8/31/2007

The Dinner Game

Director: Francis Veber

“When you put a cat and a dog in the same bag and they end up friends, I like that very much.”
—Writer/Director Francis Veber as noted by New York Times writer Janet Maslin in a quotation from the LA Times

According to IMDB, before earning a Cesar Award for his performance as Francois Pignon (the recurring name given to fools in Veber’s work), the clueless, blundering but well-meaning and oddly lovable idiot, actor Jacques Villeret had portrayed him more than six hundred times in Veber’s play before it was transferred to film five years later.



Although the film is slated for a Dreamworks remake starring the star of Borat, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll be able to deftly capture the same delicate balance of comedy, drama and pathos as evidenced in this French comedy that at times, feels like a British stage farce.

While some stayed away from the richly comical Lionsgate picture due to its admittedly cruel set-up which has yuppie publisher Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) and his friends holding a weekly Wednesday dinner game where each are responsible for bringing their very own idiot and later, amongst themselves decide who had the “world champion” and is declared the winner, it’s not too far into the film before we realize that the tables will be turned on this wicked, smug, and privileged man.

After throwing his back out, Brochant’s night is topped off by his wife’s sudden announcement that she is leaving him and before he can reach Pignon to cancel, the IRS taxman, tricked into attending under the guise that Brochant intends to publish a book highlighting his hobby of replicating famous landmarks by way of intricate and time-consuming matchstick models, shows up at the apartment.

It’s not too long before Pignon, thinking he is helping his new “friend” deal with trying to get his wife back and cope with the physical agony of a spinal injury, manages to make an even grander mess of the entire situation with some wild and jaw-dropping funny bits of mistaken identity and phone calls that go horribly wrong. The mean-spirited premise is quickly overruled by comedy and the type of intriguing buddy comedy that John Hughes mastered with works like Planes, Trains and Automobiles which finds that the wealthy man who thinks he knew exactly how to live his life and felt superior to anyone in the least bit different than he is actually quite a dullard compared to the men he deems “idiots” and Pignon remains the most fascinating character in the piece.

Painful during the first viewing, like great uncomfortable comedy (similar to the type of humor in Meet the Parents or NBC’s The Office), it gets even more deliciously funny as we are able to fully appreciate the complexity without squirming as much on a second viewing. Highly recommended film that flies by in its eighty two minute running time—ordinarily, I’d say it’s a great one to share with friends, however, given the plot, they may wonder why you’re inviting them over for such an “impromptu” engagement.

Francis Veber



Factory Girl

Director: George Hickenlooper

To use Andy Warhol’s idea that everyone will have fifteen minutes of fame, I guess the release of Factory Girl marks the time for Edie Sedgwick’s fifteen minutes, although there’s no doubt that the Weinstein Company who produced the film was hoping for this one to be the work that launched actress Sienna Miller into the Oscar race with her memorable turn that will stay in the audience’s minds long after the final credits have rolled. Miller (Casanova) is wonderfully complex in her role—vulnerable yet fiercely dynamic in her portrayal of Warhol’s famous aspiring artist and It Girl who left her world of wealth and privilege in the 60’s to go to New York and echoing her favorite film heroine Holly Golightly, manages to fall in with a crowd that may be using her more than she’s using them, namely Warhol’s scene including his famous factory where he put Sedgwick in his experimental films and proclaimed her a “superstar.” However, the fast lifestyle and readily available drugs take their toll, causing the young beauty to lose her grip on reality and the film is structured with flashbacks from her 1970 Santa Barbara therapy sessions where she’s finally able to recall the earlier days, before her untimely death by drugs far too young. The DVD version of the film includes some powerful screen test footage of Miller (who was actually cast twice, only cemented in the role after her infamous relationship with Jude Law made Miller a paparazzi favorite) that will astound students of not only acting but film in general and it’s a pity that some of the scenes being read were left on the cutting room floor because they aid in our understanding of Edie’s character, back story and motivation. The film captures the sixties atmosphere very well and while an almost unrecognizable Guy Pearce (Memento, L.A. Confidential) is a bit too striking to play the homely Andy Warhol, he’s very good alongside Hayden Christensen (Shattered Glass and the new Star Wars films) who tries his best to make a one-dimensional role, seemingly inspired by Bob Dylan seem more realistic. Featuring fine turns from costars Jimmy Fallon (in a serious role), Mena Suvari, Edward Herrmann and Illeana Douglas, one still can’t help wondering what is true as it is pretty subjective and one sided. New York Times critic Stephen Holden summed it up as a “simplistic tug of war… for possession of Edie’s soul… Mr. Dylan is the God of authenticity and inner truth and Warhol the Devil of superficiality and glitter.” It will definitely attract lovers of great acting and it is fun for Warhol fans to see as maybe one in a marathon of biopics featuring the pop culture icon. However, in a way, it feels like a night at the factory—a lot of pomp and circumstance, hippie love, great music, with the over-abundance of drugs and strangely pretentious art and film projects occurring in the background—the kind of party where everyone’s invited, yet no one fits in, and one without a host in neither Warhol nor director Hickenlooper whose ambitious film turns into a circus a few more times than one would like.

The Third Wheel

Director: Jordan Brady

Dismissed in Peter Biskind’s book Down and Dirty Pictures—his opus about independent film, Sundance and Miramax-- as one of the garbage films done as a favor for friends and protégés of executive producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (after the success of Good Will Hunting made them Weinstein’s favorite stars), The Third Wheel actually turns out to be a pretty entertaining and refreshingly upbeat romantic comedy, devoid of the excessive toilet humor and over-the-top gross out jokes that seem to populate most of the offerings at the Cineplex such as Knocked Up or Along Came Polly. Although destined to collect dust on the shelves of neighborhood video stores that will no doubt carry the film due to the star power of leads Luke Wilson, Denise Richards, and Ben Affleck, it’s a cute movie that would make enjoyable Saturday night date fare for a nice evening in. Playing essentially a man similar to himself, Luke Wilson capitalizes on his nice guy image as average joe Stanley who, after a year of unrequited romantic love from afar finally works up the nerve to ask out his coworker Diana (Denise Richards), who fresh from breaking up with her latest boyfriend and charmed by his rehearsed joke (written on an index card) and the promise of a casual evening, impulsively accepts his date. Realizing he has one night to create the perfect evening, Stanley maps out the ideal activities of drinks, theatre and dinner, along with the help and good wishes of the rest of his office who are making side bets on the progress of the dates, all gathered at one apartment (getting updates via phone from coworker Ben Affleck and others), keeping track of Stanley and Diana’s every move as if they were horses at a track. Of course, the entire office serves as the “third wheel” but audiences are introduced to the real title character when Stanley accidentally crashes into a homeless man named Phil who, refusing to take a hint, tags along with the couple the entire evening as Stanley’s prefect plan gets jumbled up in the process. Although ultimately predictable, there are still some genuinely funny moments and the entire cast (including the film’s writer Jay Lacopo as Phil) along with Melissa McCarthy (Sookie on Gilmore Girls) and even a cameo by Matt Damon as Richards’s evil ex all make it watchable fun and we expect nothing more than an aimless diversion.

Off the Black

Director: James Pansoldt

First time feature filmmaker James Pansoldt’s moving yet depressing character study in the vein of Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester tells the story of Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan), a high school pitcher whose hopes of playing in the state finals are dashed when sad-sack umpire Ray Cook (Nick Nolte) calls the controversial last pitch of the game a ball instead of a strike as it was just off the black edge of home plate. Upset by the team’s elimination from competition, Dave and his friends pull an elaborate prank spreading toilet paper through the trees and vandalizing the ump’s place including breaking his car window. When Dave is caught in the act by Cook after he awakened from his drunken stupor, he settles the boy down to chat and figure out a reasonable way to make amends. Not really contented in his home life with a depressive father (Timothy Hutton) who has withdrawn into himself since his mother left two years ago, leaving Dave to care for his younger sister whom he chauffeurs to and from school, Dave returns the next day to the ump’s home to clean up the mess. After striking up an agreement to rectify the vandalism, Dave finds himself propositioned by the umpire, (whom audiences quickly learn is terminally ill) to pretend to be his son at his fortieth high school reunion. Soon, they’re spending more time together—not quite the high quality cliched time we’re used to in the genre, however this film makes it a bit more believable that the lost souls would bond although admittedly there are plot strands that go nowhere such as Dave’s flirtation with an older single diabetic mother and of course, his dysfunctional home life. It’s a sad film overall, yet it makes a wonderful showcase for Nolte that earned him and the film much critical praise.

The Darwin Awards

Director: Finn Taylor

Defined online and in reviews for writer/director Finn Taylor's most recent celebration of eccentricity, “The Darwin Awards salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally kill themselves in really stupid ways.” A bizarre premise for a comedy, no doubt but one that’s unexpectedly and surprisingly entertaining and not nearly as mean-spirited as the idea of the awards themselves as we meet our main character, Michael Burrows (Joseph Feinnes), a San Francisco Police Department forensic detective who faints at the sight of blood and finds himself kicked off the force after the “North Beach Killer” (Tim Blake Nelson) escapes in his custody. With an annoying mostly off-screen film student documenting his every move and preoccupied with finding something new to obsess over, the highly cautious Burrows (who Monk fans will instantly find themselves drawn in by) begins compiling detailed information about the various Darwin winners. He applies for work at an insurance office and is given a thirty day trial assignment, traveling along with tough, skeptical insurance claims inverstigator Siri (Winona Ryder) to look at some of the more ridiculous deaths in order to identify the “X factor” to try and prevent more Darwin accidents from occurring. Surprisingly involving and ultimately about trying to ignore risk and live life to the fullest, it’s easy to get hooked from the opening minutes. Filled with witty dialogue and off-the-wall humor that those familiar with Taylor’s work (Dream With Fishes, Cherish) will instantly recognize, Taylor regulars and excellent supporting players turn up for bit parts including David Arquette, Josh Charles, Judah Friedlander, Lukas Haas, Juliette Lewis, Julianna Marguiles, Alessandro Nivola, Chris Penn (sadly in his last screen role), D.B. Sweeney, Robin Tunney, rockers Metallica and legendary Beat poet and City Lights bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

The Ex

Director: Jesse Peretz

After he is fired from his job during a food fight in a New York City kitchen and his beautiful brainy wife leaves her breadwinning career as an attorney to become a full time mother to their new baby Oliver, Tom (Zach Braff) and Sofia (Amanda Peet) return to the Ohio community where she grew up. Greeted with a gaudy furniture set from her eager parents Amelia and Bob (Mia Farrow and Charles Grodin in his first film in over a decade), Tom is given a job at Bob’s advertising agency Sunburst. As if working for his father-in-law isn’t bad enough, Tom quickly learns that the mentor to whom he’s been assigned is his wife’s ex boyfriend from her high school cheerleading days, Chip Sanders (Jason Bateman), who still seems to carry a torch for the girl that got away. To complicate matters, on his first day at the strange surroundings where employees who make errors have to write down their apologies on a yellow pad (in an idea taken from the Japanese) and Tom learns how to throw an imaginary “Yes” ball to coworkers to make sure they’re all in synch (which all corporate cubicle slaves will chuckle at), he is told he will be the “Macchio” to Chip’s Miyagi in their Karate Kid styled training. It’s only after he mistakenly hurls the “Yes” ball to Chip too far (which in itself is ironic as it’s invisible) that Tom realizes that Chip is paralyzed from the waist down and wheelchair bound. Skating on Farrelly brothers territory in daring to use a disability in a comedic way, (and as a reviewer I do take strong objection to using disability for cheap laughs), however the film turns out not to be all that offensive as Bateman becomes increasingly creepy and sneaky in his dealings with Tom that culminate in some hilarious, shocking confrontations complete with an earned twist at the end provided by first time screenwriting team David Guion and Michael Handelman that helps make all that came before it a little easier to sit with. In addition, throughout the film, it’s repeatedly stated that Chip’s personality is what is insane rather than the chair itself as he tries to drive a wedge between Tom and Sofia and rekindle the flame. As a romantic triangle piece there are a few funny moments indeed but The Ex is at its best when ridiculing life at work that should hit home with most viewers in regards to some of the condescending team building and game playing that occurs in corporate America. In fact, afterwards, when I learned from IMDB that the film was initially called Fast Track, I felt that if they’d completely stuck with the Office Space styled idea, it would’ve been a little less uneven in places. This being said, it’s still a very funny and amusingly clever little film with excellent performances by the entire cast (especially Bateman who uses his Arrested Development skills to great effect here) and well worth the rental.

WiseGirls

Director: David Anspaugh

Without an American theatrical distributor, possibly due to the involvement of Glitter star Mariah Carey, Hoosiers and Rudy director David Anspaugh’s WiseGirls, which according to IMDB received rave critical reviews and an audience-wide standing ovation at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, ended up mostly forgotten debuting on Cinemax with a Lion’s Gate DVD release. GoodFella Paul Sorvino’s Academy Award winning daughter Mira (Mighty Aphrodite) takes on the mafia as a woman who leaves tragedy and medical school behind in Missouri to stay with her elderly grandmother in Staten Island. Based on a glowing recommendation and a job tip from her grandmother’s equally old caretaker, Mira Sorvino’s Meg Kennedy takes a position as a waitress in an Italian restaurant run by rude manager Gio Esposito (Joseph Siravo). Once in her new place of employment, Meg quickly learns it is a front for the drug and mob business conducted in back rooms by Mr. Santalino (Arthur Nascarella) and his son Frankie (Christian Maelen), both of whom take a shine to Meg after her quick thinking and emergency training helps her save the life of a mobster in a particularly gruesome scene. Against her better judgment, Meg learns to keep quiet and go along with the job, keeping the ridiculously generous gratuities and learning to deal with some of the quirks of the dangerous patrons when she is befriended by and forms a makeshift family unit with two fellow waitresses, the tough, streetwise Raychel (Mariah Carey) and the sweet, aspiring actress Kate (Melora Walters) who help her move on from her dark past. The three women stick together but business gets even more dangerous after a burst of violence sweeps through the restaurant and another major plot twist is revealed. While mob movie fans have seen it all before in countless other films, it’s interesting to see the genre handled with three female leads, none of whom have to use sex to wield power or get by, instead relying on their brains, female intuitions and consciences despite the male dominated environment and never-ending harassment of the restaurant atmosphere. Much better than one would expect given Carey’s horrific reviews in regards to Glitter (note: her accent in this film sounds quite impressively authentic) and it reminds us once again that it’s a shame Mira Sorvino isn’t given more work—she has the ability to process situations internally and we can see her character thinking things through at every turn.

Rent WiseGirls
Netflix, Inc.

Aurora Borealis

Director: James C.E. Burke

Set and mostly filmed in the cold, gray and endlessly icy winter of Minneapolis, the bleak cinematography matches the tone of the film which is guaranteed to depress viewers despite excellent performances from our leads. First time feature screenwriter Brent Boyd’s work, directed by James C.E. Burke won numerous audience and jury prizes at U.S. film festivals including richly deserved accolades for Joshua Jackson and Donald Sutherland. Jackson, one of the most talented actors on the former WB series Dawson’s Creek turns in a completely believable performance as Duncan Shorter, an aimless twenty-something who mostly exists in that state of either unemployment or just about to get fired who, despite a serious lack of confidence problem after his father died when he was in his teens under questionable circumstances, seems interested in attending college despite not wanting or knowing how to fill out the application. He’s perpetually reminiscent to viewers of a bird who’s always just about to take off. We keep expecting him to branch out and do something but he never quite flies away until finally he realizes he must change the direction his life has been heading, which consists of being a doormat for his rich, unlikable married older brother, who (inspired by Wilder’s Apartment) uses Duncan’s apartment for illicit trysts, cheating on his wife and family. Although we have trouble sympathizing with the stereotypical aimless slacker Duncan (or come to think of it a majority of the characters in the film), he does gain our respect after he takes a job as a handyman in the senior building where his dementia ridden grandfather and long-suffering, loving grandmother live so that way he can look in on them from time to time. It’s in the apartment of his grandparents that Duncan first meets the free-spirited in home healthcare worker Juliette Lewis (always typecast), who recently moved to Minneapolis, inspired by The Replacements and Paul Westerberg, after a series of stints in cities and towns across the country. As expected, the two begin dating and manage to confront and call each other out on their respective issues but the film manages to hold audiences at a distance with some truly emotionally grating scenes with Sutherland who, facing the complete loss of his faculties, is trying to beg his grandson to end his life and by Jackson’s character himself who has a few big moments where he tries to make peace with the past and a few intimate details surrounding his father’s untimely death are revealed, but we never quite get the revelation we are looking for before the slightly predictable ending comes along. Overall, worth it for the acting, just be prepared for the depression that follows as it will particular bother those whose own parents or grandparents are facing similar circumstances.

The Contract

Director: Bruce Beresford

The latest film from respected director Bruce Beresford, starring John Cusack and Morgan Freeman and shot by acclaimed cinematographer Dante Spinotti seems to be a peculiar candidate for a direct to DVD release. However, The Contract never played in American theatres and it’s a shame since, while some of the work is a bit predictable and does recall The River Wild, it’s a taut, entertaining little suspenseful action film brought to the video shelves by First Look International Pictures and one that I found gripping only twenty minutes in-- enough so that I forgave some of the simplistic and trite dialogue and had to finish the whole movie in one sitting. Cusack plays former police officer and now current gym teacher and baseball coach Ray Keene who, still reeling from the loss of his wife to breast cancer two years earlier, is struggling to bond with his rebellious teenage son Chris (Jamie Anderson). After Chris is arrested for marijuana usage, Ray decides the best plan is the most proactive and physical one—the tried and true male bonding ritual called camping and despite both of their better judgments, they set off into the Washington wilderness, completely oblivious to the fact that down the road a horrific car crash has taken place when mercenary assassin-for-hire Frank Carden (Morgan Freeman) is attempted to be released from federal custody by his criminal team, only for the plan to go terribly wrong. When the car crashes down into the river, good samaritans Keenes rush to the rescue and are given a gun by a close-to-death U.S. Marshal and instructed to walk the handcuffed Frank to a nearby road and dial 911. Of course, there is no cell phone service in the dead of the wild and while they try to find the road, they realize that they are being hunted by the rest of Frank’s crew and thus after an admittedly cheesy opening begins a highly entertaining action movie. Soon the men encounter a duo of campers and the film cuts over to other simultaneous action such as the well-meaning local authorities whose power is usurped by Washington intelligence as the President is due to make a public speaking engagement in the area and they fear foul play, along with going back to see Frank’s crew try to track down Frank as well as the Keenes. Much better than some of the Hollywood garbage being released during the summer season at the local Cineplex and much cheaper than the price of an adult evening ticket, The Contract makes for a great night-in without the uncomfortable seats, thanks to the astute direction from Australian filmmaker Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Double Jeopardy), great cast and heightened intensity thanks to the photography by Spinotti (L.A. Confidential, Heat).

Lucky 13

Director: Chris Hall

As the song goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” and usually with love—especially where male desire is concerned, it seems to be the same case. In this lukewarm comedy, based on a story by Eric Swelstad and Ira Heffer, screenwriters Chris Hall (who also directs) and Ari Schlossberg tell the tale of Zach Baker, (a miscast Brad Hunt). An average man unlucky in love, Zach realizes he has romantic feelings for his longtime best friend and dream girl next door Abbey (the always amazing Lauren Graham) when she is seduced by the opportunity to move from small town Midwest to New York to realize her dream to become a painter. Zach inexplicably and abruptly decides that the best way to win her heart isn’t by using all of the knowledge he has gained in nearly a lifelong of friendship but by visiting old girlfriends to discover just what went wrong in order for relationship number 13 to be the charm. If it sounds a bit familiar to you, that’s because the same general idea seems to be a popular one in American romantic comedy as of late and ran through the both superior works High Fidelity and the dramatic comedy Broken Flowers in digging up old flames. Lucky 13 is hardly original or redeemable from its state as a mildly entertaining time-waster, save for some amusing bits by the actors cast as Zach’s immediate family including parents played by Debra Jo Rupp (from Friends) and John Doe and his best friend Beckman (Harland Williams), along with veteran comedienne and Gilmore Girls star Graham. In what one can only assume was a worthwhile filmmaking learning experience for Hall, who had some great small bits to play with here but ones that didn’t pay off in a way to make the entire film watchable, here’s to hoping that his next venture will be filled with more success and (as the title of this one implied) luck.

The Girl From Paris

Director: Christian Carion

Billed as “the sleeper hit that has already charmed more than two million French moviegoers,” this lovely, quiet, languid and simplistic tale features two exceptional performances by actors given very little dialogue. Cesar award nominated debut film from director Christian Carion (who cowrote the screenplay with Eric Assous) stars the lovely Mathilde Seigner as Sandrine, a nearly thirty year old computer teacher who decides she’s tired of the traffic and chaos of fast paced Parisian life and enrolls in the required two year course and practicum on becoming a farmer. Once finished and undaunted by the tiresome physicality and solitude of life as a dairy farmer, not to mention some of the gruesome aspects, Sandrine purchases an isolated stretch of land in the Rhone-Alpes region from Adrien (Michael Serrault), a crusty soon-to-be retired embittered old farmer who makes her agree to the condition that he remain on the property for a few months until he’s ready to leave. While predictably the older gentleman-- without much faith in the young girl he considers cocky-- watches with annoyance and worry as she turns the place into a rural vacation getaway hotel and sells goat cheese online, soon warms to Sandrine and they become friendlier towards one another. A bit slow moving and lacking in enough action to interest a majority of filmmakers, it will definitely attract fans of Terrence Malick’s work and feels more Midwestern American than a traditional French film, and despite an abrupt and rushed finale, it’s a worthwhile contemplative study of farm life.

8/25/2007

Film Intuition Takes You Back to School

Hello Movie Fans,

If you're wondering why there hasn't been as many film reviews uploaded for awhile, that's because I've been working on an exciting new feature, thanks to Amazon.com.

I'm often asked for film recommendations from fans not only looking to uncover some of the best in foreign and independent works along with other genres but also moviegoers who want to create their own DVD libraries or who, like myself, prefer the do-it-yourself film school available by self-direction-- investigating the many wonderful resources now readily available within this Age of Electronic Information. In the simplest terms, I find I love acquiring new knowledge and am a lifelong learner inspired by insightful books, magazines and films. DVD has made film school nearly superfluous thanks to the wide variety of movies now available to American audiences and the many features painstakingly added to the discs... but where should one begin? Working with Amazon's vast and impressive film and media library, I've created numerous "stores" filled with recommendations for whatever "entertainment" mood you're in and this is just the beginning-- explore the clickable links below to uncover some great cinematic treats and I'll be constantly editing and adding as time goes on.

Thanks and Enjoy!

Sincerely,
Jen

Film Intuition's Stores
(In Alphabetical Order)

The Lookout

Director: Scott Frank

Although he’d discussed and worked on his long-time pet project, the screenplay for The Lookout with directors including Sam Mendes and David Fincher, it wasn’t until Academy Award nominated screenwriter Scott Frank (Little Man Tate, Get Shorty, Out of Sight) talked Michael Mann out of directing the film that he realized that he wanted to do the job himself. Explaining his creative mid-life crisis to Elvis Mitchell on KCRW’s The Treatment (see below: available as a free podcast on iTunes), Frank shared that he was in danger of getting bored and wanted the new challenge of controlling a set. Cinematically inspired by the visual look of 2005’s Capote along with the classic films of William Wyler (most notably The Best Years of Our Lives) and Dog Day Afternoon, Frank took the character of a young man with a brain injury, derived after a friend of his suffered a similar injury and decided to place him in a heist film.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt who is quickly becoming one of Generation Y’s most impressive actors with turns in Mysterious Skin (that seems to have inspired Ledger’s Brokeback performance) and Brick, worked on his role as Chris Pratt for roughly one year before shooting the film. As the film opens, it’s nearly black and white in an impressive visual sweep as Pratt speeds along a deserted rural road along with his girlfriend, best friend and best friend’s girlfriend all dressed in prom attire. Feeling that ridiculous and dangerous sense of invincibility and as Mitchell and Frank explained, the idea of “self destruction” meets the “American sense of entitlement,” Pratt switches his headlights off to show off the fireflies and ultimately gets into a car accident so horrifying that the two occupants in the backseat end up dead, his girlfriend is left maimed and he is left a shell of the person he was—the star hockey player whom the town constantly reminds was once great. Picking up a few years later, we meet Pratt as he struggles with everyday tasks, sequencing difficulties, and memory issues—everything from extensive labeling of items throughout his apartment to remind him to shower with soap, to writing down important things in a little notebook, he spends his days trying to learn how to live with his condition, rooms with a blind man named Lewis (Jeff Daniels) and works as a night janitor in a bank. Lewis serves an important function in a film that has the danger of becoming far too grim as the comic relief and Frank seasons the film with humor and surprises that turn what begins as sort of a younger version of Memento, brimming with more tragedy, into a fairly complicated heist piece as Pratt is befriended by Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode) and Isla Fisher (Luvlee) who the audience and Lewis realizes are really using the young man as a pawn to get inside the bank. Literary but without pretension, the film seems to play out with a prologue and epilogue as noted on The Treatment with as Frank calls a two act as opposed to a three act structure consisting of his trademark as a screenwriter, which according to Mitchell is his “divided character” struggling with identity and self-destruction while another character (Lewis) serves as the voice of common sense.



With a nearly forgettable camera, The Lookout is stylistically impressive and aided by deft classical direction by Frank who uses clever blocking to keep his leading man in corners to heighten his sense of alienation and loneliness as everyone else dominates the young man, he told Mitchell that it proved challenging to make sure that Chris Pratt was a reactive character rather than an easier passive character and indeed he turns out to have a satisfying ark, as he must fight his condition and use the skills he struggles with to try and get himself and Lewis out of an increasingly complicated situation that audiences know will lead to foul play. Excellent, clever and unfairly dismissed by audiences—as of this review and research it received a national critical ranking on Rotten Tomatoes as 87% fresh (or positive), it’s a nice twist on an old genre and an even more impressive entry in the disability genre for its accurate, unapologetic portrayal of life with a head injury without once falling into an overly sentimental television drama or gimmicky film mold. Frank, like his leading man Gordon-Levitt, is definitely someone who just keeps getting better with each new cinematic venture.

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The Secret Life of Words

Director:
Isabel Coixet

In this haunting minimalist character drama, co-produced by fellow Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, writer/director Isabel Coixet reteams with her My Life Without Me leading lady, the Canadian actress Sarah Polley in a role written specifically for her in this unusual romantic story of lonely opposites finding themselves kindred spirits. Polley portrays the Eastern European Hanna, the quiet hearing-impaired hard-working factory employee forced by her boss in the UK after years of dedicated service that intimidates her complaining coworkers to take a forced vacation. While on holiday, only moments after being “released” from work, she accepts another position as a nurse aboard an oil rig in the Irish Sea, tending to a temporarily blind burn victim and although we are given very little in the way of back story regarding Hanna, we quickly realize that as she claimed in her "offer," she is quite an experienced caretaker. The patient Josef (Tim Robbins) is one of only a handful of employees on the nearly deserted rig and as the sole female, Hanna quickly becomes the object of mystery to Josef who amuses himself and his nurse with wild speculations about her personal life. She also interests the Spanish chef Simon (Javier Camara) who we realize may have a romantic interest in the silent girl who seems to prefer to keep to herself and seems more than a little drawn to Josef. While most critics compared the film to Lars Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, I felt that a Leconte comparison to The Girl on the Bridge is also warranted as it’s an odd love story without much in the way of information being released directly to the audience save for a revealing final act. We wade through the first hour enticed but mostly lost, with only the deft acting of Polley and a frankly disturbing child-like voice over narration (that felt more like it belonged in a David Lynch film than here) to guide us until finally she and Josef reveal more of their characters. Winner of numerous accolades and nominations throughout Latin America (including Goya awards and others), the film also did quite well at the Venice Film Festival and even though we are left with more questions than answers and at times the lack of revelation about Hanna seems rather pretentious on Coixet’s part, it’s still the best film she’s made thus far that I’ve seen and makes her a filmmaker to watch. In addition, The Secret Life of Words cements the fascinating and fiercely talented Polley as not only one of cinema’s most talented young actresses working today, able to disappear into whatever role she plays but also as a woman who admirably is known for her work onscreen as opposed to the frequent paparazzi run-ins or DUI’s that populate some of America’s young starlets in movies today.

Perfect Stranger

Director: James Foley

Despite starring Academy Award winner Halle Berry and being crafted by the man who directed such groundbreaking works as At Close Range and Glengarry Glen Ross, filmmaker James Foley’s latest drama Perfect Stranger seemed to be as doomed for box office failure as it was in its choices of shooting locations. According to IMDB, originally the film-- which was sent to theatres with the title Lie after Lie-- was set in New Orleans but after Hurricane Katrina hit, it was relocated to New York City and became the first feature to be filmed at ground zero, taking place in one of the towers of the World Trade Center. The previews, which made the film look like the type of seedy sexy thrillers that Michael Douglas made a career out of in the late 1980’s and early 90’s didn’t help business along with a plethora of negative reviews from critics across the board all of whom stated that again, in the tradition of Gothika and Catwoman, Ms. Berry had chosen yet another stinker. However, while it isn’t high art by any means, I was actually surprised by how enjoyable the film was for what it set out to be—a nice, dark little thriller filled with surprises and characters that grew more complicated with each passing minute. Although most critics and viewers had trouble accepting the major twist evident in the final few minutes, like The Prestige (although it’s not in the same league), Perfect Stranger had me completely fooled and interested enough that I’m going to have to take another look down the road to see when the hints were dropped.

When the movie opens, Berry manages to pull the wool over a lying politician’s eyes, complimenting him until he takes the bait as she reveals some rather disturbing facts she was planning to print in the paper under her pseudonym David Shane. Writing under a male’s name is one of many disguises seemingly preferred by Berry in the film—her main character named Rowena Price seems to be one of those people (much like the frequent confessions of actors in James Lipton’s Actors Studio) who are most comfortable when playing someone else. After her troubled friend Grace (Nicki Aycox) ends up brutally murdered, Price enlists the help of her techie friend Miles (Giovanni Ribisi alternately charismatic, creepy and as chameleon-like as Berry) who is in love with Rowena enough to help her get a job working for the man she assumes is responsible for Grace’s death—advertising executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). As Hill, Willis is subtle and seems a bit uninterested by his underwritten role as a smarmy man who, although married, has quite a long list of interoffice relationships gone bad, harassment suits and enjoys spicy online chats that Berry uses to snare Hill and try to prove that he was the dangerous online friend who had killed Grace.

While those who know more than the average bear about computers will be a little frustrated by some of the seemingly obvious ways the characters can get around some of the technical hiccups that abound in getting evidence that Hill is the online creep, it’s easily forgiven as the film is filled with enough switches in characterization and plot development that we’re always involved. Berry and especially Ribisi, who would’ve made a far more interesting “villain” than Wilis’s character, turn in excellent performances. San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle was brave enough to stand out from the pack of dissent to share his belief in his review that, “for those who are interested in Berry as both an actress and screen presence, this is one of the most satisfying films she has ever made. It capitalizes on her strengths and she owns the picture from start to finish,” with her “shrewd, intelligent and captivating performance.” Utilizing a cool, warm and impersonal palette of colors Foley and the art director named “hot fudge,” according to the DVD featurette, the film plays even better on the small screen and provides a worthwhile diversion for Berry fans that aren’t going to get too hung up by some of the inconsistencies. However, as one always enthralled by great character actors, it’s Ribisi who we find most unsettling. Mick LaSalle explains that “Ribisi is even more arresting [than Willis] as Rowena’s pal, partner and love-starved admirer… Like Berry, he plays every moment full out, showing us everything, and it’s up to us to decide what to make of it.”

8/13/2007

My Best Friend

Director: Patrice Leconte

It’s roughly as hard to believe Daniel Auteuil-- one of France’s most famous and gorgeous leading men-- in a role as a successful antique dealer without a friend in the world as it was to witness Hugh Grant inventing an imaginary son in order to “score” with single moms in About a Boy but in the hands of master filmmaker Patrice Leconte, not only is Auteil believable, but his Francois Coste seems to be the epitome of all of the recent news articles which state that nowadays it’s virtually impossible for adults without children to make new friends. Studies have shown that in America, solitary life is quite common with a high number of adults listing that they have virtually nobody to confide in and it’s the “virtual” of the matter that’s most often brought to light as technology is limiting our day-to-day personal interactions. While we never actually see Francois Coste on the computer, he conducts his business life with cold precision, using company money to buy an extremely expensive Greek vase (complete with a friendship motif) on impulse and then during a crowded dinner with his business partner Catherine (Julie Gayet) we realize he’s completely oblivious and self-possessed to the lives of those around him. Spurned by his inattention to the feelings of others, Catherine challenges Francois to produce a best friend within ten days, with the understanding that if he fails to do so, she will obtain the vase. Francois, who barely understands his nearly estranged daughter Louise (Julie Durand) accepts Catherine’s wager quickly and immediately begins visiting his “contacts” only to realize that none of them think of him as anything more than a business acquaintance. Enter Bruno Bouley (Dany Boon) as an equally lost Frenchman—a friendly, easygoing cab driver who entertains (and sometimes annoys) his fares with endless trivia, despite always succumbing to nerves when trying for game show auditions. Once he crosses paths with Francois, we realize we have the makings of an excellent Leconte film. Using his similar themes of outsiders who become unlikely friends, My Best Friend excels once the two men begin their tentative association as (like the characters in Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks who need a crash course in culture again featuring Hugh Grant), Francois hires Bruno to teach him how to make friends, only to realize later that he’s developing quite a valuable friendship of his own. However, sticking to the modern setting and problems of contemporary life, the conclusion of the piece set during an episode of France’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire is effective and surprisingly emotionally gripping instead of tacky as we come to understand the precious nature of friendship and are refreshed to see it expressed so expertly between two men (as Leconte did with another recent quiet masterwork Man on the Train).

Talk to Me

Director:
Kasi Lemmons

Ever since he burst onto the scene with small but memorable turns in films such as Devil in a Blue Dress, Boogie Nights and Out of Sight, actor Don Cheadle has always left a major impression on me—a charismatic chameleon, at once convincing as Sammy Davis Jr. in the HBO film of the Rat Pack as he is in Traffic and Hotel Rwanda or countless others, there seems to be little that he cannot do. Eve’s Bayou writer/director Kasi Lemmons provides the perfect showcase for her leading man with this high energy film, inspired by the life of Ralph Waldo “Petey” Green Jr., the “tell-it-like-it-is” radio DJ who, after being released from jail is reluctantly given a job at a struggling R&B station in Washington D.C. by the new program director Dewey Hughes (the versatile Chiwetel Ejiofor who is quickly becoming an actor to watch in numerous roles over the past two years). While station head, E.G. Sonderling (Martin Sheen) fears the profanity and no-holds-barred style of Green and the way it will play on WOLAM, Green scores a major audience following as in the late 1960’s, he becomes the outraged, weary and truthful voice commenting on the social injustice occurring during the Vietnam era after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and the ensuing riots that followed. Catapulted to fame by his work and flair for self-promotion, along with Hughes’s wishes to branch him out into other entertainment arenas such as public appearances and television, Green succumbs to alcohol and a fast lifestyle that troubles his relationship with his faithful, fiercely loyal and flamboyant girlfriend Vernell (a terrific Taraji P. Henson) when he proves to have a difficult time accepting his newfound fame as America’s first likable, controversial “shock jock” but unlike the antics of some radio personalities today who resort to juvenile antics in order to lure the lowest common denominator, Green actually had something to say. While some of the emotional payoffs feel rushed in the abridged telling of Green’s life in order to work in as much as possible and the audience is a bit shortchanged on facts near the end, it’s nonetheless a dazzling work that feels very much like a product of the time period it’s representing and will hopefully garner some richly deserved award consideration for Cheadle as well as Lemmons who has made her finest movie since her debut Eve’s Bayou.

No Reservations

Director:
Scott Hicks

Dieters beware: those of you counting calories, carbs or cholesterol stats may want to avoid No Reservations unless viewing it (as I prescribe) on a full stomach. For only moments into the film, as head chef Kate (Catherine Zeta Jones) describes some of her most scrumptiously exquisite recipes to the psychiatrist her employer has forced her to see (Bob Balaban), your mouth will begin to water. While this remake of Sandra Nettelbeck’s 2001 German film Mostly Martha will suffer by comparison in the minds of audience members who have seen the original film, No Reservations still makes for a delectable if slightly chilly and contrived diversion from the testosterone overload of summertime cinema. After her sister dies in a tragic car accident, the obsessive Kate who runs her life like she does her kitchen in an upscale New York restaurant for owner Patricia Clarkson finds herself the unlikely caretaker of her niece Zoe (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin). Shine and Snow Falling on Cedars director Scott Hicks does an excellent job of handling the adaption completed by screenwriter Carol Fuchs that helps incorporate more of the immediate after effects and stages of Zoe’s move to New York that were absent in the original, helping to provide more background for the audience. Luckily, the melancholy moments are lifted and replaced by romantic tension when Kate returns to work only to find wild opera-loving, chef Nick (the always memorable and handsome Aaron Eckhart) filling in for Kate during her absence and cracking up the staff with jokes and Pavarotti, much to her dismay. Eckhart’s entrance in the film is memorable and although the chemistry between the leads lacks a bit, they try hard and Eckhart seems more at ease in his role, having trained for three months in an upscale kitchen according to TV's Extra, as opposed to the reported single night of preparation completed by Zeta Jones as listed on IMDB. However, Zeta Jones is a consummate actress and she is a master at defining the cool and calculating Kate in the way the role needs. She tries her hardest in supplying the film with more emotional depth, although for some reason, we never fully buy her relationship with Zoe, try as both actresses might to make it work and indeed, more scenes of interaction between the two are served up in the Hollywood version than in Nettlebeck’s. Instead, despite some cute moments when she bonds in the kitchen with Nick and tries to play matchmaker for her aunt, Zoe feels like a convenient plot device in the film or in some of the worst scenes, about as believable as Jennifer Lopez’s daughter in Enough, which some critics likened to a piece of luggage being toted from scene to scene without any real sense of familial intimacy. While, as mentioned earlier, the film is provided with more opportunities that try to gain sympathy to the plight of the trio and the ending is wisely changed from the original one which incorporated a search for Zoe’s estranged biological daughter (a plotline completely absent from the remake), it’s instead inserted with a predictable Hollywood ending that, all in all, goes down quite well… like a fluffy dessert created with precision by Kate and with love from Nick.

Free Zone

Director: Amos Gitai

The first Israeli film shot in Jordan, Amos Gitai’s uneven character drama seems to draw inspiration from American road movies in his tale of three unlikely women who journey together by car in the duty-free zone between Israel and Jordan. Natalie Portman stars as a young American woman named Rebecca who is still nursing the emotional wounds of a bad breakup when she asks her Israeli driver Hanna Ben Moshe (Hana Laszlo) to let her tag along for the ride as Hanna makes her way across the roadblocks into Jordan where she hopes to get back the money owed to her husband from the car trade business after they’ve suffered a tragedy. Once in Jordan, they meet the third woman, Leila (Hiam Abbass), who like the other two is struggling to deal with the after effects of crisis and living in a predominately man’s world, being forced to try and handle business affairs among themselves as she and Hanna argue over missing money that Leila and her American contacts owes to Hanna. An exercise in the futility of the situation in the Middle East in regards to characters who can’t speak each other’s language and struggle to trust one another—Rebecca serves as a metaphor for America and she gets caught up in the middle of the conflict that is refreshingly illustrated for audiences as we see all sides and realize that each have valid arguments and anger. In English, Hebrew and Arabic, the film volleys uneasily between the languages and a complete subtitled track would have been beneficial throughout the entire running time as sometimes with the poor audio quality and thickness of the accents, it’s fairly hard to make out what the characters are saying which is frustrating, especially when realizing that they are revealing important character identity traits and plot developments. A bit tedious and distanced from the viewer in places, it’s still an interesting film and earned Laszlo the Best Actress award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.


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Interview

Director: Charles Burmeister

An audience favorite at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival (according to IMDB), Charles Burmeister’s intriguing and painfully real slice of life centers around a young man who fails to make a worthy impression during a job interview and afterwards has to face his girlfriend’s questions regarding his decision to wear a wrinkled and striped cotton shirt and his unwillingness to “play the game” of corporate America. Succinct yet easily compelling, Interview doesn’t suffer from the preciousness of some short films that try to squeeze too much plot in a limited amount of time or worry about wrapping things up neatly. It feels like a typical day in the life of young men and women who struggle with the idea of growing up, turning into an office drone and actors Mark Kelly and Courtney Thomas are immediately believable in their roles as writer/director Burmeister is careful not to assign blame on either party and just let the events unfold naturally. The brief piece shows promise of things to come as Burmeister, a graduate of the M.F.A. Screenwriting program at the University of Texas where he received the James A. Michener Fellowship also recently won the Chesterfield Screenwriting Fellowship sponsored by Paramount Pictures for whom he is making his next feature film.


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Interview

Gray Matters

Director: Sue Kramer


When the film begins, we see Sam (the charming and comedic Thomas Cavanagh of TV’s Ed fame) and Gray (Heather Graham) in a joyful ballroom dance which immediately sets the tone for this bright, breezy and upbeat film. Instantly, we sense tangible chemistry between the leads and they seem to be the most perfect onscreen couple—one that cooks and eats together, laughs together, watches old movies together and lives together—until it is revealed that they are brother and sister. Suddenly Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Shall We Dance turn into Fred Astaire and Jane Powell who played siblings in Royal Wedding. While Sam and Gray are much more co-dependent, like the characters in the classic musical (which in a sense is what Gray Matters feels like from start to finish), they realize they must move on with life and begin to look for romance and do so in a variety of ways while still wanting to remain close unlike most siblings that drift and evolve further apart as they age. Gray, who works alongside good friend Molly Shannon in an advertising firm where she’s underappreciated, spends her non Sam-related free time scheduling unorthodox therapy sessions with her athletically inclined shrink Sissy Spacek who prefers to stage her sessions in bowling alleys, rock climbing walls and batting cages. Shortly into the film, surgical intern Sam devises a trendy plan to find love by happening upon a beautiful woman (using Gray as his “wing-man” or more accurately “wing-woman” to misquote Swingers in which Graham also starred) in a dog park. Enter Charlie, the impossibly beautiful and classy zoologist Bridget Moynahan (who like Cavanagh was in another unfairly canceled television show Six Degrees), who recently moved from San Francisco and without much in the way of acquaintance, takes up Sam and Gray on their invitation for an evening of drinks, dinner and dancing. While sharing their love of old movies during a late night walk, Gray senses the chemistry between the two and goes home only to find her world turned upside-down the next day when Sam returns to announce that he and Charlie are engaged and planning to marry the upcoming weekend in Vegas. At first struck with disbelief at the improbability of such a whirlwind courtship, Gray soon finds herself without any worries of Charlie in regards to hidden agendas or ulterior motives and accompanies the happy couple, only to realize that she’s beginning to question her status as a heterosexual when she unexpectedly begins to develop romantic feelings for her soon to be sister-in-law. Frantically, she consults Spacek who tries to reassure her that her feelings are only those of jealousy about Charlie and feeling replaced in her close bond with Sam by another woman and she begins to launch headfirst into the scary dating world only to find herself even more confused until good-natured cabbie Alan Cumming befriends Gray and helps her discover her true self. While most critics said the film was too artificial, cutesy and much too far from reality, I found it to be a sheer delight from start to finish, never once worrying about logic-- I found myself forgiving that as I was entranced by the positive, pleasant atmosphere that echoed the old classic MGM musicals and romances Sam and Gray worship and in a way I suspected that that was the goal of first time writer/director Sue Kramer to make something in the style of an homage instead of creating yet another clichéd gay-coming-of-age film.

8/10/2007

Metropolitan

Director: Whit Stillman

If F. Scott Fitzgerald was an independent film director, his first film would probably have been fairly similar to Metropolitan, the debut of writer/director Whit Stillman. Nominated for an Academy Award for its witty, sophisticated screenplay, the film is the opposite of the 80’s brat pack films. Instead of dealing with the animosity of blue verses white collar with the good hearted underdogs most often seen in the works of John Hughes coming out victorious, Stillman celebrates, pokes fun at and analyzes yuppies in this no-holds-barred look at the privileged and beautiful group that one character named Charlie Black (Taylor Nichols) describes as the UHB, which stands for Urban Haute Bourgeoisie. Feeling that this acronym is (as he claims) more sociologically precise than the word preppy, Charlie is just one of many articulate characters that spend their evenings going to black tie events and parties during Christmas break. One evening, Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) finds himself in the right place at the right time while catching a cab and is instantly befriended by one of the group’s leaders, Nick Smith (Christopher Eigeman) to join him at an after-party. Once Tom falls in with the crowd, the film begins to reveal itself as not a simple protracted plot structured piece of the wealthy but instead as a character driven, highly literary, intimate and richly drawn study of the UHB. Newcomer Carolyn Farina--who was accidentally discovered by the director’s wife while working in the Macy’s perfume department (IMDB) where she was swept up much in the same way that Tom Townsend is in the film-- gives a memorable performance as Audrey, the surprisingly sheltered and fragile girl who falls for the less than wealthy Tom. While my first introduction to the world of Stillman was with Barcelona, also starring the highly verbal Nichols and Eigeman (who’s since become one of my favorite under-used actors popping up for fine turns in shows such as the Gilmore Girls), Metropolitan, which earned the director the Best First Feature award at the Independent Spirit Award is just as compelling and entertaining today as it was during its initial release, given the ultimate digital transfer treatment with a Criterion Collection DVD release. A festival favorite, Gatsby fans will find themselves instantly hooked (and noting some similarities to the work including Fitzgerald homages much more in depth than just characters named Tom and Nick) and it’s also a good work to go back and view today in the wake of filmmaker Wes Anderson, who may have been somewhat inspired by the verbal, self-involved, and quirky character pieces created by Stillman.


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(A Must for Screenwriters)




West Bank Story

Director: Ari Sandel

In this 2007 Academy Award Winner for Best Live Action Short, writers Kim Ray and Ari Sandel (who also directs) seek inspiration from lavish, classic musicals including West Side Story.

Setting their technically superior staging of a mini-musical amidst the unlikely source material of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Sandel never once takes his film too seriously and instead of getting too politically preachy, centers all the drama around two competing West Bank falafel stands given American fast food sounding names of Kosher King and Hummus Hut, respectively.

When soft-hearted Israeli soldier David (Ben Newmark) falls in love with Palestinian Fatima (Noureen DeWulf) a beautiful cashier, the tension escalates and more song and dance ensues. While arguably one of the most creative and free-wheeling works of 2006 (long or short), the concept quickly becomes gimmicky and I found myself strangely distanced from the leads, not feeling all that involved, although still completely awe-struck by Sandel’s talent, which earned him numerous other accolades in addition to the Oscar.

Definitely worth a look not only for musical buffs but also as perhaps a way of introducing teens with iPods to look outside the world of MySpace and YouTube to the conflict in the Middle East in an offbeat and non-academic way as the film is available for download at iTunes.


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West Bank Story

Blow Dry

Director: Paddy Breathnach

When producer Sydney Pollack explains on the DVD featurette why he attached himself to a comedy about the British National Hairdressing Championship, he simply says that when he began describing the plot to others they instantly smiled. For amusement alone is a vital reason to check out Blow Dry, which is a slight but affable comedy drama written by the Oscar nominated Full Monty scripter Simon Beaufoy. Although it does go from laughs to downright camp, it’s an intriguing blend of humor and heart as we meet local barber Phil Allen (Alan Rickman) and his son Brian (Josh Hartnett) who are lured back into competition alongside Phil’s cancer-ridden ex-wife Shelley (Natasha Richardson) who had left her husband years ago for his hair model Sandra (Rachel Griffiths). Phil’s bitter rival Ray Robertson (played by the always scene-stealing Bill Nighy) reconnects with his daughter fresh from Minneapolis (Rachael Leigh Cook, who like Hartnett is actually from Minnesota) and pulls out some old tricks in order to take home the trophy. The actors were all given a crash course from the Redken Salon in order to fake their way through the complicated high speed styling scenes and the likable cast keeps us watching even when the film grows increasingly ridiculous. Rachel Griffiths made an astute observation in the behind-the-scenes featurette by comparing the film’s tone and content to Baz Lurhman's Strictly Ballroom and indeed after the film veers off the tracks into camp and cheap laughs, one feels that a touch of Luhrman or even American mock-doc director Christopher Guest would’ve set things right again and films like Ballroom or Guest’s Best in Show would’ve made excellent models for director Breathnach, in the same way that Rachel Griffiths is an excellent hair model for Alan Rickman in the film. Cute fun although not as good as the other British comedies with serious undertones brought to the US by Miramax including Brassed Off and Sliding Doors.

8/05/2007

Helmer and Son

Director: Soren Pilmark

Danish producer Kim Magnuson has been Oscar nominated four times for helping to create inventive live action shorts for grownups. In the most recently Oscar nominated work (2007)from director Soren Pilmark, a dysfunctional family is reunited under rather unorthodox and impromptu circumstances. As the film opens, we meet overstressed businessman Jess (Steen Stig Lommer) who arrives at his father’s retirement home, after being told that his father is “missing,” only to discover minutes later that the elder man (Helmer played by Per Palleson) has locked himself into the large wardrobe closet of his room and refuses to exit. Meanwhile, the son whose cell phone keeps ringing throughout the comedic ordeal tries to play double duty conducting both the family business he’s inherited from Helmer as his dad yells out his two cents along with tending to the unusual family business at hand when his free spirited sister (Ditte Hansen) and her daughter arrive. Funny and relatable to boomer audiences with aging parents, although as one critic noted that it does feel a bit like the start of a feature length work and we do wish we had more back-story. However, it’s amusing and filled with a surprising twist turning the situation from depressing to downright comical once the wardrobe doors are opened. Imported from Denmark, Helmer and Son is available for downloadable viewing on iTunes.

Helmer and Son

Helmer and Son

Viva Cuba

Director: Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti

After graduating from Havana’s Cinema, Theatre and Drama program at the Higher Institute of the Arts, writer/director Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti devoted the first part of his filmmaking career contributing to children’s programming. His obvious affection for young actors and youth rights is put to excellent use with Viva Cuba, which earned the Junior Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was Cuba’s official submission to the Academy Awards after being chosen as an official selection at festivals around the globe. The film tells the story of two young friends who find their youthful innocence and enjoyment of spending time together impacted by disapproving parents regarding the children’s division of class, religion and political beliefs. When the religious, snobbish single mother of Malu (Tarrau Broche) decides she wants to leave Cuba after the death of her mother, Malu enlists the help of the working class, socialist Jorgito (Milo Avila) in running away to the other end of the island in order to persuade Malu’s estranged lighthouse-keeper father not to sign the paperwork that would allow her mother to leave the country and all the friends her daughter has come to know. While it’s easy at first glance of the film’s synopsis and opening moments to consider it to be in the neorealist tradition, the highly imaginative director uses some hyper cuts, embellished sound effects, and fantastical elements to liven up the tale from making it too dour. Although we know from other films in this vein (and from the ultimate “kid in crisis” film, The 400 Blows which seems to be a direct influence on the ending of Viva Cuba) that it will not end happily, it’s nonetheless a refreshing approach to the story as it contains numerous elements and ingredients that make it a fine candidate to show young teens curious about the world of foreign film, especially as one critic noted that it seemed to be a bit inspired by Romeo and Juliet. Just eighty minutes that whisk by faster than the children can run, Viva Cuba is a colorful, sad, and lovely entry into the Film Movement series with mature and memorable portrayals by its two young leads.



First Film For $1 Promotion

The Office Party

Director: Chiara Edmands

Available on iTunes, Daily Show associate producer Chiara Edmands set his short film which chronicles the morning after a particularly wild CPA office party in the 1980’s and cast some of the stars of that era, including Ralph Macchio and Tate Donovan as two men who struggle to remember what exactly happened with their missing coworker Don on the previous night. Cute but slight—look for a cameo by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart as the pizza delivery guy and although his role is brief, he helps serve as the stand-in for viewers only given a snapshot of the film's strange behavior and quirky characters as we are just along for the ride without really being given much in the way of plot or reasoning. Entertaining but ultimately easily forgettable—still in this day and age of cult favorites including Office Space and both the American and BBC versions of The Office, The Office Party may be just the mini diversion you need after a day of dull drudgery at work.



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Office Party