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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 2008.

27 DRESSES — Rated: 7 1/2
While it would be easy to pick 27 Dresses apart since it’s far from perfect, that’s not going to happen here. I liked it. Three sections in particular make up from some awkward/obvious plotting. The three: (1) a sing-along of “Benny and the Jets” in a bar by Katherine Heigl & James Marsden expertly accompanying the Elton John recording (2) the Pretty Woman sequence in which Katherine Heigl models the titular dresses (3) the closing wedding scene.

Nothing in the plot is going to surprise any frequent filmgoer but I take satisfaction in having things turn out exactly as I expected and wanted. In romantic comedies, give me a happy ending every time.

Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up, 2007) is probably still best known for her television series, Grey’s Anatomy. Her future in theatrical films is assured since she proves here that she can open a film. I like her but, for me, she’s no Sandra Bullock or Irene Dunn. Not yet, anyway.

I’ve liked James Marsden since I first saw him in X-Men (2000) and the 2002 season of television’s Ally McBeal. My more recent favorites of his are The Notebook (2004), Superman Returns (2006), plus Hairspray and Enchanted in 2007. Finally, this time, he’s the leading man and gets the girl. Slightly scruffy for a change, he’s never looked better. Think of him as a more likable Hugh Grant while following in the wake of the master of the genre, Cary Grant.

As the girls’ father, I enjoyed veteran Brian Kerwin. Likewise, as the Eve Arden sidekick type, Judy Greer shines. Edward Burns is fine as the boss. Malin Ackerman is attractive and fearless as she follows her unpleasant role in The Heartbreak Kid (2007) with another less-than-admirable character here. She definitely needs a change of pace.

Costumes by Catherine Marie Thomas are fabulous. Give this woman an Oscar nomination!

Generally, truth be told, I would have to admit to a lack of enthusiasm for British period dramas from the Merchant-Ivory school of cinema. Maybe I’ve gotten beyond my preconceived notions of them or maybe I’ve just been fortunate enough to see a run of better films of the genre lately. Along with ATONEMENT (2007) and PRIDE & PREJUDICE (2005), add BRIDESHEAD REVISITED to my list of current favorites of this style and tradition.  I’ve now seen each of these three at least twice and am likely to return to each for more. All three are among my recent favorites from all types of cinema.

Regarding BRIDESHEAD REVISITED specifically, I haven’t read the book and haven’t seen the highly regarded television 11 part, 659 minute, 1981 or1982 mini-series, yet anyway. I went to this film knowing nothing about the story that I didn’t learn from the intriguing trailer.

Cinematography, editing, musical scoring, adapted script, directing and production design are all excellent and worthy of award consideration. Casting is perfect and the acting is outstanding. Matthew Goode (CHASING LIBERTY - ‘04, MATCH POINT - ‘05, THE LOOKOUT - ‘07) continues to be one of my top favorites. I was unaware of Hayley Atwell until now but look forward to her future output starting with completed and upcoming THE DUCHESS (‘08). She adds crucial subtext and shading to what could have been an easily forgettable character. I missed Ben Whishaw’s best known past work, PERFUME (‘06). Along with everybody & everything else in I’M NOT THERE (‘07), he failed to impress me in that debacle. Based on his incandescence here, I’ll be renting PERFUME and anxiously awaiting Jane Campion’s BRIGHT STAR (‘09) along with whatever else he does. Two time Oscar winner Emma Thompson is ideal as Lady Marchmain and deserves careful consideration for year end additional award hardware for this vivid portrayal.

his is another outstanding film from Clint Eastwood. He realizes that good films are all about telling the story and he excels at that this time out. Changeling is intense and disturbing. Nevertheless, I found it riveting. Angelina Jolie deserves a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Further, the film deserves award consideration in many other categories and I was especially impressed with the musical score written by director Eastwood. The look and sound of this film are as good as it gets.
For serious film goers, Changeling is a must see.

JUMPER — Rated: 8
I was intrigued by the provocative trailer and multiple television spots for JUMPER and had high expectations. I was disappointed in the film but still enjoyed it enough to grant my generous rating. If you like the advance materials, I suspect you’ll agree with me. That said, it’s really a shame that the film doesn’t live up to its promise. The abrupt ending at the 88 minute mark portends a sequel and soon. I was left wanting more so I’m for that. Valentine 2008 weekend’s North American opening grosses are strong nearing $40 million, another good sign that a sequel makes sense.

Little is explained here but it really doesn’t matter. Just relax and go along for the ride.

Hayden Christensen looks like a movie star and continues to mature as an actor. He seems appropriately relaxed and this character brings to mind those he limed so well in Life as a House (2001) and Shattered Glass (2003). I saw and enjoyed all 92 episodes of television series The O.C. (2003-07), where Rachel Bilson is featured as “Summer.”

It’s a pleasure to see her now on the big screen. She is equally charming, likable and beautiful here. The chemistry between her and Hayden Christensen is strong and rumor has it that the relationship extends into their off-screen lives. Samuel L. Jackson (A Time to Kill, 1996) is effective as the villain of the piece while modeling yet another slightly distracting & questionable hair treatment. Now in his early twenties, Jamie Bell has matured nicely since his terrific early turn as Billy Elliot (2000) and he brings a nice edge to his sidekick character. Diane Lane (Unfaithful, 2002) has very little screen time but makes it count and looks great.

Now in his early forties, USC School of Cinema graduate Doug Liman is one of my favorites among the newer directors. I’m a big fan of his Swingers (1996), Go (1999), The Bourne Identity (2002), and Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005).

All technical credits are top-of-the-heap with a special nod going to cinematographer Barry Peterson. Musician John Powell adds another very effective score to his resume which already includes great work on all three of the Bourne (2002, 2004, 2007) blockbusters.

MADE OF HONOR — Rated: 3
Since I already wasted 100 long, long minutes watching this piece of crap, I won’t be spending much more time writing about it. Consider this fair warning.

The one and only really good thing about it is the cinematography by two time Oscar nominee, British Tony Pierce-Roberts who has done outstanding work with the Mechant-Ivory Group several times in the past.

I’m a big fan of female lead, Michelle Monaghan (GONE BABY GONE -‘07, TRUCKER -‘08) who looks good and doesn’t embarrass herself in a silly part. She is not identified by name in the trailer and half her face is cut off in the posters/ads. After seeing this film, she should consider herself fortunate that those two decisions were made by the campaign’s brain trust.

During his limited screen time, Oscar wining director Sydney Pollack is his usual crisp and entertaining self. Likewise, Kelly Carlson is good in brief support. She co-stars on one of my favorite television series, NIP/TUCK and it’s nice to see her on the big screen.

I enjoyed ascending Scottish actor, Kevin McKidd who is best know so far for television’s JOURNEYMAN( 07). Attractive and magnetic, he is sure to continue to gain popularity.

And then there’s star Patrick Dempsey. His main claim to fame is the ABC Television mega hit that I’ve never watched, GREY’S ANATOMY (2005 - 2008).  I did find him delightful in ENCHANTED (‘07) but not this time. In fact, he is even more obnoxious that the character as written.  In short, what a jerk! Of course, he gets the girl in the end but only because he’s the star.

Nothing in British director Paul Weiland’s resume would have made me think of him as a natural choice for directing this very American comedy and I think he did a lousy job. The three credited writers have contributed nothing but garbage in the past so their offerings here shouldn’t surprise anybody. I take serious issue with their numerous cheap shots leveled at both a slightly afflicted (spastic?) basketball playing character and a plus sized bridesmaid. Not funny. Not funny at all.

To add to the misery for me, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, whose day job is to pollute television’s THE VIEW, makes a cameo appearance. Groan.

If you want to see this type material done right, rent the DVD of MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING (1997).

MAMMA MIA! — Rated:  8-1/2
I had the pleasure of seeing the new film, MAMMA MIA! a few days ago in an advance screening and highly recommend it. Keep in mind that it is a musical in the full sense of the phrase and almost all of it is singing and/or dancing. Further, an appreciation for the style of musical group ABBA is essential.  (Swedish based ABBA was a world wide popular music phenomenon from 1972 to 1982.) Meryl Streep is sensational in the lead and her take on the song, “The Winner Takes It All” joins my all time favorite movie musical interludes. Based on the hit stage musical, the film opens Friday, July 18, 2008 in movie theatres everywhere. I’ll be there to see it again.

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED is well acted but painfully tedious. It reminds me of some of the bad/minor seventies & eighties output of Robert Altman. I was moderately intrigued for the first 45 or so minutes of RACHEL but from that point on, I started to feel that it would never end. Oh, and the music, ear torture! It was all played live on the set/recorded live as the film was shot and is virtually non-stop! And the hand-held camera work, groan!

Anne Hathaway (THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA -‘06) deserves consideration as a 2008 Best Actress Oscar nominee and will be among my personal top ten contenders. Many critics have expressed surprise at her range. Evidently they have forgotten her edgy work in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (‘05) which hinted at the performance delivered here. Long mostly absent eighties superstar, Debra Winger (URBAN COWBOY - ‘80, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN - ‘82, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT - ‘83) is terrific in support as the mother. However, her big, emotional scene is truncated for reasons unknown and impossible to justify. Either coverage when filming was missed or terrible editing choices were made in post. Nevertheless, she is powerful and should be lured back in front of the cameras soon and often.

Starting with LAST EMBRACE (‘79) and extending through SOMETHING WILD (‘86), SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (‘91), and PHILADELPHIA (‘93), I’d tell anybody who would listen that Jonathan Demme was one of my favorite directors. I was delight when he was announced as director for RACHEL since I expected it to be a return to earlier form.
Without belaboring it, I have to say that I’m extremely disappointed.
Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t see even a hint of his former power and expertise this time.

However, since many RACHEL reviews have been good, maybe he’ll be encouraged to do more large budgeted fictional films soon and my guess is he’ll get them right.

STOP-LOSS — Rated:  9
I found STOP-LOSS mesmerizing.

It is sure to find its way onto my list of Top Favorite Films for 2008.

Direction by Kimberly Peirce (BOYS DON’T CRY -‘99) is vivid and super-charged.

Down to the smallest bit parts, casting and performances are as good as it gets. Especially praise-worthy are leads Ryan Phillippe (FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS -06), Channing Tatum (STEP-UP -‘06), Abbie Cornish (SOMERSAULT - ‘04)  & Joseph Gordon-Levitt (THE LOOKOUT -‘07).

Composer John Powell (THE BOURNE Trilogy) delivers another amazing score and cinematography by Oscar winner Chris Menges (THE MISSION -‘86) perfectly matches the  material. All other technical elements are exactly right.

I found the last two scenes somewhat confusing and disagree with the main character’s decision if he did what I think he did. Nevertheless, I still love the film and most of what it has to say about an outrageously unfair policy of the current (2008) Bush Administration regarding our troops.

Due to the very serious subject matter, business has not been good.

It won’t last in theatres long but I urge seeking it out quickly or watching for it on DVD when it’s released to video stores.

I like the no nonsense style of director Gregory Hoblit. While UNTRACEABLE is slightly less rewarding than his quite successful FRACTURE (2007) & PRIMAL FEAR (1996), I still found it very diverting and wish he’d deliver similar fare annually. It includes plenty of violence but the level of intensity was well within my tolerance zone for such things. Diane Lane (A Little Romance, 1979; Streets of Fire, 1984; A Walk on the Moon, 1999; Unfaithful, 2002) is her usual attractive, appealing, watchable, believable self, as an FBI agent who lives with her mother and young daughter in Portland, Oregon. She, alone, is reason enough to see it. Playing a detective here, Billy Burke (Without Limits, 1998; Ladder 49, 2004; Feast of Love, 2007; Fracture, 2007) continues to impress and is ideally cast. Two young actors with exceptionally bright futures, Colin Hanks (son of Tom) & Joseph Cross (Running with Scissors, 2006) shine and I was glad to get to become reacquainted with Mary Beth Hurt, an actress I first enjoyed in 1982’s The World According to Garp.

Untraceable is not exceptional and was never intended to be. Nevertheless, I found it very worthwhile. It was shot to good effect on relatively unfamiliar and cleverly selected locations of Portland, Oregon.

VANTAGE POINT — Rated: 4 1/2
I’ll cut quickly to the chase here and tell you that VANTAGE POINT is unsuccessful and a waste of time. There are several good ideas in the script but a significant plot point exposed in the trailer isn’t divulged until the 40 minute mark of the actual film. I sat there just waiting for the film to catch up to what I already knew. Further, the device of covering the same explosion scene multiple times from the slightly different perspective of several characters grows tiresome quickly.

Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt are all strong casting choices and each is as good as the material allows. It isn’t his fault, but recent Oscar winner Forest Whitaker is unsuccessful in a part that nobody could have made work based on the way it was written and/or edited.

Technical credits are good enough but at the end, it all comes down to a lengthy and superficial car chase that strains credibility.

…more to come.

...more to come!

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