Milo Addica

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The King Review


Good
The creepy prodigal son tale The King takes a young sailor (just out of the navy) named Elvis, sends him to find his father, a born-again preacher who never married Elvis' mom (a whore), then falls in love with the preacher's teenage daughter (his half-sister), and somehow never descends into sheer idiocy. This may be pulp material, but the telling is first-rate.Elvis is played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who, in his second English-language role, absolutely walks away with the film. His Elvis is an intriguing blank from the get-go, striding off his ship and back into the world with just a small bag of clothes and a his M1 rifle (how he was able to smuggle this out of the military so easily is never quite clear). In a sharply-edited opening sequence - first-time feature director James Marsh has a tight hold on his material - Elvis heads to his childhood home of Corpus Christi, visits a hooker, buys a car, checks into a motel, and finds his father, all with the same determined yet casual expression on his face; just checking things off his list. His father, David Sandow (William Hurt, managing not to overact for once, even with the bad facial hair and deep Texas accent) is a preacher at a small church where his teenage son plays uptempo Christian rock songs and service times are announced outside on a garish red LED display. When Elvis finally confronts his estranged father, Sandow acknowledges that that was a different time in his life and tells Elvis in no uncertain terms to stay the hell away from his family.Elvis is nothing, however, if not determined. He starts shadowing the Sandows, quickly befriending, and then seducing, their 16-year-old daughter Malerie (a sunny Pell James). The fact that this is his half-sister doesn't seem to bother Elvis one bit. He's content to work his pizza delivery job, assist Malerie in some good old-fashioned pastor's daughter rebellion, and worm his way ever closer into their lives. It's easy to see how Malerie falls for Elvis. Bernal's insistently cheery and earnest demeanor would, when used to full effect, melt the iciest of hearts. It's a sublimely subtle performance, likeable to the extreme, yet showing a flicker of sociopathy every now and again to keep everything unhinged just enough.Marsh co-wrote the elegant script with Milo Addica, a co-writer on Monster's Ball, a film which shares with this one a red-state setting and certain bloody sense of fate. They aren't afraid to upturn audience expectations on a dime and to plummet very quickly into surprisingly dark places. It's a gorgeously shot film, with some of the outdoor scenes shared by Malerie and Elvis holding a sun-soaked youthful beauty that recalls Badlands. Like Malick, the filmmakers are digging at the malevolence behind the beauty, a malevolence that they unleash later on with a disturbingly calm fury.This is not to say that The King doesn't occasionally take things too far. The stabs at black humor are mostly mistimed and the film almost blows it completely by laying on the Biblical overtones with a trowel. It's not a story easily shaken, however, or easily pigeonholed, inhabiting instead a bright and evil category all its own.King and queen.

Monster's Ball Review


Unbearable
Strangeways, here we come: Marc Forster represents jungle fever in some mighty odd ways throughout Monster's Ball. Racist Georgia slammer prison guard Billy Bob Thornton frequents his favorite late-night diner after days spent monitoring death row. He orders coffee -- black! And a side order of chocolate ice cream. By the time he sizes up ghetto waitress Halle Berry, you can tell by his hungry eyes (and hungry heart) that he'd love to sink his teeth into a big ol' slice of chocolate cheesecake.

His choco-licious cravings would make for comic gold if Forster were aiming for dark comedy. It really ain't much different from the classic line in Airplane! when that precocious little girl quips, "I like my coffee black, like my men!" But Forster chooses to play it straight and solemn, a hopelessly limiting choice. Without benefit of slapstick satire, Forster's glib presentation of interracial skin's allure feels ignorant and borderline offensive. The only thing missing is Halle Berry biting down on a vanilla wafer -- though she does beat her fat son for scarfing down chocolate bars ("I'll slap the black off of you!").

Continue reading: Monster's Ball Review

Birth Review


Terrible
Jonathan Glazer's stylish debut Sexy Beast stood out for the uncharacteristically explosive and vicious performance the director coaxed out of stately Ben Kingsley. Evidence of any such energy all but escapes Birth, Glazer's anticipated follow-up to his kinetic gangster picture. A plodding and pretentious thriller, this beyond-the-grave affair ends up being too art-house for the mainstream crowd and too mainstream for the art-house crowd. Loosely translated, that means it doesn't work for anyone.

Birth hangs its hat on a delicate premise that demands kid gloves if it seriously hopes to sustain the already shaky credibility. An elegant transition of life forces starts the film. Physician Sean dies while jogging. Simultaneously, a baby is born. Fast forward 10 years, where a cave-eyed child coincidentally named Sean (Cameron Bright) claims to Upper West Side basket case Anna (Nicole Kidman) that he is her reincarnated ex-husband. Anna's humorless fiancée (Danny Huston) scoffs at the idea. Her mother (a neglected Lauren Bacall) displays indifference. ("I never liked Sean, anyway," she articulates.) But Anna's not so quick to write the boy off.

Continue reading: Birth Review

Birth Review


OK

"Birth" opens with a scene of surprising emotional magnitude that is driven entirely by its score. Instantly and viscerally evocative, the elaborate orchestration -- which plays over a long tracking shot following an anonymous jogger through Central Park during a beautifully moody snowfall -- is a curious, captivating combination of flute, triangle, French horn and (quite startlingly) tympani that has an uplift and an ominousness at the same time.

This gripping music, by the brilliant Alexandre Desplat ("Girl With a Pearl Earring"), does all the work in this scene until the man -- seemingly young and healthy from behind, which is all we see of him -- pauses suddenly, then collapses under a bridge.

The next scene takes place 10 years later. The jogger's widow, Anna (played by a serious, sophisticated, melancholy, unabashedly pushing-40 yet intriguingly elfin Nicole Kidman) is about to get married again, to Joseph (subtle, pensive Danny Huston), a man who is really more a hopelessly devoted dear friend than he is a lover. Soon after their engagement party, a somber 10-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) sneaks into their grand Park Avenue apartment and refuses to leave. "You're my wife," he tells Kidman. "It's me -- Sean."

Continue reading: Birth Review

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