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High Falls (2007)
A Simple Delight
A delight once it gets going, High Falls is a glimpse into a day and a half in the life of a couple. Jackson (Moss-Bachrach) is driving Pedro (Sarsgaard) home after his business trip in Japan. Meanwhile, Pedro's pregnant wife April (Gyllenhaal) is preparing for his arrival. All pretty mundane, until Pedro confesses something to Jackson. Something he plans keeping from his wife. When they arrive, April secretly tells Jackson that she has news she can't possibly tell her husband.
As the evening wears on, with the wine flowing, secret keeper Bud can barely contain himself. We watch the couple duck and dive as he tries to prod each of them towards a confession. Inevitably, something has to give and the climax is both funny and moving.
Director Zuckerman knows when to let the camera roll and let his actors play the moment. And once we're invested, it's a treat to watch. It's a simple story simply acted and shot. And therein lies its magic.
Reeker Returns for a Bloody Good Time
Having caught this at a screening, I can say that No Man's Land is kind of a prequel to Reeker. It gives some insight into the birth of the Reeker. As you might imagine, it's pretty twisted. Once again, Dave Payne serves up a killer opening sequence (pun intended) and the effects are pretty cool and creative, especially considering this is an indie.
If you enjoyed the first Reeker, you should like this one, too. Yeah, we have a group of people who will get picked off one by one, but that's to be expected in the genre. And hey - by now we know one thing the Reeker definitely does not do - and that's babysit. The trick in horror is to keep us guessing, which No Man's Land does and also manages some original kills in the process.
Reeker is back with his tool kit and the prequel retains the same tongue-in-cheek humor as the first, with some choice dialog and gory silliness. (Watch out for further cranial exploitation and the best bird fly-by on screen to date!) Desmond Askew (Turistas) stands out as the inept Binky and it's good to see veteran Robert Pine as the local Sheriff. All in all a fun, schlocky addition to the franchise.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)
Slick, Sexy and Funny
I have to admit that I enjoy a good action flick. Sometimes I simply don't want to be challenged. I want schlocky, escapist fun. Action movies are like pornos - the story and dialogue don't pretend to be great. We know they are there merely to advance you to the next action/sex sequence. I mean, that's why we bought the ticket, right? We can't expect anything better, or can we? Well, Mr & Mrs Smith proves that we should expect more. The opening title sequence alone had the audience cracking up. And in that moment, the filmmakers made us a promise: that this film would be slick, sexy and funny. Thankfully, it didn't disappoint. The well crafted dialogue transcends the genre and, with a great cast and fine direction, helps to create a product that's all class.
Both Pitt and Jolie show that they're fine comedic actors. We've had a taste of Pitt's looniness in 12 Monkeys and charm in Oceans 11/12, but not this. Here the comedy is subtle, the characters are truly engaging and the rhythm is perfect. (It got me thinking just how much better the Italian Job remake could have been with Pitt as Charlie Croker, instead of Wahlberg) The chemistry between the 2 leads is undeniable and delicious, heightened only by what the tabloids tell us we should read into it. We buy them as a couple, we buy them getting counselling, we buy them squeezing triggers. Vince Vaughn also delivers a wonderful (if unusually restrained) performance as Pitt's partner/booking agent. The rest of the cast are kept at arm's length. Even the multitude of agents our heroes encounter remain hooded and faceless, leaving us no option but to soak up Brad and Angelina.
Oh yeah - and the action's pretty great, too, especially in an inspired minivan sequence. Sure, we have to suspend our disbelief, but that gets checked when we enter the theater, right? This had all the goodness of an old Brit actioner, with Hollywood production values. I'd put it up there with Ronin and Renny Harlin's underrated, yet equally fulfilling The Long Kiss Goodnight.
Hey Boy (2003)
Refreshing and Funny South African Fare
Warmly received at the Hollywood MiniDV Film Festival (where I saw it), Hey Boy is something of a coming-of-age film for 20-somethings. Berry and Janks are two childhood buddies who have everything in their favor. They're attractive, intelligent and well schooled. The problem is that they are sorely lacking in the emotion department. Brendan Pollecutt as Berry is charming and funny. A serial womanizer and commitment-phobe, he inevitably finds something wrong with his girlfriend and moves on. He's reminiscent of Seinfeld in this respect, except Seinfeld didn't sleep with every date. Berry is also the fat kid in a candy store; he's halfway through one flavor, when his eyes have fallen on another that he just HAS to try.
Janks, on the other hand, is entirely more responsible. Where Berry is jobless and immature, Janks (played by the bookish Justin Cohen) is focused and hard-working. He also hasn't given up on romance. Unfortunately, he's completely hung-up over his ex, which leads to a curiously incongruous "venting" that recurs throughout the film. Ironically, Janks' day job involves lecturing college students on sexual liberation; the very topic he himself is unable to embrace. To make matters worse, the guys share an apartment, which only magnifies their contrasting personalities. It's a tenuous relationship as it is, so when they both fall for Cindi, played by the striking Lorcia Cooper, it's time to face up to each other and themselves.
For all their shortcomings, both leads are engaging. Pollecutt is so thoroughly charming that he wins you over in spite of his behavior. While the film doesn't take itself too seriously, there are poignant moments. And while you may not recognize yourself in these guys, you'll certainly recognize people you know. Strong performances, including some hilarious cameos, slick editing and a catchy soundtrack, make Hey Boy well worth your while. It's also refreshing to see a South African film that doesn't get bogged down by politics. An 8/10.
The short that launched a brand.
It's always interesting to see glimpses of stars before they were household names. Playing the role of casting director, I try to spot something that might indicate their massive potential, or alternatively, that they've grown a lot in their ability since then. In the case of Multifacial, Vin Diesel's self-penned and semi-autobiographical short, it is clear that this actor is going places.
There is something undeniably compelling about him. I first noticed him in the supporting role in Boiler Room, primarily for his voice. There's that deep gravelly tone that demands your attention. Couple that with his powerful physicality and you can see that this guy just needs the right role to exploit his talents. And where the Lundgrens and Rocks of Hollywood offer similar packages, Diesel brings an unquestionable intellect and vulnerability to the screen to set himself apart. Multifacial teaches 3 things:
One - a simply shot film (ie: cheap) can still make an impact, providing the story is engaging. Two - if the storyline feels "doccie", economical and imperfect shots actually help give cred to the film. Three - If an unknown actor is talented, even a tiny low budget short can garner the attention of the biggest player in Hollywood.
Evidently that's what Spielberg thought, as he contacted Diesel on the strength of this - check it out for a good chuckle, a glimpse of Diesel's comedic ability, and the star's take on the experience, looking back on it now.
A Guy Walks Into a Bar (1997)
Quirky, entertaining little tale.
A fun story where fantasy meets reality for a young man asserting his independence. Great to see Fred Savage again. He may have sideburns now, but he's still got that boyish charm and innocence - no doubt frustrating to an actor trying to break the mold. This film has a good tongue-in-cheek attitude throughout. It doesn't pretend to be more than a modern day fable, and delivers on its promise. Aussie actress Allison Moir is an interesting find and is remniscent of a young Jane Seymour. Disappointingly, she doesn't have anything credited after this. Definitely worth a look. The pacing is good and the story holds throughout. My only gripe - the ending seemed forced. I saw this on a compilation DVD - "Short" #2, which is good value, considering you get 6 films for the price of one.
Poorly written, but Perlman delivers once again. (spoilers)
The opening sequence is so poorly written, it's an effort to sit through. Kevin Trainor as "Young Broom" is so annoyingly pompous and proper it's a wonder the GIs don't shoot him. (Or each other, considering the dialogue). Thankfully, it does get better. And Broom gets older in the form of John Hurt, who turns in an entertaining, though stock "eccentric professor" performance. Hellboy really begins after the title sequence. Ron Perlman is ideally suited to the title role. His dry sense of humor and grumpy cigar-toting character is the glue that holds the film together. And of course he brings the weight of years of character work to the role. but the supporting cast are an odd assortment of mismatched actors.
Selma Blair has a moment or two, but is massively under-utilized. Jeffrey Tambor is amusing, but too light for the role. Hellboy's "handler", Rupert Evans, is a real let down. Writer/director Del Toro sets up a connection between him and Blair in their first meeting, with a look held that moment too long. Selma and HB have a long time thing, but Evans supposedly offers everything the monster can't - normalcy, good looks and an even temper. Yet nothing ever comes of it. There's zero chemistry. Unsurprising when Evans is so squeeky clean and doe-eyed, he looks like he's been castrated.
Sadly, the effects aren't great either. Apocalyptic visions pale in comparison to those of The Matrix, the portal looks like a low budget Stargate, and the ever-duplicating monsters look suspiciously like actors in suits with stilts on their forearms.
All in all, Hellboy is a good effort, let down by poor dialogue, mediocre SFX and some questionable casting. Nevertheless, worth a look if, like me, you're a fan of Ron Perlman.