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Movie Review: Winter’s Bone June 21, 2010

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Movie Review: Winter’s Bone

Alternate Title: What a Meth

Story: The Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s seem like kissing cousins compared to the feuding clans in this depressing, sad tale from the Missouri Ozarks. We find 17 year old Ree, taking care of her two younger siblings and her almost catatonic mother because her father, a convicted meth lab druggie has fled the coop. He has put up the family farm as bounty for his court date and never showed up. If young Ree does not find her father, they will be homeless. The law is after the absent father as are some scary competing druggies and a pissed off bounty hunter. Against all odds, brave Ree stands tall to save her siblings and mother.

Yes, this premise sounds like those crowd pleasing David Vs Goliath tales, but I found the film wanting. The characters generally are without any redeeming qualities (other than Ree) and it is hard to cheer when the odds are so very much against this young girl as she heads towards the poor, depressing, feral life that every other character on screen seems destined to live.The film was directed by Debra Granik and written by Ms. Granik and Anne Rosellini, this gray tale was based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell.

Should you see this dismal film that appears to be in black and white? It will probably roam around the Indie Art House circuit and then go to DVD. I have seen better films about the same subject – but it is worth two hours of your life? I think not.

Acting: Jennifer Lawrence as Ree is the only sympathetic character and she does a fine job. The rest of the cast is fine (but scary) including: John Hawkes (Teardrop), Kevin Breznahan (Little Arthur), Dale Dickey (Merab), Garret Dillahunt (Sheriff Baskin), Sheryl Lee (April), Lauren Sweetser (Gail) and Tate Taylor (Satterfield).

Trivia: This film won the Grand Jury Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting award at this year’s Sundance Festival.

Predilection: This got rave reviews and won some top awards at festivals so I was curious.

Critters: Many, many critters including chicks, horses, cows, birds and squirrels who also appear in the food category.

Food: The abovementioned squirrels and venison stew.

Sex Spectrum: No sex, just drugs.

Soundtrack: Interesting musical selection by Dickon Hinchliffe.

Opening Titles: A solo voice introducing the gray scenery and just the title. All other credits are at the end.

Visual Art: The film appears to be in many shades of gray with little color nor anything that is pleasing to the eye.

Theater Audience: About 30 other people and us.

Weather: Wintry and gray.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: I did not like the dressing of the recently shot squirrel. Very squirmy indeed.

Drift Factor: I looked at my watch often.

Predictability Level: I did not care what happened to most of these people.;

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: No

Big Screen or Rental: Rental would be fine.

Length: Under two hours.

LOBO HOWLS: 5

Movie Review: Harry Brown May 21, 2010

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Movie Review: Harry Brown

Alternate Title: Dirty Harry

Story: Ah – revenge is sweet. It is also messy, dark and super violent in this edge of your seat film by newbie directed Daniel Barber and written by Gary Young.

Harry Brown is a pensioner. He is one of those regular old guys who goes about his business caring for his dying wife, playing chess with his only friend and avoiding the young thugs that have taken over his housing project. When his friend is murdered, Harry seeks revenge. Yes, you have seen this story before and yes, it is formulaic, but when Michael Caine does it – it becomes fresh once again.

Of course you will cheer our protagonist, who is brave and on his own. You will also be depressed about the feral nature of the thugs that have taken over the streets. They have no political or social agenda. It is all about drugs and violence. It seems that when one of them is killed there is always another one ready to take his place.

Is this a film for everyone? Absolutely not. But if you are like my Wednesday movie buddy and I, it was very satisfying indeed. Moral of the story? Do not mess with a pensioner (or an AARP member). We could be packing.

Acting: Michael Caine as Harry Brown is wonderful. He makes the movie a success.Emily Mortimer as Detective Frampton, does a fine job with a thankless role. Charlie Creed-Miles as detective Hicock, is also good. David Bradley as friend, Leonard Attwell is truly sympathetic. The rest of the thuggish cast is scary, but great, including: Iain Glen (Childs), Sean Harris (Stretch), Ben Drew (Noel Winters), Jack O’Connell (Marky), Jamie Downey (Carl), Lee Oakes (Dean), Joseph Gilgun (Kenny) and Liam Cunningham (Sid Rourke).

Trivia: Michael Caine was born in 1933 in London. His given name was Maurice Micklewhite. He was the son of a fish-market porter and a charlady. He owns seven restaurants: six in London, one in Miami. The role of Alfie was turned down by Anthony Newley and Terence Stamp before it was offered to him.

Predilection: I like Michael Caine.

Critters: A pit bull seen in the distance.

Food: There is no time to eat in this film.

Sex Spectrum: Some groping in a tunnel and a video clip of porn.

Blatant Product Placement: None

Soundtrack: Loud and scary.

Opening Titles: A horrifying scene of an innocent mother being gunned down by one of the neighborhood thugs.

Visual Art: The projects are depressing.

Theater Audience: About 10 other people and us.

Weather: Cold and wet.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: The young thugs and their senseless violence made me squirm.

Drift Factor: I was attentive throughout.

Predictability Level: High

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: No – although I think Michael Caine should always get awards.

Big Screen or Rental: Rental would be fine.

Length: 100 minutes.

LOBO HOWLS: 7.5


Movie Review: Welcome May 11, 2010

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Movie Review: Welcome

Alternate Title: Limbo

Story: The dream of getting to a promised land is universal and often met with disappointment. The topic of illegal immigration is explored sensitively and effectively by French film director Philippe Lioret and was written by Mr. Lioret, Emmanuel Courcol and Olivier Adam.

Bilal, a 17 year old Iraqi has walked over 3000 miles from Mosel, Iraq to Calais, France, determined to get to England to be with his sweetheart, Mina. She has recently emigrated with her family to London. Bilal hits a roadblock when he discovers that getting to England is difficult and fraught with danger. Without spoiling the story I can say that Bilal decides to reach England by swimming the English Channel. He meets Simon, a swimming instructor who will become pivotal to his life. The swimming instructor risks much since draconian French law says that if you help illegal migrants you can be jailed for five years.

The film successfully puts you directly in the shoes of Bilal, who has risked everything to reach his destination and also into the heart and soul of Simon, who discovers new lengths and breadths he will go to in order to help this stranger.

If you are pro-immigration you will find much to think and feel about this fine new film. If you are anti-immigration you probably will be staying away from this film. Immigration is a hot button issue these days. If you had any doubts about it – I am pro-immigration.

Acting: Vincent Lindon as Simon was pitch perfect. Firat Ayverdi as Bilal, will steal your heart. Audrey Dana as Marion, was terrific as were Derya Ayverdi as Mina, Thierry Godard as Bruno and Selim Akgul as Zoran.

Trivia: Philippe Lioret, 54, who began working in cinema as a sound mixer and script editor in the early 1980s, directed his first feature, Lost in Transit in 1993. Loiret says of this film “The theme of my film is immigrants, but its subject is the drama between two couples. I wanted to explore this theme through the real life of people—those like you or me—who generally don’t know much about the problems of undocumented refugees and how, when confronted with the issue, it changes their lives.” He spent six weeks living with immigrants and the volunteers in Calais, and after that learnt enough about these issues to write a script.

Predilection: None

Critters: None

Food: Pizza

Opening Titles: Titles are at the end.

Visual Art: Calais looks very cold and worn but the inside of Simons apartment is warm and lived in.

Theater Audience: 10 men and me. Nine of the men were bald. All of us were reading the New York Times before the movie started. I laughed at that.

Weather: Damp, foggy and cold.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: Anti-immigration activists make me squirm.

Drift Factor: I paid attention throughout.

Predictability Level: Moderate

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: Probably not.

Big Screen or Rental: Big screen if you can.

Length: Under two hours.

LOBO HOWLS: 8

Movie Review: The Oath May 10, 2010

Posted by judylobo in Film Awards, Movie Review Archives, Movie Reviews, Movie Trailer, Politics.
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Movie Review: The Oath

Alternate Title: The Caged Bird Sings

Story: Political junkies like me will find this latest documentary film directed by Laura Poitras delivering more questions than answers. Poitras started out making a film about the homecoming of Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan (see trivia category below) but ended up primarily filming his brother-in-law, the charismatic Abu Jandal. So what happened to the original story? Jandal’s story fell under the Kleig lights because he was a former bodyguard to Osama bin Laden, admitted to his involvement in jihad activities, knew all of the 9/11 hijackers, spent time in a Yemeni prison and is now a taxi driver in Yemen. Who could resist his story? Add to his resume the fact that he is camera friendly and Poitras’ film takes a turn.

We never get to actually see Salim Hamdan but have to be satisfied with an over voice reading some of his letters from Guantanamo. This story is both complex and incomplete. The many questions that are raised necessitates that we, the audience, do some heavy thinking about our Government’s action, detention, terrorists and the direction all of our lives are headed towards. It almost makes my head hurt. That said, if you are not afraid to think in a movie – you can handle the truth, can’t you?

Acting: This is a documentary so the acting category does not apply. However, Abu Jandal’s story has many question marks and I have decided that he might have been acting.

Trivia: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, (2006), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that military commissions set up by the Bush & Co. to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay lack the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949. Specifically, the ruling says that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions was violated. Director Laura Poitras won an Oscar for Best Documentary, Features in 2006 for: “P.O.V.: My Country, My Country”. She also shared the award with Kirsten Johnson for Best Cinematography at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival for The Oath.

Predilection: I like documentary films.

Critters: 0

Food: 0

Sex Spectrum: 0

Soundtrack: A surprisingly fine soundtrack with music by Osvaldo Golijov, sung by Dawn Upshaw.

Opening Titles: All credits at the end.

Visual Art: I was fascinated by the streets of Yemen – the colors, the sounds, the sights.

Theater Audience: One other guy and me.

Weather: Hot and sunny.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: Words of torture make me squirm.

Drift Factor: I did not drift at all.

Predictability Level: If you know the story of Hamdan you will not be in for many surprises however the story of Abu Jandal is another story.

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: No

Big Screen or Rental: Rental would be fine.

Length: 90 minutes

LOBO HOWLS: 7

Movie Review: The Secret in Their Eyes April 21, 2010

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Movie Review: The Secret in Their Eyes

Alternate Title: Law & Disorder

Story: This film was Argentina’s entry into the 2009 Oscar race for Best Foreign Film. Shockingly, it won (well, at least I was shocked). Written and directed by Juan José Campanella (see trivia about the director and his association with L&O) this ‘ripped from the headlines’ who-dunnit, mystery, romance, thriller took a very long time to tell it’s tale.

The film flashes back and forth between the rape and murder of a lovely, young woman in 1974 to the present. A retired law clerk, who decides to write a novel about the unsolved murder rediscovers his past, his long lost love and the truth. It just takes a heck of a long time to uncover the mystery. So long, in fact, that my sister fell asleep. Her Alternate Title would probably have been ‘Wake Me When it’s Over.’

There are surely good things about the film. It is well acted, pretty to look at and Buenos Aires is lovely. The bad news is that it needed to be edited by at least 30 minutes. There seemed to be four endings, as in ‘fade to black’ but it continues just when you think it is over. I also was able to figure out the mystery about 30 minutes prior to the conclusion (maybe I have seen too many Law & Orders myself).

The larger themes of political corruption, Argentina’s struggles with juntas and dictatorships are seen in the background and I would have liked those stories more than the one that was front and center. Don’t cry for me, Argentina.

The Law & Order Doink Doink:

Acting: Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, and Guillermo Francella are all terrific.

Trivia: Juan José Campanella directed 17 episodes of Law & Order:SVU. Soledad Villamil won Best Actress in Argentina for this role. Ricardo Darin won Best Actor in Argentina for this role.

Predilection: This won Best Foreign film in this year’s Oscar race. I like to see all Oscar nominated films.

Critters: Dogs

Soundtrack: Mysterious

Opening Titles: A lovely blurry montage opens the film with all credits at the end.

Visual Art: Argentina looks beautiful.

Theater Audience: About 20 other people.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: Rape is always squirmy.

Drift Factor: I did not drift – but I did look at my watch often.

Predictability Level: High

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: Apparently so – but not in my opinion.

Big Screen or Rental: Either

Length: A bit over two hours.

LOBO HOWLS: 6

Movie Review: Mother (Madeo) March 16, 2010

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Movie Review: Mother (Madeo)

Alternate Title: What She Did for Love

Story: The time is now. The place is a small town in South Korea. The story details a mother’s undying love for her son that is instinctual, unconditional, and forever. Do not think for a moment that this film would appear on some sappy Lifetime TV mother/child theme movie marathon. This mother is focused like a laser on protecting her mentally challenged 27 year old son who has been accused of murdering a local high school girl. Brilliantly directed by South Korean Bong Joon-ho and written by Park Eun-kyo and Mr. Bong and based on a story by Bong Joon-ho.

This Mother does not need a name in the film. She represents all Mothers who will stop at nothing to protect their children. When the system, including the police and lawyers fail Mother in her quest to prove her son’s innocence she decides to investigate and bring to justice the real killer herself. The director cleverly introduces some comical scenes to break the building tension of Mother’s pursuit. He also throws in a few jaw dropping surprises that my new movie buddy and I did not see coming.

This film has just about everything you might want from a foreign film. It has cultural surprises, easy to read subtitles, fresh new scenery, interesting music, universal characters, a terrific story and amazing acting.

I urge you to find this film in your local theaters or rent it now. Pay attention – drifting is not a good idea.

Acting: Kim Hye-ja as the Mother is nothing short of sensational. Won Bin as the son, Yoon Do-joon is very believable.Jin Goo as Jin-tae is terrific as is the rest of the cast including: Yoon Jae-moon (Je-mun), Jun Mi-sun (Mi-sun), Song Sae-beauk (Sepaktakraw Detective) and Moon Hee-ra (Moon Ah-jung).

Trivia: Director Bong Joon-ho‘s film The Host was seen by a record ten million people in his country and was well received by the Cannes Festival. Mother was nominated for a 2010 Indie Spirit Awards for Best Foreign Film. Other nominations and awards include: 2009 Dubai International Film Festival, Best Screenplay Award for Mother. 2009 Mar del Plata Film Festival (Argentina), SIGNIS Award for Mother. 2009 China Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival, Best Actress to Kim Hae-ja for Mother.
2009 Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Best Actress to Kim Hae-ja for Mother.
2010 Academy Awards, Mother selected as Korea’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film category.

Predilection: I like to see award nominated films.

Critters: A dog in a pivotal scene at the beginning of the film.

Food: Chicken and a delicious looking fish filled buffet.

Sex Spectrum: Sex is an underlying premise in the murder of the local girl and there is a sex scene that Mother watches as she hides in a closet in pursuit of the killer.

Blatant Product Placement: None

Soundtrack: Interestingly appropriate.

Opening Titles: Titles superimposed over a lovely shot of Mother dancing in a field.

Visual Art: Excellent attention to both detail and the long view.

Theater Audience: Two other people and us.

Weather: It was very rainy in South Korea.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: 1

Drift Factor: I did not drift at all.

Predictability Level: Low – We were surprised.

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: Mother selected as Korea’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film category.

Big Screen or Rental: Go for the big screen if possible.

Length: Two hours

LOBO HOWLS: 8.5


Oscar Review and Winners March 8, 2010

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In no particular order (since I am still sleeping) this is my take of the show that almost, yes, almost, ended the same day that it started

1. I am a big Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin fan. Seeing those two men in Snuggies cracked me up and a few lines made me laugh out loud. It would have been fine with me if they had presented all of the awards instead of the parade of mostly stiff actors handing out Oscar.

2. The fourth annual Barbara Streisand most earnest award goes to – Mo’Nique

3.  The only actor to mention God this year was Mo’Nique and I believe it was to bless us all (or something like that).  As an aside, why do the producers think that if a black actor wins an award or is presenting an Oscar the camera has to search for every other black actor in the audience to focus upon?

3. Newest anorexia victim – Zoe Saldana

4. Annual most stupid presentation bit once again goes to Ben Stiller.  He is apparently the ‘go to’ guy for getting dressed in a silly outfit and attempting to do some shtick.  A complete waste of time as far as I was concerned.

5. Most embarrassing and annoying presenter to watch – Cameron Diaz

6. Actress I missed least, once again,  this year – Sharon Stone

7. The tribute to John Hughes was appropriate so I guess they decided to cut out the Irving Thalberg award this year.  Or maybe I drifted during that part of the show.

8. Most annoying production aspect of the show was the orchestra playing ‘I am Woman, Hear me Roar’ when Kathryn Bigelow won for Best Director.

9.  I think dancing numbers at the Oscar performances are a complete waste of time.  I feel the same way about operas that have dancing in them too.  Lets just move along.  It is three hours later on the East Coast.

10.  What did Demi Moore and Jennifer Lopez do this year to garner a role as a presenter?

11.  Molly Ringwald is morphing into Carol Burnett. I had to rub my eyes when she first appeared because I was sure she was Carol Burnett.

12. I loved the montage to honor horror films.

13. The only award that I whooped for joy in my living room was when they announced that The Cove won for best documentary.  You should all see this powerful film.

14.  Last week I saw all of the nominated Short Film Animated and Short Film Live Action films.  It is of note that the two films that won, The New Tenants and Logorama were my two least favorites.

15. Once again, the winning Best Foreign Film has not been seen in theaters.  Like last year’s Departures (which when I finally saw it I applauded it’s earned award) Argentina’s El Secreto de Sus Ojos has not played in theaters. Boo hiss.

16.  Finally, when Hurt Locker opened last July, I ran to see it and have been singing it’s praise ever since.  Now that it has won so many accolades I think it is time for you to see it too.

It’s a wrap.  Onto 2010 movies.

–  30 Years of Oscar Highlights in 3 Minutes

Here are all of the winners for you:

Best Picture: “The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier, Greg Shapiro
Best Director: “The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”
Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique in “Precious”
Best Original Screenplay: “The Hurt Locker” Written by Mark Boal
Best Adapted Screenplay: “Precious” Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
Best Foreign Language: “The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)” Argentina
Best Animated Film: “Up” Pete Docter
Best Documentary: “The Cove” Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens
Best Cinematography: “Avatar” Mauro Fiore
Best Art Direction: Avatar” Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg, Kim Sinclair
Best Costumes: “The Young Victoria” Sandy Powell
Best Editing: “The Hurt Locker” Bob Murawski and Chris Innis
Best Score: “Up” Michael Giacchino
Best Song: “The Weary Kind”(Crazy Heart) Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett
Best Makeup: “Star Trek” Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow
Best Visual Effects: “Avatar” Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, Andrew R. Jones
Best Sound Editing: “The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson
Best Sound Mixing: “The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett
Best Animated Short: “Logorama” Nicolas Schmerkin
Best Live Action Short: “The New Tenants” Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson
Best Documentary Short: “Music by Prudence” Roger Ross Williams and Elinor

Movie Review: The Ghost Writer March 1, 2010

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Movie Review: The Ghost Writer

Alternate Title: Lies, Spies and Guise

Story: Say what you will about the personal life of Roman Polanski, he is a damned good filmmaker. His latest political thriller has a Hitchcockian feel to its entirety. It is foreboding, brooding and carries an ever present danger. My type of film for sure. It was directed by Roman Polanski and written by Mr. Polanski and Robert Harris and based on a novel by Mr. Harris.

Former British Prime Minister Adam Lang is writing his memoirs. His ghost writer has been found dead from an apparent suicide – or was it muuuuuuurder. A new ghost writer is hired to complete the project in one month’s time. Out of the blue, Lang is charged as a war criminal by the World Court for his involvement in rendition and torture (sound familiar?) during the Iraq War. The parallels to Tony Blair and George W Bush can not be dismissed but they never get in the way of good story telling.

The movie has interesting characters, wonderful acting, a few surprising laugh out loud lines and plot twists that will keep you guessing. This is one of those films where you must pay attention or you will be off on the drift train and not know what is happening. This is a good omen for films to come down the road in 2010. Bravo.

Side note of interest – since Polanski cannot travel to certain jurisdictions (which gets a comparable shout out in the film) he used the Island of Sylt in the North Sea to replace what is supposed to be Martha’s Vineyard and he used Berlin as a stand-in for London.

Acting: Ewan McGregor as the unnamed Ghost plays his deer caught in the headlights innocence to perfection. Kim Cattrall as Amelia Bly is the weakest character in the film. Olivia Williams as Ruth Lang is wonderful. Pierce Brosnan s Adam Lang is sterling. Timothy Hutton as Sidney Kroll has a small but good role. Tom Wilkinson as Paul Emmett always gives a good performance. Robert Pugh as Richard Rycart is appropriately creepy. James Belushi is unrecognizable as John Maddox. Eli Wallach as the Old Man is indeed an old man.

Trivia:Roman Polanski has not been back to the United States since 1978 when he was convicted of the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl and fled to Europe to escape incarceration. Because he is cannot come to the US, this film was mostly shot in Germany. Polanski was under house arrest in Switzerland during post-production. Roman and his father are Holocaust survivors. His father was Jewish, and his half-Jewish mother (who was murdered in Auschwitz) had been raised as a Roman Catholic. He directed four actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Ruth Gordon, Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and Adrien Brody. Gordon and Brody won Oscars for their performance in one of his movies.

Predilection: I like Roman Polanski’s films.

Critters: None

Food: Sandwiches and lots of booze.

Sex Spectrum: None

Blatant Product Placement: Heineken, Samsung and BMW (with a very funny scene that involves a GPS).

Soundtrack: Ominous

Opening Titles: All titles are at the end.

Visual Art: Some nice contemporary art adorns the walls of the home.

Theater Audience: Crowded for a first showing on a Saturday.

Weather: It is dreary, rainy and gray throughout the film.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: 0

Drift Factor: I looked at my watch but it was because I was getting hungry, not bored.

Predictability Level: I was surprised.

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: Perhaps

Big Screen or Rental: For a Polanski weekend you could rent these fine films:
Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, Death and the Maiden, The Pianist and Tess

Length: Two hours.

LOBO HOWLS: 8


Movie Review: The Prophet (“Un Prophète”) February 27, 2010

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Movie Review: The Prophet (“Un Prophète”)

Alternate Title: Survivor

Story: Young (19) Malik enters a French prison an undefined slate. You could say he was feral and would not be far from the truth. Raised by the State, with no family, he has learned how to survive in the world by ducking his head. He cannot read and has no notable skills but can speak French and Arabic. Prison changes all of this. Director Jacques Audiard skillfully takes his time depicting the transformation of Malik. The film was written by Thomas Bidegain and Mr. Audiard and was based on an idea by Abdel Raouf Dafri and an original script by Mr. Dafri and Nicolas Peufaillit. The film is in French, Arabic and Corsu, with English subtitles.

Within days of entering prison, Malik is presented with an offer he cannot refuse. Either he kill one of the inmates or he will be killed. We watch as this innocent becomes wise to the ways of prison. He learns to read, he learns to murder, to connive, to survive. You wind up rooting for this young man because, like most other prison films, there are all levels of ‘bad.’

Director Audiard shows the boredom of prison along with the sudden bursts of violence. The cliques, the power plays, the corruption, the graft and the payoffs are all fascinating stuff in the history of cinema.

This ‘coming of age’ prison film is well worth your time. I only wish it had been a little shorter. At 2 and a half hours I, at times, felt as if I were in prison.

Acting: Tahar Rahim as Malik El Djebena was nothing short of sensational. Bravo. Niels Arestrup as kingpin César Luciani was Godfather worthy, for sure. The entire supporting cast was terrific including, Adel Bencherif (Ryad), Reda Kateb (Jordi le Gitan), Hichem Yacoubi (Reyeb), Jean-Philippe Ricci (Vettorri) and Slimane Dazi (Lattrache).

Trivia: Tahar Rahim attended the University Paul Valery of Montpellier where he studied drama. He is of Algerian descent and speaks fluent English.

Predilection: I like to see all of the Oscar nominated films if possible.

Critters: Deer that do not fare well on the road.

Food: Aforementioned deer, baguettes and prison food.

Sex Spectrum: Prostitutes can be brought into the prison for visits.

Blatant Product Placement: Nothing

Opening Titles: A sequence showing young Malik entering prison for his six year term.

Theater Audience: Fairly crowded for opening day. The crowd was overwhelmingly male. By the way – yesterdsy was a snow day in NYC which accounts for the movie crowd.

Weather: The seasons come and go in prison.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: There are several squirmy parts (prison is rough) and the general sense of tension permeates the film.

Drift Factor: I looked at my watch often during the second hour.

Predictability Level: I was hopeful as to the ending as was correct.

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: It is France’s entry to the Oscar race this year (2009). It also won the Grand Prize at Cannes.

Big Screen or Rental: Rental would be fine.

Length: Overly long at 2 hours and 29 minutes.

LOBO HOWLS: 8

Movie Review: The Last Station February 5, 2010

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Movie Review: The Last Station

Alternate Title: Practice What You Preach

Story: Can I still give a film a rotten review even if I liked the subject matter? If you agree I can, then here is a rotten review of a film that could have been much better.

It is 1911 Russia. The last year of superstar Leo Tolstoy‘s life. His writings (War and Peace and Anna Karenina) are known the world over and he has accumulated fame and vast wealth. There is even a movement named after him called ‘Tolstoyian.’ We enter Tolstoy’s world as the leader of the Tolstoyian movement is feverishly working on Tolstoy to change his will to give the copyright on his work to ‘the people.’ Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya, is super pissed by the idea that her family would be disinherited.

The good news is that the film is visually nice to watch and you do get a sense of being in 1911 Russia. The bad news is there are too many undeveloped characters and a story with no clear direction. The meandering is confusing and the film takes it for granted that the viewer is intimately aware of Tolstoy’s life and times. Not true. I even leaned over to my Wednesday movie buddy and asked him if he thought the film was true. It turns out, essentially it was based on true events. It was written and directed by Michael Hoffman and based on the book The Last Station by Jay Parini.

It was contradictory to watch the Tolstoyian’s preach about ‘the people’ and the redistribution of wealth when these on-screen characters enjoyed such opulence. Fast forward a few years (not depicted on screen ) and we get the Russian Revolution. Anyone want to see ‘Reds?’

Acting: Helen Mirren does some serious scene chewing as the Countess Sofya Tolstoy. Christopher Plummer as Leo Tolstoy matches her scene for scene in the chewing department. Paul Giamatti as the wicked-ish Vladimir Chertkov was somewhat a caricature. Anne-Marie Duff as Sasha Tolstoy was undeveloped. Kerry Condon as free love activist, Masha was fine and James McAvoy as secretary, Valentin Bulgakov was adequate but nothing to write home about.

Trivia: To read more about the life of Tolstoy check out this site. Director Michael Hoffman was a former Rhodes scholar. Paul Giammati’s father, A. Bartlett Giamatti, was a professor of Renaissance Literature at Yale University, and went on to become the university’s youngest president. (In 1986, Bart Giamatti was appointed president of baseball’s National League. He became Commissioner of Baseball on April 1, 1989 and served for five months until his untimely death on September 1, 1989. He was commissioner at the time Pete Rose was banned from the game.)

Predilection: I like to see films that have Oscar nominations. This one has two (see category below).

Critters: Horses, goats and chickens and mosquito’s.

Food: Sumptuous tables with plenty of food.

Sex Spectrum: Yes, young Valentin loses his virginity to the wild and wacky Masha.

Soundtrack: Soaring and a bit much at times.

Opening Titles: I cannot remember. However, during the end credits there are some vintage reels of the real Tostoy.

Visual Art: It is a pretty film.

Theater Audience: About 15 other Bolsheviks.

Weather: Russia wa lovely in the summer.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: 0

Drift Factor: I drifted a lot.

Predictability Level: High

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: Helen Mirren is nominated for Best Actress and Christopher Plummer is nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Neither is deserved and I like both of these actors.

Big Screen or Rental: Rental is fine. I would see Reds before I see this one again.

Length: Under two hours.

LOBO HOWLS: 6