Willi Baer

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The Contender Review


Terrible
A day after The West Wing ruled the Emmy Awards, Rod Lurie's White House drama The Contender screened at the Boston Film Festival. With that kind of timing, comparisons are unavoidable. So with The Contender boasting an intriguing storyline (woman nominated for the Vice Presidency) and a top-line cast, how is it that I was pining for Martin Sheen by movie's end? I blame Lurie, for what I believe to be a true dud of the fall season.

Lurie is an L.A. film critic-turned-filmmaker who made his debut with last year's virtually unseen Deterrence, with Kevin Pollak as the President. Lurie's back to politics again, and this time it's Jeff Bridges as Commander-In-Chief, and he'd like to appoint Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen, in a role written especially for her) to the VP vacancy. Not so easy. The Senator has enemies, like Gary Oldman's Congressman Sheldon Runyon. His team digs up dirty pictures from Hanson's youth, and all hell breaks loose for the Senator.

Continue reading: The Contender Review

City Of Ghosts Review


Good
Lest you think all actors are suddenly turning into directors, (as in George Clooney's 2002 Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) let me point out that it's not a new phenomenon (Kenneth Branagh's 1989 Dead Again). So, there's nothing extraordinary about Matt Dillon directing (and co-writing and acting in) City of Ghosts. And what he's turned in here for his theatrical film debut is a rather atmospheric journey set within the corrupt, decrepit precincts of Cambodia with plenty of opportunities for tension and intrigue.

The question is whether he developed his story to take full advantage of the setting for Asian mystery (this is the first film shot entirely in Cambodia since 1964) and the cutthroat characters that people it -- at least in fiction. Unfortunately, writer-director Dillon evokes the color and the mystery without quite managing to create gut-gripping drama. The flaw is in the content.

Continue reading: City Of Ghosts Review

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