Thursday, November 19, 2009


Starring: William Petersen
Director: William Friedkin

A brutal thriller from the director of The French Connection and The Exorcist. A reckless Secret Service agent stops at nothing in his attempt to nab the counterfeiter who killed his partner. Plenty of violent action and the de rigueur car chase, but it's the convincing depiction of the sleazy L.A. criminal elements that keeps the storyline simmering.

Gritty movie equivalent of TV's Miami Vice makes it hards to root for anyone, since the good guys are as sleazy as the bad guys! Petersen (CSI Las Vegas) plays hotshot agent going after slimy counterfeiter--but for a crack federal agent he acts pretty dumb! One spectacular car chase is not enough to counteract bad taste the film leaves behind. (116 mins.)

My Rating: **1/2


Starring: Gregory Peck
Director: Robert Mulligan

Excellent production of Harper Lee's sensitive book about an Alabama lawyer bringing up his two motherless children. Peck was never been better, and the two children are most affecting. Superb script (Horton Foote) and direction (Robert Mulligan) make this, in its own quiet way, one of the best movies dealing with race relations that the Americasn film industry has ever made.

Peck won an Oscar as a Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape, and tries to explain proceedings to his children and their friend. Leisurely paced, flavorful adaptation of the best-selling novel; Foote's screenplay also earned an Oscar. Robert Duvall's film debut. (129 mins.)

My Rating: ****

JUNEBUG (2005)

Starring: Amy Adams
Director: Phil Morrison

Phil Morrison's Junebug has many of the elements expected from American independent films. It is character driven, offers a geographically specific location that is rarely seen in American films, and features lead characters who change in small and possibly, depending on one's appreciation of the film, profound ways. The strengths of the film are in the women. Embeth Davidtz plays Madeline, the sophisticated art dealer visiting the rural backwater that is home to her husband's family. She manages to make a character that should be unsympathetic very empathetic mostly because she does nothing consciously to offend her hosts' sensibilities. Hers is a finely modulated performance. Amy Adams, as the talkative sister-in-law who desires to gain some of Madeline's worldliness, serves up a great performance. The character lacks the prejudice seen in the other characters. Her performance is as open as her character, full of wide-eyed wonder and -- when the time comes -- deeply felt sadness. She portrays all of these emotions without ever sounding a false or actorly note. (106 mins.)

My Rating: ***

Monday, November 9, 2009


Starring: Mark Wahlberg & Zooey Deshanel
Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Lady in the Water director M. Night Shyamalan puts PG-13 suspense on pause to tell this grim apocalyptic tale about a family fleeing a natural disaster that poses a grave threat to the whole of humanity. Philadelphia high-school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is discussing the disappearance of the bees with his students when the staff is summoned to the theater and briefed about a mysterious event that is currently unfolding in New York City. According to reports, citizens in the vicinity of Central Park have suddenly and inexplicably begun seizing up just before killing themselves by whatever means are at their disposal. As the phenomena begins to spread and talk of terrorism fills the airwaves, Elliot, his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), their friend Julian (John Leguizamo), and his daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), board a train bound for the presumed safety of the country. When the train screeches to a halt before arriving at its final destination, however, the frightened passengers are forced to fend for themselves as each consecutive news report paints an increasingly grim picture of the situation in more urbanized areas. Theories abound on what could be causing the unexplainable rash of suicides, but the only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that it's some kind of airborne contagion that is carried in the wind. It would appear that humankind's reign on planet Earth has come to an end, but perhaps if this small band of survivors can find a safe place to lie low until this all blows over, all hope for survival of the species might not be lost just yet.

Note to M. Night Shyamalan: No matter which angle you shoot it from, a mild summer breeze is not terrifying. A hurricane, absolutely; a tornado, most certainly; a typhoon, indubitably. Hell, even an especially large dust devil might prove capable of jangling the nerves of some particularly sensitive anemophobics. Unfortunately (at least for Shyamalan), the continuous scenes of trees ominously rustling in the breeze or fields of grass churning like a menacing green ocean throughout The Happening mostly elicit feelings of tranquility and inner peace rather than paralyzing fear and insurmountable dread -- the kiss of death for a film attempting to paint nature as the ultimate enemy of humankind. But Shyamalan's failure to make gusts of wind blow fear into the hearts of moviegoers isn't the only reason why The Happening fails to click as an effective horror film; weak direction of actors, a meandering screenplay, and a particularly anemic ending all add up to a misfire that -- despite an admittedly original premise and a promise to ramp up the gruesome imagery -- largely lacks any real sense of tension or danger. Sadly, since the director fails to ratchet up the levels of intensity any higher than in his previous films, the widely touted fact that this is his first R-rated film feels like a gimmicky (and somewhat misleading) ploy to convince moviegoers that Shyamalan has finally taken off the kid gloves, as opposed to a sincere attempt to grow as a filmmaker or branch out into more challenging and mature themes. (89 mins.)

My Rating: *1/2