Sweeping, Involving, Well-Acted, Masterfully Directed, Entertaining, Long and Extremely Dramatic. Exactly the way I like my epics. Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, but certainly not one about romance between two teenage lovers. Usually I'm not a big fan of the period piece genre, especially the "romantic" period piece genre. In 1996, a romantic period piece won best picture. Despite it's immense critical acclaim, one of the most boring films I've ever seen was 'The English Patient'. As I sat there on my couch watching I almost began crying because I thought this cruel form of punishment in the form of a DVD would never end. Of course, I could have taken the DVD out of the player, but I always complete a movie once I start it no matter how bad it is. However, I'm not reviewing 'The English Patient', I'm reviewing 'Atonement'. So walking into 'Atonement', I wasn't expecting something I'd be too excited to recommend to people. But, after those ending credits started to roll I was absolutely shocked at how brilliant the piece of film-making was I had just witnessed for the last two hours. 'Atonement' is perhaps the best romantic period piece ever made and without question one of 2007's very best films.
On the outside, 'Atonement' may seem like something Jane Austen would write. However, it is not. First of all it's too rough around the edges and secondly it's far better than anything she wrote. It's not a sappy, unrealistic, "feel-good" movie but a hard-hitting, painfully realistic and uncompromising masterpiece of a motion picture. The story takes place in 1935 England, when the country is just on the cusp of World War II. There's a rich family plantation owned by Tallis family. Cecilia Tallis (Keiria Knightley) is the good-looking and desirable late-teens rich girl who the not-so-simple clean-cut farm boy Robby (James MacAvoy) falls in love with. One day, Cecilia's younger sister Briony (Sairose Ronan) witnesses Cecilia and Robby physically expressing their love for each other what the twelve year old understandably mistakes for forced sexual violence upon her sister. When Robby mistakenly gives Briony a letter addressed to Cecilia explaining how Robby would like to taste Cecilia's nether regions and there is an "incident" in the house, Briony comes forward and indicates Robby as a sexual predator. Robby gets arrested and sent away never to see his love Cecilia again. The story then shifts a couple of years later in 1939 where Robby is a soldier in the war and Cecilia a nurse. That's about all I'll tell you about the plot.
The biggest achievement of 'Atonement' is perhaps while the film isn't always fast-paced, it's never boring. This is due partly because of the exquisite acting. James MacAvoy who has usually been upstaged by other actors in his previous films (cough, cough, Last King of Scotland, cough, cough), finally gets his moment shine and he's brilliant in his performance. Keira Knightley is great as well in a small part, but the best performances come from the three actresses who play Briony. Vanessa Redgrave is remarkable in her five minutes on screen and Romola Garai is extremely powerful as Briony at age 18. The best of these three is 12-year-old Saoirse Ronan as the 13-year-old Briony. She's absolutely incredible if not creepy in her role that will no doubt be remembered at Oscar time. Joe Wright's directing and the film's cinematography is without question some of the finest of 2007, and Christopher Hampton's screenplay is outstanding.
There's really nothing I have to complain about 'Atonement'. It may not take the #1 slot on my top 10 list of 2007, but it will be there around #2 or #3. 'Atonement' is not only one of the best movies I've had the pleasure of seeing this year, but it's also one of the best movies I've had the pleasure of seeing ever. Grade: A
Although certainly not a serious Oscar contender for Best Picture, 'Charlie Wilson's War' is probably one of the best of the many political films of the year. Academy Award Winner Mike Nichols provides solid directing as to be expected while Emmy Award Winner Aaron Sorkin (Sport's Night, The West Wing) provides a remarkable screenplay that near-flawlessly balances comedy and drama. The acting is great for the most part as well. Tom Hanks delivers his best and most enjoyable performance since his 2000 Oscar-nominated turn as a FedEx worker stranded on a tropical island in 'Cast Away'. Hanks takes a slimy character like Wilson and with his trademark charm turns him into a likable guy. Amy Adams and Ned Beatty are reliable as always, but the real stand-out performance of the film is from Philip Seymour Hoffman. Arguably the finest actor working in the film industry today, Hoffman takes a small supporting role and upstages everyone around him. From his first scene where he's screaming at his boss before violently breaking his window, Hoffman sucks you in. The only disappointing cast member is unsurprisingly overrated Hollywood starlet Julia Roberts. Hamming her way through yet another movie, Roberts' overbearing and over-the-top portrayal of a rich Texas oil woman hits all the wrong notes and is at most times flat-out annoying. At 97 minutes, the movie is short and sweet, and that isn't to say it doesn't drag at some points but when it does drag it's for a very brief amount of time.
In conclusion, 'Charlie Wilson's War' is not a perfect film by any means, but it's certainly worth a look. Grade: B+
The story is about a jewelry store robbery gone awry. Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) are running low on money, so they decide to rip off their parent's jewelry store. Even though they planned everything out carefully, something terribly wrong goes wrong during the robbery and tragedy ensues.
The best part of the film is Philip Seymour Hoffman. Although it isn't one of his best performances, Hoffman owns the role like always and makes 'Andy' a sympathetic character despite the awful things he does. Ethan Hawke, not nearly as good, excels in the role of Hank. Marissa Tomei is great as Andy's wife and even better when she doesn't have any clothes on! Just kidding, but not really, she's a very beautiful girl. Albert Finney is powerful in a kind of nothing role as Andy and Hank's father, and Broadway actor Brian F. Byrne (Doubt) is genuinely creepy in his role.
The acting is the high-point of the film. The story is very good, but the screenplay is awful. The dialogue is solid, but Kelly Masterson has some serious problems with pacing. Everything seems to run into together, which result in a film that isn't as compelling as it has the potential to be. The film's editing and cinematography are amateurish and teeter on the point of being annoying, and Sidney Lumet's directing is nothing to shout home about. Lumet, a director I highly admire for his work on such masterpieces as 'Dog Day Afternoon' and 'Network', really phones it in for his latest feature.
In conclusion, 'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead' is a good film with some great performances, an intriguing plot but some serious problems. Grade: B
Disappointing would be the best adjective to describe very talented screenwriter Scott Frank''s (Out of Sight, Minority Report) directorial debut. A great plot is ruined by unrealistic dialogue and a cop-out ending. 'The Lookout' builds up this great story, but it never takes off. I kept waiting for the film to get interesting and when it finally did it only had 15 minutes left in the runtime. The best aspect about the movie is perhaps the acting. Joseph Gordon Levitt is outstanding as always as the film's hero suffering brain damage, while Jeff Daniels provides a powerful dramatic turn as Levitt's blind roommate. Isla Fisher is solid in an unimportant role, but I was not impressed with Mathew Goode's inarguably average performance as the movie's antagonist. Scott Frank's direction has moments of innovative brilliance but for the most it's average and uninteresting. Scott Frank's screenplay is absolutely devastating though. For such a great screenwriter, Frank turns out some pretty trite stuff. Like I previously mentioned, the plot is solid but the dialogue needs some serious work. All in all, 'The Lookout' was disappointing to me after reading all these positive reviews. 'The Lookout' is overall a good film whose positive qualities outweigh the bad qualities. I recommend it, but just don't be expecting anything groundbreaking or Oscar-worthy. Grade: B-
Wow! Talk about a swing and a miss. You have a great cast and a great plot with endless possibilties...how do you f_ck that up?! Well, apparently John Dahl has found a way. With an atrocious screenplay featuring jokes about as funny as a malaria epidemic and dialogue so painfully dry it makes none of the characters likable, 'You Kill Me' might be the biggest cinematic failure of 2007. On a positive note, Ben Kinglsey provides another great performance as the alcoholic Polish hit man trying to get clean but the material he has to work with is crap. Tea Leoni is good as well as is Luke Wilson, Dennis Farina, Bill Pullman, Philip Baker Hall and the rest of the cast. I guess the best way to describe 'You Kill Me' is a terrible movie with good performances. Grade: D+
What a fascinating person Petey Greene was. What an important person Petey Greene. Sure he might have just seemed like a sharp-witted loud-mouth smart-ass, but his courage to speak out against the racial injustices of the 60s broke ground for later radio disjockeys such as Howard Stern, Don Imus and a lot more. 'Talk to Me', Kasi Lemmon's latest feature chronicling the rise and fall of radio dis-jockey turned talk show host Petey Greene is flawed but moving.
The film's biggest problem lies in the writing. There's a few parts in the middle of the film that really drag. The dialogue is realistic and often quite funny. Kasi Lemmons directing is adequate, while the cast is sensational. Don Cheadle is hysterical and compelling all at the same time. He perfectly embodies Greene, doesn't create an over-the-top character but a man we can relate and sympathize with. The multi-talented Chitwel Ejofor (Kinky Boots, Children of Men) is just as good in a less showy role as Greene's manager, and Tarj P. Henson is amusing to say the least as Greene's girlfriend. Martin Sheen and Mike Epps are solid in their small roles, and Cedric the Entertainer is decent in a role that really doesn't require much acting range.
All in all, 'Talk to Me' is a powerful movie wrapped around an intriguing real-life story. Grade: B+
Powerful but a bit disappointing. One thing you can definitely not say about Mira Nair's coming-of-age tale 'The Namesake' is that it is filled with bad performances. Every actor in their role is near-perfect. Kal Penn whom you may dismiss as a bad actor because of his previous roles in such films as Van Wilder and Harold and Kumar, shows some amazing range here and gives an emotionally-charged dramatic performance as Gogol. Irrfan Khan is excellent as Gogol's father but the real-standout is Tabu as Gogul's mother who strikes all the right chords with her exquisite performance.
I walked into this movie expecting something sappy but I got something else. 'The Namesake' isn't sappy at all it's at times painfully realistic and sad, and anything but contrived. It's an original and exciting story, but it has some serious pacing problems. My only huge complaint with the film is it's pacing can be extremely slow at several times. This detracts from the mostly good qualities the film has to offer. I feel the conclusion would be a lot more powerful if not for the slow pacing especially during the first half of the film.
All in all, I recommend 'The Namesake' to anyone wanting to see something new, different and relevant. Grade: B
I think I love the concept of 'Fido' far more than the actual movie. How original is it to have an alternate reality set in 1950s Leave it To Beaver Era in a perfect little neighborhood where all of the inhabitants are devastated after the great zombie wars of the 1930s. That's right, instead of WWII this reality faced a military conflict with flesh-hungry corpses revived from the dead. Now everything is quarantined, and a company called 'Zomcom' controls basically everything. 'Zomcom' is a company known for converting and brain-washing zombies with electronic collars to become servants.
After the first five minutes of FIDO my hopes were set sky high but by the end I was sorely disappointed. 'Fido' is a good film and a great film in it's genre, but there is so much that could have been done with this groundbreaking and shockingly innovative plot that the final result is almost appalling.
The performances are are solid. Carrie Anne-Moss is excellently creepy as the mother, K'Sun Ray is great as little Timmy, Dylan Baker, best known for his outstanding and haunting portrayal of a conflicted pedophile serial-rapist in Todd Solondz's 'Happiness', is solid here in the stereotypical uptight white male role he is always type-casted in. The real stand-out is Billy Connolly, who with essentially no dialogue is side-split-tingly funny with his priceless facial expressions as the zombie we all cheer for, Fido. It's also nice to see the always reliable Tim Blake Nelson here as Mr. Theopolis, the neighborhood's Quagmire who uses his zombie as a sex slave. The writing is solid on the ideas scale, but the screenplay gets tedious and slow for a big chunk in the middle of the film. Andrew Currie's directing is solid for the most part, but nothing special.
All in all, I highly recommend Fido to any fan of the horror/comedy genre and only lightly recommend it to the rest of you. It's a good film, but it could have been so much better. Grade: B-
Like many modern indie/art-house films, 'Junebug' isn't so much a movie you enjoy watching as much respect how intricate it is. Definitely not a movie I'd watch again, 'Junebug' while almost too disturbingly realistic is worth watching for the near-perfect ensemble cast. 'Junebug' tells the story of gallery owner / agent Madeline (Embeth Davidth) and her journey to South with her new husband George (Alessandro Nivola) to poach a client and meet George's dysfunctional and extremely unhappy family. There's George's dad, Euguene (Scott Wilson) an almost mute hermit who gets bossed around by his over-bearing wife Peg (Celia Weston) who basically hates everyone, Geroge's closed-minded, insensitive and aggressive brother Johnny (The O.C.'s Ben McKenzie) and Johnny's very generous, very dumb and very pregnant wife Ashley (Amy Adams).
The story never resolves itself in the end and it's frustrating to see all these character's problems never solved. However, for the one hour and forty-six minutes we do have with these characters we learn a lot about them and their nature from the odd, funny and sometimes flat-out cruel things they do. The film's writing is solid and realistic, but the directing needs work. Most of the transitions are uneven and detract from the story. The acting, like previously mentioned, is near-perfect. Embeth Davidth is fantastic in her role as the "main character" while Laurel Canyon's Alessandro Nivola is compelling as the good-natured hick turned city-boy George. Celia Weston is magnificent as the mother-in-law from hell and Scott Wilson while quiet is brilliantly subtle and believable in his role. The weakest performance of the film comes from Ben McKenzie who fails to connect with the human side of his ignorant red-neck character. McKenzie does a great job at creating a caricature, but unlike the other actors fails to make his character believable and realistic. On the exact opposite side of the spectrum is Amy Adams. Adams, the real stand-out of the film, provides the most powerful performance of the film. She's so dead-on and perfect, especially in her hospital scene, it's no surprise she got an Oscar nomination for her work here.
All in all, I recommend 'Junebug' to those who appreciate film and not so much those looking for an enjoyable movie-watching experience. 'Junebug' makes no excuses for being so bleak and doesn't offer a second of mainstream entertainment. Maybe that's what makes it so special. Grade: B
Goddamn! The Coen Brothers are back and in full form. It seems as though 'No Country For Old Men' is the film to beat this year for the coveted Best Picture Oscar prize. Although it was a different film than I expected, it's every bit as powerful, tense, awkwardly funny and relevant as I had hoped, perhaps even more so. Based on Cormac McCarthy's critically acclaimed novel of the same name, 'No Country For Old Men' is a deeply symbolic and straight-forward story of the struggle between good and evil. The film opens with a flawlessly delivered monologue by the ever-so-great Tommy Lee Jones who portrays Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. Bell is a small-town sheriff in the state of Texas, and in his monologue he talks about how hardened and ruthless we've become as a society. "The crimes we see today...it's hard to even take it's measure. It's just all out war." mutters Bell. This monologue is the perfect setting for Llewyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who while hunting antelope in the desert stumbles upon half a dozen dead Mexicans, heroin and $2.4 Million. Being the road scholar he is, Moss figures no one will come looking for the moo-la if he snatches it. WRONG! Not only does the Mexican mafia and reputable bounty hunter / smart-ass Carson Welles (Woody Harrelson) pursue Moss, but also one of the most twisted, unpredictable and unreasonable villains in recent film history. His name is Anton Chirguh (Javier Bardem), and when he's not blowing innocent civilians' heads off with a cattle gun or flipping a coin to determine whether you live or die, he quietly observes everybody and everything around him.
'No Country For Old Men' is a triumph in film-making in that the film has no real flaws. Critics might pan it as "slow-moving" but that's essential in order to correctly build the tension for the key scenes. Most of the film is actually quite fast-paced with such nerve-wracking sequences it will have you on the edge of your seat with a knot in your stomach for a majority of it's runtime. But 'No Country's' quiet and subtle scenes are every bit as powerful as it's action-packed and suspenseful ones. This is due in large part to the screenplay. Supposedly following very closely to McCormac's novel, the Coen brothers deliver their finest work EVER from a screen writing perspective. Yes, it's even better than 'Fargo'. As for the Coen's directing and editing, it has never been smoother. The film's transitions are nothing short of breathtaking.
From an acting stand-point 'No Country For Old Men' is also incredible. The stand-out of the film is of course Javier Bardem as the ruthless homicidal maniac Chirguh. Just his facial expressions and body language is enough to make your skin crawl, and if that's not enough, he delivers every line including his catch-phrase "friend-O" with such brooding intensity and creepiness it makes you want to sink in your seat. Bardem is a lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination this Oscar season, but his biggest competition is the two other key performances of the film. Josh Brolin who last week impressed me with his malicious turn in 'American Gangster' as a crooked cop, is the best he's ever been here in the role of Moss. Moss is such an unlikely hero in the sense he is kind of dumb, not very nice, makes stupid decisions and yet we still root for him to escape the drudges of the Mexican mafia and even worse, the wrath of Chirguh. Tommy Lee Jones I'd say is Bardem's biggest competition. With this and 'In the Valley of Elah', Jones has proved this year with these two performances that if anything he's getting better with age. Jones' monologues are flawlessly delivered like I previously stated, including his final one which left me with goose bumps at the end of the picture. Woody Harrelson is humorous in his limited role as a sharp-witted and over-confident bounty hunter, and Scottish actress Kelly MacDonald is phenomenal in her role as Moss' butter-brain wife. The film has a numerous amount of strong small performances including Garret Dillahunt as Bell's Deputy, Tess Harper as Bell's wife and the 'Office Space' stapler guy (Stephen Root), in a well-played dramatic role as a crime boss. Roger Deakins outdoes himself yet again with some awesome cinematography, and while quiet and subtle, the film's music score is haunting.
There is no other film this year that I can recommend as highly as 'No Country For Old Men'. There are times when it has you on the edge of your seat in suspense, there are times when it has you laughing violently at some of the darkly humorous scenes and through-out the entire 121 minutes it has you using your brain. There's a lot of symbolism and powerful metaphors in the film, but since I'm not writing a 5-page essay, I'll let you figure them out for yourself. With 'No Country For Old Men' the Coen Brothers have once again raised the bar on how outstanding and thought-provoking a simple crime-drama can be. Grade: A
As far as thrillers go, 'Michael Clayton' is certainly one of the better ones. The acting is all top notch, with a brilliant performance by George Clooney. Tom Wilkinson couldn't be better as the lawyer who has a mental breakdown, and Tilda Swinton is absolutely incredible as Karen Crowder, the "evil" weed killer company's litigator. Sydney Pollack and Michael O'Keefe are also solid, but the real star is writer/director Tony Gilroy. From his near-flawless screenplay to his cool, slick film-making style, Gilroy has succeeded in making one hell of a debut film.
My only complaint with Michael Clayton is that it takes a while to build suspense. The first 30 minutes are a bit shaky, but after it builds some momentum, 'Michael Clayton' becomes a force to be reckoned with. Expect some possible Oscar nods for original screenplay, George Clooney and Tilda Swinton. Grade: B+
Ronald Fleury: I said we were going to kill them all.
Walking into 'The Kingdom' I think I was expecting something a little more than a good action film. I was expecting a taut, suspenseful, powerful, moving and intelligent action/drama. Unfortunately, I got the former. 'The Kingdom' isn't a bad film by any regards, but it certainly isn't a great one.
'The Kingdom' directed by actor-turned-director Peter Berg (Very Bad Things, Corky Romano), is heavy on the action but lacking in the drama department. Yes it has drama, but most of it is so melodramatic it resembles a Lifetime Original Movie. Some sequences are so cliché they'll make you bow your head in embarrassment. In the acting department, things are mostly good. Jamie Foxx is decent as the character he always seems to play -- Mr. Badass. Chris Cooper, probably the best actor of the film, is magnificent when he's on screen, but unfortunately he gets limited screen time. On the other hand probably the worst actor in the film, Jennifer Garner, is given too much screen time and the movie suffers because of it. The ever-so-talented comedic actor Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) is given a dramatic role in which he excels, but the film is stolen by the only non-high profile actor, Ashraf Barhom, who is outstanding as the Saudi Colonel caught in the middle of a tough situation. An Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor is not out of the question, but then again there's a long time between now and Oscar time.
All in all, I found 'The Kingdom' to be highly entertaining but nothing too memorable. Perhaps it was aiming for something higher in terms of quality, but for some reason it just didn't reach that level if you ask me. It kept me on the edge of my seat, but certainly didn't move me. Grade: B
Some of the most unique and beautiful cinematography you'll ever see is in Andrew Dominik's western 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford'. But that's not the only positive thing to be said about this gritty and powerful film. 'Assassination' tells the true story of outlaw Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and his murder by weak-minded close associate Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). 'Assassination' is very much a play in three acts, the first is us being introduced to Jesse and Robert, the second is the growing bond between them and the third is Robert's life after the assassination of Jesse James. Although it's a western, there's not much gun-play here. There are violent bullet-ridden scenes, but very few and they are spread out quite a bit. Although I enjoyed the film from start to finish, many might not because of it's incredibly long running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes. It's leisurely paced (or slow) but seldom does it become boring. There's a slow chunk in the middle for about 20 minutes that I felt could be cut, but besides that 'Assassination' is pure cinematic greatness.
Andrew Dominick, whose directed the obscure Australian gun film 'Chopper' with Eric Bana, does remarkable work here. The screenplay is very good as well, it has a few slow parts like I stated before but the dialogue is far superior to that of say '3:10 to Yuma'. On an acting scale, everything is pretty solid. Brad Pitt captures James perfectly, while Casey Affleck in a tour-de-force performance steals the film. Affleck is just so quiet, subtle yet creepy and sympathetic that whenever he's on screen your eyes are glued to him rather than his more famous co-star, Mr. Brad Pitt. The supporting cast is all solid especially the extremely underrated Sam Rockwell as Robert's older brother and Deadwood and John From Cincinnati's Garret Dillahunt as one of the outlaws who rides with Jesse James.
As far as westerns go, 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford' is the best one since Clint Eastwood's 1992 Best Picture Winner 'Unforgiven'. Don't miss it. Grade: A-
Expectations were high for multi-talented filmmaker Ridley Scott's latest feature film exploring the life of powerful African-American drug trafficker Frank Lucas (Academy Award Winner Denzel Washington) and his eventual capture by a down-on-his-luck Jewish cop Richie Roberts (Academy Award Winner Russell Crowe). I expected it to be a Best Picture contender for sure, but after having viewed it I realized I was sorely mistaken. I guess disappointed is the correct term I'd use for my feelings after having seen 'American Gangster'. Don't get me wrong, 'American Gangster' is a very good film, it's just not a great one. I guess the film's problem lies in how unoriginal it is. 'Gangster' just doesn't seem like an honest and genuine movie, it seems to borrow from a lot of other similar films and relies a lot upon gimmicks and catchy snippets of dialogue to con the audience into thinking it's the next Godfather. 'American Gangster' is anything but the next Godfather. It's very good, with some extraordinary performances, beautifully filmed sequences and some significantly powerful scenes, but it's nothing we haven't already seen before time and time again.
Denzel Washington steals the film with a charming yet terrifying portrayal of a man pushed to the edge. Russell Crowe is solid but underused as Richie Roberts. 'Gangster' also sports some outstanding supporting performances. Josh Brolin is brilliantly creepy as a crooked cop, the marvelous Chitwel Ejofor is excellent in a against-type role for him as Washington's f__ck-up brother, and flamboyant Broadway actor Roger Bart (The Producers, Hostel Part II) is very much out of his element as an angry, foul-mouthed and racist FBI agent.
Ridley Scott's direction is spot-on as always, especially during an astonishingly well-shot sequence where Washington and his goons get arrested. The screenplay is another story. While taut, engrossing but kind of contrived for the most part, the ending is perhaps the sappiest I've seen from ANY movie all year. God! It made me want to puke crap! I apologize for being so graphic and raunchy, but I felt that was the best way to describe how the film's conclusion made me feel.
Despite it's flaws, when all is said and done, 'American Gangster' is a long but fast-paced, contrived yet entertaining, well-acted, well-directed and adequately written crime/drama that is well worth your time. Grade: B
Arguably the most original and/or most bizarre filmmaker working today, Wes Anderson never fails to bring us unique entertainment. 'The Darjeeling Limited' while not one of his best films, is no exception. It's an engrossing, neurotic, funny and dare I say emotionally moving tale about three brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) who after their father die, take a trip to India to re-connect with their long-lost mother (Anjelica Houston). That's about all I'll tell you about the plot.
The film is great yet I didn't appreciate it quite as much as 'Rushmore' or 'The Royal Tenenbaums'. It's far better than 'Life Aquatic' or 'Bottle Rocket', but 'The Darjeeling Limited' represents Anderson's most serious film to date. It's a bunch of quirky fun wrapped around a sad but realistic center.
As far as directing goes Mr. Anderson outdoes himself, and the screenplay is magnificent (co-written by star Jason Schwartzman with Wes Anderson). The acting is all top-notch from the three brothers but the real scene-stealer is Adrien Brody, an actor new to the Wes Anderson territory. Brody is sensational in his role as the conflicted oldest brother. The supporting cast is all great especially Bill Murray in a tiny role that's hysterical. Natalie Portman is in the movie for all of about 1 second as Schwartzman's manipulative self-centered abuse-junkie ex-girlfriend, but she is absolutely phenomenal in the online short film prequel to 'Darjeeling' appropriately titled 'Hotel Chevalier'.
All in all, I recommend 'Darjeeling' only if you like Wes Anderson films. Some people will loathe this movie, others, like me, will cherish it like gold. Grade: B+
Underrated filmmaker David Cronenberg is back in the spirit of his last film 'A History of Violence' with his latest feature 'Eastern Promises' a taut well-crafted crime thriller centering around the dirty doings of the Russian mafia in London. The ever-so-talented Naomi Watts plays a delivery nurse in London who one night delivers a baby from a dying 14-year-old Russian immigrant. The 14-year-old Russian immigrant dies in delivery and only leaves behind her journal. Translating her journal, Naomi Watts learns her demise involves the Russian mafia syndicate lead by the ruthless but seemingly sweet Seymon (Academy Award Winner Armin Mueller-Stahl) and his psychotic son Kirill (Vincent Cassell). Viggo Mortensen stars as one of Seymon's henchmen/drivers who becomes entangled in the mysterious death of the 14-year-old Russian immigrant. Although I didn't think 'Eastern Promises' was quite on-par with Cronenberg's masterpiece 'A History of Violence', it was certainly a very intense and involving motion picture. The acting is phenomenal. Viggo Mortensen steals the film with his indescribably brilliant screen presence and powerful performance. Perhaps we could expect to see Viggo Mortensen's name on the Best Leading Actor list when the Oscar nominations come out this upcoming February. Naomi Watts is great as always in a tedious kind of role, while Vincent Cassell gives his best screen performance to date as Seymon's crazy son. Armin Mueller-Stahl is certainly Oscar-worthy here as the head bad guy. Stahl manages to create one of the most terrifying movie villains in recent years without raising his voice or even being impolite. Cronenberg's directing is masterful as always especially during a bathhouse fight sequence that is exquisitely crafted. The only downfall of the film is the writing. It's solid, but it's nothing innovative. That really threw me for a loop. Cronenberg the man behind 'Videodrome', 'Naked Lunch' and 'A History of Violence' is a lot of things but never, ever conventional. 'Eastern Promises' stands as his most conventional film to date. That's not a bad thing, I was just expecting something a bit more original. All in all, despite dragging a bit at certain parts and conventional writing, 'Eastern Promises' is a great film and stands as one of the best films of the year so far. Grade: B+
Usually I hate these types of 'fantasy' movies. With the exception of the brilliant 'Lord of the Rings Trilogy' and the charming 'Princess Bride', these fairy tale movies can't hold my interest. Going into 'Stardust' I didn't know what to expect. I thought it could be great, but it could also be a huge, long, stupid bore like most films in the same genre. Well...what I got was a very good film, nothing spectacular, but in a year like 2007 where most of the movies are laughably bad, 'Stardust' is one of the best thus far. The story is silly and doesn't make 100% of sense, but for the most part aside from a few dragging sequences 'Stardust' is a vastly entertaining motion picture with humorous performances. Michelle Pfeiffer returns to the screen after a hiatus of sorts as the film's villain. She is great. Charlie Cox is solid as the lead, as is Claire Danes. The rest of the cast is solid, but I'd like to give kudos to The Office's Ricky Gervasis and of course, 2-Time Academy Award Winner Robert DeNiro playing against type as a gay cross-dressing sky pirate. Even though he doesn't show up until over half of the film is over, DeNiro was the highlight of 'Stardust' for me. Some critics panned his performance as being too hammy and over-the-top, but seeing as though 'Stardust' is a "FANTASY" movie, I saw the more hammy the better. DeNiro made me laugh uproariously, along with most everyone else in the movie theater I was in. The biggest downfall of 'Stardust' is that it's overlong. It would have been a better film if they trimmed a few minutes especially towards the end. All in all, I recommend 'Stardust' for anybody in the mood for an enjoyable little action romp. Grade: B