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Unfinished Business Review


Unbearable

More than just a misfire, this attempt at a rude comedy goes so spectacularly wrong that it actually contradicts its own jokes even as it's telling them. But then it undermines everything as it goes along, for example indulging rampantly in comical cruelty before trying to say something meaningful about the dangers of bullying. The real question is how the cast members could have agreed to make a movie in which they all come across as incoherent idiots.

The story opens as Dan (Vince Vaughn) clashes with his boss Chuck (Sienna Miller) then quits dramatically, taking newly retired Tim (Tom Wilkinson) and airhead newbie Mike (Dave Franco) with him to start a new sales company. But after a year, business isn't good, and the future hinges on making a massive deal with Bill and Jim (Nick Frost and James Marsden). The problem is that Chuck is also bidding for the business, so Dan, Tim and Mike fly off to Maine and then Berlin to seal the deal with a handshake. Impossibly they arrive in Berlin at the same time as Oktoberfest, the marathon, a gay S&M festival and the G8 Summit, with its accompanying anarchist protest. Meanwhile back home, Dan's wife (June Diane Raphael) is having problems with the kids.

Frankly, there is so much going on in this film that it's exhausting. It's as if screenwriter Conrad just threw everything he could think of onto the page and didn't worry if it made even a lick of sense. Every scene feels interrupted by a bit of random chaos that isn't remotely amusing. And despite making a movie that's obsessed with sex, the filmmakers are unable to decide whether they want to make fun of it or are terrified of it (so they end up being both at the same time). Each time something interesting or funny threatens to happen, it's sideswiped by something so breathtakingly bungled that we don't know where to look.

Continue reading: Unfinished Business Review

Birdman Review


Excellent

Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu continues to reject traditional narrative structures with this whizzy, ambitious exploration of celebrity, art and commerce. And the clever casting of Michael Keaton adds another layer of meaning to the whole film, which is shot as one long wildly entertaining single take and pointedly subtitled "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance". Blackly hilarious and darkly emotional, this is an exploration of how show business can push a person to the brink of madness. And maybe knock them over the edge.

Keaton stars as Riggan, once a top movie star known for his three Birdman blockbusters. But he hasn't done anything notable since, and is now trying to reboot his career by directing, adapting and starring in a Broadway play based on a Raymond Chandler story. The problem is that no one will let him escape from the iconic superhero character he's best known for, least of all Birdman himself, who mentally haunts and taunts Riggan at every turn. Meanwhile in the theatre, Riggan locks horns with costar Mike (Edward Nortan), a controlling show-off brought in at the request of lead actress Lesley (Naomi Watts). As opening night approaches, Riggan and his producer-friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) are also struggling with the demands of high-maintenance costar Laura (Andrea Riseborough), plus distractions from Riggan's daughter-assistant (Emma Stone) and ex-wife (Amy Ryan).

Inarritu and ace cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki tell this story as if it's one continuous snaky shot with the camera following Riggan through the maze-like backstage corridors, into the theatre and out into nearby Times Square streets. The virtuoso filmmaking is simply breathtaking, and it works perfectly because all of the characters are packed with pungent details and fully developed inner lives. The actors find all kinds of quirks that are both hilarious and darkly thoughtful, creating jagged interaction as they cross paths with each other, sparring riotously for attention. Every scene bristles with startling revelations and barbed jabs at the Hollywood system.

Continue reading: Birdman Review

Gone Girl Review


Extraordinary

Those who have read the blockbuster novel may be disappointed to know that author Gillian Flynn hasn't changed anything in adapting it to the big screen, so there aren't any surprises along the way. But they'll be glad to see the story so faithfully and skilfully adapted, with snaky direction from David Fincher and actors who add layers of new meaning to the characters. And non-readers are in for a thrillingly twisty experience as a mysterious conundrum shifts into a full-on thriller and then something much more intensely personal.

When Nick (Ben Affleck) discovers that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, he has no idea what has happened. As recounted in Amy's journal, their marriage has been a whirlwind of sexy highs and dark lows, as both writers lost their jobs in New York and moved to rural Missouri to take care of Nick's terminally ill mother. As a result, their marriage ran aground, and Nick increasingly turned to his twin sister Margot (Carrie Coon) for support. As two police officers (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) investigate Amy's disappearance, the media circus begins to paint Nick as a villain, led by rabid tabloid-TV host Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle). So while he suspects Amy's stalker-like ex (Neil Patrick Harris), Nick has little choice but hire a high-powered lawyer (Tyler Perry) to defend himself.

Even at nearly two and a half hours, this film races along breathlessly as events and revelations continually shift the perspective. It's clear from the start that neither Nick nor Amy (in diary-entry flashbacks) are particularly reliable narrators. Both are a bundle of secrets, although Nick remains far more sympathetic. Affleck gives one of his most textured performances in years as a nice guy who struggles to look "nice" for the cameras. His isolation and confusion are hugely involving, which contrasts strongly to Amy's far too confident point of view. Pike manages to bring out the peeling onion of Amy's personality beautifully, offering telling glimpses of the real woman beneath the characters she seems to always be playing. And the supporting cast add details that twist their roles as well. Dickens and Fugit are a terrific double act, while Coon and Harris constantly offer surprising hints about their characters beneath the bravado and concern.

Continue reading: Gone Girl Review

Noah Review


Weak

Darren Aronofsky continues to ambitiously experiment with genres in this Old Testament blockbuster, but this is his first real misstep as a filmmaker, as the impressive parts simply don't add up. Still, there are flashes of genius as the epic struggle between good and evil is echoed both in the grand spectacle and within the characters themselves.

It starts with the original sin, which divides Adam and Eve's sons - brutal killer Cain and peaceful caretaker Seth - into warring factions. A few generations later, all that's left of Seth's righteous line is Noah (Russell Crowe), his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons (Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Leo McHugh Carroll), plus an adopted daughter (Emma Watson). After he has a vision that God is planning to cleanse mankind with a flood, Noah consults his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) and builds an ark to save his family and all of earth's animals. He also gets help from the Watchers, rock-encrusted fallen angels who previously assisted Cain's descendant Tubal (Ray Winstone), who goes into battle mode to stop Noah.

All of this is inventively set in a post-apocalyptic landscape left in ruins after generations of fighting. And Noah is the last true believer tending to creation, refusing to eat meat (although he wears leather accessories) and ruling over his family like a tyrant. This of course creates various carefully scripted conflicts for his family over the months they're stuck in the ark. But the moralising is never as deep as it pretends to be.

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Broken City Review


OK

While this thriller plays with themes of political ethics and ambition, it merely lets them simmer in the background. Director Hughes is clearly much more interested in macho posturing and the convoluted scandal-based plot, so he lets the cast members merrily chomp on the scenery but neglects to give us anything that engages our brains.

The broken city of the title is New York, where Mayor Hostetler (Crowe) covered up a shooting involving cop Billy (Walhberg) to protect himself seven years ago. Acquitted but disgraced, Billy is now working as a low-rent private detective when the mayor calls in a favour. He hires Billy to find out who his wife (Zeta-Jones) is having an affair with before it derails his re-election campaign against the passionate rising-star Valliant (Pepper). It doesn't take Billy long to get the incriminating photos, but clearly there's something much bigger at stake here, so he continues to investigate the situation, which uncovers such high-reaching corruption that Billy's life is in danger.

Demonstrating how little the film cares about its characters, Billy's long-time girlfriend (Martinez) is dispatched suddenly after a series of arguments during which she refuses to put up with his boorish, chauvinistic stupidity. Why she stuck with him this long is the real question. But this and other eccentric relationships in the plot are much more interesting than the dull property-development boondoggle that Hughes instead decided to focus on. The problem is that this leaves Wahlberg with the only remotely complex character, an intriguing mess of a man who overreacts wildly to everything and yet seems to want to do the right thing.

Continue reading: Broken City Review

The Sentinel (2006) Review


Grim
The Sentinel is one of those movies made for commercials and trailers full of shots of well-dressed Secret Service agents running and impassioned scenes where actors bark out lines like, "He's looking for an ally and the First Lady is a fine one to have." Rarely do these movies translate well into a longer format, and The Sentinel is far from the exception.

Directed by Clark Johnson (he of the awful S.W.A.T.), The Sentinel stars Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland as former friends forced to become allies after a plot reveals an unknown mole inside the Secret Service. Pete Garrison (Douglas) is a veteran agent drawn deeper into the plot after his affair with the President's wife (Kim Basinger, playing the curviest First Lady ever) is revealed, leading investigator David Breckinridge (Sutherland) to turn his attentions to Garrison. Meanwhile, TV's babe of the moment Eva Longoria co-stars as Breckinridge's sexy new partner and Garrison's protégé.

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The Fountain Review


OK
In the press notes for The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) says that he didn't feel that many movies had been made about the quest for immortality. How's that? I can think of a pile off the top of my head: Tuck Everlasting, The Spring, the entire Highlander series... heck, it was the subject of two Star Trek movies (Insurrection and the infamous nadir of the series, The Final Frontier). What Aronofsky should have said is that there are no good movies about immortality, the original Highlander being the notable sole exception. Alas, while it's got ambition to spare, I'm sad to report that The Fountain doesn't much improve the record for "fountain of youth" flicks.

While the rock-'em-sock-'em trailer may have you thinking that The Fountain is cut from Highlander's action-packed, centuries-spanning mold, be advised this is far from the case. In fact, the only real action in the film occurs in the very first scene. The rest of the movie is a meditation on loss, grief, science, and "closure," more of a sci-fi think piece than the grand adventure you might be hoping for.

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Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) Review


Excellent
It will go down in infamy as the film that split up Brad and Jen -- assuming that 10 or 20 years from now people still remember the headline-making legacy of the ill-fated Pitt-Aniston marriage.

Unfortunately for gossip fiends, Mr. & Mrs. Smith doesn't really bear any mark of Angelina Jolie as homewrecker or of Brad Pitt as any more infatuated with the lippy screen queen than any normal, red-blooded man ought to be. And fortunately for moviegoers, Smith (wholly unrelated to the 1941 Hitchcock film of the same name) is a funny and wild ride, an impressive blend of black comedy, ultraviolence, and romance that we rarely get to see -- and which rarer still is any good.

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Once Upon a Time in America Review


Weak
I'm as big a fan of misogyny as the next guy, but how did this hateful and often tasteless Godfather ripoff become a classic? What, just because it's four hours long? Robert De Niro and James Woods are never hard to watch, but even here their take on Jewish gangsters in New York from 1900 to 1960 or so wears awfully thin as they brutalize one woman after another and get into the kind of mobster scrapes you've seen in upteen other movies. And after the top names, the talent roster is pretty thin. Treat Williams? Elizabeth McGovern?

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Brazil Review


Essential
Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a civil servant Dilbert at the Ministry of Information. He's a low level office grunt typing his way through a lifetime of meaningless papers in a retro-future totalitarian state. His one escape from his dreary life is his dreams. Bursting with vivid colors, Sam's visions see him with armored wings rising into the bright sky above the cold city. There, in the firmament, Sam battles with Darkness to free a blonde beauty (Kim Greist) imprisoned in a floating cage.

Unfortunately, there are no happy endings for dreamers in this alternate world. Sam always awakens to his mind-numbing existence, only plugging away in a system that rewards only blandness, appeasing his socialite mother (addicted to face lifts) whose only wish is to see her meek son move his way up a corporate ladder to nowhere.

Continue reading: Brazil Review

My Super Ex-Girlfriend Review


OK
To use relationship parlance, My Super Ex-Girlfriend is good for a one night stand. It won't be meeting the other DVDs in your family. When you see it on the cable stations, just nod and move on so no one gets hurt.

Alone and deprived of sex, New Yorker Matt (Luke Wilson) begins dating nebbish Jenny (Uma Thurman) hoping to get some frenzied lovemaking and little else. He gets more than that. Not only does he get a girlfriend, she's the city's savior. When not riding the subway and working at an art gallery, Jenny is G-Girl, the 21st century answer to Supergirl.

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Just My Luck Review


Terrible
When I've mentioned to people that I like Lindsay Lohan, the actress, I've gotten the same looks as if I've said I like the taste of light bulbs. Though she's become a staple in Us Weekly because of her partying ways and the fluctuating weight, it's easy to lose sight that her talent, not her figure, got her in the door. Does anyone remember Freaky Friday? Anyone? With the right script, she can shine. I stand by that.

My job will become that much harder if the 19-year-old keeps appearing in fare like Just My Luck. Lohan stars as a P.R. agent living a life in which good luck sticks to her like dandruff. Give her a lottery ticket to scratch, she'll win something. One elevator door closes; another one opens. Meanwhile, elsewhere in New York City, a young music promoter (Chris Pine) has nothing but bad luck, which we find out courtesy of a drawn-out sequence.

Continue reading: Just My Luck Review

The Sentinel Review


Grim

The Sentinel is one of those movies made for commercials and trailers full of shots of well-dressed Secret Service agents running and impassioned scenes where actors bark out lines like, "He's looking for an ally and the First Lady is a fine one to have." Rarely do these movies translate well into a longer format, and The Sentinel is far from the exception.

Directed by Clark Johnson (he of the awful S.W.A.T.), The Sentinel stars Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland as former friends forced to become allies after a plot reveals an unknown mole inside the Secret Service. Pete Garrison (Douglas) is a veteran agent drawn deeper into the plot after his affair with the President's wife (Kim Basinger, playing the curviest First Lady ever) is revealed, leading investigator David Breckinridge (Sutherland) to turn his attentions to Garrison. Meanwhile, TV's babe of the moment Eva Longoria co-stars as Breckinridge's sexy new partner and Garrison's protégé.

Continue reading: The Sentinel Review

Freddy Got Fingered Review


Unbearable
(sung to the tune of Tom Green's "The Bum-Bum Song")

My bum is in the chairMy bum is in the chairLook at meI'm watching Tom Green's hair!

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Legend Review


Weak
Seventeen years after its release, noted film tinkerer Ridley Scott has returned to his entry in the fantasy genre, Legend, which has been subject to as many scathing one-star reviews as it has five-star ones. Why the disparity? The movie is enchanting and has moments of magic, but it's an utter train wreck, overwhelmed by cheesy special effects, dialogue writ insanely large, and a kind of goofy plot.

To wit: This is a movie about a Puck-like character named Jack (Tom Cruise, before he hit it really big) who wages war against the Lord of Darkness, a demon seeking to create eternal night in his fantasy kingdom by marrying the local princess (Mia Sara) and killing the last of the unicorns. A quest naturally follows, with the goal of saving the princess -- and along the way, the world.

Continue reading: Legend Review

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