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In this column we will feature thumbnail reviews by Wayne Case, a veteran of Hollywood's Big Machine who currently works for an independent film company in Los Angeles. Wayne ranks the films on a scale of 1 (bad) to 10 (good). The following are Wayne’s rankings of films for 2007.
300 Rated: 6
Right off the top, let me point out that I’m not part of the target audience for this one since I’m out of my teens and have zero interest in violent graphic novels, comic books or video games. Don’t think of this as an apology for that.
From repeated painful experience, I’m well aware that popularity and quality often diverge when it comes to film. Regardless, I decided to view 300 because I wanted to see what was attracting such large crowds on opening weekend March 9, 2007. I braced myself for the worse and was pleasantly/mildly surprised.
Many incidents depicted are uber violent and drenched in blood but since it’s clear that nothing we see is real, the impact is minimal, at least for me. During all three beheading sequences that I recall, heads separated from bodies swiftly with little or no blood splashed/spilled. Go figure. I’m reminded of the cartoon violence as drawn in the ROAD RUNNER animated short subjects and I reacted accordingly. Interestingly, the mostly young male matinee audience around me at The Grove Theatre in Beverly Hills, CA was attentive but non-responsive to what they were seeing. At other screenings, I gather there was considerable audience participation but not here, not this day, anyway. Maybe being surrounded with peers is necessary for acting out in that manner.
I read that not a single frame of the film was shot outside, not that it matters since the entire film looks and plays as if everything occurs in an alternate universe. What’s presented is hokum but the story is well told and easy to understand. Although very loosely based on true events, to react as if it’s historically accurate is absurd and obviously not the film makers intention or goal.
Regarding the cast, I have no complaints. Everybody is in remarkable physical condition. However, to refer to whatever they’re doing here as acting is a stretch. Call it posing and posturing instead. Although I’ve seen top billed Scotsman Gerard Butler in several earlier films, I would never have realized it was him as King Leonidas if I hadn’t seen his name in the credits. His best work so far is available at video stores in a charming small film called DEAR FRANKIE (‘04). while his interpretation of the Phantom in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (‘04) would have benefited immeasurably if some of the energy on display here had been utilized there. Brazilian Rodrigo Santoro is other worldly as Xerses. It’s hard to believe that this is the same human as the one who was so charming in LOVE ACTUALLY (‘03).
Co-writer & director Zack Snyder delivers exactly what the target audience wanted and they love it. North American gross looks likely to reach or exceed a lofty $200 million.
Special mention of the costumes is a must. Even at that point in history, warriors who would wear such a combination of Speedos, capes and boots into battle must have had serious issues.
ALPHA DOG Rated: 5
This one is fascinating in a train-wreck kinda way…
I was never bored but often annoyed. Its lack of polish is probably intentional, but the pervasive unevenness isn’t.
Justin Timberlake is effective in a take-no-prisoners turn but I’m not sure that was his or the director’s intention. Speaking of the director, it’s hard for me to believe that the same man, Nick Cassavetes, directed both ALPHA DOG and my favorite film of 2005, THE NOTEBOOK. I can find no commonality.
I enjoyed Shawn Hatosy and Anton Yelchin but felt that most of the rest of the cast, especially Bruce Willis & Sharon Stone, were underutilized or misdirected and badly lit/photographed.
AMERICAN GANGSTER Rated: 7
Think of this as a minority report since I’m the only one I know of who is unenthusiastic about it. For me, it’s a pale retread, especially when compared to the best in this genre such as THE DEPARTED (2006). Denzel Washington’s performance is very familiar and I just didn’t like Russell Crowe this time out. On the other hand, in support, Ruby Dee is a standout and deserves award consideration.
THE ASTRONAUT FARMER Rated: 6
I’m giving this one a rather generous rating since I think it had/has good intentions and suspect many will be more accepting of it than I am. The story is about a farmer named Farmer who decides to launch his own rocket into space. Frankly, I found it just a bit too peculiar or off-center considering the story and doubt that was intentional. Further, I never got totally involved. Neither the writer/directors or the lead male and female leads are what I’d consider main stream and they are strange choices for this type material which reminds of FIELD OF DREAMS (‘89). This is the fourth feature film from identical twin brothers Michael Polish and Mark Polish who handle both the writing and directing. I fully expect them to connect with the right material eventually and deliver something really special. Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton (SLING BLADE—‘96, BAD SANTA -‘03) is good, but, in my opinion less than ideal casting. Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen (SIDEWAYS—‘04, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION—‘06, ELECTRIC DREAMS—‘84) is good in a rather conventional part as the adoring wife/mother. Real life teenager Max Thieriot plays their teen-aged son nicely. Look for him in two future high profile releases, NANCY DREW (‘07) & JUMPER (‘08) both of which he’s already completed. In support, it’s a pleasure to see former Oscar nominee Bruce Dern (COMING HOME—‘79) again. He gets it just right as Ms. Madsen’s father without going over the top as many actors in this type part are inclined to do.
BECAUSE I SAID SO Rated: 3
BECAUSE I SAID SO is cliched, cringe-inducing crap masquerading as romantic comedy.
Based on the rather amusing trailer, I was hoping for an experience approaching my delight in viewing two previous Diane Keaton romantic comedy/dramas named
SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE (2003) & THE FAMILY STONE (2005). Instead, this one mirrors the calamitous HANGING UP (2000). Not only was Ms. Keaton the star of HANGING UP, she is credited /blamed for directing it. Evidence here indicates that she directed herself in BECAUSE I SAID SO in the same lame manner and credited director Michael Lehmann just stayed out of the way for her scenes. While attractively photographed & nicely costumed, I found this Oscar winning actress as annoying as anything I’ve endured in a decade or more. Place equal blame on the writing of the character.
Prominently featured as one of Keaton’s three daughters, Mandy Moore (SAVED!—2004)stops just short of going too far, thank goodness. She continues to show major promise and looks great. As another daughter, beautiful Lauren Graham, from the television hit GILMORE GIRLS, has one good scene and exhibits big screen potential. I loved Piper Perabo in COYOTE UGLY (2000) but she is wasted here in a thankless role as the third daughter. The male actors fare better since they are allowed to behave in a relatively normal manner. Gabriel Macht (A LOVE SONG FOR BOBBY LONG—2004) and Tom Everett Scott (television’s ER and THAT THING YOU DO—1996) are believable, handsome and likable as suitors for Ms. Moore while Steven Collins (television’s 7th HEAVEN and LOVING COUPLES—1980) makes a good potential match for Ms. Keaton although nobody on the planet would be likely to put up with this character as she plays it.
BECOMING JANE Rated: 8
Charming but a little disappointing. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE it ain’t. Nevertheless, it’s diverting and worthwhile if approached with realistic expectations. Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy are attractive and delightful.
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD Rated: 7 1/2
Five time Oscar nominated director Sidney Lumet was in his early eighties when he directed BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD.
His talent hasn’t diminished with age.
Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman does his usual/ expected exceptional work. As his brother, Oscar winner Marisa Tomei is good in a role I’d never have expected to see her take. Five time Oscar nominated actor Albert Finney does strong work as the father. One time acting Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke has have never been better but is not aging gracefully. That’s appropriate for this part.
My problem with the film is the subject matter and the fact that all of the major characters are awful human beings. When I left the theatre, I felt like I’d been swimming in the sewer.
BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE Rated: 4
The best thing I can say about BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE is that I already have one spot filled for my Worst Films of 2007 list. Despite fair warnings from early reviews, I still expected to like this one. Wrong. The cast is generally able and attractive. Agnes
Bruckner was wonderful in BLUE CAR (2002) and I still hope she can break through but she seems mostly stunned here. Considering that most of the cast also failed to impress, maybe it wasn’t her fault, and she did look good. I’d like to see her get some roles considered for party animal problem Lindsay Lohan. I thought French hunk Olivier Martinez was terrific in UNFAITHFUL (2002) and very effective in both THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS. STONE |(2003) and TAKING LIVES (2004). Not his time. Either he is aging poorly or he was very badly lit/photographed here and his accent is almost as annoying as Penelope Cruz is when she attempts English. Male lead, British Hugh Dancy is right at the edge of break through bigtime stardom and this won’t stop him although it certainly won’t help. At this writing, he has completed 2 or 3 likely hits and has 1 more in production or pre-production. I’m betting his hair will be clean and well groomed in those since it sure isn’t here. I was impressed with British Bryan Dick as Rafe. He is new to me but has done plenty of British television and his experience pays off here. (Also, although I don’t remember him in it, he had a small part in one of my 2006 favorites, BROTHERS OF THE HEAD.)
The location work in and around Bucharest is effective, attractive and appropriate for the werewolf plot but German born director Katja Von Garnier doesn’t seem to have any feel for the material. This one is unlikely to get her future assignments.
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM Rated: 9
BREACH Rated: 8 1/2
Although it’s early 2007, BREACH is a cinch to finish among my top 20 best films for this year. It’s that good. This is Billy Ray’s second film as director. It follows his equally impressive work in that capacity on SHATTERED GLASS (2003). He has major writing credits for both these films plus several others he didn’t direct. Further, he is said to have done considerable uncredited script work on many more films. Just as SHATTERED GLASS was, BREACH is based on a fascinating true story. I’m very excited about at least two of Billy Ray’s upcoming likely projects which he may or not direct. HURRICANE SEASON is set in suburban New Orleans shortly after Katrina and 102 MINUTES is based on a book detailing what happened inside the World Trade Center in the time between the first plane’s impact and the second tower collapsing on 9/11/2001.
Supporting Actor Oscar winner Chris Cooper (ADAPTION—‘02) is likely to receive a well deserved 2007 Best Actor nomination for this part. He plays FBI Agent Robert Hanssen who was eventually convicted of selling secrets to the Soviet Union. Ryan Phillippe (CRUEL INTENTIONS—‘99) matches Cooper scene-for-scene as his FBI assistant, Eric O’Neill. Undercover operative O’Neill was placed in that dangerous position to help expose Hanssen’s treachery. Mr. Phillippe continues his assent up the list of young leading men with this performance right on the heels of his expert work in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (‘06) and CRASH (‘04). As another FBI agent, Kate Burroughs, Laura Linney (YOU CAN COUNT ON ME—2002 and KINSEY—’ 04) contributes as solidly as we have come to expect her to. I won’t be surprised if she earns Oscar recognition someday soon.
I recommend this one highly to adults.
CATCH AND RELEASE Rated: 5 1/2
CATCH AND RELEASE is a disappointment to me. I’m a big fan of Jennifer Garner and loved her in a sweet little trifle called 13 GOING ON 30 (2004). She’s not bad here but she doesn’t really sparkle either and has looked better in most of her previous projects. The supporting cast is well chosen, and with one exception, I enjoyed them. Male lead, Timothy Olyphant (from television’s DEADWOOD) is new to me and is as good as this sketchy part allows. Look for him to break through in several big films completed and ready for release later in 2007. (I’m struck by how much he resembles Barry Watson of 2006-07 television’s WHAT ABOUT BRYAN). Appropriately and effectively, Fiona Shaw brings it down several notches from the wild work she did in THE BLACK DAHLIA (2006) and can be expected to deliver award worthy work in the near future. I’m a big fan of Sam Jaeger who I think should have gotten the girl in this one. In the right part, he could become a star. I hope he finds it.
And then there is Kevin Smith (CLERKS—1994). By no stretch could I have been considered a fan before seeing him here. I’m even less so now. I’m confident that he played the part exactly as written/directed and little acting was required. I haven’t been this annoyed since I endured Bill Murray as directed by Frank Oz in WHAT ABOUT BOB? (1991).
CATCH AND RELEASE was written and directed by Susannah Grant who wrote the wonderful script for ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000). For that work alone, she deserves another chance at directing.
DAN IN REAL LIFE Rated: 5 1/2
DAN IN REAL LIFE is one of those would-be/should-be feel good films that requires the viewer to really like the lead actors for success. In supporting roles, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (‘06) for example, I enjoy Steve Carell. Front and center in the lead as he is here, not so much. The only time I’ve really liked Oscar winner Juliette Binoche was in the little seen and poorly distributed BREAKING AND ENTERING (‘06). This time, I felt she was miscast, strained and marginally grating. In support, Dane Cook was restrained, colorless and wasted. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed Emily Blunt in her two scenes that she made count.
Many audiences will enjoy this one and I don’t want to discourage fans of the cast from attending but it sure didn’t work for me.
DISTURBIA Rated: 7 1/2
As many others have pointed out, DISTURBIA has a setup similar to Alfred
Hitchcock’s 1954 classic READ WINDOW. It’s not in that rare class and never pretends to be. All that aside, DISTURBIA has ample charms of its own and I found it surprisingly worthwhile. The somewhat overblown and over produced ending is its least satisfactory aspect but it held my attention getting there and the payoff is satisfying. The smart writing by twenty-something scripter Christopher B. Landon (segment BOYS LIFE 3—2000, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE—‘97) and the more established Carl Ellsworth (RED EYE—‘05) is sly and expedient. Based on his earlier TAKING LIVES (‘04) and now this, I predict a bright future for director D.J. Caruso who is becoming one of my favorites. He really has a feeling for this type material. Speaking of bright futures, with his star turn here, lead actor Shia LaBeouf as Kale joins Ryan Gosling (MURDER BY NUMBERS—‘02, THE NOTEBOOK—‘04, HALF NELSON—‘06, FRACTURE—‘07) & Joseph Gordon-Levitt (10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU—‘99, THE LOOKOUT—‘07) at the top of casting directors’ must have lists for young male leads who can really act. He has already completed starring roles in three high profile projects scheduled for later 2007 release and was just signed for Spielberg and Lucas’ INDIANA JONES 4. Sarah Roemer and Aaron Yoo are fine in support and it’s good to see the always reliable David Morse (INSIDE MOVES—‘80, PROOF OF LIFE—2000) get to chew scenery as a menacing neighbor. Canadian Carrie-Anne Moss (THE MATRIX—1999) registers strongly as Kale’s mother and Canadian Matt Craven is vivid in the opening scene as Kale’s dad.
FRACTURE Rated: 8
FRACTURE is an efficient and effective thriller. While clever and complex, it is still easy enough to follow and the resolution/explanation is plausible. On reflection, it all makes sense and that’s not always the case on projects of this type. I’d be happy if there were more like this several times a year as long as they are as thoughtful and professional as it is. The main element that elevates FRACTURE several notches is the casting and acting of leads Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling. Both characters seem to have been written to perfectly accommodate the uniqueness of these two gifted gentlemen. Anthony Hopkins already has an Oscar for his dazzling creation of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (‘91) and few will be surprised if Ryan Gosling joins that elite group with Oscars in the future. He was nominated for a best actor Oscar in the gritty HALF NELSON (‘06) after broadening his fan base with the romantic & popular hit, THE NOTEBOOK (‘04). I suspect and hope that he will continue to vary his roles by mixing the glam with the grit in a manner similar to what Brad Pitt did/does.
Other cast notables in support are Rosamund Pike, best remembered as a sister in PRIDE & PREJUDICE (‘05), Embeth Davidtz (JUNEBUG—‘05) & Billy Burke who has multiple recent credits for popular network television series. Mr. Burke also has 4 interesting theatrical features scheduled for release later in 2007 or in 2008 and I look forward to seeing him in those. Further, as always, I enjoyed Fionna Shaw (THE BLACK DAHLIA—‘06) as an appropriately restrained judge this time.
Direction by Gregory Hobit (PRIMAL FEAR—‘96) is sleek, smart and expedient, which is exactly what’s called for by the material at hand.
FREEDOM WRITERS Rated: 8
FREEDOM WRITERS isn’t especially original but it is entertaining and moving.
While not quite award worthy this time, Oscar winner Hilary Swank is effective and appealing. Likewise, Patrick Dempsey, from televisions’ GREY’S ANATOMY, looks good and does as instructed in an appropriately underdeveloped part. Writer/director Richard LaGravenese delivers seamlessly in both departments and I expect future successes from him.
GEORGIA RULE Rated: 3
Cringe. Groan. Squirm.
Don’t be fooled by the advertising campaign. This is not, and I repeat NOT, any sort of feel good generational family dramedy or romantic comedy. At it’s dark/muddled core, it deals with the alleged (?) sexual molestation of a stepchild and it manages to convince the audience that it happened then that it didn’t happen then that it did happen…whatever. By then, few will care.
Right here I’m admitting that I actively dislike top-heavy, druggie teen tart, Lindsay Lohan. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to put aside my opinion of her as a person long enough to judge any on-screen performance she gives. She’s type cast here as an obnoxious spoiled brat. At the start of the film she arrives in Idaho to stay with her grandmother since her mother can no longer deal/cope with her. Oscar winner Jane Fonda (KLUTE—‘71, COMING HOME—‘78, MONSTER-IN-LAW—‘05 ) is well cast as the grandmother and gives a better performance than the material deserves. Likewise, as Jane’s daughter and Lindsay’s mother, Felicity Huffman (television’s DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, TRANSAMERICA—‘05) is effective even though the writing gives her a confused/confusing character who is sketchy and erratic. In support, as usual, I like Dermot Mulroney (STAYING TOGETHER—‘89, LONGTIME COMPANION—1990, HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT -‘95, COPYCAT -‘95, MY BEST FRIEND”S WEDDING—‘97, THE FAMILY STONE -‘05). He’s aging nicely unlike another forty-something supporting player here, Cary Elwes (ANOTHER COUNTRY -‘84, THE PRINCESS BRIDE—‘87, THE CRUSH—‘93, TWISTER -‘96, & television movie THE RIVERMAN—‘04). I did not like Elwes’ performance or pudgy appearance here. As Lindsay’s Mormon lust target, Garrett Hedlund looks great but much too mature for his character as written. I liked him as Patroclus in TROY—‘04 and as Don Billingsley in the theatrical FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS—‘04. He’ll be back.
Director Garry Marshall directed one of my top 100 favorites, PRETTY WOMAN (1990). On the other hand, he inflicted NOTHING IN COMMON (‘86), EXIT TO EDEN (‘94), and THE OTHER SISTER (‘99) each of which I found excruciating. I recommend he restrict his future entertainment career to cameo acting stunts and retire from directing.
Based on his previous output, I expected better, much better from credited writer Mark Andrus. He co-wrote the exceptional 1997 hit, AS GOOD AS IT GETS, & is the only credited writer of one of my favorites, LIFE AS A HOUSE (2001). Not this time, Mark.
Lastly, the selection of background pre-recorded music is awkward, inappropriate and/or intrusive.
HAIRSPRAY Rated: 9
An absolute delight. Highly recommended. I loved it.
Director Adam Shankman does an amazing/fantastic job and deserves all sorts of award consideration. This comes as quite a shock to me since I hated some of his earlier work on crap such as THE PACIFIER (2005) and BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE (2003). With this, he moves right to the head of any list of my choices to direct any upcoming musical.
The cast is perfect. Although I’ve really liked some of John Travolta’s work in the past including that in CARRIE (1976), THE BOY IN THE PLASTIC BUBBLE (1976 television), URBAN COWBOY (‘80), BLOW OUT (‘81), SHOUT (‘91), PRIMARY COLORS (‘98), and, of course, his signature roles in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (‘77) & GREASE (‘78). On the other hand, I could, but won’t here, list just as many that I’ve hated. Further, though I fight it, my opinion of his off screen personal life prevents me from becoming a real fan. All that aside, he gets it just exactly right here as “Edna”. In the key/central role of “Tracy”, newcomer Nikki Blonsky is up to the task and makes this part her own. After several years away from the camera, Michelle Pfeiffer emerges looking good and hams it up appropriately. I wish her scene with Christopher Walken had been a little shorter but this is a minor quibble. The Oscar winning Mr. Walken (THE DEER HUNTER -‘78, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN -‘81) is just fine as husband to “Edna” and father to “Tracy”. His dance sequence with “Edna” is a pure delight. James Marsden (THE NOTEBOOK -‘04, SUPERMAN RETURNS -‘06), Queen Latifah (CHICAGO -‘02). Zac Efron (televisions’ HIGH SCHOOL MUSICALs -‘06 and more), and Amanda Bynes (SHE’S THE MAN -‘06) all shine and can be proud to add their parts here to their resumes.
I’ve seen HAIRSPRAY twice so far and plan a quick return for thirds.
HANNIBAL RISING Rated: 4
I cannot think of a single good reason why anybody should invest their time and/or money to see this one. Long dull stretches are interspersed with scenes of disgusting, needless, graphic, stomach-turning brutality. There is no tension or suspense.
The simple story purports to explain how/why young Hannibal Lecter became the monster we came to love as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (‘91). Frenchman Gaspard Ulliel (A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT—‘04) stars as the teen-aged/twenty-something Hannibal here. I have no complaints about his performance. However, I am disappointed by and curious about the decision to cast this actor who has no physical resemblance to Anthony Hopkins when all fans of the character know the older Hannibal as personified by Hopkins.
The production values and the premise are both good, but it just doesn’t jell. The direction by Peter Webber is competent but without edge, irony or passion. Based on GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING (‘03), Webber’s previous relatively well received theatrical feature, he is a curious and disappointing choice.
Of reviews compiled by Rotten Tomatoes, only 19 out of 108 were pleased & only 8% of the better known pundits responded favorably.
THE HEARTBREAK KID Rated: 5
A dumbed down remake that is mean, superficial and crude.
Ben Stiller continues to “go to the well’ far too often. I wish he’d take a long break.
Co-writers/directors The Farrelly Brothers have fallen a long way since their rude/crude/hilarious 1998 hit, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY.
Rent that; skip this.
I KNOW WHO KILLED ME Rated: 2 1/2
What a piece of crap.
I have never been a Lndsay Lohan fan either on or off screen so I’m not just hitting her just while she’s down. That aside, in this misfire, she gives one of the worst performances ever committed to film or maybe I should say two of the worst performances. Even after watching every frame of the film, I don’t know if she was playing one character or two…and I really don’t care. I can tell you that seeing Ms. Lohan as an over-dressed pole dancer in a couple of scenes is something I won’t soon forget.
Oh yeah, about the title. Although Ms. Lohan does deliver said title as a line of dialog, she may know but I sure don’t. Of course, she has the advantage of having had the script read to her at some point assuming there actually was a script to begin with. In the theatrical release version I saw, I’d swear I was seeing nothing but random film clips edited together and overscored with especially bad music.
THE INVASION Rated: 7
I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK & LARRY
Rated: 1 1/2
Repulsive. Repugnant. Rancid. Reprehensible.
Adam Sandler hits a new low. This time he’s cast as a hunky firefighter who both men and women find irresistible. Yeah, sure.
And, of course, it’s a box-office hit. (“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the bad taste of the general public.”)
IN THE LAND OF WOMEN Rated: 8 1/2
Charming. Sly.Moving.Smart. Worthy of your adult attention.
This entertaining drama/comedy gem marks the theatrical directing/writing debut of mid-twenties Jonathan Kasdan (aka: Jon Kasdan) who is a son of master writer/director Lawrence Kasdan (BODY HEAT -‘81, THE BIG CHILL -“83) and slightly younger brother of Jake Kasden whose hilarious satire, THE TV SET just opened also. Twenty-something Adam Brody, best know from the television hit, THE O.C. (2003-07), is perfect casting and shows that he can successfully anchor a feature film. Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis is excellent as his prickly grandmother. Both Kristen Stewart & Makenzie Vega impress as neighbor sisters. However, acting honors go to a serious Meg Ryan who deserves a supporting actress Oscar nomination. She’s never been this good before. Also deserving special mention are Elena Anaya, Gennifer Goodwin, and Clark Gregg all of whom make their limited screen time count and can be expected to get well deserved future exposure.
Canadian Paul Cameron’s cinematography continues to be most impressive. I especially liked what he did for the Mexican shot MAN ON FIRE (2004) and his Oscar nominated contribution to Los Angeles shot COLLATERAL (‘04). Although the setting for IN THE LAND OF WOMEN is Minnesota, it was exquisitely filmed in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
I don’t usually notice/note such detail, but I loved the color of the flowers here.
Lastly, sadly, IN THE LAND OF WOMEN hasn’t found much of an audience. Although I can’t come up with an alternative title, most assuredly this one didn’t/doesn’t help while I suspect a platform release just might have served it better. Unfortunately, since it doesn’t lend itself to video game adaptation, selling it to today’s audiences might just be impossible. no matter what. Even so, the fact that it was produced for around $10 million could lead to eventual profit.
INTO THE WILD Rated: 8
I’m a bit less enthusiastic about this one than most viewers are. The early part is a bit ponderous and I was antsy. I found the real life main character’s philosophy seriously/dangerously flawed and hard to appreciate. While I’m a major believer in “doing one’s own thing”, I think he was probably border-line insane. For me, his obsessive journey is more troubling than fascinating. Appropriately or not, these reservations interfered with my enjoyment of the film. That aside, I hope viewers will view his journey as a cautionary tale rather than as something to emulate.
Writing adaptation and direction by Sean Penn are exceptional. Cinematography by Eric Gautier is award worthy. Original music by Eddie Veeder & others is excellent.
Emile Hirsch as real person Christopher McCandless deserves acting award consideration.
It is fascinating to watch his acting skill develop right along with his physical transformation from boy into man. The supporting cast is uniformly praise-worth with special kudos due Catherine Keener & Hal Holbrook.
This is one of those rare films that I find myself liking better in remembering rather than
I did while watching it unfold.
THE LOOKOUT Rated: 9
THE LOOKOUT is outstanding and will make my bests of 2007 list.
This is the first film for Scott Frank as director/writer after serving as writer only on some very special films including: DEAD AGAIN (‘91), LITTLE MAN TATE (‘91), HEAVEN’S PRISONERS (‘96), and MINORITY REPORT (‘02). He is a gifted director and this original script deserves award consideration.
The casting and the acting are exceptional. With his performance here, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, best known so far for his work in 66 episodes of television’s 3rd ROCK FROM THE SUN (1996—2001), moves up to the top of any list comprising talented twenty-something year old leading men. He reminds me of the equally gifted Shia LeBeouf (DISTURBIA—‘07) and I’d love to see them work together. Look for Gordon-Levitt to break through in the upcoming KILLSHOT (‘07) from director John Maden and/or STOP LOSS (‘07) from director Kimberly Peirce. While Isla Fisher as a nymphomanic was scary and fascinating in take-no-prisoners mode for WEDDING CRASHERS (‘05), this time she manages to pull back enough to be completely believable as “Luvlee Lemons”, a seemingly sweet and shy exotic dancer who has a hidden agenda. I’m a fan for sure. In a complete change-of-pace role, British born Matthew Goode continues to be exceptionally attractive but with an entirely different look. As an American working class crook/thug, he is almost unrecognizable in sharp contrast to his sophisticated swell turn in Woody Allen’s MATCH POINT (‘05). Jeff Daniels (TERMS OF ENDEARMENT—‘83, SOMETHING WILD—‘86, DUMB & DUMBER—‘94, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE—‘05) continues to impressively expand his range this time as a blind man. These four gifted performers work together seamlessly and are a pleasure to watch.
LUCKY YOU Rated: 7
If you are a fan of Eric Bana and/or Drew Barrymore and/or poker, LUCKY YOU might please you. Otherwise, I suggest you look for entertainment elsewhere. I’m two for three on the above with card playing holding no fascination for me so I did enjoy the film up to a point.
Because director Curtis Hanson has delivered two films that are on my Top 100 lists, namely L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (‘97) and WONDER BOYS (2000), I expected a lot more that I got here. On the other hand, I really did enjoy watching both Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore. They are on the screen a lot and look great while playing mostly likeable characters. I continue to hope that Australian Bana is going to breakout as a star in a big commercial film but this isn’t that by a long shot. So far by far, MUNICH (‘05) is his best film and showcases his considerable acting ability. My appreciation of him in both HUNK (‘03) and TROY (‘04) has much more to do with his personality and appearance rather than his skills. Next up is a film with considerable potential called THE OTHER BOYLEN GIRL (late ‘07) plus I’m very excited about his recently announced casting to co-star with Rachel McAdams in a big screen adaption of the popular novel, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE. It is expected to go into production in Fall 2007 for 2008 release. I’ve been a big fan of Drew Barrymore’s since I first saw her as Gertie in E.T. (‘82). My other personal favorites of hers include MUSIC AND LYRICS (‘07), BOYS ON THE SIDE (‘95), HOME FRIES (‘98), & RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS (‘01).
Although director Curtis Hanson has not announced any future projects that I’m aware of, I hope he is quietly at work on projects that will return him to the prominence he deserves.
MICHAEL CLAYTON Rated: 8
Tony Gilroy, gifted screenwriter of the BOURNE trilogy (IDENTITY-2002, SUPREMACY-04, ULTIMATUM-07), directs here for the first time and does an excellent job. For reasons I can’t understand, the films tells the story from the middle out, an affection I’ve come to hate. George Clooney gives another good, easy, confident performance and Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, and Sydney Pollack deliver their now expected expertise in stellar support.
MUSIC AND LYRICS Rated: 8 1/2
Sweet. Charming. Witty. Appealing. Delightful. It would be a mistake to dismiss it as only a guilty pleasure. MUSIC AND LYRICS proves once again that the old romantic comedy formula still works when properly cast and cleverly executed with style as it is here. I don’t always respond favorably to Hugh Grant but this performance ranks up near the top with my other favorites from him including MAURICE (‘87), FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (‘94), NOTTING HILL (‘99), & LOVE ACTUALLY (‘03). These are strong enough to make me forgive him for NINE MONTHS (‘95), EXTREME MEASURES (‘95), MICKEY BLUE EYES (‘99). Well, almost. Co-star Drew Barrymore is a perfect match for Grant and their chemistry is exceptional. Expect them to re-team. I’ve been a big fan of Drew since I first saw her as Gertie in E.T. (‘82). My other personal Barrymore favorites include BOYS ON THE SIDE (‘95), HOME FRIES (‘98), & RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS (‘01). Deserving special mention for crackling in a prominent supporting role in Kristen Johnson as Ms. Barrymore’s sister. She is best known for her television work in 3rd ROCK FROM THE SUN (1996—2001). I enjoyed her recent stint on ER during its 2005 season and expect her distinctive appearance and ability to lead to future success. Also from a hit television series, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND (1996—2005), Brad Garrett provides pleasant support. Campbell Scott has an amusing cameo and I was happy to spot Scott Porter in the music video that opens the film. It took me awhile to realize that I know him from my recent television favorite FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Newcomer Haley Bennett nails her part as Cory Corman a ditsy Britney-Cristina-Madonna type entertainer. She does her own strong vocals and is a sly delight. Since I like the music throughout the film so much, I’ve just ordered the film soundtrack CD. Nomination consideration for a best song or two is earned.
MUSIC AND LYRICS is written and directed by Marc Lawrence. It is only his second feature film as a director and is as good or better than his first, TWO WEEKS NOTICE. I look forward to more of the same or similar.
NEXT Rated: 5
Make no mistake about it, NEXT is disposable junk but my rather generous rating is due to the fact that I was fascinated while watching it unfold, at least until very near the ending. The direction by Lee Tamahori (DIE ANOTHER DAY -‘02) is more than just competent but the premise is ludicrous and the ending caused some well deserved audience groans at the Century City, Los Angeles Sunday afternoon showing I attended.
I never was much of a fan of Oscar winner Nicolas Cage (LEAVING LAS VEGAS—‘95, HONEYMOON IN VEGAS—‘92) but don’t begrudge him his deserved Oscar and occasionally like his films. He is well cast here but seems stunned or distracted which may or may not be intentional, considering his character. On the other hand, I remain a big fan of Julianne Moore although her projects in the last five years have been a major disappointment to me. Several years ago I was convinced that she was very likely to win an Oscar shortly. Now, not so much. I first became aware of her with her sensational turn in SHORT CUTS (‘93) and loved her in BOOGIE NIGHTS (‘97), HANNIBAL (‘01), FAR FROM HEAVEN (‘02) and THE HOURS (‘02). Sadly, since 2002 she has had the bad luck to choose main-stream failures such as THE FORGOTTEN (‘04) and FREEDOMLAND (‘06) along with two independent misfires, WORLD TRAVELER (‘02) and TRUST THE MAN (‘05), both of which are projects from her spouse, Bart Freundich. Her work here is simply awful. Clearly, the character was meant to recall Clarice Starling of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMB (91) and HANNIBAL (‘01) fame but she misses by a mile. I didn’t believe that she was an FBI agent for a moment and even snickered at the gun range scene. Ms. Moore has already proved that she can be a great Clarice in HANNIBAL when she played to perfection the same character that won Jodie Foster her Oscar for THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS so I have no idea what went wrong this time. The best acting in NEXT comes from Jessica Biel (STEALTH—‘05) who was previously best know only for her body and beauty. German born Thomas Kretschmann (THE PIANIST—‘02) certainly looks right for his part but is totally wasted. I liked Michael Trucco as Kendal in his one coffee shop scene and expect/hope he gets future television and feature assignments.
Better luck to all, NEXT-time.
NO RESERVATIONS Rated: 6 1/2
Actually, I have a few…reservations about NO RESERVATIONS. I found it diverting and am grateful that, occasionally, films of this type depicting adult romance still get made. However, this one seems a little too familiar. It has no edge. It has no surprises. It has no individuality. It does have an attractive and likeable cast including Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones (CHICAGO—‘03) , Aaron Eckhart (ERIN BROCKOVICH—2000, THANK YOU FOR SMOKING—‘05), and Abigal Breslin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE—‘06).
I believe the intended audience will be pleased but I was hoping for more.
NORBIT Rated: 1 1/2
NORBIT is most likely one of the ten worst films I’ve ever seen.
(I haven’t actually compiled that list of misery, but I’m satisfied that I haven’t seen 9 others that are this bad.)
As three major characters in NORBIT, Eddie Murphy gives three of the worst performances of this or any other year. I assume he’s trying to emulate early Jerry Lewis but I can’t imagine why. In a supporting part, former Oscar winner, Cuba Gooding, Jr. (BOAT TRIP—‘02) embarrasses himself yet again. Within 2 weeks of this writing, Eddie Murphy may well be in possession of a Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in DREAMGIRLS (2006). I hope not. Gifted Thandie Newton (CRASH—‘05) looks stunned and lost especially in a musical interlude in a church! Director Brian Robbins directed the excellent VARSITY BLUES (‘99). Clearly that was a fluke considering that his more recent credits include atrocities READY TO RUMBLE (2000), HARD BALL (‘01) and THE SHAGGY DOG (‘06) and now this.
For the record, NORBIT opened in wide North American release on February 9, 2007 to a formidable $35 million or so. “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste/intelligence of the public.”
PERFECT STRANGER Rated: 4
I went in to see PERFECT STRANGER well aware of the terrible reviews it had received. Further, based on their output, red warning flags go up every-time I see that a film comes from Revolution Studios (TOM CATS—‘01, DADDY DAY CARE—‘03, WHITE CHICKS—‘04, THE FORGOTTEN—‘04, CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS—‘04, CLICK—‘06, LITTLE MAN—‘06, THE BENCHWARMERS—‘06). Additionally, director James Foley (AFTER DARK, MY SWEET—‘90, GLENDARY GLEN ROSS—‘92, WHO’S THAT GIRL?—‘87, AT CLOSE RANGE—‘86, THE CHAMBER—‘96) is one the directors that I most love to hate.
The running time of PERFECT STRANGER is 109 minutes. I was surprised to find myself enjoying it for the first 90 minutes or so and started to wonder why so many people hated it. And then I understood. There is a twist in the plot about then that totally destroys everything that went before. Suddenly, nobody you thought you knew is who you thought they were and all the switches are inexplicit, unmotivated, and aggravating.
Oscar winner Halle Berry (MONSTER’S BALL—‘2001) is attractive and is as effective as the material allows. However, if what’s on the screen is what was in the script she signed on for, she really needs serious career counseling and really should stop making so many bad movies. Bruce Willis (DIE HARD 1, 2, 3, & 4) is well cast and does as well as anybody could given the burden of the script. In support, I liked Gordon MacDonald as Senator Sachs. He has several impressive stage and television credits and may be best known as mate of Holly Hunter and father of her 2006 born twins. Also, in support, I was glad to see Clea Lewis as Gina. I remember her fondly as Audrey on 1994-98 television hit, ELLEN.
PREMONITION Rated: 3
The problem with PREMONITION is the story concept/writing. The premise is intriguing but the explanation/resolution is missing/obscure/totally unsatisfactory. Up until the abrupt ending it was annoying but competent. To summarize, a loving wife (Bullock) is told that her husband was killed the day before in an automobile accident. The next morning she awakens to find him alive and well in bed next to her. Next day, he’s dead…and so forth. Maybe it’s all a dream…or not. Fair warning: At the end, it’s not clear if and/or when he died & by then I didn’t really care. If an explanation exists as to why she thought he was dead and then finds he isn’t, several times, I missed it. Further, there’s a very brief visual revelation at the end that is wacky . The print I saw opening day (Friday, March 16, 2007 at AMC, Century City, CA) has a splice in it during the last scene that made me wonder if changes were made even after prints were struck. If so, and if these changes helped, I can’t imagine how it could have been much worse before. Seeing PREEMPTION was a total waste of my time and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody.
Dating all the way back to SPEED (1994), Sandra Bullock has been one of my personal favorites. Of her serious roles, I thought she deserved a supporting actress Oscar nomination for CRASH (2005) and I particularly enjoyed her in MURDER BY NUMBERS (2002) & A TIME TO KILL (1996). Of her lighter fare, I found her especially charming in TWO WEEKS NOTICE (‘02), FORCES OF NATURE (‘99), and WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING (‘95). On the other hand, GUN SHY (2000) is atrocious and MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS (‘05) is painful to endure. Add PREMONITION to her minus column.
On the current cable television series hit NIP/TUCK, PREMONITION co-star Julian McMahon is compelling as Dr. Christian Troy. Here, as the husband, not at all.
It’s not his fault. Based on evidence here, evaluating German born director Mennan Yapo’s ability is difficult, but given a decent script, I suspect he could deliver appropriately.
Not this time.
Tobacco use in films is coming under increasing fire recently and justifiably so, in my opinion. Having Sandra Bullock’s character smoking cigarettes here is totally gratuitous and deserves strong commendation.
SHOOTER Rated: 8
SHOOTER is a straight forward thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed.
It features a confident action hero styled performance by Mark Wahlberg and spot on direction by Anthony Fuqua (TRAINING DAY—2001).
In support, Michael Pena (WORLD TRADE CENTER- ‘06) and Kate Mara (Ennis’ teenage daughter in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN—‘05) can happily add their performances here to their resumes. Both are attractive and appealing with bright career prospects.
SPIDER-MAN 3 Rated: 8 1/2
More of the same, not that that’s a bad thing.
If you liked the first one and the second one, you are very likely to like the third. I could quibble but I won’t.
SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) is my favorite of the three.
For the money he earns and is paid, Tobey Maguire should have gotten himself in slightly better shape. From the way he’s photographed this time, I’m suspicious that he skipped a few sessions with his private trainer.
I just don’t like Kirsten Dunst and continue to notice a flaw that she can well afford to have fixed. James Franco, Topher Grace and Thomas Haden Church are effective and attractive. I enjoyed seeing the under-appreciated Theresa Russell in her brief appearance. Rosemary Harris continues to charm. To me anyway, Bryce Dallas Howard continues to disappoint. On the other hand, Elizabeth Banks continues to impress me. Expect her upward arc to continue.
Bring on number 4!
SUPERBAD Rated: 8
STARDUST Rated: 8
What a pleasant surprise for me since I disliked the trailer.
I feel that the marketing got it wrong on this one but can offer no better alternative suggestion. STARDUST is an entertaining romantic period fantasy and that’s as hard to sell as it is to successfully accomplish. Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfieffer really seem to be enjoying themselves and many viewers will be equally pleased. New to me, lead British actor Charlie Cox is very impressive. I was less thrilled with Claire Danes, however.
I suggest you stay for the closing credits and enjoy hearing Take That performing “Rule The World.” If it’s an original song, it deserves award consideration.
THE TV SET Rated: 8 1/2
Writer/director Jake Kasdan (aka: Jacob Kasdan) is a son of master writer/director Lawrence Kasdan (BODY HEAT -‘81, THE BIG CHILL -“83) and slightly older (early thirties in 2007) brother of Jon Kasden whose charming romantic comedy/drama IN THE LAND OF WOMEN (‘07) opened in limited US release almost simultaneously with THE TV SET in April 2007. “The apples didn’t fall far from the tree…”
THE TV SET is a satire that shows the journey of a particular television pilot as it goes through the process from written page to network airing. I found it hilarious and laughed out loud many times. In fact, I haven’t laughed this much since I saw a preview of THERE’S
SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (1998). Based on my personal experiences, in many respects, this one plays more like docudrama than satire since much of it isn’t the least bit exaggerated.
David Duchovny, famed for television’s super hit, THE X-FILES (1993—2002) is ideal as Mike, the writer/creator of a television pilot he named “The Wexler Chronicles”. For the first time, as Richard, Ioan Gruffudd (FANTASTIC FOUR—2005) registers strongly for me as a transplanted British television programming executive. Judy Greer as Alice is a delight playing Mike’s agent. Several jokes about the fact that she’s never seen TAXI DRIVER (1976) slyly help define her character. Soaring above them all is a sensational Sigourney Weaver as the fictional Panda Television Network Programming President, Lenny. Ms. Weaver deserves a supporting actress Oscar nomination. I was reminded of Faye Dunaway’s Oscar awarded work in NETWORK (1976).
Unfortunately (or should I say fortunately?!) , for those that aren’t familiar with the milieu and life-style and/or haven’t lived through it, THE TV SET is probably too insular to be fully appreciated. Count your blessings.
TRANSFORMERS Rated: 6 1/2
Since I’m not a teen-aged boy, I realized well in advance that this one was not meant for me.
Out of curosity after it did such huge early business, I decided to see it anyway. During the first hour, I was pleasantly surprised and found myself entertained/engaged. I thought, this one is an 8 on my scale of 1 to 10. During the second hour, not so much and I’m thinking a 7. As it inched over two hours, all I wanted to do was leave. I did stay for the full 144 minutes but I thought it would never end! The climax was way too strung out and somebody confused sound volumn with suspense. Lead actor Shia LaBoeuf (HOLES -‘03, DISTURBIA—‘07) contines to impress on his march to real stardom and plays essentially the same character he did in DISTURBIA. I’m a big fan of Josh Duhamel (WIN A DATE WITH TAD HAMILTON -‘04) and was happy to see him back on the big screen as he continues his contributions to the NBC television series, LAS VEGAS. Megan Fox is attractive and effective as the female lead.
Add this one to the plus and hit column for director Michael Bay (PEARL HARBOR -‘01, THE ISLAND -‘05) but I wish somebody had forced him to edit it down to a resonable running time of two hours or less.
YEAR OF THE DOG Rated: 3
Frankly and personally, I hated every minute of this film. Giving it it’s due however, Rotten Tomatoes reports that 80 out of 110 monitored critics gave it positive reviews. Go figure.
In small servings, I like garlic. When concentrated, it’s unbearable. Star Molly Shannon, likewise. Best known for appearing in 120 episodes of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, I like her in support in TALLADEGA NIGHTS (‘06) and others but there’s way too much of her particular and somewhat peculiar persona in full flower here.
This is the first film that successful screenwriter and actor Mike White directed.
As an actor, I liked him in both CHUCK & BUCK (2000) and THE GOOD GIRL (‘02).|Likewise, I enjoyed/respected/ appreciated his writing of some episodes of 2001 television series, PASADENA plus films such as CHUCK & BUCK, THE GOOD GIRL and THE SCHOOL OF ROCK (‘03). He deserves another shot at directing but next time I hopes he gets a different or different type Director of Photography. Tim Orr has photographed several low budget films and done them well enough but for whatever reasons, his choices here really made me squirm. In conversation scenes between two people, and there were lots of those in YEAR OF THE DOG, the camera was too close to the actors and I kept wondering if both actors were on the set at the same time. Even if they were, it didn’t feel like it. The biggest problem with White’s direction is that it lacks energy.
ZODIAC Rated: 9
ZODIAC is the first outstanding film of 2007. I expect it to finish the year as one of my favorites and look for it to receive much year-end award consideration. Having been a San Francisco Bay Area resident during most of the period covered in the film, I especially enjoyed visiting that time and place again through this film and found the production design to be perfect down to the last detail. How nice to be reminded of happy times at the Northpoint Theatre and Original Joe’s Restaurant!
ZODIAC is easily director David Fincher’s best film to date and suggests that he could be on the verge of delivering classics. Of his precious oeuvre, my favorites are SE7EN (‘95) & FIGHT CLUB (‘99) both of which are special, edgy and distinctive. On the other hand, although very well directed, I found THE GAME (”97) an annoying cheater and consider PANIC ROOM (‘02) too familiar/derivative. Not to take anything away from the intelligent writing or the outstanding cast/acting, even more than most projects, ZODIAC is a film that would rise or fall on the skill of the direction. Thanks to director Fincher, it rises mightily. The detailed excellent script was adapted by USC graduate James Vanderbilt and is based on the book or books by Robert Graysmith, real life San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist who is is portrayed in the film by Jake Gyllenhaal. If provided a great script, I’m convinced David Fincher will deliver a great film. At this writing, on location in New Orleans, he is directing Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008?). The script was adapted by Oscar winner Eric Roth (FORREST GUMP—‘94, THE INSIDER—‘99, MUNICH—‘05) and is based on a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald (“The Great Gatsby”). My high expectations seem justified.
As a follow-up to his outstanding work in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (‘05) Jake Gyllenhaal gets it just right again. As Detective Inspector David Toschi, Mark Ruffalo does his best work since YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (2000). As a crime reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, add this flashy supporting work by Robert Downey, Jr. to my growing list of favorites from him which includes CHAPLIN (‘92) & WONDER BOYS (2000). I also loved his work in televisions’ ALLY McBEAL where he graced 15 episodes in 2000- 2002. Also especially noteworthy is Brian Cox (L.I.E.—‘01) as celebrity attorney Melvin Belli. Additionally, I was pleased to see Candy Clark as Carol Fisher. Many will remember her fondly from AMERICAN GRAFFITI (‘73).
Although the running time is a relatively long 158 minutes and the pace is appropriately measured, the time flew by for me both times I saw it.
I highly recommend ZODIAC to any serious adult.
…more to come.
...more to come!
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