Movie Reviews: 01/2011
Movies seen this month: 14
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  Title: The American
Genre: Crime, Drama  Year: 2010  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: George Clooney, Irina Björklund, Lars Hjelm, Johan Leysen, Paolo Bonacelli  Director: Anton Corbijn

My Review: George Clooney plays (Jack) an independent assassin down to his last hand. A botched job is Sweden leads Jack to reassess his options. He decides that this job (the one after the Swedish one) will be his last. Jack is a master at his art, a skilled mechanic, with little patience or sympathy for the people he encounters. When he starts to value the lives of those he associates with, he starts to lose his edge. While the plot contains some rather worn character based elements (as described here), the pacing, direction, acting and locations more than make up for the time worn cliche's of the "Assassin who's had enough" plot. Clooney's acting is rock solid, as are the performances of the supporting cast. This movie is not the action, thriller as advertised in its previews. It is in fact a somber drama where the main characters are assassins. If you go in expecting a bunch of explosions and car chases you'll be disappointed. I thoroughly enjoyed the precise production control and superb direction. Not as good as Control (Director Anton Corbijn's previous film), but a very good follow-up. I give it a 4 out of 5.

Summary: Alone among assassins, Jack is a master craftsman. When a job in Sweden ends more harshly than expected for this American abroad, he vows to his contact Pavel that his next assignment will be his last. Jack reports to the Italian countryside, where he holes up in a small town and relishes being away from death for a spell. The assignment, as specified by a Belgian woman, Mathilde, is in the offing as a weapon is constructed. Surprising himself, Jack seeks out the friendship of local priest Father Benedetto and pursues romance with local woman Clara. But by stepping out of the shadows, Jack may be tempting fate.

  Title: Lioness
Genre: Documentary  Year: 2008  Country: USA  Rating: Starring:  Director: Meg McLagan, Daria Sommers

My Review: Lioness is a documentary about the 'first' Female soldiers to serve in combat roles in the U.S. military. Mostly first person interviews, this documentary did a good job of painting war as a damaging experience; but we already knew that. It does a good job of hinting at the psychological stress, damage, and issues that returning soldiers have to deal with; but we already knew that. What it didn't do was spend enough time on the operational aspects of the 'Lioness' teams. I wanted to know more about how they integrated into all male combat teams, what kind of thought, planning and consideration went into the formation, assignment and execution of these teams? The intimate first person stories of female Army support soldiers was great, but the point of this movie was supposed to be more than that. It was supposed to focus on 'Lioness' a bold and controversial move by the U.S. military; the inclusion of female soldiers in combat operations. Something that was supposedly 'prohibited' (and still is) by the U.S. military. The segments that highlighted door-to-door/urban fighting was thrilling and absorbing. Unfortunately, that was a very small part of the film. What was the upside of these actions? How did the integration/inclusion of these female soldiers benefit our warfighting efforts? Was operation 'Lioness a success?' Well crafted, well meaning, but ultimately missing it's own point.

Summary: Lioness presents the untold story of the first group of women soldiers in US history to be sent into direct ground combat, in violation of official policy. Told through intimate accounts, journal excerpts, archive footage, as well as interviews with military commanders, the film follows five women who served together for a year in Iraq. With captivating detail, this probing documentary reveals the unexpected course of events that began with using US women soldiers to defuse tensions with local civilians, but resulted in the women's fighting in some of the bloodiest counter-insurgency battles of the war. Together the women's candid narratives and scenes from their lives back home form a portrait of the emotional and psychological effects of war from a female point of view. Lioness is the first film to bridge the gap between perception and reality of the role women in the military are playing in Iraq, capturing an historical turning point for American society.

  Title: Buena Vista Social Club
Genre: Documentary, Music  Year: 1999  Country: Germany, USA, UK, France, Cuba  Rating: Starring: Compay Segundo, Eliades Ochoa, Ry Cooder, Joachim Cooder, Ibrahim Ferrer  Director: Wim Wenders

My Review: An outstanding documentary, filmed primarily in Cuba. Directed by Wim Wenders (one of my favorite directors). The film focuses on music, a genre, a group of musicians, a nearly forgotten form of expression. Cuba had it's day in the sun. Before Castro, before the revolution, there was a time when night clubs, jazz musicians, and native beats blended to form a rich heritage of musical expression. The Buena Vista Social Club was one of the places where that music flourished, thrived, grew. After the revolution, since then, the music has been dying a slow death. Without exposure, enthusiasm and an eager venue for this amazing music, it will die on the vine. This documentary provided, provides the impetus for the resurrection of the music and the forgotten artists who form the soul of this nearly lost musical form. Some excellent locations, first person interviews, concert footage (in Amsterdam and New York) and the stories of some hard lives under Castro's regime of austerity. An uplifting documentary. I give it a 4 out of 5.

Summary: A group of legendary Cuban musicians, some as old as their nineties, were brought together by Ry Cooder to record a CD. In this film, we see and hear some of the songs being recorded in Havana. There is also footage from concerts in Amsterdam and New York City's Carnegie Hall. In addition, many of the individual musicians talk about their lives in Cuba and about how they got started in music.

  Title: Mystery Science Theater 3000: Werewolf
Genre: Horror  Year: 1996  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Jorge Rivero, Richard Lynch, Federico Cavalli, Adrianna Miles, Joe Estevez  Director: Tony Zarindast

My Review: The movie 'Werewolf' - a 1996 title, starring Joe Estevez (Yes, Martin Sheen's brother) and a bunch of other b-rate actors, some with heavy foreign accents, is lampooned by the cast of MST3K. Jorge Rivera's hair keeps changing in just about every scene, and Adrianna Miles couldn't say 'werewolf'. The plot involved characters who contract lycanthropy from the skeletal remains of a 'werewolf' dug up in an Arizona quarry. The werewolf was represented in numerous different ways. The make-up werewolf wasn't so bad, but the acting as a werewolf was atrocious. There was a full costume werewolf that looked like a bear, the skeletal werewolf was o.k. , but then there was the animatronic head-only werewolf. My god that was terrible. Mike and the Bots had a great time blasting this movie. Don't even dream of watching it without their witty riffs. Combining the terrible 1 out of 5 (for the movie) with the splendid 4 out of 5, and I come up with a 3 out of 5.

Summary: A team of archaeologists with unplaceable accents unearth a skeleton at a dig in an Arizona quarry. The Native Americans on the dig instantly recognize it as the remains of a werewolf, so the team leaders immediately take it to their lab and stare at it. Natalie, one of the team members, thinks it's absolutely fascinating, but Yuri siezes on greater ambitions when one of the dig assistants, who injured themself on the remains, becomes infected and turns into a werewolf in full view of hospital personnel. Yuri then conducts an experiment infecting other people in town to see if they turn into werewolves as well. When Paul arrives at the lab to assist in analyzing the remains, Yuri infects him, too. After Paul's transformation (under a week-long full moon), Natalie tries to save him.

  Title: Case 39
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller  Year: 2009  Country: USA, Canada  Rating: Starring: Renée Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper, Callum Keith Rennie  Director: Christian Alvart

My Review: I just didn't buy it. Renee Zellweger plays a social worker, and I just wasn't convinced by her portrayal. In this story, she takes 10 year old Lillith (played by Jodelle Ferland) into her home in order to protect her from abusive parents. The performance by Jodelle Ferland (At 17 years old (as of Jan 2011) she's got 49+ credits in her IMDB profile) was great. She was far more convincing in her role than Zellweger. Unfortunately, the plot was so well worn that it left little room for surprise. While the director and editor did a good job of building mood and suspense, the thrill was usually spoiled by the inevitable cliches which define this movie's plot. The abusive parents who aren't, the good girl who isn't, the social workers who really 'care' about their wards. The movie was full of telegraphed clues and hints. Come on the kids name is 'Lillith'. If you know anything about the name's historical context, you have to believe there's a reason why they chose that name. The audience is spoon fed explanations and motivations throughout the film. As if we couldn't possibly come up with proper connections on our own. I swear I've seen this plot before, and if I haven't why does it feel like I have? There's a lot of movies which feature the 'Good kid that's really evil', and this one isn't all that good. If it hadn't been the fine production, this movie would have rated less than a 2 out of 5.

Summary: "Case 39" centers on an idealistic social worker who saves an abused 10-year-old girl from her parents only to discover that the girl is not as innocent as she thinks.

  Title: Samson and Delilah
Genre: Drama, Romance  Year: 2009  Country: Australia  Rating: Starring: Rowan McNamara, Marissa Gibson, Mitjili Napanangka Gibson, Scott Thornton, Matthew Gibson  Director: Warwick Thornton

My Review: Filmed on location in vicinity of Alice Springs, Northern Territory of Australia, this filmed has lots of atmosphere, and the subject is the seldom seen plight of indigenous people's of Australia. Samson & Delilah are two young adults growing up in the impoverished outback of Australia. As Aboriginal people, their opportunities for a satisfying, productive life are severely limited by the lack of services, access to education, institutional prejudice, and the economic realities of the outback. The movie is a dark spiral that follows this tragically romantic pair from one tragedy to another. Together they struggle to make it from one day to the next. Further complicating their struggle are addiction, the death of a family member and a co-dependency cycle that returns the couple in a tragic cycle from a life with little potential to a crushing oppressive life and back to the limited potentials of their original situation. In the end, the only thing that remains is the love that blooms in a harsh desert of humanities' outback. Inescapably dire but beautiful at the same time. I couldn't look away, and kept hoping things would get better. Only upon reflection did I see the redeeming message of this movies overall theme. If only it wasn't so depressing. Excellent writing, direction (by Warwick Thornton) and set production (sound, lighting, camera work). I give it a 4 out of 5.

Summary: Samson and Delilah's world is small- an isolated community in the Central Australian desert. When tragedy strikes they turn their backs on home and embark on a journey of survival. Lost, unwanted and alone the discover that life isn't always fair, but love never judges.

  Title: The Sicilian Girl / La Siciliana Ribelle
Genre: Crime, Drama  Year: 2009  Country: Italy, France  Rating: Starring: Veronica D'Agostino, Gérard Jugnot, Giulia Andò, Mario Bellevista, Roberto Bonura  Director: Marco Amenta

My Review: Based upon a true story, this movie is set in Sicily of the early 90's. A 17 year old Sicilian girl decides to break the Mafia's code of silence in order to end a cycle of violence in her family and the region where she grew up. When her father (a mafia Don) and brother (selected to take his father's place) are both killed by the very men who claimed to be part of their 'Family', Rita decides to turn the tables and do what she can to find justice. She turns to a sympathetic magistrate and makes a case with detailed journal entries. Journal's she'd been keeping for many years, journals which would ultimately result in the indictment and conviction of numerous Mafia members. The movie is very taught, well paced and quite thrilling. This movie tells a tragic, poignant and powerful tale of Italian justice and their society's struggle against the Mafia's powerful grip on the culture of Sicily. Lots of great atmosphere, location shots and fine acting. The story, pacing and direction were captivating, but the lighting, editing and production could have been a bit better. 4 out of 5.

Summary: Inspired to a true story, on November 5th 1991, Rita Atria a young 17-year-old Sicilian girl, goes to see an anti-Mafia judge Paolo Borsellino to denounce the Mafia system that was responsible for the murder of her father and her brother. It is the first time that such a young woman from a Mafia family rebels and betrays the Mafia. From that moment on, Rita's days are numbered. She only has nine months to live...

  Title: Salt
Genre: Action, Crime, Mystery, Thriller  Year: 2010  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski, August Diehl  Director: Phillip Noyce

My Review: Angelina Jolie plays CIA agent Evelyn Salt, a deep mole sent to America by (yes this is all in the previews!) the Soviet's to bring down the capitalist empire… What a horrible, terrible, worn out, unrealistic plot. The first fifteen minutes of the movie, with Angelia Jolie playing a typical government functionary within the bureaucracy of the CIA was more believable than the rest of the movie. The straw man of her 'husband' was a contrived plot mechanism with no teeth. Her coworker (Live Schrieber) is another plot device, and everything about this movie screams 80s Soviet fear mongering propaganda. The pacing, set-up, and background are too fast, too thin, and sadly contrived. The plot was so ridiculous that they even managed to shoe-horn the Kennedy assassination into the story. The previews pretty much tell you everything you need to know about this movie. Angelina Jolie 'proves' she can still play an 'Action-Hero' by posing as an undercover Soviet agent who get's activated during a CIA interrogation. This horrible movie contained plenty of poor acting (Jolie, Schrieber), a weak and preposterous plot, pacing designed to compensate for lack of plot (super fast), editing that only served to complement the pacing, camera work designed to reflect the 'Action' script, dialog designed for idiots, and a budget so gross ($110m) it makes me sick. The only bright spot (despite the role) was acting by Chiwetel Ejiofor as agent Peabody, the only person who can see past agent Salt's amazing cover. Jolie succeeds in the incredibly limiting role of this movie - Her stunt double did a good job of kicking ass. It's too Jolie can't manage a movie with more substance. If you're looking for a mind-numbing piece of flashy action to pass the time, this movie 'might' pass. 1 out of 5.

Summary: Evelyn Salt is a CIA agent and highly respected by all, including her boss, Ted Winter. Out of the blue, a Russian spy walks into their offices and offers a vital piece of information: the President of Russia will be assassinated during his forthcoming visit to New York City to attend the funeral of the recently deceased U.S. Vice President. The name of the assassin: Evelyn Salt. Concerned about the safety of her husband, who she cannot contact, she goes on the run. Winter refuses to accept that she is a mole or a double agent but her actions begin to raise doubts. Just who is Evelyn Salt and what is she planning?

  Title: The Virgin Spring / Jungfrukällan
Genre: Crime, Drama  Year: 1960  Country: Sweden  Rating: Starring: Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg, Gunnel Lindblom, Birgitta Pettersson, Axel Düberg  Director: Ingmar Bergman

My Review: Set in 14th century Sweden makes for surreal and stark landscapes, and an interesting setting. This movie is based upon a 13th century Swedish ballad. In the story, a feudal lord charges his daughters to carry candles to the nearby church. Tragedy strikes when the girls are separated and the younger daughter is raped and murdered by a group of transient goat herders/thieves. Her older sister feels guilty because of a jealous pagan prayer invoked earlier in the day, and her own feelings of inferiority. Fate takes a vengeful twist when the same goat herders happen to seek shelter at the lords manor. Will the lord impose justice or vengeance upon the murderous brothers? It's a powerful tale of morality, justice and religion. Directed by Ingmar Bergman, the movie stars Max Von Sydow in an Oscar winning drama. The eerily silent drama (very little dialog and no soundtrack) unfolds in a very existential way and the ending invokes a powerful religious image. Only a subtle score could have made it better. I give it a 4 out of 5.

Summary: Set in beautiful 14th century Sweden, it is the sombre, powerful fable of wealthy land-owning parents whose daughter, a young virgin, is brutally raped and murdered by goat herders after her half sister has invoked a pagan curse. By a bizarre twist of fate, the murderers ask for food and shelter from the dead girl's parents, who, discovering the truth about their erstwhile lodgers, exact a chilling revenge.

  Title: Ip Man / Yip Man
Genre: Action, Biography, Drama, History  Year: 2008  Country: Hong Kong  Rating: Starring: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan, Ka Tung Lam, Yu Xing  Director: Wilson Yip

My Review: A romanticized tale of Wing-Chun kung-fu, a bio-pic about Ip Man/Yip Man. Ip man (the main character of the film) is a humble and peaceful martial arts master living in Fushan, China. He doesn't have a school, but trains some students in the town of Foshan, which has become renowned for it's Kung-Fu schools. After the events depicted in this film, Ip man moved to Hong-Kong, set up a Kung-Fu school and taught the Wing-Chun style to many students, including Bruce Lee. This Chinese movie is a brilliant production with outstanding costumes, set design, props and authentic period work. The casting, acting and direction are flawless. As an action/kung-fu flick it was fantastic. Unfortunately, the story also contained overt stereotypes and racial bigotry. Set during the second Sino-Japanese war (1937 - 1945). Japan has invaded China and a repressive regime is put in place. The residents of Foshan struggle to survive under occupation and they're mercilessly persecuted by uniformed Japanese soldiers and officers. While the historical facts of Japanese occupation are unquestioned (by this viewer), the depiction of Japanese soldiers in a highly stereotyped caricature was somewhat offensive. It was quite evident that there is some pent up ethnic tensions being expressed in this film, and that left a poor taste in my mouth. Ip man is portrayed as a saintly character who defends the weak, oppressed and defenseless Chinese citizens against the arrogant, violent and dishonorable Japanese invaders. The focus on Kung-Fu is briefly considered, but the spirit of an indomitable spirit is clearly highlighted in this movie about the Chinese struggle against oppression. I give it a 4 out of 5.



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