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Friday, July 24, 2009

FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN

By D.E.Levine

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Assistant Director: Peter Nightingale
Writer: Guy Hibbert
Producer: Eoin O'Callaghan
Executive Producers: Paul Trijbits, Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe, Patrick Spence, Stephen Wright
Cast: Liam Neeson, James Nesbitt, Anamaria Marinca, Richard Dormer, Mark Davison, Kevin O'Neill, Barry McEvoy, Richard Orr, Paul Garrett, Paula McMcFetridge et al.
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Five Minutes of Heaven is a beautiful and touching story that never took place although it was based on real characters and events.

In 1975 Alistair Little is a 17-year old member of the Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force. Eager for the prestige of a kill he asks for a "first kill" assignment and is told to assassinate a young Catholic boy who was warned to leave the area in Lurgen, Ireland and hasn't done so.

Taking his revolver from its hiding place among his childhood toys, he goes, in a stolen car, with four friends to accomplish the task by shooting James Griffin through the living room window with three bullets to the head.

He stares into the eyes of a youngster who is kicking around a soccer ball outside in the street, never knowing that the boy is the younger brother to the youth he just murdered. Making a split second decision, he spares the boy's life and is haunted by his face for the next 33 years.

The four youths then go to a teenage social, using that as an alibi for their whereabouts. Apprehended, Little serves 12 years incarcerated and when released becomes a famous expert on conflict resolution, circling the globe running workshops for traumatized people in war-torn nations.

Meanwhile. Joe Griffen, the young boy who witnessed his brother's murder, was blamed by his mother for doing nothing to stop the murder, and after the dissolution of his family remains in Lurgen stuck in factory labor. Now married with a wife and two daughters he is incredibly bitter harbors a deep and abiding hate for Little imagining that killing him would provide revenge that would give him "five minutes of heaven."

When the film opens, 33 years have passed since the murder and both men are being chauffeured separately to an estate where a British television company has negotiated a meeting between them that will be filmed. It's billed as a form of reconciliation.

Alistair knows that the meeting will be painful for Joe, but is unaware that Joe is carrying a knife with which to kill him in revenge.

While one might assume initially that the film is about truth and reconciliation, it's not. The meeting is aborted and the film kicks into high gear about the psychological relationship existing between the crime's perpetrator (Alistair) and it's victim (Joe).

Alistair Little and Joe Griffen actually exist. They are both real people and the murder of James Griffin by Alistair did take place, with Joe as the surviving witness.

However, the two men have never met and were never slated to do so. Instead, the writer, Guy Hibbert, traveled back and forth between the men, interviewing them individually and asking them about their feelings.

Joe Griffin was honest about his feelings that even after 33 years he remained so bitter that if he was ever in a room with Alistair Little he would kill him. But Little was unaware of these intense feelings until he read the script.

The story, as written by Hibbert and acted by Neeson and Nesbitt, is actually a story of "what if this had happened?" It never actually happened and was never planned to happen.

Interestingly, both lead actors grew up in Ballymena, Northern Ireland and Neeson, a Catholic portrays a Protestant, while Nesbitt, a Protestant portrays a Catholic.

Both actors also had a different approach to creating their characters. Neeson waited until the last day of filming to meet Alistair Little. Nesbitt spent countless hours with Joe Griffin, talking to and video taping him. His portrayal is riveting.

Whether or not the two men will ever actually meet is yet to be decided and probably not in the foreseeable future. Convinced that his brother's murder in 1975 ruined his life before it even began, it was only after participating in the film that Joe Griffin start receiving trauma counseling for the first time since the murder.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

BRONSON

By D.E.Levine

Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Writers: Brock Norman Brock and Nicholas Winding Refn
Producers: Rupert Preston and Danny Hansford
Cast: Tom Hardy, Matt King , Terry Stone, Amanda Burton, Jonathan Phillips, Hugh Ross, Kelly Adams, China-Black, Joe Tucker, Edward Bennett-Coles, Katy Barker
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Action, Biography, Drama

Bronson is an extremely violent and disturbing film. It is anything but genteel which we associate with British films. Released originally at film festivals in 2008, the film recounts the life of Michael Peterson, a real and legendary British subject, a thug, then in his 34th year of incarceration. The British tabloids claim Michael Peterson is the most violent prisoner in Britain.

He was born in 1952 in Aberystwyth and moved to Luton with his family. In school he was a violent bully and after graduation he married, bungled a post office hold up for a paltry sum, and was arrested and sentenced in 1974 to 7 years in prison.

He thoroughly enjoyed brawling with anyone he could and upon his release he "apprenticed" himself to another ex-con who introduced him to bare-knuckled fighting and dubbed him Charles Bronson after his favorite tough-guy Hollywood actor.

In a departure from normal story telling, Bronson both narrates the story to the camera and performs it on stage in front of an admiring and cheering audience. During his performance he is painted as a clown (possibly the scariest ever) and in a spotlight.

Bronson comes across as a conceited individual addicted to savage violence and the celebrity status it gives him in prison. Although he never killed or advocated killing, his hostage-taking and brutal beatings placed him in a class by himself.

His crimes were relatively small but his ongoing belligerence and hostage taking resulted in additional years being added to his sentence, which was continually extended. He was such a difficult prisoner that eventually he was declared insane and transferred to a psychiatric unit.

The film does not offer any psychological or sociological explanation for his actions but we do learn that Charlie wants to be famous and extreme violence is the only method that offers him a means to that end.

Tom Hardy's performance as this felon is mesmerizing, horrifying and convincing as he embraces the role and demeanor of a psychopath. Other movie villains look tame in comparison and his actions are such that the viewer can almost believe Charles Bronson deserves the multitude of years spent in solitary confinement.

Ironically, the filmmakers have concentrated on the feats and mentality that turned Peterson into Bronson, but the audience never really gets to see and understand the man. The question remains whether Peterson's transformation was the result of adopting a protective persona in order to survive his incarceration.

Instead of condemning his actions, the filmmakers point out that the naked brawling, hostage-taking and total mayhem were Peterson's creative outlet. At the beginning of the film he says "I had a calling. I just don't know what as."

In the end Bronson doesn't convince us that what he did was performance art rather than a cage beast seething and reacting. He is utterly repellent and one wonders whether glorifying him through film is worthwhile.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

THE UGLY TRUTH

By D.E.Levine

Director: Robert Luketic
Assistant Director: Jon Mallard
Writers: Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullough Lutz and Kirsten Smith (screenplay)
Nicole Eastman (story)
Producers: Steven Reuther, Kimberly di Bonaventura, Deborah Jelin Newmyer, Tom Rosenberg and Gary Lucchesi
Executive Producers: Andre Lamal, Eric Reid, Katherine Heigl, Nancy Heigl, Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith, and Ryan Kavanaugh
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Eric Winter, John Michael Higgins, Bree Turner, Nick Searcy, Kevin Connolly, Cheryl Hines, Bonnie Somerville, Yvette Nicole Brown, Nate Corddry, Noah Matthews et al.
Original Music: Aaron Zigman
Running Time: 155 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Romance

This is a cute but totally predictable story. Female TV show producer is so organized that she can't snare a man, and is looking for him with a checklist and online dating.

Male commentator of The Ugly Truth tells men what they want to know about women and vice versa.

He starts to coach her so she can snare the man of her dreams (a doctor) and when she's successful she discovers she's actually in love with him.

Unfortunately, while Katherine Heigl plays her usual blond female role, Gerard Butler, who has already proven himself in dramatic parts is now being turned into a Clive Owens clone.

While there's nothing wrong with Butler's comedic portrayal, the part is really a waste of his talents and won't make him a heartthrob the way 300 Spartans did.

Overall, the film is 155 minutes of lightweight fun and froth that won't offend anyone but won't win any devotees either.

Friday, July 17, 2009

BIG FAN

By D.E.Levine

Director: Robert D. Siegel
Assistant Director: Yori Tondrowski
Writer: Robert D. Siegel
Producers: Jean Kouremetis and Elan Bogarin
Executive Producer: Jen Cohn
Co-producer: Joshua Trak
Associate Producers: Nick Gallo and Mike Loew
Cast: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Michael Rapaport, Matt Servitto, Gino Cafarelli, Serafina Fiore, Janathan Hamm, Joe Garden, Polly Humphries
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama

Stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt plays the ultimate Giants fan. A 36-year old toll booth attendant in a parking garage, he listens to sports radio all day, scribbles notes and delivers his own diatribes to his favorite call-in show at night from the Staten Island home he shares with his mother.

Unable to afford tickets to the Giants games, he and his pal Sal head to the Meadowlands for every game but wind up watching it on TV in the parking lot.

A chance encounter with Paul's favorite Giant, linebacker Quantrell Bishop results in their following him to a strip club in NYC where unaware of social barriers they approach the Giant and Paul is beaten up by the linebacker.

Despite nearly being killed by his hero, and urged by his affluent lawyer brother to sue, Paul practices denial, obstinacy, and refusal to discontinue his hero worship. After the Giants put Bishop on suspension because of the incident, Paul refuses to press charges.
Bishop
A detective hounds Paul for his version of the events and his brother files a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the player despite Paul's opposition.

Paul returns to work fretting that Bishop's continued absence will allow the Philadelphia Eagles to win the division championship.

There are additional twists and turn, s to the script and in the end Siegel pulls a surprise.

Oswalt embodies a warped personality destined to live out his life getting worse instead of improving. It is only Oswalt's comedic timing that allows us to stand Paul throughout the picture, otherwise his presence would be truly grating on the nerves.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

BRUNO

By D.E.Levine

Director: Larry Charles
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazur and Jeff Schaffer (screenplay)
Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazur (story)
Producers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Jay Roach, Don Mazur, Monica Levinson
Executive Producer: Anthony Hines
Co-producers: Jon Poll and Todd Shulman
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Clifford Bnagate, Chibundu Orukwowu, Chigozie Orukwowu, et al.
Original Music: Erran Baron Cohen
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Country of Origin: USA
Language: English, German
Genre: Comedy

Sticking with his format of creating an original character and then writing a story and script around that character, Sacha Baron Cohen has created Bruno, a gay Austrian fashion model who becomes persona non grata in the fashion world and sets out to become famous in Hollywood.

Just as Borat was offensive to some people, Bruno is equally offensive to others. Using his well known formula for presenting ordinary peoples' reactions to the character's numerous incitements, Bruno is undeniably hilarious.

Drawn to Hollywood to become a star, Bruno is not naive. He is politically savvy and relentlessly tweaks the establishments political correctness while keeping a straight face.

Bruno and his Asian boyfriend practice a multitude of sexual permutations, which sets the tone for later sexual bawdiness. All attempts at fame fail as Bruno attempts to launch a celebrity interview show but lacks any sensitivity and affronts the focus group viewing it.

Bruno's pranks are designed to expose people's latent prejudices. But whereas Borat was extremely successful, Bruno is a self-absorbed narcissist seeking only fame and evokes little sympathy or support from the audience.

There are however, several sequences that are so bizarre one doesn't know if they're scripted or for real. Bruno follows in the footsteps of Madonna and Angelina and adopts a black African baby and is then taunted by an all black studio audience. He has incendiary interviews with Israelis and radical Palestinians. Finally, Bruno undergoes a "gay cure" through counseling and a variety of bizarre techniques. At the end he goads a red neck Arkansas crowd into and anti-gay frenzy with a startling outcome.

However, throughout the film we are asking ourselves "are these real or scripted events?" of higher quality than Borat, there are numerous uncredited appearances by celebrities, and we may never know whether they agreed to their scenes or were captured without a script.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE

By D.E.Levine

Director: David Yates
Writers: Steve Kloves (screenplay)
J.K.Rowling (novel)
Producers: David Heyman, David Barron
Executive Producer: Lionel Wigram
Co-producer: John Trehy
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, David Bradley, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton
Running Time; 153 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance

It's hard to believe the characters in Harry Potter are growing up, but the actors are now taller, more developed and trying to portray 15 and 16 year olds although the actors are older and it's a bit of a stretch.

If one hasn't read the books, the film is still enjoyable but one might not fully understand the magic and wizardry without having been initiated either in earlier books or films.

In this film the students grapple with mortality, memory and loss. This film too is dazzling and has wonderful CGI effects, but it's less fanciful and deals more closely with life-and-death issues.

Steve Kloves skillfully condenses the massive novel (and all the Harry Potter books are massive) into a manageable format that eliminates a great deal of the violence found in the book. He also chose to end the film with a "hanger", not introducing the Minister of Magic until the next film and not concluding the volume in this film.

The films began eight years ago with breathtaking sets and all types of special effects. In this installment the sets are visibly stripped down reducing Hogwart's fairy tale character and emphasizing it's gray medieval foreboding character.

While there is the mandatory Quidditch match which is breathtaking, there's less emphasis on carrier owls and mischievous elves and an emphasis on teenage romance, raging hormones and open flirtation and jealousy.

The story escalates to the death of a key character at the end of the film with a deliberate ramping up to the final confrontation between Harry and Lord Voldemort in the next installment, currently being shot in two parts.

This film has mystery, intrigue and deception as Lord Voldemort appears to be ascending and neither London nor Hogwart's School appears to be safe from the Dark Lord's future actions. Professor Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwart's takes Harry along to recruit a new potions professor, former colleague Horace Slughorn, with the hope that the professor will provide information about Voldemort's plans and actions. Meanwhile, the evil Draco Malfoy, Harry's nemesis at Hogwart's, prepares to commit an act that will pave the way for Lord Voldemort's return.

Throughout the film we witness the growing affection of one character for another, frequently surprising because they appear mismatched. Harry himself is not exempt from teenage hormones and all the jealousies, intrigues and lusts that appear to preoccupy his teenage friends.

This installment is thoroughly enjoyable but I emphasis that the Harry Potter films can only benefit if the audience avails itself of the actual novels and familiarizes itself with the characters and story lines before seeing the films.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

HOMECOMING

By D.E.Levine

Director: Morgan J. Freeman
Writers: Jake Goldberger, Katie Fettig and Frank M. Hannish
Producers: Jim Young, Austin Stark, Bill Papariella, and Bingo Gubelmann
Executive Producers: Benji Kohn, Chris Papavasillou, Richard Bard, and Nuala Barton
Co-Producer: Jack Heller
Cast: Mischa Barton, Matt Long, Jessica Stroup, Michael Landes, Robert Haley, Hunter Seagroves, Allen Williamsom, Joshua Eliah Reese, Nick Pasquai, Joe Forgione, Alex Hopper, Amanda Jane Cooper, Byrdie Bell, Mary Griffin
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Country of Origin: USA
Language: English
Genre: Horror, Thriller

Homecoming is a nifty little horror film that mimics both Misery and Fatal Attraction. Mike was the star quarterback in his blue-collar small town Mt. Bliss, Pa. where football is everything and he was idolized through high school.

After receiving a scholarship to Northwestern University, we find him a few months into his first year returning home for Christmas break and to retire his high school jersey. People in town are surprised to meet his new girl friend from college, Elizabeth, a pretty rich girl from Chicago.

Perhaps the most surprised is his high school girl friend Shelby, who has been awaiting his return in total denial over their break up before he left for college.

Superficially nice to Elizabeth, Shelby accidentally runs her down on a deserted road and then holds the injured girl captive in an upstairs room where she once cared for her terminally ill (and now deceased) mother.

As Elizabeth repeatedly attempts to escape, the neurotic and increasingly deranged Shelby is triggered into reprisals of escalating violence.

The visual acuity of the cinematography and the realistic acting of the cast all serve to convince the audience of the film's authenticity. Although, the part of Elizabeth is never fully developed and subsequently, while we know she is the "good girl" and the alternative to the crazed Shelby, we don't really grasp her personality.

Mischa Barton is realistic as a crazed killer who becomes so obsessed that she murders everyone who gets in her way, but the action scenes at the end fall a bit flat and frankly, after sustaining significant injuries it's hard to believe that Matt can rally to carry Elizabeth out of the house and off to freedom.

Overall, if you're in to slasher films and don't mind the similarity to Misery, this is a fun filled horror film.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

TRANSFORMERRS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN

By D.E.Levine

Director: Michael Bay
Writers: Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Ramon Rodriguez, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Isabel Lucas, John Benjamin Hickey, Matthew Marsden, Andrew Howard, Michael Papjohn, Glenn Morshower, John Eric Bentley
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Country of Origin: USA
Language: English
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi


I saw the original Transformers on three continents in three different languages and never understood what all the hoopla was about. True, the CG effects were remarkable, with cars and trucks turning into Autobots, Decepticons and Otherbots, but the story lacked many vital ingredients and I never fully bought into Shia LaBeouf's character as a high school student chosen to save the world.

So in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, here we go again. Personally, I found it difficult to follow the plot, if there was one. We see Shia's character Sam going off to college without his transforming car.

He's renounced his robots and his hot girlfriend in order to live a normal life at college. Rooming with a technology nerd, Sam will find his roomie's technology knowledge helpful once he starts battling evil forces again.

The Autobots, Decepticons and Otherbots are back, with a strange mix of Brooklynese, British and hip hop slang accents. Once again they are battling each other and the human armed forces are sending a lot of ammunition straight at them (although never harming them). Josh Duhamel is wasted in his role, which can barely be distinguished within the context of the film.

With Sam safely deposited at Princeton, his parents embark on a trip to Europe (Paris) and then inexplicably drop out of the sky in Egypt, near the pyramids. The parents then join the armed forces in running away from explosions in slow motion.

Naturally, when Sam's converting Camero car shows up at school to rescue him from a transformer disguised as a sexy co-ed, he too winds up in Paris with his sexy girlfriend and his nerdy roommate and then is transported to the Middle East, where lo and behold, he reunites with his parents just in time to rescue them.

Bluntly, while the CGI effects are spectacular and virtually seamless, I found this Transformers film as boring as the first one and am bewildered by the popularity of a film that as little plot, bad dialogue, and tedious battle scenes.

Every frame is filled to CGI overload and since the plot doesn't hold up, as the film progresses the film becomes more and more boring, despite the special effects, the noise and the battles. The viewer seems to be surrounded by continual fog during battle, which may explain how real friendly fire occurs.

I haven't summarized the plot because I haven't figured it out yet. The film starts off about two years after the first Transformers film and for about 20-30 minutes I thought I knew the plot. But then, as multiple story lines merged and none followed through to completion, I became more and more confused.

The violence and CGI are bound to make this high expense film a box office blockbuster, although explaining public taste is frankly, inexplicable.