Monthly Archives: August 2009

Definitely, Maybe (2008)


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Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Isla Fisher, Derek Luke, Abigail Breslin, Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Kline
Director: Adam Brooks
Screenwriter: Adam Brook
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„Definitely, Maybe” is a long PG-rated bedtime story told by a divorcing father (Ryan Reynolds) to his very clever and cute girl (all grown up Abigail Breslin of the great „Little Miss Sunshine” fame), a „mistery romance” involving three diferent women, each of which could be the mother of his daughter. We are teased about the changing of the names, so that we know that the Sarah from the settlement papers could be the blonde Emily (Elizabeth Banks), the fire red April (Isla Fisher) or the brunette Summer (Rachel Weisz). Ultimately the conclusion is surprisingly outside this dilemma. And by surprisingly I mean “out of nowhere”.

Although the movie is tediously long, the characters are unacceptably underdeveloped. The main character, a Wisconsin young man with presidential ambitions and a Clinton supporter, arrives in New York for an internship in the democrat campaign office. This is all established in the first 5 minutes and it’s repeated at nauseam, and what makes it even worse is that no further traits are presented. Except maybe a touch of self pity that is never attractive. Despite being two dimensional, he still manages to find beautiful women ready to commit to him. The first one is his college girlfriend Emily. She fairs far worse: she has only one dimension – Wisconsin girl who wears sweaters. And because of the vagueness around her, when an extra (his roommate) gets a line, we know for sure a) what is going to happen, b) that it is important in the storyline and c) that we do not care. Next in line is Summer, a journalist with a bohemian lifestyle, because it is impossible to be a talented artist unless you’ve had a lesbian experience, slept with your age 66 mentor and travelled to Europe. And the only one that gets a little back story is Isla Fisher’s character (therefore we know she’s special): the carefree forever young soul dubbed the “copy machine girl” who has an obsession about finding the book that her father gave to her before he died (“Jane Eyre”), and I tried to give a shit but it was impossible seeing how nobody ever bothered to explain how she lost it in the first place. These beautiful bland people seem to be the only four dwellers of Manhattan as they keep bumping into each other over and over again for years. Luckily, their non-emotional drama is sometimes interrupted by the comments of the preteen girl who seems the only one capable of expressing and attracting any kind of sympathy.

The pacing is unbearable. There are long useless scenes that I think were inserted to compensate for the lack of unity by adding “historic setting” to the thematic chaos, and the writer is trying so hard to evoke the 90’s (“hahahaha, they had brick cell phones in ’92!”, “remember the Lewinsky scandal?”, “Bush is dumb”) that he should receive the Nobel Prize for curing insomnia. Newsflash for the makers of this movie: if you say it is a romantic comedy, please make us laugh or make us feel warm and fuzzy inside (preferably both), don’t bore us to death with your useless “transcending genre” crap. The people who come to see a romantic comedy a)expect to laugh at least once, b) should not be compelled to check their watches every minute and c) DO NOT APPRECIATE EMPTY SHELLS OF REJECTED SUNDANCE MATERIAL and d) can see that you are being boring on purpose and they may start to hate you. And my personal favorite: e) all the above.

Will has two operating patterns: when he is not sure what he wants and he is not in love he proposes, and when he loves a girl he insults her by being condescending or he asks her to stop doing her job because she is in his way. All while pursing his lips and crying himself to sleep because of all the hardship he had to endure, hardship that is not only self-inflicted, but also well deserved. The comatose acting of Reynolds is not helping either, and through his long continuous journey he arjfwqqqqqqdsffffffjaosfsanvasifajfnvn aigssagiaosgosagoasgasgagasgosagiasoigagoasogaosgoiasogaviasgaosgiasogosaogaogoasdccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccc… Sorry, I fell asleep. Where was I? Ah yes, the point of the “love story” is layered etryuilkjhgfhjkllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll… Ok, I need to skip this part.

I was surprised to se the 72% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I began to wonder if I missed something (besides Abigail who is charming and great and without who I would have left the cinema long before the credits) because I kept fixating on how long it lasted and how excruciatingly slow the seconds passed. But then I remembered that I lived through (and enjoyed) the mind numbing “The Hours” (or the “virtually humorless and extremely talky, the movie takes place during one day in each woman’s life, although it moves so slowly it often feels like a week” as this critic described it), as well as every episode of “90210” (have you seen it? it’s so bad it’s good!) and never complained because the first had actual wit and the second never apologized for being a brainless soap opera.

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Duplicity (2009)


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Starring : Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson
Writer and Director : Tony Gilroy
Rating : PG-13 for language and some sexual content.

Espionage is a very fruitful resource for screenwriter’s inspiration. The possibilities are basically infinite. The ’80s for example were all about the Cold War all the way through the ‘90s. But as we slowly but surely approached the new millenium, spy movies were losing their appeal. The James Bond franchise was becoming stale even with the Pierce Brosnan reboot, “Mission:Impossible” was about to receive a very curious sequel in 2000 which broke all ties to its roots, and Tom Clancy novels were no longer of interest for Hollywood. Times were bad for spies. That is, until 2001 when “The Bourne Identity” and TV series “24” reignited some of that passion for deadly, almost invincible super-agents with a slight twist, a more modern, darkish and sllightly more realistic sensibility added to the characters, something that would even carry over to the 007 franchise. To blame for this is screenwriter Tony Gilroy who wrote all three Bourne films (and, perhaps less known for his work on “Proof of Life” and “Dolores Claiborne”). Recently he’s been trying his hand as a director. His directorial debut, “Michael Clayton” earned him a lot of accolades and a handsome amount of award nominations. His last project : “Duplicity”.

Quite a long introduction, I know. Now off to a small synopsis. Ray Koval (Clive Owen) is an MI6 agent. Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) is a CIA agent. When they first meet, they don’t know that about each other. After a lite flirt, they end up sharing a hotel room, where she drugs him and steals some sensible documents he was supposed to be protecting with his own life. Not very MI6 of him, right ? Fate would have them meet again after some time. The attraction between them is irresistable so they end up sharing a hotel room once again, this time without any work-related intentions, though they hardly trust each other. They cook up a plan which would allow them to make a lot of money, enough to quit their day jobs. The plan requires one of them to infiltrate a company with a big product on the market, while the other infiltrates a rival company, allowing them to play at both ends to retrieve vital information about a hypothetical ground-breaking new product, information which they will then sell to a third party for personal gain.

Sounds complicated doesn’t it ? It sure is. Claire gets a job protecting industrial secrets for Burkett&Randle, owned by Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson). Ray gets a job stealing industrial secrets at Equickrom, owned by Richard Garsik (Paul Giamatti). Claire becomes a mole for Equickrom, but the objective is to place vital information in Ray’s hands. When Burkett&Randle announce the development of a super-product, Garsik let’s loose with the corporate espionage, and the game is on.

At first glance, the story doesn’t seem too complicated, but that’s mostly because I tried to organize the film’s plot in a comprehensive manner. The film never follows a traditional narrative line. Instead, the story flips back and forward from the present, where Claire and Ray seem to not know each other, to earlier moments in time, which slowly allow us to realise what their true intentions are. And even that is not all there is to it, but I’ll just stick to what the trailers made public for those who haven’t seen it. The main idea follows the corporate wars in a satirical manner. The main title sequence finds the two corporate bosses engaging in full contact dirty fighting on an airstrip, all in slow motion. I think that makes a solid point. But not much else about this film is as straightforward. The script follows a complicated path to its resolution, playing with our minds throughout, which I think, in a way is part of the point Gilroy is trying to make. He’s also showing off quite a bit. Is it necessary ? Not really. Is it interesting ? Somewhat. Is the man a master when it comes to writing scripts ? He sure is. The main title says it all. Duality. Not just the lies and deceit built around the two corporations, but also around the two protagonists, Claire and Ray. The two love each other, but they just can’t trust one another. All their training as spies has taught them to keep their guard up and trust no one, and that’s just not what makes a relationship work. Julia Roberts and Clive Owen (second collaboration since “Closer”) are talented and charismatic, and their conflictual relationship, filled with verbal jousting cleverly written by Gilroy, works especially because they react so well together. The espionage plot may or may not dazzle you, but it’s the relationship between these two characters that is the drive of the film.

In short, it’s an interesting approach to spy films, wonderfully backed up by a great cast and featuring a sometimes too complicated script. Complicated, but smart and crafty. Though there were times I wished I had started writing down some of the plot elements, the film ultimately rewards the viewer, though a repeat viewing is not exactly tempting.

Babylon A.D. (2008)


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Starring : Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Melanie Thierry, Gerard Depardeu, Charlotte Rampling
Director : Mathieu Kassovitz
Screenwriter: Mathieu Kassovitz, Joseph Simas
Rating : PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language and some sexuality

I always regarded Mathieu Kassovitz as a talented director. His 1995 director award at Cannes for “La Haine” (aso nominated for the Palme D’Or) and his ’97 second nomination for “Assassin(s)” seemed to confirm that. But his follow up films seemed to be less inclined to please the critics. “Les Rivieres Pourpres”, “Gothika” and the awesome failure “Babylon A.D.” won’t be seen present at any awards ceremony too soon (maybe the Razzies). The latter, even Kassovitz dismisses as being like a bad episode of “24”.

His troubles seem to have started in the production stages of the film, with the studios interfering quite often in his efforts, altering both the script and the overall directorial vision. It certainly must have been some complex script since I read it took him five years to write it. Also, it seems 70 minutes of the film were cut before release, against Kassovitz’s will. I’m not sure if they would have made any difference, but it might still have been better than the current confused mess it is.

Somewhere in a relatively near future, Vin Diesel is Toorop, a cynical mercenary who receives a delicate mission from a russian gangster, Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu in heavy make-up). The mission requires Toorop to escort a mysterious young girl, Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her protector, sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) to New York. The two are members of a global religious cult, the Neolites, whose ambitions regard influence on a global scale. The trio’s perilous journey from the frozen wastes of Russia to the neon-lit New York carries the viewer through numerous dystopian locations, without going into too much backstory about this version of the future. The production design certainly contains enough clues about what a bad place the world has become, all because of our rotten nature, hence the title “Babylon A.D.”. Also, Toorop’s mission becomes even more complicated when Aurora seems to manifest all kinds of supernatural traits. She can see things before they happen, she can sense the emotions of people around her and acts like the designated messiah of the future. Also joining the chase are the Neolite’s High Priestess (Charlotte Rampling), acting like the designated villain, and Aurora’s long lost father who comes at the exact moment of the plot to provide the film with its twist. Toorop and Rebeka become guardian angels (I just could not avoid further religious analogies) in an invisible conflict, with mankind’s fate at stake.

As I mentioned, there are twists involved so I’ll keep the synopsis to a minimum. It might not be much of a film, but I don’t want to ruin the whole thing for you. It’s biggest flaw seems to be the incoherent story. Minus the 70 lost minutes, it’s just a jumbled 90 minute mess that has to squeeze a plot between the Vin Diesel patented action scenes. It feels incomplete, confusing and ultimately too over the top in pursuing the religious tone. It’s also the kind of Sci Fi with a moral statement attached, but it’s more like a slap over the head than a revelation. The visual effects and production design are quite good for the moderate budget it had available. Vin Diesel is convincing enough for the part, considering all he has to do is to mumble lines and be physical. The supporting cast does a good enough job considering, though they are clearly not having any fun. The action is a bit lacking, and when it does show up it doesn’t impress. For example, a big shootout in the middle of a jammed intersection ends up being over-edited and confusing. The ending is silly and comes surprisingly too late. Overall, it can be argued that the film does not have much going for it.

It might not be entirely the director’s fault. He might be the victim of the studios much like David Fincher with Alien 3. However, this does not excuse the finished product which is catastrophic. It might have required a Director’s Cut to make sense of it, but as it is, it’s just a waste of time.

The Hours (2002)


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Starring: Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Ed Harris, Allison Janney, John C. Reilly, Eileen Atkins, Stephen Dillane
Director: Stephen Daldry
Screenwriter: David Hare

As I was reading Virginia Woolf’s “Miss Dalloway” I remembered about “The Hours”, the great movie about the life and mental illness of the troubled author, played by Nicole Kidman, but combined with glimpses of the lives of other two suicidal women: a housewife of the 1950’s (Laura – Julianne Moore) and a contemporary embodiment of Miss Dalloway herself (Clarissa – Meryl Streep). Three different times, three different people, tragic similarities.

The main element these women share, however, is the superlative acting. The prosthetic nose was a source of much hype when it was announced that Nicole Kidman, known for her pretty girl image (it was the beginning of the ’00, little did anybody know that in a matter of almost 5 years, “the pretty girls” will be represented by moron blondes barely out of their teens with one or more addiction problems and absolutely no discernable talent like Mischa Barton and Kidman will become acting royalty), would play Virginia Wolf in the adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1998 novel. Many thought she would not be up for the task. I, for example, did not consider her a cardboard actress, but I also would have never nominated her as a great one either. She seemed bland and lifeless, a condition that she and Gwyneth Paltrow turned into a career. But she is wonderful here, to my surprise, and she manages to speak volumes from underneath the plastic appendix. Julianne Moore plays the mother of one (Jack Rovello) and she is heartbreaking as she struggles with depression and unhappiness, all while trying to pull herself together. The scenes between her and her son are wonderfully acted and perfectly directed. Last but not least, Meryl Streep, a force in the drama department and everywhere else, is a modern New Yorker facing a horrible picture – the one of her former lover slowly dying of AIDS. She makes portraying strength and pain and sadness so effortless that she is automatically an inspiration for every young actress, but they do not imagine how much hard work and talent is required to be credible and part of the character while not overbearing or exaggerated (recently, Jessica Biel compared herself with Streep and Blanchett and she was quoted saying that the main difference between her and these two superlative actresses is her beauty that seems to get in the way of her getting great parts. Right.)

There is a slight feeling of surreal throughout the passing of “The Hours”. It seems that everything is happening in slow motion, that nobody is in a hurry, and because of the time changing and as the stories are progressing, the viewer is tightly wrapped into a web of various emotions, ranging from anger, depression, fear to peace, happiness and courage. It reminds us that even though the pain and solitude may seem too much to bear at times, it is our own incapacity to communicate and to change the aspects of our lives that hurt us that ultimately wears us down. And just like “Volver”, another personal favorite, it shows the sides of strong yet fragile women, women who can break the law – even kill – and be ahead of their times attracting unwanted attention and judgments, but cannot stand loneliness. Women that have the courage to move mountains for their loved ones but have no words for the pain inside them, leaving it to rot away until there is nothing left. Women that have so much to give but seem afraid of receiving, because they are not satisfied with “something”, they want “everything”.

It was clear from the literary preciousness of the script and the complex themes that this movie was aiming for the Oscars. It was also obvious that the “Bridget Jones” – ing of Nicole Kidman had the same purpose. But this does not change the high quality of this movie nor does it minimize it’s cast superb work. “The Hours” is one of the few recent fine movies.