upping the previous scene.

This saddens us, since many of the jokes are quite good, and the director Shane Black seems to be reveling in his chop socky editing and Hitchcock meets Tarentino plot devices. Downey is truly one of the most underused actors of his generation. We suppose he was too busy snorting candle wax up his nostrils to worry about his career, and then watching Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and Sean Penn earn Oscar nominations and accolades for their performances from his prison cell as he was blowing the guards in exchange for a pack of Luckies. More is the pity for us moviegoers, since we know from his very good turns in everything from “Less Than Zero” to his own Oscar nominated interpretation of the great Charlie in Richard Attenborough’s “Chaplin.” Val Kilmer is a bit more of a conundrum.

While we have genuine love for his thick lipped charm early in his career in such silly flicks as “Top Secret! and “Real Genius”, his own acting career never seemed to catch up to his tabloid fodder lifestyle. Even the master of overhyped success, Oliver Stone failed to find a suitable script for his most brilliant portrayal, as Jim Morrison in “The Doors.” It’s too bad, since Kilmer was perfect for the role, but we suppose throwing Meg Ryan into the mix doomed that movie to its ultimately deserved failure.
Back to “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” - we are hesitant to go into too much detail since this is a film that relies heavily on plot twists, complications, surprises, trick endings, we hope you’re getting the picture you mouthbreathers. And if you’re not, this might be the perfect movie for you, since the metafiction narration fairly leaps off the screen and jogs over to your seat to backhand you senseless with plot point clarifications. At least they are blessedly jaded as ourselves, and not just redundant and insulting to our collective intelligence. We understand that first time director Shane Black is most famous for penning “Lethal Weapon” and “Last Action Hero”. No wonder he’d been away from Tinsletown for a few years. We actually feel we should commend him more for not embarrassing himself completely with his feature film directorial debut. But sadly, he is merely rehashing more interesting work done by others. It is clear that all the folks responsible were dead set on entertaining us by throwing everything at us including the kitchen sink, sofa bed and tractor trailer. We won’t ask for their immediate arrest and execution since a few of the household goods did land on their appointed targets. It is simply a case of too much, too little, too meta for their own good. Still we will grin and toss off a hand wave to all concerned for their efforts.

So, in closing you could spend your hard earned pennies on worse films . . . just don’t start pointing the fingers at us if you go and emerge unsatisfied . . . Bless you all!

Written and Directed by Shane Black
Based in part on the novel by Brett Halliday

Robert Downey Jr. as Harry Lockhart
Val Kilmer as Gay Perry
Michelle Monaghan as Harmony Faith Lane
Corbin Bernsen as Harlan Dexter
Larry Miller as Dabney Shaw
Indio Falconer Downey as Harry Age 9

Cinematography by Michael Barrett
Costume Design by Christopher J. Kristoff
Film Editing by Jim Page
Original Music by John Ottman
Production Design by Aaron Osborne

The Squid & The Whale - Movie Review

The Squid & The Whale - 2005

Relax people; it isn’t a biopic about Rosie McDonnell and her lover. Although, it is set in Park Slope, Brooklyn. In 1986 to be precise. Why? We have no idea. There are however, some clever attempts at disguising the contemporary neighborhood in order to avoid any overages in their budget – a budget that we can only assume was $30.00, and clearly they spent $25.00 of that on lunch. Not on the script. No, this little handmade flick is the brainchild of one Noah Baumbach, whose previous work includes “Kicking and Screaming”, which we felt like doing at many points throughout the flick. Baumbach, for those in the know, is the scion of former Village Voice film critic Georgia Brown and novelist / critic Jonathan Baumbach. He is also married to actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. We wish he had filmed Thanksgiving dinner with the family, in lieu of making us sit thru this bargain basement “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” What we’re left with is more like “Who’s Afraid of Jodi Picoult?”

Now, we have nothing against “Independent Films” . . . well, okay we do. But why? You ask. Well we’ll tell you. If we had to add up the hours we have wasted withering away in darkened movie houses being subjected to some wannabe auteur’s visualization of his middle class upbringing, we’d barely have time to wash out our Slenderalls®. “The Squid & The Whale” tells the mundane tale of two boys who are facing their parents breakup. Take a number, kids. We’ve all been there. And we’ve got one or two tales that would curl your short hairs.

The boys are played respectively by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline, and the parents are interpreted by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney. Those casting choices should clearly alert you that we are not talking major motion picture here. Now, before you get your panties all bunched up, we have nothing against Jeff Daniels. Over the years, we have enjoyed his turns in everything from “Terms of Endearment”, “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, “Pleasantville” to the recent “Good Night, and Good Luck.” And to be fair, here he is given the choice role of the group. He portrays a onetime critically acclaimed author, who over the years has seen his fortune spiral down, and is now coasting on the remnants of his brief fame teaching writing classes to oversexed students. One student in question is played by Anna Paquin, who you will no doubt remember as Rogue in the X-Men” movie franchise. Okay, she also won an Oscar at the ripe old age of 12 for her Supporting turn in Jane Campion’sThe Piano.” We actually like little Miss Paquin, but we are growing a tad weary of her Lolita like turns that she is chalking up quickly.

But, back to the leads. Jeff Daniels is by far the stand out playing the embittered writer who cannot imagine why everybody around him fails to realize his own genius. With the exception of his eldest son, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who is the brother of that annoying little twat from the Pepsi® commercials of the 90’s, Hallie Kate Eisenberg. But we digress. Jesse’s character idolizes his father and has grown to detest his mother. And since she is played by Laura Linney, we can’t blame him. Okay, we enjoyed her prickly Oscar nominated performance in “You Can Count On Me”, but we dumped her faster than a bad oyster after her Lady Macbeth rant in “Mystic River”. [It’s gonna take a whopper of a performance to bring us back in to the fold, Laura, so start reading some better scripts, bitch.]

The youngest son is fairly nondescript, except to say that he resembles Michelle Shocked (enough with the lesbian references!) – and since he is the real life offspring of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, that seems just about right. So, junior here is the “sensitive one”, and he seems to be hit the hardest by his parents break up. So how does he act out? He enjoys jacking off in public spaces and then rubbing his mini spooge on library books, locker doors, handrails, yoga mats, oscillating fans, spice racks, grave sites, you get the picture. He also likes pounding back the beers and whisky when his parents aren’t watching. And they aren’t watching at all. Daddy is trying his best to slip Anna Paquin the Squid, meanwhile, the Whale - Laura Linney has apparently been busy fucking any available man in the neighborhood. Which is quite a feat, considering the rugmunching heavy milieu. So, the producers decided to settle and cast William Baldwin as her latest paramour, who in a Dickensian twist of fate is also . . . drumroll . . .the boys’ tennis coach!!!! NO!!! Wow, we did not see that one coming when he was introduced early on . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

And when we say William Baldwin, yes, we mean of the Baldwin clan. Specifically the least talented Baldwin brother, although admittedly it’s a close call between this one and Stephen the Buswreck. Yup, the star of “Sliver” and “Backdraft is cast in the role of a former tennis pro, siderailed by a leg injury. Maybe in William’s next film, he can be siderailed by a decapitation. It could only improve his acting skills.

This flick has been catching a lot of attention as of late, and we have to ask why? Yes, Daniels and Linney are able bodied actors, and the kids are used to good advantage. Perhaps our fellow critics are starved for something that resembles drama. Well, they are foolish. They would be better off going to repeat viewings of Capote and A History of Violence”, then spending their time on this. We were very disappointed with “The Squid & The Whale.” We had read some glowing reviews and were all set to see a modern dissection of a failed marriage between literary types. What we got instead was a glorified “ABC After School Special”, that attempted to bring so much meaning to such an overworked subject. So, if you’re looking for the answer to the age old question: “Who’s Afraid of Jodi Picoult?” We all are, George, we all are.

A stylistic note to the director: By now, we have grown completely inured to the brain tilting nausea that can be induced by a hand held camera. Most directors use it sparingly, as it does nothing but call attention to the direction, and in this case that is not a good thing. And no, your petit homage to Jean-Luc Godard’sÀ Bout de Souffle”, didn’t earn you any bonus points. Back to film school with you, you tard.

Written and Directed by Noah Baumbach

Jeff Daniels as Bernard Berkman
Laura Linney as Joan Berkman
Jesse Eisenberg as Walt Berkman
Owen Kline as Frank Berkman
Anna Paquin as Lili
William Baldwin as Ivan

Cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman
Costume Design by Amy Westcott
Film Editing by Tim Streeto
Production Design by Anne Ross
Art Direction by Jennifer Dehghan
Original Music by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips

Saturday, October 22, 2005

North Country - Movie Review

North Country 2005

Ah, Charlize Theron. Oscar winner,

stunning beauty,

and fuck buddies with Stuart Townsend.

But is she happy? Bitch better be. And after having seen her latest performance in "North Country", we certainly are. We’ll be honest. We had our doubts. From the previews alone, the marketing mooks at Warner Bros. made it seem like this would be “Silkwood-meets-Coal Miner’s Daughter.” But our faith in Miss Theron’s acting chops (we said it first, year’s ago, this gal had what it takes to be an Oscar winner, and we were right, so there . . . nyah!), the fine supporting cast, and most importantly in the talent and taste of the director, Niki Caro. For those of you living under a rug, Niki Caro directed the very fine coming of age story “Whale Rider”, which featured the in-fucking-credible acting debut of one thirteen year old Keisha Castle-Hughes who bowled us over with her screen presence and emotional powerhouse acting skills. And managed to snag a Best Actress nomination in the process, making her the youngest lead actress nominee in Academy history! Good for you, Keisha! She lost the Oscar. To Charlize Theron in “Monster.” Good for you, Charlize!

Back to the flick at hand. By now, you probably know that “North Country” spins a yarn set in a mythical time called 1989, about a northern Minnesota mining town, a down on her luck tramp who follows her father’s footsteps and begins to work at the mine, gets treated like a bucket of day ole shit by the good ole boys and decides to fight the man by launching a class action sexual harassment lawsuit against the mining company. And if that were all to the story, you’d be better off staying home and watching repeats of “Charmed.” Thanks be to the Cinema Gods that with Niki Caro at the helm, and her solid A-list line up of actors we are all in for a treat. First of all, Miss Caro is the real deal. She not only knows her way around a director’s chair, she has the innate cinematic flair that cannot be taught at film school. This is not some dull courtroom drama, neither is it some boring “message movie" that bludgeons us over the head until we are ready to cave in like a dimestore junkie begging for release. This movie earns its stirring “courtroom dramatics” ending by taking the time to portray the characters as human beings, choosing their battles cautiously, and only finding the courage to stand up for themselves when they are unable to withstand any further degradation. We like how Miss Caro casually drops in the famous contemporary Anita Hill testimonials, not so much as a source of inspiration for Charlize’s character, but rather as a background image to help frame the action. Charlize’s character, Josey is aware that the cultural landscape is changing, and the fact that she and a few fellow miners are women should not prevent them from enjoying a harassment free work zone. The director and screenwriter are to be applauded for addressing the issue of sexual harassment without making it a diatribe. These are coal miners we are speaking of. Not dance instructors. We don’t expect them to be gentlemanly or gallant. Their workplace is an extension of their manliness, and they clearly are threatened by any little woman who dares to enter their boys club, and unfortunately for the ladies in question and themselves they do not choose valor as the better part of discretion. We have always marveled at how easily most people defend sexual harassment as “boys being boys”, when the true question should be, are they still human beings? At what point does expressing your masculinity entitle you to shit all over someone? Literally. Pretty much never in our opinion. Unless you're into that sort of thing. Ew.

Charlize Theron has really grown into her own as an actress. She was always better than her material, gamely playing the girlfriend, the neglected wife, the monkey’s toy, until some brave producers threw her a bone and tossed her a bona fide ringer with her no holds barred, eyeliner tossed to wind portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster”. Yes, she gained the extra weight, and disappeared under the make-up, but more importantly she immersed herself completely in the fleshy skin of a vile character. The effectiveness of “Monster” lay not in its “pretty-young-starlet-goes-gritty” hat trick; it brought home the gold by revealing the ugly truths of the evil we are capable of. And honestly, who hasn’t wanted to plug some john in the balls with their Colt .45 after getting date raped? Fess up, ladies. We certainly have. Charlize proved to cinemagoers and critics alike that she was a force to be reckoned with. And with “North Country”, she is allowed to take on the strongest female lead thus far this year. Let’s face it, if this year’s Oscars had to rely on strong female leads for their five nominees, we’d be rethinking Scarlett Johansson in “The Island.” (Here’s hoping the next two months bring us some solid competition, or it’s gonna be another bleak year for the gals.) Charlize manages yet again to get under the skin of a less than glamorous role, but she does it with less overt fanfare than her previous award winner. Here she plays a woman with limited means, who wants nothing more than a good job to help feed her two kids, and allow her the financial freedom to stand on her own two feet and not have to rely on her family or god forbid, her abusive lout of a husband. Being the daughter of a miner, she understands that she is entering a male dominated blue collar world, but she is willing to brave that for the sake of her children. Frances McDormand portrays her friend, Glory, herself a woman who “drive truck” in the mines and alerts her to the dangers within. Glory is living with the ever so hunky Sean Bean, last seen soothing Jodie Foster’s frayed nerves in “Airport ’05.” While Glory may be the tough old broad who’s seen it all, she is not without her own difficult hurdles to overcome. We won’t reveal her sidestory, because its effectiveness would be ruined. Suffice to say, the ever reliable Frances should consider herself a prime candidate for another Best Supporting Actress nomination for her solid turn.

The Academy might want to clear two more slots on their ballots come this winter, ‘cause Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins as Charlize’s parents do wonders with their brief moments onscreen. We wish that Sissy’s role had been fleshed out a tad more, but with an actress of this caliber, she supplies the character’s backstory so naturally and so effectively it seems greedy of us to ask.
Richard Jenkins is a revelation in this part. Viewers will know him instantly from HBO’s “Six Feet Under, wherein he played the deceased patriarch Nathaniel Fisher. Sharp eyed moviegoers will also place him for his hilarious turn as the accidental LSD prank victim and gay cop in “Flirting With Disaster.” Neither role prepared us for his moment of glory in front of his fellow miners and union members in a crucial confrontation scene seen here. Good for you, Dick! The only actor we feel that was truly underused was Woody Harrelson as Josey’s lawyer. It’s not that he is bad, it’s simply that he is capable of so much more. But why quibble Sibyl? With so many things going right in this movie, we’ll lie down, spread our legs and take one for the team. We’re generous that way.

Kudos and plaudits are also in order for the cinematography by two time Oscar winning Chris Menges. This sometime director must be credited for his contribution to the overall feel of the industrial winter landscapes which are eerily beautiful, but never cross the line into picture postcard blandness. We also enjoyed the fine music score by one Gustavo Santaolalla, whose previous work includes Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Amores Perros and 21 Grams”, in addition to his brilliant score to Walter Salles’ “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Bravo, Gustavo! (Side note: We loved all three of those movies, especially the two that featured our future husband, Gael García Bernal! Pant, pant, drool, drool.)

So, what on earth on you waiting for? Go out today, and buy yourselves tickets to go see “North Country.” It’ll be one less flick to cross of your Oscar list in a couple of months. You heard it here first, kids. Now, please leave us alone so we can have some quality time Gael. Bless you all!
Directed by Niki Caro
Screenplay by Michael Seitzman
Inspired by the book “Class Action: The Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law,” by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler.

Charlize Theron as Josey Aimes
Frances McDormand as Glory
Sissy Spacek as Alice Aimes
Richard Jenkins as Hank Aimes
Woody Harrelson as Bill White
Sean Bean as Kyle
Thomas Curtis as Sammy Aimes

Cinematography by Chris Menges
Film Editing by David Coulson
Costume Design by Cindy Evans
Original Music by Gustavo Santaolalla
Production Design by Richard Hoover
Art Direction by Gregory S. Hooper

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio - Movie Review

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio 2005

After the cinematic abortion of “In Her Shoes”, we were none to keen on having to go see another alleged “Heartwarming” tale, especially one that centered on a lower income family with ten children, whose father is a raging drunk and whose mother spends the time signing up for Corporate Product jingle contests.

Is the greenlight in Hollywood stuck? Has someone checked the fuse box? But then we happened to read some reviews. A couple of really good reviews. All of them showering praise on the lead actress, Julianne Moore and the inventive direction by writer / director Jane Anderson. Jane, you might remember did a similarly “based on a true story” of another gutsy real life mom on TV a few years back: “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom.” Although that mom, savagely portrayed by Holly Hunter was not quite as nice as the mom in this flick.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” is that rare film going experience. A stylized comedy / drama that earns every one of its belly laughs and crocodile tears. And trust us, this one will make you break out the hanky. We were sobbing like a Sicilian widow by the end. But, we have managed to compose ourselves in time to write up our review.

First and foremost. There is one reason to go see this movie. Julianne Moore!! Moore, Moore, Moore!!!! This bitch has almost never let us down. (We won’t speak about that dead missing kid movie, we feel like we just saw it with Jodie Foster a few weeks back.) Now, the four time Oscar nominated star who managed to snag two of her noms for portraying 1950’s era housewives is about to complete the Trifecta. We hope. For the sake of the Academy, ‘cause if not, well let’s just say we’ve always had itchy trigger fingers and we hate to waste good ammo. But back to Miss Moore. The acting chops this broad has! While this film may provide jokesy fodder for the next lame ass host of the Oscars, they should have some respect for any actress that can play three pent up mid-century matrons and somehow manage to make each of them a distinct person. How do you keep doing it, Julianne? You are a real treasure for moviegoers. Quick quiz: Let’s play “Name the Julianne-50’s-housewife-stuck-in-a-rut-movie

Give up? Well, we’ll tell you. (From top to bottom) “Far From Heaven”, 50’s housewife married to hot gay husband and schtupping black gardener. “The Hours”, 50’s housewife married to schlub and battling depression. “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio”, 50’s housewife married to paunchy drunk and raising 10 kids on spare change. The paunchy drunk is portrayed by Woody Harrelson, who so impressed us years ago with his over the top and powerful portrayal of porn magnate Larry Flynt in Milos Forman’sThe People vs. Larry Flynt.” (Go rent it now!) Here, the bong-hitter is saddled with the thankless task of parlaying the villain of the piece. He succeeds nobly. Also helping out our heroine are Laura Dern as a fellow housefrau who makes up catchy jingles, and a horde of adolescent and child actors who have been engaged to portray the brood over the depicted decades.

Stand outs include Ellary Porterfield as their daughter, Tuff who ends up being the writer of the memoir that inspired this film. Also of note are three hot young twinks playing three of the boys. Anybody have Robert Clark’s phone number? Slurp.

As for the writer / director Jane Anderson. We are now fans. She treads a fine line between TV commercial inspired montages and fantasy elements to the real horror of domestic violence and abuse. She also knows that a good belly laugh will help assuage the pain of viewing a family dangerously close to losing everything at a moment’s notice. This film earns its yuks, in direct contrast to “In Her Shoes” which casually tossed out one-liners that failed miserably. While some may argue that the portrait of the father needs more fleshing out to help us understand why the mother would stay with him, we counter with this. What exactly were her options? Believe it or not, gentle readers. There was a time not so long ago that women were indeed trapped by their financial situation, societal pressure to marry and reproduce, or shamed into subservience by their religious institutions. Shocking, no? We think one scene in particular spoke hilariously and succinctly to the point at hand. As the family watches a beauty pageant on TV, one of the dimwitted contestants is questioned about the possibility of a female president. Her response? She would not vote for a woman because women are too high strung and nervous. Nice. Tell that to Julianne’s character as she saves pennies, manages her husband’s drunken rages, raises ten children almost single handedly, and still keeps her household sparkling clean.

While some moments may be hard to bear, we were chewing our nails to the nub in one tense scene when Julianne debates eating her own child.

(Okay, we’re kidding.) But the balancing act that La Moore pulls off when she is fighting bravely to keep her emotions in check for the sake of her family is astounding to watch. Julianne. You are a living legend. We bow down and lick her heels. We love you and are rooting for you come awards time. Brava!

What the hell are you waiting for? Go spend your hard earned dough on one of the most enjoyable and emotional films of the year! You’ll be glad we sent you. And don’t forget to bring your hankies with you. Bless you all!

Written and Directed by Jane Anderson
Based on the book by Terry Ryan

Julianne Moore as Evelyn Ryan
Woody Harrelson as Kelly Ryan
Laura Dern as Dortha Schaefer
Ellary Porterfield as Tuff Ryan
Robert Clark as Dick Ryan
Trevor Morgan as Bruce Ryan

Cinematography by Jonathan Freeman
Film Editing by Robert Dalva
Costume Design by Hala Bahmet
Original Music by John Frizzell
Production Design by Edward T. McAvoy
Art Direction by Andrew M. Stearn

Good Night, and Good Luck. - Movie Review

Good Night, and Good Luck. 2005

Once, not so long ago there was a Republican President in the White House, a conservative creep had crawled across the collective social landscape, and censorship was threatening to beat down our civil liberties like an unsatisfied john sucker punching a comatose whore. The time was 1954. The place was the good ole U.S. of A. And the conservative creep was one junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy. You see kids, some fifty years ago, the American citizenry had their girdles riding high over the fear of Communism sweeping their land, forcing their children to wear matching uniforms and sharing their Jell-O® with the less fortunate. Simply put, they didn’t like folks that weren’t supporting their President, had opposing viewpoints, or were too damn smart for their own good. These criminals were clearly all card carrying Communists, and they had to be sought out, questioned and done away with.

And then some smarmy New York City journalist stopped short, and said: “Hey! I don’t think so!” That big city Commie-lover was Edward R. Murrow. A celebrated pioneer in the “new” medium of television who felt that Freedom of Speech and the right to chain smoke six packs a day was the real backbone of America. And God Damn it! He was right! (Well, left. Whatever.)

Now, our good pal, Georgy Peorgy Clooney has gone all NYU Film School grad artsy director on us, and produced a black-and-white homage to this infamous battle of the talking heads that helped bring down the “Witch Hunts” of the McCarthy era. G.P. (as we’ll refer to him from now on) has assembled a wonderful cast of big names, little names, familiar faces and even threw in a Jazz Diva to help spin an entertaining primer into the politics of persuasion. His sophomore directorial effort is called: Good Night, and Good Luck.” This was of course, Murrow’s famous closing tagline on his shows. We applaud our G.P. for his gumption, his guile and his incredibly sexy lips which look even more impressive in good lighting and on the big screen! (Oh, G.P.! The things we would like to do to you!)

The film does a wonderful job of framing the action with Murrow’s legendary speech to a room filled with TV news types in 1958. A speech wherein he donkey punched the crowd for supporting television that was “being used to detract, delude, amuse and insulate us.” Way to bite the hand that lit your cigarette, Eddie! But it works. From the first scene, we know that Murrow is clearly a stubbornly principled man who was willing to stir up the pot in order to get his message across. From here, we flashback to 1954, and Murrow’s team deciding on topics for future shows. They choose to go with a story about a military man who was thrown out of the armed services for his father’s alleged ties to Communism. These allegations were never detailed, nor did the soldier ever receive a trial and this just burns Edward. It forces him to smoke at least three ciggies before he decides the next big fish to gut should be Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy. Supported by his producer chum, portrayed by the delectable G.P. himself, Murrow does his homework and portrays the Senator as the bloated, pompous fool he is by showing damaging clips from the donkey’s own mouth. The war is on. CBS top man, William S. Paley, portrayed elegantly and powerfully by Frank Langella is willing to support Murrow only so far, as long as the ratings are there and they can manage to avoid a full out attack by H.U.A.C.

And while non of this may seem that exciting or cinematic on the written page, well then, neither did “All the President’s Men” or “The Contender.” Both of those political intrigue flicks share a similar bond with “Good Night, and Good Luck.” They attempt to represent the values of character and nobility fighting a government that would be happier ignoring intellectual debates, hoping to find supporters that merely tow the line. This kind of sounds familiar, but for the life of us, we just can’t put our finger on it. Anyway, the cinematography is wonderfully atmospheric, black-and-white instantly kicking us back decades. (Since, as you all know, color didn’t exist until 1990.) The art direction and set decoration capture the feel of the CBS newsrooms, and the costume design recreates all the high waisted slacks, and streamlined skirts of the period brilliantly. Patricia Clarkson in particular looks ravishing! Dianne Reeves, less so. But then, we were never fans of the short crinkly do that black woman wore in those days. We suppose the gals hadn’t yet discovered a good hair weave. Shame, it coulda helped. But Diva Reeves needs absolutely no help in the singing department. G.P. uses her as a scene palette cleanser, belting out standards that tie in beautifully to the text, and steeping us in the period. A stand out is her interpretation of “How High the Moon”, man that bitch can sing! (Go out now and buy the soundtrack, chock full of great tunes.)

Kudos are in order to other cast members: Robert Downey Jr. as Patricia Clarkson’s clandestine husband (Apparently it was CBS law that no married couples could work together – hell, we think most shouldn’t even live together!) Tate Donovan (yes, him . . . former Jennifer Aniston fuck buddy) and Tom McCarthy (no relation to the villain of the piece . . . but still an awesomely talented actor / writer / director who charmed the panties off us two years ago with his major directorial debut, “The Station Agent.” Which, if you will remember featured another brilliant performance by Patricia Clarkson - go rent it NOW!!!

There are other familiar faces and perfectly cast character actors in the piece, but the one that took our breath away - twice no less, is Ray Wise. Most of you will know him from his maniacally twisted performance as Laura Palmer’s father in the “Twin Peaks” television show / feature film franchise. God. We miss that show. Come back, Log Lady, come back! Anywho, Mr. Wise hits the bullseye with his portrayal of a CBS anchorman who idolizes Murrow, but cannot escape his own private “witch hunt.”

Quibblers might complain that the use of archive footage of Senator McCarthy disrupts the flow of the film, but we wholeheartedly disagree. By using extended clips from the Senate committee hearings, we get a feel for the outrageousness of the situation, along with the disgusting sweaty quality that the actual man exuded. We also get a glimpse into the atmosphere of fear that gripped the nation, the reptile hypocrisy of Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s chief counsel and personal ass licker and the famed bitchslap that shamed McCarthy courtesy of Special Counsel for the Army Joseph N. Welch.

“You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

So, in closing we would just like to add, that we really don’t see the connection between the McCarthy era and the Dubya era. But we really enjoyed the movie! Thanks, G.P.! We love you. We mean it! Call us! We encourage all who care about smart and sassy filmmaking to run out a buy a ticket, now! Just be sure that if you are a smoker, you beat at least three heaters prior to entering the lobby. And take a patch, gum and some chaw with you, ‘cause the folks onscreen average about seventeen smokes per second! Whew! We barely made it out of the theatre in time to light one up ourselves. And we apologize to the old woman we mowed down in front of the revolving door. Sorry, granny, but you were slowing us down. Bless you all!

Note: We thought we’d throw in this famous quote from Edward R. Murrow just for the hell of it. Again, absolutely no connection to the current administration.

“We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”

Directed by George Clooney
Written by George Clooney & Grant Heslov

David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow
George Clooney as Fred Friendly
Robert Downey Jr. as Joe Wershba
Patricia Clarkson as Shirley Wershba
Frank Langella as William Paley
Ray Wise as Don Hollenbeck
Jeff Daniels as Sig Mickelson
Tate Donovan as Jess Zousmer
Tom McCarthy as Palmer Williams
Grant Heslov as Don Hewitt
Alex Borstein as Natalie
Dianne Reeves as Jazz Singer

Film Editing by Stephen Mirrione
Cinematography by Robert Elswit
Costume Design by Louise Frogley
Production Design by James D. Bissell
Art Direction by Christa Munro
Set Decoration by Jan Pascale

Friday, October 07, 2005

In Her Shoes - Movie Review

In Her Shoes 2005

Once upon a time . . . there were two sisters. One was fat. One was slutty. And they fought over shoes. They fought so hard over shoes, that the fat one threw the slutty one out of her home . . . well, really ‘cause she caught the whore fucking her hot new boyfriend, but shoes were part of it. The slut discovered that they had a grandmother they had never heard about. So she moved in with her. And they all lived happily ever after.

There. Aren’t you glad we spared you the time, money and effort it would have taken to actually go see this movie? WHAT?? You’re not? And you claim we ruined the movie for you? Well, guess what? There’s no Santa Claus either, you simple minded cunts. Now, listen here. Nobody was more excited about seeing this movie than we were. We love the director, Curtis Hanson, who helmed the intricately plotted and fabulously noir-ish “L.A. Confidential”, the underrated dramedy, “Wonder Boys”, containing – don’t faint – Michael Douglas’ best performance ever, and Eminem’s surprisingly believable and gripping debut in “8 Mile.

In Her Shoes” features three of our favorite actresses. Toni Collette, who had us with “Muriel’s Wedding”, and who we came to forgive for the overwrought and much over praised cinematic twaddle, “The Sixth Sense”. Although we are glad that it led to an Oscar nomination for Miss Collette, we will say it again: we don’t care if Bruce Willis’ character was dead. Clearly the audience was brain dead, if they didn’t realize it. Moving on.

Cameron Diaz, who has been a thorn in our side for awhile now. We thought she was terrific in “Being John Malkovich” and “Vanilla Sky”. The less said about some of her other credits, the better. But, we still had hope!

And of course, we have been fans of the grand dame, Shirley MacLaine since her debut in 1955 with Hitchcock’s wonderful black comedy, “The Trouble With Harry.” We think Shirley is underappreciated, despite her five Oscar nominations and win for 1983’s “Terms of Endearment.” So, knowing full well that good roles for actresses dried up around 1973, we were all set for a rollicking, good, estrogen laden time. And then we saw the movie.

Curtis. Curt. Bubbalah. You let us down. “L.A. Confidential”, “Wonder Boys” and “8 Mile.” We loved all three. And now this. This . . . chick flick is a phrase we detest, since it implies that films revolving around female characters are somehow less worthy than a . . . well, a dick flick. In this case, they would be right. Now before you start labeling us curmudgeons . . . well, go ahead. We don’t care. You don’t even know us, assholes. Let’s just put our cards on the table, shall we. We were rooting for this film. We are so sick of action adventure, and fart joke comedies, that we longed for an adult comedy / drama that allowed three talented actresses to stretch their skills and entertain us. Now, if only we had undergone a lobotomy, perhaps we would have enjoyed it.

First. The plot. What little there is. It’s Cinderella, people. “In Her Shoes.” Get it? And, oh wait, what is the last name of the characters played by Toni and Cameron? It’s “Feller”. Somewhere, Jerry Lewis is starting a lawsuit. If he can put down the fried chicken long enough. And, oh wait, what is the character name of Shirley MacLaine? It’s “Ella”. And oh yeah, Bruce Willis’ character in “The Sixth Sense” was D-E-A-D!!!!!! Fine, dandy. Steal from Fairy Tales, it worked for some people. Here? Not so much. Apparently the toilet paper thin plot was lifted from some book. Well, author Jennifer Weiner (unfortunate last name, poor thing) and screenwriter, Susannah Grant should be bitch slapped twenty times each for undercutting the audience’s intelligence, and relying on the oldest of standbys. The quoting of a celebrated poet to wring tears where none are deserved. Twice in this film, we are led to believe that the idiot sister, played by Cameron, who is too dimwitted to know that her twat is hanging out has apparently become a connoisseur of Elizabeth Bishop and e.e. cummings. The poetry lessons are courtesy of a dying white haired old blind coot living in the old farts housing community where Granny Ella resides. Not since Denise Richards attempted to portray a doctor have we been less than convinced.

And yes, we know all about “suspension of disbelief.” But being forced to swallow Cameron’s character, who for most of the film was dressed in slutgear that Mariah Carey would have rejected, as an aspiring “stylist” to the geriatric crowd – well, not even our fabulous imaginations can stretch that far. Unless the retirement village that Grandma Shirley lives in is populated by retired porn stars. Then, maybe. There are so many moments of hand wringing shame in this movie, that let’s just say that the most sincere and interesting scene was when Toni’s latest beau playfully read aloud from a dime-store romance novel – and suddenly the dialogue DIDN’T seem trite or forced.

We are aiming most of our vitriol towards the novel and screenplay, since this is truly the source of all evil in this movie. The three leading ladies all try their best to fill out cardboard characters to varying degrees. Toni has been saddled with these fat sister roles too many times, she deserves better. Cameron may be able to slap on a bikini and tense her stomach muscles, but she ain’t stretching any acting ones here. And poor Shirley. We suppose there aren’t many script choices out there for an actress older than coal, but at least she manages to almost make her crusty old bitch somewhat believable. The most upsetting thing for us was Curtis Hanson’s involvement. He is still a talented director. Even slumping through a pile of shit scenario, he manages to weave the various reed thin plot points into a whole canvas. It’s just that his skill is so completely wasted on such trifle; we pray he hasn’t lost his mind. Honestly, if we had been forced to sit through such waste of celluloid onboard a plane, we would have gladly walked out.

So do yourselves a favor, skip this one. You’ll be glad we watched it for you. Bless you all!

Note: As if the ludicrous plot points weren’t enough to leave emotional scars, even the shoes in question are HIDEOUS!!! Jimmy Choo should sue. Lessening his brand value like that! For shame.

Directed by Curtis Hanson
Written by Susannah Grant
Based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner

Cameron Diaz as Maggie Feller
Toni Collette as Rose Feller
Shirley MacLaine as Ella Hirsch
Mark Feuerstein as Simon Stein
Brooke Smith as Amy
Ken Howard as Michael Feller

Cinematography by Terry Stacey
Film Editing by Lisa Zeno Churgin and Craig Kitson
Original Music by Mark Isham
Production Design by Dan Davis
Art Direction by Jesse Rosenthal, John Warnke & John Wildermuth Jr.
Set Decoration by Teresa Visinare
Costume Design by Sophie de Rakoff

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit - Movie Review

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit 2005

For those of you who have no bloody idea who Wallace & Gromit are, well clearly you don’t get out much. They spring from the fertile mind of Oscar winning animator, Nick Park. In a series of short films beginning with 1989s “Wallace & Gromit: A Grand Day Out”, lucky filmgoers were introduced to a balding, middle aged amateur inventor and his mute but brilliant dog. Wallace’s love of cheese was only exceeded by his social ineptitude. Gromit was the responsible one of the pair, who routinely saved his dimwitted master from doom by maneuvering thru hair-raising chases worthy of Harold Lloyd or the Keystone Cops at their finest. What really made the short films shine was the intricate plots, deadpan humor and cinematic direction. These were not just kiddies films. We are going to go so far as to say that the brilliant Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers” is perhaps the best Hitchcock tribute since the maestro himself. There. We said it. Now, go rent them!!!

The latest work from Nick Park and company, is “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”, and it’s a gem. Our stalwart heroes are now employed as pest control in their quiet British burg, finding themselves beset upon by a series of midnight raids on the townships pride and joy: their vegetable gardens. It seems that the local gentry are gearing up for the annual Giant Vegetable Competition, hosted by the Lady Campanula Tottington. Lady T, is a wonderful creation, voiced by the talented Helena Bonham Carter. Her suitor, the dastardly villain of the piece is Victor Quartermaine, and he is brilliantly brought to life by Ralph Fiennes in a voiceover performance that years ago would have belonged justly to John Cleese – but here, Mr. Fiennes pulls out all the stops to help shape a hilariously pompous twit. We didn’t know that Ralph had it in him! Lady Tottington calls upon the services of “Anti-Pesto”, run by W & G to help rid her garden of a multitude of rabbits. Using his latest invention, a sort of giant pump that airvacs the little critters safely into captivity, Wallace wins the heart of Lady T, much to the chagrin of her suitor, Victor. As the rabbits seem to keep multiplying, Wallace takes it upon himself to think up a plan to change their eating habits. What happens next . . . well, honestly, it’s really all part of the wonderful plot so we won’t spoil it for you. Suffice to say, it involves mind-control, Lycanthropy, angry mobs, and the aforementioned intricately plotted chase scenes that are joyous to behold.

So, do yourselves a favor and plop down the coinage to enjoy the latest Wallace & Gromit. You’ll be glad we sent you! Bless you all!

Note: Being the seasoned theatergoers that we are, we carefully chose our theatre to be almost free of children. Yes, we know that this movie might be viewed as a “kid’s movie”. But honestly, who wants to go see a movie in an auditorium filled with children? So, choose your viewing time wisely!

Directed by Nick Park & Steve Box
Written by Bob Baker, Steve Box, Mark Burton & Nick Park

Peter Sallis as Wallace
Helena Bonham Carter as Lady Campanula Tottington
Ralph Fiennes as Victor Quartermaine

Cinematography by Tristan Oliver and Dave Alex Riddett
Film Editing by David McCormick and Gregory Perler
Production Design by Phil Lewis