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The Tale of Despereaux (2008) Movie Review

The Tale of Despereaux

Universal Pictures, Despereaux, voiced by Matthew Broderick, in a scene from “The Tale of Despereaux.”

Killer Soup, and a Mouse to the Rescue

Published: December 19, 2008
Once upon a time there was a charming tale of a wee little mouse with wide-open eyes and ears as large as saucers. Named Despereaux Tilling, the mouse grew up, though not by much, to become a reader of books and the besotted friend of a lovely human princess named Pea. In time he saved the day, battling an army of rats, and won the hearts of millions of readers and eventually a contract with a Hollywood studio. This is how the book “The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread” became a computer-animated movie, though without the rambling subtitle and as many eccentricities.

Being a Hollywood story of a mouse, a princess, some soup and thread — not to mention rats, hats and a girl named Mig with the unfortunate looks of a pig — the movie “The Tale of Despereaux” offers up other changes too. It begins as all fairy tales should, with a narrator (an efficient, somewhat cool-sounding Sigourney Weaver) recounting the story of the pastel-hued Kingdom of Dor, where the peasants were content, the rulers were just, and the rats scuttled about unmolested. The balm for this peaceable kingdom was soup, a fragrant broth that flowed out of the royal kitchen and into the waiting bowls of the populace. But good times turned to bad when a rat named Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) fell into the queen’s soup, producing a fatal reaction.

Directed by Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen and written by Gary Ross (who also served as one of the producers), “Despereaux” is a pleasantly immersive, beautifully animated, occasionally sleepy tale. Like most American animated movies, it centers on a plucky hero (softly voiced by Matthew Broderick) who, against the nominal odds (though, really, the odds are always stacked in his favor), overcomes adversity of some kind.

As in Kate DiCamillo’s enchanting, Newbery Medal-winning book, Despereaux has to triumph over both his home life (he’s far too bold for the other mice) and the forces of darkness shrouding Dor. What’s particularly sweet about his journey is that it begins with a book he was supposed to nibble, not read.

Reading transforms Despereaux, turning a bold little mouse into a great big hero — a wonderful moral for any children’s book. The story he reads is a fairy tale about a sad princess and a brave knight, an adventure that periodically springs to expressive life because Despereaux doesn’t merely read this tale, he visualizes it so we see it too.

Animated in a more graphically bold style than the rest of the movie, the fairy tale becomes a story within a story. And in one clever scene, which finds the mouse describing the exploits of the knight and the princess to a separate character, the fairy tale plays on the wall next to him as if it were being projected like a movie.

It doesn’t take long for Despereaux to experience the dangerous lows and exultant highs of a knight’s quest. Like many other misunderstood heroes, he suffers for his specialness, which in this case finds him banished from Mouseworld, an orderly Lilliput, to Ratworld, a menacing purgatory filled with bones and introduced with a flourish of Middle Eastern flute music. (The casbah vibe thankfully fades fast.)

There he meets Roscuro, and together they embark on the road to redemption, with justice and a happily ever after for all, including the princess (Emma Watson) and Mig (Tracey Ullman), a peasant whose porcine qualities suggest that ugliness is destiny. But “The Tale of Despereaux” is on the side of kindness, not cruelty, and it encourages smiles if not the book’s flights of fancy.

The movie has a fine sense of pictorial detail — the mouse’s delicate whiskers, the images of soup ladles carved into the palace stairs — and an agreeable gentleness. It deviates from its source material in generally modest and unobtrusive ways; for instance, by reorganizing the book’s fragmented, parallel story lines into a linear whole.

The main difference between the source and its adaptation is that while the book exudes charm, the movie leans toward cute, a substitution that largely speaks to the influence of Disney on animation. In the movie Despereaux wears a red cap that makes him look more like a well-dressed bunny than like a mouse. But at least he’s not wearing Mickey’s gold clodhoppers and bottom-line grin.

“The Tale of Despereaux” is rated G (General audiences). Some children and city-raised adults might find all the hungry, scurrying rats a bit (or very) creepy.

THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX

Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen; written by Gary Ross, based on a screen story by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi and the book by Kate DiCamillo; edited by Mark Solomon; music by William Ross; production designer, Evgeni Tomov; produced by Gary Ross and Allison Thomas; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. This film is rated G.

WITH THE VOICES OF: Matthew Broderick (Despereaux), Robbie Coltrane (Gregory), Frances Conroy (Antoinette), Tony Hale (Furlough), Ciaran Hinds (Botticelli), Dustin Hoffman (Roscuro), Richard Jenkins (Principal), Kevin Kline (Andre), Frank Langella (Mayor), Christopher Lloyd (Hovis), William H. Macy (Lester), Charles Shaughnessy (Pietro), Stanley Tucci (Boldo), Tracey Ullman (Miggery Sow), Emma Watson (Princess Pea) and Sigourney Weaver (Narrator).

Source : NYTimes

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Gran Torino (2008) Movie Review

From The New York Times

This movie has been designated a Critic’s Pick by the film reviewers of The Times.

Gran Torino

Warner Bros. Pictures

Clint Eastwood portrays a retired, bigoted Detroit autoworker in “Gran Torino.”

Hope for a Racist, and Maybe a Country

by MANOHLA DARGIS

Published: December 12, 2008
Twice in the last decade, just as the holiday movie season has begun to sag under the weight of its own bloat, full of noise and nonsense signifying nothing, Clint Eastwood has slipped another film into theaters and shown everyone how it’s done. This year’s model is “Gran Torino,” a sleek, muscle car of a movie Made in the U.S.A., in that industrial graveyard called Detroit. I’m not sure how he does it, but I don’t want him to stop. Not because every film is great — though, damn, many are — but because even the misfires show an urgent engagement with the tougher, messier, bigger questions of American life.

Few Americans make movies about this country anymore, other than Mr. Eastwood, a man whose vitality as an artist shows no signs of waning, even in a nominally modest effort like “Gran Torino.” Part of this may be generational: Mr. Eastwood started as an actor in the old studio system, back when the major movie companies were still in the business of American life rather than just international properties. Hollywood made movies for export then, of course, but part of what it exported was an idea of America as a democratic ideal, an idea of greatness which, however blinkered and false and occasionally freighted with pessimism, was persuasive simply because Gene Kelly and John Wayne were persuasive.

While it’s easy to understand why the last eight years (or the last 50) have made it difficult to sell that idea to the world or even the country, it’s dispiriting that so many movies are disconnected from everyday experience, from economic worries to race. Pauline Kael used to beat up on Stanley Kramer, the director of earnest middlebrow entertainments like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” but at least these movies had a connection to real life or an idea about it. Ms. Kael also famously branded Don Siegel’s “Dirty Harry” as “deeply immoral,” even fascistic, but the film became a classic because of its ambiguous engagement with American violence and masculinity. Mr. Eastwood and a .44 Magnum did their bit too.

Dirty Harry is back, in a way, in “Gran Torino,” not as a character but as a ghostly presence. He hovers in the film, in its themes and high-caliber imagery, and of course most obviously in Mr. Eastwood’s face. It is a monumental face now, so puckered and pleated that it no longer looks merely weathered, as it has for decades, but seems closer to petrified wood. Words like flinty and steely come to mind, adjectives that Mr. Eastwood, in his performance as Walt Kowalski, expressively embodies with his usual lack of fuss and a number of growls. A former auto worker at Ford, Walt has just put his longtime wife in the ground when the story opens. From his scowl, it looks as if he would like to join her.

Instead he sits on his front porch chugging can after can of cheap beer in the company of his yellow Labrador, Daisy, watching the world at a safe distance with a squint and a stream of bitter commentary. Kept at bay, the remaining members of his family — including two sons with big houses, big cars, big waistlines — have no choice but to let him stew alone. Yet the rest of the world refuses to leave Walt be, despite his best efforts and grimace. The world first creeps into his peripheral vision, where a family of Hmong immigrants live in the rundown house next door; and then, through a series of unfortunate events, some artful and others creaking with scripted contrivance, it stages a life-altering home invasion.

Written by a newcomer, Nick Schenk, the story eases into gear with an act of desperation.Under violent threat from some Hmong gangbangers, the next-door neighbor’s teenage son, Thao (Bee Vang), tries and fails to steal Walt’s cherry 1972 Gran Torino, and in the bargain nearly loses his life to its angry, armed owner. Thao’s family, led by his mouthy, friendly sister, Sue (a very good Ahney Her), forces the teenager to do penance by working for Walt, an arrangement that pleases neither the man nor the boy. No one seems a more unlikely (or reluctant) father surrogate than Walt, a foulmouthed bigot with an unprintable epithet for every imaginable racial and ethnic group. Growling — often literally, “Grr, grr” — he resists the family’s overtures like a man under siege, walled in by years of suspicion, prejudice and habit.

Walt assumes his protector role gradually, a transformation that at first plays in an often broadly comic key. Mr. Eastwood’s loose, at times very funny performance in the early part of the film is one of its great pleasures. While some of this enjoyment can be likened to spending time with an old friend, Mr. Eastwood is also an adept director of his own performances and, perhaps more important, a canny manipulator of his own iconographic presence. He knows that when we’re looking at him, we’re also seeing Dirty Harry and the Man With No Name and all his other outlaws and avenging angels who have roamed across the screen for the last half-century. All these are embedded in his every furrow and gesture.

These spectral figures, totems of masculinity and mementos from a heroic cinematic age, are what make this unassuming film — small in scale if not in the scope of its ideas — more than just a vendetta flick or an entertainment about a crazy coot and the exotic strangers next door. As the story unfolds and the gangbangers return and Walt reaches for his gun, the film moves from comedy into drama and then tragedy and then into something completely unexpected. We’ve seen this western before, though not quite. Because this isn’t John Wayne near the end of the 20th century, but Clint Eastwood at the start of the still-new 21st, remaking the image of the hero for one more and perhaps final time, one generation of Americans making way for the next.

That probably sounds heavier than I mean, but “Gran Torino” doesn’t go down lightly. Despite all the jokes — the scenes of Walt lighting up at female flattery and scrambling for Hmong delicacies — the film has the feel of a requiem. Melancholy is etched in every long shot of Detroit’s decimated, emptied streets and in the faces of those who remain to still walk in them. Made in the 1960s and ’70s, the Gran Torino was never a great symbol of American automotive might, which makes Walt’s love for the car more poignant. It was made by an industry that now barely makes cars, in a city that hardly works, in a country that too often has felt recently as if it can’t do anything right anymore except, every so often, make a movie like this one.

“Gran Torino” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). The film has some exceedingly foul language, a great many racist slurs and bloody violence.

GRAN TORINO

Opens on Friday in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by Nick Schenk, based on a story by Dave Johannson and Mr. Schenk; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; music by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens; production designer, James J. Murakami; produced by Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz and Bill Gerber; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes.

WITH: Clint Eastwood (Walt Kowalski), Bee Vang (Thao Lor), Ahney Her (Sue Lor) and Christopher Carley (Father Janovich).

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Frost/Nixon (2008) Movie Review

Frost/Nixon

Ralph Nelson

Michael Sheen, left, as David Frost and Frank Langella as Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon.”

Mr. Frost, Meet Mr. Nixon

Published: December 5, 2008
It’s twinkle versus glower in the big-screen edition of Peter Morgan’s theatrical smackdown “Frost/Nixon.” Directed by Ron Howard and adapted by Mr. Morgan, the film revisits the televised May 1977 face-off between the toothy British personality David Frost and the disgraced former president Richard M. Nixon three years after he left office, trimming their nearly 30-hour armchair-to-armchair spar into a tidy 122-minute narrative of loss and redemption that, at least from this ringside seat, would be better titled “Nixon/Frost.”

Broadcast in four 90-minute programs, the interviews were seen as an enormous risk both for Mr. Frost, who was gambling with his money and future, and for the presidentially pardoned Nixon, who was seeking absolution but risked further public humiliation. (Whatever the outcome, he was guaranteed a sweet jackpot: some $600,000 and 10 percent of the profits.)

For James Reston Jr., who helped Mr. Frost prepare for the interviews (and is played by a rabbity Sam Rockwell in the movie), and whose book “The Conviction of Richard Nixon” was the so-called grist for Mr. Morgan’s play, the former president was akin to Proteus, the wily, shape-shifting Old Man of the Sea from “The Odyssey.” It’s an evocative image, though the thing about Proteus is that when caught he does tell the truth.

As it happens, the worst didn’t happen to either Frost or Nixon, the worst being relative to your political view. The fallen leader fell no further, despite the choking close-ups, beads of sweat, agonized stammers, weird digressions and outrageous pronouncements: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” The reviews were decidedly mixed — from prison his former aide John D. Ehrlichman gave Nixon’s performance the big thumbs down, calling it “a smarmy, maudlin rationalization.” But the audience share was huge, blockbuster-size: the first program, on Watergate, which played against a John Wayne flick and reruns of “Good Times” and “The Bionic Woman,” attracted as many viewers as the year’s reigning ratings champ, “Happy Days,” the Eisenhower-era sitcom in which Mr. Howard played the Everyboy Richie Cunningham.

Stories of lost crowns lend themselves to drama, but not necessarily audience-pleasing entertainments, which may explain why “Frost/Nixon” registers as such a soothing, agreeably amusing experience, more palliative than purgative. Anchored by its first-rate leads, who originated the roles on the London stage — Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost — the movie is a talkathon embellished with camera movements. It opens with one of those compressed historical montages, a kind of tossed salad of names, places and dates (Walter Cronkite, Watergate, August 1974), before moving on to the main course: Frost trying to persuade — and, with comforting words and an open checkbook, eventually persuading — Nixon to sit down to a series of on-camera interviews in a suburban Southern California house.

Much like Mr. Morgan’s screenplay for “The Queen,” a fictionalized account of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Tony Blair in the aftermath of Diana’s death, “Frost/Nixon” turns on a power struggle between stubborn if sympathetic adversaries. Once again Mr. Sheen, who played Mr. Blair in both “The Queen” and “The Deal,” a made-for-British-television movie written by Mr. Morgan, assumes the role of the professional sycophant who proves tougher than his breezy smiles suggest. And once again, much as he was by Helen Mirren in “The Queen,” the likable, watchable Mr. Sheen has been pitted against a scene-stealer who, if not carefully tethered, will devour the screen by the greedy mouthful.

And devour Mr. Langella does, chomp chomp. Artfully lighted and shot to accentuate the character’s trembling, affronted jowls, his shoulders hunched, face bunched, he creeps along like a spider, alternately retreating into the shadows and pouncing with a smile. That smile should give you nightmares, but Mr. Howard, a competent craftsman who tends to dim the lights in his movies even while brightening their themes (“A Beautiful Mind”), has neither the skill nor the will to draw out a dangerous performance from Mr. Langella, something to make your skin crawl or heart leap. Unlike Oliver Stone, who invested Nixon (a memorable Anthony Hopkins) with Shakespearean heft but refused to sentimentalize him, this is a portrait designed to elicit a sniffy tear or two along with a few statuettes.

At one point in the stage production of “Frost/Nixon” the two opponents sat facing each other under a bank of monitors showing the president’s face in fragmented mosaic. It’s a terrific theatrical contrivance that literalizes Mr. Morgan’s belief that Mr. Frost understood the power of the close-up. (Mr. Howard’s more prosaic interpretation of this same theme results in a lot of … close-ups.) But Mr. Morgan radically underestimates Nixon’s own understanding of television itself. By the time he took on Mr. Frost, memories of his flop-sweat encounter with John F. Kennedy had been long supplanted by images of Nixon in China, and on your family television set. As one Nixon adviser said in 1967, “The response is to the image, not to the man.” In 1977 Nixon dusted off that image. The cleanup job continues.

“Frost/Nixon” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Crude language.

FROST/NIXON

Opens on Friday in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Ron Howard; written by Peter Morgan, based on his stage play; director of photography, Salvatore Totino; edited by Mike Hill and Dan Hanley; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Michael Corenblith; produced by Brian Grazer, Mr. Howard, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 2 minutes.

WITH: Frank Langella (Richard Nixon), Michael Sheen (David Frost), Kevin Bacon (Jack Brennan), Rebecca Hall (Caroline Cushing), Toby Jones (Swifty Lazar), Matthew MacFadyen (John Birt), Oliver Platt (Bob Zelnick) and Sam Rockwell (James Reston Jr.).

Source : NYTimes

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Milk (2008) Movie Review

Milk

Bill Bray/Focus Features – Sean Penn, center, portrays Harvey Milk, the San Francisco city supervisor who was murdered in 1978.

Freedom Fighter in Life Becomes Potent Symbol in Death

Published: November 26, 2008

One of the first scenes in “Milk” is of a pick-up in a New York subway station. It’s 1970, and an insurance executive in a suit and tie catches sight of a beautiful, scruffy younger man — the phrase “angel-headed hipster” comes to mind — and banters with him on the stairs. The mood of the moment, which ends up with the two men eating birthday cake in bed, is casual and sexy, and its flirtatious playfulness is somewhat disarming, given our expectation of a serious and important movie grounded in historical events. “Milk,” directed by Gus Van Sant from a script by Dustin Lance Black, is certainly such a film, but it manages to evade many of the traps and compromises of the period biopic with a grace and tenacity worthy of its title character.

That would be Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn), a neighborhood activist elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 and murdered, along with the city’s mayor, George Moscone (Victor Garber), by a former supervisor named Dan White (Josh Brolin) the next year. Notwithstanding the modesty of his office and the tragic foreshortening of his tenure, Milk, among the first openly gay elected officials in the country, had a profound impact on national politics, and his rich afterlife in American culture has affirmed his status as pioneer and martyr. His brief career has inspired an opera by Stewart Wallace, an excellent documentary film (“The Times of Harvey Milk,” by Rob Epstein, from 1984) and now “Milk,” which is the best live-action mainstream American movie that I have seen this year. This is not faint praise, by the way, even though 2008 has been a middling year for Hollywood. “Milk” is accessible and instructive, an astute chronicle of big-city politics and the portrait of a warrior whose passion was equaled by his generosity and good humor. Mr. Penn, an actor of unmatched emotional intensity and physical discipline, outdoes himself here, playing a character different from any he has portrayed before.

This is less a matter of sexuality — there is no longer much novelty in a straight actor’s “playing gay” — than of temperament. Unlike, say, Jimmy Markum, Mr. Penn’s brooding ex-convict in Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River,” Harvey Milk is an extrovert and an ironist, a man whose expansive, sometimes sloppy self-presentation camouflages an incisive mind and a ferociously stubborn will. All of this Mr. Penn captures effortlessly through voice and gesture, but what is most arresting is the sense he conveys of Milk’s fundamental kindness, a personal virtue that also functions as a political principle.

Which is not to say that “Milk” is an easy, sunny, feel-good movie, or that its hero is a shiny liberal saint. There is righteous anger in this movie, and also an arresting, moody lyricism. Mr. Van Sant has frequently practiced a kind of detached romanticism, letting his stories unfold matter-of-factly while infusing them with touches of melancholy beauty. (He is helped here by Danny Elfman’s elegant score and by the expressive cinematography of Harris Savides, whose touch when it comes to framing and focus could more aptly be called a caress.)

In the years since the earnest and commercial “Finding Forrester” (2000), Mr. Van Sant has devoted himself to smaller-scale projects, some of them (like the Palme d’Or-winning provocation “Elephant”) employing nonprofessional actors, and none of them much concerned with soliciting the approval of the mass audience. “Gerry,” “Elephant,” “Last Days” and “Paranoid Park” are linked by a spirit of formal exploration — elements of Mr. Van Sant’s experimental style include long tracking shots; oblique, fractured narratives; and a way of composing scenes that emphasizes visual and aural texture over conventional dramatic exposition — and also by a preoccupation with death.

Like “Elephant” (suggested by the Columbine High shootings) and “Last Days” (by the suicide of Kurt Cobain), “Milk” is the chronicle of a death foretold. Before that subway station encounter, we have already seen real-life news video of the aftermath of Milk’s assassination, as well as grainy photographs of gay men being rounded up by the police. These images don’t spoil the intimacy between Harvey the buttoned-up businessman and Scott Smith (James Franco), the hippie who becomes his live-in lover and first campaign manager. Rather, the constant risk of harassment, humiliation and violence is the defining context of that intimacy.

And his refusal to accept this as a fact of life, his insistence on being who he is without secrecy or shame, is what turns Milk from a bohemian camera store owner (after his flight from New York and the insurance business) into a political leader.

“My name is Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you.” That was an opening line that the real Milk often used in his speeches to break the tension with straight audiences, but the film shows him deploying it with mostly gay crowds as well, with a slightly different inflection. He wants to recruit them into the politics of democracy, to persuade them that the stigma and discrimination they are used to enduring quietly and even guiltily can be addressed by voting, by demonstrating, by claiming the share of power that is every citizen’s birthright and responsibility.

The strength of Mr. Black’s script is that it grasps both the radicalism of Milk’s political ambition and the pragmatism of his methods. “Milk” understands that modern politics thrive at the messy, sometimes glorious intersection of grubby interests and noble ideals. Shortly after moving with Scott from New York to the Castro section of San Francisco, Milk begins organizing the gay residents of that neighborhood, seeking out allies among businessmen, labor unions and other groups.

The city’s gay elite, discomfited by his confrontational tactics, keeps Milk at a distance, leaving him to build a movement from the ground up with the help of a young rabble-rouser and ex-hustler named Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch).

For more than two lively, eventful hours, “Milk” conforms to many of the conventions of biographical filmmaking, if not always to the precise details of the hero’s biography. Milk’s inexhaustible political commitment takes its toll on his relationships, first with Scott and then with Jack Lira, an impulsive, unstable young man played by Diego Luna with an operatic verve that stops just short of camp.

Meanwhile, local San Francisco issues are overshadowed by a statewide anti-gay-rights referendum and the national crusade, led by the orange-juice spokesmodel Anita Bryant, to repeal municipal antidiscrimination laws. The culture war is unfolding, and Milk is in the middle of it. (And so, 30 years later, in the wake of Proposition 8, is “Milk.”)

“Milk” is a fascinating, multi-layered history lesson. In its scale and visual variety it feels almost like a calmed-down Oliver Stone movie, stripped of hyperbole and Oedipal melodrama. But it is also a film that like Mr. Van Sant’s other recent work — and also, curiously, like David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” another San Francisco-based tale of the 1970s — respects the limits of psychological and sociological explanation.

Dan White, Milk’s erstwhile colleague and eventual assassin, haunts the edges of the movie, representing both the banality and the enigma of evil. Mr. Brolin makes him seem at once pitiable and scary without making him look like a monster or a clown. Motives for White’s crime are suggested in the film, but too neat an accounting of them would distort the awful truth of the story and undermine the power of the movie.

That power lies in its uncanny balancing of nuance and scale, its ability to be about nearly everything — love, death, politics, sex, modernity — without losing sight of the intimate particulars of its story. Harvey Milk was an intriguing, inspiring figure. “Milk” is a marvel.

“Milk” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has some profanity, brief violence and a few discreet sex scenes.

MILK

Opens on Wednesday in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Directed by Gus Van Sant; written by Dustin Lance Black; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Elliot Graham; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bill Groom; produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen; released by Focus Features. Running time: 2 hours 8 minutes.

WITH: Sean Penn (Harvey Milk), Emile Hirsch (Cleve Jones), Josh Brolin (Dan White), Diego Luna (Jack Lira), Alison Pill (Anne Kronenberg), Victor Garber (Mayor George Moscone), Denis O’Hare (John Briggs), Joseph Cross (Dick Pabich), Stephen Spinella (Rick Stokes), Lucas Grabeel (Danny Nicoletta), Brandon Boyce (Jim Rivaldo), Zvi Howard Rosenman (David Goodstein), Kelvin Yu (Michael Wong) and James Franco (Scott Smith).

Average Reader Rating
4½ rating, 95 votes

Source : nytimes

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Lake City (2008)

Lake City

Screen Media Films, Sissy Spacek plays a mother in rural Virginia reuniting with her son in “Lake City.”

Movie Reviews from nytimes.

Suds, Southern Scenery and Fistfuls of Weaponry

Published: November 21, 2008
It is foolish to expect an actor to work miracles, but for longtime moviegoers the name Sissy Spacek over a movie title promises that the film will have a core of integrity, at least in the scenes in which she appears. And when Ms. Spacek speaks her clichéd lines in the mediocre screenplay of “Lake City,” a movie that has delusions of high seriousness, her plain-spoken delivery lends them a resonance that is not in the written words.

Her character, Maggie, is a self-sufficient farmer living alone in rural Virginia who contemplates selling her homestead. The resolute set of her jaw and her flinty blue eyes, not to mention her comfortable old house with its lived-in furniture, evoke an inviolable solidity. At first the movie, with its richly saturated palette, seems to offer a sober yet lyrical portrait of contemporary Americana distilled in the figure of an independent woman of a certain age holding her head high.

When Maggie’s estranged, grown-up wastrel son, Billy (Troy Garity), who has been playing in a rock band in Memphis, returns unexpectedly and drags along a mysterious boy named Clayton (Colin Ford), Maggie takes them in without any fuss; questions and explanations are saved for later. Under her steady, watchful care, hearty meals are served, and the chaos of the world seems safely removed. As the camera surveys this austere country life, you prepare for a family drama that explores the possibility of restoring the luster to tarnished American dreams.

But “Lake City” soon deteriorates into a parental soap opera that plays coy games of hide and seek while dredging up a distant family tragedy for which Maggie blames herself. Even when those events are finally shown, the details are so cluttered that any sense of catharsis is lost. Billy and Clayton, who may or may not be Billy’s son, play out their own tortured drama of paternity and denial.

“Lake City” then dives headlong into ludicrous melodrama, as armed drug dealers, one played by the rocker Dave Matthews, show up in search of a missing stash. In a climactic sequence that suggests “No Country for Old Men” filtered through “North by Northwest” and “Witness,” Maggie, Billy and Clayton flee for their lives into a cornfield.

The first feature written and directed by Perry Moore and Hunter Hill, “Lake City” feels like a movie whose story was slapped together during filming. Its three phases — Southern pastorale, Sudsville and Kablooie — don’t really connect.

When Billy is first seen, he is being tortured to reveal the whereabouts of Hope (Drea De Matteo), Clayton’s mother, who has presumably run off with the drugs. Hope belatedly and briefly appears when she storms into Maggie’s house to claim Clayton. Then she is gone. But the avenging furies are not far behind.

The acting is much stronger than the storytelling. As a sullen, weakling son with a chip on his shoulder, Mr. Garity gives a furtive, sidelong performance that lends Billy as much plausibility as the screenplay allows. Keith Carradine does the best he can with the phoniest character, Roy, a guitar-playing onetime roustabout who runs the local gas station and gazes longingly at an indifferent Maggie. Mr. Ford’s Clayton is the saddest character: a suspicious, damaged child whose trust in the adult world has been prematurely shattered.

“Lake City” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has profanity and scenes of violence.

LAKE CITY

Opens on Friday nationwide.

Written and directed by Hunter Hill and Perry Moore; director of photography, Robert Gantz; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; music by Aaron Zigman; production designer, David Crank; produced by Allison Sarofim, Donna L. Bascom and Mike S. Ryan; released by Screen Media Films. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes.

WITH: Sissy Spacek (Maggie), Troy Garity (Billy), Rebecca Romijn (Jennifer), David Matthews (Red), Keith Carradine (Roy), Colin Ford (Clayton), Barry Corbin (George) and Drea De Matteo (Hope).

Source : newyorktimes.

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Quantum of Solace (2008), 007 Is Back, and He’s Brooding

Movie review from NY Times

05528701

Published: November 14, 2008
A reviewer may come to a new James Bond movie — “Quantum of Solace,” directed by Marc Forster and opening Friday, is the 22nd official installment of the series in 46 years — with a nifty theory or an elaborate sociocultural hermeneutic agenda, but the most important thing to have on hand is a checklist. It’s all well and good to reflect upon the ways 007, the Harry Potter of British intelligence, has evolved over time through changes in casting, geopolitics, sexual mores and styles of dress.

But the first order of business must always be to run through the basic specs of this classic entertainment machine’s latest model and see how it measures up.

So before we proceed to any consideration of the deeper meanings of “Quantum of Solace” (or for that matter the plain meaning of its enigmatic title), we need to assess the action, the villain, the gadgets, the babes and the other standard features.

The opening song, performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys (an intriguing duo on paper if nowhere else), is an abysmal cacophony of incompatible musical idioms, and the title sequence over which those idioms do squalling battle is similarly disharmonious: conceptually clever and visually grating. The first chase, picking up exactly where the 2006 “Casino Royale” left off, is speedy and thrilling, but the other action set-pieces are a decidedly mixed bag, with a few crisp footraces, some semi-coherent punch-outs and a dreadful boat pileup that brings back painful memories of the invisible car Pierce Brosnan tooled around in a few movies ago.

Picturesque locales? Bolivia, Haiti, Austria and Italy are featured or impersonated, to perfectly nice touristic effect. Gizmos? A bit disappointing, to tell the truth. Technological advances in the real world may not quite have outpaced those in the Bond universe, but so many movies these days show off their global video surveillance set-ups and advanced smart-phone applications that it’s hard for this one to distinguish itself.

What about the villain? One of the best in a while, I’d say, thanks to a lizardy turn from the great French actor Mathieu Amalric, who plays Dominic Greene, a ruthless economic predator disguised as an ecological do-gooder. The supporting cast is studded with equally excellent performers, including Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini, both reprising their roles in “Casino Royale.”

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Karen Ballard/Columbia Pictures- “Quantum of Solace” stars Daniel Craig as James Bond and Olga Kurylenko as a potential romantic interest.

And the women? There are two, as usual — not counting Judi Dench, returning as the brisk and impatient M — one (Gemma Arterton) a doomed casual plaything, the other a more serious dramatic foil and potential romantic interest. That one, called Camille, is played by Olga Kurylenko, whose specialty seems to be appearing in action pictures as the pouty, sexy sidekick of a brooding, vengeful hero. Not only Daniel Craig’s Bond, but also Mark Wahlberg’s Max Payne and Timothy Olyphant’s Hitman.

James Bond is a much livelier character than either of those mopey video-game ciphers, but he shares with them the astonishing ability to resist, indeed to ignore, Ms. Kurylenko’s physical charms.

This is not out of any professional scruple. The plot of “Quantum of Solace” is largely propelled by Bond’s angry flouting of the discipline imposed by his job, and anyway when did James Bond ever let work get in the way of sex? No, what gets in the way is emotion. 007’s grief and rage, the source of his connection to Camille, are forces more powerful than either duty or libido.

Mr. Brosnan was the first actor to allow a glimmer of complicated emotion to peek through Bond’s cool, rakish facade, and since Mr. Craig took over the franchise two years ago the character has shown a temperament at once rougher and more soulful than in previous incarnations. The violence in his first outing, “Casino Royale,” was notably intense, and while “Quantum of Solace” is not quite as brutal, the mood is if anything even more grim and downcast.

The death in “Casino” of Bond’s lover Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), along with the possibility that she had betrayed him before dying, provides an obvious psychological explanation for his somber demeanor in “Quantum.” But while the exploration of Bond’s psychology makes him, arguably at least, a deeper, subtler character — and there is certainly impressive depth and subtlety in Mr. Craig’s wounded, whispery menace — it also makes him harder to distinguish from every other grieving, seething avenger at the multiplex.

Which is to say just about every one. And here, I suppose, the deeper questions bubble up. Is revenge the only possible motive for large-scale movie heroism these days? Does every hero, whether Batman or Jason Bourne, need to be so sad?

I know grief has always been part of the Dark Knight’s baggage, but the same can hardly be said of James Bond, Her Majesty’s suave, cynical cold war paladin. His wit was part of his — of our — arsenal, and he countered the totalitarian humorlessness of his foes with a wink and a bon mot.

Are these weapons now off limits for the good guys? Or can moviegoers justify their vicarious enjoyment of on-screen mayhem — and luxury hotels, high-end cocktails and fast cars — only if there are some pseudoserious bad feelings attached? The Sean Connery James Bond movies of the 1960s were smooth, cosmopolitan comedies, which in the Roger Moore era sometimes ascended to the level of farce. With Mr. Craig, James Bond reveals himself to be — sigh — a tragic figure.

“Quantum of Solace,” a phrase never uttered in the course of this film (though it has something to do with Greene’s diabolical scheme, itself never fully explained), means something like a measure of comfort. Perhaps that describes what Bond is looking for, or maybe it is what this kind of entertainment tries to provide a fretful audience. If so, I prefer mine with a dash of mischief.

“Quantum of Solace” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Its scenes of violence and sex are carefully edited to avoid showing too much gore or skin.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by Marc Forster; written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, based on characters created by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Roberto Schaefer; edited by Matt Chessé and Richard Pearson; music by David Arnold; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes.

WITH: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Olga Kurylenko (Camille), Mathieu Amalric (Dominic Greene), Judi Dench (M), Giancarlo Giannini (Mathis), Gemma Arterton (Agent Fields), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter), Jesper Christensen (Mr. White), Anatole Taubman (Elvis), Rory Kinnear (Tanner) and Joaquín Cosio (General Medrano).

Source : NY Times

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