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Thursday, March 25, 2010

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010)

By D.E.Levine

Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay) and Lewis Carroll (books "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass
Cast: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whitehouse, Timothy Spall, Marton Csokas, Tim Pigott-Smith, Lindsay Duncan, Geraldine James, Leo Bill, Frances de la Tour, Jemma Powell et al.
Producers: Tim Burton, Joe Roth, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd and Robert D. Zanuck
Executive Producers: Chris Lebenzon and Peter M. Tobyansen
Associate Producer: Derek Frey
Co-producer: Katterli Frauenfelder and Linda Woolverton
Original Music: Danny Elfman
Running Time: 209 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy, Adaption, Digital 3-D, Science Fiction

In their seventh film together director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp have created another unusual original that will withstand the test of time.

Adapting Lewis Carroll's two books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, has been done before and several films and TV programs have been created.

There has never been an Alice like this one. And while smoking is generally frowned upon in movies these days, the Blue Caterpillar voiced by Alan Rickman is continually smoking and enveloped in smoke. It's simply part of his persona.

Backed and produced by established film notables, Disney took a chance by filming this extravaganza in 2-D and then converting it to 3-D. It's a strange story with a even stranger creatures inhabiting Underland.

Plagued since childhood by one recurring bad dream that takes place in a land she calls Wonderland, after her father's death, the now nineteen-year-old Alice attends a party that turns out to be her engagement party.

With everyone watching she turns and runs off, following the white rabbit, dressed in a waistcoat, and falling down a hole into the Underland, the land of her bad dream.

Underland is ruled by the tightfisted, evil Red Queen, a monarch with an enormous head who favors the phrase "Off with his/her head" and decapitation. In fact, the moat surrounding her castle is filled with the lobbed off heads of the unfortunate, including her late husband, the Red King.

It's vital to overthrow the Red Queen, defeat her favorite Jabberwock warrior and turn power over to the good and loving White Queen (who happens to be the sister sibling to the Red Queen).

Johnny Depp's lisping Mad Hatter plays a key role in the defeat of the Red Queen and the transition of power to the White Queen. His wonderfully eccentric looks and bright red hair add to his "madness" without being frightening.

Although Carroll's Alice is always called a children's' story, in truth it's a dark rather sadistic tale which fits perfectly in the Burton/Depp interpretation.

Burton's background as an artist is easily recognizable in the beautiful flora and gardens as are the unusual features and attire of his characters.

Alice is actually in peril in Wonderland/Underland. These characters and their warring over territory and freedoms are serious and provide a commentary on life in general and certain world situations.

Of course, things have changed since Carroll wrote his books, but the world remains a place of war and danger in modern times.

Burton's fascination with the dark side has found a perfect outlet in this version of Alice. Several characters are acted by humans (i.e. Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, etc.) sometimes with a little help from CGI. Other characters are animated and voiced by well-known actors (i.e. Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit, Blue Caterpillar).

It's an interesting mixture of humans and animation. Until the last act - the battle scene. It's not that it isn't well done, because it is. And, it isn't as if we didn't know that good will triumph over evil. We know that for sure.

However, the battle scene is just, plain boring. With all the CGI and the regiments of red and white battling each other, it's dull. Additionally, even the "close calls" by Mad Hatter and Alice don't seem very exciting.

So what we have is a beautifully constructed, acted and filmed story that has been enhanced by CGI and 3-D. It just doesn't keep you on the edge of your seat and at the end the story is rather disappointing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN (LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS)

By D.E.Levine

A New Directors/New Films 2010 Selection

Director: Mia Hansen-Love
Writer: Mia Hansen-Love (screenplay)
Cast: Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Chiara Caselli, Alice de Lencquesaing, Alice Gautier, Manelle Driss, Eric Elmosnino, Sandrine Dumas, Dominique Frot, Antoine Mathieu, Igor Hansen Love, Elsa Pharaon, Olivia Ross, Jamshed Usmonov et al.
Producers: Oliver Damian, Philippe Martin and David Thion
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Country of Origin: France
Language: French with English subtitles
Genre: Drama, Tragedy

The winner of the Jury Prize in Un Certain Regard section at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, this mesmerizing film holds audience attention until the very last minute.

The story was inspired by the life and death of film producer Humbert Balsan and initially centers around beleaguered film producer Gregoire Canvel.

Following Gregoire through Paris, landmarks and film sets as he negotiates solutions to a variety of problems on several projects, Gregoire seems unflappable.

Despite his demeanor however, Gregoire's company is on the verge of bankruptcy and the strain is taking a toll on his family life.

When a sudden tragedy strikes, the film shifts focus to Gregoire's wife Sylvia and their three daughters.

All of the performances are superb and riveting. Pascal Auffray's cinematography is like a travelogue of Paris as he follows Gregoire's non-stop pace and cell-phone prattle.

The cell phone becomes an object of contention while on a family vacation, as it frequently does in real life.

Director Mia Hansen-Love has deliberately understated some scenes, all the better to create a believable film

All the joys and sadness, the various characters and locations are totally believable and beautifully portrayed. The script, dialogue and actors are powerful and believable making this film one that should not be missed.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I AM LOVE (LO SONO L'AMORE)

By D.E.Levine

A New Directors/New Films 2010 Selection

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writers: Luca Guadagnino, Barbara Alberti, Ivan Cotroneo and Walter Fasano
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbirllini, Alba Rohrwacher, Pippo Delbono, Diane Flori, Maria Paiato, Marisa Berenson, Waris Ahluwalia and Gsabriele Ferzetti
Producers: Luca Guadagnino, Francesco Metzi d'Eril, Marco Moribito, Tilda Swinton, Alessandro Usai and Massimilano Violante
Executive Producer: Christopher Granier-Deferre (UK)
Associate Producers: Carlo Antonelli and Silvia Venturini Fendi
Line Producer: Viola Prestieri
Original Music: John Adams
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Country of Origin: Italy
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Genre: Romance, Drama, Tragedy

This is an ambitious and beautifully photographed film showing elaborate excesses in both scenery and lifestyles.

Tilda Swinton, looking younger and better than in most of her latest films. Here she plays Emma Rechhi, a Russian woman who married into the Recchi family, an Italian textile manufacturing clan.

The family lives and works in Milan, living a life of luxury and excess. Emma's three children are typical children of privilege and all are leaving home either for marriage or school. Only the oldest, Edoardo, the heir, appears passionate about the business. The others just like and do a good job of spending the money.

Emma is the perfect wife, entertaining lavishly and devoting herself to her children, husband and parents-in-law. She's also bored and as the children depart she becomes more bored.

When Emma meets Antonio, a humble chef who is opening a restaurant with Edoardo, she feels new passion such that she hasn't known in years.

Faced with a daughter who comes out as a lesbian, a fact to be hidden from the family; the sale of the family business to foreigners after the patriarch's death; and no job or hobby of her own, Emma falls for the younger Antonio and is in a sense reawakened from years of being frigid and aloof.

This passion that she feels leads her through Milan and the countryside of Sanremo where it can only be said she seeks out and follows Antonio, appearing to bump into him accidentally.

However, it is this very awakening of passion that brings about the tragic ending climax.

In addition to the brilliant photography, the soaring score lends drama to the scenes and audience emotions.

The film is intriguing and well crafted but the ending is oddly disappointing and somewhat rushed and even unbelievable after the long, leisurely pace of the film.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

BROOKLYN'S FINEST

By D.E.Levine

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writers: Michael C. Martin
Cast: Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, Vincent D'Onofrio, Brian F. O'Byrne, Will Patton, Jesse Williams, Lili Taylor, Shannon Kane, Ellen Barkin et al.
Producers: Elie Cohn, Basel Iwanyk, John Langley, Avi Lerner and John Thompson
Executive Producers: Boaz Davidson, Antoine Fuqua, Robert Greenhut, Jesse Kenndy and Mary Viola
Co-producers: Joe Napolitano and Sam Samick
Associate Producer: Jeanne O'Brien-Ebiri
Original Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Runmning Time: 125 Minutes
Country of Origin: USA
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Drama

The story is implausible and downbeat which is surprising considering that it was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who has a reputation and history for balancing the action of his characters with detailed inquiries and explanations into and about their lives.

While the film isn't great it's strong cast will attract a following and it is surprisingly engaging for the audience.

Stories and scenes take place in the grimiest and roughest sections of East Brooklyn. There are daily numerous shootings sometimes drug related, and sometimes by police of innocent people.

Police are definitely not displayed in their best light. Eddie has seven days to retirement and is playing it safe by not getting involved in controversial confrontations. Tango wants to leave his three years as an undercover cop and superiors suggest he set up his best friend. Sal, a narcotics cop with five kids and twins on the way, desperately wants to move his family out of his mold-invested house into a larger, cleaner home. In order to afford to do so he regularly steals money at drug busts even if it involves murdering people in cold blood.

How these stories progress independently and finally end at one huge crime scene is a film full of violence, bloodshed and some really surprising twists.

What's inconceivable is how these three police and others could join the police force and exist while top brass turns a blind eye to the ongoing corruption and dishonesty.

Despite the well organized production of the background and the details of the 65th Precinct, all of the stories seem preposterous and unbelievable.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

BREAKING UPWARDS

By D.E.Levine

A NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2010 SELECTION

Director: Daryl Wein
Writers: Peter Duchan, Zoe Lister Jones and Daryl Wein (screenplay)
Cast: Zoe Lister Jones, Daryl Wein, Julie White, Andrea Martin, Peter Friedman, La Chanze, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Olivia Thirlby, Pablo Schreiber, Heather Burns, Tate Ellington, Francis Benhamou, David Call, Sam Rosen, Max Jenkins, Michael Benjamin, Charles Socarides, Michael Warner and Audrey Allison Wauchope
Producers: Zoe Lister Jones and Daryl Wein
Associate Producer: Peter Duchan
Original Music: Kyle Forester
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Country of Origin: USA
Language: English
Genre: Romance

Can an indie film produced on a shoestring budget by relative newcomers upstage some of the bigger, more expensive films and gain a following? The answer appears to be YES!

A total surprise and a delightful experience, from the beginning, Breaking Upwards, a film written, produced and acted in by a couple of New York University Tisch School graduates, is rapidly gaining ground and supporters.

The real life couple, Zoe Lister Jones and Daryl Wein, decided to tell the story of their own four-year relationship, their co-dependency and mutual boredom, their establishment of arbitrary rules for their relationship and their resulting breakup.

The film is an exploration of a single year in their lives where they explore alternatives to monogamy and what follows as a result.

It's interesting in that they work at staying together in a world where breaking up is commonplace and somewhat simpler.

Without much money but with great expectations, the two "stars"did multiple jobs on the film in addition to acting and drew heavily on friends and family to appear.

Some of the parts are played by well-known New York actors while others are played by family members like Wein's 96-year old grandfather.

Compared to Woody Allen's Annie Hall, the Breaking Upwards film was an Official Selection of the SXSW Film Festival and has won several film festival awards.

Breaking Upwards is currently available from IFC On Demand and opens in selected cities in April. For more information check the www.breakingupwards.com and local listings.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

WOMEN WITHOUT MEN (ZANAN-E BEDUN-E MARDAN)

By D.E.Levine

A New Directors/New Films 2010 Selection

Director: Shirin Neshat
Collaborating Director: Shoja Azari
Writers: Shoja Azari; Steven Henry Madoff (voiceovers and additional dialogue); Shirin Neshat (screenplay) and Shahrnoush Parsipour (novel)
Associate Producer: Shoja Azari
Line Producer: Peter Hermann
Cast: Navid Akhavan, Mina Azarian, Bijan Daneshmand, Rahi Daneshmand, Salma Daneshmand, Pegah Ferydoni, Anita Shahzad, Tahmoures Tehrani, Shabnam Toloui, Orsolya Toth and Essa Zahr
Original Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Country of Origin: Gerrmany, Austria, France
Language: Persian with English subtitles
Genre: Drama

The original book was banned in Iran and its author lives in California. The director Shirin Neshat lives in exile and worked on this film for five years.

The film deals with the the condition of women in Iran and the coup that toppled the democratically elected Mossadegh government.

There are four separate stories of four individual women from different levels of Iranian society who suffer in their lives and finally find solace in an enchanted forest where their lives converge.

However, just when they seem to be achieving some semblance of freedom and happiness, they will be banished from the forest.

One young woman (Munis)approaching 30 is terrorized by her fundamentalist brother and attempts suicide. Buried in her family's garden, she is miraculously resurrected.

Middle-aged, upper class wife of a general(Fakhri) is fed up with her husband and life and disheartened when the Western lover who left her years ago returns with a young American girlfriend. She leaves her husband and moves a mansion surrounded by the enchanted forest.

A young, emaciated prostitute (Toth) rebels and runs away first to a public bath where she purifies herself and then to the enchanted forest where she is found and taken in by the general's wife.

Munis's best friend Faezeh is obsessed with marrying Munis' fundamentalist brother.

It's obvious that in her first feature film Neshat hasn't quite learned character development and continues to use her actors as symbols, as she has in previous video installations.

Conversations between characters and movements are stiff and stilted. There's little integration between the banter of the middle class intelligentsia, the political events and the lives of the four women.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

THE BOONDOCK SAINTS ATTRACT ATTENTION AS THEY ROLL INTO TOWN

By D.E.Levine

The producer, director and cast of "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" celebrated the 10th anniversary of the release of the original film and the DVD and Blu-ray release of the sequel by throwing a big party in New York City last night.


Pictured in the photo above are Chris Brinker (producer), Bob Marley (Greenly), Troy Duffy (writer and director), Billy Connolly (Poppa), Clifton Collins Jr.(Romeo), Daniel DeSanto (Crew Cut) and David Della Rocca (Rocco).

Arriving in "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" bus, the Boondock Saints parked on East 11th Street and took over Webster Hall for a rocking event that was billed as a pre-St. Patrick's Day party and featured entertainment by Ty Stone & The Truth, The Dirges and Taylor Duffy.


The large and flashy "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" bus, with the cast pictured on its side, parked on East 11th Street, opposite Webster Hall.

The event was loud as the performers packed the house with laughing, drinking, dancing, shouting followers who knew all the words to the songs and also seemed to know all the dialogue to the movies.

As the performers belted out songs, Troy Duffy and the cast members circulated in the crowd meeting fans and taking photos with them.


Pictured above, Ty Stone & The Truth rock the house and keep the crowd singing and cheering as they perform songs from the films.

A one-time special presentation showing of the original film with a retrospective and behind-the-scenes footage will be introduced by creator, writer and director Troy Duffy. The event will start at 7:30 p.m. local time on Thursday, March 11th.

Another 449 theaters throughout the United States will also show the film and the retrospective footage introduced by creator, writer and director Troy Duffy on that evening. For a listing of theaters and their locations, and to purchase tickets for the event go to www.FathomEvents.com.

Monday, March 8, 2010

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (MAN SOM HATAR KVINNOR)

By D.E.Levine

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writers: Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg (screenplay); Stieg Larsson (novel)
Cast: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Haber, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Andersson, Ingvar Hirdwell, Marika Lagercrantz, Bjorn Granath, Ewa Froling, Michalis Koutsoglannakis, Annika Hallin, Sofia Ledarp, Tomas Kohler, David Dencik, Stefan Sauk, Gosta Bredefeldt et al.
Producer: Soren Staermose
Executive Producers: Anni Faurbye Fernandez, Lone Korslund, Peter Naderman, Ole Sondberg and Mikael Wallen
Associate Producer: Jenny Gilbertsson
Line Producer: Susann Billberg-Rydholm
Coordinating Producer: Jon Mankell
Original Music: Jacob Groth
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Country of Origin: Sweden
Language: Swedish with English subtitles
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Drama

In the manner of John Schlesinger's "Marathon Man" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound", Neils Arden Oplev has directed a spellbinding mystery thriller that will withstand the years and become a classic in its own right.

Based on a novel by Stieg Larsson that was published posthumously and became an international phenomena, the film revolves around an investigative reporter and his very unlikely partner, a punked out, goth mentally unstable girl who's a genius computer hacker.

Accompanied by original music that adds to the mounting tension and mystery throughout the film, the story involves corporate trickery and serial murders that span several continents and involve the evil past and complicated industrial fraud of a wealthy Swedish industrial family.

When Mikael Bloomkvist, loses a libel suit brought by Swedish industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, his magazine, Millennium is in financial jeopardy. Michael accepts a job offered spending a year prior to serving his jail sentence, writing the history of the Vanger family. The job is offered by Henrik Vanger, the former CEO of the Vanger companies in exchange for financial help with his magazine and information proving that Wennerstrom is corrupt.

Michael becomes disheartened feeling he cannot discover any new information until he meets Lisbeth Sander, an abused, victimized and misunderstood young woman who dresses in goth clothes, has numerous piercings and tattoos, and is extremely asocial.

A brilliant investigator and computer hacker, Lisbeth teams up with Michael in a classic detective pairing and their findings unravel a four decades old mystery.

This is a harsh film with violence, torture, bloodshed, abuse and many twists and turns. Noomi Rapace is brilliant as the sullen, victimized Lisbeth. Intent upon exposing abuses of power, her pairing with Mikael seems strange but is tremendously effective.

The pair doggedly pursue their goal until they uncover a lot more than they bargained for and results in many unanticipated surprises.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

THE RUNAWAYS

By D.E.Levine

Director: Floria Sigismondi
Writer: Floria Sigismondi (screenplay)
Cast: Kirsten Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Scout Taylor-Compton, Alia Shawkat, Michael Shannon, Tatum O'Neal, Brett Cullen, Riley Keough, Johnny Lewis, Stella Maeve, Robert Romanus, Hannah Marks, Lisa Long, Adam Silver, Daniel D. Lee, Jill Andre, Shammy Dee et al.
Producers: Art Linson, John Linson and William Pohlad
Executive Producers: Joan Jett, Kenny Laguna and Brian Young
Co-producer: David Grace
Associate Producer: Sabrina Sipantzi
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Country of Origin:
Language: English
Genre: Drama

Music video director Floria Sigismondi makes an auspicious feature film directorial debut with a tightly knit biopic film about the formation and rise of The Runaways, a forerunner of all girl rock bands.

Created by Kim Fowley, a manager who lucked into starting the band with talented amateurs who could actually sing and play instruments, The Runaways achieved prominence in the 1970s through their performances and the uniqueness of being an all girl hard rock band, but their reputation was also built on a great deal of hype and promotion.

The film centers on Joan Jett (guitarist) and Cherie Curie (lead singer) played by Kirsten Stewart and Dakota Fanning, both of whom give amazing and believable performances very distant from the roles with which we usually identify them.

Another outstanding performance is given by Michael Shannon as the tyrannical manager Kim Fowley. His abusive treatment of the girls turns them into strong performers but their celebrity status takes their toll on their lives.

Because the concentration is on the creation, rise and fall of The Runaways, there's little actual character development and we have to be happy with what we're given. There's also not much background on characters in the band member families, whose actions influenced the band members to start the band and go on the road.

While the story is interesting and the music recognizable and enjoyable, the dialogue isn't great but the film is extremely watchable.

It's the performances that this film is really about. The convincing performances by both Stewart and Fanning show they are capable of better and more demanding roles then they've been given in the past. Shannon's remarkable performance is in keeping with what we've seen in other films he's done and are an indication of more outstanding performances to come.

The movie's fast pace and fun music make it enjoyable to watch and the end comes all too soon. While the dialogue isn't great