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Elvis & Nixon Review

Good

This movie is based on a real meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon in the White House in December 1970. The only details about this collision of two icons come from a few eyewitness accounts, as well as the photograph they took together. So the screenwriters have some fun with it, weaving in quite a bit of comedy that encourages actors to chomp merrily on the scenery. It's entertaining to watch, but the script misses the chance to add meaning on the situation.

Elvis (Michael Shannon) is the one who initiates this meeting, concerned about the growing protests on the streets of Washington, DC. So he flies to Los Angeles to collect his long-time friend Jerry (Alex Pettyfer) then heads to the capital to meet with his nutty colleague Sonny (Johnny Knoxville) and pitch himself to President Nixon (Kevin Spacey) as an undercover FBI agent who can infiltrate the nation's youth. Since it's obvious that all Elvis wants is a federal ID badge, Nixon brushes the whole idea of a meeting aside until his advisors (Colin Hanks and Evan Peters) convince him that it would be a great PR move. So just before Christmas, the two men finally meet up, and they discover that they have more in common than either expected.

Because of the absurdity of the set-up and the wackiness of the period styles, the movie feels rather a lot like an extended sketch comedy that's largely improvised by an up-for-it cast. These two men are both such big personalities that a meeting like this would be hard to believe if it weren't for the photographic evidence. The conversation between Presley and Nixon is surreal and hilariously random (and largely fictionalised). Shannon and Spacey are having a great time prowling around each other, pouncing with a punchline at every opportunity, so watching them is riveting. Mercifully, they underplay the impersonations, capturing the men with tiny details of movement and vocal inflection rather than relying on lots of make-up. Although Shannon does have that hair and costume.

Continue reading: Elvis & Nixon Review

She's Funny That Way Review

Good

Wacky enough to make us smile but never laugh out loud, this screwball comedy harks back to those nutty 1970s farces Woody Allen used to make about a group of neurotic urbanites. Actually, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich used to make those kinds of movies too (1972's What's Up Doc is a classic). But he gives this film an oddly muted tone and uneven cast, which leaves it enjoyably silly even though it's never very funny.

It's set in a version of Manhattan where everyone sees the same shrink, eats in the same restaurant and stays at the same hotel, conveniently. Isabella (Imogen Poots) is working as a hooker, and her next john is Arnold (Owen Wilson), who offers her $30,000 if she gives up being a call girl after tonight and pursues her dream of becoming an actress. Then when she goes for her first Broadway audition, she's shocked to discover that Arnold is the director, and her costars would be his wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) and leery actor Seth (Rhys Ifans), who knows what she used to do for a living. Another ex-client (Austin Pendleton) is obsessing because Isabella has vanished, so he visits the tetchy therapist Jane (Jennifer Aniston), who not only happens to also be counselling Isabella but is dating the playwright Joshua (Will Forte) who fell for Isabella at her audition.

The entanglement between these seven characters is recounted in flashback as Isabella is interviewed by a jaded Hollywood reporter (Illeana Douglas), so the film has a rather episodic structure as it traces each slapstick encounter between these people. With the plot so ludicrously convoluted, it's up to the actors keep us entertained, and they're a mixed bag. Aniston is surprisingly funny as the short-tempered psychologist who really should be in therapy herself, and Hahn gets the balance just right between the manic emotion and the darker comedy. Ifans has his moments as well, creeping around the corners of most scenes. But Poots never quite convinces in the focal role, while Wilson merely recycles his usual hapless routine and Forte gets lost in the shuffle as the token nice guy.

Continue reading: She's Funny That Way Review

Return To Sender Review


OK

This intriguing drama takes on some darkly resonant themes with such an oddly bright and cheerful tone that it forces the audience to pay attention. As it continues, the terrific Rosamund Pike uses conflicting emotions to explore the aftermath of a horrific assault. But while there's growing suspense in the plot, the bigger tension comes from the viewers themselves as they wonder whether it's going to unravel into melodramatic rubbish.

Pike plays Miranda, a cleanliness-obsessed nurse with ambition to get a better job and move to a bigger house, partly to stop her single dad (Nick Nolte) from worrying about her. Then a nurse colleague (Rumer Willis) sets her up on a blind date. William (Shiloh Fernandez) is flirty and sexy, but after he brutally attacks her he goes to prison, leaving Miranda to put her life back together. Surprisingly, she takes a proactive approach that includes contacting William and trying to achieve some sort of reconciliation. Miranda's father is horrified by this, especially when William is released on parole and turns up to help her fix up her house.

This insinuating set-up keeps the audience guessing whether this is a complex look at how people wrestle with the fall-out from a violent rape, or perhaps either Miranda or William are up to something more nefarious. So whether it's sparking hope or dread, it's relatively gripping. And Pike is superb as a quirky woman who continually faces her fears. This includes both connecting with William and trying to befriend her dad's scary dog Benny. "Hating him only hurts me," she says pointedly. Nolte is reliably solid as her wheezy, concerned dad. And Fernandez is utterly magnetic as the mercurial William. All of the characters are defined by rather simplistic filmmaking shorthand, but the actors give them plenty of weight.

Continue reading: Return To Sender Review

Come Early Morning Review


Excellent
For some reason, Come Early Morning was gone by early afternoon. I'm not sure why this indie gem was so utterly overlooked, but it's well worth a screening, especially for Ashley Judd fans who are often disappointed by the dreck in which she so often chooses to star. This movie is a wonderful bookend of sorts to Judd's first significant feature, the luminous Ruby in Paradise. In both films, Judd plays a not-quite-white-trash southern woman trying to carve out a place for herself in a tough world. In Ruby she was a 20-ish waif fleeing an abusive family in Tennessee. Here she's a 35-year-old construction contractor in Arkansas so damaged by her distant alcoholic father (Scott Wilson) that she's utterly incapable of having a meaningful relationship with a man.

Lucy Fowler's modus operandi is to get totally drunk down at a local roadhouse called the Forge and then hook up with whichever man strikes her fancy. The next (early) morning, she finds herself picking up her panties off a motel room floor, sneaking out before the guy wakes up, and racing home to rehydrate and treat her hangover before heading out in her pickup truck to a construction site. Her roommate Kim (Laura Prepon) looks on disapprovingly.

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Bug (2007) Review


Terrible
On my way out of William Friedkin's latest Bug, I overheard a gentleman in the lobby say to his companion that he hopes everyone involved in the picture fires their agents. The movie could mean at least a long stint in the doghouse for its two leads, Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon. It's regrettable, because the actors are clearly giving all they've got and then some to a project that, ultimately, amounts to a staggering miscalculation. As for Friedkin, I'm guessing he'll stay put for a few years before returning with another questionable clunker.

Working from Tracy Letts' adaptation of his own play, Friedkin gives us a five-character chamber piece, set in a downtrodden motel room out in the sticks. Bi-curious basket case Agnes (Judd) works as a waitress in a redneck bar by night, and shacks up in a motel room, in a pot-, coke-, and booze-induced stupor by day. It's her meager defense against the onslaught of just-paroled ex-husband Jerry (a beefed-up and amusing Harry Connick Jr.), who drops by to inflict verbal and physical abuse, not to mention dredging up memories of her long-lost son. The woman's only respite is her girlfriend, R.C. (Lynn Collins), a fellow waitress who's a tad too freewheeling for the reserved Agnes. Twitched-out and fragile, she meets her perfect match in the taciturn Peter (Shannon), a war veteran who harbors traumas of his own. Soon after they hook up, Peter becomes increasingly convinced that his body's been colonized by bugs -- bugs laying eggs and traveling up and down his bloodstream. Peter claims to be an escapee from a government medical lab where he was the subject of nefarious tests. He suspects the bugs were bio-engineered by the government to be tools for mind control. Before you know it, Bug has become a full-blown freak show, fueled by military-industrial conspiracies, and styled after Macbeth as the paranoid Peter and the needy Agnes become obsessive partners in mutual destruction.

Continue reading: Bug (2007) Review

Factory Girl Review


Good
At the outset, Factory Girl looks like thin material for a biopic: It covers the life of Edie Sedgwick, a college dropout propelled to "it" girl status by Andy Warhol in the sixties, only to lose herself, as "it" people often do, to drugs and fresher faces. The movie starts with her leaving college, ends well before her death at age 28, and (intentionally or not) presents a convincing case that she didn't do much with the years in between.

But so many filmed biographies cram from childhood to old age, resulting in filmed Cliff Notes, or a mini-series at twice the speed and half the scenes. That Factory Girl doesn't have to cover an Edie Sedgwick comeback -- that she dies young and off-camera -- is a perverse relief. George Hickenlooper's brief, sometimes impressionistic film is most illuminating when showing both the allure and the casualties of Warhol's free but detached Factory scene.

Continue reading: Factory Girl Review

Lonely Hearts Review


OK
If it's one thing you learn about loving old movies, it's that sooner or later some hell spawn from the lowest depths of the lowest ring of the underworld will get the idea that he (or she) should remake it. You can't stop them, and praying seems to only make them madder. So, the fact that someone signed off on a remake of Leonard Kastle's paradigm of depravity, The Honeymoon Killers, shouldn't come as too big a surprise. But that doesn't mean you have to be happy about it.

First-time director Todd Robinson kicks off the festivities with the suicide of Detective Robinson's wife. As it happens, Detective Elmer Robinson (John Travolta) has taken his time attempting to get over his wife's death, and is just now opening up to a secretary at his office (Laura Dern). His partner Charlie (the great James Gandolfini) thinks it's healthy and that things are on the up and up. Then, a case lands on their desk that's a little too perverse for words. A couple, posing as brother and sister, answer "lonely hearts" ads promising love and security, only to end up bilking the mark for all they're worth and killing them. The investigation leads to a nurse named Martha Beck (Salma Hayek) and a wannabe playboy named Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto, with a ridiculous moustache and an absurd accent). The film follows Charlie and Elmer's pursuit of the Lonely Hearts Killers until a rather brutal holdout at a farm, where the couple find their last mark.

Continue reading: Lonely Hearts Review

Bobby Review


Bad
Filmmakers go overboard all the time, but none more than Oliver Stone. When Stone released JFK in 1991, it was obvious that he was pulling from a biased idealism, but he wasn't necessarily fibbing either. The cumulative effect of Stone's film was investigative fervor; even if you didn't believe the bulk of what was being given, you had to be shocked by a few of his points. The film was about looking back, but it was also about the hushed panic of the Kennedy assassination and the rest of the '60s. So, maybe going overboard was important to what Stone was after.

You won't find any sort of rabblerousing or sense of time in Emilio Estevez's Bobby, his account of the people that were in attendance when Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel. Estevez tosses together close to two dozen major characters and storylines along with footage of RFK campaigning against racism, America's poverty, and unlawful McCarthy tactics. The stories run the gamut from a young couple (Elijah Wood and Lindsay Lohan) getting hitched to keep the groom out of the war to an alcoholic diva (Demi Moore) and her forgotten husband (Estevez himself) to a philandering hotel manager (William H. Macy) who must keep his affair with a switchboard operator (Heather Graham) from his wife (Sharon Stone) and from an infuriated ex-employee (Christian Slater). There's also a pack of poll campaigners (Nick Cannon, Joshua Jackson, Shia Labeouf, and Brian Geraghty) who must deal with an acid freak out facilitated by a hippie (Ashton Kutcher), a pushy Czech journalist (Svetlana Metkina), and a flirty waitress at the hotel restaurant (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Sounds like the makings of an ensemble comedy, no?

Continue reading: Bobby Review

Down In The Valley Review


Good

Harlan Carruthers is a blissful cowboy, all scuffed boots, aw-shucks mannerisms, and a negligent sort of sensuality. He's lightening-quick with his twin single-shot Colts and loves nothing more than riding his horse to the highest hill around and surveying the beauty of the landscape.

He's also a walking anachronism, because Down in the Valley is a modern-day tale, and the title refers to the overbuilt suburbia that is the San Fernando Valley, the land of crowded freeways and chain stores that marks the northern reaches of Los Angeles. But Harlan, played by Edward Norton, swaggers through, contentedly out of place, until he catches sight of Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood), a teenage nymph who pulls into the service station where Harlan works as she is on the way to the beach with her giggling friends. It's unclear why the group dismisses Harlan as out-of-place instead of in fashion, but Tobe is as instantly taken with him as he is with her, and he quits his job to catch his first sight of the ocean with her.

Continue reading: Down In The Valley Review

All I Want Review


Weak
This one lost me. A bizarre concoction of Wonder Boys, Spanking the Monkey, Singles, and, I dunno, Moulin Rouge, this film obviously confused the hell out of its studio to the point where they couldn't give it a real release, despite having Frodo himself (Elijah Wood) in the starring role and pop starlet Mandy Moore at his side.

Here's the gist: Jones Dillon (Wood) is a college drop-out at age 17 (already?) and decides to "learn about life" by living in a kooky apartment house with kooky people in it. His neighbors include two chicks: Jane (Franka Potente), a pissy photographer, and Lisa (Moore), an aspiring actress. Who will Jones fall in love with? And more importantly, will this teach him that life is not really learned about through living in a kooky apartment complex? Hey, Jones likes to type an an old style typewriter and drink wine straight from the bottle, so we know he's serious. Isn't he?

Continue reading: All I Want Review

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Holly Wiersma Movies

Elvis & Nixon Movie Review

Elvis & Nixon Movie Review

This movie is based on a real meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon in...

She's Funny That Way Movie Review

She's Funny That Way Movie Review

Wacky enough to make us smile but never laugh out loud, this screwball comedy harks...

Return to Sender Movie Review

Return to Sender Movie Review

This intriguing drama takes on some darkly resonant themes with such an oddly bright and...

Bug (2007) Movie Review

Bug (2007) Movie Review

On my way out of William Friedkin's latest Bug, I overheard a gentleman in the...

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Factory Girl Movie Review

Factory Girl Movie Review

At the outset, Factory Girl looks like thin material for a biopic: It covers the...

Lonely Hearts Movie Review

Lonely Hearts Movie Review

If it's one thing you learn about loving old movies, it's that sooner or later...

Bobby Movie Review

Bobby Movie Review

Filmmakers go overboard all the time, but none more than Oliver Stone. When Stone released...

Down In The Valley Movie Review

Down In The Valley Movie Review

Harlan Carruthers is a blissful cowboy, all scuffed boots, aw-shucks mannerisms, and a negligent sort...

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