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Thursday, October 29, 2009

DISTRICT 9

By D.E.Levine

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writers: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (screenplay)
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham and Peter Jackson
Executive Producers: Bill Brock and Ken Kamins
Co-executive Producers: Elliot Ferwerda and Paul Hanson
Co-producer: Philippa Boyens
Cast: Sharito Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike, Elizabeth Mkandawie, John Sumner, William Allen Young, Greg Melvil-Smith, Nick Blake, Morena Busa Sesatsa, Themba Nkosi, et al.
Original Music: Clinton Shorter
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Country of Origin: New Zealand, South Africa
Language: English, Afrikanas
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Thriller

This is a truly original science fiction film which combines political themes with state-of-the-art movie technology.

Filmed in director Neill Blomkamp's city of his youth, Johannesburg, the story is situated in a very real place and one unlikely to be found in science fiction.

We're so used to alien space ships landing in the U.S. that it's hard to believe a director would actually have one land in another country, much less South Africa.

But in this case, more than 20 years before the start of the movie, the alien ship simply ran out of gas and her exhausted passengers were put in internment camps that are separated from the normal human population. The stalled mother ship still hovers overhead.

The aliens are repulsive to look at, with hard crustacean shells, a close resemblance to insects and great strength. Labeled "pawns" by humans, because they root around for food and scavenge what they can, especially cat food,

In a country and city where memories of apartheid are still vivid and old biases still exist, the political suggestions evoked by the film per segregation between humans and pawns, is not lost on the audience.

The humans want to control the sophisticated weapons that the aliens brought with them. The humans however, lack the dark viscous fluid necessary to power both the weapons and the mother ship.

When Multinational United (MNU) decides to move the aliens from their internment camp to a rural concentration camp in order to control the burgeoning population, the eviction task is given to Wilkus, MNU Chairman's son-in-law.

While attempting to clear an illegal lab run by alien Christopher Johnson, Wilkus gets infected with an alien virus that rapidly changes his DNA. During a violent bout of illness, Wilkus grows and alien claw which can operate the alien weaponry.

Now labeled the "most valuable business artifact on Earth" and pursued by MNU scientists who want to harvest his organs, Wilkus escapes to District 9 with MNU's chief enforcer Koobus on his heels.

While hiding, Wilkus forms an uneasy alliance with Christopher and his young son. It turns out that the virus that infected Wilkus is the same liquid that Johnson has been distilling and collecting for 20 years to power the mother ship.

There is some disparity in the story, since viewers will undoubtedly wonder why Wilkus, the only human who can operate alien weaponry would be hunted rather than utilized for his unique skill, but the story is told in a tight and exciting manner and should be a crowd pleaser.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS

By D.E.Levine

Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown
Cast: Johnny Depp, Heath Ledger, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Andrew Garfield, Quinn Lord, Verne Troyer, Paloma Faith, Cassandra Sawtell, Carrie Genzel, Michael Eklund, Brad Dryborough, Ryan Grantham, Johnny Harris, Mark Benton et al.
Producers: Terry Gilliam, William Vince, Amy Gilliam and Samuel Hadida
Executive Producers: Dave Valleau and Victor Hadida
Music: Michael Danna and Jeff Danna
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy

The last film that Heath Ledger worked on, Terry Gilliam was left with an unfinished film and a need to find a way to complete it when Ledger died. It tugs at the heart when Ledger's character talks about those who die young saying "They are forever young, they won't grow old". That's exactly how we will always remember Ledger.

There's a great deal of star power in the film and a mirror to the imagination in a carnival show allows Gilliam to use considerable imagery, but the film lacks the qualities found in his earlier films Time Bandits and Brazil. It's definitely more of an art house film than a popular commercial cinema venture.

However, Gilliam successfully weaves the contemporary and the fantastical into a dark yet whimsical package. Brimming with stunning digital visual effects, the basic story involves the classic duel between the forces of imagination led by Dr. Parnassus and Mr. Nick, the devil, who is the architect of fear and ignorance.

With a setting of a horse drawn carnival sideshow in modern London, Dr. Parnassus invites ticket holders to enter a world of their own imagination by stepping through a large mirror. Once on the other side fates vary and faces change.

It's this assumption that permitted Gilliam to fill Ledger's vacated role with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Ledger only appears in about a third of the film and without the participation of the other actors (all friends of his) the film could not have been completed.

Ledger initially appears as a man hanged from Blackfriar's Bridge with his hands tied behind his back. Claiming to remember nothing, he is renamed George by the carnival troupe and joins them. Dr. Parnassus believes the devil placed George with his troupe to make trouble because he and Mr. Nick have a lifelong wager with Dr. Parnassuss' daughter's soul as the prize.

The good doctor and Mr. Nick have a deal where they bet on people's souls in the world behind the mirror. One of the conditions is the doctor's immortality. Another involves the doctor's daughter on her sixteenth birthday. It is George who becomes the lynch-pin in the wager between the doctor and the Devil as the birthday countdown proceeds.

Friday, October 23, 2009

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS

By D.E.Levine

Directors: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Writers: Phil Lord and Cris Miller (screenplay) and Judi Barrett and Ron Barret (book)
Producer: Pam Marsden
Executive Producer: Yair Landau
Co-producers: Lydia Bottegoni and Chris Juen
Animation Executive Producer: Andrea Miloro
Cast (voices): Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, Bobbie J. Thompson, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Al Roker, Lauren Graham, Will Forte, Max Neuwirth, Peter Siragusa, Angela Shelton, Neil Flynn, Liz Cackowski, Isabella Acres, Lori Alan, Shane Baumel, Bob Bergan, Cody Cameron, Marsha Clark, John Cygan, Ann Domric, Paul Eiding, Jess Harnell, Gary A. Hecker, Phil Lord, Sherry Lynn, Danny Mann, Mona Marshall, Mickie McGowan, Chris Miller, Laraine Newman, Jan Rabson, Grace Rolek, Jeremy Shada, Will Shadley, Melissa Surm and Ariel Winter
Original Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Animation/Adaption, Kids/Family

This is a 3-D animated comedy based on a popular children's' book. The central character is Flint Lockwood, a boy who is an amateur inventor and lives on an island in the Atlantic where the central industry is catching and canning sardines.

With the collapse of the sardine market, and the disillusionment of island inhabitants with eating their own sardines, Flint creates food-flavored weather when his latest invention which converts water into food, launches itself into the sky and starts producing all types of edible food that falls to earth.

Hailed as a hero, Flint basks in the celebrity status until weather-girl Sam Sparks questions how much of a good thing is too much.


Between candy, ice cream, pancakes and hamburgers, with plenty of pizza and other child desired edibles, the island is pummeled with a down pouring of food until the machine goes out of control and the island is deluged with edibles.

With a tornado cloud made of spaghetti and meatballs, meatballs fall out of the sky and rain down upon the town. There is also the possibility that the town will be swept up in the spaghetti and meatball tornado.

Flint is torn between the adoration and the real threat of imminent demise, and it's up to him and Sam Sparks, with a little help from their friends, to rescue the island and the town.

Overall, the film is a wonderful, funny, straight-forward telling of a tale that has at it's core the story of an "oddball" who finds acceptance at the sacrifice of his core values.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

BRIGHT STAR

By D.E.Levine

Director: Jane Campion
Writers: Jane Campion (screenplay)
Producers: Jan Chapman, Caroline Hewitt and Mark L. Rosen
Executive Producers: Francois Ivernel, Christine Langan, Cameron McCracken and David M. Thompson
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Kerry Fox, Paul Schneider, Edie Martin, Thomas Sangster, Gerard Monaco, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Samuel Roukin, Amanda Hale et al.
Original Music: Mark Bradshaw
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom/AustrDirecalia
Language: English
Genre: Romance, Drama, Biographical

John Keats died penniless and under appreciated, from tuberculosis, at the age of 25. Yet, his poetry has lived on and is now considered some of the best and most beautiful. Who among us hasn't heard and remembered such classic lines as "A thing of beauty is a joy forever"?

Director Jane Campion has always taken on unusual projects and this is no exception. In his brief life, Keats had a romantic attachment to his Hampstead neighbor Fanny Brawne. The relationship was not supported by his friends or her family.

Campion is once again intrigued by the distance that class, time and culture puts between lovers as well as the feelings they can't articulate.

In 1818, the then 23 year-old poet noticed the fashion-conscious Brawne and assumed she was just another stylish minx. On her part, she was seriously unimpressed by literature.

Despite that, a relationship developed where she realized that learning and understanding the poetry that possessed him would strengthen their bond and he, in turn, was impressed when she offered to help when his younger brother became ill.

Despite the impediments of Keats' best friend Brown, who tried to stop the friendship, and the interference of her mother, Fanny built an unstoppable relationship with Keats that lasted until his death in Italy.

In this film, the cinematography and attention to detail in every frame is unbelievably beautiful. Imbued with sensuality and the poetry of Keats, which continues through the end credits, Campion achieves an intense feeling of romantic love.

In an era of Hollywood celluloid films, we may not have realized we craved a deeply moving emotional love story. In addition to a heartbreaking love story, the intensity of their passion helped Keats create some of the most beautiful and passionate poetry in existence.

Indeed, Campion and her won wonderful cast and crew have captured both the intensity and the romance in the relationship. The film is a masterpiece and perhaps one of its greatest virtues is that young people who see it are inspired to learn more about Keats and his work.

THE INFORMANT

By D.E.Levine

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Scott Z. Burns (screenplay); Kurt Eichenwald (book)
Producers: Howard Braustein, Jennifer Fox, Gregory Jacobs and Michael Jaffe
Executive Producers: George Clooney, Michael London and Jeff Skoll
Co-producer: Michael Polaire
Cast: Matt Damon, Lucas McHugh Carroll, Eddie Jemison, Rusty Schwimmer, Craig Ricci Shaynak, Tom Papa, Rick Overton, Melanie Lynskey, Thomas F. Wilson, Scott Bakula, Scott Adsit, Ann Dowd, Allan Harvey, Howie Johnson, Joel McHale et al.
Original Music: Marvin Hamlisch
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama

Once upon a time there was a wildly delusional whistle blower. Mark Whitacre was a brilliant biochemist who worked for Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), that mega agribusiness company that is always advertising on television.

Gung-ho about his work with the Decateur Ill. based firm, Whitacre is a real VP who is behind the promotion of food additives such as lysine. Telling his superiors that he has detected a mole responsible for allowing the Japanese competitors to interfere with ADM's manufacture of lysine.

ADM prefers to call in the FBI instead of paying a $10 million extortion demand and Mark fully cooperates, indeed even becoming somewhat enthusiastic after exposing a lysine price fixing scheme.

It's evident through the film's continual voice overs that function as a stream of consciousness, that Mark has an active fantasy life. Working undercover for the FBI he labels himself Agent 0014 because he's "twice as smart as James Bond" and he's obsessed with Michael Crichton novels.

As Whitacre's stories unravel, we hear his scheme of being the last man left to run ADM when everyone else is punished. In reality, his games drove his handlers to distraction, neutralizing much of the evidence they'd collected.

This is a real story about a real man with grandiose ideas that overcame hi brilliance with sad and disappointing results. But there is much in the film about big business and the corruption and greed within the corporation which is true and eye opening.

Damon does an admirable job in his portrayal of Whitacre, rationalizing any alteration of reality that served his purpose. In the end, he never doubts that he's "the good guy in all this" who's always right and completely unremorseful.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A SINGLE MAN

By D.E.Levine

Director: Tom Ford
Writers: Tom Ford and David Scearce (screenplay); Christopher Isherwood (nove)
Producers: Tom Ford, Andrew Miano, Robert Salerno and Chris Weitz
Co-producer: Jason Alisharan
Cast: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode, Jon Kortajarena, Paulette Lamori, Ryan Simpkins, Ginnefer Goodwin, Teddy Sears, Paul Butler, Aaron Sanders et al.
Original Music: Abel Korzeniowski
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama

Fashioned upon Christopher Isherwood's novel about a gay college professor in the 1960s grieving for his dead lover and contemplating death, Tom Ford's first foray into the film business is impressive.

Although the plot differs somewhat from the book in that George, the college professor thinks about suicide, the cast and acting are solid and effective.

All action takes place during a single day when George, without divulging his plans, puts his affairs in order. There are numerous flashbacks that fill in the blanks about his life and that of his lover.

Throughout the film, the beauty of the glass house, the attention to details in the house and in the costumes, shows the influence that Ford's past experience as a designer for Gucci and current experience with his own eponymous line, have carried into the world of film.

Each detail, regardless of how small, is exact and perfect. Ford even designed the clothes for Firth and Hoult himself. The period detailing appears to be perfect.

For a first-time helmer, the ability to get it all together, handle the details and handle the experienced professional cast, is rather remarkable. However, Tom Ford has pulled it off and it would appear that he has a long career in film ahead of him.

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY

By D.E.Levine

Director: Michael Moore
Writer: Michael Moore
Cast: Thora Birch, William Black, Jimmy Carter, Congressman Elijah Cummings, Baron Hill, Marcy Kaptur, John McCain, Michael Moore, Sarah Palin, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wallace Shawn, Elizabeth Warren, George W. Bush, Nancy Davis, Martin Luther King, Helmut Kohl, Bela Lugosi, Barack Obama, Robert Powell, Joseph Stalin
Producers: Anne Moore and Michael Moore
Co-producers: Carl Deal and Tia Lessin
Executive Producers: Kathleen Glynn, Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein
Original Music: Jeff Gibbs
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary

This is definitely one of Michael Moore's best films. Of course, capitalism is a hot topic but it's actually the banking industry and it's meltdown within the last year that is Moore's focus.

Mixing home movies of himself as a child visiting Wall Street with archival footage from the 1950s extolling free enterprise, Moore mixes in interviews with individuals currently caught in the mortgage debacle and losing their homes and a real estate agent who finds bargains in foreclosed homes.

Moore is visible onscreen throughout the film as chief character and investigator while also being the film narrator. We learn that his father was a dedicated employee in the automotive industry as Moore explains the relevancy of the banking crisis to the present-day problems of the auto business. In a subdued moment, father and son revisit the site that once housed the factory where his father worked.

There are several ill-fated attempts to gain entrance to various financial institutions and banks that survived the crash and is turned back by security guards.

Moore also unsuccessfully tries to find a banker who can explain derivatives and is met with the response "Stop Making Films!"

He interviews members of Congress and suggests the $700 billion bailout was legalized bank robbery engineered by Goldman Sachs and Henry Paulson and run through Congress just prior to elections.

Fascinating to watch, we must remember that as Moore leads us through his argument that there be more cooperatively owned businesses where people make collective decisions and share the wealth, he is manipulating some of the facts for his own purposes.

Claiming "I refuse to live in a country like this and I'm not leaving," Moore doesn't solve the economic problems but shows his disgust for corporate America and its devastating effect on the lives of ordinary people.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

THE LAST STATION

By D.E.Levine

Director: Michael Hoffman
Writer: Michael Hoffman (screenplay) and Jay Parini (book)
Cast: James McAvoy, Christopher Plummer, Helen Miren, Paul Giamatti, Anne-Marie Duff, Kerry Condon, Patrick Kennedy, John Sessions, David Masterson, Tomas Spencer, Nenad Lucic and Maximillian Gartner
Producers: Bonnie Arnold, Chris Curling and John Meruer
Executive Producers: Andrei Konchalovsky, Robert Little, Phil Robertson and Judy Tossell
Associate Producer: Andrey Deryatin - Russia
Assistant Producers: Luke Carey, Melanie Faul, Yvonne Huttig and Jona Wirbeleit
Ruunning Time: 112 Minutes
Country of Origin: Germany and Russia
Language: English with Russian

There are absolutely stellar performances by James McAvoy, Christopher Plummer and Helen Miren in this biopic film.

This is a period piece about the last days of Leon Tolstoy and if the material is true then we see that Tolstoy may have been brilliant but his family was as dysfunctional as any non-celebrity family.

The film begins in 1910 with the hiring of Valentin Bulgakov as Tolstoy's secretary. Caught in the middle of a power struggle between Countess Sofya (the wife) and Vladimir Chertkov (leader of the Utopian movement founded by Tolstoy, Bulgakov finds his loyalties repeatedly tested and is amazed by the nature of the Tolstoys 48-year marriage.

Tolstoy had celebrity status and an entourage of reporters and photographers following him around. As the Tolstoys long-term marriage flounders and disintegrates, Bulgarov meets a woman working on the Tolstoy farm and begins a relationship with the flush of new, young love.

Plummer's portrayal of Tolstoy is riveting, convincing as the genius but exhibiting human frailties. The skillful makeup makes him look amazingly like the photographs with which the public is familiar. You never glimpse Plummer the actor, since he disappears completely into character.

Beautifully filmed, the cinematography transports the viewer to Russia visually while the writing, directing and acting evoke deep emotional responses. Regardless of whether you believe in Tolstoy as a great author or a Utopian leader, emotionally this picture touches the inner feelings of the viewer resulting in sadness, disbelief and amazement.

SAW VI

By D.E.Levine
,
Director: Kevin Gruetert
Writer: Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton
Producer: Mark Burg and Oren Koules
Executive Producers: Peter Block, Daniel J. Heffner, Stacey Testro, James Wan and Leigh Whannell
Original Music: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Mark Rolston, Betsy Russell, Shawnee Smith, Peter Outerbridge, Athena Karkanis, Samantha Lemoie, Tanedra Howard, Marty Moreau, Shawn Ahmed et al.
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Country of Origin : United States
Language: English

The first five Saw movies were violent, bloody and full of gore. Saw VI is no exception. In fact, since the writers are collaborating on their third Saw film in a row, you barely notice that the director has changed.

Although John "Jigsaw" Kramer, the ruthless murderer of the previous films is dead from cancer for many months he leaves behind as his henchmen a compromised police detective and a widow plus a series of "games" that are aimed at bringing about the demise of William Easton, the corporate officer who denied his request to try an experimental gene therapy.

Jigsaw is interwoven into the current story through flashbacks, videotapes and fantasy sequences.

Although it's horrifying and scary to watch, the plot actually makes sense in this movie. The audience definitely empathizes with the bloodthirsty Jigsaw and is against the callous health insurer Eastman.

This franchise makes money so next year there will probably be a Saw VII. Meanwhile, the tasteless film is full of bad acting and laughable logic. While not really suspenseful it is gory enough to provide an upset stomach and an uncomfortable feeling of not being able to justify sitting through the entire thing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

THE BOYS ARE BACK

By D.E.Levine

Director: Scott Hicks
Writers: Allan Cubitt (screenplay) and Simon Carr (memoir)
Cast: Clive Owen, Emma Booth, Laura Fraser, George MacKay and Nicholas McAnulty
Producers: Greg Brenman and Tim White
Executive Producers: Peter Bennett-Jones, Clive Owen, David Thompson and Jane Wright
Co-producer: Bella Wright
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Country of Origin: Australia - United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Biographical, Drama

Forced to be a better parent after the untimely death of his wife, Joe Warr is a British expatriate working as a sports journalist in Australia.

Through flashbacks we see how Joe's marriage to second wife Katy was cut short when she succumbed to cancer. Joe must suddenly face the reality of work, grocery shopping, dishes, house cleaning, laundry and all the other mundane tasks that are part of life.

With a young six-year-old boy to raise without a mother, and an inherent uneasiness with full-time fatherhood, the father-son relationship is complicated and made more so by the fact that young Artie frequently acts out because he's too young to realize the full import of his mother's death.

Warr implements a different type of child rearing with as few rules as possible. It doesn't appear to be working and is exacerbated by the arrival of his teenage son Harry, from his first marriage, arrives for an extended stay. Harry's arrival brings an entirely new set of father-son issues.

Together, father and sons struggle to create a working but somewhat unorthodox household. Conflicts arise as young Artie is now forced to share his only parent with his older brother who is a stranger. Harry never understood why his father left and has always felt abandoned despite his academic understanding of the concept of divorce and his father moving to Australia where his second wife resided.

With extreme leniency comes a cluttered house and rumpled clothes, piles of laundry and dirty dishes, and basic lack of housekeeping. Also necessary is the need to accommodate the boys and for the Dad to be there for them, even when his job requires him to be away. Conflict arises and must be resolved.

Many mistakes are made along the way as the solo Dad tries to helm the family without experience or a manual. A love develops and a relationship grows between the brothers that will also influence the father.

In the end, the mistakes that are made and what are learned from them lead to a resolution of the conflicts between Dad and sons and an adoption of a new way of life.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

THE DAMNED UNITED

By D.E.Levine

Director: Tom Hooper
Writers: Peter Morgan (screenplay) and David Peace (novel)
Producers: Andy Harries and Grainne Marmion
Executive Producers: Hugo Heppell, Christine Langan and Peter Morgan
Line Producer: Lee Morris
Cast: Colm Meaney, Henry Goodman, David Roper, Jimmy Reddington, Oliver Stokes, Ryan Day, Michael Sheen, Mark Bazeley, Timothy Spall, Maurice Roeves, Stephen Graham, Peter McDonald, Mark Cameron, Frank Skillin, Dylan Van Hoof, Sydney Wade, Elizabeth Caring, Jim Broadbent et al.
Original Music: Robert Lane
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Biography, Action, Historical, Sports

A combination of fact and fiction as this film, taken from a book, recounts the highlights of team manager Brian Clough.

Using flashbacks to tell the story, this film spans the 1968-1974 years when working-class-boy Clough oversaw the rise of English soccer team Derby County and then moved on to manage Derby's archrival, Leeds United.

When Clough takes over Leeds the club is at the top of the tables. Former manager Don Revie leaves to take over England's World Cup squad.

Long harboring resentment against Revie, Clough incurs the resentment of Leeds players prior to even starting by making public negative statements against both the former manager and the players.

Also hindering Clough is the fact that his longtime collaborator and assistant manager, Peter Taylor, doesn't accompany him to Leeds.

Fired after only 44 days on the job, Clough redeems himself in the opinion and memory of the U.K. by starting over again elsewhere.

While most of the infrequent soccer footage is archival, the emphasis of this film focuses on Clough's friendship with Taylor and rivalry with Revie. The themes thus are friendship, rivalry, loyalty and honor.

Michael Sheen, who already has proven himself adept at playing real historical figures (i.e. David Frost and Tony Blair) develops a moving picture of a braggart who must admit to his deficiencies and modify his behavior.

Clough, who died in 2004, is still a well-known and remembered figure in U.K. sports, both as a manager and a talkshow personality. Undoubtedly, his flamboyant personality and style will always be remembered in sports history.