Friday, November 28, 2008


STEVE - Clint Eastwood’s latest film stars Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins, mother of young Walter Collins who goes missing in the city of L.A. in 1928. Her life takes a tumultuous turn when after months of searching the L.A. Police claim to have found her lost son. It is only when mother and son reunite that Collins realizes that the child is not her own.

There is no doubt that Clint Eastwood is a master behind the camera. He has stylized his film to near perfection with his common use of cold colors and bleak tones, and is this film bleak. Eastwood carries the audience on an emotional rollercoaster causing us to feel anguish for Ms. Collins, hatred for the corrupt L.A. Police Department, and a tingle of horror at the eventual outcome.

Eastwood directs a fine movie, but unfortunately falls short of the mark that is expected of him. The film is saturated with over-the-top performances that play down the intensity and drama of each scene. It’s unfortunate as Michael Kelly gives one the most understated performances of the film as the only non-corruptible cop in L.A.

As a director, Eastwood’s favorite themes deal with issues of evil, the bad things that happen to decent people. As I was watching this movie, mad at the unfairness and poor treatment that Ms. Jolie’s character was experiencing as she was lied too, treated as inferior, and then tossed away in a psychiatric ward with no just cause, I couldn’t help but ask the question, why is this happening? Why are these people treating her this way?

And I couldn’t help but wonder if answering those questions might not have been a more interesting tale to tell than the one I was watching. No doubt the tale of Ms. Collins and her son was a true account that needed to be told. Audiences should always be reminded that a governing system which goes unchecked can have terrible consequences on us all. But the tale wasn’t as capturing nor at the same level of greatness as other Eastwood films dealing with similar issues such as Forgiven, Mystic River, or Million Dollar Baby.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quantum of Solace

DAN - The latest James Bond film comes from Marc Forster, director of such films as Stranger Than Fiction and The Kite Runner. The story is a direct continuation of Casino Royale, which is unique for a Bond film.

I did not grow up on 007. I started regularly watching the franchise when Pierce Brosnan stepped into the role, and I’ve only seen a handful of the classic films. I, like many, was thrilled by Casino Royale when it came out two years ago. It fit the mold of a Bond film while simultaneously breathing new life into the series.

Solace isn’t as innovative as Royale; instead it seems to rely on the success of its predecessor to hold the audience’s interest. In that sense, I find it difficult to think of this as a stand-alone movie. It’s more like an afterthought of the previous film. And I like it.

The action sequences worked for me, but you’ll hear a lot of people complaining about them. I don’t need to see every punch and crash from a distance in order to follow what’s going on; in fact, that would be a little too disconnected for me. I like to feel each jolt as if I were in the middle of the action.

The main villain and his Chinatown scheme weren’t entirely memorable for me, but they served their purpose in allowing Bond to purge himself of lingering ghosts. He’s still a “blunt instrument,” but he’s on his way to becoming the suave spy we’ve come to recognize. This is the story of a man with a thirst for revenge. He simultaneously redeems and loses himself by fighting through the (literal) fires of hell.


STEVE - For 46 years and 22 movies, audiences have attended regularly to see Ian Fleming’s iconic British spy. James Bond was a household name long before Michael Phelps was treading water. He was fighting Russians during the cold war. Ridding the world of cheesy villains through the 80’s and 90’s, and has been seducing women and drinking shaken martinis to the present, all the while evolving but still keeping the charm, wit, and rapport that is James Bond.

However, after 46 years it would appear that neither the producers nor director of the latest Bond outing have seen a James Bond film. Because I can tell you that this is not a James Bond movie. Where are the gadgets, the drinks, and cool cars? Q and Miss Moneypenny?

There are Bond girls, two, as are typical of all good Bond films, the first he quickly seduces and then tosses to the side. The other, however, gets away without even a hint of debauchery? What? How is this possible?

Every good girl knows that if James Bond offers to share his bed with you… then you take that opportunity. Sleeping with James Bond is the one exception to the rule when in comes to intercourse with strange men Okay… maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration. But nonetheless, things that are meant to happen in a Bond film, staples of the Bond convention, are tossed aside without thought or concern. No shaken Martini, no famous, “Bond, James Bond.” Not even a dry subtle quip or pun.

I grew up with James Bond. Watching old Bond movies with Dad over the holidays while stuck at Grandma’s is holiday tradition. I know what a James Bond movie is. This is not a James Bond movie.

This is a sad and tormented James Bond. Not that I have an issue with that, but A.O. Scott of The New York Times brings up an interesting point, “Is revenge the only possible motive for large-scale movie heroism these days? Does every hero, whether Batman or Jason Bourne, need to be so sad?” Indeed every hero needs something to push them while fighting bad guys, but does James need to be sad? Does he need to have revenge? I say no, Bond is better than that.

Overall, this movie is nothing more than a very mediocre, poorly edited, poorly shot action movie that had potential, but fell short of the mark. I still believe that Daniel Craig is the best Bond to date, rivaling if not overcoming the epic Sean Connery. Unfortunately, this movie suffers from being a little too Jason Bourne than James Bond.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


DAN - Isabel Coixet’s most recent film is based on a novel by Philip Roth. Roth has been known to write stories that feature sexually promiscuous characters, and this one is no exception. Elegy is the story of David Kepesh, a professor who becomes infatuated with Consuela, a student in one of his classes.

The film features Sir Ben Kingsley and Penélope Cruz as the two central characters. These roles require heartfelt performances from the actors, and they are successful for the most part. At times Kingsley seems detached from his character. He tends to stare blankly, which forced me to remember that I was sitting in a theatre, watching a movie. Dennis Hopper plays a supporting role in this film that, in my opinion, is one of the most authentic of his career. Patricia Clarkson and Peter Sarsgaard round out this noteworthy cast.

At first glance, the story may seem somewhat shallow. The relationship that develops between Kepesh and Consuela is immensely physical. Kepesh is accustomed to having flings with a number of women, but through the course of the film, he and Consuela experience a great deal of change.

At this film’s center are themes of fear, change, and loss. Kepesh becomes enraptured by his mistress, and he fears that she will eventually realize their age difference and lose interest in him. At the same time, Consuela wants their relationship to last, but her lover’s fears are apparent to her.

The characters’ motives are never made entirely clear, which allows for some healthy speculation. It’s worth noting that the novel on which this film is based is entitled The Dying Animal. It’s not made clear to whom this title refers, but I would suggest that the “animal” is Kepesh, whose behavior is somewhat animalistic. The transformation of Kepesh in this film is preceded by this quote from Hopper’s character: “We’re so dazzled by the outside that we never make it inside.” Consuela provides him with a second chance at something more than a physical romance.

I saw Elegy in a screening at the Canton Palace Theatre. Each Thursday, the Palace shows films that wouldn’t normally appear in mainstream theatres, and they always make for great conversation. If you live in the Canton area, I encourage you to visit to see what’s playing next.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Editor's Note: This review was originally written for Malone University's student newspaper. Steve didn't bother to write a non-Malone centric version for criticinema.

STEVE - As I was sitting in the theater, watching Zack and Miri make a (word I can’t repeat at Malone) I quickly began to wonder, “How I will I review a movie like this for Malone?” With words like “Bleep” and “Bleep” and other “Bleeps” I questioned if such a “Bleeping” review could be written without being “Bleeped.”

I should begin this review with the world’s largest disclaimer. Zack and Miri make a (word I can’t repeat at Malone) does indeed involve Zack and Miri making a (word I can’t repeat at Malone), so viewer be warned. This movie stretches the bounds of the MPAA R rating, leaving little left unseen, including the stretch marks.

Of course it’s hard to imagine anything less from writer director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma, Clerks 2). His films have always pushed the limits of sex on screen in terms of its lewdness and sheer shrewdness. Where Judd Apatow mixes smut with charm, Smith mixes sex with…well… anything and everything. However, Smith’s potty-mouth freshman humor that he heavily incorporates into each of his films does aid in creating some of the most heart warming moments on screen.

The plot is simple, and could easily be found in any fare of romance. Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are best friends. They went to high school together, they live together, hang out together, do every thing together… except have sex together. So when their water and electricity gets shut off, and they have no money left to pay the bills, they do what no dignified person would do. They make a… well you know. And when it comes time to do the dirty deed, instead of having sex, they do what any couple who have been together that long do, they make love.

Like I said, the story is as conventional and formulaic as they come, but Smith puts on his own unique spin that makes it become something special. Smith is a poet of vulgarity. His dialogue is as masterful as it is shocking. And the performances of his dialogue are exceptional. It should be pointed out that Craig Robison (Darryl from The Office) is especially hilarious.

All said and done, I have never seen as shocking nor raunchy a movie as Zack and Miri Make a (word I can not… aw screw it) Porno. It’s rude and crude and social unacceptable. But beneath the offensive coarseness and bad manners lies a witty story about two people being in love.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


DAN - Academy Award winner Oliver Stone’s latest film chronicles a fictionalized version of the life and times of George W. Bush. Though the story is based on actual events, many scenes and conversations are created to support Stone’s comedic vision of the president.

I’ve never been a fan of Oliver Stone. Alexander was painfully long and boring, and World Trade Center seemed like an attempt to take advantage of a crisis for personal gain. W. is a politically charged film, and I get the feeling that Stone created it for the primary purpose of drawing in crowds.

Having said that, this movie is all right. Although Stone makes it clear that he does not approve of President Bush, this is a film that can be enjoyed by democrats and [open minded] republicans alike.

Josh Brolin (Goonies, No Country for Old Men) delivers a surprisingly effective impression of Bush. He succeeds in going beyond the typical caricature, providing a character that feels human. I found myself sympathizing with this variant of Bush, which I’m sure is also due to the screenplay by Stanley Weiser.

The rest of the ensemble cast is impressive, consisting of James Cromwell, Richard Dreyfuss, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Ellen Burstyn, and plenty more. Each performance is funny and unique, emphasizing the strange variety of characters that have been a part of this administration.

The most powerful and thought-provoking moment in this film takes place after the credits. The very last image we see is a symbol of the crucifix morphing into a “W.” Stone is a self-proclaimed Buddhist, so I’m not sure if this is a jab at Bush or Christianity.

Other than that, this is a pretty basic movie, serving as a retrospective of sorts. I’m interested in seeing how people will perceive this film in the future; will it be the definitive representation of Bush’s presidency? I hope not.


STEVE - When I first heard that controversial filmmaker Oliver Stone was tackling a project about our current president I was (to say the least) shocked, appalled and very intrigued. A fictional biography on a living, still in office president… you don’t say?

Of course a film dealing with a major political figure, conveniently coming out around the time of presidential elections is sure to have political undertones, which this movie does about a third of the way into the film. However, this doesn’t keep W. from being a riveting and engrossing drama about the man in the White House.

The film focuses on the life of President Bush (the second one), and not so much on his political decisions, which was a wise choice by the filmmakers that easily paid off do to actor Josh Brolin. Brolin is intoxicatingly funny, gripping, and riveting as George W. Bush and I wouldn’t be the least surprised if he received an Oscar nomination for his performance. Equally as enjoyable was James Cromwell who was brilliant as Bush Sr.

Director Oliver Stone made excellent casting selections. Not only do his actors look and sound similar to their real life counterparts, but each actor brings to the table engrossing performances that drive the momentum of the story. The movie works for this very reason.

Great performances and a riving script that surprisingly tells it as it is makes W. a must see.