9/29/2007

Beauty in Trouble



Director: Jan Hrebejk

Before Glen Hansard of the Irish band the Frames gave art house film fans the most surprisingly infectious soundtrack of the summer of 2007 with the smash success of John Carney’s Once, some of the same songs (including the beautiful “Falling Slowly”) were used in director Jan Hrebjk’s work, Beauty in Trouble.  

For Trouble, which is an Official Selection of the 2007 Scottsdale International Film Festival, Hrebjk re-teamed with his long-time collaborator and screenwriter Petr Jarchovsky who helped him create the Academy Award Best Foreign Film nominee Divided We Fall.

Just moments into the film we meet a young family in trouble following the devastation of their lives after the 2002 Prague floods ruined their home and uprooted them from any semblance of normalcy (American audiences may find the brief images in the beginning hard to watch without remembering Hurricane Katrina).

Finding inspiration in the Robert Graves poem for the film’s title, the movie opens as a domestic drama finding Marcela (Zelary and Something Like Happiness star Ana Geislerova), the mother of two children who makes an honest living working in a travel agency.

Employed as a mechanic, Marcela’s well-meaning but ill-advised husband Jarda (Roman Luknar) supplements his income illegally running a chop shop, much to the dismay of his devoutly religious mother.

After one of his thieves steals a wealthy man’s vehicle and the satellite system is activated, Jarda is arrested and his action not only brings incarceration but a romantic complication as well as Marcela meets the automobile’s owner the older and infinitely worldlier Evzem Benes (Josef Abrham).

As the opening of Graves’s poem (which turned into a Czech song by Raduza is performed by the singer in the film) promises, “Beauty in trouble flees to the good angel/On whom she can rely,” and Evzem takes a romantic and protective interest to Marcela, vowing to rescue her from her situation living with her shy, passive mother (Jana Brejchova) and her overbearing, dangerous and bullying husband (Jiri Schmitzer).

He takes Marcela and her children to his Vineyard in Tuscany and a delicate relationship grows increasingly more difficult after Jarda gets out of jail, a changed man and Marcela is torn by two very different kinds of love for two very different men.

In the sixth film by the duo of Hrebjik and Jarchovsky, which (according to the Karlovy International Film Festival) the men described as a work concerned primarily with “sex, money, and a good person,” audiences soon begin to question decisions and reasons for actions of the main characters.

It’s this emotional investment and intellectual involvement of a film that manages to alternately frustrate and fascinate us that lifts the film above its Czech soap opera beginnings into a work that should definitely inspire intriguing post-film discussion from audience members, who, in addition to the music by Hansard, will have numerous perceptions running through their heads long after the credits roll.

9/26/2007

The Hunting Party

Director: Richard Shepard

Initially named Spring Break in Bosnia-- Wag the Dog meets Three Kings with this film, based on a nonfiction Esquire article by Scott Anderson that begins with a warning to audiences that only the most ridiculous parts of the story are true. Matador director Richard Shepard creates a deft screenplay adaptation brought vividly to life by his cast which finds Richard Gere as a once great journalist named Simon who has a Network styled freak-out while reporting on the war in Bosnia and it’s caught on a live feed to America, filmed by his friend and cameraman Duck (Terrence Howard). Picking up years later, we meet Duck now given a safe, profitable living working for the network who returns to Bosnia with the anchorman to film the anniversary of the end of the war, along with young, aspiring journalist and Harvard graduate Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg) who is the network president’s son following his coattails. Once in Bosnia, he reunites with Simon, now trying to eek out a living with freelance journalism, but soon Simon gets Duck on the hook by explaining that he knows the whereabouts of “The Fox,” Bosnia’s most notorious war criminal—the man who has evaded NATO, the CIA, the UN and every bounty hunter around the globe. While there’s no doubt that Simon has lost a few marbles, Duck realizes he’s crazy enough that he may be telling the truth and he cancels his vacation with his beautiful girlfriend and goes along for the ride, with Benjamin trying to learn everything he can from the seasoned news veterans. Alternately funny, shocking and scary, with excellent performances that keep us dazzled, The Hunting Party makes an uneven but addictive blend that is quick to get news savvy audience members involved within the first five minutes of Howard’s narration and we’re on board for the entire outing. Whereas The Matador seemed like a great character exercise and a film created to buck genre conventions, The Hunting Party is a nice cynical (yet believable since the source material is true) throwback to the 70’s Vietnam era films but it’s incredibly timely today given its release now with the state of our political climate today that finds us involved in two wars and grappling with our disappointing inability to find another diabolical mastermind.

Apartment 12

Alternate Titles: Life/Drawing; Low Rent
Director: Dan Bootzin

On the DVD for the recently released (and renamed) independent romantic comedy/drama Apartment 12, actor Mark Ruffalo calls the film that gave him his first lead role and the rare chance to do broad comedy, one of his career’s best kept secrets that he feels contains one of his best pieces of work. While, when compared to the actor’s stellar turns in You Can Count On Me and countless others, it’s hard to share that high of enthusiasm, Apartment 12 is still a terrific and fun movie—wild, wacky and winner of the Birmingham Sidewalk Moving Picture Film Festival and the Phoenix Film Festival Cooper Wing Award for Best Director for Dan Bootzin who co-wrote the film with his wife Elizabeth. The very definition of independent—Apartment 12 was funded as Ruffalo shares entirely with credit cards and favors along with Ruffalo’s own car and clothes for his turn as Alex, an aspiring artist who is dumped by his highbrow girlfriend on the same day that his one-man art show is canceled, prompting him to seek refuge in a run-down apartment building filled with fellow Los Angeles oddballs, lonely hearts and eccentrics. Still working as a pizza delivery man while he tries to regroup and paint, Alex is urged by the building’s super (a hilarious Alan Gelfant who Ruffalo recommended for the role) to try to get back into the dating scene. After a disastrous attempt to meet a woman in a bar, Alex realizes that love or at least temporary rebound companionship may not be that far away when he begins dating his new neighbor who lives across the hall, Lori (a beautiful, funny and brash Beth Ulrich) a Colorado native who has recently moved to La La Land after a stint in the air force. Their quick courtship blossoms into a whirlwind of sleepovers and casual dates with both participants seeking different outcomes as Alex objectifies and idealizes the perfect woman he feels that he as an artist should be dating, not realizing that perhaps his ignorant and childish assumptions are making him closed-minded to the possibility of love with Lori. Although some of the humor is a bit overdone including far too many scenes with the casserole wielding school marmish neighbor for cheap laughs, it’s an entertaining date movie and one that seems to also accurately address issues surrounding the maturation of an egotistical artist into both a better human being and a better artist at the same time.

Grindhouse: Death Proof (2007)

Director: Quentin Tarantino



Released separately from its double billing with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror which played as part of the two directors’ epic salute to trash Grindhouse, Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof is both an admittedly cheesy throwback to the “chicks in trouble” exploitation films of the 1970’s and a worthy entry into the auetuer’s oeuvre, identifiable at once as the work of Tarantino with its classic rock music, emphasis on shots focusing on women’s feet, and pages of dialogue that spill out of the mouths of his characters guaranteed to shock and awe.

Like most of the films in the genre, Tarantino takes great pains introducing us to two separate groups of young women—the first an admittedly trashy and wild Austin, Texas crew led by Sydney Poitier and Vanessa Ferlito who talk about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, oblivious to the fact that a creepy, deranged middle aged man named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) is following them from bar to bar, driving around his death proof, crash ready car. After endearing the girls to the audience in an overly long hour, we watch in horror as Stuntman Mike plows the four women down with sadistic glee, only to show up much later in Tennessee to stalk four new women working on a film crew.

The second group of four is more fascinating than the first and far worthier opponents consisting of both brains and beauty with the likable casting of Rosario Dawson and two stuntwomen Tracie Thoms (who proves to be a natural with Tarantino’s dialogue) and feisty real life Kill Bill stuntwoman Zoe Bell playing herself.

Brimming over the surface with all things Tarantino including numerous references to Kill Bill (such as a cell phone ringtone, a few characters, costumes etc.) and a virtual opposite gender recreation of the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs—the thrillingly shocking twenty minute car chase at the end of the film featuring Bell on the hood of a car (and doing all her own stunts) is enough to make the film worthy of a rental fee but we want a little bit more to be revealed about Stuntman Mike, who, true to the genre just seems to be a sadistic madman devoid of personality (such as the main villain in Spielberg’s Duel).

Still, crazy fun for film buffs with an outstanding soundtrack and super cool cinematography, this time shot by Tarantino himself (who also does double duty and shows up in the first half as a bartender).


The Starter Wife

Director: Jon Avnet

Seven-time Emmy nominated miniseries made for the USA network, based on the chick lit novel by Georgianne Levangie Grazer (Brian Grazer’s wife), The Starter Wife was adapted by Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott. Debra Messing reminds us why we all fell in love with Will and Grace returning to comedy in this bright, fun, silly summer romantic comedy helmed by Fried Green Tomatoes director Jon Avnet.

Although we have to forgive the annoyingly forced cute intros to each “episode” that riff on classic Hollywood films and the beginning of the series that starts like a Hollywood version of Desperate Housewives, we’re soon enticed by the funny and topical tale of Molly Kagan (Debra Messing), the wife of a studio boss who must start her life over after her needy husband dumps her for a Britney Spears-like pop princess.

Virtually blacklisted and shunned by the community of wealth and power, Molly retreats to her friend Joan’s beach house where she finds love, a mystery with plenty of foul play and other entanglements in not only her own life but those of her close-knit circle of friends. Emmy winner Judy Davis heads up the supporting cast as Joan, who along with fellow studio head Lou (a great, understated Joe Mantegna) provide support to Molly as she comes into her own to realize what she wants in life for herself and her young daughter. Easily forgettable yet breezy and addictive as a beach read and now available in a two disc DVD set, fans of Messing and chick lit will want to be sure to check it out in time for its premiere as an official new series on USA Network, starting October 10, 2008.







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Movie Review: Fracture (2007)



New to Warner Brothers Blu-ray



Already Available on DVD



Production Photo & Poster Slideshow








Director: Gregory Hoblit

Entertainment Weekly stated in their review of Fracture that if Ryan Gosling isn’t careful, he’s going to become a movie star. While that is as true as it was when he turned in his amazing Oscar nominated performance in Half Nelson, the man who may want to be careful in Fracture is Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins who has not only cornered the market on playing creepy killers but if he isn’t careful, he’s going to become typecast to the point that those roles are all that he’s offered. This being said, he plays the privileged sociopaths with superiority complexes better than most actors around and such is the case in Fracture which finds Hopkins at his devious and pretentious best as structural engineer Ted Crawford who at the start of the film follows his beautiful younger wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) during her extramarital tryst with police Lieutenant Robert Nunallay (Billy Burke). Preferring murder to Jerry Springer styled theatrics, Crawford waits until his wife returns later in the evening and puts a bullet in her brain, later confessing to the crime when Nunally comes to the house only to find his lover shot. It seems like an open and shut case when it’s given to young, talented prosecutor Willy Beachum (Gosling) who is eager to leave his ninety-seven percent conviction rate earning minor paydays for the city of Los Angeles to become a climbing, wealthy attorney at an exclusive law firm where he’s offered a job. However, this last case proves to be quite upsetting when Crawford opts to serve as his own attorney, waiting for the chance to discredit Officer Nunally and challenge the hotshot Beachum whose weakness for success and self-centered tunnel vision may be his downfall. Although director Hoblit manages to pull the wool over our eyes numerous times with twists throughout, two of the major “surprises” are fairly easy to predict to audience members who have seen more than a couple of legal thrillers, including Hoblit’s masterpiece Primal Fear starring Richard Gere and Edward Norton. Still, like Fear, Fracture is memorable and worthwhile (at the time of this review it has an overwhelming fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes) simply for lovers of great acting for the sheer pleasure to be derived in watching two superb talents go head to head.

Offside

Director: Jafar Rastin

Banned in its home country of Iran, Offside begins with the following statement that-- since its banishment-- can now be viewed as ironic: “In Iran, all women are banned from men’s sporting events.” Only moments into Jafar Rastin’s neorealist styled docudrama, we meet a man looking for a young female relative whom he was told was trying to sneak into Tehran’s Azadi Stadium dressed as a boy in order to watch the last game before the world cup. Once at the stadium we meet other girls who are trying to do the exact same thing and some are dressed more convincingly than others but six get caught and are held in a makeshift pen just opposite the walls of the stadium and are supervised by soldiers who seem just as confused and disinterested by the rules they don’t quite understand as the young women. Winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and a few other accolades around the globe, this fast-paced film is much better than most of the summaries of the plot made it sound. Much like the soccer game the girls long to see, Offside manages to excite, entertain and provoke surprised humor from its peculiar circumstances as we watch the characters struggle against the strange law, share their experiences and reasons for being where they are (which range from typical fandom to melodrama) and try to get the most out of the game that neither they or us as audience members observe.

Sam The Man

Director: Gary Winick

An official selection at the Hamptons Film Festival and Resfest, Tadpole and 13 Going on 30 director Gary Winick crafts a compelling but uneven showcase for his leading man Fisher Stevens with this familiar feeling independent film about a novelist who, after the smash critical and popular success of his first novel, has been struggling to finish his second book which seems to be an autobiographical look at his struggle to commit and remain faithful to his beautiful photographer fiancé Cass (Annabella Sciorra). While it’s hard to care about Sam the Cad as he goes from one self-involved rant or failure to the next such as declining a tenured position as a professor from Rob Morrow, paying off his landlord Luis Guzman with artwork from his walls, alienating his writer friend John Slattery and publisher Ron Rifkin, or cheating with a married realtor Maria Bello, Stevens somehow keeps us watching, although more time should have been spent exhibiting the man’s talent as an author aside from a few throwaway lines that try to make us get a whiff of his purported importance. Bonus points can be given to the work which has a bittersweet ending that feels earned instead of protracted and movie “happy,” however we’re a bit dismayed that we spent so much time with Sam as our tour guide when some of the other characters in the film (including the ones played by Slattery and Morrow who receive notably less screen time) seem to hold our attention and may have provided a more refreshing storyline than the standard cliche of the egomaniacal blocked philandering writer and a few scenes that feel like they were taken right out of a Woody Allen film.

9/25/2007

Time

Director: Kim Ki-Duk


Call it a two year itch. Worried that her photographer boyfriend with a wandering eye Ji-woo (played by Ha Jung-woo) is getting tired of her “same boring face,” the irrational and obsessive Seh-hee (Park Ji-yeon) makes the drastic decision to disappear from his life and undergo extensive plastic surgery. Against his better judgment, a plastic surgeon agrees to operate and Seh-hee tells him that her goal is not to become prettier but to be transformed into a completely new person. Six months later, Seh-hee reemerges as See-hee (now played by Seong Hyeon-a) and proceeds to seduce her boyfriend all over again as someone else but after she’s secured him, she realizes that she can’t figure out what is worse—him pining for her old self like Lancelot or the idea that he could move on without her and find bliss with whom he believes is someone else. Having studied the fine arts in Paris, South Korean born director Kim Ki-Duk (whom audiences may remember from Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring) crafts a twisted, disturbing yet riveting, dark drama described by Matt Zoller Seitz of The New York Times in reference to its critical reception “as a comedy about the hollowness of relationships in a global consumerist culture,” that will no doubt be one of the most discussed and debated works among audience members at the 2007 Scottsdale International Film Festival. In South Korea, as reported in Derek Elley’s review of the film in Variety, “a recent estimate reckoned 50% of women in their 20s have gone under the knife, and a growing number of men, too, to achieve the goal of ul-jiang, a perfect face.” Although the gruesome opening images of plastic surgery that play during the opening credits make one assume that Time is striving to be an in-depth look at the alarming increase in popularity of plastic surgery in the country, the film itself quickly transforms (much like our main character) into something entirely different—a surreal study of love and time with an inventive backdrop and creative art direction that add layers to the drama. The controversial director’s haunting film and its imagery pay thematic and visual homage to the work of Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and the spirit of the two Davids (Lynch and Cronenberg) however it’s not a retread of any of the men’s works. Completely original, Time is Ki-Duk’s most fascinating and maddening puzzle and one that uses a number of his filmmaking trademarks as pointed out in The Village Voice by Mike D’Angelo who shares that, “Kim’s ‘characters’ tend to be abstract, symbolic ciphers—indeed most of them hardly even speak. Without credible human behavior to fall back on, Kim’s films rise or fall on the strength of their own ideas....” While with Time, the idea that young lovers dabble in reconstructive surgery to liven up a relationship changed by time is hard for many with which to identify, it’s a rare film that I’d venture to say you may never ordinarily see, at least not one that takes such a peculiar, incisive, and satiric approach to the idea of plastic surgery that has become something of a punch line in American tabloid magazines and television shows. In addition to using surgery as a device, critic James Berardinelli was quick to illuminate the many philosophical questions raised by the work in his review which listed several discussable topics that go along with the psychological and physiological shift that may occur after a person changes their face.

9/20/2007

Intervention

Director: Mary McGuckian

During the intensive, unorthodox family program at a New Mexico rehab facility, recovering addicts and their invited loved ones must undergo a variety of psychological exercises. In one of the most revealing assignments, addicts cover their eyes with a blindfold and walk seven paces, spin several times and then try to find their way back to the “center” or home. While it’s quickly revealed after a few frustrated outbursts that the goal is to get the individual to realize the acceptability and importance of asking for help, viewers find themselves acutely reminded of this lesson in the surprising closing moments of Mary McGuckian’s largely improvised film Intervention. During the final climax, the camera swirls in a circular fashion among the leads we feel we’ve come to know intimately during their therapy and soon we realize that all of the people at the ranch in question--not simply just the addicts—are all equally lost, at a crossroads in their lives and are in need of assistance. Reminiscent of director Mike Figgis’s emotionally revealing work in films such as Leaving Las Vegas and One Night Stand, this character driven ensemble piece imported from the UK features outstanding performances by an acclaimed cast. When the movie opens, we are drawn in by the quickened pace established by the four person editing team who employ a tense musical score (by Kim Bingham and Nicky Shaw) and a split screen device heightened by the cinematography from Mark Wolf to help realize the director’s vision that all aid in making us feel like one of the participants in a desperate intervention of self-obsessed adult film actor Mark (a ferociously powerful and manipulative Rupert Graves) by his family. Soon after he’s faced with his habit, we meet up with Mark’s estranged wife Jane (a gripping and determined Jennifer Tilly) who arrives to participate in the program of rehabilitating Mark and trying to come to some sort of better understanding of her martial relationship, only to be floored (along with the staff) by the arrival of Mark’s blonde bombshell girlfriend Pamela (Donna D’Errico). The circumstances help fuel the film with enough confrontations and realizations to supply more than enough plot than its succinct ninety-three minute running time can handle and while we realize that there are some larger definitive questions being raised by our limited understanding of the addicts’ personalities, they are answered in some candid close-ups and monologues during the closing credits. Seemingly drawing inspiration from the gritty, interpersonal man-woman marital dramas crafted by the grandfather of independent film John Cassavetes, Mary McGuckian’s piece is made all the more fascinating by her decision to have the rehab center run by married couple, Bill (Colm Feore) and Kelly (Andie MacDowell) and throughout the film are constantly reminded of the harrowing toll that shepherding these destructive people through their struggles takes on their own marriage. As evidenced in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, McGuckian’s forceful film explores the similar idea that sometimes when the door to secrets, desires and truth-telling is opened, one learns much more than they bargained for about the person with whom they’ve tried to build a relationship. In addition, once again, we’re reminded by the deft filmmaking craftsmanship that sometimes everyone’s lives are in need of an intervention or-- at the very least-- the reminder that it’s okay to ask for help.

9/19/2007

The Education of Fairies

Director: Jose Luis Cuerda


Featuring a stellar international cast including French actress Irene Jacob (Red and The Double Life of Veronique) and Argentine actor Ricardo Darin (Son of the Bride and Nine Queens), this lovely and eccentric Spanish film was nominated for three Goya Awards and earned one for Best Original Song. After the film begins, we jump backwards in time to meet our now contentedly settled characters including toy manufacturer Nicolas who falls in love with two people at once on a Barcelona-bound flight after he meets the beautiful widow and ornithologist Ingrid (Jacob) and her inquisitive son Raul (Victor Valdivia). Possibly setting up the idea of magic in the film, luckily the two become equally and rather quickly attached to the creative man and they form a happy family, living in a wooded Spanish paradise filled with the imaginary fairies that Nicolas uses in his bedtime stories that he tells Raul. However, when Ingrid suddenly announces—with virtually no warning—that she wants to leave their picture perfect marriage, reality threatens their blissful life when Nicolas forms a bond with Sezar (Spanish singer Bebe in her film debut), an Algerian young woman whom he ends up rescuing after she’s attacked twice in one evening by her piggish boss and two thugs. Giving her shelter in the wooded area near his home, a now maturing Raul becomes entranced by the stranger, believing her to be one of the fairies in Nicolas’s stories. Based on the bestselling French novel and adapted for the screen by the director Jose Luis Cuerda, The Education of Fairies sneaks up on viewers in a way similar to the Italian film Life is Beautiful in providing the audience with a bittersweet mixture of hard, painful truths including cultural prejudice and the many stages of grief and loss alongside the fantastical tales of wonder told to keep one’s children unaware of the darker side of humanity for as long as we are possibly able.

9/17/2007

Find Me Guilty

Director: Sidney Lumet

Although as The Village Voice’s Ben Kenigsberg pointed out, director Sidney Lumet has specialized in creating cinematic classics and “courtroom dramas for nearly fifty years,” including legendary works such as 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict and Network, one must admit the bar is lowered quite a great deal when the main character of his latest, Find Me Guilty, tells a jury with a straight face that he’s “not a gangster, but a gagster.” Still, somehow between the muted color scheme and high definition cinematography by Rob Fortunato and the excellent performance by Vin Diesel who, once and for all makes critics and movie snobs regret every crack they’ve made regarding his acting ability, the film became not only compelling but one I had to watch in one sitting. Based on the longest Mafia trial in the history of the United States—a trial which ran for a twenty-one month period between 1987 and 1988—Lumet and co-writers Robert J. McCrea and T.J. Mancini (who obtained official transcripts from the trial and used it for the dialogue, according to IMDB) tell the story of Jackie DiNorscio (Diesel). When the film opens, we watch in shock as DiNorscio first survives a nearly fatal shooting from his own cousin and consequently ends up in jail, only to later serve as his own attorney as one of the roughly twenty defendants—all members of the New Jersey Lucchese crime family-- against seventy-six criminal conspiracy accounts when his cousin becomes a star witness against the family. Although it was Lumet whose compelling docudrama was nominated for a Golden Berlin Bear, the main revelation of the piece is the acting by Diesel who one forgets is even in the film (thanks partly due to the over two hours of makeup he sat through daily), thoroughly convincing and disappearing into a role that, although some of the dialogue does aim in that direction, never borders on over-the-top. Despite a sixth grade education, Jackie remains the most fascinating individual in the courtroom, managing to alternately alienate and entertain the jury from pretentious legalese and take on each and every witness one by one, finding the cracks in their stories and weaknesses of their characters. Fine support is offered by the ensemble cast including Alex Rocco (as Nick Calabrese), the prosecutor that the film makes out to be the villain (Sean Kierney, played by Linus Roache), an excellent turn as the judge of the circus like proceedings by Ron Silver, and the man who nearly steals the film away every time he’s onscreen, Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent) as the polished defense attorney Ben Klandis who offers Jackie advice along the way. Produced by The Yari Film Group, the film works best for audiences (such as myself) who aren’t very familiar with the legendary R.I.C.O. (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization) trial and also for those of us wowed by the “razzle dazzle” (to quote Chicago, which is a film I’m sure that DiNorscio who passed away during Lumet’s production would have enjoyed) of semantics and communication and the way that it can be used to sway twelve increasingly tired men and women throughout the long proceedings. While as numerous critics pointed out, it’s a shame that basically we’re celebrating a guilty man and organization, it’s still a tremendous feat to admire as we see a “gagster” who is facing an incredibly long prison sentence whether or not he wins or loses, take on the court made up of academically experienced and brilliant legal minds. It's well worth the rental.

The Man Who Copied

Director: Jorge Furtado

Just one year after Fernando Meirelles’s brilliant City of God, another Brazilian film was released depicting the similar struggle of the haves and the have-nots and the increasing gap between the two. While crime still plays a part of Jorge Furtado’s The Man Who Copied which won six Cinema Brazil Grand Prizes (including Best Picture and Director), it’s a far less gritty and neorealistic tale of bending the law than the prior epic. Appropriately described by The New York Times as a film that begins as “social realism” but turns “into noirish fantasy,” we are introduced to our lower-classed nineteen year old hero Andre (Lazaro Ramos), who, without much in the way of a formal education, acquires knowledge by reading snippets of sentences on diverse topics from the many items he Xeroxes as a photocopier operator in a local shop. With an inventive voiceover that quickly wears out its welcome despite an intriguing blend of highly stylized sequences establishing Andre’s daily routine, we discover that Andre possesses not only a love of drawing (especially cartoons) but is also, in an homage to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, voyeuristically in love with the girl in the building opposite himself whom he spies on with binoculars—the only extravagant item to his name. Despite a vague and unpromising title, The Man Who Copied is at once both delicious (yet slightly improbable) fun and also overly cynical in its moral that happiness comes only to those with money. Set in writer/director Furtado's hometown of Porto Alegre, Andre, like his beautiful virginal seductress coworker Marines (Luana Piovani) long to live a life of wealth and privilege—while she plans to marry a rich man, Andre schemes to use money as a way of introducing himself to his neighbor Sylvia (Leandra Leal) whom he follows one day to work only to realize that she works in a woman’s apparel store. When a color copier arrives at the store, he learns his new skill set with gusto and after hours of troubleshooting, makes a nearly fool-proof copy of a fifty dollar bill that he exchanges in a rather risky scheme in the local lottery in order to get enough money to purchase what he tells Sylvia is a birthday present for his mother and uses that initial purchase as his way into her heart, planning “chance” encounters with the girl until a fast friendship develops that blossoms into love. After discovering the lecherous father of Sylvia, Andre makes the decision to embark on a life of crime in order to marry the girl he loves and enlists the help of Marines and Cardoso (a hilarious Pedro Cardoso who along with Piovani steal the entire film) that consists first of counterfeit and then escalates into robbery. Although it has some dark and dangerous moments that distract from its hip, funny and coolly improbable scheming tone, The Man Who Copied, despite its cynical (although for the quartet of characters sadly true as the way they see it) message that money will get them out of their unfortunate circumstances, is yet another fine piece of Latin American filmmaking that will entertain fans of Nine Queens.

Perfect Opposites

Director: Matt Cooper

Some people get a drastic haircut after the end of a bad relationship, some fall quickly into rebound relationships with the wrong people and others—well-- others such as Matt Cooper keep their Dear John letters and write a play.

Ten years after “A Piece of My Heart,” debuted at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles, Cooper and the director of the stage production, Stewart J. Zully collaborated on adapting the work into an independent film.

Although the story of young love and a man who can’t commit is nothing new and Perfect Opposites was re-rated from its original R rating in the United States and released on DVD as a PG13 film-- a sure sign it never really found its footing and the production company was content to let it find its way into the lives of others by stocking it in Blockbuster and other stores—it’s still a worthwhile and entertaining date movie.

Best suited for the twenty-something set looking for appropriate fare for an evening in and one that could lead to interesting relationship discussion afterwards (be forewarned!), the movie stars Martin Henderson and Piper Perabo.

After a whirlwind courtship during their final year of college (his in law school and hers in her undergraduate program), the young couple packs up and moves out to Los Angeles where Henderson’s Drew Curtis has a job waiting for him in Joe Pantoliano’s entertainment law firm, thanks to his coworker sister Kathleen Wilhoite’s connections.

While Drew struggles to study for the bar and accept his new position, trying to deal with the ego of his boss and suck up to a famous actor he meets while running a work related errand, Perabo’s Julia never really finds her footing, existing in that post-grad funk of trying to discover her own needs and what she wants in life as she tries to find a job.

Julia and Drew become fast friends with Elyse and Lenny Steinberg (Jennifer Tilly and Artie Lange) a slightly older, married couple who live nearby and help provide moral and friendly support in getting Julia a job and being a shoulder to cry on as the two young lovebirds realize that they have different priorities to which (while being gender stereotyped as Julia nests and Drew’s eye wanders) many young couples can relate.

Unfortunately, even the wonderful supporting cast of the scene-stealing Tilly and Wilhoite, along with lovely leading lady Perabo can’t help make us forget the fact that Drew’s character is immensely unlikable and we wonder why Julia is even bothering to continue the relationship only thirty minutes into the film.

However, it does get bonus points for not tacking on a protracted happy ending and instead having a finale that (while admittedly cutesy) seems to fit the characters and situations a bit more logically than the typical “run down the block” or “chase to the airport” scenes we’re confronted with again and again in typical Hollywood romantic fare.

Entertaining but overall, nothing we haven’t seen before— Perfect Opposites is worth it for fans of the actors or serious lovers of romantic dramedies.

9/15/2007

Border Cafe

Director: Kambuzia Partovi

In addition to numerous awards around the globe and being chosen as Iran’s official submission into the Best Foreign Film Category for the 2006 Oscars, writer/director Kambuzia Partovi’s Border Café (or Café Transit as it’s known overseas) earned a Special Mention “For the positive portrait of the Iranian woman’s fight” at Mar del Plata Film Festival. Fereshtei Sadre Orafei gives a quietly powerful performances as Reyhan, who, after her beloved husband Ismael dies, defies the custom of becoming the second wife of his brother Nasser (Parviz Parastoei) so that he can look after the widow and her two daughters, and opts instead to run the family restaurant, along with the help of longtime waiter and friend Ojan (Esmaiel Soltanian). While not overtly rebellious or outspoken, Reyhan’s action as a woman running a business goes against Iranian law but the film is never an expressly feminist minded film but stands as a forward thinking nearly docudrama styled piece and as Robert Koehler pointed out in his review in Variety, “Orafei’s approach to her character isn’t as a doomed woman, but as a survivor.” While the opening and closing sections of the film feel a bit rushed and ambiguous, the film works best as an ensemble piece as Reyhan’s café, situated on the Iran-Turkey border becomes a favorite for travelers and truckers and a home away from home for a young Russian female who fled her country during wartime slaughter and a Greek trucker (Nikos Papadopoulous) who forms an attraction to the widow Reyhan. According to IMDB, however, “Iran’s ministry of culture and Islamic guidance” censored the romantic scenes between the two. While Border Café is more thematically similar to the Fire, Earth and Water trilogy created by Deepa Mehta, at times it feels as though it belongs in the same company with films such as Volver, Chocolat or Antonia’s Line. Methodical, ponderous and a film that will definitely strike up post-viewing conversation, Partovi’s melancholy work is sure to open one’s eyes to the conditions for women in that particular part of the world and makes a wonderful inclusion as an Official Selection of the 2007 Scottsdale International Film Festival.


9/11/2007

Hula Girls

Director: Sang-il Lee


In what I predict will become one of the biggest hits of the 2007 Scottsdale International Film Festival, Korean director Sang-il Lee returns to the country of his birth for this true story of the 1965 closure of a northeastern Japanese coal mine in Iwaki that put more than two thousand people out of work. Eager to reinvent itself as a city on the cusp of change not only in regards to coal verses oil but also in the roles of men and women, and much to the chagrin of boycotting union families, the city planners decide to cash in on the tourist trade by erecting a state of the art Hawaiian Center and recruit local young women to become hula dancers. Two friends Sanae (Eri Tokunaga) and Kimiko (Yu Aoi) join the effort to train under the tutelage of the hot-tempered, seasoned and professional Tokyo dancer Madoka Hirayama (Yasuko Matsuyuki) who proceeds to whip the girls into shape despite being an unpopular outsider whose time in Iwaki is threatened after the family members and community objects. Despite her tough love tactics and hard persona, Hirayama quickly becomes the fiercest and most loyal protector of the young dance troupe in her willingness to go the distance and in her respect for the young women to let them take over as leaders once the teacher had paved the way. Much like the characters they play, the energetic young cast, led by Aoi, who earned numerous awards and nominations for her fine portrayal, had never danced prior to the shooting of the film and studied for three months in order to convincingly play the part, according to IMDB. While 1960’s women’s liberation is nothing new, seeing the transformative power of art and the way that self-confidence and teamwork help the young women mature in a Japanese setting is quite intriguing to behold and one not often depicted on film. Although boosted by the fact that the film is based on truth, some critics dismissed Lee’s work as a formulaic trifle in the tradition of The Full Monty, Dirty Dancing, Billy Elliott, Cool Runnings and A League Of Their Own as Hula Girls fits the mold of underdogs trying to carve out better lives and go against the grain but I found it to be an excellent companion piece to the socially-minded British film Brassed Off. However, what wasn’t being said in all of the dismissive reviews is that all of the previous films mentioned were wonderful in their own right and the formula works for a reason. Hula Girls is no exception—it’s an uplifting crowd-pleaser that, despite some anachronisms in the subtitle translation of dialogue that feels more modern than its 60’s setting, it’s a whole lot of fun. In addition, like Whale Rider and Bend it Like Beckham, the film is an ideal choice for parents of teen girls hoping to broaden their daughters’ horizons by introducing them to the world of foreign film. Hula Girls earned several Japanese Academy Awards including Most Popular Film and Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and others as well as being chosen by the country as the official selection for the Best Foreign Language Film submission to the 2007 Oscars.

9/06/2007

3:10 to Yuma


“What’s so beautiful about the Western is that it creates an allegory that allows an audience, without dividing up along predictable lines—right-wing/left-wing, religious/non-religious—to explore the ideas with an open heart.”
Director James Mangold as quoted by Kerry Lengel in The Arizona Republic’s special "Reloading the Western" (9/2/07)

Director: James Mangold




One of the first images we see in director James Mangold’s remake of Delmer Daves’s 1957 western (based on a Dime Western Magazine story by Elmore Leonard) is the barn of hard-working, honest, civil war veteran turned cattle rancher Dan Evans being burned down as revenge for his overwhelming debts that he opted not to pay in order to care for his land and feed his wife and two sons.

While his older son William (Logan Lerman) looks at his father Dan (Christian Bale) as though he were a coward, Dan tries to show him that it pays to be on the right side of the law. This lesson is made all the more difficult after he and his sons stumble upon the aftermath of robbery of a Pinkerton guarded stagecoach by infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and after Wade spends too much time in town with a beautiful barmaid, is apprehended by officers and Dan who happens to be in the right place at the right time, depending on how one views it.

Although given a limp after part of his leg was blown off fighting for the north, Bale’s Dan volunteers himself as the best shot in his regiment to help the small group of men (including a crusty Peter Fonda, a reluctant vet Alan Tyduk, and the lawman Dallas Roberts among others) assembling to assist in bringing Wade to the 3:10 train to Yuma, Arizona jail for two hundred dollars.

Desperate enough for the money to face not only Wade’s gang of outlaws that trail closely behind him but travel through violent Apache territory and ruthless railroad bosses turf (including Luke Wilson in a small cameo), Dan is shocked when his son William comes along for the ride partly to help his father and partly because he is fascinated by the outlaw Wade who continually manipulates his captors and seems to be the one in control despite his being restrained.

Wade’s gang is led by Charlie Prince who, played by actor Ben Foster, turns in a stellar, menacing portrayal that begins to disturb audiences from almost the first moment he’s onscreen. As Todd McCarthy of Variety wrote, “Foster’s lightning-draw killer brandishes a dementia amplified by an intense loyalty to Ben that gently borders on homoeroticism; he’ll do anything for his boss, for some reasons that are clear and for some that must be intuited.” He adds, “Foster is a mad delight to watch, and a reminder that the relative scarcity of western deprives a generation of character actors of opportunities to shine.”

Indeed, Mangold, whose work includes such diversity such as Girl, Interrupted, CopLand, Identity and Walk the Line, seems to pay particular attention to his actors and delights in making character driven pieces that thrive on dramatic interplay between human beings rather than just hitting certain plot points to get to the next set-up in America’s oldest genre.

In fact, as again reported by Lengel, Mangold stated that he aimed to liven up the genre with a timelier feel adding, “… I wanted a little sense of the long shadow of the corporate America to come… is this last of a breed of outlaws really bad [Wade’s gang], or is what’s coming worse?” Although it does have some striking similarities in both theme and script to the iconic anti-western about duty over sense, High Noon (which was in itself an allegory of the McCarthy era), Mangold’s film stands out as one of the finest westerns in years and definitely the best American film released this summer and one that if there’s any justice, will earn the continuously overlooked Christian Bale (the unanimous first choice by Mangold, producing partner wife Cathy Konrad and Russell Crowe) an Oscar nomination for his subtle, internalized and quietly powerful portrayal that was so believable one felt as though we were actually witnessing his thought processes at times.

Beautifully photographed by the son of John Casssavettes's art director, also named Phedon Papamichael (cinematographer on The Pursuit of Happyness, Walk the Line, and Sideways), the film was also punctuated by a tense score from Scream trilogy composer Marco Beltrami and inventive editing from Michael McCusker that helped make some of the more gasp-inducing sequences including the Pinkerton robbery at the start and the lengthy final gun battle at the end so amazing to behold.