Archive for June, 2009

It’s surprising such an intriguing mystery could miss the mark so completely.

Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) is a U.S. district attorney working with various foreign authorities to bring down a massive money laundering operation that fronts as a bank. She is teamed with Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), who has been on the financial institution’s trail for years but never permitted to get this close. Lou is supposed to deal in information but he has trouble just sitting at a desk so he joins the physical hunt. As they dig deeper, Eleanor and Lou discover the bank funds civil and international wars to control the country’s debt and thus control the country – and everyone’s hands are dirty.

The premise is attractive and the story is loosely based on a 1980s scandal. But it’s just not enough. The narrative is seriously lacking in what one would have thought to be inherent intrigue. The espionage element of the film is far weaker than expected for this style of narrative. In addition, save for an exciting extended shootout at the Guggenheim, the film’s action falls flat.

For the most part, the dialogue is horrendously laughable. Yet, Owen and Watts manage to rise above it and turn-in respectable performances. They are genuinely serious about their task and struggle with the tough decisions, despite their cheesy exchanges. The rest of the cast is okay, delivering their lines equally straight.

The film’s conclusion is simultaneously fitting and anti-climactic. The protagonists’ goals are only minimally realized despite their tremendous efforts and sacrifice, which is typical of the business but not a mode of narrative closure.

Director Tom Tykwer’s previous endeavour, Run Lola Run, was such an accomplishment in pace and style; it would have been nice to see some of that translated to The International.

The special features include commentary by Tykwer and writer Eric Singer, as well as “The International Experience: Picture-in-Picture,” which provides additional information while the movies screens. The extended scene centred on Salinger and Whitman adds little to the feature film. The featurettes are technically interesting but not entirely what was expected. “Shooting at the Guggenheim” is less about the actual shootout and more about the logistics of building a replica of the museum. “Architecture of The International” is much of the same. “The Autostadt” briefly highlights the production’s position as the first film permitted to shoot within the Volkswagen headquarters. The disc is also BD-Live enabled and equipped with Cine-chat.

High school football players want to have sex with cheerleaders. The concept isn’t new, but this puts the boys’ hormones into overdrive.

Nick (Eric Christian Olsen) and Shawn (Nicholas D’Agosto) are hardcore jocks that pride themselves on their ability to score on and off the field. By now, they have exhausted the hottie pool at their own school. Nonetheless, the idea of going two weeks without girls at another blistering stint of football camp is so unpleasant the boys unleash their inner spirit, pick up some pom-poms and head to Fired Up cheerleading camp instead. As they make their way through a fresh population of girls, Shawn and Nick actually find themselves contributing to the possibility of success for their cheer squad who have placed last every year. Their selfish decision actually leads the boys to grow as people. Shawn falls in love and Nick learns that girls are people too.

This movie is Bring It On meets Varsity Blues (minus the drama) peppered with references to Dodgeball, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Boiler Room, and various others. It’s basically borrowed well-liked moments from popular movies from the last few decades. The film also calls into question a repeated cliché about football players: they only play ball to get with girls. They’ve said it in Dazed and Confused, the aforementioned Varsity Blues and numerous others. But as proven here, there are plenty of other, easier ways to seduce women.

The movie is what it is. It’s not always funny but then something will be so funny it almost makes up for the parts that preceded it. While much of the humour is provided by the antics of Nick and Shawn, the other characters round out the comedy. If the film relied solely on the duo for entertainment, it would have fallen flat quickly; but the inclusion of several other funny personalities really helps keep the flick afloat. These others include obnoxious boyfriend Dr. Rick (David Walton), flamboyant Brewster (Adhir Kalyan), and slightly inappropriate Coach Keith (John Michael Higgins).

This movie joins the ranks of other recent films that focus on the bromance. For that reason, it’s not entirely a chick flick – there’s too much skirt-chasing for it not to be directed at the boys too. But the second half does shift gears and pom-poms rule.

The Blu-ray provides both the theatrical and unrated versions of the film, as well as a digital copy of the unrated flick. With a little over a minute separating the two, the brilliance is in the star that appears in the corner of the screen to identify the few seconds of additional footage throughout the movie. “This is not a Cheerleading Movie,” the making-of featurette, and “Double Duty” provide various interviews, including tongue-in-cheek comments from Olsen, D’Agosto and Danneel Harris, a lesbian cheerleader. The commentary by director Will Gluck, Olsen and D’Agosto is much of the same; luckily they’re funny most of the time. There’s also a gag reel and the film is BD-Live enabled.

The negative attitude towards people and the belief in uncontrolled luck centre stage in this film are not a far-fetch from Woody Allen’s own views on life.

Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) is a crotchety hater of humankind that lives in selective isolation after a failed suicide attempt followed by a divorce from a picture-perfect wife and career as a physicist at Columbia. One night he reluctantly takes in Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), a naïve, impressionable teenage runaway from the South. Absorbing and learning from Boris’ insults directed at her and the world, Melody develops a crush on Boris and he finds himself viewing Melody in a less harsh light as well. The two get married and are relatively happy until Melody’s mother Marietta (Patricia Clarkson) appears on their doorstep, seeking her daughter and an escape from her cheating husband (Ed Begley Jr.). She faints upon learning Melody is married to an old, eccentric curmudgeon. Marietta unexpectedly develops into a sexually-free, boundary-pushing photographer that settles into a ménage à trois. However, still not content with her daughter’s choice, she schemes to unite Melody with a handsome actor (Henry Cavill) that claims to have fallen in love with Melody at first sight. Melody’s father eventually comes to New York too seeking to reunite his family but instead finds they are better off without him and he discovers he’s better off living without an oppressive lie. In the end, romantic partners uncouple and realign, learning there are no rules and you simply have to follow whatever works.

A typical component of Allen’s films is dialogue directed at the audience, rather than characters within the story world. In this case, Boris has several monologues spoken to the audience, directly at the camera. His genius is displayed through the fact that no one except Boris is capable of realizing there is an audience watching.

Whatever Works is character driven and explores the eccentricities of relationships and living a life that makes you happy. While Boris’ pessimism can be nagging, it’s nearly distressing when Melody begins to emit his negativity (what she understands of it anyway) like a poisoned sponge.

David’s character is similar to his Curb Your Enthusiasm counterpart, but more hateful as he doesn’t even crave love or sex. Even with the similarity, David was an ideal choice for this part, which was to originally be played by Zero Mostel before his passing. Wood’s portrayal of a dumb, inexperienced pageant queen lost in the big city and struggling to hold onto the first security she finds is impeccable. Watching, you just want to protect her from being gobbled up by the world or worn down by Boris. The supporting cast is also wonderful, with Clarkson’s entertaining transition from uptight Southern belle to free-wheeling artist and Cavil’s only real responsibility being be British and charming.

This is another amusing romp down unconventional lane with Allen and it’s as enjoyable as ever.

Currently, the options for a homosexual couple that wants a biological child only involves one member of the partnership; i.e. only one-half of the couple can be directly related to the child by blood. While this does not affect who loves the baby more or how the child is raised, it is somewhat of a sad reality. But the technological remedy is on its way and Baby Formula postulates what the future may be.

Athena (Angela Vint) and Lilith (Megan Fahlenbock) are a lesbian couple who are on the verge of creating history by having the first babies born to two biological mothers and no father. To do so, they’ve employed an experimental scientific process to make “female sperm” from stem cells. The process was developed as a fertility treatment in a lab where Athena works. It had been successful in mice, but never tested in humans. The couple is thrilled when the process is a success and Athena becomes pregnant with Lilith’s baby, but they must keep the achievement a secret as it was an unauthorized test. Tensions build when Lilith becomes jealous and goes behind Athena’s back to get pregnant using Athena’s sperm. Adding to the turmoil, Athena’s brother Larry (Dmitry Chepovetsky) claims to be the father of Lilith’s baby. To set the record straight, the couple must disclose the real details of their pregnancies to their parents, who represent the religious right in Athena’s case and the colourfully gay and alcoholic in Lilith’s.

One of the key elements that make this film special is both women were pregnant in real-life (by men). Director Alison Reid was travelling the festival circuit with her short film Succubus – a comedic drama about lesbian couple Athena and Lilith trying to have a biological child with Larry’s help – when she discovered both her leading actresses were pregnant. Deciding immediately to capitalize on the opportunity, Reid began production on a feature-length sequel. The plot was inspired by an article Reid read in a scientific magazine about offspring created from two female mice. Further research on real-life stem cell research was conducted to ensure the scientific explanations were accurate.

The real-life pregnancies lend an air of spontaneity and authenticity to the picture. As Vint said at a First Weekend Club Canada Screens special presentation of the film, “The emotions were more visceral and attainable,” though both women agree there was still a lot of acting involved. Reid set out to make a mock-documentary about something she hopes one day will be a reality, but as a doc-maker in the film she asks the hard questions, which adds to the dynamic and explores the tensions between the couple and their families. Nonetheless, this process is not about making men obsolete – just unnecessary.

Due to the time constraints, shooting began before a script was complete and alterations were consistently made to accommodate real-life developments. A fun example of this is while rehearsing a scene in which Athena’s water breaks during the Pride Parade, Vint’s water actually broke and she was whisked away to the hospital in an ambulance instead of fictionally on the back of a motorcycle. But Vint is proud to have had her baby “on a day you don’t judge people for who you love.”

Though it begins as an unbelievable scientific experiment, the film’s path is altered by a tragedy that brings the importance of love and family in any form to the forefront. It’s also sprinkled with an ample amount of light-hearted comedy, including an awkward moment when the technician begins to flirt with Athena during Lilith’s ultrasound. Baby Formula’s opening weekend was also an official Toronto Pride Week event.

Quentin Tarantino made his second splash on the scene after Reservoir Dogs with a writer’s credit rather than a director’s with this romantic black comedy.

Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) works at a comic book store, likes kung fu movies and has a special relationship with Elvis Presley’s ghost. He thought his life was pretty complete until he met Alabama (Patricia Arquette). She was an escort hired by Clarence’s boss but they fell in love and got married a few days later. After an unplanned shootout, Clarence finds himself in possession of $500,000 worth of cocaine, which the Sicilian gangsters it originally belonged to want back. His attempt to cash in on his fortune in Hollywood sinks Clarence and Alabama into a river of blood via a Mexican standoff.

Not only is this movie an edge-of-your-seat bloody thriller, it’s packed with a lot of impressive names – Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, James Gandolfini, Michael Rapaport, Brad Pitt, Chris Penn, Bronson Pinchot, Saul Rubinek and Val Kilmer. There are several very intense scenes of violence but they are all laid over Tarantino’s signature dark humour; thus, characters laugh and tell jokes as they endure brutal beatings. The infamous “Sicilian scene” is one of these occurrences and it is one of the best scenes ever put on film.

Even though Tarantino didn’t direct True Romance, his style of story and violence radiates through the whole movie. It’s fast-paced with memorable monologues rather than just the usual one-liners. Fans of Tarantino’s will not be disappointed and haters will welcome the direction of Tony Scott. Scott didn’t make any major alterations to the script, except for the ending (which even Tarantino agrees is better) and some musical choices, but his editing style is prominent. It is Scott’s influence that gives the film its fairy tale quality.

The special features match those of the previous two-disc DVD release. There are three feature commentaries that stand as examples for all others because for each major scene they provide different insider information. Commentators include: Slater and Arquette; Scott; and Tarantino. Additional commentary is provided by Hopper, Kilmer, Pitt and Rapaport on only the scenes in which they appear. A five-minute original featurette includes interviews with the cast about the evolution of their characters and a short behind-the-scenes featurette has an option to see footage from on-set during production. There are 11 deleted and extended scenes with optional director’s commentary that explains most scenes were eliminated due to time and momentum issues. One of the most significant extras is the original alternate ending with separate director and writer commentary.