Monday, October 27, 2008

history as told by...

if this is oliver stone being even-handed, i'd be most curious to see a director's cut: attack-dog version. at turns outright farce and preachy polemic (each mode effective), it figures to please the average bush-basher and piss off the staunch right-winger. josh brolin is mesmerizing as our 43rd prez, somehow managing to make the familiar mannerisms and the too-familiar idiot-speak come off authentically. the w. on screen is a fully realized character, ground in truth, motivated mostly by paternal approval; the film, a revealing look at a fascinating man who has bungled his way through every significant chapter of his now ominously weighty history.
effective: 3 stars

i enjoy director clint eastwood when he goes toward the gritty, and as such i consider pic among his finest works. the root of this true story is horrific, the years-long tale Involved. in the hands of a lesser skipper, could easily have been too gruesome or just plain boring. instead, detractions are relatively minor. credit as well to veteran tv scribe j. michael straczynski, and to angelina jolie for holding down an emotionally challenging role. (at times i wanted to Throttle her character for not fighting back!) no shoe-in, yet could be in the running for some post-season hardware.
challenging: 4 stars

Saturday, October 18, 2008

taking a stand

bill maher takes on organized religion in this documentary directed by borat helmer larry charles. as with that outrageous mock-interview sensation, we're privy here to the host's work & private insights as he hits the road in search of answers. with Doubt & Skepticism his primary guides, nary a sect is safe from the comedian's pointed inquiry. his thorough research and razor-sharp wit combine for Many laugh-out-loud moments, yet little we see or hear comes off as (ahem) revelation. preaching primarily to the converted (i doubt religious conservatives will flock), this thought-provoking & funny film is unfortunately not likely to be a world changer.
pointed: 3 stars

miracle at st. anna
looked forward to this for a black WWII soldiers' perspective delivered via a spike lee joint. in the end, that's about all i got from this formulaic yawner. no miracles here; it's like warfilm101...delivered via a spike lee joint. actors appear to struggle through most basic of issues: staging is awful, script often worse (frequently groan-inducing), shot selection and editing forced. the good and impressive elements are simply outweighed by the bad.
warfilm101: 1 star

Friday, October 10, 2008

master directors at work

body of lies--
easy to be deceived by the bland, generic trailer; tagline flat-out says Deceive Everyone. likely the marketing folks (justifiably) felt they wouldn't need to sell much more than dicaprio, crowe, and ridley scott. in light of blase' campaign, i was actually fearing this one would fall flat. not so. as with nearly all scott's films, technical aspects are Tight--cinematography, editing, sound, music all dazzling. performances, too (no surprise), come through. and thanks to william monahan's (academy award, the departed) snappy adaptation, action is riveting, even when story is the stuff of which so many other genre flicks are made.
riveting: 3 stars

writer/director mike leigh does it again: a completely unconventional story that grabs you and shakes you and makes you Feel. he crafts by shaping improv with his actors for months before shooting, so what you experience are fully-formed, lived-in characters undergoing transformation. lead sally hawkins is a revelation. she is the heart & soul of the piece, steadfastly smiling, quipping, genuinely loving her way through the profound challenges of the daily urban grind. even the deeply disturbed, frightening foil boldly embodied by eddie marsan can't keep this trooper from seeing her path as a blessed one.
profound: 4 stars

Friday, October 3, 2008

so you wanna make a western

safe to say this one wouldn't have seen the light of day without ed harris' involvement. afterall, he had a hand in nearly every aspect of the production. he, viggo mortensen, and jeremy irons fit right into the western filmscape, all solemn and gritty. renee zellwegger, conversely, sticks out like a sore thumb, in that she looks and acts rather like one. there is admirable work done here, to be sure, yet the script's weaker elements--including hints of trying too hard--simply prove too glaring to overcome.
admirable: 2 stars