Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Exciting Film to Love...and An Important Film to Look Forward To

I'm so blown away by this film, I can barely type. Like the magic that happens when a certain group of musicians get together (The Beatles?), every bit of The International is exquisite. It's like watching a master symphony at work.

But you won't notice that. Instead, you'll be caught up in this thriller, catapulted on a ride from New York to Berlin to Luxembourg to France to Italy to Turkey and back to New York (not necessarily in that order). With spot-on direction, brilliant, never-faltering performances, and plot twists and turns, I can not imagine it would be possible not to enjoy the ride. And then there's the Guggenheim. The esteemed New York museum has been recreated. Yes, the Guggenheim recreated, for a chilling clash of forces. Only on the DVD extras do we get to see the work that went into this feat.

While many international espionage/thrillers get caught up in their own web of complexity, Eric Singer's script keeps things razor sharp. A mega-powerful international bank gets intimately involved in funding war. Clive Owen, an Interpol agent determined to expose this extensive racket, delivers an Oscar-worthy performance. Truly, he is one of our greatest contemporary actors.

I searched out the director, Tom Tykwer, whose name didn't ring a bell. Silly me. Not only is he the director of the much-praised, Run Lola Run, but he is also an accomplished composer—creating a chillingly effective and original soundtrack for this film.

But a quick gander at his IMDB profile reveals something that has me giddy with anticipation. Listed under "In Development," is "What is the What," Dave Eggers' staggeringly beautiful story of the experiences of Sudanese refugee, Valentino Achak Deng. So Valentino's unbelievably heart-breaking yet triumphant life will be brought to the big screen. We can only hope. The world will be a better place for knowing Valentino's story.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tim’s summer reruns: Reviews of non-new releases

I have seen a few new releases but nothing spectacular of late so I decided to go back to my Netflix review vault and give you a bakers’ dozen of old release reviews never put on this blog. It’s a nice cross-section of DVDs of the past couple of years in no particular order. Seattle is in the midst of a heat wave so my mind is more fried than usual but being a surviving catholic I felt guilty about not posting. :) Stay cool people!

Lady in the Water (2006) One salt Shaker.
Half-baked folklore, cartoon creatures and a pale redhead astound an apartment complex. Boredom and malarkey shattered by the cliché loud soundtrack jump-scares. Good actors wasted by a crazed egomaniacal filmmaker- you know his name- it's plastered over the credits like spam. See “Night of the Hunter” instead.

28 Weeks Later (2007) Three salt shakers.
What this film lacks in originality, entertainment and character development, it more than compensates for in severe, quick edits with shaky cam. Scenes that may have been horrifying are jazzed up as this method is taken to its zenith. Oh and when someone has been exposed to the deadly virus and is a sole survivor worthy of study- I'm pretty sure she'd be monitored and guarded. And when "dad' keeps appearing all over the map, it's more like a comedy than a horror flick. A sad follow-up to such a classic original, kind of like “Halloween II” was.

All About My Mother (1999) Two salt shakers.
I had found it hard to believe that a teen-age boy is so transfixed by an actress in "Streetcar" that he frantically dashes after her cab in the rain. Then the nun getting AIDs after being impregnated by a transvestite? Another pal, a transsexual and the main character then switch roles as the assistants to the lesbian actresses. Suddenly there's an "All about Eve" twist as the all female cast again talk about their lives and then ….my gaydar just exploded. Pedro A, your films are just too ridiculous to merit the heaping praise.

Disturbia (2007) Three salt shakers.
If you're looking out your window at your neighbors and your friggin lights are on- they can see you. How basic is that? What would be a cool update of "Rear Window" loses steam from a strong setup and becomes yet another bland, predictable wanna-be thriller. The lead actor, Shia LaBeouf, does his best though which spring boarded him to fame.

The Host (2006) Three salt shakers.
Would be slimy monster fun if it didn't get weighed down in they typical Asian cinema broad comedy along with heavy-handed social statement. Whenever the slime monster is off-screen it stalls. Then a non-crowd-pleasing death spoils the end.

I Think I Love My Wife (2007) Four salt shakers.
Chris Rock tones down the smartass to make a nice stretch as a bored, middle-aged, sexual frustrated buppie. Better than expected and a cool step as a mature filmmaker/performer.

Bobby (2006) Three salt shakers.
This is a very flawed film! Ashton Kutcher as a hippy and Demi Moore as a drunken lounge singer both overact badly written parts. Harry Belafonte and Anthony Hopkins play chess. All of the performances seem stereotyped and unreal. However it's obvious throughout and especially toward the end that Estevez is passionately relating the death of the optimism and hope that succumbed after this "3rd" assassination and grew darker as Vietnam dragged on. To hear the speeches and to imagine 'what if' is depressing but a message that is important. The social value of this tribute outweighs it's "Love Boat"-like feel.

300 (2006) Four salt shakers.
Crazy, silly, and totally comic book- this film captures the pulp, style and amazing energy of the comic and takes it up a notch. As a pencil-pushing office rat - I felt my lost savage awakened in amazing battle scenes of stop action bloodletting! This is pure escapism and catharsis for anyone who has felt isolated while fighting a losing battle. Amazing visuals, stunts and sound make this an instant classic.

Catch a Fire (2006) Three salt shakers.
Like "Blood Diamond" this should have been a great film but somehow comes across as formula. I think Tim Robbins didn't blend into his heavy role enough and the long-winded opening of domestic tranquility seemed too forced. When the dark torture of apartheid finally occurs, the main character's transformation is overnight - like a "Rocky” training montage. (Even though this is a true story) Strong story- so why does it never catch fire?

District B13 (2004) Three salt shakers.
The incredible acrobatic foot chases, Parkour, elevates this- like Matrix stunts without the CGI. But the clichés are too deep and the plot too dumb- like anime characters rehashing 'Escape from New York'.

Breach (2007) Three salt shakers.
Depicting the FBI as a drab bureaucracy filled with office politics seems dead-on and Chris Cooper plays the hypocrisy of his role well. We needed more of him and less of Ryan Philippe.

Old Joy (2006) One salt shaker.
A condescending dullard and an unkempt hippy go camping and have about 15 minutes of dialogue- that leaves an hour or so of random scenery shots including multiple minutes of footage shot from a moving car at the passing scenery. ‘Chuck & Buck’ meets your stoned pals' bad camping home videos. No joy in this mumblecore. See “Mutual Appreciation” instead.

Crank (2006) One salt shaker.
Everything that's bad about filmmaking today: the clichés, the desperate attempt to be hip, the over-stylized direction...see “Run, Lola Run” or even ‘Speed.’ Yes the sequel is out this year, so yet another in a trend of sequels to bad films.