Wednesday, April 30, 2008

There are few things I cherish more in life than a good cry at the movies. I've seen 32 new releases so far this year, and of those films, not one has given me that great, cathartic cry that I'm always in search of. Until now.

Helen Hunt's Then She Found Me is a rare breed. It is a smart, funny, touching romantic comedy that is fully honest about life and relationships. As a director, Hunt finds the truth in her situations. Some of the comedy may border on outlandish, but she balances it well, and emerges with one of the most honest and real on-screen romances I have ever seen.

Hunt directs herself as April Epner, a middle aged school teacher desperate for a child of her own, who in quick succession is left soon after her wedding by her immature new husband (Matthew Broderick), loses her adoptive mother, and is suddenly approached by an eccentric television personality (Bette Midler) claiming to be her birth mother.

Her life gets increasingly complicated when she meets Frank (Colin Firth), the slightly neurotic single parent of one of her students, and forges a meaningful connection unlike any she has ever had before.

The result is pure magic. Hunt expertly balances absurd comic situations with serious drama in a way that is never awkward or forced. She treats each character as a human being, even Midler's, who tends to occasionally swing toward the outlandish. But she never goes too far with it.

Hunt also turns in a fantastic performance as a wounded woman who just needs to love and be loved, and finds it extremely difficult in her increasingly chaotic life. Her relationship with each of the characters is wholly real, but especially her relationship with Frank. It's so truthful, so honest, so insightful into how relationships actually work. It is a totally undiluted, up front statement of relationship dynamics, and an acceptance of all their imperfections.

But the real core of the film is the relationship between parents and children, and the need to not only be loved, but to share that love with others.

I adored this film. Hunt has created a pitch perfect blend of humor and serious emotion that goes straight for the heart without ever being obvious about its intentions. It quietly sneaks up on you when you least expect it and delivers a powerful emotional punch. It has everything that most mainstream romantic comedies lack, and I see no reason why this one should not be getting a bigger marketing push than it is. THINKfilm has something special on its hands. I don't know if they know it, but Then She Found Me is one in a million.

GRADE - ***½ (out of four)

THEN SHE FOUND ME; Directed by Helen Hunt; Stars Helen Hunt, Bette Midler, Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick, Ben Shenkman; Rated R for language and some sexual content; Now playing in select cities.
"Put down the camera, or I will blast you with my super awesome anti-piracy ray*"
* © Motion Picture Association of America, all rights reserved. If you use our trademark without our permission, we will hunt you down and murder you in your sleep.

Paramount wasn't kidding around at the press screening of Iron Man I attended earlier this evening. Theater employees were searching bags and scanning patrons with a metal detector looking for cameras and camera phones and things of that sort. Luckily I left my phone in the car so I didn't have any problems. They weren't even this tight lipped about Cloverfield.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'm traveling down to Charlotte today for a press screening of Iron Man (Paramount, 5.2), so I won't be near a computer for most of the day. Paramount is keeping the lid extra tight on this one so as per usual, there will be no review from me until opening day.

Actually, my review won't be printed in The Dispatch until next week, but there will be a full report from me on Friday.

Monday, April 28, 2008

One of the greatest pleasures in life is discovering a relatively unknown movie and discovering something that totally blindsides you.

Such was the case for me with Chan-wook Park's (Oldboy) wonderful and whimsical I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK.

Set in a Korean mental institution, I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK tells the story of Cha Young-Goon, a schizophrenic young woman who believes herself to be a combat cyborg, who meets a young man named Park Il-sun, who believes he has the power to steal the traits of others and is afraid of one day vanishing into a dot, and forges a strange and unexpected connection. Together they try to uncover the meaning of life Young-Goon's similarly schizophrenic grandmother, who believed herself to be a mouse and would only eat radishes, imparted to her as she was carted off to a sanatorium.

It is a wholly unique and beautiful film, filled with a singularly quirky sensibility and directed with pure imagination. What Park has created is nothing short of astonishing. There are really no words to do this film justice.

The closest thing can possibly come up with is by taking Amelie and adding killer cyborgs. But that doesn't quite capture it either. This is a truly original work of art, set in a world where through the mind, anything is possible. In many ways, these mental patients have it better than anyone else, because their minds have set them free to be whatever they want to be. They can escape the confines of the sanatorium and fly with ladybugs, or sit on an oceanside cliff at the edge of a rainbow.

Nothing is impossible in this this window to the mind of the insane, but it is never forced and never rings false. For a world so highly stylized, Park allows it to flow organically as if it were flowing directly from his imagination to the screen.

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK is a work of genius. There is no other way to describe it - it's a work of mad, gleeful, creative genius. It is without a doubt one of the most completely original romantic comedies I have ever seen.

It's too bad that the film has yet to be released in the United States, and as far I know, there are no current plans to put it on US screens. It was released in South Korea two years ago, and played at the Berlin Film Festival last year, where it won the Alfred Bauer Prize for innovative work.

Maybe it's too unusual for US audiences, who knows? All I know is that this is a brilliant film, one that deserves to be seen and loved for the masterpiece that it is. I LOVED this film. THIS is what filmmaking is all about. American film could use more of this kind of free wheeling, experimental energy, because every frame of it seems gloriously vibrant and alive. It is a world I never wanted to leave, and hope to visit again very soon.

Movies like this don't come around very often, and when they do they should be embraced to the fullest, and I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK is a once in a lifetime event.

GRADE - **** (out of four)

I'M A CYBORG, BUT THAT'S OK; Directed by Chan-Wook Park; Stars Su-jeong Lim, Rain, Hai-Jen Choi, Byeong-ok Kim, Yong-nyeo Lee; Not Rated; In Korean w/English subtitles
From The Winston-Salem Journal:

Best narrative feature: Edge of Heaven

Best documentary feature: Up the Yangtze

Best actor: Razvan Vasilescu in California Dreamin' (Endless)

Best actress: Hanna Schygulla in Edge of Heaven

Best screenplay: Edge of Heaven

Best cinematography for a narrative feature: California Dreamin' (Endless)

Best cinematography for a documentary feature: Up the Yangtze

Best narrative short: Milan

Best documentary short: Board Control

Best animated short: I Met the Walrus

Human Rights Award: Intimacy

Special Jury Prize for directing: Cristian Nemescu for California Dreamin' (Endless)

Special Jury Prize for best editing: The Champagne Spy

BB&T Audience Award for best narrative feature: The Baker

BB&T Audience Award for best documentary: JUMP!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

If you've been a regular reader of From the Front Row of any frequency, then I've made my love of Romanian film pretty well known. The spectacular renaissance and cinematic growth coming out of Romania caused by the sudden influx of funding to filmmakers is nothing short of astonishing.

From Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu in 2006, to Corneliu Porumboiu's 12:08 East of Bucharest last year, to this year's finest film, Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, the Romanians are consistently and effortlessly putting out some of the best films around.

Needless to day, going into Cristian Nemescu's California Dreamin' (Endless) at this year's River Run International Film Festival, my expectations were high. And I wasn't disappointed.

Nemescu was heralded as one of the most promising new talents of the Romanian New Wave, but was tragically killed in a car accident before editing on California Dreamin' could be completed. So to honor the director and his vision, the film was released as-is, running a staggering 155 minutes. The film as it was released is probably not the final cut Nemescu would have made, there are parts here and there that could be trimmed and streamlined, but the film as a whole feels remarkably complete.

Set in Romania in 1999 during the Kosovo conflict, and based on a real event, California Dreamin' tells the story of a group of American soldiers traveling through Romania on a train to deliver parts for a new radar system to the Serbian border, who are unexpectedly delayed by railroad station operator who demands they present customs papers that they do not have.

Stuck in the middle of nowhere in a tiny, backwater town, the soldiers have no choice but to stay while the slow hand of the government works to procure the proper paperwork. Meanwhile, the town's overeager mayor, ecstatic about the presence of Americans in his town, decides to throw a party in celebration of the town's 100th anniversary (which was actually five months prior) in order to welcome and the soldiers from across the ocean.

On the surface, California Dreamin' is a droll, self-mocking comedy based on the backwater Romanians' quest to impress the Americans with their Elvis impersonators and portraits of Bill Clinton (their efforts at hospitality become increasingly ridiculous), but there is a lot more going on here on second glance.

California Dreamin' is a film of many layers. The film is intercut with black and white flashbacks from WWII of Doiaru (Razvan Vasilescu), the hard-nosed station master, who, as a little boy was told by his parents fleeing the Russians that they would return after the Americans arrived. But the Americans never came, and the Communists remained in power until the Romanian Revolution in 1989. After 55 years, the Americans have finally arrived, albeit not in the way he expected.

Harboring a deep-seeded hatred of Americans caused by this historic letdown, Doiaru runs afoul of the equally hard nosed American Captain Jones (Armand Assante), who is determined to get his top secret shipment to its destination on time, and willing to do anything he has to do to get it. So the Americans finally arrive in Romania, but their continued presence and sometimes good intentions go sour and cause chaos wherever they go. It's a film about a world under the thrall of an America whose idealistic image doesn't exist, and maybe never did.

It's Nemescu's wry and subtle commentary that gives California Dreamin' its backbone (the title itself is a sly mocking of American policies). He expertly balances comedy, drama, romance (the amorous meetings of the American soldiers with the local Romanian girls adds yet another layer to the film), and tragedy with equal aplomb, and his death is a major loss to film and to art as a whole.

California Dreamin' is a feast, and it feels much shorter than one would expect from a film of its length. This is skilled filmmaking on a hugely impressive level, and I sincerely hope it gets the American release that it, and the memory of its late director, deserve.

GRADE - ***½ (out of four)

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' (ENDLESS); Directed by Cristian Nemescu; Stars Armand Assante, Alexandru Margineanu, Jamie Elman, Maria Dinulescu, Razvan Vasilescu; Not Rated; In Romanian and English w/English subtitles
After seeing the brilliant documentary The Story of the Weeping Camel several years ago, I have discovered that I have a soft spot for films about the lives of indigenous Mongolian people who live out in the desert.

Chinese director Wang Quan An's Tuya's Marriage takes the fictional route, but uses some of the same techniques that made Story of the Weeping Camel so wonderful. Wang uses native non-actors to bring his story to life (most using their real names to play their characters), and it adds another dimension of raw naturalism that not only lends the film an astonishing sense of authenticity, but also a sense of immediacy that might not have otherwise been present.

The film centers around a shepherd named Tuya, who suffers a severe physical injury while trying to free a trapped neighbor from his overturned truck. No longer able to work to support her family, Tuya is forced to find a new husband who can not only provide for her and her children, but also her disabled husband as well.

It is a deeply poignant story, and it is given an added gravity by Wang's intensely personal direction.

Wang makes great use of the beautifully windswept landscapes of the Mongolian desert, but he never lets style overwhelm the story. In fact it is a very visually pared down film, as simple and yet as moving as the shifting sands of the Gobi.

Yet beneath its sparse exterior lies an achingly romantic tale of longing, devotion, and the lengths that people are willing to go to for love.

Tuya loves her husband deeply, but she knows that if they are to survive she must divorce him and marry someone else. Wang explores this with the eye of a consummate filmmaker, turning a simple story against a barren landscape to create an emotional experience worthy of goosebumps.

Tuya's Marriage came out of nowhere last year to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, beating out Steven Soderbergh's The Good German, Robert DeNiro's The Good Shepherd, Academy Award nominee Beaufort and Academy Award winner The Counterfeiters, and La Vie En Rose. No small feat to be sure, and very impressive for a film of its size with a cast of total unknowns.

But it is a worthy film, strong enough to stand toe to toe with any of the aforementioned films. It may not have made such a huge splash when it opened in stateside in one theater in New York a few weeks ago, but it more than deserves attention. It is a film with a huge heart that is at once comic, tragic, and everything in between.

GRADE - ***½ (out of four)

TUYA'S MARRIAGE; Directed by Wang Quan An; Stars Yu Nan, Bater, Sen'ge, Zhaya; Not Rated; In Mandarin w/English subtitles; Now playing in New York City. Also showing at the River Run Film Festival in Winston-Salem, NC. Click here for showtimes.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

For all my North Carolina readers out there, the 6th Annual River Run International Film opens today in Winston-Salem with the Opening Night Premiere of Daniel Barnz's Phoebe in Wonderland starring Felicity Huffman, Bill Pullman, Elle Fanning, and Patricia Clarkson, tonight at 7:00 PM. Pullman is scheduled to be present at the screening.

Other notable films this year include Cristian Nemescu's Romanian film California Dreamin' (Endless), Ramin Bahrani's Chop Shop (which has been strongly championed by Roger Ebert), Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven (the offical German entry to last year's Academy Awards), Josh Raskin's Academy Award nominated short, I Met The Walrus (which was inspired by the music of The Beatles), Scott Hicks' Glass: A Portrait of the Artist in Twelve Parts, Garth Jennings' Son of Rambow, Quan An Wang's Tuya's Marriage, Helen Hunt's Then She Found Me, and a special presentation of the original, 1925 silent The Phantom of the Opera accompanied by a live orchestra.

Due to my school and rehearsal schedules I will not be able to attend tonight, but I will be there tomorrow all day, and will try to catch as many films as I can. The festival runs through Sunday, April 28.

For a complete schedule of films and ticket information, click here.
Steven Soderbergh's twin Che Guevara biopics, The Argentine and Guerrilla, will both be premiering at the Cannes Film Festival after all, despite recent speculation that they would not be completed in time to be shown.

Other high-profile screenings include Clint Eastwood's Changeling and Charlie Kaufman's Synechdoche, New York. Major foreign titles include the Dardenne Brothers' The Silence of Lorna, Walter Salles' Linha de passe, and Atom Egoyan's Adoration.

Several highly anticipated films will premiere at the festival, including Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and the Dreamworks animated offering, Kung Fu Panda (has this really not been released yet?).

The 20 films showing in competition are:

"24 City," China, Jia Zhangke
"Adoration," Canada, Atom Egoyan
"Changeling," U.S., Clint Eastwood
"Che" ("The Argentine," "Guerrilla,") Spain, Steven Soderbergh
"Un Conte de noel," France, Arnaud Desplechin
"Daydreams," Turkey, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
"Delta," Germany-Hungary, Kornel Mundruczo
"Il Divo," Paolo Sorrentino, Italy
"Gomorra," Italy, Matteo Garrone
"La Frontiere de l'aube," France, Philippe Garrel
"Leonera," Argentina-South Korea, Pablo Trapero
"Linha de Passe," Brazil, Walter Salles, Daniela Thomas
"La Mujer sin cabeza," Argentina, Lucrecia Martel
"My Magic," Singapore, Eric Khoo
"The Palermo Shooting," Germany, Wim Wenders
"Serbis," Philippines, Brillante Mendoza
"The Silence of Lorna," U.K.-France, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
"Synecdoche, New York," U.S., Charlie Kaufman
"Waltz With Bashir," Israel, Ari Folman

For the complete festival lineup, click here.
Variety is reporting that Clint Eastwood's new film, Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, is set to debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Angelina Jolie on the set of Clint Eastwood's Changeling.

The film will be released in the United States in November.

Also, despite earlier reports to the contrary, Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona will also bow at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.

Click here to read the full article.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Below is a partial list of some of the films being released on DVD today, along with a blurb and a link from my reviews. The star rating is in parenthesis after each blurb.

What we are left with is a movie with bite but no teeth. Aaron Sorkin gives the actors lots of great one liners, and Philip Seymour Hoffman gives yet another great performance this year (after stellar work in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and The Savages). It is a good movie, a perfectly acceptable, entertaining film with the potential for broader appeal than most movies that have tackled similar subjects. But what is the price of success? Would you rather be a popular movie that is merely good, or a great movie that fewer people see? (***)


What is the creature? Where did it come from? Why is it there? We never know the answers. Instead, "Cloverfield" eats at us with its nerve-fraying sense of mounting dread, creating a real atmosphere of paranoia and fear. It is an instant classic, with some images destined for iconic status (the headless Statue of Liberty, its head crashing into a New York street, is hard to shake). Producer J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves really take us for a ride on this one, and at only 80 minutes long, it moves at a brisk clip, hardly leaving us time to catch our breath. We haven't seen a quality mainstream movie with such potential for longevity and remembrance years from now, but out of "Cloverfield," a new movie monster legend is born. (***½)


Unlike many films of this genre in the post-Sixth Sense world, The Orphanage doesn't try to hit us when any 11th hour twists or turnarounds that pander to the audience...but still manages to surprise and shock anyway. It's a truly unnerving work, a creepy and atmospheric mood piece that relies more on slow, agonizing buildups and an overall aura of haunting dread than the usual cheap tricks of its genre. It is also beautifully designed (I especially loved the Tim Burton-eque main title sequence), with sumptuous production design by Josep Rosell, and a sublimely eerie score by Fernando Velázquez. (***½)


There's quirk and dysfunctionality aplenty in "The Savages," but writer/director Tamara Jenkins' assured script (a far more sophisticated and accomplished work than Diablo Cody's self-conscious "Juno" screenplay) skillfully avoids any form of pandering and cliché and creates something infinitely more inspired. Like Alexander Payne's "Sideways" before it, "The Savages" takes a funny, razor-sharp and ultimately touching look at real adult problems through two people who haven't quite grown up yet. (***½)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Chalk this up as my good news of the day! The Criterion Collection will be releasing Carl Th. Dreyer's gothic 1932 silent horror film, Vampyr, on DVD July 22.

I'm drooling in anticipation already. Vampyr was Dreyer's follow-up to his masterpiece (and my favorite film of all time) The Passion of Joan of Arc, and remains to this day one of the creepiest films of all time.

Featuring some of the most eerie imagery ever put on film, Vampyr is an atmospheric tale of mysterious occurrences surrounding a remote castle, and continues Joan of Arc's standard of haunting, lyrical imagery, but the effect this time is much more chilling than emotional.

The film is in the public domain, and available in its entirety on Youtube, but I suggest waiting for this DVD. Criterion always does an excellent job of transferring and re-mastering their films, and I can almost guarantee that Vampyr will follow that same high standard.

I've been hoping Criterion would give this film the treatment it deserves for years, and I can't wait until my copy comes in.
I'm a little late in getting around to reviewing this one, as it was a 2007 film, but true to form, this gem from Thailand never opened around here, and seems to be just as scarce on video. Even my local independent video store had not heard of it, and they generally specialize in the rare and hard to find. But after a long wait, and nearly a year after its initial theatrical release, I have finally seen Apichatpong Weerasethakul's much lauded Syndromes and a Century.

I must admit it was not what I expected. Syndromes and a Century is a very deliberate, slowly paced film that requires patience from the viewer, but the rewards it offers in return are more than worth it.

Set in two different hospitals, one set 40 years ago and the
other in present day, Syndromes and a Century is based on director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's recollections of life growing up around hospitals with his doctor parents.

The film really has no plot to speak of. This is stream of consciousness filmmaking that creates a world as it might look through the fog of memory. At first parts of the film may seem a bit repetitive and redundant, as the film switches time periods halfway through and the exact same events from the first half of the film play out from the opposite angle at which they were shot in the film's earlier half. But the film then fades into its slice of life observation, and it opens up into something wonderful.

The pace is slow and meandering, the camera usually staying at wide, dispassionate angles for maximum objective observation. Weerasethakul avoids closeups, instead filming with wide, static shots, very much the way we would recall a memory or a dream in the third person, watching ourselves do something from outside our own body.

In fact the whole film is something of an out of body experience. Characters talk often of their past lives, and indeed Syndromes and a Century often feels like something out of another life, especially in its juxtaposition of the two time periods, which despite their distance in time share striking similarities.

It is an once familiar and alien, foreign and yet immediately accessible. It is a film of strange beauty, totally unique and yet comforting in its humanity. There is much to be gathered from this wonderful little film. It may not all be right on the surface but it's always there.

Syndromes and a Century is a fleeting shadow, an elusive memory fading as the mind slips into sleep, a long lost lover reborn in a dream. It is a film of great and subtle beauty, that while, not perfect, will linger in the memory like the strange and random moments that we never forget, and can never quite understand why.

GRADE - ***½ (out of four)

SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY; Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul; Stars Arkanae Cherkam, Jarucai Iamaram, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Nu Nimsomboon, Jenjira Pongpas; Not Rated; In Thai w/English subtitles

Friday, April 18, 2008

Considering the advance buzz surrounding 88 Minutes, I was expecting a disaster of epic proportions - something on par with Battlefield Earth. Well I'm pleased to report that Al Pacino's latest vehicle isn't nearly that bad, and that reports of its awfulness are somewhat hyperbolic.

That being said, 88 Minutes is still nothing worth writing home about. In fact it's a pretty standard crime thriller. Pacino stars as Jack Gramm, a forensic psychiatrist and college professor who receives a threatening phone call telling him he has 88 minutes to live on the day of the execution of his most high profile conviction, whose guilt is thrown into question by a copycat murder.

The story itself is mildly compelling (mostly thanks to Al Pacino's compulsive watchability), but the problem isn't with the set-up so much as the execution.

Armed with a weak script, director Jon Avnet has fashioned a scattershot thriller whose logic is filled with so many holes, coincidences, and stretches in believability that it's hard to take seriously. We all know who the bad guy is from the get-go, and the "mole" so to speak isn't really that hard to spot.

Watching the film was a strange experience. I kept finding myself thinking "oh come on!" every couple of minutes, or rolling my eyes at the lame coincidences and outlandish twists thrown in to further the plot, but I found myself oddly entertained. It held my interest at all times, even at its silliest, which can probably be attributed to Pacino. If anyone else had been in that role, the film would have even less credibility than it does.

Which isn't saying much considering it only received a theatrical release to save Pacino the indignity of a direct-to-DVD release, a medium to which it's probably better suited.

88 Minutes is a great cable movie. It's the kind of thing you flip back and forth to during commercials of something else you're more interested in. It probably has a long life ahead of it on TNT.

I wanted to hate it, but I couldn't. Pacino is magnetic no matter what he's doing, even if his surroundings aren't quite up to par. 88 Minutes is strictly second-tier fare, but at least it's not Prom Night. Hell, it's not even Savage Grace, but that's another story for another review.

GRADE - ** (out of four)

88 MINUTES; Directed by Jon Avnet; Stars Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Amy Brenneman, Leelee Sobieski, Benjamin McKenzie, Degorah Kara Unger, William Forsythe, Neal McDonough; Rated R for disturbing violent content, brief nudity and language; Opens everywhere today.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tom Kalin's Savage Grace (IFC, 5.28) may be an absolute train wreck of a movie, but it is redeemed by one thing - a make brief make-out session by Eddie Redmayne (The Other Boleyn Girl) and Unax Ugalde (Love in the Time of Cholera).

I've enjoyed Redmayne's work since seeing him as Thomas Babingdon in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (I honestly don't remember him from The Good Shepherd, despite my love for that film), and you have to admit that his pairing with Ugalde is absolute hotness.

The movie itself, however, is terrible. I'll post a review closer to the film's release.
From The Dispatch:
Who makes movies like this? And more importantly, who goes to see them? What kind of person goes into a movie like this and says "Wow, that was a great movie?" This is vapid, soulless filmmaking aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator, for people without discerning tastes who don't know they've just been duped into watching a mass-produced marketing tool with no real interest in, you know, actually making a good movie.
Click here to read the full review.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

If one listens to the early buzz surrounding Jon Faveau's Iron Man (Paramount, 5.2), then the expectation level is through the roof.

Paramount has been very quietly showing it to selected journos recently, and according to Jeffrey Wells' anonymous source, the film is sensational.

I try not to get my hopes up base on internet buzz. But my expectations for the film had been quite low until recently. There's a press-invited screening coming up for me on Tuesday, so I'll know for sure then. I won't be able to review it until opening day though (which is standard practice), but Paramount is keeping an especially tight lid on this one. Either that's a bad sign...or they know they have a sensation on their hands.

Let's hope it's the latter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

After suffering through the cinematic abomination that was Prom Night, it's nice to be able to discover a film that is the polar opposite of that film in every way.

Aleksandr Sokurov's (Russian Ark) Alexandra is a beautifully burnished gem of a movie that is being criminally overlooked. It is without a doubt one of the finest films I have seen so far this year, and with the painfully barren state of the current movie-going landscape, Alexandra shines like a beacon in the night.

The film tells the story of an elderly Russian woman who sets out to visit her grandson, a soldier in the Russian army, at his base in Chechnya, where he fights in the ongoing conflict against the Chechen rebels. Upon arriving at the camp, Alexandra wanders around talking to soldiers, and with her indomitable spirit and ornery charm, becomes a sort of surrogate grandmother to them all.

She also manages to make friends with some local Chechens, and thats where Alexandra finds its heart. It is a film about bridging gaps; between old and young, past and present, Russian and Chechen. Alexandra's bent frame seems dwarfed by the hustle and bustle of the rough desert camp, but her fierce independence sets her apart, and it all seems to bow to her.

Alexandra seems both appalled at what the soldiers are doing but matronly toward everyone she meets. She genuinely cares for these men, and her maternal instincts kick in at every turn, despite her sometimes gruff exterior and her grandson's insistence that she lacks affection.

The film offers a deeply poignant look at a world of eternal conflict, made even more stark when seen through Alexandra's eyes, who sees fellow travelers where others see enemies. The film is ultimately a passionate cry for peace in a world gone insane. Alexandra comes from an older, simpler time when things were not necessarily better, but she is living in a world whose new conflicts don't quite fit in with the world she knew.

Alexandra may be lonely since the death of her husband, but she fills a void in the soldiers' lives by reminding them of the home they left behind, and the film is a haunting reminder of a world in conflict where the old rules no longer apply and disillusionment is commonplace.

Sokurov has crafted a rich and rewarding film, a deeply humanist work of art that is as tender as it is bracing, and one of the most unique and wholly satisfying works so far this year.

GRADE - ***½ (out of four)

ALEXANDRA; Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov; Stars Galina Vishnevskaya, Vasily Shevtsov, Raisa Gichaeva; Not Rated; In Russian w/English subtitles; Now playing in Los Angeles

Monday, April 14, 2008

AMPAS President Sid Ganis announced the dates for the 81st Academy Awards ceremony in a press release today, and being the dork I am I felt my heart jump a little bit at the prospects of another Oscar season.

Here's the way the season is going to shape up:

Monday, December 1, 2008: Official Screen Credits forms due
Friday, December 26, 2008: Nominations ballots mailed
Monday, January 12, 2009: Nominations polls close 5 p.m. PT
Thursday, January 22, 2009: Nominations announced 5:30 a.m. PT, Samuel Goldwyn Theater
Wednesday, January 28, 2009: Final ballots mailed
Monday, February 2, 2009: Nominees Luncheon
Saturday, February 7, 2009: Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards presentation
Tuesday, February 17, 2009: Final polls close 5 p.m. PT
Sunday, February 22, 2009: 81st Annual Academy Awards presentation

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Defamer's Stu VanAirsdale has posted a rant about the new 2-disc collector's edition of There Will Be Blood, and I couldn't disagree more.

I bought the film on the day it was released, and having watched the special features have come to the conclusion that it is one of the finest (albeit idiosyncratic) discs of DVD extras I have ever seen.

Extras were once a unique and special thing that have now become expected, just as 2-disc DVDs were once reserved for only the very best or most special films, but now every movie has to have a 2-disc set.

Most are packed with filler; trailers, generic making-of docs, and banal interviews with the cast and crew. Not There Will Be Blood.

It is true you won't find a single making-of documentary anywhere on the disc, instead we are given a 1923 silent film about the oil industry called The Story of Petroleum, set to music by the film's composer Johnny Greenwood, deleted scenes that are woven flawlessly into the film's footage to create mini works of art unto themselves, and a 15 minute montage of images from the film juxtaposed with old photographs of prospectors and mining towns that inspired them.

Paul Thomas Anderson has defied expectations of course, and instead of delivering typical extras that offer no real insight, or uncover every aspect of the filmmaking process, and made the extras an extension of the film. Like the short films on the 2-disc special edition of Punch-Drunk Love, the deleted scenes here are not your typical, out of context scenes that make clear why they should never have been in the film. No, Anderson fashions them into mini-mood pieces that stand on their own - impressionistic works of art as haunting and beautiful as the film itself.

There Will Be Blood is a film that should stand on its own. And by stubbornly refusing to blow the lid off his process, Anderson allows it to do just that, leaving the film's mysterious, enigmatic qualities intact.

When a film passes into history as a revered classic (such as Citizen Kane), the time comes to examine its production from all angles for a historical perspective. That time has not come yet for There Will Be Blood. There's far too much going on onscreen to be examined to worry about what's going on behind the camera.

VanAirsdale's rant reeks of greedy fanboyism, the kind that wants everything laid out for them and every mystery explained; who are constantly demanding more more MORE from the directors that they worship. I prefer There Will Be Blood the way it is, and I hope VanAirsdale's call for a new, more exaustive DVD release to make it to stores sometime in the near future doesn't come true.

This is one movie that should be left alone.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

From The Dispatch:
Instead of being breezy and light on its feet, "Leatherheads" is laborious and overlong and suffers from severe personality syndrome. It switches back and forth from screwball comedy to straight comedy to drama to soap opera and never seems to make up its mind as to what it is or what it is trying to do. Clooney then makes the mistake of spending too much time with the aimless subplot of Rutherford's exaggerated tale of heroism that derails the movie completely - going nowhere and taking a painfully long time to get there.
Click here to read my full review.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Uwe Boll (aka the worst director in the world) has issued a statement regarding a current petition which, if it reaches one million signatures, Boll has agreed to stop making movies.

He manages to one-up himself when it comes to blind self absorption, after the debacle in which he challenged all movie critics that don't like his movies to a boxing match (!), by declaring himself "The only fucking genius in the business" and that he's "not a fucking retard like Michael Bay or Eli Roth making the same shitty movies over and over again."

Really? Has he actually SEEN any of his own movies? They're all the same bullshit video game adaptations that could have been made just as well by a pack of ADD 12 year olds hyped up on caffeine.

He then goes on to say that his new film, Postal, will be "way better than all that social-critic George Clooney bullshit that you get every fucking weekend."

I think Mr. (excuse me...DOCTOR) Boll is just jealous that Clooney has more talent in his little toenail than he ever will. It's kind of sad that he is so deluded that he truly believes that he is the only one who actually knows how to make movies, and that its everyone else who are the hacks. I guess he had to make up some excuse as to why he never makes movies that are critical OR popular successes.

In other words, Uwe Boll is an idiot. And this video proves it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Living in a small town, you don't have many shopping options. Here in Boone, it's either drive an hour and a half to a decent sized city, or go to Wal-Mart.

I hate Wal-Mart, but I wanted my copy of There Will Be Blood on DVD and didn't want to wait for it, so after my film studies class this morning I begrudgingly trekked down to Wal-Mart to pick it up.

Here's the part that really pissed me off - when the check-out lady rang it up and the cash register declared that the film was rated R, she asked to see my ID.

This pisses me off for 2 reasons:

1) I am often mistaken for being younger than I am, but being mistaken for being younger than 17 is a bit of a stretch - although one woman last year mistook me for a 16 year old, so go figure.

2) I know this is not the cashier's fault - this is Wal-Mart policy. And I think it's stupid. It is not the responsibility of corporations like Wal-Mart to become the moral guardians of society and become parent to every teenager in the nation. The original MPAA rating system was meant as a guideline, not to be written into the law as it is now - with varying state laws making it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to attend R-rated films without a parent or guardian - even though the official MPAA guideline is under 17, not 18.

It is NOT the government's OR Wal-Mart's responsibility to decide what children and teenagers should and should not watch. That is the parents' job.

Which leads me into the other thing that is pissing me off this week. Last week when I wrote my review of Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights, I noticed that the official MPAA rating said that the film was rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including violence, drinking and smoking.


Yes, the MPAA has begun its crackdown on smoking in movies. Heaven forbid children should be exposed to something they can see EVERY DAY around town and chances are someone in their family has done around them before.

I'm not a smoker, and I think it's a filthy habit, but this is just ridiculous. I guess that means bad news for Casablanca, EVERYONE smokes in that movie, and you don't want children exposed to that kind of unwholesomness. And don't get me started on 101 Dalmations - Cruella De Vil is screwed!

We have become a nation of crybabies. When we have come to the point that we can no longer handle seeing someone smoke a cigarette without having a moral outrage then we are in a sad state indeed. It always strikes me as funny that the people who are crusading against smoking in movies are just as bad as the ones who condemn sex and violence, as well as the extreme conservatives who want homosexuality and abortions wiped from the public consciousness. These anti-smoking Nazis are no better than them.

I lump them all in the same category of whiny assholes who can't police what their children watch, so they expect someone else to do it for them. That is lazy parenting. This kind of holier-than-thou moral fervor is something I would expect from the religious right, but the ones out to ban smoking seem to be otherwise levelheaded liberals. So why this stuck-up, self righteous attitude? Personal freedom applies to the right to smoke if one wants, just as it includes the right to have an abortion and sleep with whomever one pleases.

I have seen smoking in movies all my life, and I have never once picked up a cigarette. I also grew up watching Roadrunner cartoons and I never once tried to run over anyone with a truck or drop an anvil on their head to see if they would survive.

The MPAA's rating system is outdated and has outlived its usefulness. The time has come to either overhaul it, or toss it out altogether.

When a film genre lapses into self-parody, that is a sure sign that the genre is dead.

Well MPAA, it's time for you to take you cue.
For those of you who have yet to see Paul Thomas Anderson's sprawling epic There Will Be Blood (From the Front Row's pick for the #1 film of 2007), now is your chance because the film arrives on single-disc and 2-disc collector's edition DVD today.

Anderson's staggering tale of family, greed, and the lust for power set against the backdrop of the oil boom at the dawn of the 20th century is a classic portrait of the dark side of the American dream, and the destruction of one man's soul by the insidious obsession with power and wealth.

It is also a showcase for what is hands down one of the defining performances of the new century. Daniel Day-Lewis' raw, explosive performance is the stuff of legend, a towering achievement that won Day-Lewis a hugely deserved Academy Award.

It's hard for me to talk about Blood without sounding like I'm gushing, because the film is a masterpiece, pure and simple. This is filmmaking of a rare brilliance that transcends words and actions and asserts itself and demands to be noticed. It is vivid, it is urgent, it is powerfully contemporary yet steeped in classical style and evokes a time and a culture long since passed as if it were happening at this very moment.

Anderson transports us, engulfs us, and overwhelms us in a wholly alien yet strikingly familiar world that is both of its time and ours - always relevant, and always utterly engrossing.

It was, is, and ever shall be, the greatest cinematic achievement of 2007.