“A Call Girl” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

“A Call Girl” (aka “Slovenka” or “Slovenian Girl”) is a difficult film to watch.  It is a cold eastern-European story of a hardened woman who turns tricks to support a lifestyle that would usually be beyond her means.  She goes to school.  She is buying her own apartment.  It isn’t the ideal life, but it gives her a sense of independence and progress.  Unfortunately, her choices are taking their toll.  She is clearly detached from real emotions… perhaps numb as a method of self-preservation.  She is trading happiness for security.

Unfortunately, due to a hotel rendezvous with a politician, who keels over and dies before they can do business, she makes the national headlines as a mystery call-girl.  The country is searching for her with a vague description.  Even worse, the people who find her first are not at all interested in justice.  They are interested in blackmailing her unless she agrees to “protection” — the polite word for pimping.

The story also involves her strained relationships with family, friends and ex-boyfriends.  Nothing in this girl’s life is easy.  It is an ultimately sad movie about the harsh realities of life without money in the eastern block.  The central performance is magnificent.  Nina Ivanisin gives us a truly wonderful effort here.  I believed every gesture… every glance.  She is the reason a viewer can make it through the grim story.  She makes us care.

THREE STARS A Call Girl Review

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“Machete” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Listen, “Machete” is a stupid movie.  Even Robert Rodriguez would have to admit that.  Even its biggest fan would begrudgingly concede that the story is dumber than a bag of hammers.  This film is simply a celebration of exploitation flicks.  Instead of blacksploitation, we get Mexsploitation.  “Machete” is wall to wall with tits and knives and blood and stunts and one-liners.  It is ridiculous and proud.

To try explaining the plot is like trying to explain the tune of “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  What’s the point?  You just have to experience it for yourself.  Danny Trejo cuts people up and bangs hotties like Jessica Alba, Electra Avellan, Lindsay Lohan and Michelle Rodriguez.  That is all you need to know.  The only question when evaluating this film is whether or not you enjoyed all the insanity on a visceral level or not.

I am guilty of enjoying the film to some degree.  I laughed at the movie and I laughed at myself for watching the movie.  I am not above the cheap thrills of gratuitous nudity.  I can appreciate the artistic merit of a machete slicing massacre from time to time.  If the film had been nothing but cheap thrills, I may have liked it a little more.  However, it actually has the “cohones” to try and say something meaningful about the state of affairs in the United States today — about border control and slave labor.  The film probably doesn’t earn the right to discuss matters like that, despite having legitimate points.

I enjoyed my time with “Machete”.  I doubt that I will ever want to watch it again.  When it surfaces on cable TV, I might just peek up for the naughty bits.  Agh, who am I kidding… I will be recording the naughty bits and playing them on a loop.   Mmm…  Lindsay Lohan’s naughty bits.

THREE STARS Machete Review

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“She’s Out of My League” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

It is tempting to hate this film because it is so supremely formulaic and predictable.  On another day, in another mood, I may just have tuned out after the 20-minute mark and rode out the rest of the plot while planning my scathing review.  Yet somehow, I was generous enough to give this movie a lot of rope.

It is a typical Hollywood contrivance — the ugly duckling and the beautiful swan.  In this movie, Kirk is a below-average-Joe who somehow manages to swing the interest of a stunning blonde named Molly.  Unfortunately, his massive insecurities and his circle of family and friends, who are bewildered at his good fortune, all seem to get in the way and cause him nothing but trouble.

As a “rom-com”, I would claim that the romance is ridiculous and unbelievable in every possible way, but the comedy is quick and witty and observant.  Therefore, it is a semi-successful film.  What I have to determine is if the good comedy outweighs the laughable relationship — and it does.  I laughed considerably throughout.  I chose to see this film as utter silliness — ignoring the mild attempts at sincerity and romance.

Alice Eve is one of the most resplendent women alive today.  Her presence is enough to make any hot-blooded male want to watch.  The notion that she would fall for the loser in the movie is ludicrous in every way.  Despite that though, the laughs, predominantly generated by the secondary characters, come regularly enough to distract viewers from the other crap.

THREE STARS Shes Out of My League Review

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“Let the Right One In” Review

January 9, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

As gentle and delicate a film as you are likely to see in 2008! “Let the Right One In” takes the vampire genre to an alternate cinematic dimension — one where tender love and friendship supersedes the lust for blood.

A lonely, feeble and shy young boy is bullied at school and ignored at home.  He is desperate for companionship and fantasizes about revenge on his tormentors.

Oskar often plays alone in the snowy yard in front of his apartment building.  One night, while practicing his revenge on a small tree, Oskar meets Eli — a strange and curious soul who is fascinated by Oskar Rubik’s Cube.  Eli completes the puzzle by morning.

We learn, before Oskar does, that Eli is a vampire who feeds off of the occasional local resident.  However, they strike up a nocturnal friendship that soon blossoms into an agreement of “going steady”.

The film tracks this relationship as Oskar begins to stand up to his school bullies and Eli struggles to sustain the violent feeding habits.  We watch as both children help each other with their respective problems.

I cannot go into too many details without giving away key story elements.  There are some things that are best learned throughout the course of watching this great Swedish film.  However, I will urge you to play close attention to every aspect of Eli’s character — it is very easy to miss a important part.

“Let the Right One In” is a triumph of mood, style and tone.  I am not sure that I have ever seen a film that pays more attention to the tiniest sounds.  This is a very quiet film with gentle souls offering gentle lines of dialogue.  You can almost hear the snow flakes hit the ground in some scenes.

It is a lovely visual too — the entire film is a canvas for Gothic beauty.  Even the few bloody scenes are handled with an eye for unique aesthetics.  It is one of the finest examples of cinematography in 2008.

Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson are both first time actors who deliver two of the finest child performances I have ever seen.  A lot of credit must go to the director for casting and crafting such profound ability.  Their faces will be indelibly etched in your mind after having seen them here.  Special note to Leandersson, who should be considered for a Best Supporting nod at next year’s Oscars.

There are moments of heartbreak and moments of cheer in this little gem.  I cherish this on-screen friendship and love up there with any movie relationship from this decade.  Despite their vast differences, Oskar and Eli cure each other’s loneliness in this bleak world… and they escape from it with one of the most poignant and haunting final scenes since the secret whisper at the end of “Lost in Translation”.

-.- .. … …

K  I  S  S

FOUR STARS Let the Right One In Review

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“The Wrestler” Review

January 9, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

One of the supreme performances of the decade!

Darren Aronofsky directs a simple story of a broken man, desperate for past glory and some semblance of contact with his estranged daughter.  Randy “The Ram” Robinson is an aging professional wrestler who has royally messed up his life in virtually every imaginable way.  This film chronicles the acceptance of his fate and the small gestures he makes in order to find the slightest redemption.

Mickey Rourke acts in “The Wrestler” — a powerful independent film from one of the very best young directors in the world today.  To be honest, “acts” isn’t enough to describe Rourke’s effort here.  He “is” this man… literally.

There are very few performances in a decade where one would feel that the actor is irreplaceable.  This is one of those roles.  I cannot imagine another man playing this part.  Rumor has it that Aronofsky fought hard for Rourke to get this part — a tough task when no studio would front the cash with his name attached.  However, the fight was worthwhile.  This film triumphs because of it.

“The Wrestler” is one of the 10 best films of 2008.  Rourke’s performance is one of the most memorable you will ever witness.  I urge you to seek this gem out at your nearest art-house movie theatre before it gets counted out.

FOUR STARS The Wrestler Review

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“In Bruges” Review

January 9, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

I haven’t laughed this long and this hard at the movies all year — and “In Bruges” isn’t even an out & out comedy.

What a fantastic cinematic surprise this was!  I must admit that, in my mind, this film existed on much the same plane as the city of Bruges — I knew that both existed, but I was unaware how wonderful each was to see.  Martin McDonagh directs his first feature film by combing wit and whimsy with gravitas and drama in such unique, entertaining and thoughtful ways that “In Bruges” begs to be included in the shortlist of all time great cinema debuts.

This film pulls off a remarkable balancing act, shifting from the sublimely ridiculous to chilling melancholy as if the two were inextricably combined.  You will have a tough time telling whether your tears are from laughter or sadness.  It is a splendid collage of tones that never fails to engage.  “In Bruges” is a master work of originality.

Ray and Ken (Farrell and Gleeson) are two hitmen sent to Bruges to hide out after a botched job.  Their boss, Harry (Fiennes), puts them up in a small hotel to await further instructions.

Ken is fascinated by the fairy-tale town, still dominated by ancient streets and architecture, canals and cathedrals.  He takes the opportunity to sight-see and taste a little culture.  On the other hand, Ray is thoroughly bored by the quaint surroundings, preferring to sample some of the many local beers.  His adventures get him hooked up with a local babe, Chloe (Poesy), and a dwarf actor, Jimmy (Prentice), who is on location shooting a film.

Things begin to fall apart for Ray and Ken, for a variety of reasons which I cannot spoil in this review, and soon, Harry is on his way from London to “take care of the problem” himself.

There are hilarious moments throughout this film… the kind of hilarity that only comes from intelligent and truthful character observation.  “In Bruges” cannot fully claim to be a comedy, and yet delivers more belly laughs than any film in recent memory.  I was weeping at times.

The entire cast is pitch perfect with the comedic timing and subtlety.  Note the scene when Jimmy grabs his two drinks in the bar — That has to be one of the funniest “tiny moments” I have seen this decade.  It may not even have been intentional — if not, all credit to the director for keeping it in the film.

By contrast, it is extraordinary how well the film transitions to the heavier material.  It never feels out of place or inappropriate.  Even the toughest scene in the film manages to provide a light note.

“In Bruges” is a perfect exhibition in tone management.  It gets all the little things just right.  The script is easily one of the best in 2008.  The cinematography will have you searching for plane tickets to Belgium.  The acting is award worthy.  I have no doubt in my mind that this film will rank in my year-end Top 10 List.  I am sure that it will become a cult favorite over the years, as it makes the rounds on DVD.

FOUR STARS In Bruges Review

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“Die Hard” Review

January 8, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!

What sets this movie apart from most of the others in its genre are the quiet moments… the ones where we, like our hero John McClane (Willis), get to breathe and soak in the gravity of the situation.  Most action films never stop moving for fear that the audience will be awash with boredom.

What director John McTiernan is able to do with “Die Hard” is balance the brilliant pyrotechnics and crazy stunts with moments of subtle humor and a brand of “guy sensitivity” that doesn’t ever overflow into gushy sentimentality.

“Die Hard” is the cinematic version of the ‘guy hug’, where two guys grasp hands, pull each other in swiftly, slap each other on the back and then pull away with manly swagger.

Bruce Willis is the ultimate ‘everyman’ cop just trying to do the right thing.  This is one of the definitive examples of perfect casting.  Schwarzenegger and Stallone were both considered for the part, but neither would have felt as authentic.  Willis has a charm and an ‘average’ quality that allows the viewer to feel that they could be in his place.

Alan Rickman teeters dangerously on the edge of utter camp with his German bad guy accent… but he pulls it off and delivers one of the classic villains in film history.

I suppose it’s easy to write this film off as just another action flick… but I believe it redefined the action genre and has become the film that all others of its kind are compared to. I am sure you’ve heard the comments…’Die Hard on a Boat,’ ‘Die Hard on a Plane,’ ‘Die Hard Under Water’… etc.

This is a fantastic movie that is supremely re-watchable and has held up as the years go by. It is funny, exciting and deceptively smart.  This is easily one of the ten best action films ever made!  Scratch that… “Die Hard” is one of the best films ever made.  It is the only ‘pure action flick’ that I have ever been able to say that about.

FOUR STARS Die Hard Review

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“American Beauty” Review

January 8, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

“Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.”

There is a longing in this film… A longing to hold on to beautiful moments and memories just a little longer than we are usually allowed. This film wistfully captures that aching desire to live inside our memories and dreams because they are much happier places than our present reality.

“American Beauty” is one of the spectacular success stories of the American independent movie scene. It is one of the finest films I’ve ever been privileged to see. It presents the disillusionment of suburban life better than any other film in memory. I recognized so many emotions and ideas in this film from my own life. It struck a chord so deep that I felt like living my life a little better, with a little more vigor and fullness than I did before. Not many films can accomplish that.

I won’t recap the plot for the 7 people who haven’t seen the film yet. To be honest though, the plot is not important. What matters in this film is the poetry, the moments, the note-perfect performances, the music… Ahhh the lovely music. This film is about the beauty of each and every moment and those people who finally wake up and appreciate those moments.

Some of us go through life drifting from one dull second to the next. Others are fortunate enough to have the beauty dawn on them from time to time. For Lester Burnham, the protagonist of this story, it all dawns on him a tad too late in life… but he is going to do his best to make up for lost time as passionately as he can.

Kevin Spacey, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper, Annette Bening, Thora Birch & Wes Bentley all commit to brilliance in their roles. The first four all deserved Oscar consideration for their work.

But it is the insightful screenplay and flowing direction that make this film the masterpiece that it is. Orson Welles once said that “a film is never any good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.” Director, Sam Mendes is a visual poet. It is one of the most incredible cinematic debuts in history and will assuredly lead to a legendary career.

“American Beauty” is superb in virtually every way that matters when it comes to filmmaking. It carries no apparent flaw. I’ve watched it a half a dozen times and it still sends shivers down my spine every time I see the rose petals rain down on Angela, every time I see that simple video of the bag blowing in the wind, and every time that Lester thinks back on his beautiful, beautiful life.

“I want to look good naked!”

“Look at me, jerking off in the shower… This will be the high point of my day. It’s all downhill from here.”

“I feel like I’ve been in a coma for the past twenty years. And I’m just now waking up. “

“I mean, how’s her life? Is she happy? Is she miserable? I’d really like to know, and she’d die before she’d ever tell me about it.”

“I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time… For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars… And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined my street… Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper… And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird… And Janie… And Janie… And… Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday”

FOUR STARS American Beauty Review

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“Angel-A” Review

January 8, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

“If I give you my life, would you know what to do with it?”

Before I describe the film, let me say that it all leads to, and away from, one quite devastating scene. It is a scene, played out by the two leads, staring directly into a mirror and having a conversation with each other. The camera pans behind the glass, allowing us as viewers to become the mirror. I became so captivated by the emotions of that moment because I saw pieces of myself in Jamel Debbouze’s character. For an instant, I entirely mirrored his feelings. After having seen over 3000 films in my life, it ranks as one of my favorite cinematic moments to date.

Jamel Debbouze plays André, a down on his luck Frenchman who is in grave financial difficulties with the wrong crowd. He is trapped in Paris because he has lost all of his identification, including the American green card that could get him back to his New York City home. The US embassy is not too keen to help him as he has a recent conviction for fraud on his record.

When all is seemingly lost and time has run out on his debts, André steps over the barrier to Le pont Alexandre III in order to throw himself into the Seine. Moments away from the desperate act, he peers to his left, only to see a statuesque blonde, twenty feet away, about to do the same thing.

Rie Rasmussen plays “Angel-A” (pronounced like Angela with a French accent), a 6-foot beauty with the body of a supermodel and the face of an angel. Weeping, she launches herself into the famous river – Jamel instantly follows in an attempt to rescue her. He drags her ashore.

André questions her desire to commit suicide. After all, how can someone so beautiful want to do such a drastic thing? Surely there most be something to live for? Angel-A returns the questions, which only serves to irritate him. He is just a short, average looking man, with enormous money problems. He loves no one and no one loves him. What more does he have to live for? She offers herself as a devoted friend, volunteering her life to him. What he says goes. Needless to say, André is skeptical.

What follows is a black and white tour of the most beautiful city in the world today. Luc Besson’s incredible framing and camera work follows these two people as they dart in and around some of the most famous landmarks in Europe. There is nothing quite like Paris in black and white. Each and every frame of this film would hang proudly in any art gallery. It is one of the most aesthetically gorgeous films I’ve ever seen.

What makes it even more resplendent to behold is the presence of Rie Rasmussen. One would think that a supermodel with only one acting credit under her belt (as the diamond-clad thief in De Palma’s “Femme Fatale”) would not be a stand-out performer. One would be wrong.

Rasmussen is a renaissance woman if there ever was one. I’ve been a big fan ever since her infamous catwalk wink at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2001. She has since directed two magnificent & acclaimed short films, “Il Vestito” & “Thinning the Herd”. Those efforts will soon lead to a major directorial production. She has published a book of her photography entitled Grafisk. Her canvas artwork is extraordinary. And, based on this performance, her acting skills extend far beyond making out with Rebecca Romijn.

Jamel Debbouze and Rie Rasmussen are perfectly cast as the hapless loser and the angelic guide. Both of them create three dimensional characters that are full of surprises. The two of them generate laughs and thrills and tears. It is a master-class in acting. I loved watching them, in what is essentially a two-character play, react off each other for the entire ninety-minute running length. There is passion. There is anger. There is silliness. There is tenderness. There is empathy. Debbouze and Rasmussen deliver on all levels.

“Angel-A” is a truly lovely film about finding love… for another as well as for oneself. It is superbly shot by the visual genius, Luc Besson… who finally matches that visual mastery with a story that earns such an effort. The lead actors will not win Oscars because The Academy never rewards such small foreign films — but it should make an exception in this case. This film is endlessly entertaining, hopelessly romantic and devilishly witty. It is one of my favorite films in recent years and I urge you to go out of your way to find it.

FOUR STARS Angel A Review

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“Black Box” Review

January 8, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

I never would have guessed that Paul Verhoeven (Yes, the Paul Verhoeven who directed “Total Recall”, “Basic Instinct” & “Showgirls”!!!) would compete for the best film of 2007 with a gripping, edge-of-your-seat World War II yarn.

I use the old-fashioned term, yarn, because “Black Book” is very much a film that feels like it was made decades ago. The lush visuals, orchestral music, European styling, wartime romanticism and cliffhanging chapters all add a certain 1950′s charm to the white-knuckle plot. One gets the feeling that the ghosts of Gregory Peck, Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, Spencer Tracy & Jean Harlow are embodying the cast of this classic espionage drama.

The film begins in 1956 with Rachel Steinn, a school teacher at an Israeli kibbutz, being accidentally found by an old acquaintance, who is on vacation with her husband. The meeting brings back painful wartime memories and Rachel heads to a quiet place by the river to recollect our central story.

So back we travel, to occupied Holland, circa 1944, and we see a more youthful Rachel, diligently practicing a bible passage in order to earn a meal from the family who is hiding her from the Germans. She, like many Jews at that time, were surviving by any means necessary in order to outlast the Nazi tyranny. However, one day, while flirting with a young man sailing on the nearby lake, her safe zone is destroyed in one fell swoop by a low flying bomber. Rachel is immediately on the run, aided by her new sailor friend.

So much of this film relies on surprises and shocking twists that it would be unfair of me to detail too many plot threads. And my goodness, there are a tons of them. This is truly a definitive epic, in every cinematic sense of the word. Rachel is crossed and doubled-crossed and triple-crossed, eventually winding up as a member of the famed Resistance. Via cunning and fortunate circumstance, she manages to transform herself into Ellis de Vries, a blond bombshell who infiltrates the German command in the area. She uses a quick wit, a gorgeous voice, some feminine charms and a collection of Queen Wilhelmina stamps to crawl her way into the arms of Herr Müntze (Sebastian Koch).

From deep within the Nazi camp, she is able to strategically plant a microphone and to use tidbits of acquired knowledge in order to provide the Resistance with vital information and plans. While evolving into a brave spy, she must learn how to reconcile her own personal vendettas and her surprising romantic feelings for Müntze.

There are no more exciting themes for me in movies than tragic romance, espionage and escape. I have loved them all with a passion ever since I was a small child. Throw in a magnificent screenplay, marvelous cinematography, a plot that churns along with the efficiency of a Swiss watch, and the added bonus of a gorgeous actress — the result is sure to be a huge winner for me. “Black Book” satisfies everything that I truly want from a film. It is the reason I go to the movies. I was utterly swept away by the intrigue, drama, romance and tragedy. This emotionally weighty film even manages to deliver a few wonderfully witty moments to break the supreme tension of it all.

The cast is immense. Every one of them exudes authenticity. It is one of the best ensembles of the year. However, I struggle to call it an ensemble because it would be ignoring one of the singular performances in recent memory. Carice Van Houten is not a household name to most. She is a Dutch beauty who, if this role is anything to go by, is on the verge of a magnificent career. Her grasp on the emotional turmoil of Rachel/Ellis is of profound proportions. It is a stunning turn that flatly demands award consideration. The range on display in this movie is astonishing. Rarely have I ever been as moved by a character’s heroism and charm and guile and wits. She is able to create a sympathetic creature… one that we will root for until the end… one that we trust and believe in.

I cannot leave this review without admitting to my utter admiration for Paul Verhoeven, a director whose films I have often enjoyed and panned in equal measures. This is the work of his lifetime. It is the film he should list above all others on his résumé. This is a thoughtful, poignant and tremendously thrilling adventure. For attentive viewers, the final scenes of the film act as a provocative meditation on the relationships between war and justice, peace and insularity, the actions of the past and the promises of the future. “Black Book (Zwartboek)” is not only a riveting WWII adventure, but a superb contrast of morality -vs- reality.

FOUR STARS Black Box Review

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