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Posts Tagged ‘filmmaking’

Revolutionary Road: Could Lead to Oscar Blvd.

Posted by goldwriting on December 23, 2008

revolutionaryroad “Let’s take a cruise together.”

“Umm…actually, I have this thing about boats. They’re not really my thing.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Throughout movie history there has been a wide variety of classic couples, people you yearned to see on screen together again and again: Bogart and Bergman, Gable and Leigh, and Lancaster and Kerr to name only a few. But in 1997 another young couple cemented their right to being included on that list, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, in James Cameron‘s  record breaking film, Titanic. Even though the pair were one of the very few things in Titanic not awarded with Oscars or Golden Globes that year, they still lived on inside the hearts of the audience members who went back to see the romantic duo lean over that railing and declare their reign over the world. It only took eleven years for them to find a project to work on together again, but DiCaprio and Winslet have proven it was worth the wait.

Revolutionary Road is the story of a young passionate couple who meet, connect and yearn to spend their lives striving for the limits of experience. The story takes a only a brief look into their initial introduction to each other, instead opting to quickly jump years forward into their marriage only to find the passion has dissipated and their struggle now is against their suburban mundane existence. The couple, once wild and free, now find themselves deciding whether to stay in their current situation and try to make the best of it or to risk it all and run away to Paris in hopes of rekindling their love of life and their love for each other. It’s a war of contentment and  security versus passion and fulfillment and both sides fight dirty.

There was always one big threat looming over this film, that we, the audience, would look up at the screen and only see the Leo and Kate we remember from Titanic. The love struck duo fated to be together, but torn apart. All we would see would be longing glances full of love and hope and the rest of this new story would be lost in those memories. So, with that looming in front of director Sam Mendes, Mendes made a brilliant choice to jump very quickly into the deeply troubled marriage, nearly opening the film in a vicious fight on the side of the road. The anger and vitriol spilled on each other in that opening argument is more than enough to wipe away all previous visions of wistful gazes and romantic cuddling. DiCaprio rages against the self-imposed cage he’s stuck in, giving us the intensity and raw aggression we’ve come to expect from him (from performances such as The Basketball Diaries, Gangs of New York, The Departed, etc.). Now tie that aggression with the always impressive strength and surety of Kate Winslet and you’re locked and loaded for a true battle of the wills. Only actors who are completely trusting of each other could reach the fever pitch Leo and Kate achieve, which allows not only for touching moments of love, but also incredibly sharp attacks that cut deeper than any knife ever could.

Behind the dynamic duo there is a bevy of talented actors, including Kathy Bates, Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour, and heading into this film they had to know they were only bringing the trimmings and decorations to a party made for Leo and Kate, but one person decided to crash the party and steal some of the spotlight for himself. Michael Shannon plays John Givings, Kathy Bates’ son who happens to be on a short term visit from the local insane asylum. Now he doesn’t bash into the scenes ranting and raving, but his particular type of craziness allows him to cut through the bull and call people out on what is really going on underneath their shiny plastic veneer. Shannon has only three scenes in the film, but during each one of them you can’t take your eyes away from him. He is not only the spark-plug for those moments, but he becomes the lightning rod for the entire movie during a dinner scene which will go on my list as one of the best scenes on film in the last five years. The only shame in Michael Shannon’s performance is that he didn’t get a nomination for it. Here’s hoping the Academy voters are smarter than the Hollywood Foreign Press.

As much as I can rave about the wonderful acting on display in this film, those jewels are only achievable through the eyes and sensitivity of a talented director like Sam Mendes. Mendes keeps his tradition from American Beauty alive of painting picturesque communities of sterility and perfection, but all the while hinting and flashing light on the cracks growing underneath. There is always a deeper truth underneath the veil his characters show to the world and that’s where his real talent lies, making those people remove the masks in a believable and truthful fashion. I was on the lookout for subtle preferential treatment for Kate since she’s married to Mendes in real life, but both parties refused to pull any punches, once again proving the entire team’s commitment to powerful and honest filmmaking. Also proving that point is the completely anti-Hollywood ending, which I obviously won’t go into, but according to screenwriter Justin Haythe there was some push for it to be softened or changed, but Sam locked arms with him and demanded that it stay true to the original novel it is based on. If more people showed even half as much commitment to all the other film projects out there, the quality level we would reach would be unimaginable.

Recommendation: I’ll put this as plainly as I can: Before seeing this I was a locked in vote for Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture of the Year, now I’m not so sure. My new fear is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is going to make this choice even harder, but for the moment I am blissfully unaware of that option.

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Frost/Nixon: Bringing the Fight to the People

Posted by goldwriting on December 7, 2008

frostnixonmovie Did I have your phone tapped? Your voice sounds so familiar…

Rating: 9 out of 10

There are few things in life as exciting or exhilarating as watching a good fight. Maybe it’s the primate in us, a deep evolutionary need to see two people beat the piss out of each other in order to prove dominance. Maybe it’s the need to see a champion, someone we can look up to and model our own lives after. Or, on a slight chance, it’s the glimmer of hope we huddle around to keep us warm and keep our dreams from fading away, the dream that one day someone will topple the champ and change the world forever. Now you might think those emotions only get woken up during a purely physical battle, but if so, you are truly missing out on some of the best battles in human history. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated seven times in 1858 for control of the Illinois legislature and those verbal fencing matches were a preview of the power and eloquence with which Lincoln would bring to bear in his time as President. Almost exactly one hundred years later, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon took to the airwaves for the first ever televised debate between Presidential candidates. Those four on-air matches drew numerous comparisons to their predecessors of nearly a century before. Even in our latest election a highlight truly arrived during our one and only debate between Vice-Presidential candidates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. While it might not have been the intelligence and skill in the fight we were all watching for, it still made for captivating television.

Yet one thing all those previous moments lacked was the dark cloud of obvious guilt and shame hanging over the head of Richard Nixon after he resigned the Presidency in disgrace over the Watergate scandal. A man who achieved amazing and brilliant things during his time in office was forced to step down and hang his head for something he was arguably not the first to do, just the first to get caught red-handed. I’m not defending Nixon, but in the context of political history, including any number of the documented and undocumented crimes committed by our still reigning President, Nixon was a lightweight. But for the American people of the 1960’s, his betrayal of the public office was the lowest they had seen a President stoop to and they demanded action. After newly sworn-in President Ford issued a complete and unequivocal pardon of Nixon, it seemed as though the American people were going to have to drink and eat whatever they could get their hands on to cover up the bad taste. But then one man stepped up to the plate, determined to give the people exactly what they wanted.

This is not just a history lesson; this is the premise and plot of Ron Howard‘s new film, Frost/Nixon. David Frost was a British talk show host who came up with the idea of interviewing Nixon after his resignation, but his original motives were not entirely altruistic. Mainly, he was a master of television audiences and he could feel the ratings he would get for such an interview would be outrageous. Once he locked the interview in place however, it became a monster he almost couldn’t control. The film is incredibly small in scale, beginning the year where Frost came up with the idea and ending within days after the interview was concluded. We get to see the build up to the big interview, but the actual recorded and tastefully lit chat between the two characters is really the lynch-pin on which the whole film rests. Thinking about the premise beforehand, it’s hard to imagine there being an incredible amount of tension in the movie-going audience, especially since we know what happens, but quality filmmaking and intelligent storytelling can make any old story seem new once again. By the time Frost and Nixon sit across from each other, microphones pinned to their lapels, handkerchiefs folded and makeup invisibly applied, the intensity is palpable. It was akin to watching a heavyweight boxing match, except one contender had never really felt the blow of a well-landed punch before. Once he does, the fear in his eyes truly brings the audience into his mindset. Luckily for us, both in the theater and in history, fear that might make some men run will make others fight all that much harder.

Ron Howard has been making movies for a number of years now and won a number of accolades and critical acclaim, but Frost/Nixon might end up topping them all. With a very simple story he found a way to display two very non-simple people. There is tension, anticipation and weight all brought to bear on a simple interview which ended up changing the lives of not only the people in the chairs, but the worldwide audience as well. Howard also got his two lead actors gift-wrapped, Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. Both actors originally played their roles on stage to massive acclaim, so heading into the movie, they had these characters down cold. There is definitely a difference between playing a role on stage and playing it on film, but the internal work and preparation by these actors is a virtual treasure chest in comparison to what you get on most film sets. The moment they appear on screen, you can feel the depth and skill both actors gained from all their time put in. Frank Langella disappears into Nixon, truly embodying Nixon’s confident walk and sweeping movements of his arms, his imposing intrusion into people’s personal space, and finally the stoop — which on anyone else would have made them look old, but with Nixon is just made him look dangerous and determined. On the other side of the ring, we have Michael Sheen, who shined as David Frost, the plucky and charming television talk show host. There are some moments where Sheen is just listening to Langella rant on and on and Sheen displays an amazing level of intensity, fear and nearly overwhelming nervousness just by using his eyes. He doesn’t even have to move to show the wave after wave of emotional turmoil this man goes through while trying to go toe-to-toe with “Tricky Dick”. Both actors are strong contenders for nominations in the award season.

Beyond the powerhouse duo in front, there is a wealth of strong supporting cast. Sam Rockwell, one of Hollywood’s best go-to character actors, delivers an impassioned performance as James Reston Jr., one of the researchers on Frost’s team. He is the emotional anchor for the team, representing the anger, fury and bitter disappointment of the American people, and if there is one thing Rockwell does better than anything else, it’s playing disappointment and disdain (try poking your head into almost any scene in Choke). Right alongside Rockwell is another amazing talent, Oliver Platt, who plays Bob Zelnick, the more political structure based portion of Frost’s team. Platt continues to do his thing with great talent and shine without ever stealing scenes or trying to make the moment about him. He can be the star of the show if cast that way, but his true talent is blending into an ensemble and making everyone around him better for it. If you’ve never really experienced Platt, I would happily and heartily suggest Casanova and The Three Musketeers, both brilliant comedic performances. A little on the lesser-known side is Matthew Macfadyen, who plays John Birt, Frost’s manager, who continually rallies the troops and sticks by his side even when things are at their most bleak. Macfadyen brought a great sense of strength and loyalty that kept the audience in check and never giving up on Frost and his ultimate goal. As if we needed another name to add to the list, this will benefit all those addicts of the “Six Degrees” game, Kevin Bacon plays Jack Brennan, Nixon’s Chief of Staff and most devoted servant. Bacon lays it on thick, the dogged determination and defense of Nixon, even in the final moments when it all is slipping away. A solid job from an incredibly consistent actor.

Recommendation: If you like movies about important moments in American History, you should like this. If you like Ron Howard films, you should like this. If you like purely character pieces, you should like this. If you are looking for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, you might wanna move on by. Lastly, if you are like me and try to watch everything on the Oscar nominated list, I’m putting good money this film will end up on there somewhere, whether for acting, directing or writing. Save yourself the rush of trying to track it down during awards season and catch it now.
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Bolt: Some Sizzle, Yet No Spark

Posted by goldwriting on December 1, 2008

bolt Do you know how close that place is to the ocean? Do you realize how much water that is?!

Rating: 6 out of 10

We sometimes cast a wistful gaze back into history and remember all the purely magical moments of our childhoods: learning to ride a bike, dumping out the first bag of Halloween candy after a monster haul, or playing with the first new family pet. All of these things hold a special place in our hearts and right alongside those for most of us is the memory of watching our first Disney film. Whether it was Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Steamboat Wille or Aladdin (had to mention it since it is still my reigning favorite from ‘The House of Mouse’), those magical cartoons had a profound effect on several generations and for that, Disney deserves a certain amount of credit. Yet, today things are slightly different. In the world of animated cinema Disney is scratching for third place on the totem pole, underneath the powerhouse studios of Pixar and Dreamworks Animation. It’s true, it can be argued Disney is on top of the pole since they own Pixar, but Pixar operates very much as a separate company and they gained their early success and prestige before Disney made the purchase. Disney is merely the distribution chain for the wonderment emanating from the minds and dreams of the Pixar creative staff. So the question becomes, does Disney still have the chops to compete in the animation circuit?

Yes, they do, as long as they are satisfied with coming in third.

Disney’s latest contribution is Bolt, the story of a dog who doesn’t know he’s an actor on a television show and ends up lost in the real world trying to find his owner, who was fake-kidnapped on the show. Along the way Bolt captures an alley cat in an effort to force her to lead him to the Green-eyed Man (his TV arch-nemesis) and also picks up a hamster that happens to be a fanatical fan named Rhino. Their cross country journey is full of adventures and mishaps, all in an effort to lead Bolt home and back to his owner. The journey is also an internal one for Bolt as he struggles with the realization that he is a normal, non-superhero type dog.

Bolt is a charming movie and should be enjoyable to most young kids out there, but the modern day marker for true success in this genre is how many adults can you attract without their children in tow? For that crowd, Bolt doesn’t offer a whole lot. The trailer was incredibly well-designed and caught a good deal of the highlights in the film, mainly showcasing the role of Rhino the hamster, who stole most of his scenes and felt light in the overall scope of the film. Boosting up his role might not have fit in the structure of the story, but it certainly would have brought up the laughs. Another point in which I think the movie fared really well was the depiction of the pigeons, both in New York and in Los Angeles. The movements and seemingly spastic thought processes in those birds were amusing no matter what they were talking about. Those animators really captured a brilliant idea of what it could be like to listen to their thoughts. The Los Angeles based pigeons…well, those were hilarious for a whole different reason, which I won’t go into for the sake of not ruining the scene. (The only pitfall here is it might only be funny to people who live out here and work in the entertainment industry. Even so, I’m lucky because I do live here and I did think they were the high point of the flick.) As for the main characters, Bolt made sense throughout the film and always stayed on a strong motivated course, but I just wasn’t endeared to him. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but something lacked in making Bolt stand out amongst the cadre of side characters and he ended up being only a lynch pin instead of driving force for the story. The alley cat, Mittens, played well off Bolt and acted more like the Chorus in Greek and Roman theatre, providing the reactions of the common audience member, since Bolt’s own worldview was so skewed. Mittens continually reminded us that what was happening was more-or-less insane, but in the end also showed us what was most important. Surprising to me, Mittens felt more like the heart or emotional center of the film over Bolt.

With animated features another big hurdle is to find a cast of voices that not only fits the characters, but also doesn’t overshadow the movie itself. John Travolta provided the voice of Bolt and admittedly when the movie began I felt his voice was too old for the character and too aware of himself, but as it went on I felt Travolta settled into it more and became more attuned with the character. On the other hand, Miley Cyrus was not a terribly good choice as the voice of Penny, Bolt’s real life and on-screen owner. She was certainly picked for star power and to further connect the movie to the teen-and-under audience, but Miley’s voice is raspy, bordering on smoky at times and while that might work for her pop star image, it didn’t play coming from the mouth of a young, innocent looking girl.

One last interesting tidbit is Bolt was actually executive produced by John Lasseter, one of Pixar’s creators who now works for both companies. He was brought onto Disney Animation to help bring them back into the forefront of the animation world, but I can’t say I really felt that Pixar spark inside this movie. I have no doubt Disney will continue to move forward and fight their way onwards and upwards, but so far it has been a slow crawl for them.

Recommendation: If you have young children, jump on in, but if you’re heading out on your own, you better be a die-hard fan of children’s movies. Also, this is being offered in 3-D at some theaters, but feel free to skip that option. I saw the 3-D version and there wasn’t anything really worth the hassle of wearing those glasses and possibly fighting off the resulting headache.
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Twilight: Tween Daydream Turns Into Nightmare

Posted by goldwriting on November 24, 2008

twilight

My eyes are shut. Please, please tell me when the crazed fans are gone.

Rating: 2 out of 10

There is not a person in the world who hasn’t heard the rags to riches story of J.K. Rowling and the legendary Harry Potter series of books. Those books, of course, led us to the movie franchise, which has generated so far over a billion dollars with three more movies to go (one for book six, while book seven will be split into two pieces). Yet as quickly as one legend is chiseled into stone, another one comes along, shaking the pedestal to knock down the reigning champion. Stephanie Meyer wrote the first book in her Twilight saga only 3 years ago and she is already hot on the trail of Harry Potter’s coffers. With the release of the fourth book, Breaking Dawn, the series as a whole has sold over 17 million copies and been translated into 20 different languages. So, with the literary world groveling at the feet of the Twilight series, begging for more, it was inevitable the movie world would come knocking. Does such a massive fan base guarantee success for the feature film adaptation?

Financially it always helps, but critically it doesn’t mean a thing. With an opening weekend of over $70 million dollars, Twilight is already a blockbuster and I’m guessing will finish up somewhere in the $400 million dollar range. This will mainly be due to the hordes of tween girls who will go see this repeatedly, like they did with Titanic, driving the box office receipts way past any critical value. Once you look beyond the dollar signs and the pre-pubescent obsession, the reality is this movie is barely watchable.

From the very beginning of the film it is terribly paced, trying to drain each and every sigh and wistful gaze from the moments on screen, which causes it to take over an hour to get to anywhere the least bit interesting. Finally, when that moment comes, it is over incredibly fast and done with such broad, clumsy strokes that banging your head against the chair in front of you begins to seem like a viable option to make yourself feel better. The whole thing drips with teenage melodrama, admittedly perfect for their direct audience, but to make a truly successful film it has to play to more than just a fraction of the populace. I’ve never had a problem appreciating a good movie, whether I was the correct demographic or not (look back on my review of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 if you need proof). The fact remains Twilight drags itself from scene to scene, on top of being badly performed. This is a shame to be added to the resume of normally skilled director Catherine Hardwicke, who I have personally raved to many people about her previous films, Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown.

Rob Pattinson, who plays Edward Cullen, the lovelorn vampire, has already ascended to fill the void left by Orlando Bloom from his Lord of the Rings days, but he has far from grasped what it takes to be an on-screen heartthrob. There is an art to the longing gaze, an inherent skill to the penetrating looks across the room, neither of which he possesses. He ends up coming off more like a borderline sociopath who might be suffering from any number of vitamin deficiencies. He also proves numerous times that opening your eyes incredibly wide doesn’t always emote intensity, some times it just comes off looking like you’re in pain. There are rare occasions when the lead actor can be propped up by the performance of his co-star, but this is not one of those times. Kristen Stewart, taking on the role of the lovestruck Bella, who although powerfully cute and physically perfect for the role, plays way too much with the awkwardness of meeting a boy you like before taking an enormous leap into the deepest love in the world. There is virtually no arc for her romanticism, it just appears instantaneously and is never doubted by either side. Also, without giving away any spoilers, there is something special about her character which draws her to her new vampire boyfriend, but yet again it is never explained or even explored. For the next film, which has already been signed and contracted, it would behoove whichever director it might be to watch Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist to see the correct way how to show two incredibly awkward teenagers fall in love without making the audience want to gouge out their own eyes. The painful and repetitive scenes between Rob and Kristen completely washed away James Van Der Beek and Katie Holmes from Dawson’s Creek, America’s previous winners for “Most Time Taken by a Fictional Couple to Just Get the Hell on with It!”

Not having read the book, and I pray it is better than the adaptation, there are also a number of things changed or altered from the vampire mythos. I’m all for new storytellers taking creative license and trying to make something traditional into their own, but the changes made here just ripped out the heart and soul of these maligned and tragic characters. From their over-romanticized reaction to direct sunlight to the absence of a single pairs of fangs in the film, all the creative team of Twilight succeeded in doing is making these characters the weakest and most pathetic vampires in movie history. I would make a comment about Buffy being able to take care of these poor specimens, but I honestly don’t think she would bother. She’d probably send Xander.

It was glaringly obvious that the movie was made with only one group in mind, the 12-14 year old girls, and if you were not a member of this group, you honestly didn’t matter. This tactic might make for a financially successful film, but the franchise will begin to suffer once its audience grows up between films and they start to be able to do more than just gape at a mysteriously gaunt boy on the big screen. My only hope is the studio learns from the Harry Potter series, which has gotten better and better as the films have gone on and they continue to satisfy the young fans of the books along with their parents and older siblings.

Recommendation: If your hair isn’t currently in pigtails, move along.

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Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Funny, Yet Not Smith-y.

Posted by goldwriting on November 2, 2008

I’m sure you know my companion here. He’s in every comedy this year.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

It’s been a long time coming. Finally someone tackled the incredibly hard genre of porn parody in the mainstream film world. This area has been begging to be cracked open and poked fun at for decades, almost since the inception of porn itself. The missing link in this universal quest was waiting for the right director to come along, one with enough guts to get down and dirty with the humor, one with enough skill to handle the depravity of the comedy without losing the audience, and finally one with enough of a following that it wouldn’t matter if he videotaped a poster of dogs playing poker for two hours. That director has come and he bears the name Kevin Smith…or does he?

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the childishly charming story of two best friends who find their wallets bone dry and no prospects for paying their long overdue bills until Zack has the brilliant epiphany of shooting a porno starring themselves. Leading this adult-themed romp, Zack and Miri pull together a cast and crew of porn outcasts and misfits, along with some familiar faces to the comedy world, and form a family they didn’t know they were missing until it was already there. Along the way Zack and Miri also deal with the most common question between two best friends of opposite genders: Will sex change us?

Before even breaching the doorway of the theater any audience member who knows the name Kevin Smith is prepped and ready for dirty jokes, loads of sarcasm and possibly male nudity, but after the past year of R-rated comedies and the explosion of Judd Apatow, none of those previous shock factors hold much weight anymore. What Kevin Smith had to rely on in this film was his own personal style of witty dialogue and banter, exemplified early in Smith’s career with Clerks, where Dante and Randal debate over the righteousness of killing unionized Storm Troopers in The Empire Strike Back. That conversation would never appear in any other director’s works, let alone in their heads. Unfortunately Zack and Miri didn’t reach quite the same level of kitsch or intellectual playfulness we are used to from Smith. There are certainly moments of it sprinkled throughout, but the overall feel was a let down from his normal style. This could be the result of what every director goes through while they try to expand their market and skills (and this will only be further detailed in 2010 with the release of Smith’s first horror film, Red State), but the main difference now is when Smith first erupted onto the scene he was the lone torch bearer for the R-rated comedy world and now Apatow has taken the flame and run with it. With Zack and Miri lacking the spark and wit usually associated with Smith, it is too easy to mistake this for any new director being towed along in the Apatow wake. Now don’t take this to mean I didn’t like the film, I most certainly enjoyed myself, but it just left me wanting more of the Kevin Smith-ness I yearned for (which was easily solved by a quick jaunt home and a return viewing of Dogma…God bless that movie!).

Adding slightly to the Apatow undertone is the casting of Seth Rogen as Zack, who has been pleasurably riding along with Apatow and his crew since the days of Freaks and Geeks. This is not a slight on Rogen at all, because he has certainly done his homework and made all the efforts to be where he is today, but a large number of his big projects, especially in recent film history, have been under the banner of Apatow films, if not directed by the man himself. So audiences have certainly come to know Rogen and the style he brings to any raunchy or over-the-line comedy, but I didn’t quite feel he brought anything new to the table this time. He proved once again he can believably deliver heartfelt dialogue and make the audience care, but that was a doubt he previously shattered in Knocked Up. I laughed at the moments he wanted me to, yet I still felt he won’t be overly remembered for this performance. Skipping up alongside Rogen is Elizabeth Banks as Miri. Banks is also not a stranger to fans of Apatow with her side character turn in The 40-Year Old Virgin, but she has been equally busy in recent history on a number of other projects as well. In this movie she tries to show us the internal struggle of a woman fighting to keep her most important friendship strictly platonic, while also filming a porn flick to save her from being evicted. What woman hasn’t gone through that? She has her share of moments, but again doesn’t leave anything completely memorable for the exiting audience. On other parts of the casting front we see some familiar names from Smith’s View Askew-niverse; Jason Mewes, or more commonly known as Jay of Jay and Silent Bob, and Jeff Anderson, who has been delighting audiences as Randal since Clerks. Mewes plays Lester, the low budget porn actor with incredibly useful talents and a well versed knowledge of any and all sexual techniques. Half of his dialogue, funny as it may be, comes off like a recital from urbandictionary.com. Anderson joins in as Deacon, the cameraman-cum-editor who finds himself in the most precarious of positions. Also well known to comedy fans is Craig Robinson, who in this film plays Delaney, Zack’s co-worker and newly crowned porn producer, but to most of the television audience out there he is better known as Darryl, the big, bad plant worker from The Office. Craig is on a hot streak right now many actors spend their lives dreaming for and the best part of it is, we the audience get the benefit of watching his comedic genius even more. Popping in to give the movie some realistic porn flavor are Katie Morgan and Traci Lords, the former a current adult film star and the latter one of the few to retire and make a mainstream transition.

There is one more person worth mentioning and I made sure to save the best for last, even giving him his own paragraph. Justin Long, a terribly underrated actor, turns in the most hilarious performance as Brandon, the gay porn star who first inspires the wild idea in Zack’s head. He only has two scenes in the film, one of which you must stay halfway through the credits to watch, but trust me, it is totally worth the wait. I shudder to think how many takes were blown when other actors lost their composure watching Long in this role. He grabs a hold of this utterly ridiculous persona and never lets go, practically daring the other actors to break character. His performance alone raised the score of this movie a full point in my book.

Recommendation: True die hards of the Kevin Smith clan might not be blown away by this, but it could possibly reach a broader audience previously turned off by Kevin’s normal banter and intentionally clever writing. It doesn’t end up on the bottom of my Smith totem pole (you’re still safe down there, Jersey Girl), but it does make me readjust what I expect to see from him in the future. Same skill, less nerdy wit.

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The Visitor: Finding the Beat of Your Heart

Posted by goldwriting on November 1, 2008

Can you teach me something by Journey?

Rating: 9 out of 10

Taking the ordinary and introducing it to the out-of-the-ordinary. That’s what Thomas McCarthy said about his films and their underlying stories. Actually, he probably put it a little more eloquently, but you catch the drift. This is indeed the core of nearly all filmmaking and good storytelling. It brings out the eternal question; What happens when the normal world is shifted, knocked askew by any number of forces and how will the people of that world react? Will they run? Will they freeze? Most importantly of all, what would we do in their shoes? Now before you apply these new questions to such deep and powerful films like Beerfest and Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo, let’s start out with something a bit clearer.

The Visitor tells the story of Walter Vale, an economy professor listlessly wandering through his days pretending to be busy so he can negate any chance for human contact since the loss of his wife. He reluctantly makes a trip to New York for a conference and finds a young couple illegally renting his apartment in the city. Being a decent person, he allows them to stay while they look for a new place, but in return he gets much more than new roommates, he finds the doorway to a life which has been passing him by.

Thomas McCarthy creates a wonderfully simple and beautifully timeless world for us so we can bear witness to one of the great abilities in human nature, love. You can break almost any story down into a love story, but The Visitor is one dealing with numerous types of love in one tale. There is the love of music, shown when Tarek, the young man living in William’s apartment, teaches William about the African drum. Through this new musical outlet, William grows not only as a drummer, but as a person as well, allowing himself to open up to the world walking by him and becoming a participant instead of an invisible observer. There is the love of a young couple, shown by Tarek and Zainab, his girlfriend. They are both living in the country under constant fear of deportation, ignorant retaliation and learning to do what they can to get by, but their love for each other keeps them together and puts smiles onto their faces in even the darkest of moments. There is also the love of a mother for her son, shown through the brave journey of Mouna, Tarek’s mother who travels to New York after five days of not being able to reach her son on his cell phone. Sure, that could sound a touch paranoid, but it was the reality this family was living in which made her so concerned. Lastly, just to top off the love-fest, this also tells the story of love coming again to those who have closed themselves off to the idea. No matter what the circumstances, no matter how long it has been, love can always breach those defenses and wake up the heart once more. All these different versions of love are delicately woven together and paired up with a powerful political sentiment around our broken immigration policies and treatment of illegals. Coming off heavy handed is dangerous when dealing with these themes, so subtlety is the name of the game here and McCarthy handles it with the same skill and honesty he showed us before in The Station Agent. As a writer/director his record is incredibly strong, so I recommend keeping an eye out for anything bearing his name.

As with most small stories like this one, much of the weight and success falls on the shoulders of the actors and their ability to deliver realistic, believable and truthful performances. Casting becomes a type of “make-or-break” decision for the project and Thomas McCarthy came well prepared to the table. He had Richard Jenkins in mind for Walter Vale from nearly the beginning and stuck with him even after Richard told him that he would love to play the character, but the movie would most likely never get made with him as the lead. Richard wasn’t saying this out of any type of martyr complex, but he has been a character actor for a great many years without a starring role and he knew his name would not carry much weight on the playbill, yet even with that fact staring him in the face, Thomas stuck to his guns and fought for Richard. After winning all necessary battles, Richard walked into the role with such amazing depth and sensitivity garnering him incredible buzz and murmurs of Academy nominations. If he doesn’t reach the heights of the golden statue this time, he shouldn’t be too heartbroken because I have no doubt a number of the independent awards and smaller organizations are going to give notice and heap praise. There were such small and nuanced details to every moment he portrayed, it was impossible not to feel for him during this journey. From platonic caring to romantic longing, Richard proved once and for all he is a lead actor and one to be learned from. Also involved from near the inception of the story was Hiam Abbass, who played Tarek’s mother, Mouna Khalil. She really fit perfectly with the style and grace of Jenkin’s performance, showing a quiet, reserved, yet insurmountable strength which propelled her character to do absolutely anything to be there for her son. As for the young couple, Haaz Sleiman played Tarek and Danai Jekesai Gurira played Zainab. Both were quite good and held up the incredible level of commitment and quality already being displayed in the film. Haaz boldly followed his ark of being hopeful and optimistic about life in America to barely contained rage over his mistreatment from ignorance and fear. Danai displayed the other side of being a foreigner in this country, the side where they try as best as they can to keep to themselves and not interfere or be noticed for fear of being deported. Her struggle displays one of the true tragedies of the story, where the yellow brick road leading many immigrants to our shores and streets ends on cracked pavement and broken promises.

Recommendation: The Visitor is an amazing film which really brings out the depth of feeling we yearn for from independent cinema. It has had a long and slow burn on the film circuit and at this time can already be found on DVD, so do yourself a favor and buy, rent or borrow this movie as soon as you get the chance. If you’re lucky, the story of Walter Vale might even inspire you to continue on your own journey, wherever it may lead.

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Changeling: Truth and Passion without Power.

Posted by goldwriting on October 26, 2008

“Oh my, ummm…this is awkward. Can I return this one for something a little more, i don’t know, related to me?”

Ranking: 7.5/10

Some people refer to it as the “Oscar curse”, others mention it as “setting the bar too high”, but they all refer to the same phenomenon, once great success is achieved everything from that point forward is compared against it. Few directors still working today know this as well as Clint Eastwood. After winning a number of awards previously, he finally snagged the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture for his 1992 return to the Western, Unforgiven. Twelve years later he reached that height once more in both categories for Million Dollar Baby. With that amount of popularity and acclaim in your wake, critics and audiences begin to develop a particular impression of where your movies will take them. Each time Clint returns to the screen, it is another contest against himself to try and outdo his previous visions. Did it happen this time? Were new peaks reached in power and passion? Let’s find out.

Changeling is based on a true story about a young woman named Christine Collins whose young son was kidnapped in late 1920’s Los Angeles. This took place during a time of great scrutiny and negative press for the police department in LA, so her tragic situation was given an overwhelming amount of news coverage and spotlight. Desperate to garner anything in the form of positive press, the LAPD snatched up any attempt to find her boy, but in that desperate vein they returned to her a young boy who was not her son. Whether it was an honest mistake or collusion on the part of the police force, it didn’t matter, there was no way for them to back out. What followed was a closely guarded cabal of high ranking officers and elected officials who did everything in their power to silence the willful and impassioned young mother still crying for her real son to be brought home.

The story is a powerful one and at times you have remind yourself that it actually took place. The sheer audacity and corruption depicted nearly ruins any suspension of disbelief, but it’s because we live in a different time, a different society. Back then, women still had very few rights and a great deal could still be swept away with a back handed comment about them being “too emotional”. In the past we were still bearing witness to the classic adage of “absolute power corrupts absolutely”, which we can still see today if we look closely enough. Clint did a fantastic job translating this desperate tale to the screen, bringing every minuscule detail of the 1920’s – 1930’s Los Angeles back to life. He also continues to handle brutal levels of violence in a sensitive and classic manner, moving the camera away or playing with shadows just enough to let the audience fill in the darkness.

Yet, what a director is truly there for is to direct the actors and bring forth the most honest and pure performances possible. This is where Clint Eastwood is a living, breathing masterpiece. Angelina Jolie brings forth the tremors and troubles of the young mother, Christine Collins. There is no doubt playing this role was incredibly intense for her since she most likely drew from her own much publicized experiences as a mother. She once again glides from reserved, to frantic, to forlorn and lastly to resolute with the grace of an actress much older than her years. The only problem for her was she spent a good deal of the movie emotionally troubled, so there wasn’t very far she could still go by the time of the third act climax. In the end there was a sense of caring for her, but I felt the lack of a distinct moment of undenied connection from the audience. John Malkovich lays the heavy hand of responsibility on the LAPD in his performance as Reverend Gustav Briegleb, a local pastor who made it his main goal in life to bring to light all the criminal and despicable acts the police had committed under the guise of justice. John achieves the powerful and sometimes frightening level of surety and devout belief in his own actions, which is usually the signature of highly influential religious officials. Jeffery Donovan gets the part people either love or hate to play, the character left holding all the blame. As Capt. J.J. Jones, Jeffery scrambles erratically to cover up Christine Collins in any way possible, including having her committed to an insane asylum until she agrees to sign a document absolving the LAPD of any wrongdoing in her case. He definitely reaches deep into this character to bring out the desperation which accompanies his actions, but the one failure here is we can never tell how much he knew from the beginning, exactly how complicit was he, which affects how much the audience can blame him. Yet, with all these big names and accomplished actors in the film, scene after scene is stolen by Jason Butler Harner in the role of Gordon Northcott, a frighteningly imbalanced monster with a penchant for young boys. No matter who he was on screen with, Jason drew all eyes to him and punched his way off the screen into the guts and underbelly of the audience. When nominations are announced next year, I’m not going to be surprised to see some of these names in lights, but Jason is certainly one of the most deserving.

While there are times we complain something on screen is unbelievable or that it could never happen in real life, this film suffers slightly from the opposite effect, what we witness is based on real life, during a particular moment in time. The level of mental, physical and emotional abuse laid upon this woman is not only baffling, but shocking to the idea that it ever took place. The film follows a common structure of your underdog story, one against the many, but in the end I’m not sure whether there was enough retribution to balance out the agony she had been put through. Without that equality between protagonist and antagonist, the film can sometimes feel unfulfilled.

Bottom Line: Fans of Clint Eastwood will like the film, but possibly not love it. It still fails to reach the level of his previous works, but certain performances, specifically from Jason Butler Harner, are truly worth experiencing.

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Body of Lies: Political Punch Without a Point

Posted by goldwriting on October 12, 2008

You mean to tell me the hidden Harry Potter novel is NOT in this folder?

There are certain things a country does when it goes to war, the economy usually booms into action, the populace rally behind the sitting President and Hollywood starts production on films portraying America as the patriotic force of good against whatever evil it is we are currently fighting with. And so it went during the early years of the Iraq War, but as time dragged on everything started to slip away. The economy slid into one of the worst depressions on record, the general populace turned on the sitting President with such vitriol and distaste it is a wonder he’s still in office, and lastly Hollywood began to show another side of the conflict, one where we were not cast in the best of lights. The movie going public usually eats this all up with a popcorn flavored spoon, but eventually there is a line crossed where the audience just doesn’t care anymore. We’ve moved on, the war has become old news and we don’t want to be reminded anymore about how badly we screwed the pooch. But films take a long time to go from start to finish, so this weekend we were graced with one more wartime vision, Body of Lies, this one from greatly acclaimed director Ridley Scott and powerhouse actors Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Russell plays Ed Hoffman, an arrogant, egotistical CIA operative constantly wired to the cell phone in his pocket and somehow managing to pillage information from halfway around the world while still attending his daughter’s soccer game. Leo takes the role of Roger Ferris, the rough edged man on the ground who provides Ed with his intel and carries out whatever orders flow through those encrypted phone lines. As with anyone who stays in those situations for too long, Roger is getting strung out and he starts to wonder if these secret missions and assassinations are really the correct course of action. Ed does what he can to talk sense into him, make him see the bigger picture, but Roger begins to think the two of them are picturing different things. Old loyalties are tested and broken, while new ones are forged in the heat of a silent war. Once again, it’s shown that every man must choose his own destiny and find out what he truly believes.

The main thing getting in the way of this film’s success is the timing. No matter how much action you put in, no matter how much drama you layer over it, the fact remains this is yet another Iraq War movie and the audience just isn’t there anymore. We have grown weary of seeing our enemies, the ones fighting against us and the ones claiming to be fighting for us. There will always be a place for war movies in the annals of cinema, but the market right now has become glutted with them, especially with the extra helping on documentaries on the subject. Deep down we all go to the movie theater to be momentarily distracted from what we see on the news every night and right now the voice of the people is speaking loud and clear on that point.

Yet, even if this movie had been released earlier by three or four years, I’m not sure it would have done much better. Ridley does his best here to set up tension and a good sense of paced action, but with only an hour gone from the opening shot I was already beginning to wonder how long we had left. The film seems to drag itself towards an end, which when it finally arrives has little to no impact. The story lacks a sense of closure, which possible stems from the reality of the situation in Iraq. There is certainly a ride to be had by watching this, but I’m not sure you finish the ride feeling any different than when you got on.

The excitement surrounding Russell and Leo getting to work together was palpable when the casting was first announced, but they both deliver only during certain scenes. Russell relaxes into the skin of Ed Hoffman, a man who can’t be bothered to think about the humanity of his actions because he has the safety of the world on his mind. Yet barely underneath that is his own desire to be recognized as the one who saved it. In particular moments of the film, Russell really flowed with the brimming confidence of Ed, but in other scenes he came off rather uncaring and unmotivated. Leo got a touch luckier in his role because all the drama and conflict really resides in him. He showed some good chops while playing the political game between Ed and the local contacts, but it never came up to the power of Leo’s earlier stuff, like The Basketball Diaries, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or most recently The Departed, which he will forever be measured against. The one person who actually stepped out of the film and truly gave a measure of weight when on screen was Mark Strong, who played Hani the head of the Jordanian Secret Service. His cool demeanor was a translucent mask over an intimidating and unremorseful nature. Hani saw the world very plainly, those who were with him and those who were against him, and you knew which side you wanted to be on.

Recommendation: I can’t honestly say there is much here we haven’t already seen in the last couple of years with films like The Kingdom and Lions for Lambs. If you really want power and performance inside a war story, Ridley is still your man, just go rent Black Hawk Down instead.

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Here are links for two of the posters for the movies I mentioned in this review:

Buy at Art.com
Buy at Art.com

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RocknRolla: Ritchie Gives Tarantino the Ole’ One-Two

Posted by goldwriting on October 9, 2008

Buy at Art.com

[ Click above to buy the poster]

2 out of 3 people in the poster are looking off to the left. The girl would be looking there too, but she’s playing coy.

Are you looking to step into a bit of the ole’ underground? Yearning for a taste of the underbelly of London? Maybe you’re just missing the sounds of those thick British accents as the words stumble into your ears and confuse more than inform you. Whatever the case may be, there is only one man who truly provides the cure for those ills…Guy Ritchie.

The man behind Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch is back once again with another chapter is his series of old school mob movies. RocknRolla follows along a certain tradition for Ritchie, fast talking and fast reacting characters keep the audience tense, because they have absolutely no clue what will happen next. Keep the characters unpredictable and keep the audience involved, that’s the key. Now, if you noticed the title of this review, you might be wondering where the connection to Quentin Tarantino comes in (and that is a most perceptive and valid question. Well done, reader). After the movie ended I turned to my friend and said, “One sentence review: The British Pulp Fiction.” He sat back, processed the comparison and smiled. “Yep, you’re totally right.” I’ll show you what I mean while giving a brief overview of the story.

RocknRolla follows a small gang of low level criminals known as The Wild Bunch, who get hired by a sexy accountant to rip off some big money from an even bigger mobster. What she didn’t know is our little hooligans were already in debt to the local crime lord, who was doing business with the “bigger mobster”. So money is stolen, circulated, recycled and everyone ends up chasing each others tails. Also, there is a painting that gets stolen and becomes the MacGuffin of the film, which is a cinematic term for an object that is central to the plot, but no one ever really sees it. People philosophize, people die and people are nearly sodomized.

If the specifics of the comparison aren’t gelling for you yet, here’s a breakdown:

MacGuffins: Pulp Fiction has the briefcase which we never see inside. RocknRolla has the painting which we never see the front of.

Crooks in way over their head: Gerard Butler and Idris Elba play the heads of The Wild Bunch and are constantly trying to keep one step ahead of being killed by the very person they are working for, just like John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson (more Travolta though, in this case).

The Girl is the Problem: Thandie Newton is the instigator of the troubles which put Gerard into play, just like Uma Thurman goes after Travolta, thereby putting him in a situation of life or death.

Multiple storylines: RocknRolla is not set up in the vignette fashion of Pulp Fiction, but both deal with a number of plot lines that all converge in the end to tie things up.

Sodomy Interruption: Both films have a scene where a guy is about to be raped by a pair of leather clothed dudes, when someone comes in and makes the snap judgment on who to kill.

It can be argued that some of these things are common to all movies of the crime/mob genre, but so many together in one film makes the case a little stronger. I’m not saying RocknRolla is bad, not in the least, but I left feeling like I’d seen it before.

RocknRolla is not going to be remembered in history for iconic performances, like Travolta and Jackson, but there was some good work being done. Butler hams it up nicely as a crook-cum-swashbuckler with no dancing feet. His inherent suaveness comes to bear in his scenes with Thandie, but he also gets to show his willingness to play that in the direction of a different gender. Which brings up one big difference between this and Pulp Fiction, and this could be easily attributed to the time periods, but RocknRolla was doused in homoerotic overtones. From the sodomy to the gay side characters to the subplot of Butler and his best friend in the gang, it never gets too far away from it. This provided for some really amusing humor and grinningly awkward scenes. Idris gets to play the straight man, no pun intended, to Butler’s machismo and he achieves it well. There is a certain calm to Idris on screen which makes me certain he’s going to be around for a long time to come. Tom Wilkinson also gets to walk a little on the more wacky side as the crime boss of London, trying to prove he’s still the big fish in town and time isn’t passing him by. Thandie, who I’ve enjoyed on screen in the past, doesn’t travel much farther beyond eye candy on this occasion. Jeremy Piven and Ludacris drop by as music producers, but get paltry little screen time. The one person who will leave the biggest visual impression is Toby Kebbell, as Johnny Quid. He spends most of the film shirtless and brings back frighteningly skinny images of Chistian Bale from The Machinist. Bale still wins the freakish battle, but Kebbell kept enough muscle tone to still look dangerous as well, which gives him an edge. Lastly, blink and you’ll miss Gemma Arterton, who will be seeing much more of in the upcoming Bond film, Quantum of Solace.

Ritchie on the other hand delivers once again in more traditional style. As I mentioned before, fans of those two early films of his will certainly enjoy this. The attitude is there, the raw edge is there and the camerawork is rife with quick cuts and whip pans, just like we’re used to from him. He also wrote the film again, which helps even more keep the style intact. I think many people will be glad to see the old Guy Ritchie back on the silver screen. Yet, all his past successes could be wiped out by the possibility of greatness with his upcoming film, Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the questioning crusader, Jude Law as the encyclopedic Dr. Watson and Rachel McAdams as lady love interest. I’m containing my excitement for this, but just barely.

Recommendation: A good flick, bordering on great, far from amazing. If you’re a fan of Ritchie from the past, you won’t be disappointed. If you’ve never seen a film of his before, feel free to check this out, but don’t stop here, see Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels as well. As for the theater experience, after the initial whip panning frenzy in the first ten minutes, it settles down and becomes quite enjoyable. I also recommend Rasinettes over Goobers (take that, peanut lovers!).

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Towelhead: A Hat Trick of Anxiety, Trauma and Beauty

Posted by goldwriting on September 3, 2008

I’m sure there’s a joke out there somewhere to make about a movie with themes like this, but I’m not going there. So phbbbtttt…

Nothing sets the mood like walking into a movie already brimming with controversy before it ever hits a single silver screen. So it was with the new storytime vision of Alan Ball, writer of American Beauty and creator of Six Feet Under. With those two titles under your belt, every audience member knows they are in for something darkly humorous, unusually frank and powerfully uncomfortable. Once again, Alan Ball did not disappoint on any count.

Towelhead is the story of Jasira, a young thirteen year old girl reaching the inevitable point in her life where changes occur in her body and her surroundings, but none of the adults around her represent anything close to a good role model. Without proper guidance Jasira stumbles tragically into puberty and has to fight off racism, sexism and the primal urges of others as well as her own. Nothing makes sense to her anymore and a new fight emerges when someone actually tries to care for her and make her recognize right from wrong.

This film penetrates through layer upon layer of social taboo and almost dares the audience to flinch, maybe even leave if they can’t handle it. The depths of humiliation and abuse Jasira sinks into are troubling to say the least, but there does seem to be a method to the madness behind the scenes. The story does attempt to say something important about young children, especially girls, who are victimized. Too many times once a tragedy has occured in a young girl’s life, she is forever treated like a victim and never expected to fully return to a normal, well balanced life, but Alan Ball strove to show a different possibility. He created a world where Jasira suffers terrible act upon terrible act, but continues her fight for understanding and once she does fully come to grips with what is happening to her, it becomes a fight to take back control of her own life. Also brought to bear upon the social mindset is the dispicable parenting that takes place. Jasira is an all too common example of divorced parents using their child as a weapon against each other and losing all recognition of the small impressionable person in between. It’s not to say what happens in Towelhead happens to every child, I surely hope not, but the allusions drawn here are far from unheard of.

The thematics will feel somewhat familiar to those in touch with Ball’s previous works, but he claims to have not noticed that until after filming was already done. Also part of the excuse is Ball didn’t write the story, he adapted the script from the novel of the same name by Alicia Erian, a middle eastern woman herself. Together, Alicia and Alan both defended the use of the title Towelhead in the face of protests from American Muslim groups across the nation. It’s a gray area to be sure. Alicia and Alan actually changed the name to Nothing is Private before they screened at Cannes because they were so afraid of the reaction (and it’s still listed on IMDB under that title), but after the film was sold, the studio actually asked for them to change it back. Everyone involved seemed to feel the inherent racism in the title and the shocking nature of it was integral to the story they were trying to tell. Opposers feel it is sensationalist and only helps further the use of such a deroggatory term. In my opinion, it’s a tough sell to try and make them change it since it gets embroiled in a censorship vs. artistry dispute, but I do see a double standard in our country where this movie can get released and supported, but Nas is forced to change the name of his last album away from N****r for exactly the same reasons. I think that proves the point that we may have come a long way in the fight against racism, but it’s only against some cultures, not all.

OK, off my political soapbox, back to the movie. Like I expected, Towelhead is incredibly well done, but equally uncomfortable. Numerous times I shifted around in my seat because there was no way to watch the screen and feel at ease with what I was being shown. Alan made this effect possible with strong unapologetic writing and brilliant casting. Summer Bishil takes on the impressive and heavy role of Jasira and delivers a stunning performace, which for her is nearly a debut (she’d done some children’s TV movies before, but nothing of this level or caliber). Her nievete in acting only helped to make Jasira more innocent on screen, creating even more torment when that innocence is threatened. It was a inceredibly brave role to play and I would not be surprised if her name is mentioned around Oscar time. Aaron Eckhart once again proves he can play any kind of next door neighbor, the one you invite over and cook hot dogs with or the one you make sure you lock the side doors against. This time he plays the more devious and dispicable of the two and his commitment to the role was impressive and frightening to say the least. Playing the role of Jasira’s father, Peter Macdissi had an entirely new road to travel as a man ill equipped for fatherhood in America during this day and age, while also fighting off racism both against him and from him. My feelings towards his character were very close to those of Greg Kinnear in Little Miss Sunshine. Both were paternal characters who were incredibly easy to hate, but when the film tries to redeem them at the end, it feels like too little too late. I will say in Towelhead, Peter’s character makes a stronger turn in the third act, but so much animosity is built up by then, it’s hard for an audience to empathize. Trying to save adults everyone from being portrayed as completely inept is Toni Collette. She plays a pregnant neighbor on the other side who begins to see terrible possibilities open in front of her and does her best to protect and shelter the young girl, sometimes even from Jasira herself. It was a nice touch to make the character pregnant since it added an extra level of worry and panic over whether something like this could happen to her own incoming child.

Recommendation: This is not a sunny afternoon matinee and certainly, positively not a date movie. But, if you are a fan of good, powerful and emotional filmmaking, strap yourself in because this is a heavy ride. See it in the theater for that extra added power, since it won’t be so easy to pause or change the channel.

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