Michael Shamberg

Michael Shamberg

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A Walk Among The Tombstones Review


Very Good

Although the plot isn't particularly original, a darkly internalised tone makes this low-key thriller oddly compelling. It may be the usual serial killer nastiness, but it also pays attention to earthier themes like morality and the futility of revenge. Meanwhile, Liam Neeson is able to combine his more recent action-hero persona with his serious acting chops this time. And writer-director Scott Frank infuses the film with moody grit, quietly subverting each cliche of the genre.

The action picks up eight years after Matt (Neeson) stopped drinking and quit the police force, following a shootout that went horribly wrong. It's now 1999, and New York is in the grip of Y2K paranoia. Matt is working as an unlicensed private detective who uses word-of-mouth to find clients. So Matt is intrigued when one of his 12-step friends (Boyd Holbrook) introduces his brother Kenny (Dan Stevens), a wealthy drug trafficker whose wife was kidnapped and then murdered even though he paid the ransom. As Matt digs into the case, he realises that the two killers (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) have a left a string of similar victims in their wake, and that the murders are connected. Meanwhile, Matt takes in homeless teen TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley), an observant kid who helps him work piece together the clues. And together they try to figure out where the killers will strike next.

This story unfolds with a remarkably gloomy tone, combining horrific violence with introspective drama. This mixture can feel rather jarring, especially as it wallows in the nastier side of human existence. Every character is tortured in more ways than one, with lost loves, physical afflictions and internal demons. Even the smaller side roles are packed with detail, including Olafur Darri Olafsson's creepy cemetery worker and Sebastian Roche's frazzled Russian mobster. All of this adds texture to the film, a welcome distraction from the grisly central plot, which is never played as a mystery, but rather as an inevitability.

Continue reading: A Walk Among The Tombstones Review

Runner Runner Review


Bad

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.

Continue reading: Runner Runner Review

Contagion Review


Excellent
Soderbergh applies his brainier brand of filmmaking to the global outbreak thriller genre, and the result is a hugely gripping blockbuster that never talks down to its audience. It's also terrifyingly believable as we watch a deadly flu virus spread around the world.

In Minneapolis, Mitch (Damon) is horrified when his wife (Paltrow) comes home from a business trip to China, collapses with the flu and dies. But she's only the first of a series of similar cases around the world, and soon officials from the Centers for Disease Control (Winslet, Fishburne and Ehle) and the World Health Organisation (Cotillard) are on the case, trying to manage emerging clusters while tracing the disease back to its source. Meanwhile, a blog hack (Law) is pestering a San Francisco scientist (Gould) for a cure.

Continue reading: Contagion Review

Extraordinary Measures Review


Good
The A-list cast raises this film above its unsophisticated TV-movie style, helped by the remarkable facts of the true story. The actors even manage to add nuance to the straightforward, over-sentimentalised writing and direction.

John Crowley (Fraser) is a manager at a pharmaceutical company who hears about the innovative theories of Dr Robert Stonehill (Ford) for the treatment of Pompe Disease, a variation on muscular dystrophy. John and his wife Aileen (Russell) have two wheelchair-bound children (Droeger and Velazquez) with the condition, plus an older son (Hall) without it. So they all have a special interest in Stonehill's work. But the eccentric doctor isn't so easy to get on board, mainly because he needs a lot of money to continue his research.

Continue reading: Extraordinary Measures Review

Reno 911!: Miami Review


Terrible
It's never a good sign when a film's press screening occurs the night before it opens. The film is instantly labeled a loser long before the opening credits even roll. So if Reno 911!: Miami was to be anything like its Comedy Central inspiration, then its 11th hour screening should come as a surprise. Unfortunately, for the most part, Miami is exactly what everyone expected it to be: raunchy and brainless. Yet, what I didn't expect was for Miami to be so bawdy, so unfunny, and so unlike its small screen roots that after the first 30 minutes I was so desperate to change the channel.

In Miami, all of the familiar bungling deputies from the TV show are part of the action, along with their hang-ups. Led by the short-shorts wearing Lieutenant Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon), the inept Washoe County Sheriff's Department is "invited" to attend a national law enforcement convention in South Florida. But when the gang arrives, they quickly find themselves outclassed and left out of the convention's festivities. When a biohazard chemical is released at the convention, quarantining the nation's police force, Dangle and Company are the only uncontaminated law enforcement officers available to keep the streets of Miami safe.

Continue reading: Reno 911!: Miami Review

Out Of Sight Review


Very Good
Soderbergh knows how to take the everyday crime thriller and make it sing. Jennifer Lopez, in her best role to date as a sassy U.S. Marshal, makes a stunning impression on escaped convict George Clooney, and boy do the sparks -- emotional and physical -- fly. Hardly Oscar bait, but tons of fun. And look at how young Lopez and Clooney look if you watch it again today -- Lopez actually still has baby fat on her face and Clooney has nary a gray hair to be seen.

Fierce Creatures Review


OK
One of the moviegoing experiences I'll never forget is seeing A Fish Called Wanda at Mann's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles in 1988. It instantly became one of my all-time favorites, and I greeted the arrival of Fierce Creatures, a follow-up from the same four principals almost 10 years later, with heavy anticipation.

While the experience of seeing Fierce Creatures at the Highland 10 in Austin, Texas will be a considerably less memorable experience, the film is certainly full of entertainment and is worthy of an audience.

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Freedom Writers Review


Very Good
It's always satisfying when a movie defies an obvious formula and delivers something better. Freedom Writers is the first such surprise of 2007, a genuinely touching entry in a genre that often wallows in cliché: a motivational teacher inspiring a group of troubled kids.

The list in this category is long, and the quality broad, ranging from To Sir, with Love (Sidney Poitier straightens up hooligans) to Sunset Park (Rhea Perlman coaches hoops!). Instead of sliding into pitfalls of predictability, writer Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Beloved), who also directs, relies on straight, unforced dialogue delivered by a fine cast. Like many similar films, this one happens to be based on truth.

Continue reading: Freedom Writers Review

A Fish Called Wanda Review


Excellent
I believe that if A Fish Called Wanda opened today, it would make at least $100 million, and possibly more if it weren't sharing screens with Borat and the next comedian of the month after Dane Cook and his five o'clock shadow fade away. What's odd is that Wanda, like Midnight Run, hasn't become part of the pop culture lexicon like Animal House, Blazing Saddles, or Airplane! That shouldn't be a deterrent. It's relentlessly funny, smart, and has a tremendous cast.

The Wanda of the title is named after a very lovely American (Jamie Lee Curtis) who is involved in a London jewel heist organized by her temporary lover, Georges (Tom Georgeson). Working a long con, Wanda recruits her boyfriend Otto (Kline) for the gig and has him squeal on Georges. The plan works except Georges hides the diamonds.

Continue reading: A Fish Called Wanda Review

World Trade Center Review


Weak
Oliver Stone's World Trade Center is a victim of bad timing and a blockbuster mindset. The heroism of September 11, 2001 is still fresh in the minds of millions of Americans, but so is the terror and unease of that day. Stone's movie doesn't reflect those feelings. He hasn't made a movie for a 2006 audience; he's made one for 2036.Stone's account of that day sticks to the two Port Authority cops, John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno (Nicolas Cage and Crash's Michael Pena, respectively), who were pinned for hours under the rubble of the World Trade Center. As the men talk to each other and endure cave-ins and unspeakable pain, the movie drifts to how their wives (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Maria Bello) handle the news of the terrorist attacks and of their husbands' uncertain fates.World Trade Center is meant to showcase America's heroism during a truly heinous time, but why does it feel so empty? The reason lies in this year's other notable 9/11 movie, the memorable United 93. That movie focused on one aspect of that terrible day -- the crew and passengers who gave up their lives to prevent a commuter flight from crashing into the White House -- but it gave you the experience without any chaser. There were no big name actors, no storylines featuring cute kids. It was a reminder of the country's capabilities, and it was desperately needed given the United States' wobbly war on terror. The best compliment I can give director Paul Greengrass is that his film felt necessary.Stone's picture doesn't. His film boils down to being about two tough cops trapped. The reminders that we bonded as a nation that day are thrown in bits and pieces: the former Marine who suits up; the cops from Wisconsin who serve bratwurst; the EMT who tells the cop to say goodbye to his wife for him; the 9/11 news accounts and sound bites. It's almost as if the studio execs said, "Hey, those two cops stuck underneath make for a great story, but how can we make it about 9/11 and not about 9/11?" World Trade Center feels like a rescue drama capitalizing on the day's frenzy, paying little heed to that day's incomprehensible heroism. And the frenzy from the home front isn't credible. Bello and Gyllenhaal look too well-preserved to suffer, too toned to be working class housewives. The latter especially applies to Bello's character. How many mothers of four look like they can run a mile in under six minutes?The focus on Jimeno and McLoughlin further takes away from the day's togetherness. What about everyone else who was pinned underneath the rubble, or the cops, firefighters, and office workers who died leading people to safety? (For more on that read Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn's brilliant 102 Minutes.) What about the families who waited in hospitals or by silent phones for good news that never came? September 11 was about a city and a country mourning and pulling together. It wasn't about two people, no matter how brave they were.World Trade Center feels too much like it was made for nostalgia purposes: Hey, do you remember that? How you felt? Well, yeah, all too vividly, actually. The television accounts and newspapers told us plenty about those brave men and women on the ground working all hours, ignoring fatigue. We still have those images swimming in our heads and our hearts, and such a compressed, slick vehicle doesn't serve as a fitting tribute, at least not yet.Off to work.
Michael Shamberg

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Michael Shamberg Movies

A Walk Among the Tombstones Movie Review

A Walk Among the Tombstones Movie Review

Although the plot isn't particularly original, a darkly internalised tone makes this low-key thriller oddly...

Runner Runner Movie Review

Runner Runner Movie Review

Clearly something went horribly wrong as this thriller was being made, because despite a solid...

Contagion Movie Review

Contagion Movie Review

Soderbergh applies his brainier brand of filmmaking to the global outbreak thriller genre, and the...

Extraordinary Measures Movie Review

Extraordinary Measures Movie Review

The A-list cast raises this film above its unsophisticated TV-movie style, helped by the remarkable...

Reno 911!: Miami Movie Review

Reno 911!: Miami Movie Review

It's never a good sign when a film's press screening occurs the night before it...

Fierce Creatures Movie Review

Fierce Creatures Movie Review

One of the moviegoing experiences I'll never forget is seeing A Fish Called Wanda at...

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Freedom Writers Movie Review

Freedom Writers Movie Review

It's always satisfying when a movie defies an obvious formula and delivers something better. Freedom...

World Trade Center Movie Review

World Trade Center Movie Review

Oliver Stone's World Trade Center is a victim of bad timing and a blockbuster mindset....

The Caveman's Valentine Movie Review

The Caveman's Valentine Movie Review

After working as an actor for some time, Kasi Lemmons (The Silence of the Lambs)...

Fierce Creatures Movie Review

Fierce Creatures Movie Review

One of the moviegoing experiences I'll never forget is seeing A Fish Called Wanda at...

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