Michael Nozik

Michael Nozik

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Third Person Review


Good

There are moments when this three-strand drama almost ascends to the emotional resonance of writer-director Paul Haggis' Oscar-winning 2004 movie Crash. Perhaps even more ambitious, this film is exploring issues of creativity, attraction and grief, but Haggis puts so much effort into the literary trickery that he fails to create characters the audience can connect with. So the drama ends up being interesting but never moving.

The central plot-thread is in Paris, where blocked writer Michael (Liam Neeson) is holed up in a hotel after leaving his wife (Kim Basinger) and arranging to meet his whip-smart mistress Anna (Olivia Wilde). But their witty romance seems to get entangled with his struggle to write a new novel. Meanwhile in Rome, dodgy American businessman Scott (Adrien Brody) meets Monika (Moran Atias), a sexy Roma woman trying to rescue her kidnapped daughter from local gangsters. With his own haunting back-story involving a lost child, Scott offers to help. And in New York, fallen soap-star Julia (Mila Kunis) has hired a lawyer (Maria Bello) in an effort to get custody of her son from her wealthy-painter ex (James Franco). But her life has gone so far off the rails that it's unlikely any judge will see things her way.

There's a clear sense that these storylines are swirling around in Michael's head as he tries to write. Each character has parent-child issues, including the event that sent Michael's career into a downward spiral. But Haggis never quite defines all of this, leaving ideas and themes dangling everywhere without connecting them to authentic people or experiences. So it's very difficult to get involved in any of the story strands, even though the actors deliver open, raw performances. Kunis has the film's strongest role, a complex journey into the aching soul of a mother, and she plays it beautifully. And Bello finds some moments of consuming emotion in her smaller part. Everything else feels rather cliched, from Neeson and Wilde's cute-prickly romantic games to Brody's journey to the dark side of Italy.

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The Next Three Days Review


Excellent
This faithful remake of Fred Cavaye's 2008 dramatic thriller Anything for Her (Pour Elle) is a deeply involving film that pulls us into its story and forces us to ask heavy moral questions. Although anyone who saw the original may wonder why they bothered to remake it.

John (Crowe) is a university literature professor who is struggling to cope with the fact that his wife Lara (Banks) has been imprisoned for murder.

Convinced of her innocence, he launches three years of appeals, all of which fail. Now at the end of his tether, he begins to hatch an unthinkable plan to reunite her with him and their 6-year-old son (Simpkins). After consulting an expert (Neeson), the question remains whether a mild-mannered schoolteacher can stage a daring prison break. And two cops (Hinds and Beghe) are closing in on him.

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Crossing Delancey Review


Good
Amy Irving headlines a strange trip through New York love, Annie Hall style, as her bookstore staffer encounters a headstrong author and a pickle maker en route to romance. Will she find happiness in the arms of paper or dill? Cryptic and meandering, don't be surprised if you have trouble caring who she falls for in the end.

Quiz Show Review


Very Good
People have tried to peg the "end of American innocence" on all sorts of things -- Vietnam, Watergate, the nuclear arms race -- but Robert Redford is, I believe, the first and only person to blame the decline of western civilization on the 21 game show scandal of the 1950s. But there you have it: A curious incident from the past -- and an inevitability, really -- in which upstanding blueblood Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes in a very memorable role) gets caught up in a fixed game show, bringing the show and its producers (but ultimately, no one else) to its knees. Strangely, for such a buildup -- and Redford manages to build quite a snowball of drama in all of this, full of heroes and antiheroes -- the payoff is a real letdown. America survived the quiz show scandals, and trying to overblow the impact of what amounts to a novelty investigation rings a little bit false.

Syriana Review


Good
Never send a writer to do a director's job. That, more than the addictive evils of easy oil and cozy government/business corruption, is the true lesson of Syriana. When Steven Soderbergh took on Stephen Gaghan's byzantine script for Traffic, he utilized a few simple tricks to keep it all making sense, everything from grouping stories by color scheme to casting vivid character actors for minor roles so that they wouldn't get lost in the shuffle. Gaghan doesn't have these skills to bring to bear and though he beats his sprawling epic somewhat into shape, it leaves one wishing for the film that could have been, given a better director.

Like Traffic, Syriana is a messy Gordian knot of plot, only with no Soderbergh to slice it neatly open. Instead of drug trafficking, the subject this time is the nexus where oil corporations, the U.S. government, Islamic extremism, and Middle East dictatorships come together in an unholy fusion of polity and greed. The characters are introduced at a leisurely pace, Gaghan laying it all out with perhaps a little too much care. Once things start to cohere, the film shunts into a political thriller about an unnamed Gulf State where the ailing king's two sons are jockeying for control; one is a lazy playboy beloved by U.S. interests and the other is an educated reformer who wants to modernize his country and stop kowtowing to the west.

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The Motorcycle Diaries Review


Very Good
Director Walter Salles (Central Station, Behind the Sun) regularly focuses on the inextricable, inscrutable relationship shared by man and his environment, and the result is that his films' hardscrabble Latin American settings are transformed into active participants in his intimate, humanistic dramas. This fascination with the natural world is most forcefully realized in The Motorcycle Diaries, which recounts the life-altering 1952 journey through South America undertaken by a young Ernesto "Che" Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado. Imbued with the spirit of the dusty, arid open road and the continent's unassuming beauty and variety, this lovely-looking film nominally tracks the young Che's political and philosophical awakening as he comes into direct contact with the generous, friendly working-class men and women whom he would later champion as a communist revolutionary. Yet this mildly stirring, dramatically loosy-goosy tale of idealism being born is less effective as a Che Guevara back-story than as a gorgeous examination of the way our surroundings help shape us into who we are.

Adapted from both Guevara's The Motorcycle Diaries and Granado's Traveling with Che Guevara by Jose Rivera, Salles' episodic film follows the intrepid travelers as they leave family and friends behind in Buenos Aires and head for the rural countryside riding their beat-up metallic steed dubbed, ironically, "The Mighty One." Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna), a 29-year-old biochemist, and Guevara (Gael García Bernal), a 23-year-old student one semester away from getting his medical degree, had planned on being gone for four months, but their eventual odyssey would last twice as long, cover 8,000 miles, and forever change Guevara's way of looking at his homeland's social and economic inequity. As portrayed by Bernal and De la Serna, Che and Alberto are yin and yang, with Guevara's candid, charitable demeanor standing in sharp contrast to the more gregarious, hedonistic Alberto, and Salles' film makes great use of their complementary personalities during the duo's humorous antics to procure room, board, and booty from local businessmen and comely beauties. Salles' focus on the duo's push-and-pull chemistry gives the early stages of their trip a lighthearted joyousness, and Eric Gautier's expressive, ethereal cinematography of the Peruvian Andes and Chilean desert makes Che and Alberto's somewhat uneventful story - not a whole lot happens during the film's first two-thirds - sparsely lyrical.

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The Perez Family Review


Bad
How can you have a Perez family without Rosie? Put aside the fact that Tomei and Huston are decidedly not Cuban, I had to read a plot summary to find out this was supposed to be a comedy. Oh really, now? This story, adapted from a novel, picks up the fragments of at least four Perezes, Cuban refugees who find themselves inventing a "family" to better gain political asylum. The plot centers around Molina's search for long-list (real) wife Huston, only he falls in love with slut Tomei, while Huston falls for cop Palminteri. Poor Trini Alvarado is wasted as Huston's wide-eyed sidekick. Everyone else is wasted on a hopelessly dull story which positively puts you to sleep.

Slums Of Beverly Hills Review


Excellent
Tamara Jenkins hits gold with this first effort, a funny portrayal of teen angst on the fringes of 1976 Beverly Hills. Natasha Lyonne is stellar as Vivian Abramowitz, a freshman coming to grips with her voluptuous body, nutty siblings, and deadbeat dad. Marisa Tomei is almost as good as Vivian's drug-rehab escapee cousin, who throws the Abramowitz family for a loop - but becomes their saving grace thanks to her wealthy father, who funds their existence "while she's clean." Which, of course, doesn't last long. A funny and light comedy, great for a rental.

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How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog Review


OK
A mildly amusing Kenneth Branagh starrer has Branagh as a Woody Allen-esque playwright living in the wrong damn town (Los Angeles), where he suffers through noisy neighbors and bad actors who mangle his erstwhile perfect dialogue. On a voyage of self-discovery, he learns a little something about humanity, of course. Like I said, mildly amusing.

People I Know Review


Weak
People I Know is a character study cum murder mystery that won't be known to many theatre patrons and won't be missed. It's a labored 24-hour journey with a worn-out New York publicist (also known as a press agent) struggling to maintain the residue of vitality he enjoyed in an earlier life. More characters in the story show him the admiration he once commanded than moviegoers are likely to. There's not much to admire.

The film starts with entrenched Big Apple dweller Al Pacino affecting a Georgia accent -- interesting, but no more required by the plotline than if he had come from Florida or North Dakota. About all the southern background does for his character, Eli Wurman, is provide an exaggeration to his promotional pushiness at one time, and slow, slurry speech to befit his character's drug-induced degradation at other times.

Continue reading: People I Know Review

Michael Nozik

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Michael Nozik Movies

Third Person Movie Review

Third Person Movie Review

There are moments when this three-strand drama almost ascends to the emotional resonance of writer-director...

The Next Three Days Movie Review

The Next Three Days Movie Review

This faithful remake of Fred Cavaye's 2008 dramatic thriller Anything for Her (Pour Elle) is...

Syriana Movie Review

Syriana Movie Review

Never send a writer to do a director's job. That, more than the addictive evils...

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The Motorcycle Diaries Movie Review

The Motorcycle Diaries Movie Review

Director Walter Salles (Central Station, Behind the Sun) regularly focuses on the inextricable, inscrutable relationship...

Slums of Beverly Hills Movie Review

Slums of Beverly Hills Movie Review

Tamara Jenkins hits gold with this first effort, a funny portrayal of teen angst on...

People I Know Movie Review

People I Know Movie Review

People I Know is a character study cum murder mystery that won't be known to...

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