Cache (Hidden) — Movie Review

Cache photophoto courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Cache (Hidden), the latest film by director Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher), could not have better timing for a limited American release: a French couple anxiously wonder why they���re receiving unmarked videotapes with surveillance of their house. The creepy premise can���t help reminding the moviegoer about the recently revealed (and legally questionable) domestic spying program run for the last few years by the Bush administration.

Cache poster
Cache (Hidden)
(Sony Pictures Classics)
Rated: R
starstarstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
Metacritic
IMDb

We watch the videotapes at the same time as Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche), hearing them talk over it: ���It���s stupid, but it scares me,��� Anne says. Nothing really happens in the videos, it���s just a shot from across the street, but we can feel the couple���s anxiety ��� is there something we���re missing? What are we waiting for? Every car that passes, a bicyclist who speeds by, even Anne entering the apartment all build the tension just a little bit more. It���s oddly unnerving, the idea of not only being watched but actually viewing the surveillance.

So why would we be watched unless we have something to hide? It becomes clear through subsequent videotapes and postcards featuring childish drawings of violent images sent to everyone in the family that this all has something to do with Georges���s childhood, something he is determined to hide and someone is determined to reveal. Auteuil gives a powerhouse performance, desperately attempting to maintain his cool as his level of panic and paranoia grow. His relations with Anne become strained as he gets tangled in his lies to and his half-hearted justifications of his past actions. Auteuil shows us a man who can feel his foundations being uprooted.

Haneke avoids quick cuts in favor of long, drawn-out scenes that allow his top-notch actors space to breathe. The camera is so unobtrusive that the whole film feels like surveillance ��� characters are even framed in a mug-shot like fashion. The result is extraordinary natural performances and a jarring impersonal feeling that gives the film an edge you won���t see in an American thrill-ride.

Unfortunately Cache goes off on tangents that are relevant to the central theme but are ultimately hung out to dry. Is Anne having an affair? Is there something more to son Pierrot���s sudden rebelliousness other than teen angst? The complete lack of resolution is immensely disappointing. The pacing is leisurely (to put it kindly), and a shocking scene (you may jump) feels contrived and doesn���t sit well with rest of the film.

Cache is a slow but fascinating examination of what we hide and the lengths we will go to protect our secrets. The film begs the question is there such a thing as privacy? It���s a clever and thought-provoking take on the thriller genre.

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STARRING: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice B?�nichou, Annie Girardot, Lester Makedonsky, Bernard Le Coq, Walid Afkir, and Daniel Duval
GENRE(S): Drama, Suspense/Thriller
WRITTEN BY: Michael Haneke
DIRECTED BY: Michael Haneke
RELEASE DATE: Theatrical: December 23, 2005
RATING: R
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes, Color
ORIGIN: France, Austria, Germany, Italy
LANGUAGE(S): French (with English subtitles)

The New World — Movie Review

The New World photophoto courtesy New Line Cinema

Terrence Malick and I have history. As a teenage film buff, I was excited when Malick, director of the classic spree killer flick Badlands, came out from whatever rock he was hiding under to direct The Thin Red Line, which promised to be an art house war movie. Snobby and violent, could you go wrong?

The New World poster

The New World
(New Line Cinema)
Rated: PG-13
starstarstarstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
Metacritic
IMDb

Yes: three hours of impressive Australian scenery and poetic voiceovers, but not much else. Narrative was thrown right out the window as one scene haphazardly ran into the next. Even though the voiceovers clued me in on their internal monologues, the characters themselves were sparsely drawn, sometimes one dimensional. There were powerful scenes, but on the whole the movie fell flat. Malick���s lost it after 20 years without making a film, I thought.

So I was wary when I heard the buzz surrounding The New World, Malick���s take on the founding of Jamestown and the legend of Pocahontas and John Smith. But my fears of a Thin Red repeat are completely off-mark, as here Malick weaves a tapestry thick with depth and symbolism around a strong narrative and characters that jump off the screen, with the help of a fantastic young talent as Pocahontas. The New World is about discovery, internal and external, and easily one of the best films of 2005.

As we learned in American history class, shortly after the founding of Jamestown, Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) is sent to see the native’s big chief to talk about trading and, in a thrilling sequence, is saved from execution by Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher). Thus starts their courtship, as Smith teaches Pocahontas English and English ways while idealizing the communal and simple living of ���the naturals.��� He seeks redemption, a new self in this new world, through his love of Pocahontas, full of life and spirit, and she falls for the mysterious yet passionate foreigner as well. Continue reading →

The Matador — Movie Review

The Matador photophoto courtesy Miramax

A mustached Pierce Brosnan walks through a hotel lobby wearing only a speedo, beer can in hand, gut hanging out, cigarette drooping out of the side of his smirk. The other guests stare, almost horrified, and obviously we���re supposed to have the same reaction: that can���t be (the former) James Bond playing washed-up hitman Julian Noble in The Matador. Julian is a complete 180 from James Bond: instead of style, he oozes sleaze; while Bond is a charmer, Julian is a bisexual predator, eyeing Catholic schoolgirls and raiding S&M clubs.

Matador poster
The Matador
(Miramax)
Rated: R
starstarstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
Metacritic
IMDb

Cinephiles may remember a similar anti-Bond performance Brosnan gave in The Tailor of Panama as a disgraced British agent who stews up trouble in Panama just because he���s bored and horny. But Julian is a far more complex and ultimately redeemable character that Brosnan plays with both gusto and finesse. Even though the setup is reminiscent of Gross Pointe Blank, The Matador���s focus on friendship, particularly male bonding, and Brosnan���s surprisingly articulate performance make this film a whole other beast.

On his birthday, when he���s alone and watching TV in a Mexico City hotel room, Julian realizes he has no friends. Scanning through his address book, he finds only brothels and gun shops. After indulging in an orgy, Julian meets businessman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), who is recovering from losing his job and his son. His current shaky business deal is essential to his survival, but he hides his lack of confidence in that suburban American appearances-are-everything way, which attracts Julian to him. Julian feeds off Danny���s normalcy ��� the first thing he wants to know is if Danny has a wife and kids. He wants a taste of that white-bread living that Danny sweats, and Danny indulges in Julian���s more exciting world of hits and screwing whole Filipino whorehouses. Continue reading →

Grandma’s Boy — Movie Review

Grandma's Boy photophoto courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

This movie straight sucked… now go and see it! Considering all the critics bashing it after it came out, its no wonder that the films production company decided against sending it to reviewers before it was released. The film carries nothing more than a sloppy pile of jokes, drug references, and some nudity. The film is almost a parody on the down-and-out-guy-gets-girl genre except that it’s geared to pot smoking gamers and it’s riotously funny!

Match Point poster
Grandma’s Boy
(Twentieth Century Fox)
Rated: R
starstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
Metacritic
IMDb

Alex (Allen Covert) is a 36 year old pot smoking video game tester who has to move in with his grandmother. He gets evicted from his apartment because his roommate spent the last six months rent on massage parlor prostitutes. Alex ends up moving in with his Grandma (Doris Roberts) and her two elderly roommates (Shirley Jones and Shirley Knight).

Alex’s weed-laden-ultra-smile in this film is only outdone by cuts of hilarious silence. In one of the basement scenes all you hear is the pitter-patter of Playstation controllers and all you see are Alex, Dante (Peter Dante), and a monkey, baked out of their minds, on a couch, playing video games on a blank television screen.

Alex’s work buddy, Jeff (Nick Swardson), is a riot but has a weird character transition through the film. At first, you are introduced to Jeff as an over sheltered nerd who lives with his parents, never had sex, wears lime green pajamas with the feet sewn on them, and sleeps in a pre-teen’s bedroom, full of action figures. Jeff goes from a freakish momma’s boy to a seasoned party god in two scenes. Despite the weird transition Swardson’s sharp timing, physical antics, and convincing facial expressions highlight the best scenes in the movie.

The pinnacle of nerd references comes in the form of a game geek prodigy named J.P. (Joel David Moore). The goth-meets-Matrix outfits and the weird high pitch voice that mimics bouts of Tourettes, that is futilely compensated with a hyper-inflated ego, makes this bad guy a really funny bad guy! Throughout the movie, J.P. is ridiculed by everyone, even the breakroom geeks at the game testing lab. He’s the hot shot no one thinks is hot!

The party scene at Grandma’s house was classic. Barry (Jonah Hill), one of the game testers, sucks on his first female breast and keeps sucking for thirteen straight hours. Jeff finally has sex… with Shirley Jones’ character… yeah, it was pretty creepy… actually it made me ill… but it was still funny. All the while, Grandma and roommates get stoned on “Frankenstein weed”.

This was a film I’ll have to see again, but not just for the funny. Unfortunately, some of the delivery put laugh time on top of joke time making it impossible to hear every joke. The dialogue between characters still needed some shaking out as well. The quality of the picture in the beginning also seemed a little rough. I’m not sure if the theater was to blame there or not.

Overall, Grandma’s Boy might get chewed up by critics for its bathroom humor but for pot head gamers who’ve spent way too much time with the folks this year, it might be that perfect bong hit to end off the holidays and start off the new year.

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STARRING: Linda Cardellini, Peter Dante, Shirley Jones, Shirley Knight, Joel Moore, Kevin Nealon, Doris Roberts, and Nick Swardson
GENRE(S): Comedy
WRITTEN BY: Barry Wernick, Allen Covert, Nick Swardson
DIRECTED BY: Nicholaus Goossen
RELEASE DATE: Theatrical: January 6, 2006
RATING: R
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes, Color
ORIGIN: USA

Match Point — Movie Review

Match Point photophoto courtesy Dreamworks Pictures

We do not control our own lives, luck does. That is what Woody Allen would like us to remember when we begin our journey into Match Point.

Match Point stars Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as ex-tennis player Chris Wilton. Chris takes a job as a tennis instructor at a prestigious London club where he meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode). They become fast friends, and before you know it, Tom introduces Chris to his family. Chris wins the affection of the Hewett family and begins dating Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). One weekend at the family’s country house, Chris meets struggling actress Nola (Scarlett Johansson). Their attraction is instant and intense. There’s just one hitch: Nola is Tom’s fiance?©. Chris and Nola engage in a flirtation that, years later, (when Chris has married Chloe and Nola and Tom have long since broken up) turns into a passionate love affair. Of course, as we all know, the course of true lust never did run smooth. Where the film goes after that is perhaps a darker place than anyone would expect.

Match Point poster
 
Match Point
(Dreamworks Pictures)
Rated: R
starstarstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
Metacritic
IMDb

Match Point provides a conundrum that was presented to filmgoers around this time last year with Closer. When you are presented with completely unsympathetic characters, how do you bring yourself to care about what happens to them? Its unclear if it was Allen’s intent to keep us emotionally detached from the characters, but the result is an interesting one. Its painful to say that Scarlett Johansson’s performance may be the weakest one in the film (stepping into a part originally held by Kate Winslet a week before shooting began), because she is one of the most promising and talented young actresses on screen today. Her performance is at times choppy, but she pulls through in the more challenging scenes of the film. No doubt due to working with an experienced director such as Allen, who knows how to pull out the genuine talent of his actors. Rhys-Meyers commands the role of Chris, achieving confusion, lust, and desperation without ever appearing lost in the dense stript. The supporting cast perfom beautifully, as if they were regulars in the world of Woody Allen.

Match Point is a good movie, but not great movie. The conclusion of the film is an unexpected, yet predictable one. As Chris’ marriage and affair begin to unravel, it’s as if he feels that he’s the lead in one of the tragic operas that he loves so dearly. He lives from moment to moment, not feeling so much lucky as lost.

In the end, Allen does prove his point about luck. The characters wander through the world of Match Point nearly oblivious to what is going on around them and unable to control the events that they themselves have put into motion.

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STARRING: Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, and Penelope Wilton
GENRE(S): Drama, Suspense/Thriller
WRITTEN BY: Woody Allen
DIRECTED BY: Woody Allen
RELEASE DATE: Theatrical: December 28, 2005
RATING: R
RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes, Color
ORIGIN: USA / UK

Naked in Ashes — Movie Review

Naked in Ashes photophoto courtesy Paradise Filmworks

Naked in Ashes is a documentary dedicated to the yogis, or Hindu mystics, of India. These holy men carry on a 5,000 year-old ascetic tradition, denying the needs of the body for the sake of spiritual enlightenment. Los Angeles-based filmmaker Paula Fouce has managed to tell their story with great sympathy and esteem, while at the same time ignoring, inflating, or simply (and most likely) misunderstanding the essence of her subject.

Naked in Ashes poster
 
Naked in Ashes
(Paradise Filmworks)
Rated: NR
starstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
IMDb

If you know nothing about Hindu mystics, you should see Naked in Ashes. After all, any movie about yogis is better than no movie about yogis. It has beautiful footage of the Himalayan lakes and mountainside. If you are familiar with this sect, you will quickly realize that the film suffers not so much from it’s misguided vision as from the great opportunity it misses. The staggering need for focus and improvement is evident from the opening credits on. Fouce gets closer to this infamously hermetic group than most Westerners will in a lifetime, yet fails to paint an accurate portrait of their mission and context within the greater subcontinent. The film misses some of the basic facts crucial to an understanding of the Hindu yogi’s spiritual life.

Some of those basic facts: In India, yogis are generally referred to as sadhus, from the sanskrit “to practice [meditation].” These men halt all pursuit of the three Hindu goals: kama (pleasure), artha (wealth), and dharma (duty), and instead seek moksha (liberation) through prayer and meditation. Naked, dreadlocked sadhus (such as the primary figure of the film, Shiv Raj Giri) are called Naga. Clothed sadhus with knives or swords are called Jata. Each deity in the Hindu pantheon inspires a different sort of sadhu.

While Fouce may well have done her homework, her film does not reflect it. Rather than use the industry-standard documentary subtitles, she dubs the yogis’ speech with Indian-accented English, and employs a hackneyed voice-over narration throughout the film. After following a loosely organized group of yogis to the Kumbh Mela, a holy festival along the banks of the Ganges, Fouce pulls her loose narrative full circle to Santosh Giri, the 14-year old sadhu-to-be who opens the film. One can see why Fouce chose this orphaned boy as the emotional center of the story; his wide-eyed obeisance to the new world around him is mirrored by her own.

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One Week Only!
Now Playing at E Street Cinemas.
GENRE(S): Documentary
RATING: NR
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes, Color

The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam — Movie Review

The Keeper photophoto courtesy Arrival Pictures

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it

That is likely the most famous verse of The Rubaiyat, a collection of poems by the Persian mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyam. Khayyam is most famous in America for his poetry, whereas in Iran he is equally noted for his scholarly achievements, such as his famous correction of the Persian calendar. The new film biography opening this week at E Street Cinema combines these angles beautifully to paint a whole portrait of Omar Khayyam, the man and the myth.

The Keeper poster
 
The Keeper:
The Legend of
Omar Khayyam

(Arrival Pictures)
Rated: NR
starstarstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer
IMDb

Biography may not be the best way to classify The Keeper. In fact it is a story, about stories and their telling, which adds freely to the scant body of knowledge about Khayyam’s personal life. Rather than maintaining strict historical accuracy, The Keeper flashes back and forth between ancient Persia and modern-day America, framing Khayyam‚Äôs life story as it is understood by a young boy.

12-year old Kamran is fascinated by tales of his ancestor Omar Khayyam, and it becomes his duty to keep the family’s oral tradition alive in America. A secondary drama unfolds around the story as Kamran’s father, who feels his family should forget the past and focus on being good Americans, steps in.

Shot in 37 days in 3 different countries, The Keeper was written, produced and directed by newcomer Keyvan Mashayekh, and while unpolished at times, it is simply gorgeous to look at. The romanticized version of Khayyam’s life is framed perfectly by the drama of the immigrant experience. The heart of the film lies in the connection between both worlds, focusing not on Khayyam’s much-lauded poetry, but rather on the poetry that was his life.

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Starts this Friday at E Street Cinemas.
STARRING: Vanessa Redgrave, Moritz Bleibtreu, Rade Serbedzija, Bruno Lastra, Christopher Simpson, Adam Echahly, and Marie Espinosa
GENRE(S): Adventure, Drama, Family/Kids
WRITTEN BY: Belle Avery, Kayvan Mashayekh
DIRECTED BY: Kayvan Mashayekh
RELEASE DATE: Theatrical: June 10, 2005
RATING: NR
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes, Color
ORIGIN: USA

Winter Soldier — Movie Review

Winter Soldier photophoto courtesy Winterfilm Collective

Operation Eagle Pull lifted the last Americans off the roof of the American Embassy in Vietnam seven years before I was born. As soon as I could comprehend combat, Vietnam interested me more than any other American operation. I read The Things They Carried. I saw Hamburger Hill, Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. In high school I fancied myself a peacenik and made a cheesy anti-war video for my video production class, complete with gory newsreels set to John Lennon’s “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” None of this training prepared me in the least for Winter Soldier, the new documentary opening at E Street Cinema this Friday, which chronicles the Winter Soldier Investigation conducted by Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971.

Winter Soldier poster
 
Winter Soldier
(Winterfilm Collective)
Rated: NR
starstar (out of 4)
Official Site
Trailer (Quicktime)
IMDb

Winter Soldier is the most real look I have had at the Vietnam War. It’s not the horror-story confessions of atrocities witnessed and committed that got me, though the film overflows with those. It’s the variety of voices, experiences and interpretations that fascinated me. The footage of the Winter Soldier Investigation, held in the ballroom of a Howard Johnson in Detroit, has all the attributes of an Alcoholics Anonymous convention: everyone is there for the same reason, and everyone has a different story to tell. Some members in attendance are trying to help, and some are out to get what they can. Some are just plain crazy, like the man in the film who claims that VVAW is racist & segregationist, while the table of panelists seats White, Black, Native American and Asian veterans together, passing the microphone to hear each other out.

Where the film lacks is in it’s billing. The tagline reads “Winter Soldier: They risked everything to tell the truth.” That risk simply isn’t apparent anywhere in the documentary. What is apparent is a crowd of young men in a motor lodge. Some are angry, some are confused, and some are at peace with the things they did in Vietnam. Don’t expect Winter Soldier to inspire the same revolutionary passion as 2002’s The Weather Underground. Instead, regard each speaker as a portrait of the war and it’s varied effect on any given man. While I believe Winter Soldier was intended as a war cry, in light of the recent abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, it is more effectively a human cry, calling us to observe the way war can warp and devolve our basic beliefs about humankind.

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One week only Special Engagement starts this Friday at E Street Cinemas.
GENRE(S): Documentary
DIRECTED BY: Winterfilm Collective
RELEASE DATE: 2005
RUNNING TIME: 76 minutes, B&W
ORIGIN: USA