Friends with Money

Friends With Money

Cyndi Lauper wasn’t kidding. It’s tried and true, it’s trite, it’s a major cliche: Money changes everything. Money is never easy to talk about. If you have it, you don’t see what the big deal is. If you need it, well … you want it. The older you get, the more money you need to get by, whether or not you want to admit it. That is what Nicole Holofcener’s movie Friends with Money is peripherally about. Continue reading →

Brick (Movie Review)

Brick Photo

What do you think of when you think of movies set in high school? Perky cheerleaders? Sure. Unrequited love? Of course. Quirky comedies loosely based on Shakespeare? Ugh. A Dashiell Hammett inspired murder mystery with Lynchian undertones? Continue reading →

Thank You for Smoking

Movie Review >>

Thank You for Not Smoking photo

It should be noted that not one character smokes a cigarette onscreen in “Thank You for Smoking,” the long-awaited film adaptation of Christopher Buckley’s satiric novel. The closest smoking encounter is when tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) reaches for a pack of smokes only to discover it’s empty – a clear metaphor for the tobacco lobby’s strength.

Thank You for Smoking Poster
Thank You for
Smoking

(Fox Searchlight)
Rated: R
starstarstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
Metacritic
IMDb

First-time director Jason Reitman (who adapted the novel himself) is reaching for a deeper concept, a comment on the disintegration of debate and the trade-off of argument for manipulation in contemporary politics (and society in general). Reitman sees the tobacco lobby as an opening to a bigger, less tangible issue, and while he should be congratulated for his ambition, the execution sadly stumbles.

Naylor has lot on his plate as the premier lobbyist for a research organization propped up by Big Tobacco. He makes the rounds on talk shows, exchanges strategies and compares body counts with his buddies in the MOD (merchants of death) squad (the lovely Maria Bello for alcohol, the hilarious David Koechner for guns), makes deals to promote smoking on film with zany Hollywood agents (Rob Lowe), and competes in verbal battle with an overzealous senator (William H. Macy). Oh, and he’s trying to be a good role model for his preteen son (Cameron Bright). That’s only the start—more complications arise by the frame.

Which is part of the problem – Reitman has a lot of ground to cover in a limited amount of time (a good comedy should never run over 90 minutes), so every crazy character gets to make an entrance, be odd, and then maybe show up for a later cameo. Robert Duvall gets hardly any screen time as the tobacco maven the Captain, and it seems as if Reitman asked J.K. Simmons to reprise his “Spiderman” Jonah Jameson role instead of find a new character for Naylor’s boss B.R.
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V for Vendetta

Movie Review >>

V for Vendetta Photo

I think I really need to stop watching movie trailers altogether. While arriving early for a feature so I can catch the previews and get pumped for what will be coming soon to a theater near me is one of my most favorite parts of the moviegoing experience, it tends to lead to me being underwhelmed when I finally see the films that I had so badly wanted to see just months before. V for Vendetta definitely fits that example. V is a solid action film, full of gorgeous sets and costumes (Natalie Portman looks particularly beautiful in this film), and packed with some great performances from British actors, including Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Stephen Rea and Ben Miles of Coupling fame.

V for Vendetta poster
V for Vendetta
(Warner Bros.)
Rated: R
starstarstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
Metacritic
IMDb

V for Vendetta takes place some 20 or so years in the future, when America has collapsed due to war and disease, and Great Britain is the reigning superpower it once was. However, in the future, the government has complete and total control over its people. There are curfews. Certain music has been banned, along with films, art, the Qur’an, sculptures, you get the picture. The government hates, and will imprison anyone who is “different.” If it sounds like we’ve gone back to Nazi Germany, we may as well have.

V beings with the reading of the Guy Fawkes poem, “Remember, Remember the Fifth of November,” as we watch Gunpowder Plot unfold. We soon meet V (played by Hugo Weaving), who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and seems to be a little bit Batman, a little bit Phantom of the Opera. He saves the heroine of our piece, Evey (Coincidence? He thinks not.), when he saves her from some Finger Men (Britain’s equivalent to the SS). As most girls do when they are saved by strange masked men, Evey becomes very taken with V. She soon learns of his plan to finish what Guy Fawkes started on November 5th, 1605. V wants the entire country to awake from their zombie like states under the British government and break free from the oppression and fear that they have been trapped by for years. The film is full of strong performances by all of its actors (though, Natalie Portman’s accent grew a little bit annoying at times). Perhaps the weakest of all performances was Weaving’s as V. It may not have been his fault, though. As Evey finds, it is quite difficult to connect to a man whose eyes you can never look into. The release of V was originally slated for last fall, but was postponed due to the London bombings in July of last year, and its hard not to see why. Some of the most violent scenes take place in old Underground stations.

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“An Impression: Dischord Records” at the DC Independent Film Festival

An Impression: Dischord Records

For a subject with as interesting a history as Dischord Records, the documentary “An Impression: Dischord Records” (Produced by Leena Jayaswol & Kylos Brannon and featured in this year’s DC Independent Film Festival) crams a fairly concise portrait into a slender fifteen minutes. For the uninitiated, this doc is a great stepping-stone with which to approach the history of one of the most storied, notorious, and organically run record labels in the world. For anyone who owns more than one Fugazi record or who knows who Ian Svenonius is, “Impression” is a superficial review. Despite an attractive opening sequence, juxtaposing gritty DC scenery with flyer and album art from the label’s early days, nothing leaps out visually. The short film’s key strengths are in the content, which brings a steady barrage of eye and ear candy for any DC punk aficionado. Continue reading →

Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor)

Movie Review >>

Night Watch photoNight Watch photo courtesy Fox Searchlight

In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the slayer. Oh wait, wrong story … kind of. In Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor), there aren’t just vampires, there are entire races of both good (Light) and bad (Dark) guys called “Others” (no, not those Others) and the Chosen One doesn’t necessarily have to be a good guy.

Night Watch poster
Night Watch
(Fox Searchlight)
Rated: R
starstarstarhalf star (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
Metacritic
IMDb

Night Watch begins over 1000 years ago with an epic battle between Light and Dark. The brutal battle finally ends in a truce between Light and Dark, in which they agree that no Other can be forced to choose the side of good or evil, they have to choose for themselves. To ensure this, each side sets up police forces of sorts called, Night Watch and Day Watch, respectively. Like all stories that involve the eternal battle of good versus evil, there is a prophesy. The prophesy foretells a day when a chosen one will appear who can end the eternal battle between Light and Dark. When the chosen one is revealed, he will be given a choice to choose between Light and Dark. Whichever side he chooses will decide the fate of the world. Kind of a large burden for one person to carry.

Cut to 1992, where we meet Anton Gordesky (played by Konstantin Khabensky who may be the Russian Clive Owen). Anton’s fianc?�e has left him for another man and he wants her back, so naturally, he goes to see a witch. The witch informs him that his fianc?�e is not only with another man, but she’s pregnant with this man’s child. She tells him that in order to get his fianc?�e back, the child will have to be killed. Before the witch can finish the job, Night Watch comes in and arrests her. It is then that Anton realizes that he is an Other. 12 years later, Anton is working with Night Watch to track a child that is being summoned by a vampire. Tracking this child turns out to be much more than Night Watch bargained for as Anton discovers that the apocalypse might be right around the corner and the boy he is tracking could be the Great One who would mark the beginning of the last battle between Light and Dark. And that’s really only the beginning of the story. The problem with a trilogy piece for a reviewer is that the end of the first part is really only a third of the way through the entire story. It makes me want to tell you more, but, you know, then you’d know the entire plot, and where’s the fun in that?

Like most films about vampires, demons, and otherworldly creatures, Night Watch is full of darkness. Nighttime, people dressed in black, leather, etc., but the Russians get the underworld movie right where we Americans get it wrong. How? Instead of trying to be cool, they just are cool (so cool, in fact, that they included a clip from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the movie (“Buffy v. Dracula,” if you’re wonedering)). And, unlike most American movies in this genre, you don’t get the impression that the actors are sending out desperate subliminal messages to the audience that say, “Yeah, I know this is pretty lame, but I’m just doing it until I can get my big break in the next Jane Austen movie and be just as respected as Keira Knightly.” Night Watch is stylistic in all the right places and relies on simple acting when it needs to. Even the film’s approach to subtitles is pretty damn cool. At times, the actors walk right into the subtitles, obscuring them, or making them disappear, at other times, they type the text right onto the screen.

Will Night Watch be winning any awards? Probably not. I have to admit that at times it looked a little bit more cheesy B-movie than kickass vampire movie, but whatever. Like all films (and tv shows) in this genre, no matter how well acted and executed it is and no matter how well the story is told, its still just a movie about Vampires, Witches, and Others to some people. It can’t go any deeper than that, right? Ehh, maybe not. But, there were times when I couldn’t help but wonder if the message that the Light Others who thought they were helping the world, were doing exactly what the bad guys were doing, they just had righteousness on their side, and that made them right, whether or not they actually were (sound familiar?), had less to do with Vampires and Demons and had more to do with the state of the world today. But, you know, what do I know? I’m telling you to see a movie about things that don’t really exist.

In the end, I’m selling the same line I’ve been trying to sell to people for years. Yeah, some people don’t need to be sold, and you people know who you are. You’re the people who saw Underworld and were disappointed (obviously some of you weren’t, they did make a sequel), and the people who saw Constantine even though it starred Keanu as the chosen one … again. You don’t really need to be convinced to see a movie like this. But the rest of you, the ones who still laugh when people tell you that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was actually good, you might need to be convinced just a little bit more. So, go see it. I dare you to walk out of the theater not feeling just a little bit cooler for it.

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STARRING: Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Valeri Zolotukhin, Mariya Poroshina, Galina Tyunina, Yuri Kutsenko, Aleksei Chadov, and Zhanna Friske
GENRE(S): Action, Fantasy, Foreign, Horror, Mystery, Sci-fi, Suspense/Thriller
WRITTEN BY: Timur Bekmambetov, Laeta Kalogridis, Sergei Lukyanenko (novel)
DIRECTED BY: Timur Bekmambetov
RELEASE DATE: Theatrical: February 17, 2006
RATING: R
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes, Color
ORIGIN: Russia
LANGUAGE(S): Russian (with English subtitles)

Manderlay

Movie Review >>

Manderlay photoManderlay photo courtesy IFC Films

Danish writer/director Lars von Trier, best known in the states for engaging yet cinematically daring melodramas Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, gave the world a bit of a shock in 2003 with Dogville. Grace, played by Nicole Kidman, a pretty young thing on the lam, is taken in by a seemingly kind town only to be raped and thrown into slavery. By using David Bowie���s ���Young Americans��� during the end credits over ill-sitting images of my-country-tis-o-thee, von Trier delivered the message (in a not-so-subtle way) that Americans defile the gifts given to them.

Manderlay poster
Manderlay
(IFC Films)
Rated: NR
starstarstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
Metacritic
IMDb

It���s a great film ��� three hours long and not a boring minute. Trier knows how to make an amazing film, as anyone who has seen Breaking the Waves can attest. Anti-American? Eh, maybe a bit, but more social commentary with a dash of nihilism for good measure.

Manderlay, the second film in von Trier���s ���U.S.A ��� Land of Opportunities��� trilogy keeps the same aesthetics and is equally as shocking as Dogville, but less poignant as its themes get lost in the director���s shock tactics. While still a good unsettling yarn, Manderlay is also unfulfilling.

Travelling across country after the incident at Dogville, Grace (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard, spawn of Ron) and her gangster father (Willem Dafoe) stop by the gated plantation Manderlay to find that the residents of the plantation have no idea slavery has been abolished. The blacks are still planting cotton and getting whipped by the overseers.

In an obvious Iraq war analogy, Grace uses her gang of well-armed gangsters to easily depose the weakened tyrant Mam (Lauren Bacall) and enforce ���democracy��� on the newly freed slaves, even rounding them up to attend lectures on freedom. But Grace���s idealism over practicality mindset has dire consequences, as her lack of foresight leads to famine and unrest among blacks, who weren���t all that thrilled about freedom in the first place.

Howard is a suitable replacement for Kidman; she���s preachy to the point of annoyance, but it works well for the idealistic Grace. Is she trying to figure out whether she really wants to help the inhabitants of Manderlay or is using this exercise for personal salvation, penance for the ���white guilt��� she feels? Howard shines in exploring Grace���s sexual curiosity toward the Africans, particularly her erotic interest in proud Timothy (Isaach De Bankol?�), an African Munci supposedly descended from the blood of kings.

Von Trier visually contrasts idealism and reality by switching between gorgeous zooming overhead shots that clearly show the layout of Manderlay and shaky handheld camerawork on the ground. As in Dogville, von Trier uses a soundstage with minimal props for a set: running water and doors are displayed by sound effects, workers plow nonexistent fields, and buildings are drawn by chalk outlines, complete with informative labels. The lighting is awkward and hazy, obscuring figures, while the lack of props opens enclosed spaces and let us peer where we normally couldn���t.

But in winding down, the film loses focus. The pacing lags and the timeline makes no sense. While Dogville was straightforward in its themes, Manderlay gets muddled in its Iraq parallels versus the psychological effects of oppression versus black and white relationships. Scenes such as when the former overseers are forced to put on black makeup and serve the former slaves serve no purpose except to set the audience at unease. The resolution reeks of misanthropy. Von Trier loses his grip in trying to one-up Dogville, stomping all over his points and our senses.

Still, Manderlay is jarring and eerily watchable. Von Trier proves once again he���s an excellent filmmaker, even with the most unpleasant subject material. Perhaps once he gets off this ���shock and awe��� kick, he���ll make another excellent flick. Washington, to be released in 2007, concludes the ���U.S.A.��� trilogy.

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STARRING: Bryce Dallas Howard, Isaach De Bankol?�, Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe, Jeremy Davies, Lauren Bacall, Chlo?� Sevigny, and Jean-Marc Barr
GENRE(S): Drama
WRITTEN BY: Lars von Trier
DIRECTED BY: Lars von Trier
RELEASE DATE: Theatrical: January 27, 2006
RATING: NR
RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes, Color
ORIGIN: Denmark / Sweden / Netherlands / France / Germany / USA
LANGUAGE(S): English

Imagine Me & You

Movie Review >>

Imagine Me & You poster photophoto courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

Imagine Me & You is a highly amusing British take on the love-at-first-sight romantic comedy, with a homosexual twist. Rachel (Piper Perabo) is marrying Heck (Mathew Goode) when she locks eyes with florist Luce (Lena Headey) and faster than you can say Ellen DeGeneres, Rachel���s got marital problems and a budding lesbian romance.

Imagine Me & You poster
Imagine Me & You
(Fox Searchlight)
Rated: R
starstarstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
Metacritic
IMDb

Curt dialogue and snappy one-liners never cease, while the film has enough ���aw!��� moments to satisfy the sentimental-needy. It���s not that much of a surprise as the Brits excel at this kind of comedy on television (���Coupling��� is a far funnier “Friends” knockoff) and in film (Four Weddings and Funeral anyone?). If you���re looking for a sure-fire date flick, you���re probably best off going British.

But Imagine Me and You runs into the same trouble most romantic comedies (especially American) do: its leads aren���t nearly as interesting as its costars. In particular, Goode, last seen in Woody Allen���s Match Point, proves he���s one of the best leading men out there ��� he truly inhabits the role of Heck, who is trying to avert crises in his professional and personal lives, right when everything should be falling into place. He���s got the sweet, high-paying job, the luxury flat, and the hot, hot wife, but what has he given up to achieve all that? (Or as David Byrne might say, ���Mah god, what have I done?���) In fact the movie might have been perfect if it focused entirely on Heck and the tall and gaunt Goode.

Heck���s best mate Coop is utterly hilarious in his chauvinism, but Darren Boyd subtly conveys that Coop is more talk than cad. And Anthony Head (you may remember him as Giles on TV���s ���Buffy the Vampire Slayer���) as Rachel���s world-weary father gets the lion���s share of throwaway lines: ���I love the smell of hot dogs in the morning. Smells like… hot dogs.���

The problem is writer/director Ol Parker has come up with some really interesting, fleshed-out male characters, but his women feel like cardboard cutouts. This wouldn���t be all that bad if the center of the plot wasn���t about two women falling in love. But for the most part, Headey and Perabo are eye candy; while their longing glances and awkward conversation show their initial attraction is strong, it���s a stretch to see this relationship advance because there���s not much to either one���s character and the actresses don���t seem all that interested in finding any depth. When Rachel and Luce finally get to physically exploring their growing passion (make-out city, here we come), it comes off like a couple of drunk schoolgirls experimenting.

It is surprising, though, how enjoyable the film is despite this central shallowness. Scenes involving quirky flower shop customers are side-splitting and Heck and Coop���s chumminess is reminiscent of Randall and Dante in Clerks. Plus Parker has a knack for setting up situations ripe with comedy, such as Rachel���s awkward attempt to watch a lesbian porn or a return-to-nature sex encounter between Rachel and Heck that takes a hilarious (and unexpected) turn. The end falls a bit into clich?�, but it���s well-executed clich?� and, more importantly for a good date movie, sweet.

Oh, and then there���s the gay thing, or there really isn���t. Seriously, it���s a nonissue ��� not one character seems to think there���s anything wrong with love between two women. There are no vulgar slurs or homophobic jokes. The only complaint comes from Rachel���s mother and it���s about the loss of potential grandchildren, but Rachel���s father settles that by explaining an alternative use for a turkey baster. You could replace Luce with a man and you���d have the same movie. To some extent the treatment of the gay relationship feels like a Brit reaction to U.S. homophobia; the film seems to jab America and whisper in its ear, ���What the bloody hell is wrong with you Yanks?���

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STARRING: Piper Perabo, Lena Headey, Matthew Goode, Celia Imrie, Anthony Head, Sue Johnston, and Darren Boyd
GENRE(S): Comedy, Foreign, Romance
WRITTEN BY: Ol Parker
DIRECTED BY: Ol Parker
RELEASE DATE: Theatrical: January 27, 2006
RATING: R
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes, Color
ORIGIN: UK, Germany
LANGUAGE(S): English