Posted on 6/12/10 09:15 AM
More like Voltage. Gregory Hoblit's Frequency is charged with enough drama and sci-fi buzz to see most of the main cast flat-line without being frivolous. No worries, though. Most of them come back. Two of them get wacked twice. One of them stumbles across a loop hole in the time-space continuum that gets him talking to the dead. Charge complete.
Back then, anyway. Luck be a laddie if director Gregory Hoblit's career hasn't booked a ride on the Bart Simpson hair-do for the past ten years. Frequency is a spike, a gun-and-badge sci-fi/drama that's heavy on the drama and light on the sci-fi. Jim Caviezel and Dennis Quaid are the father and son drama duo sporting their "I love yous" and tough-guy tears over an interval of thirty years.
In 1999, Caviezel is John "Chief" Sullivan, the dispassionate New York cop with a chip on his shoulder about the death of his father, Frank (Dennis Quaid), a firefighter and die-hard Mets fan. On the eve of the 30th anniversary of Frank's death, the discovery of his father's ham radio prompts John to seek guidance from memories drowned by booze and bygone days. He comes home to be greeted on air by a friendly New York firefighter named Frank. Who is a Mets fan. AND has a six-year-old son named Johnny whom he calls "Chief."
Think you know where this is going by now, don't cha?
Yeah, you probably do. In 1969, Dennis Quaid is Frank Sullivan who tunes into his ham radio to find a man named John, who lives at the same address as Frank and knows that this is Frank's last night on earth. Tomorrow, he will die unless "he goes the other way."
And he does. In the blink of an eye (literally), John remembers his past as it might have been had his father lived, played ball, had a Mustang. Between a black leather jacket and five o'clock shadow, Caviezel is the agitated, inky anti-hero. He's the street-smart cop who can catch a killer, but whose relationship is out on the front porch where his girl-friend Sam (played by a weepy but beautiful Melissa Errico) is leaving him. His excuse: it's not her, it's him. Sorry dude, but we don't feel sorry for you.
Until, by saving Frank, John steps on a proverbial butterfly, allowing his mother Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell) to save Jack Shepherd (Shaw Doyle), a two-faced cop with a deadly secret: he's a serial killer, dubbed the Nightingale, with a fetish for nurses. Meanwhile, in 1999, John makes a daunting discovery. Not only have the Nightingale's victim's increased, but staring back at him from the crime scene photos are the bloody images of one Julia Sullivan. Now, father and son must bridge a gap of thirty years to stop a killer before he destroys Frank's present -- and John's future along with it.
With the investigation taking place between different time periods, the film shifts constantly between past and present. There are no markers, except in the beginning of the film, that signify a change in setting. Yet, the two are like sides of a coin with little or no transition, but doubtless part of the same whole.
Likewise, the chemistry between Caviezel and Quaid is magnetic. The former is the grave and despondent negative, the bad cop who shoots with the good guys, fishing for answers at the bottom of the beer bottle. Quaid, on the other hand, is all positive. He's the all-American dad from Queens who drops his Rs, rides a motorcycle, and can't get enough of the great American past-time. Essentially, as the first-rate firefighter playing second-rate cop, he's a good actor with the wit to play a bad one.
Per contra, Elizabeth Mitchell (found on the big-screen, Lost on ABC) is good all around as the devoted wife and doting mother, winning the hearts of father and son with spoiled bouillabaisse. In the powerhouse of Quaid and Caviezel, Mitchell is no stick-figure in the almost-picture-perfect image of the All-American family.
Neither is Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age, The Mist) as Satch DeLeon, the skeptical cop whose arrival at the Sullivan home in one scene is likened to a fiery version of Sidney Poitier's Vergil Tibbs. Shawn Doyle (Big Love) is underdeveloped as the bad guy, but, with or without the mullet, he looms long enough to darken a couple of doorways, past and present.
In director Gregory Hoblit's past, Braugher starred in the 1996 box office hit, Primal Fear, starring Richard Gere and Edward Norton (whose performance earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor). Strangely enough, Frequency, one of the highest rated films in Hoblit's career, received so many rejections from Hollywood's elite that the prospects of the film's debut seemed bleak. Sylvester Stallone reportedly turned down the role of Frank Sullivan due to a dispute on wages. What jump-started the film's production, however, was Caviezel's decision to abandon the role of Cyclops in 2000s X-Men to play John Sullivan.
While sci-fi buffs will find the film's edge on fantasy bordering on dull, serious viewers will find one or two things to nit-pick about (the same ones who think mail boxes that send love-letters across time are a perfect example of the corny side of love). Nevertheless, the film oscillates well between drama and sci-fi (neither a day at the precinct nor a night with Kang and Kodos), so tuning in is worthwhile if only for the implausibility.
Posted on 5/21/10 09:19 AM
Ripe with a nitty-gritty setting illuminated by a chorus of "Hallelujahs," "Amens," and "Yo' Mamas," American Violet pits the name Disney on the director's chair on a live action set where the castle is a slew of sun-baked projects in Melody, Texas, the king a crooked district attorney, and the heroine a persevering mother of four on a quest to take down a corrupt federal system fueled by racist sentiment. So, once upon a time . . .
There was Dee Roberts (Nicole Beharie), a twenty-four-year old waitress whose main goal in life is to collect enough tips by pouring coffee and serving compliments to old women on their neglected change in hair style to provide for her four young daughters. The film jumpstarts by juggling between Dee's apartment in the projects (where the greatest transgression is a bowl of unfinished cereal and a busted bottle of peanut butter) to the parking lot of police headquarters where a hundred cops are assembling an arsenal composed of everything but the army tank to launch a raid on the unsuspecting tenants of an African-American complex.
From the start, the good vs. evil motif takes off with a whir. Choppers descend like beasts on the unarmed peasants of Melody and our heroine is tossed in a dungeon (in this case the county jail) on charges of distributing narcotics in a school zone.
But wait, not only is she innocent, but so are the one hundred or so other prisoners, most of whom are forced to accept plea bargains or face trial where the prison uniforms are pre-maid for the expected outcome. Dee isn't accepting any plea bargains, however, despite encouragement by her mother, Alma (Alfre Woodard), and her defense attorney (Paul David Story), who'd rather see the case settled so he can get back to sipping Manhattans on the other side of the train tracks.
So, what's a woman to do when the going gets rough?
Sue the district attorney, Calvin Beckett. Michael O'Keefe, in the role of Beckett, is the supreme bad guy, cool as a cucumber with an arrogance the size of Canada that you want to see squeezed to a slimy, obliterated pulp.
And who's to man the harvest? It's the Civil War in miniature as North and South come together in a farrago of Texas twang and University lingo, only this time they're fighting on the same side in the form of Tim Blake Nelson and Will Patton as David Cohen, a clean-shaven, court-house ACLU attorney, and Sam Conroy, the gun-toting, ex-narcotics officer turned lawyer who you know is sporting a bowie knife right next to his .44 Magnum.
They are the dynamic duo, the improbable pair with Byron Hill (Malcom Barrett) as their ace in the hole. The African-American attorney comes through like Vergil Tibbs with a figurative slap against the pale, not-so-untouchable cheek of iniquity.
With comic relief like deer in a desert, the film is washed in wave after wave of unremitting gravity in the style of a courthouse drama minus the courthouse where a bunch of guys, in this case big shot lawyers in suspenders, come together like Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cob, and the rest of the cast of Twelve Angry Men. A sprinkling here and there of dramatic dialogue and camera close-ups intensifies the stark pressure of the film. It's in one of these that Anthony Mackie, as paranoid schizophrenic Eddie Porter (whose been bullied into turning confidential informant on his friends and neighbors), reveals just how much seriousness plays a role in this straight-forward procession of fountain pens and legal pads. "I understand the seriousness of this whole situation . . . I understand the seriousness of not being able to sleep good at night 'cause you worried about somebody coming to your house and harming you or your family members. I understand a lot. And I know my life will never be the same."
Neither will Dee's when she's pounding the pavement in Beckettville looking for that lone employer who hasn't been threatened into turning her down. In the scenes when she's sparring with ex-lover Darrell (Xzibit) over the custody of her children or scraping by with just enough for a Christmas tree, you expect to hear Ray LaMontagne crooning in the background. Nicole Beharie is cozy in the role of Dee, the dark avenger without the Batman get-up and O-so-mighty superman complex. She's the hammer forging the way for director Tim Disney (grandnephew of Walt) into the real and pensive world outside of happily ever after.
That's where Regina Kelly, a 24-year-old waitress and mother of four, sued district attorney John Paschell of Hearne, Texas for issuing a "paramilitary" drug sweep that led to the arrest of 27 individuals on felony distribution charges. From the riveting true story, American Violet is no blossom with its dark presentation of racial profiling and arduous drama, but the plot itself is enough to grow on you, making for a worthwhile and cultivating view.
Posted on 5/18/10 12:44 PM
Good call by Sony Pictures Entertainment. If Hachi: A Dog's Story had been a theatrical instead of a direct-to-video release in the U.S., chances are there would have been a number of angry viewers feeling cheating out of a hard-earned ten bucks. That's to be expected, however, when one is forced to pay to see a film as priceless as this heart-warming family drama by Dear John director Lasse Hallstr÷m.
Based on a true story, Hachi is the whimsical tale of a chance encounter between man and man's best friend that transcends into a companionship of profound affection and unflagging loyalty. Richard Gere (who seems to hail from that race of actors who haven't aged for the past twenty years) is Professor Parker Willis who arrives at the train station on a return trip home to find a busted crate and a stray Akita pup wandering the platform. Parker endears himself to the lovable little creature by giving him shelter "just for the night," under the watchful eye of his wary, but sentimental wife Cate, played by Joan Allen. Keeping with the traditional plot of teary-eyed animal dramas, one night turns into week and one week into many as the orphaned canine with the big brown eyes (reminiscent of Puss-in-the-Boots persuasion) is elevated from the ranks of "temporary guest" to "Hachi," Parker's steadfast and faithful companion.
With a plot that's about as complicated as PB sans J, Hachi manages the extraordinary feat of keeping it simple without being stupid or contemptibly sappy. The headline "Dog Loves Man. The Feeling is Mutual" pretty much summarizes the first half of the film, but the second half, "Dog Waits Nine Years for Dead Owner's Return," is the must-see magnet for drama devotees. Hachi and Parker's relationship deepens when Hachi develops a daily ritual of accompanying Parker to the train station in the morning and returning every afternoon to receive his master the moment the train pulls in. Hachi's fidelity makes him a local celebrity and ward of Parker's acquaintances, Jas (Eric Avari), the hot dog vendor, and Carl (Jason Alexander), the cynical station master whose wise-cracks melt like snow in the glance of Hachi's comically indifferent stare.
Out with the tissues, however, when Parker bids Hachi farewell during his morning commute -- and never returns, having passed away during a lecture from cardiac arrest. When a heartbroken Cate (in a subtle, but gravely emotional performance by Allen) moves away and leaves Hachi in the care of her daughter, Andy (Sarah Roemer), Hachi is consumed by depression and a painful longing that leads to a display of unsurpassing loyalty. Every day, for the next nine years, Hachi plants himself in front of the station and waits for the afternoon train to bring his master home.
A standing ovation for the film's best actors (so sorry Richard Gere and Joan Allen), Chico, Layla, and Forrest, who portray Hachi as a pup, a middle-aged tail-wagger, and a grizzled old hound. There's no denying that there's something about animal expression that makes Old Yeller, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Black Beauty, and Babe household names. Beastly intuition is, after all, what made "The Tortoise and the Hare" a more recognized tale to some readers than "Susannah and the Elders."
Hachi is the anchor. The rest of the cast are links that ascend and drift about until they are out of sight, lost in a cloudy surface, but not necessarily burdensome. Sarah Roemer stars as Andy Willis in this, the second direct-to-dvd release in her career (the first was Asylum, a horror film directed by Final Destination 2 director, David R. Ellis). In 2007, she gained international recognition as the love interest to Shia LaBeouf in the suspense thriller, Disturbia. In Hachi, Willis takes after the scene from the Book of Exodus which is less familiar to some than the "The Dog and the Bone." She is what she is, a supporting actress in a supporting role with no ambition to mount otherwise. As "the new face of Jenny Craig," Jason Alexander's talent as an eclectic actor in film, television, and theatre is put to far better use sparring with Richard Gere (with whom he co-starred in the 1990 romantic comedy, Pretty Woman). (Oh, wait, he's not supposed to be acting in Jenny Craig, right?) Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat, Memoirs of a Geisha) stars as Professor Ken Fujiyoshi, Parker's friend and colleague who educates him in the ways of the Akita
Hachi is based on the dynamic true story of Hachiko, an Akita belonging to Professor Hidesaburō Ueno of the agricultural department at the University of Tokyo. In May 1925, Ueno died of a cerebral hemorrhage while conducting a lecture. His dog, Hachiko, who had arrived at the Shibuya train station to receive Professor Ueno each day, continued to do so after his death for the next nine years. Today, a bronze statue of Hachiko stands at Shibuya Station in front of the "Hachiko-guci" or "Hachiko Exit," where the dog was known to wait for his master's return. Ultimately, Hachi is a deeply moving portrayal of the universal nature of love and the will of all creatures -- be they man or beast -- to defy all obstacles in the name of friendship, even in the face of death.
Posted on 5/12/10 12:40 PM
With 5,000 barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico a day, you can bet that in East Jesus, Nowhere, on a long, dry stretch of highway, a weary trucker is listening to Michael Stipe sing about, earthquakes, snakes, aeroplanes, and Lenny Bruce. Environmental activists are storming the capitol with slogans like "Wash Our Waters," the IUCN is calculating some adjustments to their Red List from "endangered" to "extinct," and "Post-Apocalyptic" is coming into its own sub-genre in science fiction. That's where Origin: Spirits of the Past, an anime film by director Keiichi Sugiyama, falls into place.
The time: 300 years in the future. The place: dystopian Japan, riddled by chunks of split rock and mountain villages where people descend in garbage cans attached to a pulley system. All water (so difficult to obtain) is practically holy, and the Moon has been reduced to about ten wedges floating in outer space. The story: Agito, a resident of Neutral City, stumbles across a secret cavern containing a virtual, cryogenic pod where Toola, an 18-year-old young woman, has been suspended for the past 300 years. A concerned Agito becomes her protector and takes her back to Neutral City where she befriends Cain, Agito's best friend and self-proclaimed Casanova, and Minka, who sizes her up as worthy competition for Agito's affections.
Unbeknownst to Agito, however, Toola's awakening incites the wrath of the Druids, a clan of forest spirits who interpret Toola's arrival as a threat to their civlization. Grieved by what she deems as the perdition of a once eminent planet, Toola joins forces with Shunack, a colonel of the Ragna Army who reject the approach of Neutral City to co-exist with the Forest and whose main purpose is to reestablish dominance over the natural world. In an effort to convince Toola that the world, as it is, is not an abomination, Agito embarks on a mission to prove that mankind is but the essence of the Forest and the Earth a haven for them both.
Origin: Spirits of the Past is unique for purging wave after wave of grief and desolation so common amongst films of the post-apocalyptic genre. Instead of weeping over the loss of the iPhone (iPhone? Psshhh. We have Androids now) and the staples of the modern world, Origin adopts the philosophy of rebirth. First doctrine: We screwed up. Now where do we go from here? We decided to use the Moon as a home-base for an experiment on plant growth. Risky? Fuggettaboytit . . . until giant mutant plants leapt through outer space to destroy the Earth. Then, to escape the blame of 6.5 billion people being made into spinach (literally), we rounded up a few to be thrown in animated suspension for the next 300 years. Surprise, surprise. A handful of philosopher's in the branch of spilt-milkism decided to move on. Next stop: Neutral City.
Kudos to philosophy, but the flaw that will irk viewers to the brink of boredom is the saturation of the first hour of the film with the never-ending dogma of ashes to ashes and dust to dust. The film lags, save for the last 30 minutes, which are as action-packed and colorful as can be expected of a mediocre plot. If that's not enough to keep the every-day viewer watching, then anime junkies with an affinity for English-dubs will enjoy the stellar performances by heavy-hitters Chris Patton (Black Cat, Trinity Blood) as Agito, Carrie Savage (Aquarion, Rumbling Hearts) as Toola, and R. Bruce Elliot (Case Closed, Hell Girl) as Agito's father, Agashi.
A year after the release of Origin, the Discovery Channel series "My Shocking Story" aired an episode titled "Half Man, Half Tree." Viewers gawked at the amazing true story of Dede Kosawa, a 34-year-old Indonesian man diagnosed with a genetic disorder causing massive tumors to sprout from his hands and feet like the roots of a tree. Kosawa's story raises some penetrating questions. How deep do the roots of mankind and nature go? Is there a point where they intertwine? Perhaps director Keiichi Sugiyama's vision is not a vision after all. Perhaps fantasy is but a beginning and reality a destination that someone had to dream about in the first place.
Posted on 5/03/10 05:22 AM
For one of the most anticipated films of the year, Louis Leterrier's remake gears up for a stark drone rather than the residual clash of the 1981 fantasy epic. Thirty years later, Sam Worthington (fresh from the role of Jake Sully in the acclaimed 3-D splash hit, Avatar) is Perseus, the grimy, greasy, saber-wielding demi-god intent on defeating Hades, god of the Underworld, in his plot to destroy man-kind.
Left to drown at birth and rescued by the kindly fisherman, Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite), Perseus grows to manhood unaware that he is a son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), king of the gods. When the death of his adopted parents at the hand of Hades (Ralph Fiennes) draws him into the clash between gods and mortals, Perseus arrives as a lowly fisherman in the kingdom of Argos. There, the boast of the foolish queen, Cassiopeia (Polly Walker), invokes the wrath of Zeus, who permits a vengeful Hades to destroy Argos by unleashing the Kraken, a malevolent beast spawned from the flesh of the Underworld. Lest the princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) be sacrificed to appease the gods, Perseus joins the quest to destroy the Kraken and stop Hades from usurping the throne of Olympus.
While original films age like fine wines, it is no phenomenon that gaudy remakes of classic blockbuster hits go stale within a week of their release. The notion that every century must revamp the art of another is often unfounded if not disastrous. Of course, there have been exceptions, like Zack Snyder's 300, adapted from the 1962 epic, The 300 Spartans, and Guess Who, starring Ashton Kutcher and the late Bernie Mac in a unique spin on the 1967 drama, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Clothe the Venus de Milo in Versace and the David in Gabbana, however, and chances are there will be a slew of fans protesting the obstruction of bare originality.
Take for example the 1998 remake of Psycho, starring Anne Heche in place of Janet Leigh in the notorious "shower scene," and Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. The film earned a Golden Raspberry for director Gus van Stans, a giant leap of the wrong kind from the Academy Award-nomination for the 1997 drama, Good Will Hunting. (Van Stans learned his lesson. In 2000, he directed Sean Connery and Rob Brown in the coming-of-age drama, Finding Forrester, which Richard Roeper praised as one of the ten best films of the year).
While director Louis Letterier may not expect any Razzies for this fifth installment to his repertoire, the nephews of Sam Worthington will be left wanting (Worthington dedicated the film to them as a Clash "for their generation.") Contrary to popular consensus, the film's dialogue is far from a primary flaw. At a run-time of 118 minutes, the same as the original film, the remake fails to utilize the plot to the same extent. A lengthy introduction to the hero and a skirmish with artificial scorpions oozing green goop steal from pivotal scenes, like the showdown with the Kraken (who pops up near the end of the film like a giant hemorrhoid in CGI).
Additional boos for bad acting are hardly credible when a majority of the cast appear as holograms decked out in glitter and do little or no acting at all. Here is the greatest contrast from the original film, whose success lay in part with the supporting roles of Maggie Smith (Thetis), Susan Fleetwood (Athena), Claire Bloom (Hera), and Jack Gwillim (Poseidon). Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes make a worthy duo as Zeus and Hades (with Neeson reviving the role originally played by Laurence Olivier). Kudos to Sam Worthington for the expressive portrayal of Perseus (surpassing Harry Hamlin by a milestone) and a deep nod to Gemma Arterton for the novel performance as Io. One star that ought to be complaining, however, is Alexa Davalos, whose talent is severely down-played in the role of Andromeda. In 2009, she starred beside Daniel Craig in the war drama, Defiance, showcasing a knack for theatrical presence and poise. While dangling from a cliff in her undergarments (sadly, the highlight of her small role in Clash), Davalos shows a great deal of poise, but is ill-used to the point of expense.
For Desmond Davis, director of the 1981 version, Clash was a one-hit wonder. Prior to being in the director's chair, he was a camera man whose work behind the lens included the Academy Award-nominated film, Freud (1962), and the Academy-Award winning film, Tom Jones (1963). While Letterier will go on to greater things in the comfort zone of Unleashed and The Incredible Hulk, Clash will remain in the shadows of a much bigger titan, an original that will not be surpassed by the enhancements of 21st century whims.
Posted on 4/19/10 06:30 AM
"If all the world were paper, / And all the sea were ink, / And all the trees were bread and cheese, / What would we have to drink?"
Seltzer water (a.k.a. club soda). From the German village of Selters an der Lahn, 200 miles from Duchau, where Edward "Teddy" Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) saw death -- "too many bodies to count . . . too many to imagine." That's all that Teddy, the US Marshal, is willing to imbibe during his stay on Shutter Island, home to the Ashecliff Hospital for the criminally insane. With his partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), Teddy arrives to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando, a manic depressive patient incarcerated for the murder of her three children. Met with unease by the hospital staff and deception by the head psychiatrist, Dr. John Crawley (Ben Kingsley), Teddy suspects that Ashecliff is conducting human experiments, transforming its patients into "ghosts" by conducting lobotomies and other horrific surgical procedures. Teddy himself has his own ghost to confront -- that of his wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams), who died in a fire set by Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas), a demented pyromaniac whom Teddy believes to be the hospital's elusive "67th patient." As the visions of Dolores increase, so does Teddy's obsession with infiltrating the island's secluded lighthouse, which he believes to conceal Ashefield's greatest secret, a shocking revelation that may just turn out to be his own.
For viewers who've seen their share of crazy films (pun intended) Shutter Island fails to hold up to its promise to "keep you guessing." Director Martin Scorsese's golden egg with the perceptible golden yolk is like a clichÚ plot decked out in beautiful scenery. A nosey-newcomer with a crippled past disembarks in a remote territory and collides with a herd of eerie, menacing inhabitants. Rewind. September, 2006. Nicholas Cage is Detective Edward Malus who arrives on Summerisle in the middle of nowhere and encounters a Druidic order of women intent on human sacrifice (The Wickerman). Rewind. February, 2005. Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project) is Clark Stevens, an intern at Cunningham Hall Mental Facility who goes insane while mingling with the deranged patients of a shady head pychiatrist (Madhouse). Rewind. March, 2004. Johnny Depp is Mort Rainey, an author with writer's block who concocts a murderous alternate personality as a result of marital issues (Secret Window). Common tale. Common end. "Oh my God, they killed Kenny! You bastards!"
Before Gangs of New York (2002), DiCaprio's first film in his working relationship with Martin Scorsese, the role of Jack Dawson in the 1997 blockbuster hit, Titanic, launched his career as the pretty boy of Hollywood. "Leo Mania" took audiences by storm with films like The Man in the Iron Mask (1999) and Catch Me If You Can (2002). DiCaprio's collaboration with Scorsese in the 2004 biography, The Aviator, earned him his second Academy Award nomination (the first was in 1993 for the role of Arnie Grape in What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, starring Johnny Depp). In Shutter Island, DiCaprio delivers a profound performance as Teddy Daniels, whose detachment from his own identity is a fascinating portrayal of Catch-22 psychosis. Ok, so if I deny I'm crazy that means I am, and if I know I'm crazy, that means I'm not all THAT crazy. So . . . where were we? We can at least say this for DiCaprio: the guy is genuine. When he's not being nearly crushed to death by a tree or climbing down a cliff, he's playing the role of the street-smart cop with a conspiracy to uncover. While the audience may know the difference between a toy gun and the real thing, Teddy clearly does not and the bonafide paranoia depicted by DiCaprio is the main catalyst and must-see aspect of the film.
Besides the outstanding performances by Ben Kingsley (Ghandi) and Max von Sydow (The Exorcist), the film's setting, enhanced by the magnificent panorama and scenery of Boston habor and upstate Massachusetts, makes for a supporting character of its own. Settings need not have their share of talking flowers and home trees to be interactive. "As it rose above the graves on the hill / Lonely and spectral and somber and still." Such is the Ashecliff lighthouse, a symbol of duality that parallels Teddy's internal conflict with identity. As Teddy's frantic obsession with the lighthouse intensifies, so do our speculations as to its purpose in the film. Is it the beacon meant to guide him to the truth, or a siren luring him to his destruction?
OR, maybe that's being too dramatic. As God is his witness, Teddy Daniels will never go crazy again! Neither will audiences for this ambiguous film with an acquired taste. Many will see Shutter Island as a confused medley of scenery and introspection. More will endeavor to see the abstract melding of tension and psychological fear. Either way, Shutter Island takes viewers on a one-way trip to nowhere. Sooner or later, they'll be itching for the boat ride back to the mainland, cause the suspense on the island isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
Posted on 4/05/10 05:47 AM
In 1964, film-goers gawked, then cheered for what would become the most celebrated unofficial word in the English language -- supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. A feat to say, much less spell, it was the precursor to the fine four-fendered friend that took the screen in 1968 with Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts, the absent-minded inventor who restores a ramshackle motor car to its former glory -- and beyond. After a failed attempt at marketing his latest invention (toot sweets) to local business magnet, Lord Scrumptious (James Robertson Justice), a crestfallen Caractacus surprises his children, Jeremy and Jemima (Adrian Hall and Heather Ripley), by bringing home the dilapidated contraption, which he rebuilds and names "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" to the children's delight. While on a picnic with Lord Scrumptious' beautiful daughter, Truly, in tow, Caractacus entertains the children with a tale that takes Chitty on the adventure of a lifetime to escape the evil clutches of Baron Bomburst. When the baron sends his duo of bungling spies to steal Chitty to the kingdom of Vulgaria, a case of mistaken identity leads to the kidnapping of Grandpa Potts (Lionel Jeffries), whom Caractus and his companions set out to rescue with the aid of the magical motor car with a mind of its own. On arriving in Vulgaria (where children are imprisoned by the decree of the Baroness Bomburst), fantasy blends with reality as Caractacus and Truly lead a mission of incredible (and humorous) proportions that will leave viewers cheering for this comical and enchanting film.
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming (author of the James Bond series), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang had the good fortune of falling into the hands of acclaimed children's author, Roald Dahl, who became screen-writer for the film after the publication of his novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964. Also on the writing crew were Academy Award-winning composers Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman, who had previously written scores for The Parent Trap (1961), The Sword and the Stone (1963), and Mary Poppins (1964). Following a successful working relationship with the Sherman brothers, Dick van Dyke took up the role of Caractacus Potts after his enthusiastic portrayal of Bert the chimney sweep launched his career as a comedy actor on the big screen. Van Dyke's talent as a singer and dancer were apposite for the film's memorable musical numbers, which include the title song, the burlesque performance of "Me Ol' Bamboo," and the hauntingly beautiful "Hushabye Mountain." (As a trivia side-note, Van Dyke's dance numbers were put on hold for six weeks after he tore a leg muscle during the filming of the song "Toot Sweets"). In her second-to-last film role, theatre-actress Sally Ann Howes (who was then famous for her portrayal of Eliza Doolittle in London's West End) charmed adults and children alike with the colorful (and cheerfully robotic) performance of "Doll On a Music Box." Despite praise in the UK and other parts of Europe, the film received scathing reviews from Hollywood critics for its "forgettable score." Although undeserved, this was not surprising, since Hollywood was then preoccupied with the premiers of 2001: A Space Odssey, Night of the Living Dead, Funny Girl, and Rosemary's Baby. As the years passed, however, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang rose to prominence (typical of films unappreciated in their time) and was adapted into a West End production in 2002 starring Michael Ball (The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserbles) as Caractacus Potts.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is one of several films that cater to the young viewer's unique fascination with dubious subjects (from elephants to nannies) taking flight. The film's special effects (another topic of scorn in Hollywood) are decidedly poor for the decade, resulting in many of the scenes involving the titular character's extraordinary transformations (from a floatation device to a flying machine) to come off as cheesy. Should viewers choose to look upon the solidity of the film as the heart-warming and profound essence of imagination, however, they will be pleased with the intense feeling of nostalgia that is the main captivating quality of the film. The chemistry between Van Dyke and Howes is preeminent, a credit to Howes' ability to conform to the presence and musical style of her costars. Although the film's poor reviews precipitated Howes' departure from the film industry, she nevertheless went on to star in the lead roles of the London productions of The Sound of Music and The King and I. Amongst the other must-see factors are the comical performances of Lionel Jeffries (who starred as Grandpa Potts despite being a year younger than Dick Van Dyke) and Gert FrobŰ, whose portrayal of Baron Bomburst is likened to that of a plus-sized ruler in a hallucinogenic version of Candy Land. Primarily, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a delightful testimony to the power of the imagination, which is the basis for the inventor in us all and makes this endearing family-flick a classic that shall remain "truly scrumptious" for decades to come.
Posted on 3/25/10 06:07 AM
Drew Barrymore's directorial stint in this breakneck, routine comedy-drama falls just short of the finish line for a second-place tumble onto the back shelf of Hollywood's forgettable sports dramas. Academy Award-nominee Ellen Page (Juno, An American Crime) is Bliss Cavender, a 17-year-old misfit from Bodeen, Texas, where fish are jumping and the cotton is high and the greatest past-time is getting one's picture taken for the hall of fame at the local Oink Joint. Fed-up with the role of beauty queen in her mother Claire's off-beat fantasy of America's sweetheart, Bliss finds her true calling in the fast-paced world of roller derby, where, when the going gets tough, the tough get rolling. For the Hurl Scouts, a rough-and-tumble gang of tattoo-bearing, hard-drinking dames, second-place (or thirteenth, as far they're concerned) is the first winner as long as there's a beer and a hot tub to barf in. Encouraged by their coach, Razor (Andrew Wilson), and a die-hard determination to break even with their nemesis, the Holy Rollers, the Hurl Scouts, led by Maggie Mayhem, Smashley Simpson, Bloody Holly, and Rosa Sparks (Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Zoe Bell, and Eve), up their game with Bliss as their new front-runner, "Babe Ruthless." A few victories and a budding romance with an indie-rock musician lead Bliss to believe that her true home is on the rink. When her new-found hobby threatens her relationship with her best friend, Pash, and her parents, Bliss finds herself competing on a much bigger course where the main obstacle is to reestablish what is most important to her in becoming her own hero.
At twenty-three (and with an Oscar nomination to fall back on for the next few years), Ellen Page has proven to be quite comfortable in the role of the coming-of-age teen that had Judy Garland on the war path while filming Meet Me in St. Louis at the age of twenty-two. While audiences may rejoice in the young playing the young (as opposed to waiting twenty-odd years to go all out with Sly Stallone, botox, and Rambo IV), Page's socially awkward performance as Bliss Cavender is a Death-Valley tumble from the role of Juno MacGuff that earned the Oscar-nomination for Best Actress back in 2007. Due to a plot that is undeniably cliche (not to mention downright corny in Barrymore's hands), audiences ought not to be too hard on Page. Rather, it is the film's lack of originality and presentation (from a not-so-likable underdog to a outright unlikeable pack) that ranks it below more gratifying films like Ice Princess, She's the Man, and Bend it Like Beckham. Even the unwept and unsung world of roller derby adds no unique feel to the film, which pales in comparison to the oft-heard-of sports dramas that hail to a broader fanbase. Nevertheless, viewers with an exceedingly sensitive (or sympathetic) funnybone may find Drew Barrymore sporting a bloody nose and a IQ of 50 to be vastly entertaining. Aside from this, Whip It is just another mundane coming-of-age comedy-drama that audiences would do better to pass up - even if it is for Rambo IV.
Posted on 3/22/10 05:44 AM
"Crimey, we've been jimmy-jacked!" Luckily, for fans of the prequel to this action-packed, antic comedy, this is not the case (jimmy-jacked being "screwed," by the way). Ben Stiller (Meet the Parents, Tropic Thunder) returns as Larry Daley, who's given up the uniform as night guard at the Museum of Natural History for the driver's seat at Daley Industries, a corporation that sells glow-in-the-dark flashlights, unlosable key rings, and over-sized dog bones. While visiting his old haunt, Larry learns that the exhibits are taking the boot for interactive holograms and being shipped to the federal archives of the Smithsonian Institute. What's not being shipped, however, is the tablet of Ahkmanrah, an ancient device that bears the power to bring all the exhibits to life after sunset. When the tablet is stolen by Dexter, the capuchin monkey, and shipped to Washington, Larry is shocked to discover that not only have the exhibits come to life (in the biggest museum in the world), but the evil pharoah, Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), is intent on using the tablet to conquer the world by opening the gates of the Underworld. With the help of Amelia Earhart, Teddy Roosevelt, General George Custer, and Sacagawea (Amy Adams, Robin Williams, Bill Hader, and Mizuo Peck), Larry must keep the tablet out of Kahmunrah's reach by outsmarting his daunting trio of cronies: Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Al Capone (Christopher Guest, Alain Chabat, and John Bernthal). What ensues is an epic and hilarious showdown as the biggest names in history clash swords and tentacles in a mind-blowing adventure that is incredibly, exceptionally, and (literally) larger than life.
When he wasn't selling any color model T, as long as it was black, Henry Ford, with the grace of Tacitus and the air of Caesar (Sid, not Julius), amused his clientele with the observation that "History is bunk." "Bunk" meaning traditional and not worth a "tinker's damn" to the present day. Ford's aversion for the past may have been due to the sheer volume of names, dates, events and customs verging on a deluge of confused and dubious data. Unfortunately, Battle of the Smithsonian has the ill luck to be swept up in the tide. While not being completely and utterly "bunk," the film suffers from having one too many museums, leading to a thousand too many cast members, who might be called extras if everyone weren't supposed to be someone famous. In addition to the original cast, audiences must process the Thinker, the Ballerina, Aphrodite, the Tuskegee Airman, the Wright Brothers, Abraham Lincoln, American Gothic, three Cupids, six Einsteins, and - (insert deep breath here) - a full-blown NASA launch crew.
The initial "Oh my God!" reaction (which surfaces upon seeing Hank Azaria in a tunic with a lisp) loses all enthusiasm after a perky introduction to Amy Adams, whose gutsy performance as Amelia Earhart is the true high-light of this quirky, but teeming film. The rest of the characters, with the exception of the central supporting cast, come off as little more than a confused mob of tricorns, ushankas and three-pieced suits. Slapstick comedy (a hallmark of any Stiller film) has its fine points with funny man Jonah Hill and Simpson's favorite, Hank Azaria, playing Abbot to Stiller's passive-agressive Costello, but quickly becomes overbearing, verging on corny. On the money, Battle of the Smithsonian is a charming and entertaining family flick, but one that is sure to go down in history as a side-show act for a number of high-profile actors in period garb.
Posted on 3/17/10 11:05 AM
Based on the novel by Christian-fiction author Francine Rivers, The Last Sin Eater is director Michael Langdon Jr.'s approach to the gothic side of the American frontier drama. Circa 1850, in a Welsh community on the Appalachian territory, the death of her sister Ellen has haunted ten-year-old Cadi Forbes, whose mother, Thea, cannot overcome the grief from the mishap which killed her youngest child. When Cadi's grandmother, Gorawen, dies, the villagers summon the Sin Eater, a chosen-one condemned to purge dead souls by taking their sins upon himself. During the ritual, Cadi commits a forbidden act - looking into the eyes of the Sin Eater, thus tainting her own soul with his being. Consumed by the desire to cleanse her soul of the guilt she feels for Ellen's death, Cadi seeks him out with the help of her friend, Fagan, and Lilybet, an angelic spirit in the form of a child, whom only Cadi can see. Meanwhile, the community is off-set by the arrival of a nameless missionary who defies the commands of Brogan Kai, the self-proclaimed village leader. As she unravels the mystery of the Sin Eater's past, Cadi discovers that he is not the demon whom the villager's fear, but a tender soul tortured by an agonizing duty which separates him from the woman he loves. Only by accepting the word of God and bringing to light the brutal history of her village can Cadi save an innocent man from a shameful sacrifice and relieve her family from the suffering that has plagued them since her sister's death.
In parts of feudal Scotland and England, a sin eater was a person, usually a beggar, chosen to cleanse the sins of the dead in a ritual that involved the consumption of bread and wine, which were left on the dead person's breast during their burial. The ritual ended with the recitation of a prayer ("For thy peace, I pawn my own soul"), after which the sin eater would return to his place of solitude until his service was needed once more. In this slow-paced, but emotional film, Peter Wingfield (Highlander) is the Sin Eater, who skulks about the woodlands of Dead Man's Mountain in a drab ensemble likened to the Ghost of Christmas Past. Langdon's attempt at diffusing fear on the audience falls flat, but not without the reservation that perhaps it is not fear that he wishes to achieve, but sympathy for a man ostracized by his fellow men in correspondence with a crude and primitive tradition. Aside from the emotional venue, however, the film lacks, for the most part, one vital element: good acting. This may be the fault of two things: 1) Bad actors or 2) The strained attempts at establishing time and setting by having all the characters speak in the vernacular. Audiences may find the up-lifting soundtrack by composer Mark McKenzie to be a bit easier on the ears. Even Louise Fletcher, in her role as the village elder, Miz Elda, appears unskilled, with a Welsh accent that is laudable only when compared with the almost incomprehensible speech of Stewart Finlay-McLennan, who rubs off as a raging idiot rather than a domineering antagonist. With regards to plot, Henry Thomas (E.T., Legends of the Fall), as the unnamed missionary, appears as a bump in the road with an intruding performance that flows in the written story, but fails to properly adapt to the 117 minutes on camera. Fletcher (an Academy Award winner) and Thomas (a Golden Globe Nominee) are little more than a big name and a not-so-big name used by producers as a promotional tool. One name that should be noted, however, is Liana Liberato, who went from a small part in a episode of CSI: Miami to the role of Cadi Forbes, and is the only believable actor, from her "dunnas" to her "glyns," to overall bearing, in the entire film. Fundamentally, The Last Sin Eater is a garden-variety, verging on dull, production that lovers of religious media will enjoy immensely, but, to the average viewer, is little more than a satisfactory book-to-big screen adaptation.