Gary Foster

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My Old Lady Review


Good

Every threat of sentimentality and melodrama is averted by a seriously strong cast working from a snappy script. It may be warm and gentle, but the honest humour and twisty plot make sure the audience is entertained rather than manipulated. And there are some startlingly edgy scenes along the way that allow the actors to create spiky, fully formed characters while clearly having a great time in each other's company.

Based on writer-director Israel Horovitz's stage play, most of the action takes place within a vast old flat in central Paris that has just been inherited by Jim (Kevin Kline), who flies in from New York so he can sell it. He's at the end of his rope and needs the cash, so is unnerved to discover that the apartment is a "viager", a quirk in French property law that allows the past owner to remain in the home for the rest of their life. So Jim can't sell the flat as long as 92-year-old Mathilde (Maggie Smith) is alive, and her daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas) immediately locks horns with Jim, who has already been in touch with a despised developer (Stephane Freiss). As the days pass, Jim is so determined to figure out how to make some money off of this property that he ignores the much bigger things going on around him.

Kline actually manages to make the deeply bullheaded Jim surprisingly likeable, adding a generous charm to the character's overpowering inner misery. So while he dismisses both women out of hand, the audience can see that there might be some substance there. Smith and Scott Thomas are of course terrific as the put-upon women trying to defend their lifelong home. And all three characters must face some unexpected truths about their own pasts in order to plot a course forward. This messy, revelatory plotting is so much fun that the hint of romance between Jim and Chloe feels almost irrelevant.

Continue reading: My Old Lady Review

Emperor Review


OK

An attempt to spice up a true story with fictional characters and events leaves this film feeling artificial. And it doesn't help that the two likeable lead actors never quite crack the surface. But this is still a fascinating moment in history, and the film captures a strong sense of the setting as well as the importance of this urgent meeting of two cultures.

It takes place in August 1945, just after Japan surrenders to the Americans. General MacArthur (Jones) is now charged with determining whether Emperor Hirohito (Kataoka) should be tried for war crimes. So he assigns General Fellers (Fox) to define Hirohito's role. Fellers has experience with Japanese culture: he lived there before the war and fell in love with university student Aya (Hatsune). But he never knew what happened to her, so in addition to working with his translator Takahashi (Haneda) to meet with various wartime officials, he also looks for news about Aya.

There's something fishy about this whole Aya business right from the start, as we doubt that such a high-ranking military officer, charged with such a vitally important task, would spend so much time on his own personal search. We also never really care about Fellers' feelings for Aya, so nothing about this plot-thread and its gauzy flashbacks feels realistic. And sure enough, a bit of research reveals that it's complete fiction. The far more interesting relationship here is between Fellers and Takahashi, which is played with intriguing texture by Fox and especially Haneda but is never properly explored on-screen.

Continue reading: Emperor Review

When in Rome Review


Grim
Despite its over-the-top zaniness, this romantic comedy manages to keep us entertained with its starry cast and a nutty plot. If only the filmmakers had resisted the urge to exaggerate both the humour and the sentimentality.

Guggenheim curator Beth (Bell) is organising an important museum event when she has to dash to Rome for her sister's sudden wedding, where she begins to fall for best man Nick (Duhamel), who rescues her from a few embarrassing moments but lets her down romantically. In a funk, she swipes some coins from a fountain then ends up being stalked back in New York by the lovelorn guys (painter Arnett, wannabe model Shepard, street magician Heder and art patron DeVito) who threw them into the water.

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The Soloist Review


OK
Joe Wright's worlds-colliding drama The Soloist has so many strikes against it that it's hard to imagine coming out the other end feeling anything but relief that it was over. Think of it: a based-on-a-true-story about a cold-hearted journalist who meets a mentally disturbed homeless man who just happens to be a world-class musician. Together, the two strike up a unique friendship against the backdrop of Los Angeles's Dickensian skid row and imploding newspaper industry; a bright flower blooming from the crack in a downtown sidewalk. Also, one of the men happens to be black and the other white.

On paper, the treacle-meter for The Soloist is nearly off the charts. But while Wright (Atonement) hasn't fashioned anything like a classic, and the screenplay by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) is frequently thin on motivation, the film is not even close to the disaster that it should have been. This is higher praise than it may sound.

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Ghost Rider Review


Weak
It's gotten to the point where almost any movie with a narrated prologue is suspect. But the opening section of the comic-book adaptation Ghost Rider starts with a particularly troubling apocalyptic rumble of exposition. See, there was this guy a bunch of years ago who made a deal with the devil, to act as a bounty hunter for wayward souls. But in collecting souls from one dusty town, he saw things so horrifying that he defied the devil and absconded with the contract (I'm not being careful about spoilers; the movie really is that vague). The narration, which you may recognize in vocal tone if not wittiness from The Big Lebowski's Sam Elliott, says that this figure -- this first Ghost Rider -- "outran" the devil (Peter Fonda, by the way), but it looks more like Ghost Rider rode a horse into the sunset while the devil watched, perhaps as confused as those in the audience.

Now then: What does this have to do with Johnny Blaze, superstar motorcycle daredevil? Well, writer-director Mark Steven Johnson will tell you, in a second prologue, after the opening credits, showing Blaze, as a teenager, making one of those unfortunate and confusing satanic contracts in an attempt to save his father's life. Johnson is apparently under the impression that this 20-minute backstory technique worked so well in his Daredevil that he can't afford to, say, skip it and get right to Nicolas Cage, who eventually shows up as the adult Johnny, about to be confronted by the consequences of said contract. Young Johnny's deal is so inadvertent and, again, vague, that the situation lacks considerable drama, but the show must go on.

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Gloria (1999) Review


Unbearable
A shocking must-avoid. Sharon Stone at her worst (and that's bad!). An awful, ill-conceived idea, remade from an equally bad 1980 John Cassavetes film by the same name. None of these phrases quite gets across the horror that is Gloria, a film that has to resort to Sharon Stone's cleavage to move copies of the video (see the box cover if you don't believe me). Sadly, said cleavage is -- by far -- the best part of this film, a pedestrian remake of a Cassavetes movie regarding a brazen, New Yoikah ex-con (Stone "If yah evah luvved me...") and her charge, a little boy on the run from the mob. Yech.

Elektra Review


Terrible
Allow me to geek out for a minute. Renowned comic book writer/artist Frank Miller first introduced his assassin-for-hire character Elektra in the pages of Daredevil (issue No. 168, to be exact). His contributions to the ensuing story arcs are widely considered some of the strongest character-development work done in the comic industry to date.

Elektra, a needless spin-off from Mark Steven Johnson's already flawed 2003 Daredevil film, might have had a fighting chance if it stayed within the boundaries of Miller's rich source material. Instead, it can't even stay consistent with the lackluster film that inspired it.

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Desperate Measures Review


Grim
Michael Keaton as a serial killer? Well, why not, I guess. He was the original Batman, after all. But Michael Keaton as a serial killer who happens to be the only man alive whose DNA matches the son of the cop who busted him and needs some kind of transplant? Er, someone needs to go back to reality school.

The Score Review


Extraordinary
I'll admit to having a soft spot for heist movies. It's just too bad that, with the exception of The Thomas Crown Affair remake, most recent heist flicks have come off atrociously, a fact to which anyone who sat through the ridiculous Entrapment can testify.

Hallelujah. The Score is the heist film I've wanted to see for a long time. Not since James Caan burned that safe open in 1981's Thief has a safecracking been so tense and meticulously designed. And with the triple threat of Ed Norton, Robert De Niro, and -- God bless him -- Marlon Brando, The Score is in some excellent hands.

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Daredevil Review


Grim
In the Marvel Comics food chain, Matt Murdock and his alter ego Daredevil falls somewhere between the wise-cracking Spider-Man and the washed up Submariner. An underdog hero born of vengeance, Daredevil never achieved the superstar status afforded the Incredible Hulk or the X-Men. Instead, he steadily built a dedicated core of cult fanatics who empathized with the crime fighter and related to his character-driven adventures.

It's those same sympathetic souls who'll most appreciate director Mark Steven Johnson's Daredevil, a lackluster introductory installment that remains faithful to the character's origins but drops the ball whenever the hero dons his fetishistic leather mask.

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Sleepless in Seattle Review


Weak
When Harry Met Sally... was a minor cultural milestone when it came out in 1989 -- it was the first movie in almost a decade to present marriage in a favorable light. (The 1980s were the decade in which feminism gained a chokehold on the values of Hollywood.) It was a major artistic triumph as well as a commercial success, and it woke a sleeping giant: the old-fashioned romantic comedy.

Unfortunately, there have been many, many successors since 1989, and most of them don't have as much right to exist. Sleepless in Seattle was one of the first and most obvious. It reteamed cute, perky actress Meg Ryan with writer/director Nora Ephron and even included some of the more annoying aspects of When Harry Met Sally... -- the plot coincidences, the unappealing friends, etc.

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