Scaling the Wuthering Iron Heights of Fundamental Boredom

Well, after every hot streak, there’s a cold spell when it comes to movie viewing. After the cinematic nirvana that was the fearsome foursome of To the Wonder, The Place Beyond the Pines, 42 and Mud…I got lost in the boredom of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Iron Man 3 and Wuthering Heights.

A mirror with no depth.

A mirror with no depth.

For a film that is purportedly about SO MUCH, Mira Nair’s mostly inept The Reluctant Fundamentalist fails to shed any depth of light on current geopolitics, the American Dream, East vs. West or terrorism in our post 9-11 world. There are the seeds of a good film here, but nothing is fleshed out sufficiently. There’s some good acting (Kiefer Sutherland is especially effective as a Bain Capital-style Wall Street exec) and some god-awful acting (Kate Hudson delivers possibly her worst performance, all quirky mannerisms and crocodile tears) – but it all amounts to a big shrug of the shoulders and sleepy eyes. Nair’s career has been in a downward spiral since Monsoon Wedding – her films now shed of all her signature cross-cultural color, class clashing and heart. It’s shocking to watch this film and think that this was made by the same director of Salaam Bombay.

It's nice to see RDJ talk shit to a kid in IRON MAN 3.

It’s nice to see RDJ talk shit to a kid in IRON MAN 3.

Meanwhile, to call Iron Man 3 boring is a bit unfair. I was entertained for most of its runtime as this was probably (and thankfully) the funniest film of the series with some really great dialogue for Robert Downey Jr (and one particularly mean-spirited jab at a kid that had the audience howling) and (SPOILER ALERT!) a hilarious performance from Ben Kingsley. The acting here was all around swell, especially Guy Pearce who has become really good at playing dastardly fellows in his middle-age.

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Shutter Island Part Two: The Film

Ashes to ashes...dust to dust.

In 1950’s Boston, two U.S. Federal Marshals (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) get trapped on an island that is home to a hospital for the criminally insane during a hurricane while investigating the disappearance of a psychotic patient (Emily Mortimer) in Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited screen adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best-selling novel. 

How long was the wait?  Well, it was long enough for me to read Lehane’s book between the original and actual release dates.  And was it worth it?  Oh, you betcha!  And let’s get another thing straight, boss.  Shutter Island is a “lesser” Scorsese…as in Full Metal Jacket is a “lesser” Kubrick.  It also means this is the Scorsese I fell in love with as a kid.  Yup, my first exposure to the greatest living American director was Cape Fear, another “lesser” film.  Continue reading

A Review of Brad Anderson’s “Transsiberian”

Character Driven Train Ride from Hell, 1 September 2008
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher

Brad Anderson is probably the best unknown director working today. He’s the independent Christopher Nolan, often making character-driven, psychologically complex flicks that transcend the trappings of their respective genres. In the past he has successfully combined elements from time-travel thrillers and romantic comedies in 2000’s Happy Accidents, delivered a taut Shining-esque thriller in 2001’s Session 9, and then provided a stirring Hitchcock homage with 2004’s The Machinist, which also featured a gonzo performance from Christian Bale.  With Transsiberian Anderson attempts to breath life back into the often forgotten train-based thriller. Like those three earlier films, Transsiberian was made on the cheap, yet still manages to feature great camera-work and well known faces headlining the cast. In terms of the logistics of the location shooting in Lithuania (doubling as Siberia), this arrives as Anderson’s most accomplished film from a technical standpoint.

The story starts off with an American couple (a goofy Woody Harrelson and a criminally underrated Emily Mortimer) returning from missionary work in China by route of the famous Transsiberian railroad. Once on board the train, they befriend a young couple (Kate Mara and Eduardo Noriega) who claim to be student-teachers returning from Japan but might be hiding something sinister. The screenplay does a good job of building up to “something” and developing the characters, especially Mortimer’s Jessie, delving into her past with expository dialog that makes you care about where these characters are headed and think deeply about their motives. Without giving away too much of the film, entanglements ensue as a drug smuggling operation comes to light, and in steps Ben Kingsley (excellent as a Russian bruiser) as a narcotics detective with a special interest in the case.

There is a point, however, where (pardon the pun) the screenplay derails, and despite some unexpected twists, there never seems to be that big payoff. The film keeps the viewer on their toes with a bizarre turn of events at an abandoned church and a shockingly grim torture scene, but the psychological ramifications of these events are never probed as deeply as they could’ve been. The seductively cute Mortimer gives a nervy, complex, and excellent performance as Jessie, keeping the viewer invested in her character and what could happen to her even as the screenplay goes all over the map with her development. Woody Harrelson’s performance is more of a conundrum as he seems to be playing a book-smart version of his moronic character from Cheers. He makes you laugh during some of the more ridiculous scenes as the plot holes get deeper, and whether that was intentional or not to break the tension or gloss over the leaps of logic is never clear.

Transsiberian should please those looking for something different from your run-of-the-mill Hollywood thriller. Though the screenplay initially gives us characters that feel like real people, the mechanics of the convoluted plot spoil the potential of that development. However, the film still offers up an exotic locale, solid direction, and interesting performances, which makes it easy to recommend.

 

 

A Review of John Dahl’s “You Kill Me”

Dark Comedy Showcases Leoni’s Talents, 11 July 2007
8/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

“You Kill Me” is as dark a comedy as you can get. It may also be the first artistically successful romantic comedy noir. Directed by John Dahl (best known for his indie-noirs “Red Rock West” and “The Last Seduction” and the underrated killer trucker flick “Joyride”), the film depicts a hit man (Ben Kingsley-deep in character) forced into Alcoholics Anonymous by his “family” because his drinking has been affecting his ability to kill people. Shipped off to San Franscisco to start his 12 Steps, he picks up a part-time gig at a funeral home and meets a sassy single woman with “boundary issues” (Tea Leoni-hilarious) after her step-dad dies and proceeds to start an unconventional romance with her while struggling to stay on the wagon and learn how to kill again.

The film starts off very low key, and Dahl keeps such a consistently dark tone it’s hard to adjust to the cadence. As good as Kingsley is here, the show really belongs to Leoni. When she finally arrives on the scene, the film reaches a level of hilarity you weren’t expecting. Her facial expressions, comic timing, and interplay with Kingsley as she learns the truth about his past are pure gold. Leoni has had her fair share of commercial successes (“Bad Boys,” “Deep Impact,” “The Family Man”, and “Jurassic Park III”) but it’s in this type of offbeat low-budget comedy where she really shines. She was dynamite in “Flirting with Disaster” and was the best foil for Woody Allen since Diane Keaton in the otherwise forgettable “Hollywood Ending.” Here all her comic charms are on display, and she proves that at the age of 40, she is aging not only gracefully and naturally, but with all her sexiness and innate talents in tact.

While the film goes through the predictable motions in its final act, it’s the gooey goodness of the middle portion (especially one laugh-out-loud montage of Leoni helping Kingsley train for his return to “work”) that will leave a smile on your face, with Leoni’s luminosity as a comedic actress scorched into your mind.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0796375/usercomments-10