Coming soon...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

THE GOOD SHEPHERD (2006) - Robert DeNiro

Robert DeNiro returns to the director's chair for his second film since 1993's A Bronx Tale (although he did some uncredited work on 2001's The Score). The Good Shepherd charts the formation and early days of the Central Intelligence Agency through the eyes of Edward Wilson, a man who values discretion and patriotism, qualities that bring him to the attention of the big wigs at the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA. Set in 1961, the film opens with the planning and subsequent failure of the Bay of Pigs incident. Edward Wilson, head of Counter Intelligence in the CIA, and one of the architects of the disastrous mission is brought under suspicion, as a mole is discovered within the CIA. As the events unfold, the story is intercut with the events that lead Wilson to his position in life, from his induction to Yale's Skull and Bones society, his recruitment to the OSS, and the evolution of the OSS into the CIA. Wilson is a fictitious character, but is present for most of the real life events that surrounded the evolution of the CIA. We also witness Wilson's personal life. His marriage to Margaret Ann Russell, a woman he doesn't love, and the birth of his only son who he never connects with.

The film rests on the shoulders of Matt Damon who plays Wilson. I've enjoyed Damon's performances in the Bourne films and The Departed, but here, he is directed to act like a statue. This is the nature of the character of Edward Wilson, but it also prevents us from ever really engaging with the character. We remain as removed from Wilson as his family and friends, and never get inside his head. This is not Damon's fault, but because of the nature of the role, you cant help but feel disconnected from the film. The supporting cast, including John Turturro, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, and Michael Gambon are on fine form. But they are given supporting roles, and as such they're never really given the screen time to give us something to cling to. Angelina Jolie seems totally miscast, playing Wilson's wife. Her role is to simply turn up now and again and complain that she doesn't know the man she is married to. I dunno about you, but I cant really accept an actress with her presence playing someone so weak.

The film is really about tone and atmosphere, and DeNiro does a good job of creating a sense that something big is happening during the flashbacks. However, there is very little plot as such, and the film feels drawn out at times. The mole plot that bookends the film seems hackneyed. We never really get the impression that a mole inside the CIA is anything more than a trivial matter. This is essentially a history lesson told through fictitious characters, but with little to do, you could be forgiven for getting a little bored. And at almost three hours in length, you get the impression DeNiro's film could really have benefited from a little more editing. Intriguing if you're interested in the evolution of the CIA. Lacking a great deal if you're looking for a spy adventure.

Monday, February 19, 2007

HOT FUZZ (2007) - Edgar Wright

Okay, before I start, let me state that I am a huge fan of Spaced. And so should everyone who ever quoted Ash or proclaimed that George Lucas killed their childhood be. I loved Simon Pegg and Egar Wright's post-Spaced venture, Shaun of the Dead. So, I promise, with this review, I'll try and refrain from gushing like a fanboy and resorting to hyperbole.

HOT FUZZ RULES!!!! It's fantastic, hilarious, violent, exhilarating, touching... it's fried gold! Okay, okay, I'll stop. Time to get objective. In Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, the finest police officer in the London police service, with an arrest record four hundred percent above that of his coleagues. As such, he has begun to make the rest of the force look bad. So, in an effort to improve the image of the service, Angel is transferred to the sleepy countryside village of Sanford, the safest villiage in Britain. There, he finds himself out of place, itching for some action, but reduced to policing church fetes and chasing down a runaway swan. He is partnered with Danny Butterman (Pegg and Wright regular Nick Frost), the dim-witted, but well meaning son of Police Chief Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent). As the number of accidents in the villiage start mounting, Angel begins to suspect that the quiet villiage is not as quaint as the visage suggests.

When you think British comedy, the first image that springs to mind is charming fop Hugh Grant stuttering his way into the heart of some American beauty. But believe me, this film is as far removed from the Richard Curtis type film as possible. A kind of Miss Marple, Lethal Weapon hybrid, the film lays on the comedy thick and fast. To be perfectly honest, in comedy stakes, this is a one-man show. In Shaun of the Dead, Nick Frost was comedy foil to Pegg's straight man. And here, this is no different. The comedy seems to have been written for Frost and he delivers with gusto.
In terms of story, the film isn't very taxing. Story takes second seat to laughs, which is no big loss. However, the film suffers slightly with a third act where the action takes centre stage to the comedy. And while Edgar Wright's frenetic direction is excellent, the laughs aren't as frequent as the first two acts. But this is a minor complaint. The support cast is on top form and boasts a former James Bond (Timothy Dalton), Paddy Considine and Wicker Man legend, Edward Woodward.
Pegg and Wright have created yet another cult classic. And while Shaun of the Dead may be seen as the stronger film in time to come, Hot Fuzz will rightfully take it's place in the pantheon of buddy-cop movies.

Friday, February 16, 2007

FACTORY GIRL (2006) - George Hickenlooper

Factory Girl, George Hickenlooper's biopic of Andy Warhol muse, Edie Sedgwick enters the cinema this month, and the big question is, should we care? The answer is, no. I will admit, I know nothing about this girl, so I will go on what I saw in the film. Edie Sedgwick, a socialite from a wealthy family, drops out of art college and high-tails it to New York. There, she is introduced to Andy Warhol and his cadre of weirdos who populate the famous Factory, painting pictures of soup cans and making odd films about horses. Warhol is enamored with Sedgwick and turns her into a pop-art icon. She is introduced to Billy Quinn (or quite obviously, Bob Dylan), becomes a victim to drug addiction and is quite coldly dumped from Warhol's inner circle once he becomes jealous of her relationship with Dylan, sorry, Quinn. Drug trip, irrational behavior, redemption, a wander down a rehab centre hallway in slow motion, and fade out. That is the life of Edie Sedgwick. Or that's what I got from the film.

There is one interesting thing about this movie, and that is Guy Pearce's turn as Warhol. His eccentric lifestyle, and highly insecure nature make for interesting viewing, but beyond this, the film offers nothing. Sienna Miller gives it socks as Edie Sedgwick. However, her character garners very little sympathy as she mopes and whinges her way through the film. This, after all, is a little rich girl who blows all her money on drugs provided by the superficial friends she surrounds herself with and ends up in rehab. That is literally it.
One special mention must be given to Hayden Christensen. Many doubted this man could prove himself an actor after his profoundly wooden performance as Mannequin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequals. Well, you know what? Those people were absolutely right. I'm currently trying to remove the splinters I received from yet another wooden turn as Bob Dylan caricature Billy Quinn. His voice fluctuates up and down and up again like some Dylan impersonator taking Dylan's singing style and applying it to the way he speaks. And I'm pretty sure Dylan doesn't finish every sentence he speaks with the word 'babe.' But the screenplay says he does.
The film wants us to care about Edie Sedgwick. To the point of getting her brother, and some artist friends of hers to pontificate about how good a person Sedgwick was over the closing credits. Maybe she was as good a person as they preach. But having viewed this film, I don't care. And neither will you.

FAST FOOD NATION (2006) - Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater is one of those rare directors who can produce indie films (Dazed And Confused, Before Sunrise) as well as main stream hits (School Of Rock). In the last year, he produced one of the most visually stunning films of recent times in A Scanner Darkly, and a movie that examines the health risks we are exposed to at the hands of fast food restaurants. Fast Food Nation is an adaptation of Eric Schlosser's fact-based book of the same name. Rather than presenting us with a heavy-handed documentary preaching how fast food is bad for us and the evil multinationals that sell us this crap is an exploiter of immigrant workers, Linklater has transported the message of Schlosser's book into a character-driven narrative of the lives behind the facts. The film does have a documentary tone to it. Actors such as Bruce Willis and Ethan Hawke pop up to give us information-filled speeches teaching us how the meat served in the popular fast food chains is produced at such high speed that quantity takes it's toll on quality.
Meanwhile, the plight of Mexican immigrants is presented in the story of Raul and Sylvia (Wilmer Valderrama and Catalina Sandino Moreno respectively), two boarder hoppers who land jobs in the factory that produces the hamburgers. Here we see the low quality of life that these people experience as they work horrible jobs with no safety concerns for little money.

The film's objective here is simple. To get us to think more about the food we eat, and where it comes from. The melodrama is laid on thick and fast, but along the way, the narrative becomes a little too choppy. A few of the story threads are left unresolved, and while the message is clear, the way this message is presented is somewhat sloppy. While Fast Food Nation, the book, is a bestseller and critically acclaimed, you are left with the impression that the film adaptation has been somewhat dumbed-down for the teenage audience it is trying to reach. The performances from Greg Kinnear as a high ranking marketing executive of Mickey's, the fictional fast food chain in the film and Ashley Johnson, a student working at a Mickey's restaurant are perfectly fine, but they don't have a great deal to work with. Ultimately, you're left feeling educated by not necessarily entertained.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Okay, bear with me on this one. This trailer is for one of the most exciting prospects for 2007. It's a little unusual, and likely to only appeal to the high-brow art-house crowd. But give it a chance and you may just find something interesting...

Monday, February 12, 2007


The Illusionist is the second film released in the last few months that deals with magic and illusion. The first, Christopher Nolan's The Prestige was an excellent study of obsession as two rival magicians competed to create the greatest illusion the world has ever seen. Released next month is Neil Buger's The Illusionist. Set in turn of the century Vienna the film is about a mysterious magician known as Eisenheim (Edward Norton) who creates illusions unlike any other. Word of his feats reaches the Crown Prince, who takes his fiancee Sophie (Jessica Biel) to see Eisenheim perform. Eisenheim and Sophie meet and fall in love and Eisenheim uses his abilities to free her from her obligations and subvert the stability of the Royal House of Vienna.

Comparisons between The Prestige and The Illusionist are obviously going to be made. Both films deal with magic, a subject that has been overlooked to some degree in the last while. Both films are period pieces. But, honestly, that's where the similarities end. Having seen The Prestige, I was looking forward to this film and to see what an American production about a similar subject would be like. And to my disappointment, the film is fairly poor. The film is essentially a historical romance, stroke thriller, but there is very little romance in the story and barely any thrills! The illusions are quite obviously CGI, and while this is to be expected for the elaborate tricks, something just seemed very false about the whole film. Edward Norton, who usually delivers excellent performances creates a character that is devoid of charm and charisma. He seems to listlessly drift through the film and his chemistry with Jessica Biel is non-existent. Paul Giamatti, who plays Inspector Uhl, the Crown Prince's chief of police is on fine form, but even he cannot save this boring and languid film. The direction is acceptable, but the screenplay is really the film's weakness. I found myself caring very little for the characters and the film's 'twist' is predictable and trite. Avoid.


Welcome to Critical Mass! To kick things off, here's the review for Ryan Murphy's adaptation of Augusten Burrough's book, Running With Scissors. Enjoy!

Based on Augusten Burroughs' best-selling memoir, Running With Scissors features a cast of heavy-weight actors including Anette Benning, Brian Cox, Alec Balwin and Gwyneth Paltrow. Augusten is a young boy dealing with a narcissistic mother (Benning) he adores and an alcoholic father (Baldwin) he is practically a stranger to. Augusten's mother who is convinced she is the world's best unknown poet divorces her husband on the grounds that he is smothering her creativity and takes Augusten to live with Dr. Finch (Cox), an eccentric psychiatrist and his dysfunctional and outlandish family. Dr. Finch's advice is anything but helpful and Augusten's mother's becomes more and more unstable, eventually abandoning Augusten to Finch's strange family.

This film should have been a lot better than it is. For a film that promises black comedy, eccentricity and satire, instead you're left willing the film to end so you can just move on. The biggest problem is the film's smugness and pretentiousness. The characters are written to be quirky and endearing, but instead come across and plain annoying. The film is reminiscent of The Royal Tenenbaums (which ironically also stars Gwyneth Paltrow and is narrated by Alec Baldwin) but where as The Royal Tenenbaums was genuinely funny, Running With Scissors will have you struggling for laughter. Director Ryan Murphy's attempt to mix wackiness with emotion falls far short of the mark and what might have worked well on page, really does not translate to the screen.