Wednesday, April 18, 2007

After the Wedding

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Angular Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen gets plenty of opportunities to empty his tear ducts in writer-director Suzanne Bier’s new three-hanky import. He has been performing steadily in Danish melodramas for years (including Bier’s breakthrough, Open Hearts). And this film goes a long way in establishing him as a soulful, simmering leading man, even as his icy demeanor adds a much-needed devious dimension to the too-good-to-be-true character of Jacob. An altruistic orphanage manager forced to come to terms with a long-neglected past, Jacob reluctantly leaves his post in India – and the dewy-eyed boys he considers his sons – to meet with a potential benefactor back in Denmark. When he gets there, he realizes the Trump-like Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard) intends on putting him through the ringer in exchange for a $4 million charitable contribution.

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First Snow

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

First Snow might not signal Aussie actor Guy Pearce's return from relative obscurity, it does showcase his simmering intensity, and ability to rivet an audience’s attention even while the plot drifts quietly away. Here he stars as factory-standard noir protagonist Jimmy, a frustrated flooring salesman with big dreams of moving up to his own more glamorous jukebox concession. Sure enough, Jimmy has a less than honest career history. Freaked out by his foretold date with destiny coming with the first snow of the season, Jimmy races to square his accounts with his job, his health, his live-in girlfriend (Piper Perabo) and an old partner in crime who keeps making threatening phone calls. All this existential gloom leads to a mildly silly ending, that’s not nearly as clever as screenwriter Hawk Ostby seems to think it is, but is well suited to all the ominous foreshadowing that led up to it.

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Black Book

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

In Hollywood, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven’s blatantly commercial efforts exploded with violence, sexuality and betrayal (his thematic stock-in-trade), while slyly commenting on our culture’s fading humanity. Black Book — Verhoeven’s first Dutch-language film in 20 years — is an unabashed melodrama that boasts the director’s typically prurient instincts yet is filled with a cynically murky view of moral certainty. In an attempt to flee occupied Holland, Jewish cabaret singer Rachel (the striking Carice van Houten) watches as her family is brutally massacred by the Nazis. Stranded, she hooks up with the Dutch resistance and becomes a spy. Dyeing her hair and pubes blonde (this is a Verhoeven film, after all), she uses her feminine wiles on a high-ranking SS commander, Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch) and infiltrates Nazi headquarters. As she struggles to help free imprisoned members of the resistance, she discovers that Müntze is more man than monster and starts to fall in love with him, and double-crosses become triple-crosses.

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Perfect Stranger

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Halle Berry’s timid effort to dip her little toe into the deep end of the R-rated psycho-sexual pool may not ruin her career, exactly — it’s too competently made for that — but it certainly won’t erase anyone’s lingering memories of Catwoman, either. The film ultimately isn’t even all that erotic, although it comes on to you about as strong as an Eight Mile hooker on a slow night. Berry’s ludicrously tough-as-nails superjournalist Rowena confronts a hypocritical politician with digital snapshots of his boyish lover. But this guy is no Congressman Mark Foley: his corporate connections are enough to bury Rowena’s story, and she walks out on her job in protest. As with all movie superjournalists, it isn’t long before an extracurricular assignment falls in her lap: Her tarty childhood friend — and between-the-sheets dirt-digger — Grace (Nicki Aycox) has been murdered. With the help of her crafty techie friend, Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), she sets her sights on the purportedly sadomasochistic ad mogul Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), using herself as bait. Give Berry credit for trying, but most other A-list actresses would consider a sexed-up, schizophrenic role like this to be career suicide. And they’d mostly be right.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Drive-in Saturday night

Is *Grindhouse *a running gagfest or eye-popping joy?

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM

When the goal is to homage schlock, the filmmaking bar is set low, and saying Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse delivers the goods is a backhanded compliment. First up is Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, a pulpy mash-up of Roger Corman sci-fi and George Romero zombiefest that’s consciously tasteless but, until its final half hour, rarely boring. A trio of fake movie trailers split Grindhouse’s two features, and are, arguably, the best part of the show. Then comes Tarantino’s Death Proof, a schizophrenic attempt to blend car-chase machismo with psycho-stalker chills.

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Bamako

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM

African filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako literally brings global politics to his own backyard, putting the World Bank and International Monetary Fund on trial for crimes against African society, and has this civil action unfold in the courtyard behind his family’s home in the Hamdallaye district of Mali’s capitol. This audacious concept works because Sissako grounds the proceedings in the everyday life of this Bamako neighborhood. In a film that uses silence and Malian music to great emotional effect, the barrage of accusations and recriminations express defeat as much as defiance.

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Avenue Montaigne

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM

A plucky, naive backwater blonde comes to the big city in search of romance, luxury and success; her chipper bonhomie in turn transforms a group of comically callous socialites. It's a classic scenario, here set in France. Using postcard-perfect images of Paris as a backdrop, the film follows the lives of three showbiz luminaries, all seen through the eyes of the aforementioned cute-as-a-button waitress Jessica (Cécile De France, last seen on these shores as a schizophrenic, chainsaw-wielding lesbian in the slasher flick High Tension). As we observe the serio-comic subplots of a high-strung actress (Valerie Lemercier), an aging art dealer (Claude Brasseur) and a concert pianist on the verge of a nervous breakdown (Albert Dupontel), we’re invited to muse upon the growing commercialism of classical music, the perils of living your life in the shadow of fame, and the fine line between talent and madness. But really, the movie boils down to a fluffy soap opera set in the worlds of the auction house, the orchestra and the theater.

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The Hoax

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Back in 1971, Clifford Irving (Gere), a journalist and struggling novelist desperate to jumpstart his career, convinced publishing giant McGraw-Hill he’d been recruited to pen the autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Everyone involved became convinced it’d be “the story of the century.” The only problem was Hughes had nothing to do with it. All the elements are in place — a first-rate script about one of the biggest literary scams in U.S. history, a top-notch cast, an Oscar-nominated director — and yet Lasse Hallstrom’s The Hoax comes up short. Whether it’s the ill-fit of Hallstrom’s breezy, humanist style or Richard Gere’s limitations, this intertwined fact-inspired tale of personal and political betrayal never achieves the depth, complexity and drama screenwriter Bill Wheeler’s script calls for.

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Are We Done Yet?

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Remember when Ice Cube was dangerous? The former hardcore voice of inner-city rage has become a tame mouthpiece for corporate Hollywood mediocrity, and the transition is still jarring. The sellout road from gangsta to prankster is a bumpy one, and where Cube used to rhyme about battling thugs and cops; this dismal little slab of “family fun” finds him throwing down with a pesky raccoon.

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The Reaping

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Even by the standards of Hilary Swank’s center-of-the-earth turkey The Core — is as moldy and desperate a bid for blockbuster status as they come. The 10 plagues — just in time for Passover! — are visited upon a small Louisiana town. Before you can say “boils and lice,” science professor Katherine (Swank) and her platonic research buddy Ben (The Wire’s Idris Elba, turning in a performance far more nuanced than his thankless role deserves) drive down to the literally godforsaken sinkhole to take some pH samples of their river of blood, dissect some bloated, airborne frogs and poke at the corpse of a boy in full rigor mortis. Swank sleepwalks through the film, doing most of her acting with her gaping jaw.

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