Ian Gray is a molecular biologist studying the evolution of the human eye. One day, a strange recurrence of the number 11 leads him to a photograph of a pair of eyes that could subsequently reveal the spiritual truth of the universe. The owner of the eyes is a girl named Sofi who, unlike Ian, believes that she has known him in a past life. Ian tends to avoid any non-scientific interpretation of his feelings but cannot hide the fact that he feels complete with her in his life. The pair fall quickly in love and decide to get married, but in a cruel twist of fate, she tragically and suddenly dies. Depressed and empty, Ian receives a call from his lab mate who reveals an impossible discovery; despite the fact that everyone is meant to have totally distinct eyes, she has found a person in India who shares the same irises as Sofi.
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In 1961 London, Jenny (Mulligan) is a gifted 16-year-old on track for a place at Oxford University, much to the joy of her parents (Molina and Seymour), literature teacher (Williams) and headmistress (Thompson). Then she meets the charismatic David (Sarsgaard), an older man who sweeps her off her feet with a love of the arts, his glamorous life and intelligent friends (Cooper and Pike) who offer more engagement than Jenny finds with those her age. Jenny loves being all grown up around them. Who needs Oxford?
Continue reading: An Education Review
Whether she knew it or not, Bettie Page was breaking a lot of taboos when she started posing in bondage films and photos (maybe she knew but just decided to not care?). Current trends in modeling, including Dita Von Teese and Suicide Girls, often cite Page as an inspiration for their work. In Von Teese there is a certain comparison, but Suicide Girls, whether they like it or not, are not celebrating taboo. If anything, they are destroying taboo and making everything normal, even the strange and macabre. The trick with Page was that she didn't really see it as a bad thing; she never had it in her mind to exploit the idea of "the bad girl." Whether this was on director Mary Harron's mind when she opted to take on the life story of Bettie Page is up for debate.
Raised in Tennessee to a strict, religious family and a father with a fondness for bathing suit areas, Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) is set to become a teacher at college when she marries an army man and promptly leaves him when he hits her. After being sexually assaulted by a group of men, she makes her way to New York City to become an actress. The moment of fate comes when an off-duty police officer and amateur photog decides to take her picture. Soon enough, she's being sought out by famous photographers like Bunny Yeager (Sarah Paulson) and specialty photography siblings Irving and Paula Klaw (Chris Bauer and Lili Taylor, respectively). Her friends, mostly male, are astonished by her nonchalant attitude towards nudity and bondage. She just sees it as "silly pictures," but the Senate, led by Senator Estes Kefauver (David Strathairn, absolutely wasted), thinks it's warping the youth of America. Mostly, Bettie just wants to make a nice, God-fearing life for herself with a man who doesn't judge her.
Continue reading: The Notorious Bettie Page Review
Thus spake Adaptation. Starting out with fake (or real?) behind-the-scenes footage of Malkovich, taking detours to the dawn of life on earth and story mogul Robert McKee's screenwriting class, Darwin's lab, Orlean's book (with Chris Cooper playing the swamp rat/scientist/orchid thief himself), voice-overs, and flashbacks, Adaptation finds inventive convolutions that might make it seem more esoteric than it really is.
Continue reading: Adaptation Review
In 1994 an attempted genocide in Rwanda left over 1 million dead. The response of the international community was tepid, at best. The response of one hotel manager, however, was heroic. Hotel Rwanda tells his story with some insight, but perhaps too much restraint.
As the film begins, two tribes are at war. A Hutu majority faces a Tutsi insurgence. A disembodied voice on the radio fans the flames of hate, instigating Hutu violence against anyone even suspected of being Tutsi. None of this seems to affect Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), a hotelier at the posh Hotel Mille Collines, which caters to European tourists and the local military elite. He keeps politics at arms' length, using his charm and skill with negotiation to please his clients and superiors. Whatever pull he has is kept in reserve for when he might need it for his own family in the future. This is especially important since, while he is Hutu, his wife Tatiana (an impeccable Sophie Okonedo) is Tutsi.
All of that changes once a coup replaces the moderate president with a Tutsi-hating junta leading an increasingly uncontrollable militia bent on genocide. Paul must hide his Tutsi relatives and friends in his hotel while the UN stands guard outside. As the situation worsens, his negotiating prowess must serve over 800 refugees, all of whom are only a favor or payoff away from execution.
Don Cheadle is outstanding as Paul, at first depicting his quiet ease as a businessman, then his desperation as everything he takes for granted begins to crumble. The moment comes when Paul realizes who his real friends aren't, and Cheadle's performance resonates the horror of what Paul has become and how completely he's been deceived. This, in turn, makes Paul's conviction all the more believable when he chooses to use his skills, at great risk to himself and others, to save as many Rwandans as possible.
Also serving well in a small but memorable role is Joaquin Phoenix, as a photographer who captures footage of the atrocities while recognizing the ultimate futility of their broadcast. "If people see this they'll say 'Oh, my God. That's horrible,'" he explains to Paul, "Then they go on eating their dinners." Nick Nolte makes a nice turn as a compassionate, but ultimately impotent UN peacekeeper. He points out just how little Paul and his people mean to the rest of the world. "You're not even a nigger," he tells him, "You're an African."
One of the things the film does very effectively is in pointing out the disconnect between the horrors taking place in Africa and the response of the world community. Paul tells his refugee residents that they must "shame" the world into taking action. Rwanda seems to be nothing more than an investment or a tourist destination to the powers that be. This is captured perfectly when, as the European guests of the hotel are evacuated and the Rwandans are left behind, a man on the exiting bus snaps a photo.
What the film doesn't do quite as effectively is capture the visceral horror of the event. It's very difficult to do a PG-13 film about genocide. To some extent, director Terry George pulls it off. The psychological strain is evident in Cheadle's performance and in the fear evoked in his guests by each new threat. But this is one of those rare cases where it seems the presentation isn't violent enough. It feels like the blow has been softened, and this is one punch that should not be pulled. In effect, the audience feels like they're being given the tourist version of the massacre instead of the real thing. Adding to this watered-down effect is the dialogue, which occasionally lapses into movie-of-the-week caliber. The story here is stronger than the actual screenplay, which is too bad, since this is a tale that deserves to be told with as much impact as possible.
The DVD includes two documentaries about the film and the massacre, plus commentaries from various players (including selected comments from Cheadle).
You must be at least this tall to participate in the junta.
Selma, as played to perfection by the almost childlike Björk, does her share of singing and dancing, but she's got a reason: It's all in her head. And with that said, get ready for the creepiest, most depressing, and certainly the most unique movie musical ever put on film.
Continue reading: Dancer In The Dark Review
"American Psycho" could be called a personality sketch of a serial killer, but Patrick Bateman doesn't have a personality. His entire existence is a facade.
"There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman," he says in a chillingly apathetic voice over, "But there is no me. I simply am not there."
What is there in this icy, incisive adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' controversial and bloody psychological thriller -- published in the wake of the Reagan-Bush era -- is an extremely black satire of 1980s aggressiveness and indulgence with a succulently twisted wit.
Continue reading: American Psycho Review
"Birth" opens with a scene of surprising emotional magnitude that is driven entirely by its score. Instantly and viscerally evocative, the elaborate orchestration -- which plays over a long tracking shot following an anonymous jogger through Central Park during a beautifully moody snowfall -- is a curious, captivating combination of flute, triangle, French horn and (quite startlingly) tympani that has an uplift and an ominousness at the same time.
This gripping music, by the brilliant Alexandre Desplat ("Girl With a Pearl Earring"), does all the work in this scene until the man -- seemingly young and healthy from behind, which is all we see of him -- pauses suddenly, then collapses under a bridge.
The next scene takes place 10 years later. The jogger's widow, Anna (played by a serious, sophisticated, melancholy, unabashedly pushing-40 yet intriguingly elfin Nicole Kidman) is about to get married again, to Joseph (subtle, pensive Danny Huston), a man who is really more a hopelessly devoted dear friend than he is a lover. Soon after their engagement party, a somber 10-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) sneaks into their grand Park Avenue apartment and refuses to leave. "You're my wife," he tells Kidman. "It's me -- Sean."
Continue reading: Birth Review
For years filmmakers have been trying to reinvent the musical. "Evita" went big, "My Best Friend's Wedding" sneaked musical numbers into its semi-standard romantic comedy, the "South Park" movie mocked the cartoon musical while besting it with genuinely catchy tunes, "Love's Labour's Lost" was an homage to the Fred and Ginger sing-songs of the 1930s.
But no one has succeeded in making a truly modern movie musical, one that employs emerging filmmaking techniques instead of reaching back 50 years for inspiration. In fact, no one has ever even attempted something like "Dancer In the Dark."
Writer and director Lars von Trier -- the reclusive Dane behind the minimalist Dogme95 movement that espouses natural lighting, no props and handheld cameras -- discovers a way to marry his trademark sparseness with the unfettered showmanship of song and dance numbers in this daring retooling of the musical genre.
Continue reading: Dancer In The Dark Review
Poking around in the mind of John Malkovich was a wonderfully weird, wildly conceptual experience in 1999's "Being John Malkovich," but the ingenious "Adaptation" is a testament to the fact that screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's head is an even more peculiar place.
Kaufman is the off-kilter mastermind behind both films, and while the former was a dark, cerebellum-warping, fictional funhouse ride, the latter began life simply as a commission to adapt Susan Orleans' novel "The Orchid Thief." What the project morphed into, however, is something far more bizarre because Kaufman's unbridled and bewildered efforts to turn the book into a movie began bleeding into the screenplay itself.
In the deft and innovative hands of "Malkovich" director Spike Jonze, three cross-pollinating narratives are stitched together in an extraordinary patchwork of idiosyncratic storytelling: First, the film follows the plot of "The Orchid Thief," which is, in part, about the misfiring conservation philosophies of a real Florida flower poacher named John Laroche (Chris Cooper), who took Orleans (Meryl Streep) into the Everglades on excursions to steal protected orchids that he then breeds to sell in his flower shop.
Continue reading: Adaptation Review
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Ian Gray is a molecular biologist studying the evolution of the human eye. One day,...
Whether she knew it or not, Bettie Page was breaking a lot of taboos when...
Wrap your noodle around this one. Real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich; Human...
In 1994 an attempted genocide in Rwanda left over 1 million dead. The response of...
Early on in Dancer in the Dark, Peter Stormare confesses to Björk that he doesn't...
"American Psycho" could be called a personality sketch of a serial killer, but Patrick Bateman...
"Birth" opens with a scene of surprising emotional magnitude that is driven entirely by its...
For years filmmakers have been trying to reinvent the musical. "Evita" went big, "My Best...
Poking around in the mind of John Malkovich was a wonderfully weird, wildly conceptual experience...