Michael London

Michael London

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Win Win Review

As with The Station Agent and The Visitor, McCarthy creates a series of encounters for some astonishingly vivid characters, and the result is an entertaining film that challenges prejudice. It's also both funny and moving.

Mike (Giamatti) is a New Jersey lawyer struggling to make ends meet when he discovers he can earn a bit extra as the guardian of senile client Leo (Young).

But his wife Jackie (Ryan) only finds out when Leo's 16-year-old grandson Kyle (Shaffer) turns up needing a place to stay while his mother (Lynskey) goes through rehab. To keep him busy, Mike invites Kyle along to the wrestling practice he coaches with his friends (Tambor and Cannavale). Surprise: Kyle's a gifted wrestler who may help the team win for a change.

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Milk Review

Thirty years before Sen. Barack Obama broke through a significant political color barrier, Harvey Milk tore down a similar wall that was obstructing America's gay community from holding political office.

Milk finds experimental auteur Gus Van Sant taking cautious steps back toward the mainstream to celebrate Harvey's accomplishments. Van Sant's tender human-interest story, which showcases Sean Penn's considerable talents, is a closer relative to earlier efforts such as Finding Forrester or Good Will Hunting than to recent, abstruse features like Elephant, the spare Gerry, or the haunting Last Days.

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The world premiere of Milk - arrivals and inside

Michael London and Lynn London - Michael London, Lynn London, at The Castro Theater San Francisco, California - The world premiere of Milk - arrivals and inside Tuesday 28th October 2008

Appaloosa Review

Unlike its immediate predecessors, which have retooled (Unforgiven), remade (3:10 To Yuma), revered (Open Range), and re-imagined (The Proposition) the genre, Ed Harris' Appaloosa is simply content being a good Western. It's unapologetic of its formula, unwilling to waver in its characterizations, and unhurried in its pace. It tells a story you've heard before -- more than once -- but it handles its business with rugged aplomb. That ought to be enough. But for some reason, it isn't.

It's 1882, and the intimidating landowner Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) casts a long shadow over the New Mexico town of Appaloosa. With three booming gun blasts, the film establishes Bragg's cold-blooded disdain for authority and utter lack of morals. Man, how I wish Appaloosa gave this character more time to breathe, develop, and wreck proper havoc.

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The Visitor Review

The post-9/11 U.S. has always seemed like a grieving widow waiting for the other fatalistic shoe to drop. Part of this comes from a government selling fear as the foundation for its continued power. The other stems from the media's mindless grind of less-than-soothing imagery. Yet what many citizens fail to understand is that people more than politics are affected by our nervous kneejerk reactions. Such a sentiment forms the basis of Thomas McCarthy's intriguing new film, The Visitor.

For Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), existence is a stifled sleepwalk of commitments and complaints. He hates teaching. He hates faculty politics. He especially hates the lonely life he leads as a widower. His wife long dead, Vale just can't find a purpose. Forced to travel from his new home in Connecticut to his old apartment in New York City to present a paper, he discovers two strangers living there. As illegals, Arab Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and African Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gurira) have no real place to go, so Vale reluctantly lets them stay. When the Syrian Tarek is wrongfully arrested and detained, our quiet professor becomes his champion. The arrival of Tarek's mother (Hiam Abbass) from Michigan makes matters more complicated.

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Smart People Review

In acting, chameleon-like versatility can be overrated. In Smart People, the principle actors are assigned roles right in their natural strike zones, and it's a pleasure to watch them swing away with ease. Dennis Quaid capitalizes on his natural late-career crankiness to play Lawrence Wetherhold, a widowed English professor with a perpetual sour look. His daughter Vanessa is a mouthy overachiever, which is the established domain of Ellen Page, whether her gift is configured through superhuman quippiness (Juno), insane manipulation (Hard Candy), or the ability to walk through walls (X-Men: The Last Stand).

Entering into the Wetherhold house, ostensibly to chauffer the belligerent prof after a seizure suspends his driver's license, is Lawrence's laid-back, semi-transient adopted brother Chuck. Chuck is played by Thomas Haden Church in a clear and mostly successful post-Sideways bid to establish future laid-back semi-transients as "the Thomas Haden Church part." Church and Page are especially fun to watch and, especially, listen to: Church's sort of deadpan surfer growl and Page's nasal precociousness in a vocal duel. That they recall their previous roles only hastens our desire to spend time with them.

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King of California Review

It's easy to see what attracted Michael Douglas to the role of Charlie in writer-director Mike Cahill's whimsical comedy King of California. Charlie is a cuddly, middle-age loony, the kind of screwtop crackpot that Academy voters love. And Douglas wades into the role with all of his might, his grizzly charm coming off like a New Age cross between Henry Travers and David Crosby. Unfortunately, Douglas is hurling all of his oddball ticks and psychotic charms into a vacuum.

King of California is cute, innocent, and precocious, just like the little 10-year-old niece you want to kill. Cahill's film aims to be quirky and quizzical and it has the feel of the kind of anti-establishment films made in the '60s and '70s along the lines of They Might Be Giants or Daddy Douglas' The Lonely Are the Brave. But there is no ballast for the whimsy, and the whole concept wisps away like a leaky balloon full of hot air.

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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 si├Ęcle 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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The Family Stone Review

The Family Stone wants to be many things. It wants to be funny and touching and warm-hearted, like any good holiday film, but aspiration is not achievement and The Family Stone proves it.

Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, the story starts with Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) bringing his uptight girlfriend, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker), home for Christmas to meet his family. The Stones take an immediate disliking to Meredith -- she's corporate, they're earthy -- forcing her into a downward spiral where she tries ever harder to win their approval. Sort of like Meet the Parents... at Christmastime... without the laughs.

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40 Days And 40 Nights Review

For many Christians, the time of Lent is dedicated to 40 days of prayer and fasting. While most will give up red meat, caffeine, or Girl Scout cookies, the main character of 40 Days and 40 Nights has decided to give up sexual activity. I'm sure that's not exactly what the religious order had in mind; no doubt the holy fathers are rolling over on their clouds from the film's religious mockery. But despite its gimmick, 40 Days and 40 Nights is a sinfully good comedy about the complications sex can bring to a relationship.

Josh Hartnett plays Matt Sullivan, a guy whose serious relationship with Nicole (Vinessa Shaw, Domino from Eyes Wide Shut) ended six months prior. Since then, he cannot commit to other women because he is still hung up on her. Not even when Matt and his roommate Ryan (Paulo Costanzo) bring home a couple of hot looking dates can he muster the desire to have sex with them. Looking for advice on his relationship matters, Matt turns to his brother John (Adam Trese), who has no female issues because has given his life to the church. Since Matt's visit with his brother coincides with Lent, he decides that abstaining from all things sexual will help him recover from his heartbreak. Ah, if only things were so easy.

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The Guru Review

Heather Graham was meant for adult films. Gorgeous, sleek, and undeniably sexy, she can't act a lick but belongs scantily clad and in front of the camera. Donning skates and Daisy Dukes, she could convincingly take on any man off the streets as Rollergirl in Boogie Nights. This time around, in The Guru, directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer (Party Girl), her porn star character instructs us on how to make passionate love to the rhythm of none other than Billy Joel, as her methods of dealing with the mental challenges of porn become sexual healing for a deprived nation.

The messenger of the porn star's wisdom is Ramu Gupta (Jimi Mistry), a dance instructor from Delhi, who longs to "live the American dream." He's in for a rude awakening upon arriving in the states, but his resolve "never to work for a salary" pushes him to audition to be a star - even if it's in porn. To his dismay, with all the folks holding coffee and shining bright lights, he can't seem to get it up, not even for Heather Graham posing as a love-starved Senator willing to bang any savage on her environmentally protected beach.

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Sideways Review

Miles (Paul Giamatti) is the most self-aware lead character yet in an Alexander Payne film, so of course he's despondent. Payne's previous films specialize in characters grappling with self-delusion, like retiree Warren Schmidt of About Schmidt and self-important Tracy Flick of Election. But Miles is different -- he walks with the slumping posture of, well, a Paul Giamatti character, and he has no choice but to live by his insecurities.

Jack (Thomas Haden Church), on the other hand, covers his with several layers of restless horniness. Jack is a washed-up actor about to marry Christine (Alysia Reiner), and he's Miles' best friend from college, who doesn't understand why Miles can't just get over his divorce. Or his oft-rejected novel. Or his increasing dependence on wine, or the accompanying feeling that, as a middle-aged man, he has long ago peaked. Jack and Miles embark on a trip through California wine country, as a last hurrah for Jack's bachelorhood. Miles want to drink fine wine and play golf; Jack wants to drink anything and pick up women.

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House of Sand and Fog Review

Real estate brokers would call Vadim Perelman's solemn House of Sand and Fog a fixer-upper. At first glance, the handsome House is an easy sell. It's gorgeously shot and well acted. Skilled composer James Horner even chimes in with an aptly somber score of deliberate piano key strokes and nothing more. A closer look reveals cracks in the foundation, though, meaning House wouldn't pass a thorough homeowner's inspection, as it isn't really built to cinematic code.

Based on the best-selling novel by Andre Dubus III, House constructs a legal and ethical battle between two individuals at conflicting crossroads. How much you buy into it will depend on which of the film's two antagonists you side with. Are you a compassionate bleeding heart willing to forgive even the most irresponsible and bottomed-out loser? Or are you a strict rule-abider who swears by the letter of the law and is hesitant to play the sympathy card?

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Michael London

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