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anhedonia

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28 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
Patience is a virtue and this film has virtues aplenty, 29 July 2009
8/10

I have a confession: I adore Kelly Macdonald's Scottish accent. It makes me go all weak in the knees, sends my heart aflutter.

She is the reason I went to see "The Merry Gentleman." I like Michael Keaton, too, and thought his performance in "Game 6" (2005) was exceptionally good. I wasn't too sure how good a director he would be, but after watching "The Merry Gentleman," I can safely say that Keaton is a very good filmmaker.

The story of "The Merry Gentleman" could very well point to all the trappings of a formula: An abused woman inadvertently sees a hit man and then he befriends her with obvious intent.

Given filmmakers' penchant these days to turn this sort of subject matter into yet another Tarantino or Guy Ritchie clone, the calmness with which "The Merry Gentleman" unfolds comes as a wonderful surprise.

I realize that film-goers who want to see every hit man movie turned into another fast-talking Tarantino imitation might be sorely disappointed or even bored by "The Merry Gentleman." This film takes its time. It's in no hurry to get where it's going and it doesn't pander to its audience with needless bloodshed, non sequitur riffs or slam-bang car chases. This film might be about a hit man and the witness, but it is not an action film. This really is a splendid character study, paced deliberately so that we would get to know, understand, appreciate and grow to love these people.

This film relies on its two main characters, Frank (Keaton) and Kate (Macdonald), to carry the film. And these two fine actors do not disappoint. Their scenes together are strikingly powerful, even when they say little. And there are many such moments in this film. Even their meet-cute, which could very well have turned into a typically corny moment, is handled with grace, charm and just enough humor to make you smile.

This is a drama about human connections, more than anything else. An unconventional love story as Frank and Kate, a depressed professional killer and the mousy abused woman, slowly work their way through each other lives, through the uncomfortable moments, trying to steal moments they can share.

Keaton could very easily have played Frank for a chuckle or two, given him a frenetic edge, as he often has in films. Instead, he plays him low-key. Perhaps too low-key, some could argue, but that is what I loved about his character. He really is more than a man struggling with the morality of what he does; he's a man struggling with life and all its vagaries. What he does for a living seems almost inconsequential to his struggles. Keaton finds the fine edges to his character and realizes there's more to reveal in what Frank doesn't say than in what he does. There's nothing false about Frank's weariness or sadness. This is truly a finely-tuned and subtle performance by Keaton - one of his very best.

Macdonald is completely charming as Kate. Her glorious accent aside, she brings a delightful sweetness to her role. This is a real woman with genuine problems and we understand Frank's desire - and even need - to take care of her. She has suffered much and it all seems so unfair that such a creature would be in such pain. Macdonald is marvelous. She has always been a remarkably astute actress capable of immediately drawing the audience to her. Just watch her in "The Girl in the Cafe" (2005) and you will promptly fall in love with her. She also gave the severely under-praised performance in "No Country For Old Men" (2007). This is yet another wonderful performance from a terribly under-appreciated actress. Macdonald never disappoints.

There are two fine supporting performances - from Bobby Cannavale as Kate's husband, and Tom Bastounes, as a cop investigating Frank's killings and also harboring a crush on Kate. Cannavale's outburst seems a bit noisy for a film this solemn, but he makes it work. And Bastounes, as a not-too-tidy cop, is just priceless. His dinner scenes with Kate contain terrific bits of acting.

At a time when "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," "Terminator Salvation," "Public Enemies" and other Hollywood films gain all the attention, it is too bad that a film such as "The Merry Gentleman" seemingly just gets lost in the shuffle.

This is a gem of a film. It is not for anyone seeking an adrenaline rush. But is for those seeking a tender, sweet, deeply moving, at times startling film about deeply damaged people and their attempts to find some sort of solace, happiness and meaning in this life. "The Merry Gentleman" is a richly rewarding experience for those who appreciate good movies.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Taut, exciting, thrilling - one of the year's best, 29 July 2009
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I can now forgive Kathryn Bigelow for making "Strange Days" (1995). Legions love that sci-fi film, but I found it to be an unpleasant experience.

She certainly has redeemed herself with "The Hurt Locker," a taut, thrilling, at times suspenseful film about a group of soldiers who risk their lives trying to defuse Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq. This is a thinking man's action film.

I believe the reason "The Hurt Locker" will do better than the other Iraq War films - 2006's "Home of the Brave" and 2007's "Redacted," "In the Valley of Elah," "The Situation," "Grace Is Gone," "Lions for Lambs" and "Battle for Haditha" - is because you can't quite pinpoint the film's politics. And that tends to go over better with American audiences, who apparently cared not that their government leaders lied to them or didn't wish to be reminded that they were lied to or felt there was too much war saturation on cable news. Also, many of the films so far about the Iraq War haven't been very good, though I do believe "Battle for Haditha" is superb. It's just that next to no one saw Nick Broomfield's wonderful film.

The thing about Bigelow's terrific film is that it really doesn't need to display its politics. I don't have the foggiest idea whether Bigelow supported or disagreed with George W. Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, but the filmmaker's take on the war is not needed here. Because this is a film about soldiers who like to stop things from going "Boom!" and you get the feeling that Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) would be just as happy defusing these things in Los Angeles, Des Moines or anywhere else. It just so happens that Iraq is where action is, where he gets his adrenaline rush.

"The Hurt Locker" is a nerve-wracking thriller, held together by a brilliant performance by Renner - he truly deserves a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for this - and some sensationally choreographed sequences. Mark Boal's tight and lean script - he also wrote "In the Valley of Elah," which was a bit more on the preachy side - helps immensely, but Bigelow and editors Chris Innis and Bob Murawski know exactly how to wring the most suspense out of small moments. (Of course, Innis and Murawski had plenty of footage to choose from given that Bigelow chose to shoot four hand-held cameras simultaneously, a strategy that certainly helps actors and works perfectly for this film.)

The best of these moments is a lengthy sequence in the desert involving snipers. I had problems with some moments in this sequence - the gun jamming, Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) being unable to hit a stationary target, but then nails the target when the Iraqi is running - but Bigelow turns the screws so slowly that you being feeling as antsy as the soldiers as we see flies land on James and Sanborn as they wait patiently. What makes this scene work is that Bigelow refrains from using any overblown musical score to heighten the tension. Instead, she is smart enough to know - and I wish other action and suspense directors will take a cue from her - that the situation is tense enough and that she can draw the viewer in by calmly prolonging the sequence and preying on our anxiousness to ratchet up the suspense. There's another moment involving an impetuous taxi driver and, here again, Bigelow squeezes every drop of suspense.

Renner's James is at the core of this film. He's cocky, brash and even arrogant, though not in the same way that made some of John Wayne's characters unbelievable. Renner's James has the same sort of bravado Wayne's characters sometimes did, but there's something beautifully authentic about Renner's performance.

He's a terrific actor - thank you ABC for proving you know nothing about good TV and canceling the series, "The Unusuals," in which Renner was awfully good - and you can sense the wheels turning in his head as he balances James' action junkie with the cool precision of a fine craftsman disassembling bombs. There is something creepy about Renner's coolness here. He gets fine supporting performances from Mackie and Brian Geraghty, both of whom try to make sense of this man James as the film is told through their eyes.

The film is not without its flaws. A vigilante moment in a subplot involving a young Iraqi boy who befriends James seemed a superfluous attempt to make him seem more heroic, and there were times I seriously questioned the bombers' motivations or rationale for why they did or didn't do certain things.

"The Hurt Locker" could be viewed by some as a paean to America's derring do spirit. I am not entirely sure that is Bigelow's aim. She and Boal do raise some interesting questions: Yes, these chaps are courageous, but at what price? What is this addiction to this action and what are its consequences?

If you are expecting a wham-bam action film, you will be disappointed. "The Hurt Locker" is essentially a character study set in a war zone. It just happens to be a damn fine character study of obsessive people.

The film opens with Chris Hedges' assertion that war is a drug, an addiction, and then Bigelow goes to prove that point with James. This is his job. Then again, for James, it's not just a job, it is an adventure and watching Renner bring James to life makes you understand his character, though you might not quite appreciate some of the decisions he makes.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A pleasant romantic-comedy with lots of charm, 11 July 2009
7/10

It's truly a shame that a charming little romantic-comedy such as "Shades of Ray" does not get a distribution deal, but rubbish rom-coms - "Made of Honor" (2008), "What Happens in Vegas" (2008), "My Best Friend's Girl" (2008) and "My Life In Ruins" (2009) - do.

Writer-director Jaffar Mahmood is playing well within the conventions of the genre. But what makes his film work is that he doesn't rely on stock characters. Even when he has a stock character or two - such as the protagonist's controlling father, Javaid Rehman (Brian George), or the wacky roommate, Sal Garfinkle (Fran Kranz) - Mahmood tweaks their personalities just enough that they seem fresher than they otherwise might be.

I realize there are no Renée Zellwegers, Ashton Kutchers or Cameron Diazes in this film to make it sell to a wider audience. But the lack of such actors is what makes this film all the more appealing.

Films about southeast Asian families and the vagaries of growing up in one are terribly rare and Mahmood should be commended for taking a whack at the subject matter.

Despite tackling issues such as parental control, tradition, familial obligations and love, Mahmood makes his film work because his characters seem new and rather unconventional, even though many of them are just that.

The film is helped immensely by terrific performances all around. I have not seen the TV series, "Chuck," so I was unfamiliar with Zachary Levi as an actor. He makes Ray Rehman an entirely believable person, even managing to bring a sense pathos to a rather funny audition scene.

Kathy Baker and George are terrific as Ray's parents. Baker, especially, gives her role such substance that she takes a minor bit and makes it much more than that. And, finally, it's wonderful to see the lovely Sarah Shahi given a role with some meat and bones on it. I have seen two other films recently in which she was never used to her full potential - "AmericanEast" (2007), in which she has a superfluous role, and "Crossing Over" (2009), in which she was purely window-dressing. In "Shades of Ray," Shahi gets a juicy role that allows her to be alluring, lovable and provocative. She has a sensational scene in a bar where she turns into a playful vixen that is thoroughly enticing.

One character who feels short-changed is Noel Wilson (Bonnie Somerville). In fairness to Mahmood, he resists the temptation to turn her into a bad person, though, given the trappings of the genre, in one scene, he gives her dialogue that seems completely out of character.

"Shades of Ray" does not turn the romantic-comedy genre on its head or anything of that ilk. It's a pleasant diversion and explores a side of American society rarely seen in Hollywood movies. It's most definitely a far cry better and more enjoyable than the romantic comedies Hollywood studios chuck out by the dozen.

72 out of 101 people found the following review useful:
A muddled mess, 11 July 2009
2/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Why is it that anyone who is critical of Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" is promptly branded as a "hater" on this Web site? I don't hate this film or the filmmaker, I just believe it's not a very good film.

I've enjoyed some of Mann's films in the past. I am a fan of "Thief" (1981), "Manhunter" (1986) and "Heat" (1995) and thought "The Insider" (1999) and "Ali" (2001) were interesting. But, as far as I am concerned, "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992) was over-blown - it is not, as one poster claimed, one of the five best films ever made; it's not even one of the 5,000 best films ever made - "Collateral" (2004) started off intriguingly before turning into an utterly conventional thriller, and "Miami Vice" (2006) was rubbish.

But I went into "Public Enemies" with much optimism, given that it stars Johnny Depp and Marion Cotillard. And the subject seemed thoroughly suited for Mann.

What a tremendous disappointment "Public Enemies" turned out to be.

There is absolutely nothing special about this film. The best it can be called is middling. It is hum-drum, run-of-the-mill and certainly not something I expected from someone of Mann's caliber.

For starters, this film is not about public enemies; it's about a public enemy. Blink and you will miss Pretty Boy Floyd. And you have no idea who Baby Face Nelson is until someone in the film points him out.

The film began promisingly with the exciting breakout from an Indiana penitentiary. The cinematography looked terrific in that opening shot and there was something delightfully visceral about that sequence.

But then came the rest of the film.

The story moved from one tedious set piece to another. Roger Ebert, whose criticism I respect, lauded Mann for his "meticulous" research for this film. I wonder if Mann's meticulousness included killing off Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and Homer Van Meter *before* Dillinger when, in real life, they all outlived Dillinger. And Van Meter was *not* gunned down along with Baby Face Nelson.

I realize Mann's fans claim this is a movie and Mann was taking artistic license to enhance his story, as is his wont. But I wonder whether these fans would have echoed similar sentiments if Mann, say, had Muhammad Ali fight Joe Frazier in the Rumble in the Jungle in "Ali" or had Ali lose the fight to Foreman in that film.

Historical inaccuracies aside, "Public Enemies" is just dull. Mann wants us to believe that Dillinger and Billie Frechette were soul mates. But the only word to described their relationship - as Mann shows it - is bland. Which is a shame considering he had two fine actors in Depp and Cotillard and completely wastes them. They are given very little to work with and their dialogue is, at times, downright embarrassing.

Depp has oodles of charm and charisma, but he plays Dillinger solely as cool. There's nothing more to his persona, and when Depp has to be mean on a few occasions, it just doesn't work. Christian Bale, on the other hand, is entirely forgettable as Purvis. It's a nothing character and Bale plays him exactly as he has all his other recent roles. This is a somnambulist Batman and John Connor playing Purvis, mumbling his lines and showing next to no emotion. You learn nothing about Purvis throughout the entire film.

I felt sorry for the wonderful Cotillard because her relatively minor role is made even more minute because her character has no depth and she gets little help from a wanting script. In fact, none of the characters has much depth, if any, and so Mann wastes a talented cast of supporting players that includes Stephen Dorff, Stephen Lang, David Wenham, Matt Craven, Giovanni Ribisi, Jason Clarke, Leelee Sobieski and James Russo.

Then there's the cinematography and I really don't know if one can blame Dante Spinotti for this. I realize Mann is in love with digital technology and while that might have worked on "Collateral" and "Miami Vice," it does not here. With the exception of a few lovely shots, the rest of the film looks like it was shot on someone's cheap holiday camera. I have seen home movies that looked crisper, brighter. The night-time scenes look thoroughly washed out and sans any contrast and the infamous shoot-out in Little Bohemia - which is terribly choreographed - looks like a lousy video game.

I am not averse to shooting in digital. There are countless films that look terrific shot on high-definition digital. Take a peek at "The Lookout" (2007), for instance. It looks spectacular shot on high-def. I personally believe that period pieces should be shot on film, but even granting Mann's decision to shoot digital, why on earth didn't he use, say, Panavision's Genesis or the Red One cameras? He certainly wasn't constrained by the budget.

I realize Mann could take a crap at Hollywood and Vine and his fans would consider it a masterpiece. But it's still crap and just because it came from Mann doesn't turn it into gold.

"Public Enemies" is simply a disappointing movie. It lacks any depth, the characters are boring at best, insipid at worst. The film ambles along without any sense of how to tell a story or put that story into the context of American history and, after a while, all I could think of was how much better Arthur Penn fared with "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967), how much more I wanted to see that film instead and could we please get to The Biograph already.

But Mann even managed to screw up the grand finale by adding an unnecessarily hokey and sentimental coda.

The Proposal (2009/I)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
It ain't great, but I liked it more than I thought I would, 27 June 2009
4/10

Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. They hate each other. They are forced to spend time with each other. Despite a few obstacles, boy and girl realize the other isn't as bad as they initially thought. Boy and girl grow to like each other in an unrealistically short amount of time. Just when they are about to be together, another obstacle is tossed in their way. Boy and girl overcome obstacle and kiss. The end.

That is essentially the formula for pretty much any Hollywood studio romantic-comedy and "The Proposal" is about as Hollywood studio as it gets.

The trouble with romantic comedies is that even before the screenwriter can type "Fade In" on his script, he knows the audience already knows the ending to his story. So he has to make the journey enjoyable and, more often than not, the journey doesn't quite work or fails miserably, as is the case in "My Life in Ruins," for instance. True, "The Proposal" is not nearly as disastrous or dull as the Nia Vardalos film, but that isn't saying much now, is it?

The journey in "The Proposal" is awfully clichéd and unwinds almost exactly how and when one of those hackneyed screen writing gurus would want the plot to unfold. However, what eventually saves "The Proposal" are its two stars - Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Together, they don't have much chemistry - you wanna see real on-screen chemistry in romantic comedies, watch Carole Lombard and William Powell in "My Man Godfrey" (1936) or Lombard and Fredric March in "Nothing Sacred" (1937) or Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in "Bringing Up Baby" (1938) or Grant and Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday" (1940) - but, individually, Reynolds and Bullock have charm, charisma and an innate ability to keep us interested.

This material is beneath Bullock. She can play these roles in her sleep and, I suppose, the lack of success of her more dramatic films - some have been utter duds and "Crash" (2004) does not count because she was just part of a huge ensemble and not the lead - forces her to continue seeking romantic comedies. After all, she is the woman who turned down "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) so she could star in "Miss Congeniality 2" (2005).

Bullock has a nice knack for comedy and does admirably here, given the limitations of the script. It's nothing we haven't seen from her before and perhaps it's that familiarity that brings about a semblance of charm to this picture. Reynolds tends to be a bit of a one-note player but, here again, it's an engaging little note. In his defense, he does have a fine sense of comedic timing and can turn an otherwise conventional line into something funny. Malin Akerman shows up in a throw-away role that she tries valiantly to make bigger.

You are not going to see anything in "The Proposal" that is unpredictable or you haven't seen in countless romantic comedies before. But Reynolds and Bullock bring an energy to the film that made me like it much more than I thought I would. It made me cringe in some places, when I saw screenwriter Pete Chiarelli trying so desperately to eke out laughs because he couldn't drum up anything original.

There's plenty of terrific comedic stuff to be mined here - immigration, older woman-younger man, workaholic bosses and much more - but Chiarelli is thoroughly content on sticking strictly to convention. And, given the lack of sizzle between Bullock and Reynolds together, he entrenches his script in formula. So we are treated to forced-funny moments - a "remedy" screenwriters seek in romantic comedies that rarely works - of seeing the wonderful Betty White doing some sort of American Indian tribal dance in the woods and Bullock hamming it up, and the over-use of Ramone (Oscar Nunez), making him the film's most annoying and unfunny character. We also get needless subplots, including a father-son conflict. I told you: It's as if Chiarelli kept referring to some screen writing handbook.

Anne Fletcher's direction is an uninspired as her previous effort, "27 Dresses" (2008). On the other hand, "The Proposal" is a more enjoyable film than "27 Dresses."

What's ultimately disappointing about "The Proposal" is that despite having essentially smart characters, it gives them nothing smart to do. What a pity. It was, however, refreshing to see an older woman-younger man relationship on film. After sitting through Catherine Zeta-Jones falling for Sean Connery or Nicolas Cage in bed with Jessica Biel or Harrison Ford romancing Anne Heche or Clint Eastwood hooking up with Rene Russo, it's about time we saw the flip side. And as for the well-choreographed - and much talked about - nude scene in "The Proposal," there's one thing you can certainly say: Bullock: has one heck of a body.

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
I've seen Chinese take-out menus that were more exciting, 27 June 2009
3/10

At the end of "Dragon Heat," all I could think of was why I bothered sitting through the whole thing.

The film's premise is interesting and that - as well as Maggie Q - is what attracted me to the film in the first place. But was I ever disappointed. Writer-director Daniel Lee can't hold a candle to the likes of John Woo, Ringo Lam and Corey Yuen.

This has to be one of the most annoyingly-directed films I have ever seen. Lee is so wrapped up in his visual style - and I use that phrase incredibly loosely - that he fills the film with completely needless black-and-white stills, freeze frames, slow-motion, fast-motion and other visual nonsense. I suppose he did all that to make up for the lack of a good story or dialogue.

The action scenes are nothing special and play out like some hopped-up music video more than anything else. There is little to care about any of the characters - including two supposedly professional snipers who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn from the inside! - who are then laden with some of the cheesiest dialogue I have seen in one of these Hong Kong actioners.

The plot is devoid of any twists and turns - from the initial set-up, everything unfolds in predictable fashion - and Lee feels the need to keep reminding us of the characters' back stories in case we didn't get it the first several times. This is awfully amateurish writing and film-making and wastes the talents of Sammo Hung, Michael Biehn and Maggie Q. Though, to be frank, I am hard-pressed to remember Biehn being in any good film that was not directed by James Cameron.

If you really are in the mood for a great Hong Kong actioner, you are much better off sticking to some of the staples - John Woo's "The Killer" (1989) and "Hard-Boiled" (1992), Ringo Lam's "City on Fire" (1987) - which Quentin Tarantino stole for "Reservoir Dogs" (1992) - or his "Point Blank" (1967) remake, "Full Contact" (1992). Or, even check out Yuen's "So Close" (2002), a supremely entertaining, yet preposterous, popcorn flick. And there's always the terrific French police actioner, "The Nest" (2002).

True, most, if not all, are a bit over-the-top, but they were films that remain exciting, thrilling and even suspenseful. They have characters we care about and mind-blowing action sequences.

"Dragon Heat," on the other hand, is just terribly mediocre. The trouble is that Lee has not made a bad action film, he has made a dull one.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A genuinely funny movie, 17 June 2009
8/10

"The Hangover" is boorish. Vulgar. Brash. Crude. Offensive. Twisted. Politically incorrect. And it is unexpectedly and, often, side-splittingly funny, and one of the best comedies to come out of Hollywood in a long time.

Here's the thing about Todd Phillips' movie: It has no pretensions about what it is. Phillips' directorial credits include "Road Trip" (2000), "Old School" (2003), "Starsky & Hutch" (2004) and "School For Scoundrels" (2006). But this is clearly his best and most consistently funny movie.

Who gets the credit for this film working? Phillips or screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who, let's face it, didn't exactly hit home runs with "Four Christmases" (2008) or "Ghost of Girlfriends Past" (2009)? What are the chances they happened to strike gold with this one? And much has been written about how Phillips rewrote the script for "The Hangover." How much of that is apocryphal is unknown.

What makes "The Hangover" work - other than a welcome change of not seeing Will Ferrell - is the cast of "relative unknowns." We've seen them in movies before, but they tend to fall more into the category of "that guy" than anything else. It's unlikely they remain unknown, given how hugely successful this film is.

But no one in this cast - at least among the main leads - is hamming for the camera or acting as if they know what they are doing is funny. The trick here is that Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis play much of it dead pan, taking the situation they find themselves in very seriously. There is a reason why we find Frank Drebin of "The Naked Gun" films so funny: Because Leslie Nielsen plays all his lines straight.

That's exactly what Cooper, Helms and Galiafianakis do. (Compare what they do to what Ferrell did in, say, "Old School," and you'll see what I mean.) Just watch how Galifianakis treats a line about the Holocaust or what condiments Tigers like. They are both good lines, but what makes them very funny is that he says them so matter-of-factly.

I have been a fan of Galifianakis for years. His stand-up routines are awfully funny and, most recently, I have discovered his "Between Two Ferns" online talk show that is funnier in two minutes than most 30-minute TV sitcoms. (If you haven't seen "Between Two Ferns," do yourself a favor and seek it out online.) In fact, that show is a fine example of how to do comedy well. Talk about playing it straight!

"The Hangover" should rightfully make Galifianakis a sought-out figure, as popular as Seth Rogen, except he's a better actor and more tolerable than Rogen. Galifianakis deserves all the success this film should bring him. He brings a certain naiveté to his role of Alan Garner, the bride's brother. He isn't shy, but there's a sweet charm to him that makes him awfully endearing.

When "The Hangover" stumbles, it is because supporting actors Ken Jeong and Rob Riggle play their roles for laughs, over-acting and trying too hard to sell their jokes. The story bogs down when it gets too wrapped up in exposition: A needless sequence involving Jeong's Mr. Chow. Too bad, because his introduction is absolutely hysterical and the writer(s) could have included the expositionary stuff right there when we first meet Mr. Chow. The bit with Riggle seems unnecessary and too forced. His shtick works in sketches on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," but, here, it falls flat.

Frankly, I was (pleasantly) surprised that I so enjoyed "The Hangover." The concept of bachelors heading off to Vegas for a bachelor party replete with strippers is so tired that I thoroughly expected another routine boys-will-be-boys movie. But Phillips wisely never shows us the revelry the boys got into. Instead, what we see is the aftermath as the guys try to reconstruct the previous night's events.

Much is left to our imagination as the guys try to solve a mystery. They find clues, some more enticing than the other, some more revelatory than the others. Along the way, they meet a physician, Mike Tyson and a hooker (Heather Graham), who is more than a mere hooker with a good heart - she wants to meet Mr. Right. It's lovely to see Graham in a movie like this, though she isn't given much to do. She deserves to be in a hit film, considering some of the junk she has done for the past few years. Truly, clunkers, such as "Cake" (2005), "Gray Matters" (2006) and "Miss Conception" (2008), do not do this woman justice. Give her good material and she shines. Her too-brief appearance on the TV show, "Scrubs," proves that. I hope she shows up more in "The Hangover 2."

The humor is often rude, coarse and can be offensive. But the thing about Phillips' movie is the humor - visual and verbal - is grounded in character. We care about Alan, Stu and Phil and what happens to them as they try to find their buddy, Doug. We root for them, because, despite their boorishness, their characters have heart.

"The Hangover" is funny from the very beginning. It stumbles occasionally, especially in the third act, when some of the lesser characters try too hard. But those are forgivable sins, considering how hilarious the rest of the movie is.

However, if you are one of those people who frowns at low-brow humor - and some of "The Hangover" stoops low - or is easily offended by myriad foul jokes, then might I suggest you skip this film and go see, say, "My Life in Ruins," a wholly insipid movie brimming with thoroughly inoffensive milquetoast characters?

But if you enjoy genuinely funny movies that earn their R rating because they go for broke with their jokes, then I heartily recommend "The Hangover." I might be hard-pressed to see a funnier film this year.

17 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
The noise, oh, the noise!, 17 June 2009
4/10

Is there a prerequisite somewhere in Tony Scott's contract that his films all have to be terribly, terribly noisy for no particular reason? I suppose if there was one filmmaker who could take a delicious cat-and-mouse thriller - that was made into a superb 1974 film starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Jerry Stiller and Martin Balsam - and turn it into a cacophonous mess, it would be Tony Scott.

Scott has replaced the wit, nuance and subtlety in the original film with yelling, bombast, some pointless action and noise.

After the screeching title credits, I actually thought Scott's remake showed promise when it settled into telling the story of the hijacking of Pelham 123. I liked the initial interaction between Denzel Washington's Walter Garber - a tribute to Matthau, perhaps? - and John Travolta's Ryder. There were the seeds being grown for a thrilling cat-and-mouse game.

But then Scott's needless wizardry comes to the forefront. The dazzling camera work, the fast edits, the obnoxious music that simply overpowers scenes.

Honestly, one cannot blame screenwriter Brian Helgeland for this. I am sure had Scott eschewed some of the technical razzmatazz for the story, going for substance over style, there might actually be an entertaining picture here.

Then again, Helgeland shares some blame for the story. Ryder is the only hijacker we get to know. The others, including one played by Luis Guzman, are completely forgettable. We only see them shooting guns or walking around the train carriage. They are cyphers and of little use to the plot. Watch this and then consider the 1974 original, where we got to know the other hijackers - they had some depth, they were fleshed-out - because director Joseph Sargent actually cared about delving into his characters.

In this remake, Garber is a civil servant, as opposed to a cop, with a shady past. Washington is up to the task of playing this Everyman character. There's a nice calmness to him, even though Helgeland has deprived Garber of any humor or spunk. Though, in a van attempt to give Garber depth, we have to sit through superfluous scenes involving Garber's wife.

Then, there's Travolta. Is it possible that Travola, like Al Pacino, is fast-becoming a caricature of himself? That was certainly the impression I got from watching this version of "The Taking of Pelham 123." Travolta's performance is so over-the-top that it simply is tough to take seriously. This is over-acting of "Battlefield Earth" (2000) proportions.

The trouble with Helgeland's screenplay is that it is riddled with giant plot holes. It really doesn't take a genius to figure out Ryder's background. But just in case we are too daft to get it, we are given hints as subtle as thunderous gunshots. But if Ryder is supposed to be as smart a person as he is, just consider his getaway plan. It borders on ridiculous. I can see why the other characters might want to abscond with the money, but why on earth would Ryder, given what we know about him? And given what we know about him, why would he want anyone to know what he looks like?

The action sequences are completely over-blown. Some even don't make any sense. One involving a parked car and a cop is utterly pointless. Action scenes have to make sense, there has to be a reason for them. It might look cool to blow things up and have vehicles crashing into each other, but if they don't have any meaning, they make no sense. That is the case in Scott's film.

"The Taking of Pelham 123" is the kind of film that gives Hollywood a bad name. Not that there are not style-over-substance movies that aren't enjoyable. Take Hong Kong actioners such as "So Close" (2002) or "The Killer" (1989), for instance: Despite their style, they still succeeded in being movies that one could get engrossed in. They are thrillers that thrill.

Scott uses slam-bang in a failed attempt to drum up thrills. He and Helgeland had a great chance to update the story and make a thoroughly exciting and captivating thriller with two strong, intelligent men matching wits. Instead, what we have is a boisterous, needlessly noisy, mindless action film that ignores an enticing premise because it is far more fascinated with car crashes than with nail-biting suspense.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
An important, moving documentary about ignorance and the need for national dialogue, 10 June 2009
8/10

I watched "A Dream in Doubt" online and was absolutely riveted.

Here is a documentary - runs about an hour - about the first casualty in post-9/11 America. An innocent Sikh businessman, Balbir Singh Sodhi, from Mesa, Ariz., was gunned down outside his gas station by an ignorant drunk four days after the 9/11 attacks. And why was Mr. Sodhi killed? Because he wore a turban and a beard, and the shooter, Frank Roque, promptly thought Mr. Sodhi was a Muslim and responsible for the attacks.

Director Tami Yeager's marvelous documentary chronicles not only the events surrounding the shooting, but also a family's immense pain as they try to comprehend what happened and put their lives back together again, if possible.

What is startling about what happened in Mesa is that it was not an isolated incident. Across the United States there were attacks against Arabs, Muslims or anyone who looked like one.

Yeager noted that the U.S. Justice Department found that there were more than 750 hate crimes in the years soon after 9/11. But the Bureau of Statistic estimates the number was likely 15 times higher than that! I remember when Mr. Sodhi was killed and thinking to myself that someone could not be that ignorant or stupid as to not know the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim.

But then I saw a CNN interview with a Sikh gentleman in New York after he had been assaulted by teenage thugs and watched with incredulity as some kids on bikes rode by during the interview and yelled, "bin Laden," at the man.

It would be easy to blame such comments and the murder of Mr. Sodhi on ignorance. But it is much more than that. True, 9/11 was a catastrophic event that shook the national psyche. But, in the aftermath, it brought about this false sense of patriotism that made people, at least some people, to feel honor-bound to take matters into their own hands. We needed an enemy and we found one in Muslims and Arabs - or any brown-skinned person with a beard, for that matter - regardless of whether or not they had anything to do with the attacks on that awful day. Having a government eager to shred the Constitution and a frightened public willing to allow the government to do that didn't help matters, either.

Yeager's film is not an easy one to watch because you have a family that believes in the ideals of this great country fighting for survival amidst repeated threats.

There are moments in Yeager's film that are heartbreaking and will stay with you for a long time. Not because she milks them with needless emotion, but because of their simplicity and honesty.

You realize that these immigrants, who lost another member of the family when he was gunned down in San Francisco, still have faith in America.

Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" (1972) begins with the line, "I believe in America." But there are times when it is hard to believe in America, when there are cases such as what happened to the Sodhi family or other immigrants, when you see the likes of Lou Dobbs and other TV hosts constantly bashing immigrants.

But then you also realize not everyone is like that. Your faith is restored when you see friends and neighbors of the Sodhis come out to support the family and speak out against what happened. Or, when you see a U.S. military lawyer fight for the rights of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Or, when you see a man who lost two brothers to senseless gun violence tell Yeager that he still believes in America.

Please see "A Dream in Doubt." It is (legally) available free on many Web sites. Instead of going to a theater to see more rubbish that Hollywood churns out, sit back in your living room or office and spend less than an hour watching this remarkable, moving documentary that, among other things, emphasizes the desperate need for national dialogue on our differences.

13 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Tries to cram in a lot, but still worth seeing, 9 June 2009
6/10

"AmericanEast" is a bold attempt by writers Sayed Badreya - who also plays the lead role - and Hesham Issawi - who directed the film - to show a side of contemporary society that is rarely seen in movies: Post-9/11 America through the eyes of Arabs, Muslims or anyone who looks like one.

This is a noble undertaking, considering that American audiences (unfortunately) seem reluctant to support movies that deal with post-9/11 America. Even though many of these films have nothing to do with the specific attacks that horrible, horrible day.

Perhaps it's our reluctance to accept or see our prejudices on the screen. Or, perhaps it's the belief that anything that deals with post-9/11 America inevitably reminds us of that day and we'd rather not have that. Or, perhaps we just don't want to be told what our government did in our name to "protect" us.

Whatever it is, films such as "AmericanEast" have a tough time trying to find an audience and an even tougher time trying to get released theatrically.

Which is a shame. Because this is a film that really ought to be seen.

It is awfully easy for us to demonize Arabs, Muslims and anyone who looks like one and it was a task made even easier by the previous administration. What Badreya and Issawi venture to do is show us another, rarely seen side, to put human faces on their characters and to make them something more than Hollywood caricatures.

The film works when it concentrates on Mustafa and his store/cafe. The few characters who pepper his establishment are interesting and I loved the idea of Habibi's serving as a meeting place for discussions. It's reminiscent of Sal's pizza parlor in Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing" (1989), but it still works in "AmericanEast."

That is not to say that "AmericanEast" is a perfect film. Far from it. Issawi and Badreya want so desperately to make a statement with their film that they cram it with way too much stuff. There are plots and subplots here enough for at least another movie.

As attractive as Sarah Shahi is, her character Salwah's subplot is completely superfluous. Salwah is not fleshed out enough and she does things that are never fully explained or thought out. I don't wish to be spoon-fed, but there were moments that seemed utterly incongruous to her nature.

I found Mustafa's young son Mohammed's cross-cultural dilemma and his father's angst over it much more interesting than Salwah's predicament. Even Mustafa's pot-smoking daughter was a more intriguing character, who is barely explored.

Another peeve: The writers' need to be constantly didactic. Characters pause to give speeches about tolerance and humanity. We get it. This is a message film, undoubtedly, but there is no need to be preachy so often.

That having been said, and despite its flaws, I would rather watch this film again than sit through "New in Town" (2009), "What Happens in Vegas" (2008), "Made of Honor" (2008), "My Best Friend's Girl" (2008), "Righteous Kill" (2008) and "Terminator Salvation" (2009), all of which had wide theatrical releases, unlike "AmericanEast."

I am thrilled there are courageous screenwriters and directors, such as the guys behind this film, out there making movies like this, determined to show another very important side of immigrants. Hollywood could sure use more storytellers like Issawi and Badreya.


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