Archive for the ‘Worth Peepin'? Movie Reviews’ Category

by Brendan Wahl

Nicole Kidman as… Anna
Cameron Bright as… Sean
Danny Huston as… Joseph
Anne Heche as… Clara

Wow, it’s been a while since I did one of these. Instead of focusing on a more recent film or a big Hollywood blockbuster, I decided to take a look at a little independant film that caused quite a stir in the media about six years ago and even enraged some festival attendees. The film I’m speaking of is Birth, a film which stars Nicole Kidman, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, Peter Stormare, Anne Heche, and most importantly… a 10-year old actor named Cameron Bright. What inspired such controversy and, in some cases, hatred from the most liberal of viewers? Maybe a further explanation of the plot will bring this to light.

The film involves a young widowed woman (Kidman) who, after ten years of being without her husband, has moved on and gotten engaged to a handsome young wealthy man named Joseph (Huston). As her life has seemingly changed for the better, an odd thing occurs. At her engagement party, she is approached by a young boy (Bright) claiming to be her long-dead husband Sean reincarnated as a child. At first, Kidman is hesitant and thinks the whole thing to be ludicrous but it appears increasingly so that this boy knows way too much information than would be possible for him to know. This inspires Nicole to become suspicious of the whole situation and as she investigates the matter further, it affects the people around her as they attempt to understand the situation.

When I discovered the film and heard of the plot, I had wanted to see it but I suppose it was just lost in the must-watch shuffle for the past six years. The controversy surrounding the film should be apparent now. People feared the worst when they found out that Kidman’s character would have to end up sharing very tender scenes with a young actor on-screen. There is one “bath scene” and a kiss that they share that really ramped up the controversy and caused the film to receive a wave of boos at the Venice Film Festival, where it debuted. These scenes are blown way out of proportion. The director has asserted that both Kidman and Bright were never naked together on-screen during the bath scene and that the kiss they had was ever so brief that it’s a wonder people found it objectionable.

But rather than just discuss the controversial nature of the film for the entire review, I’d like to focus this REVIEW on… well, you know… whether the movie is good or not. It’s rare for a director to have such a strong debut like Jonathan Glazer did with Sexy Beast (2000), but he managed to show some great promise with that film and it allowed him to explore some darker territory with his second movie. In my opinion, he succeeds.

The acting is a good place to start. I have always liked Nicole Kidman. She’s an actress who can take a nothing role and really inject some life into it no matter how boring the part may look on paper. This is not to say that this role is nothing on paper, but Nicole Kidman is wonderful and perfectly cast in the title role of Anna. She exudes a certain kind of vulnerability but strength at the same time that is rarely seen in a lot of working actresses today and this film gives her a very good opportunity to do so. As far as the acting in the film goes though, Cameron Bright is also quite good as a possible reincarnated version of Anna’s late husband. Cameron is a child actor who doesn’t use cuteness as a replacement for acting and is amazingly versatile for his age. As far as the rest of the actors go, they are generally pretty good but Anne Heche makes the biggest impression out of the supporting cast.

The script itself is also quite wonderful and doesn’t feel heavy-handed or hammy in the least. This film tells its story with intrigue and class and doesn’t build to stupid plot points and have the characters act in unconvicing ways in reaction to the events occurring around them. The direction also helps the story in a huge way, particularly in one haunting yet revealing scene taking place in the audience at an opera where the camera rests on a close-up of Kidman’s face for a good 2-3 minutes while she weighs in on the young boy’s revelation.

Overall, this film was much more than I expected it to be. It’s a good example of not believing critics’ opinions before actually witnessing a film for yourself. This film is definitely worth peepin’.


by Brendan Wahl

Jon Heder as…Jeffrey Mannus

Diane Keaton as…Jan Mannus

Jeff Daniels as…Mert Rosenbloom

Anna Faris as…Nora Flannigan

Is this a trend now? After watching “Away We Go” last night and quite enjoying it, I flipped the channel to IFC today and caught a little independant dramedy starring Jon Heder called “Mama’s Boy.” While I’ve enjoyed Heder’s comedic performances in films like Napoleon Dynamite, Blades of Glory, and School for Scoundrels I thought it would be interesting to check out what he could do with this type of role geared more towards drama.

The plot is, much like “Away We Go”, a very simple one. 29-year old aspiring astronomer Jeffrey Mannus (Heder) still lives at home with his mother Jan (Keaton) despite having a job at a book store and not really ever being apart from his mother. When she begins to date a self-help guru named Mert (Jeff Daniels), the neurotic and repressed Jeffrey immediately rejects the notion and attempts to rid the house of the home-wrecker Mert so that he may continue on with his cushy life-situation.

Unfortunately, unlike many independant films, the characters are the weakest part of the movie. Jeffrey, for one, is one of the most unlikeable “heros” I have ever bared witness to in a motion picture. He is neurotic, yet something of a hypocrite and an insecure, pessimistic, narcissistic plebian. He is so god damn unlikeable that in a scene where he finally engages in a physical fight with Mert (Daniels), I just wanted him to shoot Jeffrey in the chest and the credits to start rolling. I can blame Heder for his lack of emotion that he put into the character, but the writing is mostly to blame for not giving him a single redeeming quality. I’ve seen good films where none of the characters are truly likeable, but in this type of movie it’s not acceptable. Jeffrey needs to be at least slightly appealing and we need to understand his plight, but we only think of him as a pathetic man-child who looks down on everyone around him.

Now that thee main character is out of the way, we have the supporters. Diane Keaton is not given much to do as Jeffrey’s mother as she coasts through several different emotions that don’t really make sense in the context of the film. Keaton tries but can’t really bring her character to life. Anna Faris is another one that tries hard, but succeeds slightly more than Keaton. Faris plays an aspiring songstress and potential love interest for Jeffrey (because we “reeeeeally” want to see him happy….sigh) but her attraction to him is very hard to believe as it would be unimaginable for anyone to even remotely like him.

Jeff Daniels comes out of the film looking the best as a self-help guru there to woo Jan (Keaton) and woo her into an eventual engagement. Daniels’ character on paper could appear to be a vindictive person hell-bent on tearing Jan away from her son, but he is a much better actor than that. Indeed, he injects a healthy dose of charisma and humanity into the character and makes him into the character in the film that most closely resembles a real human being.

Aside from the acting, the directing is admittedly not so terrible. Relative unknown Tim Hamilton does alright with the sequencing of the film, but his skill with actors is not as accomplished. Admittedly, that has a lot more to do with the writing, but the directing is really there to hone their craft as accurately as possible and it feels like that was never really accomplished with the film.

Any highlights? Well, Faris’ character has a few moments such as the lyrics to some of her anti-corporate songs that seethe with such hatred and loathing that it impedes another portion of the film. If she is so anti-establishment, how is she so attracted to the law-abiding, clean-cut Hader? Other highlights include Daniels’ attempts to bond with Jeffrey, but really the good parts of this movie are very few and far between.

Cute ending aside, I would say this film is barely worth peepin’. Maybe if one is really bored on a lazy afternoon or something. On a real quick side note though, if you DO watch the film, Eli Wallach’s character’s attitude towards Jeffrey throughout the film can basically be said to represent the viewer’s feelings towards him through much of the film.


by Brendan Wahl

John Krasinski as…Burt Farlander

Maya Rudolph as…Verona De Tessant

Allison Janney as…Lily

Maggie Gyllenhaal as…LN Fisher-Herrin

Every now and then I take a chance and grab a couple DVDs that look intriguing to me or that I’ve heard good word of mouth about or even ones that have a solid rating over on IMDB. This one looked mighty interesting to me. It starred the underrated John Krasinski, Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph, and directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition). So about five or six months ago, I picked it up not knowing what to expect. Tonight, I sat down to watch it.

The first thing one should know about this film is that despite the fact that it does not represent The Office or Saturday Night Live in regards to its general tone, it is most certainly still a comedy. Well, let’s call it a dramedy at least. It reminds me somewhat of movies like Lost in Translation or Broken Flowers as those are both dry, witty comedies (that both star Bill Murray, go fig).

The plot is pretty straight-forward. A couple in their early thirties, Bert (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) find out that they will be having a baby and prepare to tell the good news to Bert’s parents since Verona’s are long since deceased. After finding out from his mother (Catherine O’Hara) and father (Jeff Daniels) that they are moving to Belgium, the young couple decide that there is no reason for them to live in Denver anymore and decide to go on the road to find their new home all the while running into various colourful characters along the way.

The film plays out like an ensemble piece, but really the main characters throughout the entire movie are Bert and Verona and the focus lies on their intriguing relationship.

Not many details of the film can be released here without giving too much away, but the acting in the movie is definitely its strongest point. Krasinski gives a layered dramatic performance and even though his comical moments reminded me a lot of a certain employee of Dunder Mifflin, it definitely works for this character and gives him an extra dimension and layer of humanity.

I have never been a fan of Maya Rudolph on Saturday Night Live (I liked when she did Donatella Versace and that’s about it) so she surprised me the most here. She underplays her role for the most part and delivers a solid performance. Her part involves less comedy than Krasinski’s and she manages to hold up her end of the dramatic baggage with aplomb.

The supporting characters are also fun. We get Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels as Bert’s parents, two actors who can always shine in even the smallest of parts. Stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan shows up in a bit role as Verona’s sister’s husband and provides some laughs, but ultimately there are two actresses in this film who stand out among all the bit players. Allison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

I’m not really familiar with Janney’s work, but she excels here playing an out-of-control mother who is admittedly “a little crazy” and drives her negative husband (Gaffigan) quietly insane. It’s a role that requires a certain madcap energy and for people to like her and yet hate her at the same time. Janney pulls this off wonderfully and despite laughing at pretty much anything she said, I also wanted to strangle her too.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is very different from that character and plays a mother who has taken a more obscure route with her children. Swearing off strollers (because it “pushes the child away”, you see) LN (Gyllenhaal) revolts at the sight of a this object of separation when it is given as a gift to her from Bert and Verona. The entire sequence of our two main characters in LN’s home is probably the best (and funniest) piece of the whole movie, especially when Bert is able to get some sort of comeuppance.

This is not to take away from the writing or directing in any way. Mendes is a tremendously gifted director who knows how to work with ensemble casts quite well and Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida have crafted a wonderful script — full of wit, charm, and most importantly…humanity. Is that so much to ask in a movie like this?

Worth Peepin’.