Todd Wagner

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Serena Review


Gorgeously shot, this period drama has a terrific setting and vivid characters, but is edited together in a jarring way that distances the audience from the situations. As the story progresses, the film also shifts strangely from a riveting exploration of a power couple with a pioneering spirit to a more melodramatic thriller about corruption and murder. It's consistently engaging thanks to the power of the cast, but it should have also been darkly moving as well.

The story is set in the late 1920s, as lumber baron George (Bradley Cooper) struggles under the economic pressures of the impending Great Depression. Then he meets Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) and it's love at first sight. A feisty, outspoken woman with a background in logging, she immediately ruffles feathers in George's camp by giving out advice that's actually helpful. George's two righthand men, accountant Buchanan (David Dencik) and foreman Campbell (Sean Harris), both quietly wonder if this woman is going to mess up their all-male world of underhanded bribes and physical danger. But she develops a rapport with George's hunting tracker Galloway (Rhys Ifans). Meanwhile, the local sheriff (Toby Jones) is trying to get George's land declared protected national parkland.

Oscar-winning Danish director Susanne Bier (In a Better World) gives the film a grand scale with expansive mountain landscapes and a sweeping romantic tone. The Western-style bustle of the logging camp is lively and authentic, as is the continual threat of death or dismemberment on the job. Against this, Cooper and Lawrence have terrific chemistry both with each other and the characters around them, sharply portrayed by strong actors who know how to invest plenty of attitude into even a small role.

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Deadfall Review


With a focus on messy family relationships, this thriller's deranged comical touches almost make up for its contrived plot and annoyingly thin characters. Director Ruzowitzky (an Oscar winner for The Counterfeiters) makes the most of the snowy landscapes and an eclectic cast, but the jarring combination of grisly violence, black humour, romance and drama never quite comes together.

In a northern Michigan blizzard, Addison (Bana) is on the run with his sister Liza (Wilde) after a casino heist. When their car crashes in the snow, they decide to head for the Canadian border separately. Liza is picked up off the road by Jay (Hunnam), a hunky ex-con boxer who's stopping to see his parents his parents (Spacek and Kristofferson) while running from the cops himself. Addison encounters a variety of local characters himself as he tries to catch up with Liza. And the local sheriff (Williams) relentlessly picks on deputy Hanna (Mara), his daughter, as they track the fugitives through the snow.

Every relationship in this film is deeply dysfunctional, and the actors have a great time playing with the soapy wrinkles. Bana and Wilde play up the creepy innuendo between the siblings, while the contrived romance between Wilde and Hunnam is like the set-up for a porn movie. Meanwhile, Mara's ambitious cop is so belittled by her awful dad and his equally sexist deputies that we don't really mind it when they start dying one by one in their encounters with Addison. And holding everything together is the wonderfully level-headed Spacek, who carries on cooking dinner while her husband goes out to shoot a deer, then cheerfully serves pie even with a shotgun levelled at her head.

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Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie Trailer

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are given one billion dollars to make a movie by the Schlaaang Corporation. Instead, the pair spend nearly all of the money and use what little they have remaining to make a three minute movie, which turns out to be a disappointment.

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The Girlfriend Experience Review

Soderbergh is in experimental mode with this fractured relationship drama. It's packed with clever touches and sharp observations, but is too dry and repetitive to make us care about the characters.

Chelsea (Grey) is a high-priced call girl in New York, quietly going about her job while her boyfriend Chris (Santos) works as a trainer in an upscale gym.

Both are obsessed with growing their businesses, which causes problems in their otherwise warm, relaxed relationship. This quest for money is also omnipresent in their wealthy clients, and everyone is nervous about the economic slump and imminent 2008 US presidential election. And for Chelsea and Chris, things come to a head when Chelsea starts to fall for a client (Levien).

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The Girlfriend Experience Review

As modern American directors go, few are as stylistically quicksilver and urgent as Steven Soderbergh. With the notable exception of his Ocean's trilogy, the director has never fully embraced any one particular style, though he continues to choose subject matter and film vernacular of the most ambitious order. Following his towering four-hour anti-biopic Che, Soderbergh returns now, little less than six months gone, with The Girlfriend Experience, a hyper-indie that casts the dilapidated economy and wavering faith in capitalism through the designer shades of a Manhattan escort.

As plot goes, there isn't very much to speak of. Chelsea (adult film raven Sasha Grey) visits a few johns, hangs out with her personal-trainer boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos), talks to a reporter, and does lunch with a fellow escort. Despite lack of a structure, Soderbergh and screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien do allow for a few salient situations, including a visit with escort critic The Erotic Connoisseur (played by erstwhile Premiere film critic Glenn Kenney) and a botched rendezvous with a client upstate. The focus, however, is on Chelsea herself.

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Redacted Review

Brian De Palma is some cool customer. His camera can linger longingly on a beautiful woman's torso or a bloody, severed corpse, and in the mechanical gaze of his camera, he can feel no pain. In De Palma's heyday, a De Palma film could induce spirited fistfights and high-flying brickbats among film folks -- was De Palma a brilliant creative genius or a stylish rip off artist? This reviewer was ensconced in the later camp, finding De Palma's mannered depictions of sex and violence and his "homages" to other directors (particularly Hitchcock) particularly cringe inducing. His films were loaded with elegantly staged set pieces duplicating scenes from great films of the past, only devoid of any depth or meaning (take a peek at Obsession), and larded with peek-a-boo sexploitation and exploitative acts of random violence. As the years wore on, De Palma's voyeurism curdled into the diseased sex and violence romps of Femme Fatale and The Black Dahlia. Now with Redacted, shot on HD video with a cast of unknowns, De Palma proves you can't keep a good sadist down. Paring away his stylistic crutches, glorifying in an unmediated roughness, De Palma mines an atrocity committed by American soldiers in Iraq as grist for another hat trick of cynical exploitation.

Based upon the 2006 rape of a 15-year-old girl and the murder of her family by a group of American troops in Mahmoudiya in Iraq, the film bears more than a passing resemblance to Casualties of War, his exploitative examination of a similar incident during the Vietnam War. In fact, it is Casualties of War.

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AFI's 40th Anniversary Celebration At The ArcLight Theaters - Arrivals

Mellody Hobson and AFI - Mellody Hobson and George Lucas Wednesday 3rd October 2007 at Arclight Theater Los Angeles, California

Angela Lansbury and Afi
Tippi Hedren and Afi
Kirk Douglas and Afi
Warren Beatty and Afi

The Ex Review

Jesse Peretz's stitched-together comedy The Ex casts funny actors and provides funny scenarios but rarely matches talent to task. The movie, penned by David Guion and Michael Handelman, trades a traceable story arc for a series of maniacal sketches that can be crudely amusing -- as when a non-paralyzed man tried to impress his handicapped co-worker by joining him in a wheelchair basketball game -- but lend nothing to the movie as a whole. Thankfully, the film's bouncy pace means missed jokes spring to safety instead of stopping the momentum with a thud.

New parents Tom (Zach Braff) and Sophia (Amanda Peet) are proverbially chewed up by New York City and spit out to Ohio where perennial job hopper Tom takes a position at his father-in-law's ad agency. While Sophia copes with being a stay-at-home mom, Tom finds friendly -- then fierce -- office competition with Chip (Jason Bateman), an account executive and former flame of Sophia's who earns sympathy from the world because he is confined to a wheelchair.

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The Architect Review

Just what it is about architects that fascinates filmmakers so? Is it the metaphorical possibilities of the job, where one man has the ability to create new buildings -- and thus the potential for new lives, new communities -- out of thin air? Do filmmakers see themselves as a kind of architect, constructing with mathematical precision new realities out of nothing more than light and sound? Or is it simply the fact that having their main character be an architect allows them to have a protagonist who believably lives in a gorgeous home, has plenty of money and time on his hands, but is also a creative thinker? Advertising types are also popular for the same reason.

Whatever the case may be, Matt Tauber's The Architect is a promising but fundamentally flawed effort to use architecture as a metaphor for larger realities; in this case, the yawning chasm between one wealthy and white Chicago family (that of the architect's, natch) and a black South Side community living in a falling-down housing project designed by the architect. Leo Waters (Anthony LaPaglia, playing it gruff but a bit cooler than his usual hot-head persona) is the man of the title, living in pristine wealthy isolation with his bored and resentful children Christina (Hayden Panettiere) and Martin (Sebastian Stan) and his desperately unhappy wife Julia (Isabella Rossellini). While Leo tries to keep his family from imploding around him -- Julia practically wishes him dead, Martin despises him only slightly less, and Christina is a 15-year-old budding painfully and rebelliously on the verge of womanhood -- a mother in the project he designed, Tonya Neely (Viola Davis), is circulating a petition among her neighbors to have the place torn down. When Tonya comes to confront Leo about it in a university class he teaches, not surprisingly, the architect refuses to admit that the problems in the project, whether it's the hopelessness or violence, has anything to do with his design. It's the implementation or people, he insists from his ivory tower.

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Good Night, And Good Luck Review

One doesn't need much more of a reason to go to the movies than this: Edward R. Murrow taking on Senator Joe McCarthy (at the height of his power), crisp black-and-white cinematography, the clink of ice cubes over scotch, voluptuous clouds of cigarette smoke hanging in the air, a nation's conscience dangling in the balance. So it is with George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck, a film where the mood - just shy of too cool for its own good - sets the scene for Murrow, the patron saint of journalism, to cajole and castigate the audience in a time of complacency. It also has a great jazz soundtrack.

The story of the witch-hunt has endlessly retold, usually laden with the same self-satisfied 20/20 hindsight that afflicts stories of the civil rights movement, and fortunately Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov see no need to go through it all again. With admirable precision, they've sliced away most all the accoutrements often used to open up the era for the modern viewer, ala Quiz Show. This is a film that takes place almost entirely inside a CBS studio and newsroom, with occasional trips to hallways, elevators, and a network executive's wood-paneled office. Once, they all go out to a bar. It's best in the studio, because that's where we find Murrow - incarnated with almost indecent accuracy by David Strathairn - looking and sounding like as though Rod Serling had decided to rejoin the human race, his manner clipped and astringent, cigarette cocked in one hand like a talisman warding off evil.

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