Monday, February 22, 2010

THE WHITE RIBBON (DAS WEISSE BAND) (2009)

Written & Directed by Michael Haneke



Where & When: Laemmle Pasadena Playhouse 7, Pasadena, CA. February 5, 2010 1:20PM




Michael Haneke, the controversial Austrian filmmaker of such acclaimed and provocative films such as "The Piano Teacher" (2002), "Cache" (2005) and the brutal and ugly American remake of his own original German film, "Funny Games" (2008) has made a haunting and beautiful film that has been selected as one of the five films competing for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Academy Awards.


"The White Ribbon" is set in a small village in Germany. The school teacher of the town, who is now an old man is recalling the strange series of events that occurred there shortly before the beginning of World War I. It begins one day as a doctor is returning home on a horse, when they come across a thin, invisible wire tied between two trees. It causes them to have a terrible fall which breaks the horse's leg and the doctor's collar bone. Later, when the police are investigating, just as mysteriously as it first appeared, they find that the wire has disappeared and no one saw anyone remove it.

The town's midwife helps to take care of the doctor's children as well as her own son who has Down's syndrome. She and the doctor are discretely having an affair which began shortly after his wife passed away. She senses that he is drifting away from her but she will settle for whatever he is willing to give her.

A farmer's wife falls to her death at the sawmill when rotting wood gives way. The farmer's son blames the Baron, who owns the mill, for his mother's death and destroys his cabbage field as revenge. The farmer, still grieving, is humiliated by his son's actions and fears he will lose his job because of it. The Baron employs most of the people in the village. The farmer knows that there are no other employment opportunities for him or his son and this will cause an extreme hardship for the rest of the family. The farmer commits a desperate act which devastates his family.

A few days later, the Baron's young son vanishes and the entire village searches for him. He is later found that day, still alive but bound to a tree and severely beaten. Later, the barn at the Baron's manor burns down. People are questioned but there are no clues to who may have done these acts.

The school teacher is attracted to the nanny of the Baron's son. She is dismissed from her job because the Baron's wife feels that her son would never have been hurt if she had been properly watching him. The nanny is distraught and ashamed to go back to her family. The teacher offers to take her back home and help her explain what happened. He offers to marry the girl but her father tells the teacher to wait a year because he feels she is too young to be married.

The pastor is very strict man and he demands that his family obey and follow his rules, no matter how small or petty. When his two children come home late for dinner, he decides that no one in the family will get to eat because everyone was so worried that they no longer have an appetite. He then forces the two to wear a white ribbon tied to their arms to remind them of the innocence and purity from which he feels they have strayed from.

The midwife's son is beaten and almost blinded. Later, she comes to the school teacher in a panic, needing to borrow his bicycle and go to the police. She says she knows who harmed her son and must report it. The midwife never returns and her son has vanished.

The school teacher has come to a growing conclusion of who the people are that are somehow responsible for some of the mysterious events and actually terrifying the people of this village. In the present day, he considers whether these events are connected to the atrocities that later occurred in Germany in the the next World War. Had the ideas that you should shun those with different beliefs, dominate those that are weaker and that violence will solve all conflict been instilled in the children and put to the test when they became adults? It is a fascinating idea but it is told in a way that leaves open other possibilities.

This film, actually shot in color but transferred into glorious black and white, was shot by Christian Berger, which is the film's other well deserved Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. He creates unusual shots that helps adds to the eerie mood and the bleak atmosphere. The cast, made up of mostly unprofessional actors, are quite exceptional. Mr. Haneke has made another thought provoking but dark and disturbing film which is his trademark but this time the film is a little easier for a general audience to take in and appreciate. "The Whire Ribbon" is a masterful work that will challenge you and I think is one of Mr. Haneke's finest films to date.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

VALENTINE'S DAY (2010)

Written by Katherine Fugate



Directed by Garry Marshall



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. February 20, 2010 5:05PM



You will be razzle-dazzled by all of the Hollywood star wattage this film has to offer and to be honest, it is quite an impressive cast but they are all wasted in this lazy and lackluster romantic comedy. Mr. Marshall is very fortunate that he was able to use either his friendship or professional relationships with these actors to get them all on board because if any of them had read the script first, they would have all ran the other way.

This film is made up of several different story lines that are tied together by one (or more) of the characters having some sort of relationship with another character in each story.

It is Valentine's day and we first meet Reed (Ashton Kutcher) who proposes to his girlfriend, Morley (Jessica Alba) one beautiful Los Angeles morning and she accepts. Reed tells his co-worker at a florist shop (George Lopez) and his good friend, Julia, (Jennifer Garner) a school teacher who are less than excited by the news but are happy for him.

Julia has found love with a doctor (Patrick Dempsey) but he is unable to spend the day with her because he has to go off on a business trip in San Francisco. It's okay because she normally spends the day with her friend, Kara, (Jessica Biel) a sports publicist who has her annual "I Hate Valentine's Day" party. Reed talks her into flying up north to surprise the doctor but he later just happens to meet the doctor at the shop. He finds out that the doctor is sending flowers to Julia as well as the wife he is supposed to be separated from. Reed now has to stop her from going.
Kara represents Sean Jackson, (Eric Dane) a football player who is contemplating retiring so he can try and have a normal life. His agent, Paula (Queen Latifah) has a new receptionist, Liz (Anne Hathaway) who just started dating Jason, (Topher Grace) who just happens to work in the mail room in the office. Jason doesn't know this but Liz moonlights as a phone sex worker and she takes calls at all hours of the day including while on the job.
Television sports reporter, Kelvin Moore (Jamie Foxx) has been sent out by his producer (Kathy Bates) to do a story on Valentine's day. He's not at all interested but he doesn't have a choice in the matter. While going around interviewing people including two young teenagers in love, (Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner) he hears that Sean Jackson is going to make an announcement at a press conference. Kelvin knows this could be a big story for him so he goes to Kara's office to see if he can get some info from her. When he gets there, he finds her wallowing in self-pity and chocolates because of her lack of a man on Valentine's day. Despite this, sparks fly between these two but they have to get back to work.
Edgar (Hector Elizondo) and Estelle (Shirley MacLaine) have been been married for many years but she has kept a secret from him that threatens their future together. The couple are watching their grandson while his mother is away. His baby sitter (Emma Roberts) is planning to have sex with her boyfriend because they are each going away to college at different schools and they want to do something to remember each other by.
Finally on an airplane, Kate, (Julia Roberts) a captain in the U.S. Army is on a one day leave and she is sitting next to Holden, (Bradley Cooper) both on their way to L.A. In a not completely surprising little twist, they each tie together two of the other story lines.
What I liked the most about this film is that the cast was multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, exactly the way Los Angeles really is. You don't see it too often in films and it was really refreshing to see.
This film is so busy trying to cram all of these story lines in to a two hour film that everything is overly simplified, littered with cheap and unimaginative laughs and way too many implausible plot coincidences which doesn't help to make a good romantic comedy.
All of the actors do they best they can with what little they have to work with. Ms Swift's character was particularly irritating to me but she did do a good job at portraying a modern teenage girl; They talk a mile a minute but aren't actually saying anything.
"Valentine's Day" is corny and very predictable but it did have a few sweet moments but certainly not enough to keep this interesting. The film is exactly like how Los Angeles has been described by many people I know (who don't live here, of course): shiny and beautiful on the outside but shallow and empty on the inside.

Monday, February 15, 2010

CHLOE

"Nathalie" is a 2004 French film starring Fanny Ardant, Gerard Depardieu and Emmanuelle Beart. I saw this film on cable television last year only because Dean was channel surfing and discovered it. It is directed by Anne Fontaine, who made last year's "Coco Before Chanel". It's a psychological thriller and I really liked this film.

Here is the trailer of the original film:




It has now been renamed, remade, and set in Canada by Atom Egoyan, the director of "The Sweet Hereafter" (1997) and will star Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried and the amazing Julianne Moore.

I really not crazy about foreign language films being remade in to English language because something always manages to get lost in translation, normally everything that made the original film good but "Chloe" looks like it could possibly be interesting.

The film should be released in the U.S. on March 26. 2010.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

FISH TANK (2010)

Written & Directed by Andrea Arnold



Where & When: Laemmle Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA. February 7, 2010 1:00PM


Katie Jarvis plays Mia Williams, an angry and frustrated fifteen year old British girl who lashes out, sometimes violently, to anyone who she feels gets in her way. She just wants to be left alone. She lives in a cheap and depressing housing complex in Essex, England with her mother and younger sister. She realizes that living here could be a dead end for her if she doesn't do something to try and escape.

Her plan to escape from her miserable surroundings is hip-hop styled dancing which she hopes to use to help her start a new life but she seems to have more passion than talent.

Mia's mother, Joanne (Kierston Wareing), still a young woman, has been reduced to a selfish, puffy and disheveled drunk. She resents having to raise children she has no real interest in doing and her daughters are very aware of this. Mia's eleven year old sister, Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths) is already showing signs, like drinking and smoking (and the boys won't be far behind), that she is destined to repeat her mother's mistakes in life.

It is quite apparent that Mia and her sister have different fathers who left them behind a long time ago but Joanne is still in search of a new man to make her feel beautiful and complete and she refuses to let her children interfere with that.

Joanne brings home her latest beau, Connor (Michael Fassbender) who is kind, charming and sexy. Mia resists his attempts to befriend her, partially because she knows he probably won't be around long and she doesn't know how to respond to a real paternal figure but she also find herself attracted to him.

Connor's presence changes things for the family and he exposes them to simple things that bring them closer together like going for a drive together or having a picnic in the country. Mia sees an ad that states that they are looking for dancers but she is unsure if she should apply. Connor encouages Mia to try out for the contest and even let's her borrow his video camera to film her audition. Connor, however, has not been completely honest with them and is keeping a secret which causes a change in his relationship with Mia and forces her to commit an act of revenge that is unforgivable.

Ms Jarvis has not had any previous acting experience but she gives a natural and powerful performance. She shows us all of Mia's rage and pain but she also displays her brief moments of happiness, dancing alone and trying to express herself the only way she knows how.

This is Ms Arnold's second feature length film, following "Red Road" (2006) which won her a jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival and "Fish Tank" won that same award at last year's festival. This is a touching, honest and fascinating film that takes us in to the lives of people who feel isolated and are trapped by the cycle of poverty and the lack of education . They are able to see that there is a possibility for more out there but cannot seem to find a way to get there but if there is a glimmer of hope, they will keep trying to make it out.

Friday, February 5, 2010

DAYBREAKERS (2010)

Written & Directed by Peter & Michael Spierig



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. February 1, 2010 8:35PM



In the sci-fi horror film, "Daybreakers", the world has been taken over by vampires. The problem is that their food source, which is human blood, is now becoming very scarce. When vampires are deprived of blood for long period of time, they slowly morph into bat winged creatures and become psychotic and dangerous. Vampires call them "sub-siders" because the live in the darkness underneath the subways.

The few humans that are left are being farmed out for their blood in a controlled environment. Bromley-Marks pharmaceutical company is the chief supplier in America which is run by Charles Bromley (Sam Neill). His supply is running low and he is desperate to come up with a synthetic blood substitute. He has his top hematologist, Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) working on the project. Edward is privately a human rights advocate and is against the poor treatment of them. He has stopped consuming blood himself and would rather come up with a cure for vampirism.

They experiment with a potential new blood on a vampire and let's just say, it doesn't go very well. After leaving work, Edward is driving home when he gets distracted and accidentally runs a car off the road. He goes over to check on the occupants and inside is a group of humans who are in defense mode, armed with arrows. He tells them he wants to help them but of course, they are skeptical. The police are on the way to the accident and Edward tells the humans to hide in his car. He tells the police that they humans ran off in another direction.

The leader of the group, Audrey (Claudia Karvan) decides to trust Edward and takes him to their hidden sanctuary. She introduces him to Elvis (Willem Dafoe). Elvis has been cured of his vampirisim. He was in an automobile accident which threw him out of the car. It caused him to be exposed to sunlight and then was submerged into water and that combination somehow changed him back into a human. Edward wants to conduct an experiment on himself to try to duplicate what happened to Elvis and if it's succeeds, it will be the key to saving the human race. However, Mr. Bromley is uninterested in a cure and has found a successful blood substitute and wants to mass market the product and will do whatever he has to to stop Edward and the humans.

The film oozes plenty of blood and gore, which really shouldn't surprise anyone considering this is a film about vampires but it is done in a stylized and an in-your-face kind of way. The visual effects are actually well done for what is essentially a low budgeted horror flick.

Mr. Hawke does his usual slacker dude act which is not exactly the right fit for his character who is supposed to be a scientist but it isn't too much of a distraction. I don't mind the actor although I really don't get his appeal as a Hollywood leading man. The reliable Mr. Dafoe seems to be having a good time in his role and knows exactly what kind of movie he's in.

I don't know much about the Spierig Brothers except that they are Australian film makers but they managed to do a lot with very little and have done an impressive job. The script is pretty solid and remains consistent without cheating the audience with any implausible plot twists. "Daybreakers" doesn't pretend to be more than what it is, which is a fun B movie. If you are tired of vampires being romantic lovers instead wanting to make a meal out of humans, you should check this film out.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

AND THE OSCAR NOMINEES ARE. . .

I have a confession to make--I am a hardcore Oscar junkie. I love everything about the Oscars. In fact, I was up at 5:37 AM to watch the nominations. As I have done for years, I called my fellow Oscar junkie, Shawn and we watched the announcement together and discussed it afterwards. I know it sounds a little nutty but I've loved the show since I was a little boy.

I grew up in the mid-west, so the show didn't start until 9:00 PM and I remember having to beg and plead with my mother to allow me to stay up past my bed time to see the end of the show, which sometimes pushed close to midnight but I always managed to see the winner for Best Picture.

This is the first year where the Academy has revived ten nominees for Best Picture since the last time it was done in 1943. I was skeptical of the idea because I really didn't see the point. There was still only going to be one winner and all it was going to do was add five more films that walked away Oscar-less. I now see that it is a way to honor more films of excellence and bring attention to these movies. I thought the selections were well chosen and diverse although I not a big fan of a couple of the films.

There were really no surprises in any of the major categories as they virtually mirrored the nominations of the SAG, DGA and Golden Globes although I was happy to see Maggie Gyllenhaal receive a well deserved nomination for her great performance in "Crazy Heart". I was scratching my head over Penelope Cruz's nomination for "Nine" in the same category. No disrespect to Ms Cruz, who I love but I think Julianne Moore in "A Single Man" was much more deserving and was robbed. Speaking of "A Single Man", I was disappointed that it wasn't awarded any other nominations beyond Colin Firth's amazing performance.

The show is on March 7th. Here is the complete list of the 2010 Academy Award nominations:

Best Picture:

“Avatar”
“The Blind Side”
“District 9”
“An Education”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
“A Serious Man”
“Up”
“Up in the Air”

Best Director:

James Cameron, "Avatar"
Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker'
Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"
Lee Daniels, "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire"
Jason Reitman, "Up In The Air"

Best Original Screenplay:

Mark Boal, "the Hurt Locker"
Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"
Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman, "The Messenger"
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, "A Serious Man"
Bob Peterson & Pete Docter, (Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson and Tom McCarthy), "Up"

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, "District 9"
Nick Hornby, "An Education"
Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche, "In The Loop"
Geoffrey Fletcher, "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire"
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, "Up In The Air"

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia"
Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"
Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious"
Carey Mulligan, "An Education"

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"
Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
George Clooney, "Up in the Air"
Colin Firth, "A Single Man"
Jeremy Renner, "The Hurt Locker"

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

Mo'Nique, "Precious"
Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air"
Penélope Cruz, "Nine"
Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air"
Maggie Gyllenhaal, :Crazy Heart"

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"
Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"
Matt Damon, "Invictus"
Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"
Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger"

Best Cinematography:

Mauro Fiore, "Avatar"
Bruno Delbonnel, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
Barry Ackroyd, "The Hurt Locker"
Robert Richardson, "Inglourious Basterds"
Christian Berger, "The White Ribbon"

Best Film Editing:

Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron, "Avatar"
Julian Clarke, "District 9"
Bob Murawski and Chris Innis, "The Hurt Locker"
Sally Menke, "Inglourious Basterds"
Joe Klotz, "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire"

Best Animated Feature Film:

"Up"
"The Princess and the Frog"
"Coraline"
"Fantastic Mr Fox"
"The Secret of Kells"

Best Animated Short Film:

“French Roast”
“Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty”
“The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)”
“Logorama”
“A Matter of Loaf and Death”

Best Foreign Language Film:

"Ajami" (Israel)
"A Prophet" (France)
"The Secret of Her Eyes" (Argentina)
"The White Ribbon" (Germany)
"The Milk of Sorrow" (Peru)

Best Documentary Feature:

“Burma VJ”
“The Cove”
“Food, Inc.”
“The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”
“Which Way Home”

Best Documentary Short Subject:

“China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province”
“The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner”
“The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant”
“Music by Prudence”
“Rabbit à la Berlin”

Best Live Action Short Film:

“The Door”
“Instead of Abracadabra”
“Kavi”
“Miracle Fish”
“The New Tenants”

Best Original Score:

James Horner, "Avatar"
Alexandre Desplat, "Fantastic Mr. Fox"
Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, "the Hurt Locker"
Hans Zimmer, "Sherlock Holmes"
Michael Giacchino, "Up"

Best Original Song:

“Almost There” from “The Princess and the Frog”, Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
“Down in New Orleans” from “The Princess and the Frog”, Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
“Loin de Paname” from “Paris 36”, Music by Reinhardt Wagner, Lyric by Frank Thomas
“Take It All” from “Nine”, Music and Lyric by Maury Yeston
“The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” from “Crazy Heart”, Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

Best Art Direction:

“Avatar” (Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair)
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” (Art Direction: Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro; Set Decoration: Caroline Smith)
“Nine” (Art Direction: John Myhre; Set Decoration: Gordon Sim)
“Sherlock Holmes” (Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer)
“The Young Victoria” (Art Direction: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Maggie Gray)

Best Costume Design:

Janet Patterson, "Bright Star"
Catherine Leterrier, "Coco Before Chanel"
Monique Prudhomme, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus"
Colleen Atwood, "Nine"
Sandy Powell, "The Young Victoria"

Best Makeup:

Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano, "Il Divo"
Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow, "Star Trek"
Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircore, "The Young Victoria"

Best Sound Editing:

Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, "Avatar"
Paul N.J. Ottosson, "The Hurt Locker"
Wylie Stateman, "Inglourious Basterds"
Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin, "Star Trek"

Best Sound Mixing:

Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson, "Avatar"
Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett, "the Hurt Locker"
Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano, "Inglourious Basterds"
Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J. Devlin, "Star Trek"
Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"

Best Visual Effects:

Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones, "Avatar"
Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros and Matt Aitken, "District 9"
“Star Trek” Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh and Burt Dalton, "Star Trek"
Michael Silvers and Tom Myers, "Up"