Posts Tagged ‘worth peepin’


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’.

8/10

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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.

4/10


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’.

8/10


by Brendan Wahl

“Shutter Island”

Leonardo DiCaprio as…Teddy Daniels

Mark Ruffalo as…Chuck Aule

Ben Kingsley as…Dr. Cawley

No spoilers. Don’t worry.

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. By my count, this is the fourth collaboration between the director and his new favourite actor but I haven’t really heard any complaints. The two complement each other very well not unlike how Scorsese had Robert De Niro in seven of his previous films and the chemistry remained rock-solid between the two. Some people have general complaints about directors and actors working too much together, but I say as long as they keep making quality films, what’s the problem?

Here, Scorsese imports a number of talented thespians alongside DiCaprio in the form of the underrated Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, and many, many others. I believe that DiCaprio is the only Scorsese regular as all the others appear to be making either their first or maybe second appearance in a Scorsese flick.

So, back to the actual film. The story here is a fairly simple one at first. Agents Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule travel to a place called Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a girl named Rachel Salondo, a patient on the island who has somehow escaped her barricaded cell while wearing no shoes and during high tide. At the same time, Daniels has some personal baggage. Years ago, his wife was killed by his crazed landlord who started a fire in his own building. But any plot details after that will be left for the viewer to discover on their own.

The interesting thing here is that this film doesn’t feel like a typical Scorsese flick. I’m not saying that in a positive or negative way, but just saying that it has a completely different look to it that separates it from most of his other films. The atmosphere is tremendous in the flick though and the look of the film reflects the changes in plot, twists, turns, and other such plot devices very admirably.

The story is one of the film’s many strong points as we don’t get a lot on our plate to begin with to allow the film to slowly unravel more and more of the plot as we continue to coast through its running time (which, by the way, didn’t feel like 138 minutes). I understand the film was based on a book and, much like Youth in Revolt, I did not read said literature.

The acting here is wonderful as is usually in most Scorsese pictures. DiCaprio is wonderful in the title role here, grounding the character in reality and really playing to his emotions well with a whole lot of range to spare. Mark Ruffalo brings the goods as well in probably and unfortunately the closest thing to a lead role in a great film that he’ll ever have. Ruffalo plays his character as mostly straight, but does so with such conviction that you care about him and follow his actions every step of the way.

Then we get to the old codgers of the film. I’ve been a fan of Sir Ben Kingsley for a while now and here, he takes a character that could’ve been portrayed by a lesser actor chewing the scenery, but Kingsley underplays it nicely. There’s something brewing beneath his demeanor and we get that from the slightest movements he decides to make as an actor. Max Von Sydow is another wonderful actor and though he doesn’t appear a whole lot in the film, he makes the most of his screen time and delivers a layered performance.

There are also some great bit performances to look out for like the great Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Williams, and also Patricia Clarkson. They are all very small roles, but very key ones so keep your eyes peeled for them. I would also note that this is not the type of film that you can just get up from and use the bathroom whenever, but no matter. If you’re like me, you won’t be able to get up from it until it is all wrapped up anyway.

What can I say? The film is another wonderful one from Martin Scorsese (and his ensemble), who continues to deliver quality year after year. I, for one, hope to see Martin and Leo team up again more than once!

DEFINITELY worth peepin’.

8.5/10


by Brendan Wahl

“From Paris With Love”

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as…James Reece

John Travolta as…Charlie Wax

Kasia Smutniak as…Caroline

Just like “The Wolfman”, this was a film that I did not expect to be the cure for world hunger or poverty, but I thought it had the potential to be entertaining enough and I enjoy John Travolta for the most part (there are exceptions. I’m looking at you, Battlefield Earth).

The plot of the film seems pretty simple to begin with. Low-level CIA operative James Reece (Meyers) is sent on his first major assignment because of the lack of agents (I guess the CIA has those problems, huh?). The only downside to that is that he is paired with an insane American agent, Charlie Wax (Travolta), who compliments Reece at being an absolute opposite to how the young lead operates within this world.

I should also mention that before watching this movie, I heard a lot of reviews talking about how big, stupid, and dumb a lot of this movie was and that it was all brawn and no brain. Well…

What’s wrong with that?!

I guess the first thing to discuss would be the balls-to-the-wall level of the action in this flick. I mean, it barely let up for a second. After taking about 10-15 minutes to really get going, the film sucked me in for its entire 95-minute run-time. The action set pieces range from exhilarating and fun to quite simply: ludicrous. But you know what? It’s all in good fun. A good example of the ridiculous nature of some of the action in the film is to note how Wax disposes of several thugs as they escape a building. He figures out in his head how long the thugs will take to travel down each floor of the building, times their escape into the getaway car and then uses that time to set a bomb and drops it at the perfect time to dispatch of said villains.

That’s another thing. Charlie Wax is somewhat of a revelation for John Travolta. Just look at that bald bad-ass with a wicked beard and tell me he doesn’t look like one of the cooler anti-heroes Travolta has ever played (in fact, I can’t really think of any terrific anti-heroes he HAS played — no, Pulp Fiction doesn’t count, he was a villain!).

Charlie Wax is a brash, rude, crude, possibly racist, violent sumbitch. Upon first meeting Wax, he is yelling at a French customs officer for taking his energy drinks from him at the airport. After Reece saves the day, we learn that it wasn’t just about the cans and Wax wasn’t being a whiny bitch. I am a firm believer in the fact that this man would’ve capped the customs officer if Reece hadn’t been there to cool things down and let better heads prevail.

Not to say that James Reece isn’t one cool-ass character as well helped in great deal by Meyers’ fun performance. But seriously…

Reece?

OR WAX?!

I think the choice is obvious.

So aside from the acting and the ridiculous set pieces, the story is about as good as you can expect from a film like this with a decent twist that I actually didn’t see coming (rare for this kind of film!) and an ending that didn’t suck either. What was especially great was that Wax never changed to fit the story. He remains a bad-ass for the whole thing and doesn’t hold back when it comes to the F-bombs or shooting Asian gangsters.

For a popcorn-crunching, soda-slurping great time at the movies, this is definitely worth peepin’ and I give it a:

7.5/10

PS: It should be noted that Polish actress Kasia Smutniak is absolutely gorgeous. Her acting? It was aight.


Has Denzel Washington ever disappointed? After looking through his filmography on IMDB, it is obvious that not all his movies were raving successes (The Bone Collector or Virtuosity, anyone?) but it seems that Denzel almost always manages to rise above the material and deliver strong, subtle performances that make him one of the strongest actors of this generation. When he was finally awarded the Oscar for his performance in Training Day, I felt relieved that the man can at least retire with one golden statue in his inventory.

Now this film is not one I expected to like one little bit. I’ll be quite honest with you. If this film had anyone else instead of Denzel in the title role, I probably wouldn’t have even given it a second glance. It doesn’t hurt to have a terrific actor cast as the villain either and that’s where Gary Oldman comes in.

Gary is another actor who seems to rise above whatever he has to do but unlike Denzel, you’re never really watching “Gary Oldman” per se, but rather whatever character he’s portraying as he often immerses himself deep into the roles. In this film, for instance, I never would have know it was Oldman if I had no clue that he was in the film to begin with and that he played the villain. More importantly than the two great leads, was the film any good?

Well, here’s the plot: A man named Eli (Washington) travels across a post-apocalyptic world carrying a book with him that a particularly nasty individual named Carnegie (Oldman) wants to get his hands on for some reason or another.

At the risk of sounding vague, I don’t want to give too much away as I think some of the surprises will be more fun if I don’t ruin anything for you here. Going into this film with barely any knowledge of it outside of the actors and the post-apocalyptic setting, that might have helped me enjoy it more. With no pre-conceived notions and low expectations, I walked out of the theatre with a general feeling of satisfaction.

For one, the CGI in this film is amazing and at times, stunningly beautiful. At least I’m assuming that it is CGI that makes some of the backgrounds look as gorgeous as they do in different parts of the film. Related to that, the fight scenes are well-choreographed and it’s about time that I can see everyone that’s fighting instead of having to guess who’s throwing what punch in movies like the Bourne trilogy (which I still love, nonetheless). Keep a special look out for a particularly great scene featuring Eli slicing and dicing several hijackers done completely in silhouette.

The minor quibbles I have with the film comes with the writing. Overall, the story was fairly straight-forward and the dialogue was adequate for the most part but there were a few times here and there when I was reminded of the dialogue in Legion (not that I’m saying it’s anywhere near as bad as that movie!). Mila Kunis also shows up in a bit role and while she was decent, she didn’t really pull out any major acting chops and blow me away or anything. But, damn, she is fine.

So while this didn’t end up being my favourite Denzel Washington flick, it was very watchable and provided for some good entertainment for the most part, but don’t expect life-changing dialogue or amazing religious analogies or anything.

7/10

Just curious: What was your favourite Denzel Washington performance (not necessarily best movie)?



“I don’t believe in God.” — Bob (Dennis Quaid)

As I was looking through all of my archived reviews (a whopping total of three if you count The Tonight Show), I came to the conclusion that I am going to start looking like a movie fan-boy if I just constantly see what I want and shell out praise for classics of the past. Granted, Night of the Living Dead (1990) was by no means a classic, but it was still fairly enjoyable as was Youth in Revolt.

So I thought to myself, “Brendan…can I call you Brendan?” To which I responded, “No, that’s Mr. Wahl to you.” I then shuddered in fear at my own power over myself and responded, “I apologize, Mr. Wahl. Anyway, how are you going to write a negative review if all you do is watch good movies?” I then said, “Well, maybe I’ll go see one at the theatre that could go either way.” And as I was wheeled out of the pink-padded room, I thought that it would be a good idea to go see the film Legion.

I’ll never live that one down.

So if you don’t know the story, it basically comes down to this. I’ll even give you the official plot summary right off IMDB.com.

“An out-of-the-way diner becomes the unlikely battleground for the survival of the human race. When God loses faith in humankind, he sends his legion of angels to bring on the Apocalypse. Humanity’s only hope lies in a group of strangers trapped in a desert diner with the Archangel Michael.”

Upon reading this I thought it might be entertaining like the movie Feast or perhaps like The Mist. With the R-rating I thought, well, at least if it sucks there will be some decent blood and gore. Well, here’s the issue with that. This movie treats itself 110% seriously.

The first problem with the movie lies in the acting. When Tyrese delivers the best performance in a film, it’s time to seriously stop and consider what we’re witnessing here. Now I’m not saying that I expected Academy Award-winning performances or anything but almost everyone in the movie was chewing the scenery like it was beef jerky!

I never expected to dislike Dennis Quaid in a film, but he takes the cliche line, “I don’t believe in God” and overplays it to the nth degree. We get it, you’re an atheist which is ironic because the whole thing is about angels trying to attack and blah blah blah, you might reconsider your faith in the end, blah blah.

The other actors are nothing special either (as mentioned before, except for Tyrese). Lucas Black overdoes his southern drawl as much as he can to remind the audience that “gosh-darn it, he’s a good ole boy! Yee-haw!” Paul Bettany plays the lead (I guess) and plays an unemotional angel like…well, an unemotional human. I usually like Bettany in most things, but I think his problem here was the opposite of everyone else’s. He underplayed it too much.

Acting aside, the visual effects were pretty good for the most part with Doug Jones in particular (you might know him as Abe Sapien in Hellboy) looking really bad-ass as a crazy angel-possessed ice cream truck driver. Sometimes, the effects didn’t work so much at all though. For instance, in a scene I’m sure everyone has seen in the trailer, an old woman enters the bar and it turns out she is also possessed by an angel and starts to crawl all over the ceiling. This is the most laughable scene in the film where it’s supposed to be played for sheer shock value and scares. It just doesn’t work.

I think that’s all I can stomach in regards to this film so let’s just pull this review train to a stop. I can say vehemently that this film is DEFINITELY NOT worth peepin’.

3.5/10

Note to Self: IMDB is not to be counted on for ratings. 5.9/10 for this mess? Yeesh.