Archive for the ‘2008’ category

5 Quick Pics



The Girlfriend Experience (Soderberg, 2009)

LOVE the way this film looks and I found the script very funny.  At the end the amateurish acting doesn’t distract.

*** 1/2 / *****


Drag Me to Hell (Raimi, 2009)

The scariest film I’ve seen in years.  Alison Lohman charms as usual and the kitsch works throughout.

**** / *****

In the Heat of the Night (Jewison, 1967)

Satisfying in the way Rod Steiger’s sheriff slowly develops a vague appreciation of Poiter’s Mr. Tibbs without being overly preachy in the slightest way.  Instilled with a wry sense of humor and stands up well to today’s better pictures concerning race relations.

**** 1/2 / *****


Body of Lies (Scott, 2008)

Even though I had to watch it almost three times to get most details I didn’t mind it.  Very cool treatise on modern day warfare.

*** 1/2 / *****

Downfall (Hirschbiegel, 2004)

Had to check it out after all the parody.  Bruno Ganz is a god of acting in a pretty straight forward run of the mill thriller.

*** / *****

Entourage (2008 – 5.11, 5.12)



Familiarity breed’s contempt?  Not in the case of the seasons finale (s) of Season 5, Episode 11: Play’n with Fire and Episode 12: Return to Queens Blvd.

Amazing how Wahlberg, Ellin, Levinson, and Weinstein, etal deliver in this series beyond what even The Sopranos did at the same point in their series history.  Play’n with Fire is as brilliant as anything ever done in this series with Stellan Skarsgård as the maniacal director Verner Vollstedt behind Vince’s lead comeback in the laughingly titled “Smoke Jumpers.”  5.11, which serves as the climactic episode, has opening pyrotechnic scenes that are observed by the four main protagonists and the audience that put to shame any film about a film about Hollywood ever put forth by Robert Altman.

This sets off a tour de force scene between actor, agent, manager, director, studio head and CEO which conveys absolutely kinetic acting (as always) by Jeremy Piven (Ari Gold).  Old female characters (Sloan, Emmanuelle Chriqui) and new (Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler) pull our boys in various directions but the producers, actors and everyone else involved deliver the best climactic scenes of this series yet and push us into Season 6.

W. (Oliver Stone, 2008)



[not much of a spoiler]

W., one of the most underrated films of Oliver Stone, is a collection of set pieces documenting the life and times of former President George W. Bush.  The film has surprising nuance, poignancy, acting (top-notch), editing, directing, writing, technical achievement and it doesn’t seek to hit you over the head with content as per Stone’s 1995 biopic Nixon – other than that, the film stinks!

The opening scene has a group of Bush men (and woman) determining what to call the “evil” triumvirate of Iran, Iraq and North Korea and talking, ala 12 Angry Men, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton – who is wonderful) gazing suspiciously at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield (Scott Glenn) whilst he scribbles on a cartoon, is the best set piece herein.  Dr. Strangelove inferences are rather objective at times.  Bravo as well to George Tenant (Bruce McGill) for his pure honesty, Dick Cheney (a perfectly cast Richard Dreyfuss) for his depiction as a vulture awaiting its prey and Paul Wolfowitz played by, well….a Paul Wolfowitz dead ringer in Dennis Boutsikaris.

Then comes a set piece without nuance that is not a surprise for Mr. Stone but is not endemic of the film at large.  Bush marches his cronies around his ranch in Crawford, Texas while putting the finishing touches on the forthcoming Iraqi invasion, all the while the group getting lost on the trails along the way.  Very subtle.

Notable set pieces include the hazing sequence at Bush’s Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale, a jail sequence with solid physical acting by Josh Brolin (who is amazing throughout, for the most part) and the most memorable choking scene I’ve ever seen.

The second act, which covers Bush’s transition from campaign manager for Bush, Sr. to the owner of the Texas Rangers and then to Governor of Texas, is a tad slow and out of sequence with the fairly kinetic first and last acts.  However, then comes one of my favorite screen transitions ever!  A younger W. is speaking with wife Laura (the beautiful and classy Elizabeth Banks) lamenting that he will never get the recognition he deserves from his father…(transition to – which is basically a flicker of a light bulb)…to the 2002 President Bush planning the Iraq War with his cabinet.  This particular planning session set piece also happens to be one of the most truth-challenged in the film.

Oliver Stone had six weeks to film this very difficult to get financed picture, and I think he did a very surprising job of capturing the man in a fairly non-partisan way.  I left the film [controversial comment coming up perhaps you might click out] feeling better about the man, ala Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ.

Best line in the film – “look, if I need to read the whole damn Constitution, I’ll learn it!”

**** / *****

The Happening (M. Night Shyamalan, 2008)



1.   Worst direction in the performance of extras – many instances of smiling children at the time of worst peril.
2.   Worst moment in film history– Wahlberg singing the Doobie Brothers’ Black Water.
3.   Worst diffusing comic banter of any disaster film ever made.
4.   Second Worst moment film history– Wahlberg’s conversation with the plant.
5.   Best looking leads (Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel) who maintain fine apparel and pristine makeup throughout the calamity.
6.   Most disinteresting and superficial insertion of marital problems in a complete failed attempt at story narrative.
7.   The worst case of “I cannot believe what I am watching here” ever.
8.   Worst case of counting down the minutes to the end of the film.
9.   Worst line ever written – “there is something ‘exorcisty’ about her.”
10.   Poor Betty Buckley – she seems to be an underused actress and is pretty jolting in her brief appearance.
11.   1:16 – worst marital reconciliation in the face of certain death
12.   The end – the best ending ever because it ended this disaster.

1/2 * / *****


This has become a guilty pleasure.  I start to get the humor in this film, incidental or not.  Every time its on Directv, I tune in.  This could be the Fatal Attraction of 2008!

** 1/2 / *****

The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy, 2008)


the visitor

A very sweet story that Richard Jenkins (economics Prof. Walter Vale) was just meant to play.  The feeling I am left with is altruism in it’s purest form, beyond even the backdrop of 9/11 deportation which is somewhat of a political misstep in the film anyway.  Vale, despondent from his mundane existence is reinvigorated by discovering an illegal couple living in a NY property of his but not one he frequents.  There should be more excitement in economics than this.  Vale bonds immediately with the male lead in a mutual love for music.  The film is not without its faults:  1.  Again, the political landscape falls tired because its been going on for centuries in many countries, 2.  The widower theme and a disjointed relationship with a son is never developed at all (this backdrop is a conceit to persuade the audience to feel a certain way going in – I don’t like to be persuaded a certain way going in.), 3. Why not have the relationship with the mother and Vale become sexual?

But overall its inspiring to watch Vale as he desperately yet calmly tries to solve the problem at hand.  I have always loved Jenkins, especially in his comic roles (e.g. Flirting With Disaster) but this is his film and in the special features in the blu-ray DVD he confirms its his role of a lifetime.

*** 1/2 / *****

The Strangers (Bryan Bertino, 2008)



Crack, craSHH, scream, click.  Good sound design.  Is that it?  About it.  Not sure if this was some Funny Games copy gone awry or an honest attempt at box office penetration, or both.  The first act is really cool, the relationship stuff and how the plot points are delivered in a kind of choppy flash forward / flash back / etc way that works.  Yet after that the pic deteriorates into the genre norm minute by minute, cut by cut.

Lord, I gotta say one thing – Liv Tyler has never looked more beautiful on film and plays a great damsel in distress.

Round the end we get to see hints at the true identities of the intruders.  By that time I was bored and looking at the clock.  Effective thriller for the middle-expectation filmgoer thrill seeker.

** / *****

Burn After Reading (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2008)



I think its fits in nicely within the Coen ouevre (i.e. people, sometimes dumb, sometimes not, getting involved in situations way over the heads) and they must have needed a break after they’re masterpiece of No Country for Old Men and the grand attention it got….the problem with the film is that the thriller aspects of the film occur too late into the third act. So, in the meantime, the audience has to get by on enjoying the wild, over the top acting…..which is pretty good for the most part. However, if you are going to cast Pitt AND Clooney its going to be a distraction anyway – but when they are both trying so hard to give it that “Raising Arizona” intensity its alot to take in. 

John Malkovich, Francis McDormand, Hilda Swinton and Richard Jenkins, all great actors, are sucked into the mayhem of the wildness of the script and are overwhelmed by it.

*** / *****