Out of all of the nominated films, the only one I haven't seen is Martyrs (and some of Repo! - more on that in a bit). From what I've heard, I may have voted very differently had I been able to see this film. With this in mind, I suggested that the French film Inside (with it's 2008 DVD release in the U.S.) should be on this year's ballot and Martyrs (with it's U.S. DVD release coming up in a few weeks) should be on next year's ballot, but I was overruled.
With that, here are my selections, the nominees and the winners from the 2008 Cyber Horror Awards Ballot.
Ray Harryhausen Award
Director: Paul McGuigan
Writers: David Bourla
Cinematographer: Peter Sova
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Chris Evans, Camilla Belle
Studio/Run Time: Summit Entertainment, 111 mins.
Listless superpower flick can't sort out story
By turns frantic and somber, the resolutely convoluted thriller Push dashes from genre to genre in search of a reason to exist. Directed in a rush by Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin), the movie follows a vaguely superheroic clan of misfits pursued through Hong Kong by a government agency—American, of course—that seeks to assemble them into a dream army. Enter nominal dude protagonist (Chris Evans, pretty and vacant) as he teams up with a precocious teen (Dakota Fanning) after Uncle Sam comes calling for an escaped test subject (Camilla Belle) with the ability to control minds.
Paul McGuigan Directs Push
"Actually, Stuart [Howell] who was our operator, he operated on the Bourne movies," said director Paul McGuigan. "We had Peter Sova who's my Dp, who shot all my movies for me, did Donnie Brasco as well and Good Morning, Vietnam. We were very conscious of not making it all like this [shaking]. I want you to still see Hong Kong. I want you to still enjoy where I was and let the audience see."
Perhaps McGuigan's style comes from a different point on the handheld spectrum than other filmmakers.
Director/Writer: Bryan Bertino
Cinematographer: Peter Sova
Starring: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman
Studio/Run Time: Universal, 88 mins.
Horror film doesn't hold up
Ever since the Coen brothers pulled one over on viewers with the blatant but joking falsehood, “This is a true story,” thrillers “inspired by true events”—as The Strangers claims to be—have held less water. As Fargo coyly pointed out, it’s a base qualifier, and when a filmmaker flashes that credential, viewers should be alert. I suppose The Strangers could’ve been inspired by true events, inasmuch as violent crimes do occur, and sometimes they’re random. But with the film’s posters and opening credits presenting the claim, it’s clear that first-time filmmaker Bryan Bertino really wants viewers to believe it. Alone, this cheap trick wouldn’t be a huge offense, but in the context of The Strangers, it feels
Receiving its world premiere at the recent Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the picture will be a doubtful boxoffice proposition for PolyGram despite a high-caliber cast fronted by Kenneth Branagh, Madeleine Stowe and William Hurt.
Stowe is very much in her period element as Eleanor Barrett, the emancipated scribe in question who seeks guidance from the writings of Virginia Woolf as well as a child from her devoted, wealthy husband Arthur (hurt). When it's learned that he can't deliver the goods, the couple hires Roger Martin Neil Patrick Harris), a young, hesitant surrogate, to do the honors.
But when Eleanor becomes pregnant, said stud goes from awkward to arrogant to downright obsessed, threatening to scandalize the staid Beacon Hill establishment by revealing their little business arrangement.
Not wanting to reveal too much more, suffice it to say someone makes sure Martin goes away permanently, while the new Catholic priest (Branagh) mysteriously ducks the couple's repeated dinner invitations.
Screenwriter Rick Ramage lays the intrigue and malice on pretty thick, while director Lesli Linka Glatter ("Now and Then") gives everything the same claustrophobic, purposeful weight. Given the heady subject matter, a little irony would have been most helpful. Add the wrap-around, redundant narration (most likely added after the fact), and the picture goes from merely unsuccessful to quite irritating.
Try as they might to inject some warm-blooded humanity into their mopey, unappealing characters, the cast faces an impossible task. Even Blythe Danner, as the Barretts' dedicated secretary and confidante, can't do much to conceal the fact that her character is virtually a carbon copy of "Rebecca"'s Mrs. Danvers.
The same goes for the technical aspects, which while respectable have a hollow, imitative feel, from Peter Sova's meaningful camerawork to composer Stephen Endelman's string-pulling strings.
An Interscope Communications production
A Lesli Linka Glatter film
Director: Lesli Linka Glatter
Producers: Ted Field, Diane Nabatoff, Scott Kroopf
Screenwriter: Rick Ramage
Executive producer: Lata Ryan
Director of photography: Peter Sova
Production designer: David Brisbin
Editor: Jacqueline Cambas
Costume designer: Anna Sheppard
Music: Stephen Endelman
Father Michael McKinnon: Kenneth Branagh
Arthur Barrett: William Hurt
Eleanor Barrett: Madeleine Stowe
Syril Danning: Blythe Danner
Hannibal Thurman: Robert Loggia
Roger Martin: Neil Patrick Harris
Father Dryer: Josef Sommer
Running time -- 114 minutes
No MPAA rating
Featuring splendidly muted performances from Al Pacino and Johnny Depp, "Donnie Brasco" should shake down some sizable initial loot. Admittedly, this decidedly nonglam glimpse inside Mobdom is not an overtly commercial vehicle, but it should nevertheless hold its own in intelligent neighborhoods of discerning viewers.
Depp is featured in the titular role of FBI agent Joe Piscone, a k a Donnie Brasco to the mobsters. The FBI's infiltration of the Mafia in the 1970s was one of the bureau's greatest anti-organized-crime triumphs, and this shrewdly balanced film takes us into two very different worlds. It presents us with two divergent lead characters: suburban family-man agent Brasco and, on the mean-streets side, family man Lefty Ruggiero (Pacino).
Screenwriter Paul Attanasio's adaptation of Joseph D. Pistone's book is a crisply colorful portrait of the underside of the underworld. Day-to-day life for Lefty is that of loud desperation. Like a gray suit in a corporate world, Lefty feels the heel of the organization's chain of command and, like today's white-collar midmanagement, he fears the up-and-comers. In short, although he's distinguished himself as a hit man (26 notches to his belt), he knows he'll never rise any higher. In short, he's vulnerable, and when young and ambitious Donnie befriends him as a "jewel man," he's more than eager to groom him as his protege. Most poignantly, a bond develops between the two men, and the ambitious FBI agent comes to see things in more than black-and-white, good-and-evil terms.
Roiling with some well-rolled paradox and goombah-gutted irony, "Donnie Brasco" is a complex portrait of honor as well as a kind and sympathetic depiction of a man who is truly at the end of his rope. While his performance is not heaped with the bantam-sized swagger of other roles, Pacino nails down probably one of his most gifted portrayals. We feel for his character, a man who realizes that his number has come up. Similarly, Depp's portrayal is rich, clueing us to his character's nearly debilitating dualities. In a supporting role, Michael Madsen is, once again, terrifically terrifying as a sadistic henchman, while Bruno Kirby's scaredy-guy performance as a rank-and-file nickel-and-dimer drills home the mundane reality of toiling for the crime bosses.
Well-produced, with a well-chosen cadre of technical talent, "Donnie Brasco" is a bit of a stylistic departure for director Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Enchanted April"), but his perceptive, robust direction makes us feel he is actually of that world. Special praise to cinematographer Peter Sova for the aptly grimy hues and to composer Patrick Doyle for the film's sorrowful score, a perfect texture for the hard psychological scars that the men of this world wear.
Sony Pictures Releasing
Mandalay Entertainment presents
a Baltimore Pictures/Mark Johnson production
A Mike Newell Film
Producers Mark Johnson, Barry Levinson,
Louis DiGaimo, Gail Mutrux
Director Mike Newell
Screenwriter Paul Attanasio
Based on the book by Joseph D. Pistone,
with Richard Woodley
Executive producers Patrick McCormick,
Director of photography Peter Sova
Production designer Donald Graham Burt
Editor Jon Gregory
Costume designers Aude Bronson-Howard,
Executive producers Budd Carr, Allan Mason
Music Patrick Doyle
Casting Louis DiGiaimo, Brett Goldstein
Sound mixer Tod Maitland
Lefty Al Pacino
Donnie Johnny Depp
Sonny Michael Madsen
Nicky Bruno Kirby
Paulie James Russo
Maggie Anne Heche
Tim Curley Zeljko Ivanek
Running time -- 121 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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