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Rated R | 127 mins


     Leave it to Tony Scott to disregard all realistic expectations for sophistication, artistry, and morality, and in the process make something completely sophisticated, artful, and moral—in its own demented sort of way. Domino is “based on [the] true story…sort of” of Domino Harvey—as the film’s opening credits inform us—the female-bounty-hunter daughter of The Manchurian Candidate’s Laurence Harvey. Throughout the duration, Scott throws around random subtitles on various parts of the screen, plays with totally unnecessary lighting-techniques, and directs his cast to a point of compulsive obscurity. Not once does he even stop to think about the way in which his movie will be received by audiences. Why? Because he could give a shit. Domino was made in the spirit of genuine energy and hilarity, fast and funny as hell in just about every way one could imagine or—scratch that—not imagine. Keira Knightley—as protagonist Domino herself—throws around numchucks, finds sawed off arms with the codes to safes on them, and discovers in reverse-motion that people “haven’t really” been buried alive. The entire movie represents what Quentin Tarantino would’ve done had he made films as a teenager; it’s mad about pop culture, totally violent, and über-pointless, but that’s the fun of it all. Not to mention, as if his vision wasn’t already mad enough, Scott dares to include the ingenious Christopher Walken in the mix as a TV-producer who decides to make a reality-show following Domino around while bounty-hunting. It may be true that Domino is a mess, but it’s one heck of a thrilling one, never more overbearing than it is entertaining.


Hustle & Flow



Rated R | 116 mins


     Watch the first scene in Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow, a monologue by the now seemingly unstoppable Terrence Howard, and tell me that the actor isn’t a star. I had noticed Howard in previous movies—he was terrific in everything from the important Crash to the fun-and-games Big Momma’s House—but not ever like I did in this movie. He portrays his character, DJay, a Memphis Pimp who recognizes his dream to become a rapper, in a way that completely defies the concept of acting itself. Howard takes to the coldness of his character’s immoral business but never ceases to realize his potential to overcome it and his rough surroundings. In fact, as a testament to the power of his work, I would rank a scene in which DJay and his crew, formed by Anthony Anderson’s Key and D.J. Qualls’ Shelby, compose their first song, “Whoop That Trick”, as one of the best of the year. As Shelby frantically hits buttons on his mixing-board to allow the bass and high-hat of the song to kick in and Key sits back and realizes a star in the making, DJay begins to read the rhyme that he has written on a pad of paper, and we, the audience, become lost in the moment. The core of Howard’s performance, encompassed by the music, is unleashed, expressing simultaneously both his character’s angst and exuberance. Even when the movie falls for conventional ghetto-life-exploitation (this is a John Singleton Production, after all), and indulges too much in scenes featuring rap-star Skinny Black, Howard’s performance remains consistently amazing. Without him, Hustle & Flow may have come across as trite and clichéd—perhaps if one was to read Brewer’s script on paper, it would seem this way—but, as a finished product, it is a fully alive and noteworthy achievement in filmmaking. With any luck, Howard will be nominated for an Oscar.


Memoirs of a Geisha



Rated PG-13 | 145 mins


     I have the sneaking suspicion that, if one was to turn off the dialogue-track on Memoirs of a Geisha, they might actually assume it to be a great movie. Everything technical about the film is rather astonishing, from John Williams’ score to Patrick M. Sullivan Jr. and Tomas Voth’s art-direction to Colleen Atwood’s costume-design. Even the main performances by Zhang Ziyi, Li Gong, and Ken Watanabe are exceptional, given the material. However, aside from its striking face-value, Memoirs of a Geisha has nothing to offer; it’s emotionally and thematically inept. Robin Swicord has adapted Arthur Golden’s famous novel of the same name without any sense of poignancy. As a viewer, I didn’t care about a single one of the characters, despite all of them being convincingly portrayed by the cast. Not to mention, Rob Marshall, who helmed the outstanding Chicago, feels totally disoriented in his direction; Memoirs of a Geisha’s pacing and structure are “off”, to say the least. Steven Spielberg was originally slated to fill Marshall’s shoes, and I would be willing to bet that he took one look at Swicord’s screenplay and realized just how clunky a movie it would lend to the creation of, regardless of the talent of its director. Unfortunately, not all of the big names surrounding the production realized this. Then again, Memoirs of a Geisha would be absolutely lost without them: only their reputations separate it from the rest of the trash pumped out of Hollywood nowadays.


Goodnight and Good Luck



Rated PG | 93 mins


    All good social commentary needs historical relevance, but writer/director/actor George Clooney takes this concept to extreme measures in Goodnight and Good Luck, his unashamed attack on conservatism. Using the verbal battle between CBS newscaster Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCartney, which occurred as a result of the latter figure’s famous 1950’s Communist “Witch Hunts”, as his premise, Clooney blatantly imposes his own political views on otherwise fascinating material. Whether it was his conscious effort to try to draw a superfluous parallel between the disastrous McCarthy and modern-day conservatives, I dunno, but the mere implication distracts the central focus of the film to a beyond-detrimental extent. And that’s really a shame, too, considering the fact that Goodnight and Good Luck actually has quite a lot going for it. Creamy black-and-white cinematography that seamlessly blends in with actual archival footage of McCarthy (which makes a performance for his character unnecessary); brilliant, Oscar-worthy acting by David Strathairn in the lead role; and thought-provoking themes regarding honesty in journalism are merely some of its many redeeming qualities. And, in the end, it’s safe to say that while movie may not be able to overcome its own central absurdities, it manages to conjure up enough interest to make it worth seeing.


North Country



Rated R | 126 mins


     I’m still convinced that much of the reason why Charlize Theron pulled off her Academy-Award-winning turn as Monster’s Aileen Wuornos as remarkably as she did was because she had hair, makeup, and weight on her side. However, North Country makes a compelling argument against this case. In her second “serious” role, Theron is completely believable as Josey Aimes, a female coal-miner who leads the first class-action sexual-harassment suit in history against her morally-despicable male-co-workers. The performance offers solid proof that she may just have the acting-chops to become Hollywood’s next great actress, if she’s not there already. Theron is so empathetic in North Country that the fact that director Niki Caro and screenwriter Michael Seitzman have, in actuality, crafted a melodramatic and somewhat self-indulgent film becomes the last thing on viewers’ minds as they watch the story unravel. Supported by an Oscar-worthy Richard Jenkins, the leading actress is practically invincible in her role, reaching out to the audience in a way that is truly affecting. The implications made regarding the ways in which sexual harassment affects Aimes’ daily behavior and the “based on a true story” claim that precedes North Country can, at times, seem like a bit much, but with Theron at its helms, it can really do no wrong. It is exemplary of the fact that, even in an age of MTV-style-editing and multi-million-dollar CGI creations, great acting is still worth a damn.





Rated R | 123 mins


     Is Jarhead some kind of elaborate, multi-million-dollar practical joke on this relatively unknown critic? Could it really be a Sam Mendes picture? ‘Cuz if the credits aren’t lying, I dunno what to think of the guy. He’s made two of my favorite films of the last decade, Road to Perdition and American Beauty, only to take a turn for the worst with Jarhead, a truly offensive, nihilistic piece of cinema. Focusing on day-to-day military life in the first Gulf War in a ridiculous way, Mendes’ film tritely suggests, in short, that every member of the Marine Corps is either a total psycho upon enlisting or they become one once they finish serving. Although, perhaps I’m going too far in making this synopsis. To say that Jarhead is trying to make a serious statement would be giving it too much credit. In actuality, all the movie really functions as is a straightforward, brain-dead, MTV-styled piece of crudity. The only reason that members of the media have allotted it as much positive buzz as they have is because it is able to disguise itself as a meditative character-study fairly well. Jarhead certainly isn’t getting the undeserved acclaim that it is because of its view of military operations, which is about as realistic as xXx’s take was on secret agents. If Mendes and his screenwriter, William Broyles Jr., had anything more to say than that they believe that the American government and the military supporting it are evil, it was clearly lost in the process of filming. What’s the most absurd about the picture is their claim that their protagonist (who is based on a real man), is scarred for life by war without even ever seeing combat. Not only have Mendes and Broyles put a great cast (Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper) to shame; they’ve also shown the utmost of disrespect to the men and women who willingly, bravely fight for the United States’ freedom in the dangerous international political climate of today. “Welcome to the suck” is Jarhead’s tagline. It’s no stretch to call that the most accurate studio-penned description of a film in years.


Broken Flowers



Rated R | 106 mins


     There are times when ‘ya just gotta say “I hate Jim Jarmusch’s guts” and mean it. Sure, the guy is some sort of bizarre filmmaking genius—I’ll give him that—but he’s equally self-indulgent as he is creative. Broken Flowers is thought-provoking and tremendously performed, but by its end, even the most artistically open-minded of viewers will feel a little bit cheated. The plotline centers on an letter received by Don Johnston, another brilliant in-mid-life-crisis Bill Murray character. Don has just been dumped by his latest mistress (Julie Delpy), and the letter comes as no comfort when, reading it, he discovers he might have a son he never knew about. Trick is: it wasn’t signed by the mother who wrote it; in order to find out who his son is (or if it is true that he has one at all), he will have to track down four of his old exes that he had the most intimate relationships with.

     All the while, the movie manages to be mysterious, poignant, and humorous. The problem is that viewers won’t expect this material to stand on its own as a movie. The end of Broken Flowers is one which completely ignores the emotional value of the situation that has been presented, simply so that Jarmusch can show off by saying “Look at me! I can make an ending of thoughtful ambiguity!” Regular readers of mine know that I have nothing against the open ending—in most cases, too much closure is a very bad thing—but, in Broken Flowers, the concept of uncertainty is taken to a nonsensical extreme. What good is a conclusion if it doesn’t speak to what has happened earlier in the plot? “Thoughtful” as it may be, I left the film regretting what it could’ve been had its third act been of the same quality as its first two.


Cinderella Man



Rated PG-13 | 144 mins


     Manipulation is never a bad thing when Ron Howard is the puppet-master. The filmmaker, who has made some of the best and often most overlooked films of the last twenty years, takes to the roots of Hollywood when he makes a motion picture. His means of glamorizing his subject don’t use any sentimental music, cheesy lines, or drawn-out climactic moments to make the audience ignore the conventionality of the material; in fact, it takes all of these elements and does the exact opposite. Strong performances and powerful stories allow them to become real parts of living, breathing works.

     In Cinderella Man, Howard recreates Depression-era America in a riveting way. Telling the story of James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe), a down-on-his-luck man with a heart of gold, he crafts one of his finest films to date. Braddock was a boxer who lost his fame and, without any other skills to support his family in one of the roughest times in the country’s history, could only rely on occasional shifts at the local dock to bring home the bread. That is, until his manager, Joe Gould, found him another shot in the ring and he had one more chance to prevail.

     Here is a movie about an entirely good man, made with conviction and truth. It functions as both gripping drama and a testament to the ways in which America’s history has made it the rich land of opportunity that it is today. Howard can do no wrong with each step he takes in his execution; from Braddock’s home-life to his boxing-matches, Cinderella Man is as exhilarating as its subject is admirable. Not to mention, Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti have never been better in their entire careers; I don’t think it’s too early to say that, if they do not win Oscars, they will have been snubbed.

     This brings me back to the idea of manipulation. Sure, Howard may manipulate audiences by depicting Braddock in such a cheerfully positive light, but does it really matter when the result is this captivating, this powerful? I don’t think so; Cinderella Man had me from start to finish. It’s a gripping, unforgettable experience.


Dukes of Hazzard



Rated PG-13 | 106 mins


     It’s hard to get worked up about anything that doesn’t even want to be controversial in the first place, and Dukes of Hazzard proves this. A conventional “remake” of the old 1970’s TV-show, the strongest case one could argue against it would be that it is irritating because it is full of too many stupid redneck-gags. That or the fact that its entire third-act is comprised of a snooze-inducing car chase scene. But I digress.

     Really, Dukes of Hazzard isn’t that bad; it’s just not that good, either. It has its fair share of sweetly humorous scenes and amazing shots of good ‘ol Jessica Simpson’s body, in addition to its fair share of downright annoying moments. My instant response to the material, as a viewer, was that of apathy. I really couldn’t care less about what direction the movie was headed in; at the time, I was content with sitting in a nice movie theatre, sipping a $5.00 Lemonade. I went in expecting something truly atrocious and came out slightly pleased that the experience wasn’t entirely excruciating. Still, never would I actually go as far as to recommend actually paying to see it. Dukes of Hazzard will someday make for a mediocre pierce of viewing on HBO when there aren’t any other alternatives in sight on a boring afternoon. For now, it’s not even worth being concerned over.


A History of Violence



Rated R | 96 mins


     Shock and insight are two very different but strangely similar artistic expressions that can lend to a movie’s quality, but it takes a truly great filmmaker to interweave the two into a singular storyline. Writer/director David Cronenberg is one of the elite few that can do just this, and his latest picture, A History of Violence, does nothing to fault his respectable reputation. Starring Viggo Mortensen as a protagonist with a dark past, Cronenberg tells a riveting story while, at the same time, thought-provokingly commentating on the nature of violence in society.

     Mortensen’s character is family-man Tom Stall…or so his small-town friends and family are led to believe. That is, until late one evening when he is greeted by a group of men dressed in black suits as he closes up the diner he owns and operates. “Coffee,” the leader of the bunch demands, threateningly. Tom reluctantly serves them, despite the inconvenience of doing so after calling it a day, only to then be met at gunpoint by one of the members of the mobster-looking crew. He reacts quickly, grabbing the gun and shooting them dead, protecting the remaining few customers and employees in the diner.

     Tom is hailed as a small-town hero without question, admired by all of those around him. In fact, so much so that no one ever stops to ask how he became such a quick reactor or good shot. Despite this, conflict has not left his life. Days later, more men dressed in black suits, this time headed by Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), stride into the diner. “Nice place ‘ya got here, Joey,” Fogarty proclaims, accusing Tom of being an ex-mobster who he had ties with in previous years. As the plot progresses, Tom is further endangered and it is revealed that he is, indeed, the Joey that Fogarty claims him to be. In order to protect his own reputation and reformed life, he will have to settle the score and head to Philadelphia, where he used to do his dirty work.

     Through a mere plot description, the movie seems to be like any other Fall Revenge-Blockbuster. It is anything but. Cronenberg is far more concerned with perfecting the details that the picture is made up of rather than trying to fill it with extra baggage. The revelatory moment in the diner is exemplary of this; the scene is blocked simply and efficiently, powerfully moving from Point A to Point B. In one moment, the viewer observes the admirable Tom and, in the next, shaken by the banging noise of the gunshots, they are scared by the monster that he has become. Aided by Mortensen’s pitch-perfect performance, A History of Violence is as tense as it is self-reflective.

     Make no mistake, the film is not an outcry for gun-control or individual-rights, but rather a statement about the ironies of human response to violence. How do Tom/Joey’s actions affect his own psyche and those of the people around him? How does controversy lend to conflicting reactions? The way in which A History of Violence serves as an analysis of these ideas through its suspenseful story is what makes it the astounding movie that it is. Don’t miss it.





Rated PG-13 | 121 mins


     Stealth is a movie about three Navy fighter-pilots who are chosen to be the first to fly missions aside a UCAV, an “Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle”. The UCAV is a plane controlled by artificial intelligence and, at first, does exactly what they want it to do. But wait. The screenwriters forgot about this little thing called a plot! What will they do? Oh, yeah! Allow the A.I. to form feelings of its own and turn against its team! It’ll say things to them like “I will not follow your orders” in a very monotone, computer-like voice! They will have to overcome the evil danger it puts them in!

     And they work from there. Stealth is surely the bearer of one of Hollywood’s dopiest premises to date. Fortunately, Columbia Pictures was willing to shell out $100 million dollars to make it, allowing them to hire a director and cast that were able to at least make it tolerable to watch. Sure, Rob Cohen, Josh Lucas, and Jessica Biel aren’t exactly Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, and Jodie Foster, but they handle the material provided fairly well. Each plays off of their strengths. Cohen knows how to turn obvious climaxes into suspenseful ones, Biel knows that she looks best in a bikini, and Lucas knows that he can be convincing when he tries. In cahoots with a talented visual effects team, they provide Stealth with enough life to allow it to mildly entertain viewers while they watch it, even if they walk out of the theatre only to realize how stupid it actually was. This achievement was actually a rather remarkable one; they were able to make something out of nothing.


The Great Raid



Rated R | 132 mins


     Well, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. When I first heard the buzz that The Great Raid was a pro-America, pro-military movie, I was very excited for it. It was what the movie-going public needed, as far as I was concerned: an exhilarating war-epic which depicted the nobility of defending America. Now, after actually having seen it, I guess it’s safe to say that it is true that all great filmmakers are pot-smoking, America-hating Frenchmen. Actually—seriously—The Great Raid is a pretty good movie about the honor and bravery found in the service. I just had hoped it would’ve been a lot more creative than it is. From the hokey voice-overs to the irrelevant sub-plots to the bland acting, the movie could be called stale filmmaking at best. There are some riveting moments, to be sure—the scene involving the raid it is named after and the real footage director John Dahl uses from the era are particularly visually striking and often poignant—but, as a whole, The Great Raid doesn’t measure up to most other war films. I applaud its themes, but I can’t go so far as to deem it a first-rate motion picture.



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