Saturday, September 04, 2010

Penny Thoughts: Aug. 27 – Sept. 2

Spider (2007) ****
Director: Nash Edgerton
Writers: Nash Edgerton, David Michôd
Starring: Nash Edgerton, Mirrah Foulkes

Image courtesy of Blue-Tongue Films
“Spider” is an incredibly telling short film, included on the DVD of the movie “The Square”. It announces Nash Edgerton as a filmmaker who can wield a twist in the way M. Night Shyamalan’s early movies proved. Here he does it in less than ten minutes. While the first twist of the movie can be seen coming ahead of time, the second twist is completely unexpected and incredibly rewarding.  Please read my thoughts on his feature film debut “The Square” for more on this up and coming filmmaker.

Watch “Spider” here.

The Square (2010) ****
Director: Nash Edgerton
Writers: Joel Edgerton, Matthew Dabner
Starring: David Roberts, Claire van der Boom, Joel Edgerton, Anthony Hayes, Kieran Darcy-Smith, Brendan Donoghue, Bill Hunter

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
With their feature film debut, Australia’s Edgerton Brothers put their stamp on modern film noir and make an indelible impression with one of the most devastating crime pictures I’ve seen. Director Nash and screenwriter/actor Joel craft a relentless series of twists, turns, set backs, coincidences, and murders that all work against the protagonist. I mean talk about a guy who can’t catch a break. I’ve seen a good deal of noirs, but never one so unmerciful as this one.

Although American critics have universally praised “The Square”, I’ve heard some say that it’s success lies completely within the plotting and that the acting and direction are fairly flat. I disagree this assessment. I thought the direction, while not on Christopher Nolan’s and Steven Spielberg’s level of style, was quite crafty. I particularly liked the incorporation some good waist-level tracking shots for an element of unease. While the acting isn’t in the vein of masterwork performances, the film’s basic everyday type characters are exactly what a noir of this ground level outlook requires. These are your neighbors trying to get away with something they should never have even contemplated. The cast is perfect.

Series 7: The Contenders (2000) ***
Director/Writer: Daniel Minahan
Starring: Brooke Smith, Glenn Fitzgerald, Marylouise Burke, Michael Kaycheck, Merritt Wever, Richard Venture, Will Arnett

Image courtesy of USA Films
Does anybody hate “reality” television as much as I do? I put the word ‘reality’ in quotation marks because anyone who believes there is anything real about reality television could use a good solid wrench to the head. “Series 7” is a movie that wants to tackle that reality head on. It imagines a reality game show where six contestants are chosen randomly to hunt each other down to the death. While they do this, a television crew records the remainder of their lives for audiences to watch. It’s kind of like a more advanced version of “The Running Man”.

“Series 7” isn’t a great movie, but it’s committed to its premise of depicting an absurd reality TV program, and it has all the stopping points spot on. There’s a reigning champion (a woman in her 8th month of pregnancy), an underdog, a wild card, family bickering, a surprise relationship, backstabbing and dirty play, and overwrought emotional breakdowns. And it plays as if it’s a binge marathon viewing of an entire television season. It’s merely a good movie, but maybe it’s great television.

Wallace & Gromit in ‘A Matter of Loaf and Death’ (2008) ****
Director: Nick Park
Writers: Nick Park, Bob Baker
Starring: Peter Sallis, Sally Lindsay

Image courtesy of Aardman Animations
After their first feature-length adventure “Wallace & Gromit in ‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’, England’s favorite clay animated goofball and his dog return in the again Academy Award nominated short “A Matter of Loaf and Death”. Once again director/co-writer Nick Park turns in another utterly charming adventure of food obsession and crime. He fills this romp with all the signatures of the series: the overly complex contraptions of convenience, a little romance, a lot of danger, and a dog that reads the newspaper and saves the day.

The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (2009) *
Director: Troy Duffy
Writers: Troy Duffy, Taylor Duffy
Starring: Sean Patrick Flannery, Norman Reedus, Clifton Collins, Jr., Julie Benz, Bob Marley, Brian Mahoney, David Ferry, Judd Nelson, Billy Connolly, Peter Fonda

Image courtesy of Stage 6 Films
Earlier this year, a friend convinced me to watch the original “Boondock Saints”. Although the 1999 film had reached a cult status within some film fan circles, it never struck me as something I would warm to. I was wrong, mostly due to Willem Dafoe’s quirky performance as FBI Special Agent Paul Smecker. So along comes “Boondock Saints II” without Dafoe in the cast of leads and with production values that seem as if it was produced on an even smaller budget than the original, and a script that is just horrid.

If anyone wondered why writer/director Troy Duffy’s career didn’t take off after the video success of the original, the sequel answers that question. It’s because he can’t write or direct. It is appalling how badly made this movie is. It’s almost as if this came from a different director entirely trying to recreate what Duffy had done in the original but having no idea how it was done. Well, beyond Dafoe, the original isn’t exactly a stellar piece of cinema, but at least it had Dafoe. Judd Nelson just doesn’t quite capture what Dafoe brought to the table.

The African Queen (1951) ***
Director: John Huston
Writers: James Agee, John Huston, C.S. Forester (novel)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn

Image courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment
“The African Queen” is an enjoyable enough film, but not the great movie the term ‘classic’ implies. It’s a good vehicle to feature the screen personalities of it stars Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, but little else. I find it interesting that World War II and the Germans are the backdrop used to place these two personalities together in a boat together, yet it’s not about WWII at all. The war is just an excuse. It’s good cheeky fun, but nothing approaching the greatness the talents involved achieved in other movies.

Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy (2010) ***
Director: Stephanie Wang-Brael
Starring: Faith Sadowsky, Donna Sadowsky, Jeff Sadowsky, Jared Sadowsky, Darah Sadowsky, Jason Sadowsky

Image courtesy of P.O.V.
OK. Here they come, the adoption documentaries. I’ve got at least one more I’ll be reviewing over the next couple of weeks. As our adoption grows ever so slowly closer, we hunger for more knowledge on how to make the transition of having a Chinese daughter. PBS’s POV series played this wonderfully informative documentary over the past week.

“Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy” follows the adoption of Faith Sadowsky by a New York Jewish family that already has two biological boys and a Chinese girl. Darah, their previous adoptee, expressed her desire to remain the baby, so the Sadowsky’s decided to adopt an 8-year-old for their second adoption. The film chronicles the challenges of taking a child who cannot speak your language away from everything she knows. Communication is the primary issue, as Faith and her new family have no way to express their thoughts to each other at the beginning of their familial relationship.

I think you’ll understand if I tell you I’m scared. But not half so much as I am excited to go meet my daughter, Maire.

Watch “Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy” for free here.

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