Friday, September 28, 2007

Michael Clayton: Mr. Fix-It

Issues of the personal and the professional overlap, intersect, fold in on themselves and get all around muddled – as does the plot – in Michael Clayton, a somber legal thriller written and directed by Tony Gilroy of the Bourne franchise. George Clooney stars in the titular role as the employee of a powerful law firm whose broad job description is a “fixer.” It’s a performance of immense understatement, both in terms of emotion and charisma. Even more so than in his underwritten albeit Oscar-winning role in Syriana, this is Clooney at his most world-weary and downbeat.

Michael Clayton’s strongest attribute is the attention it pays to character’s lives outside of the workplace. Unlike many other corporate conspiracy tales, the diminishing home lives and personal time of the central characters is made into a focal point. In addition to dealing with an enormous case involving a fertilizer company and a chemically unbalanced senior attorney named Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), Michael is scrambling to resolve the debt incurred by a risky financial investment with his deadbeat brother. His tracts get increasingly jumbled as details of both sides intersect and impede him from resolving either dilemma swiftly.

Gilroy’s world of corporate law is depicted much like the world of the mafia in The Godfather. At the heart of the story are two men – Michael and Arthur – both trying to escape the morass of immorality that has engulfed them. Whenever it seems like either one has an opportunity to break out, the system pulls them back in (to paraphrase Al Pacino in The Godfather Part III). In a brilliantly telling violation of the 180 degree rule early in the film, the camera cuts between Michael and Arthur from opposite sides of the room, reversing their positions on screen and effectively entwining their conditions – although not necessarily their fates.

The characters in the film are artfully drawn and so is the plot; although the presentation of the plot is not as skillful and falls into the trap of obfuscation rather than intrigue. Early scenes go into illuminating detail about litigator Karen Crowder’s (Tilda Swinton) preparation for a press conference but considering the film subsequently streamlines her for the majority of the second and third acts, the early scenes serve little effect other than disorientation. However, if you can make it through the first forty minutes of byzantine plot structure, you’ll uncover a gripping human drama very much worth hanging around for.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Run, Fat Boy, Run

Run, Fat Boy, Run – a romantic comedy about a dopey loser who vows to run a marathon in order to win back his ex-wife – will one day make a remarkable case for reception studies based on the differences of its release and perception in the UK and US. It’s not due out until mid March in the US, at which point it will likely be dumped in a limited release (1500 screens absolute max) and see middling box office returns. Too low brow to receive critical support and not funny enough to generate feverish word of mouth, the film stands little chance to make any mark in the states other than to be seen as David Schwimmer’s failed feature directorial debut. However, in its native Britain, Run, Fat Boy, Run has already garnered some modestly supportive reviews and generated solid box office including a three-week-and-counting run at number one thanks to its prim London locales and lead performance by British comedy superstar Simon Pegg.

Being a sucker for romantic comedies, British urban idylls and all things Schwimmer (I proudly proclaim him to be my favorite Friend and to have seen him on stage twice), I headed off to the cinema to make a judgment on the film before the nasty US marks start pouring in. The verdict? A mild, inoffensive comedy that’s not as crass as its title but still revels in a few too many crotch shots and the gross-out effect of a mammoth blister erupting in a poor bloke’s face. Fortunately it’s all done with pretty locations, inspired casting and a thematic interest in mending family ties. In short, if you’re a fan of one of the three qualities I professed a love for, you’ll probably be entertained.

In the first few minutes of the film, during Dennis’ (Pegg) fevered decision to run out on his fiancĂ© Libby (Thandie Newtwon), Schwimmer loads on all the skewed angles and temporal and aural discontinuities of a first-time filmmaker eager to prove his knowledge of an editing room.

Fortunately, as the film progresses he relaxes and actually proves himself quite adept. He handles a number of key sequences with assuredness and one particular scene with expertise. When Libby’s new boyfriend Whit (perfectly played by Hank Azaria) dings a glass at a crowded party to make an announcement, the entire audience knows that what is to follow is a proposal, but for a change, so does the heretofore witless lead character. Instead of trying to build the tension (because there would be none to build) by holding on Whit’s speech giving, he cuts to a close-up of Dennis realizing what’s about to happen so that Pegg is able to convey the agonizing torture of awaiting the inevitable instead of playing it for a shocked double take after the announcement has been made. Schwimmer’s ten years in the sitcom world have helped him to spot a clichĂ©, know how to adhere to it and most importantly, how to tweak it just enough to make it work.

More to the credit of Michael Ian Black’s original script and Simon Pegg’s rewrite is that the film manages to pull off the story’s silly conceit. Not for an instant could the weight of a legitimate romance hinge on something as inconsequential as running a marathon but the characters acknowledge this idiocy and by the end, the script manages to surprisingly pull out a viable situation in which it does. Even if it does depend on some late-in-the-game vilifying of Libby’s American suitor. It’s almost as if the filmmakers have anticipated the film’s predestined failure in the States.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Not due out until Christmastime stateside but currently playing to a glowing reception in the United Kingdom is Atonement, director Joe Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwen’s bestselling novel. It’s a love saga framed around WWII; the first half takes place during the onset and the second during Britain’s retreat from France in 1944. In essence, it’s a weepie about two lovers separated by the horrors of war. But it’s more than that; the relationships and the circumstances are quite complicated and best not to reveal too much about their myriad complexities.

Following his exquisite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 2005, Joe Wright’s direction may just be the most invigorating quality to be added to the period piece love story since colorization. Instead of succumbing to the standard period piece feeling of constantly keeping the viewer at arm’s length, his films are rendered accessible through their vitality and immediacy. With Pride and Prejudice, he incorporated fast moving but controlled camerawork that threw the viewer headfirst into the life and times of Jane Austen’s characters. But his skilled camerawork isn’t all, he also has a keen ear for musical score, a talent for casting and a graceful pacing that makes his films feel substantial while kept within reasonable running times.

In Atonement, he plays around with temporal continuity in a manner most uncommon to the period piece and more akin to the nonlinearity of Tarrantino. Key events are seen multiple times from differing vantage points but it’s not a gimmick, rather it’s a thematic accommodation. At times Atonement is a bit too stylish for its own good: it’s hard to feel the emotional impact of a field of murdered children while we’re marveling over the craftsmanship of a majestic tracking shot. However, there is a single extreme long take (of such considerable length and scope that it rivals the much heralded shot in Children of Men) that is one of the greatest shots of the year, awe-inspiring in terms of narrative attachment and formal impressiveness as it simultaneously conveying the bleak expansiveness of the British army soldiers awaiting a return home and baffling the viewer through the sheer patience and skill required to pull off such a shot.

The film’s ending is somewhat problematic. Emotionally stirring to be sure but it tries too hard to satisfy both viewer camps: the romantics and the realists. In a way the filmmakers are guilty of wanting to have their cake and eat it too. While I don’t think that I just saw the Best Picture winner at this year’s Oscar ceremony (as some pundits are already predicting it to be), I did see a film of remarkable character. A synthesis of devastating pain and immense entertainment; prestige filmmaking and populist cinema.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Helvetica: The Font is Mightier

"Ultimately little more than a curiosity piece, there is a certain fascination present in seeing some of the faces behind the Microsoft Office fonts we all know and love."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In the Valley of Elah: The Patriot

"At its best, the film coolly mixes incisive political commentary with a case so engrossing it’s tempting to whip out a notepad and jot down clues..."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Resurrecting the Champ: Down and Half-Way Out

"The screenwriters, Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett, demonstrate a keen ability to write complex lead characters but also a need for them to pay more attention to plotting."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Shoot 'Em Up to Yuma

An onslaught of testosterone invades movie theaters this weekend with the grizzly western 3:10 to Yuma and the go-for-broke action flick Shoot ‘Em Up battling it out in wide release (and to a lesser extent the fertilization comedy The Brothers Solomon). I find it positively shocking that Lionsgate and New Line would release Yuma and Shoot in the same weekend. While Yuma is more likely to attract older movie goers thanks to its western nostalgia and Shoot will lure younger viewers with its hyperkinetic aesthetics, the main demographic remains the same for both films: Males 17-34.

It’s open season as to which film will claim stake at the box office this weekend; my instinct is Yuma but neither would surprise me. But why choose just one anyway? The two seem generated to fit perfectly into the parameters of a Grindhouse-style double feature. That’s the route my buddy and I took this afternoon and the long and short of it is that Yuma is a fairly solid choice under most circumstances, whereas Shoot ‘Em Up should be viewed as the second half of a double header or not at all.

While Yuma is branded the A picture somewhat by default (it could be the B in certain situations), it at least has enough substance to stand on its own two legs. Shoot ‘Em Up is the cinematic equivalent of fast food: momentarily satiating but ultimately unsatisfying and devoid of any nutritional value.

A 14-year-old videogame geek’s wet dream and an expecting parent’s nightmare, Shoot ‘Em Up is a hyperactive collection of extreme action set-pieces strung together by loud rock music, a gun fetish, an orphaned baby and a cooler than cool Clive Owen at his most rough and tumble. I laughed a few times and enjoyed the occasional self-referential mockery but shudder at the prospect of teenage boys trying to gouge out each other’s eyes with raw carrots after seeing the movie.

The only thing Shoot ‘Em Up takes seriously is guns. Not in the pro- or anti-gun control sense (the movie seems to endorse both sides of the argument) but in the sheer knowledge of the inner workings of artillery. The characters in the film are up to date with the latest in fingerprint technology and know that when a gun is fired, the nozzle becomes scalding hot and that if a gun is accidentally dropped in a toilet bowl, it will need to be properly dried before working again.

Toting bigger guns but firing more judiciously are the characters of 3:10 to Yuma. They also boast a much more consistent rate of bullet-to-body ratio than the incessant hail of gunfire swirling around the scenes of Shoot ‘Em Up. One of Yuma’s nicest qualities is the restraint in its depiction of brutality. Make no mistake, the grim lawlessness of the Wild West is in full effect and the film contains a couple of harrowing sequences but the violence never becomes excessive. In other words, I’d easily send my Mom to see it without any words of caution.

The most complex element in 3:10 to Yuma is the presentation of character psychology. Similar to the dilemma in last year’s The Prestige (another Christian Bale film), you’re not always entirely sure who you want to survive here: the Bale character or the Russell Crowe character. While Bale is unquestionably the picture’s hero and of course we want to see him succeed by default, we also become quite fond of Crowe’s charming rogue and thus have to grapple with the truth that either character’s survival is predicated upon the other’s demise. Unfortunately, character motivation becomes somewhat erratic in the film’s final scenes and it’s hard to shake the feeling that – as much fun as it is to watch the brilliant Bale act in any movie – he’s slightly miscast, always appearing too stoic to play the social whipping boy that is his character. Nevertheless, these are still three-dimensional characters and that makes all the difference when compared to the one-dimensional bots that populate the visual orgy of Shoot ‘Em Up.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Fierce People: On Deadly Ground

"Fierce People is nasty, unfunny and wildly incongruous."

Click here to read my entire review in The L Magazine

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Monastery: Mr. Vig & The Nun: Something's Afoot in Denmark

"...the buoyant musical score and the numerous close-up shots of dust particles dancing in the sunlight complement the vitality of the film’s creaky and wheezy but nonetheless determined protagonist."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Lookout: Keep Your Eyes Peeled

"The Lookout is one of the year’s most exciting films; a rousing, supremely entertaining crime thriller about a bank heist. But what the marketing doesn’t divulge is that it’s much more than just a genre picture. In fact, it’s an intense character study about a young man coming to terms with a self-induced disability."

Click here to read my entire review at the [with]tv blog

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Invasion: Insomniacs Wanted

"There may be enough unexpected startles to appease a Friday night crowd in this final, fragmented version but the unfulfilled mixture of camp and terror constantly reminds the audience of just how much the film is a shamble."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Delirious: Bohemian Like You

"Delirious’s formalist schizophrenia leaves one uncertain if the film is intended to be farce or fairy tale, but Buscemi’s dynamite performance makes it worth seeing anyway."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Death at a Funeral: Puts the Fun Back in Funeral

"...a biting comedy that thrashes all around the world of morbidity while staying just fanciful enough not to become moribund."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Rocket Science: A for Effort

"Quirky coming of age tales are a dime a dozen in the world of American independent cinema, but Rocket Science – the story of a stuttering high school student who decides to join the debate team – is worthy of singling out from the rest of the crowd."

Monday, August 06, 2007

You Kill Me: Drinker's Remorse

"...the undeniable fact of the matter is that the film is ultimately a strong look at the effects of alcohol. It has the power to be both a harbinger for those just embarking down that road and also a motivational tool for those seeking help."

Click here to read my entire article on the [with]tv Blog

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bratz The Movie: No Boys Allowed

"The female-skewed story and the barrage of inexperienced actors, mind-numbing pop music and obvious humor render the film inaccessible to males of any age. "

Click here to read my entire review in The L Magazine

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hairspray: Singin' and Dancin' it Old School

"It’s difficult to harbor much ill will for this good-natured and fast-paced spectacle."

Cashback: Satisfaction (not) Guaranteed

"...more palatable in 30-minute doses on the BBC than in a 102-minute sitting in the cinema."

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry: Too Late for an Annulment?

"But offensive material notwithstanding, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry still fails to measure up to most of the box office superstar’s previous work."

Click here to read my entire review at

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Rescue Dawn: History Rewritten

"... a tense and thoughtful prison escape film with an acute awareness for nature. Think The Great Escape meets The Discovery Channel. "

Click here to read my entire review at

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Vitus: Flight of the Prodigy

"’s the heart-warming story of a boy and his grandfather that helps keep this slight symphony off the ground. "

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Evan Almighty: God Says Go Green

"....Evan Almighty is a fast-paced family comedy with some very funny laughs and a warm-hearted message."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

June Recap

Bug - ***

Two lonely southerners get holed up in a dingy motel room where their individual neuroses become entwined over a possible infestation. Part psychological thriller, part horror film and part Tennessee Williams play, it’s not so much scary as it is uncomfortably unsettling. An odd choice for legendary American director Friedkin who brings pizzazz but doesn’t shed the story’s theatrical roots as much as he should. Boldly devoted and uncensored performances by Judd and Shannon make this bizarre little film worth experiencing.

Chalk - **1/2

Frederick Wiseman’s High School meets NBC’s The Office in this insightful yet uneven “mockumentary” about teacher experiences in a fictional high school. First time filmmaker Mike Akel has an acute attention for classroom minutia but this attempt at social realism is offset by broad comedic sequences including an out of place (albeit very funny) climax in which the teachers participate in a slang spelling bee.

Knocked Up - ****

An aimless schlub (Rogen) and a statuesque beauty (Heigl) share a drunken one night stand that results in an unplanned pregnancy. Move over Garden State, Generation Y has found their true heir to the Graduate’s throne. Knocked Up brings us back to a time when comedies could be both riotously funny and intensely meaningful. Writer/director Appatow may lack the visual flair of Mike Nichols but he makes up for it in the clear adoration of his actors. The talented ensemble – who possess the ability to launch comedic zingers and heartfelt admissions in the same breath – helps Appatow find a way to unearth and examine the state of the modern day relationship without the nastiness of Neil Labute (The Shape of Things), the sugar coating of Richard Curtis (Love Actually) or the inexperience of Adam Herz (American Pie). AO Scott of the NYTimes calls the film “an instant classic” and I dare say he is right. Knocked Up is one of the most important comedies of the decade.

Ocean’s Thirteen - **

An admirably good natured improvement upon the unwatchable Twelve but the lackadaisical atmosphere surrounding the cash cow production is oppressive. Soderbergh deserves credit for experimenting formalistically in some way with every single shot, even if only one in every ten works. One section of the film featuring forced social commentary on Mexican working conditions through a factory uprising feels more like prep work for his planned Che Guevara biopic than the makings of a witty heist film. With the incomprehensible plot, infuriatingly coded dialogue and the smug performances, it kind of feels like being at a party for two hours and not feeling like you’re cool enough to be there; perhaps more distractingly, not being able to understand exactly what about these people and places is so cool.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End - **

A bland third entry in the enormously successful and otherwise consistently entertaining Pirates franchise. The plot is virtually incomprehensible and completely unnecessary anyway. The first two hours serves no bearing on the final forty-five minutes and while the same can be said of the far superior Dead Man’s Chest, at least that sequel remembered to provide humor and excitement and not just empty pirate chatter. The final five minutes – in which Jack Sparrow (Depp) gets to showboat without plot constraints – are by far the most exhilarating moments in the film.

Waitress - *1/2

Adrien Shelley’s light, homegrown script is ruined by her own frustratingly amateurish direction as displayed in the film’s ugly aesthetics, blatantly artificial lightning, haphazardly incorporated music and limp attempts to comment on generic conventions. Virtually unbearable if not for Nathan Fillian’s oafish charm and Andy Griffith’s sly old coot.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Shrek the Third: An Ogre the Hill Franchise?

"Perhaps the reason I am able to enjoy Shrek the Third so much stems from never loving Shrek the first enough to be disappointed by a sequel."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

That Thing You Do!: Extended Cut

"It’s difficult for me to approach the new extended cut DVD of That Thing You Do! without stooping to rabid fanboy zeal as it is a film I unabashedly cite as one of my favorites of all time."

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Ex: Suspicious Minds

"A dark comedy that’s never as mean as it wants to be, the snide humor and pratfalls start out pretty favorably but as the film progresses, the laughs peter out at an unforgiving rate."

Friday, May 04, 2007

Lucky You: For Love or Money?

"The offbeat decision to stage a poker film under the auspices of a chick flick (or is it the other way around?) has made for a marketing nightmare for Warner Brothers but it has also made for a compellingly watchable fairy tale – the only way to describe it because the Las Vegas depicted in Lucky You only exists in the magical world of movies."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Jindabyne: Apathy Indicted

"Jindabyne may not be an easy film to like, but it is an important one to experience. "

I also participated in a round table interview with the film's stars, Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne, last week. Articles on both celebrities can be found at the following links.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Hot Fuzz: Armed for Laughs

"Hot Fuzz may resonate most strongly with rabid fans of the buddy-cop genre due to its hard-edged and in-character aesthetics but its high-spirited zest will appeal to film lovers of all shapes and sizes."

Friday, March 30, 2007

Live Free or Die: Give My Grievances to the Granite State

"The performers and the filmmakers’ intentions are in the right place but Live Free or Die never picks up enough steam to really elicit the kind of guffaws that the talent promises."

Click here to read my entire review at

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Hawk is Dying: Animadversion on Wings

"...director Julian Goldberger raises the question, how long can a movie featuring an off-kilter Giamatti running around with a frenzied hawk on his shoulder exist before devolving into self-parody? The answer is, surprisingly long."

Click here to read my review at

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Maxed Out: Debt of Dishonor

" the end, I can’t deny that I did come away with a stronger impulse for being weary of credit card companies in the future. "

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

300: Spartan Aesthetics

"...every single element is so explicitly artificial that the viewer is forced to question everything, even the tiny ripples of inflation and deflation on Butler’s sizeable six-pack while he barks orders."

Click here to read my entire review at

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Good Year: Sour Grapes

"What was a quaint, modern-day fairy tale on page has turned into a glib, overcooked film so hung up on causality that it lacks any of the organic grace present in Mayle’s prose. "

The Number 23: Literature & Paranoia

"Despite the generic constraints becoming oppressive in the conclusion, The Number 23 still serves as a kooky entry in the realm of late night Sci-Fi channel repeats. Secondly, and more subtly, it manages to effectively create a recognizable depiction of what it can be like to find oneself consumed by an engrossing book."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Norbit: The Fat Lady Just Keeps Singing

"Not only is Norbit a vile, unfunny, and all-around-awful movie, it effectively impugns many of Murphy’s substantial comedic achievements over the past twenty years."

Friday, February 02, 2007

Because I Said So: Dismal Weening

"From the opening scene, the plotting is of the sitcom variety and anyone who can blithely make it through these torturous first twenty minutes of contrivance should really start demanding more from their movie-going experiences."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Seraphim Falls: The Good or the Bad?

"These performances, combined with the ambiguity of their characters’ intentions, hint at something really special but the film isn’t quite able to perform as a whole."

I also had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable interview with the lead actors earlier this week.

Catch and Release: Dead in the Water

"There’s a lot of room for quaint pleasantries andhonest, human drama but things evidently became very artificial en route to the big screen. "

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Extras: Squirming Riotously

"While Extras is probably more Curb Your Enthusiasm than The Office in its commingling of improvisation and celebrity self-sacrifice, it still operates in the same realms of foot-in-mouth comedy perfected in The Office."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Fantasy Oscar Ballot

On the eve of the announcement of the official Oscar Nominations, I figured I'd take a page out of my good friend/fellow critic John Young's book and post a list of names I would vote for in the top eight categories.

Best Picture
Half Nelson
The Departed
The Queen
Little Children
Children of Men

Best Actor
Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
Aaron Eckhart, Thank You For Smoking
Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
Daniel Craig, Casino Royale
Greg Kinnear, Little Miss Sunshine

Best Actress
Helen Mirren, The Queen
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
Kate Winslet, Little Children
Gretchen Mol, The Notorious Bettie Page
Meryl Streep, Devil Wears Prada

Best Supporting Actor
Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
Brad Pitt, Babel
Michael Sheen, The Queen
Bill Nighy, Notes on a Scandal
Clive Owen, Inside Man

Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Diane Lane, Hollywoodland
Emily Watson, The Proposition
Toni Collete, The Night Listener

Best Director
Alfonso Cuaron, Children of Men
Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Ryan Fleck, Half Nelson
Todd Field, Little Children
Steven Frears, The Queen

Best Original Screenplay
Russell Gewirtz, Inside Man
Peter Morgan, The Queen
Rian Johnson, Brick
Guillermo Del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth
Ryan Fleck & Anna Bowden, Half Nelson

Best Adapted Screenplay
Todd Field & Tom Perrotta, Little Children
William Monohan, The Departed
Andrew Birkin, Bernd Eichinger & Tom Tykwer, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Frank Cottel Bryce, Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story
Armistead Maupin, The Night Listener

As for predictions, the only risky pick I'll make is that DiCaprio gets snubbed for both performances and both Gosling and Cohen make it into the finalists. Very unlikely, yes, but what the heck.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Alone with Her: A Stalk to Remember

"It’s certainly an experiment of sorts and for what it is, it’s rather interesting, although it will probably play best on the small screen."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Top 10 of 2006

1. Half Nelson
2.The Departed

3. The Queen

4. Little Children

5. Brick
6. Children of Men

7. Cars

8. Tsotsi

9. Casino Royale
10. Inside Man

Read my List with Commentary at