David Levien

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Runner Runner Review


Clearly something went horribly wrong as this thriller was being made, because despite a solid cast, gorgeous locations and an intriguing premise, the film is an incoherent mess. Sure, it looks achingly cool, but there isn't a single moment when the characters' motivations make any sense. And there's never a hint of suspense or danger.

It doesn't help that the set-up revolves around two of the least cinematic things on earth: finances and computers. Timberlake plays Princeton grad student Richie, who runs a gambling website to pay his tuition but loses his savings when another site cheats him. So he heads to Costa Rica to confront the online casino boss Ivan (Affleck). Impressed with his initiative, Ivan offers him a job, and soon Richie has more cash than he can possibly spend. But for some reason, all he wants is Ivan's colleague-girlfriend Rebecca (Arterton). Then a nosey FBI agent (Mackie) forces Richie to help him take Ivan down.

Director Fuhrman showed considerable promise with another renegade loner in The Lincoln Lawyer, but this film simply refuses to fill in enough of the gaps. Nothing that happens here is remotely convincing, as the characters are continually thrust into half-developed scenarios. Perhaps there's a more coherent longer version out there, because this one feels like it was edited with a machete. Even as a cautionary tale about the dangers of greed, this story has nothing relevant to say.

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Premiere Of 'Solitary Man' - Arrivals

Russell Simmons Tuesday 11th May 2010 Premiere of 'Solitary Man' - Arrivals New York City, USA

The Girlfriend Experience Review

Soderbergh is in experimental mode with this fractured relationship drama. It's packed with clever touches and sharp observations, but is too dry and repetitive to make us care about the characters.

Chelsea (Grey) is a high-priced call girl in New York, quietly going about her job while her boyfriend Chris (Santos) works as a trainer in an upscale gym.

Both are obsessed with growing their businesses, which causes problems in their otherwise warm, relaxed relationship. This quest for money is also omnipresent in their wealthy clients, and everyone is nervous about the economic slump and imminent 2008 US presidential election. And for Chelsea and Chris, things come to a head when Chelsea starts to fall for a client (Levien).

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The Girlfriend Experience Review

As modern American directors go, few are as stylistically quicksilver and urgent as Steven Soderbergh. With the notable exception of his Ocean's trilogy, the director has never fully embraced any one particular style, though he continues to choose subject matter and film vernacular of the most ambitious order. Following his towering four-hour anti-biopic Che, Soderbergh returns now, little less than six months gone, with The Girlfriend Experience, a hyper-indie that casts the dilapidated economy and wavering faith in capitalism through the designer shades of a Manhattan escort.

As plot goes, there isn't very much to speak of. Chelsea (adult film raven Sasha Grey) visits a few johns, hangs out with her personal-trainer boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos), talks to a reporter, and does lunch with a fellow escort. Despite lack of a structure, Soderbergh and screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien do allow for a few salient situations, including a visit with escort critic The Erotic Connoisseur (played by erstwhile Premiere film critic Glenn Kenney) and a botched rendezvous with a client upstate. The focus, however, is on Chelsea herself.

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Ocean's Thirteen Review

The jazzy music, saturated-to-bleeding colors, and even the credits font make it clear from the outset: Ocean's Thirteen is more variety show than heist thriller. The gang of thieves from Ocean's Eleven and Ocean's Twelve is re-assembled, and while their new scam is more of a group effort than the scattered riffing of Twelve, its building-block cons are as cool and varied as ever.

Returning to the stage, the Ocean crew: Rusty (Brad Pitt) puts on scraggly facial hair to play a seismologist. Linus (Matt Damon) prepares to seduce a casino employee (Ellen Barkin), a task that, he insists, requires a prosthetic nose. Basher (Don Cheadle) mostly minds a giant piece of construction equipment, but impersonates a motorcycle daredevil on the fly as an elaborate distraction. The brothers Malloy (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) are off to Mexico. George Clooney's Billy Ocean, as usual, acts as ringleader, which means a lot of standing around looking fabulous in suits, as well as one spectacularly well-timed eyeroll.

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The Illusionist Review

There's something in Paul Giamatti that was just made for the 19th century. With those slightly bulbous but penetrating eyes and stolid weariness, one can imagine him looking out of an old daguerreotype with hat in hand, an emblem of a less superficial age. So it's nice to see Giamatti (so often made to play the whiny comic relief) cast in the otherwise dismissible film The Illusionist as a gruff policeman in fin de siècle Vienna, dropping his voice into a lower register than usual and assuming an impressive stature; honorable but shaded with a tiny bit of incipient corruption. If only everything else in the film worked this well.

Based on a short story by Steven Millhauser, a Pulitzer winner given to tidy exposition and nostalgic settings, The Illusionist concerns a stage magician who was separated from the love of his love due to his peasant roots and her aristocratic family, only to meet her years later on stage, when she is betrothed to a villainous crown prince. The magician, Eisenheim, is played stiffly by Edward Norton, without a shred of humor or self-awareness. Somewhat in keeping with his performance is that by Jessica Biel as his beloved, Sophie von Teschen -- whose beauty helps brighten these lamp-lit rooms, but who is never close to believable as a Viennese noblewoman. Rather more in keeping with the spirit of the rather melodramatic story is Rufus Sewell, as the evil Crown Prince Leopold, who swans through the film with cigarette holder perched lightly in one hand, his face a deliciously, maliciously bored mask.

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Runaway Jury Review

It's a sunny weekday in beautiful New Orleans as a middle-aged, white-collar businessman arrives at his office. He settles into a chair behind his desk and ponders a song in his head. He can't think of the words, so he calls his secretary into the office. He explains to her that he will be celebrating his young daughter's birthday later today, and he promised to sing this song for her. The secretary smiles warmly and helps him remember the lyrics.

Suddenly, horror and chaos erupt as gunfire interrupts their singing. The businessman instructs the secretary to take shelter behind his desk as he locks the office door. After a moment, the gunfire stops, and he cautiously peeks outside the door -- only to be shot point blank in the head by the gunman, who then turns the weapon on himself.

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Rounders Review

Eighty bucks. That's about how much money I've lost playing poker since I saw Rounders. Not that this statistic is an inherently bad sign for the movie or anything. In fact, the fact that I was so motivated by the movie to put all that money on the table speaks positively of the picture.

Rounders (the name is short-hand for people who make their living playing poker) stars Matt Damon and Edward Norton as poker playing buddies going in different directions. Damon, after losing a very big money hand, has given up his cardsharping ways for law school and a career as a lawyer. Norton, on the other hand, just out of prison, is eager to build a new bankroll at the tables. As you might expect, for a number of reasons, Damon cannot stay away from the table forever, and consequently his budding law career and relationship with newcomer Gretchen Mol are both put in peril. The trouble Norton's character (not so subtly nicknamed "Worm") gets into does nothing to make Damon's life easier.

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Knockaround Guys Review

Warning to Vin Diesel fans: Regardless of what the marketing surrounding the crime drama Knockaround Guys may tell you, Diesel, Hollywood's new action hero, is not the star of this film. He, of the deep voice and bulging biceps, is a featured player but has only moderate screen time -- he's even billed after Barry Pepper (*61, Saving Private Ryan). If you're hoping or expecting to see something like XXX, well... then see XXX again.

What you'll get with Knockaround Guys is another knock-off of a gangster film, 90 minutes of phony tough guy bravado, stagy dialogue, laughably inaccurate accents and, most inexcusably, a slow-moving story. This may all explain why Diesel isn't the lead in this chest-thumper: The film was made before his breakout success and has reportedly been sitting on the shelf at New Line. It must now be time to take advantage of his star -- and box office -- power.

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Interview With The Assassin Review

How many ways can we kill JFK? Neil Burger tosses his director's megaphone into the ring with this pseudo-documentary about a man who claims to have been the second gunman, aka the "grassy knoll" assassin. The result is a fantastic story, and-- with all due respect to Mr. Stone--a refreshingly coherent, engrossing piece.

Everyman Ron Kobeleski (Dylan Haggerty) is asked to film the alarming confession of his neighbor Walter Ohlinger (Raymond J. Barry). Ohlinger wants the world to know about his role in the Kennedy assassination before he dies, and the clock is ticking. His chilling deadpan suggests either a man who is calculating enough to kill the president, or one who is unstable enough to lie about it. The neighbors go on a cross-country quest to prove the old man's story, and Kobeleski begins to wonder whether he's chasing his own tail.

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Walking Tall (2004) Review

Ironically, Walking Tall runs short. Credits included, the testosterone opera two-fists its way through 77 sweat-soaked minutes, and it's just enough. You won't be hungry for seconds by the time the last baddie hits the floor, but you won't be checking your watch repeatedly, either.

Let's not sugarcoat it. Tall remains a one-note genre picture specifically tailored to its shining star - The Rock. For what it is, though, Tall is quite good. It has fun with its limitations. It boasts strong fight choreography and interesting direction by Kevin Bray, who keeps the spotlight on its charismatic and camera-friendly leading man.

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David Levien

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