Category Archives: Theatrical Reviews

Berlin 09 Review: In the Electric Mist

A week into the Berlinale and the general critical response ranges from “meh” to bloody awful. I’m more in the so-so camp, having seen a few films that spoke to me in certain ways, but not having seen anything that blows me away. Nothing like The Counterfeiters from 2007 or Hallam Foe from the same year or Offside, from 2006. So far nothing makes me say “Wow!”
Bertrand Tavernier’s In the Electric Mist suffers from a number of maladies which combine to turn a potentially gripping murder cum supernatural thriller into a slightly muddled minor disappointment, albeit one with enough acting, direction and meaty plot to make it an interesting and worthwhile disappointment with much of that let down coming in the form of a rather unsatisfying reveal of the killer.
The film centers around Tommy Lee Jones, who is treading familiar territory as Dave Robicheaux a hard boiled police lieutenant in New Iberia Parish, Louisiana. Jones has a strong moral core, a laconic disposition and a troubled past (this time it’s alcoholism) and Jones could play this role in his sleep but to his credit, Jones rarely phones in a performance and this one is no difference. He’s compelling to watch for the duration.
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Theatrical Review: Gran Torino

Gran Torino
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriter: Nick Schenk
Story: Dave Johannson & Nick Schenk
Producer: Clint Eastwood
Tom Stern
Editor: Joel Cox, Gary D. Roach
Music: Kyle Eastwood & Michael Stevens
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her 
U.S.A., 2008, 116 minutes

Just in time for the Academy’s big “Fuck You” sendoff to Clint Eastwood, my long-delayed review of Gran Torino.
If you had described the plots to me, side by side, I would have said that Clint Eastwood’s higher-profile film, Changeling, was going to be a more interesting film than it’s seemingly thinner Gran Torino and I would have been about as wrong as I could be. While the former Angelina Jolie vehicle was blatant, mawkish, heavy-handed Oscar bait, the latter is the real gem of the end-of-the-year crop. Those who believe he’s still got his chops as an actor, director and (immensely underrated) composer and overcome the agist, knee-jerk impulse to write him off as “done,” should see this well acted and directed look at age and race relations in a 21st century America.
Gran Torino is many things, but a standard revenge film it is not. Loaded with far more humor and subtlety than the typical vengeance film, it’s far similar in tone to Robert Benton’s excellent 1994 Paul Newman pic Nobody’s Fool than it is Death Wish.

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Theatrical Review: The Wrestler

Ever since it won the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler has beet hotly anticipated and those not lucky enough to catch it in Toronto or at the NY Film Festival should now understand why. While The Wrestler is continually being referred to as the filmmaker’s return to form or other such hogwash from people who didn’t see the beauty in his last film, The Fountain. Thankfully, his latest has no such barriers to its success and this exceptional film is one of the best-reviewed films of the year.
The Wrestler is being compared to Rocky and while it is similar in a few superficial ways, its core message and lead character are distinctly different. Rocky was a bum. He wasn’t a had been, he was a “never was.” He’d never been close to a contender and was more like On the Waterfront‘s Terry Molloy (except that Rocky eventually became “somebody,” of course). On the other hand, The Wrestler‘s Randy “The Ram” Robinson (achingly played by a resurgent Mickey Rourke) was a superstar.

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Theatrical Review: Milk

On the heels of Prop 8, comes Gus Van Zant’s Milk and without mincing words, it’s a tour de force. The truth is, as big as this movie’s subject matter is – the assassination of San Francisco’s first out gay politician, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) – and as much opportunity as there is to pound in its message, the reason the movie works so well is because it is thoughtful in its telling and its performances are so subdued. A movie along these lines is, frankly, ripe for melodrama but Van Zant goes deeper and puts character before agenda. Early in the movie, Milk literally stands on a soapbox but never for a moment do we get any of the Oliver Stone bombast. Milk intentionally uses his personable nature and humor to reach or rather, create his constituency. It is no doubt something of a defense mechanism. Harvey Milk led a closeted life until he was about 40 years old, which happens to be just when the movie starts. A moment later we see that Milk has been killed and the movie is told in flashbacks as Harvey sits at his kitchen table and commits his story into a tape recorder. His calm narration gives the movie its stabilizing tone.

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NYFF 08- Review: Happy Go Lucky

Director: Mike Leigh
Screenwriter: Mike Leigh

Producer: Simon Channing-Williams
Dick Pope

Editor: Jim Clark
Music: Gary Yershon

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman, Samuel Roukin 
U.K., 2008, 118 minutes
Mike Leigh is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers and I recently had the pleasure of making his acquaintance. I mentioned in a brief conversation just prior to a press conference for the 2008 New York Film Festival screening of Happy-Go-Lucky, that I had been obsessively watching his BBC “television plays” from the 1970s (Abigail’s Party, Nuts in May). While he expressed his appreciation, he also expressed some rancor. He was very frustrated with the quality of those tele-plays we have over here, complaining that they were unauthorized and of terrible quality. Attempting to be as upbeat as possible, I exhorted how the impact of the dramas shown through and, really, who cared about the quality. He thanked me tersely, and I could tell that he was somewhat less impressed. When moments later I asked if I could take a quick photo of him and his star, Sally Hawkins, they politely looked my way and I could hear him mutter to her, “he writes for a web site.”
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