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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

THE FIGHTER

By D.E.Levine

By D.E.Levine

Director: David O. Russell
Writer: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (screenplay); Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson and Keith Dorrington (story)
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Mickey O'Keefe, Jack McGee, Micky Ward, Melissa McMeeken, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg, Dendrie Taylor, Kate B. O'Brien, Jenna Lamia, Frank Rezulli, Paul Campbell, Catlin Dwyer et al.
Producers: Dorothy Aufiero, David Hoberman, Ryan Kavanaugh, Todd Lieberman, Paul Tamasy and Mark Wahlberg
Executive Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Keith Dorrington, Eric Johnson, Tucker Tooley and Leslie Varrelman
Co-producers: Ken Halsband and Jeff G. Waxman
Original Music: Michael Brook
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport

After so many great boxing films one has to wonder what is left to say about the fight game.

In this truly remarkable film, David O. Russell directs a brilliant film that focuses on a very toxic blue collar family that brutalizes its youngest son who ironically is their best chance for achieving boxing and worldly success.

There are, of course, the recurring images of a fighter working with his trainer. In this case, Micky is the fighter with promise, and Dicky, his older brother, is his trainer who once was a promising fighter himself but gave in to drugs and prison.

Telling the true story set in Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1990s, among the working class, we see the domineering mother/manager and the six older sisters who play an integral part in everything Micky attempts, including his relationship with a girl.

Micky basically supports his family by taking physical abuse in the ring. He is both literally and figuratively a human punching bag. Played by Mark Wahlberg, who grew up knowing the real family and championed the making of the film, Micky is the central figure but initially his role is rather passive.

Dicky, who has drug induced feelings of grandiosity, is a much more flamboyant role and is brilliantly played by Christian Bale.

Family is central to this film. And, this isn't a dysfunctional family. Rather it's a very functional and destructive family.

It would seem that The Fighter is geared for defeat until Micky's new and strong girlfriend challenges his mother and sisters and turns the story into one of hope instead of defeat.

In the end, The Fighter becomes a story about elation, hope and optimist, as well as a biographical picture about an individual.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

BARNEY'S VERSION

By D.E.Levine

Director: Richard J. Lewis
Writer: Mordechai Richler (novel); Michael Konyves (screenplay)
Cast: Paul Giametti, Macha Grenon, Paul Gross, Atom Egoyan, Mark Camacho, David Pryde, Mark Addy, Minnie Driver, Dustin Hoffman, Saul Rubinek, Howard Jerome, Rosamunde Pike, Rachelle Lefevre et al.
Producer: Robin Lantos
Executive Producer: Mark Musselman
Co-producers: Lyse Lafontaine, Ari Lantos and Domenico Procacci
Original Music: Pasquale Cantolano
Running Time: 134 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama

Once again Paul Giamatti give a brilliant portrayal in a small film. The story of Barney Panofsky's "wasted life" and the scandals that occurred during his lifetime and followed him to his grave.

Believed to be the most autobiographical of Mordechi Richler's novels, Barney is an uncomfortable member of Montreal's tightly knit Jewish enclave.

His father (Dustin Hoffman), is a retired Jewish policeman who is outspoken and irascible.

He succeeds easily at business but has less success in the romantic area. Despite that, he marries three times and fathers children.

Wrestling throughout his life with success, failure, friendship, love and finally time. Barney's behavior, both good and bad, is always rippling across the universe.

Barney leads a life of excess. We never fully understand Barney's ability to charm beautiful, intelligent women. There's also the question of whether he got away with murder.

What is a small film is two hours of intelligent portrayals and interesting story. The audience is never bored with Barney and his shenanigans but rather engrossed in what happens.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

HEARTLESS

By D.E.Levine

Director: Philip Ridley
Writer: Philip Ridley
Cast: Jim Sturgess,Clemence Posey, Nigel Clarke, Luke Treadaway, Justin Salinger
Producers: Pippa Cross and Richard Raymond
Executive Producers: Steve Christian, Steve Norris, Marc Samuelson, Nigel Thoman and Charlotte Walls, Timothy Spall
Co-producer: Andrew Fingret
Line Producer: Alexander O'Neal
Original Music: David Julyan
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Horror

This is a psychological thriller that has a lot of heart despite being called "Heartless."

Jamie, a shy, East Londoner facially disfigured by a wine-colored birthmark is still suffering from the death of his beloved father 10 years before. An introverted photographer, Jamie has learned to endure the gawking stares of neighbors and strangers.

Extremely watchable, Jim Sturgess, as Jamie, fatefully interacts with supernatural beings in a suspenseful thriller. Even when pushed to murderous extremes, Jamie is extremely sympathetic to the audience.

One night, when wandering through the East End Jamie discovers that the gang of thugs wearing demon masks and terrorizing the neighborhood are actually demons. However, before he can tell anyone, Jammie and his mother are attacked, and his mother is killed.

While the film initially makes Jamie appear to be going the vigilante route, after a meeting with Papa B the "patron of random violence", Jamie is seduced into a Fasutian agreement where Papa B will remove his disfigurement and make him normal in return for his doing some extremely bad things.

While special effects are used sparingly, there is a strong supporting cast that helps achieve a truly scary experience for the audience.

RARE EXPORTS; A CHRISTMAS STORY

By D.E.Levine

Director: Jalmari Helander
Writer: Jalmari Helander and Juuso Helander (original idea); Jalmari Helander (screenplay); Petri Jokiranta (dramaturge); Sam Parkkinen
Cast: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen, Per Christian Ellefsen, Ilmari Jarvenpaa, Peeter Jakobi, Jonathan Hutchings, Risto Salmi et al.
Producers: Agnes B, Anna Bjork, Francois-Xavier Frantz, Petri Jokiranta and Knut Skoglund
Line Producer: Anna Bjork
Original Music: Juri Seppa and Miska Seppa
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Country of Origin: Finland
Language: Finish with English subtitles
Genre: Action, Comedy, Fantasy

Have you ever thought of Santa Claus as being a sinister figure? Well, in this bizarre Finnish fairy tale, Santa is sinister and he and his demon helpers kidnap children.

Set in northern Finland just before Christmas, and American drilling operation unearths a giant block of ice that spouts gigantic horns.

When children from a neighboring village start disappearing and the local reindeer hunters find their annual reindeer crop slaughtered, it's obvious something's amiss.

Only a little boy named Pietari understands who's behind the foul deeds and he has to convince his father about what's happening and that they should fight back.

This strange fairy tale portrays Santa as a wizened troll who bites off ears while his demonic elves are naked, wizened graybeards (filming in the buff in the frozen north of Finland must have been challenging).

There's a lot of deadpan humor in this tale but beware very young youngsters will be terrified of Santa after seeing this film. Tweeners, on the other hand, will probably admire and cheer on the child-hero.

Monday, November 15, 2010

WINTER'S BONE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Debra Granik
Writer: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini (screenplay); David Woodrell (novel)
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Isaiah Stone, Ashlee Thompson. Valerie Richards, Shelley Waggener, Garrett Dillahunt et al.
Producers: Alex Madigan and Anne Rosellini
Executive Producers: Jonathan Scheuer and Shawn Simon
Co-producer: Kathryn Dean
Associate Producer: Michael McDonough
Line Producer: Kathryn Dean
Original Music: Dickon Hinchliffe
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Dram, Mystery, Thriller

Jennifer Lawrence gives an amazing performance as Ree Dolly, a 17-year old in the Ozarks, who acts as a homemaker for her younger brother and sister and a caregiver for her mentally ill mother.

Her father, who was jailed for cooking methampethamine, is now absent from the scene and gives no emotional or financial support to the family.

By scraping along on welfare and the assistance of kind neighbors, Ree undertakes to be the head of the household and the head of the family.

Filmed on location in the Ozarks, this film resembles the depression despite the fact that it takes place in the present.

Despite the lack of parental guidance, Ree has grown up a strong, self-reliant young woman. Therefore it's no surprise that when the local sheriff reports that Ree's father Jessup has skipped bail and put up the house to meet his bond, Ree sets out to find him so that the family won't become homeless within the week.

In her own quiet way, without threatening or boasting, Ree becomes a hero and steadfastly believes that people will "do the right thing."

During the search for her father, Ree must meet with his brother, her uncle, and face the fact that Jessup is probably dead. The problem is that without proof, such as a body, the family will still be put out of the house and become homeless.

As Ree conducts her journey, there is a quiet, steadfast resolve, and the writers focus on the humanity of each character instead of the type of the type of caricature they seem to represent.

This is not a happy film. The story and the characters are almost too much to bear. However, throughout it Ree remains optimistic and strong, never allowing herself to be torn down by the conditions and surroundings.

Truly, Winter's Bone is a remarkable film and commentary on life and human existence.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

TRON LEGACY 3D

By D.E.Levine

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writer: Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (screenplay); Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal (story) and Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird (characters)
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen, Anis Cheufa
Producers: Sean Bailey, Steven Lisberger and Jeffrey Silver
Executive Producers: Donald Kushner
Co-producers: Steve Gaub, Justis Greene and Justin Springer
Associate Producer: Bruce Franklin
Production Executive: Brigham Taylor
Original Music: Daft Punk
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Long anticipated, Tron Legacy doesn't disappoint as a fantasy filled science fiction spectacular filled with stunning special effects.

Seen in 3D, all of the action and effects are enhanced into something spectacular. While it may not be a thought-provoking psychological film, it's lots of fun.

Picking up 28 years after the original Tron was made, Tron Legacy stars Jeff Bridges, once again, as the software developer father who was seduced by a video game and disappeared inside the Tron universe (which exists entirely within computer chips).

Sam Flynn grew up an orphan since his father Kevin disappeared 20 years ago and now he receives an electronic message that lures him into joining his father into the Tron universe.

Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, both in a flashback to 20 years before, taking leave of his son, and now in the Tron universe. His remarkably youthful appearance in the flashback isn't due to expert makeup but rather due to CGI special computer effects that do a remarkable job of making him look exactly like a young Jeff Bridges.

And the younger Flynn doesn't just appear in the flashback but sticks around to play a character named Clu, who is the adversary in this fantasy.

Clu of course is the digital doppelganger that Flynn created, and who now wants to control the world.

After a reconciliation between Kevin and Sam, they are joined by the beautiful Quorra. Played by Olivia Wilde (former Number Thirteen on House), who looks fabulous in a tight, form-fitting outfit and short wig, there are definite sparks between Sam and Quorra. There is the problem that she's virtual and he's a real human. Can love exist between them?

Tron Legacy is very action oriented - much more so than the original Tron and a far cry from the sedentary Hal in 2001.

Jeff Bridges is outstanding reprising the role of Kevin Flynn. Even his current craggy looks are enhanced by the neon-lit costumes and stunning sets and special effects.

Michael Sheen (formerly David Frost and other historical figures) gives a remarkable performance whose transformation leaves the audience amazed that it's truly Michael Sheen.

This film is sure to be a blockbuster because of the anticipation, the great cast and the remarkable special effects - regardless of the weak and confusing story.

The music by Daft Punk is electronic and enhances the overall effect of the film.

Overall, the film is an experience that will be enjoyed and discussed whether it's a "great" film in the annals of film history or not.

Certainly, Tron Legacy 3D is new and exciting and paves the way for still more creativity and originality in the movie industry.

THE GHOST WRITER

By D.E.Levine

Director: Roman Polanski
Writer: Robert Harris and Roman Polanski (screenplay); Robert Harris (novel)
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jon Bernthal, Eli Wallach, Tim Preece, James Belushi, Timothy Hutton, Anna Botting, Kim Cattrall, Tim Faraday, Olivia Williams, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Wilkinson, Desiree Erasmus, David Rintoul et al.
Producers: Robert Benmussa, Roman Polanski and Alain Sarde
Executive Producer: Henning Molfenter
Co-producers: Tim Burrill, Christoph Fisser and Charlie Woebcken
Line Producer: Oliver Luer and Christian von Tippelskirch
Original Music: Alexandre Desplat
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Country of Origin:
Language: English
Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Despite all the adverse publicity centering around his personal life, at 76 Roman Polanski has turned out one of his best films.

Commenting on contemporary politics and the helplessness of individuals against the powerful already entrenched, The Ghost Writer reminds one of a Hitchcock film, especially when paired with the original score of Alexandre Desplat.

Once again Polanski has provided the adult viewing audience with a film that alternates spellbinding suspense episodes with those of comic relief.

This technique too is that of pure Hitchcock, but Polanski has used it successfully in the past with films like Rosemary's Baby.

Because it's based on a contemporary novel, the audience can recognize and relate to a former prime minister (strangely like Tony Blair) who is a central character, and the ghost writer hired to enhance his memoirs (label that rewrite professionally).

Throughout the film there are some unexpected twists and turns that add to the suspense and let the viewer know that cleverly both the writers have made sure things are never as they seem.

Every carefully chosen member of the cast performs well, including an unglamorous Kim Cattrall in a departure from her Sex in the City role, and 94 year old Eli Wallach, who can still steal any scene where he appears.

It's obvious that despite the notoriety in his personal life, it hasn't hampered the creative genius and meticulous consideration of detail that distinguishes one of Polanski's films from that of his contemporaries.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS

By D.E.Levine

Director: Edward Zwick
Writer: Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay); Jamie Reidy (book)
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Josh Gad, Gabriel Macht, Judy Greer, George Segal, Jill Clayburgh, Kate Jennings Grant, Katheryn Winnick, Kimberly Scott, Natalie Gold et al.
Producers: Pieter Jan Brugge, Marshall Herskovitz, Charles Randolph, Scott Stuber and Edward Zwick
Executive Producer: Margaret Riley
Associate Producers: Darin Rivetti and Troy Putney
Production Executive: Alexa Faigen
Original Music: James Newton Howard
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama

Love and Other Drugs is an interesting film in that while being a romantic comedy it also tackles the very serious problem of Parkinson's Disease.

Perhaps the fact that Michael J. Fox is thanked on the end credits points out that the research into and knowledge about the disease is realistic.

Set in the 1990s the film follows a young man navigating the pharmaceutical industry as a Pfizer representative.

While fighting his way out of Pittsburgh to a job in Chicago this young man learns the trade, outwits the competition, smooth talks and bribes the client doctors and falls for an attractive young woman.

Despite an abundance of nudity and sex, the two are careful not to fall in love because she's in the early stages of Parkinson's.

Although they have a torrid romance going, we see the struggles she faces when the tremors in her hands prevent her from working or the pharmacy is closed and she can't get her medication.

Determined to find a cure, the pharmaceutical rep who's now successfully marketing Viagra, spends his time and money flying his girlfriend all over the country for consultations and tests.

Even though they agreed not to fall in love, they do and instead of running away from the problem, the arrogant good looking sales rep shoulders responsibility in an admirable fashion.

How they face their emotional needs and her growing medical problems develops into a tender love story with a surprise ending.

The film is amusing and funny with a strong undercurrent of serious issues about medical problems and complications.

Friday, November 12, 2010

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS - PART 1

By D.E.Levine

Director: David Yates
Writer: Steve Kloves (screenplay); J.K.Rowling (novel)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Bill Nighy, Richard Griffiths, Henry Melling, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Ian Kelly, Michelle Fairley, Fiona Shaw, Alan Rickman, Carolyn Pickles, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Helen McCrory, Jason Issacs, Tom Felton, Timothy Spall, Graham Duff, Peter Mullan, Guy Henry, Michael Gambon, David Ryall, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Mark Williams, George Harris, Andy Linden, Domhnall Gleeson, Clemence Poesy, Natalia Tena, David Thewlis, John Hurt, Frances de la Tour, Evanna Lynch, Rhys Ifans, et al.
Producers: David Barron and David Heyman
Executive Producer: Lionel Wigram
Co-producer: Tim Lewis
Original Music: Alexandre Desplat
Running Time: 146 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

It's difficult to keep a franchise fresh and interesting. This is the first part of the seventh and last book of the Harry Potter franchise.

While the story doesn't rely on viewers having seen the previous six films, and there are flashbacks that fill in some of the blanks, knowledge of the books and previous films is definitely helpful.

It's also difficult to keep your child actors children and in this film it's readily apparent that Ron Weasley is more muscular and taller than Harry Potter, his brothers and many of the other characters.

Harry looks older than his 17 years and Draco Malfoy looks absolutely old (which may be why we don't see many full faced shots of him.

Ginny Weasley has grown from a little girl into a tall young woman and Hermione Granger looks and acts all grown up.

Taking into account that the characters are growing up and Professor Dumbledore is dead, Harry and his friends are intent upon overcoming He Who Shall Not Be Named (Lord Voldemort), especially since the Dark Lord wants to establish a race of "pure blood wizards" and is busy eliminating Muggles and accusing many wizards and witches of being impure and/or traitors.

Once again, there are lots of special effects, time transport through access ports, and plenty of magical spells and potions. However, this film is definitely less bloody and slower paced than the previous films.

A great deal of the action takes place in the countryside where Harry and Hermione, and later Ron, hide out while searching for the Deathly Hallows so they can destroy them.

But, the three also face the wrath of the Wizards Ministry while infiltrating their home turf.

Naturally, just when you think you know what's going to happen next, something unexpected happens.

With a cliffhanger ending, Part I will make it an absolute necessity for fans and followers to see Part 2 which will be released during the summer of 2011.

127 HOURS

By D.E.Levine

Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy (screenplay); Aron Ralston (book)
Cast: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Sean Bott, Koleman Stinger, Treat Williams, John Lawrence, Kate Burton, Bailee Michelle Johnson, Rebecca C. Olson, Parker Hadley, Clemence Posey, Fenton Quinn, Lizzy Caplan et al.
Producers: Danny Boyle, Christian Colson and Jon Smithson
Executive Producers: Bernard Bellew, Lisa Marie Falcone, Francois Ivernel, John J. Kelly, Cameron McCracken and Tessa Ross
Co-producer: Tom Heller and Gareth Smith
Associate Producer: Diamuid McKeown
Original Music: A.R.Rahman
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama

A few years ago (2003) Aron Ralston made the news because when his arm became trapped under a boulder while he was hiking alone in a canyon near Moab, Utah.

After many hours of suffering and hallucinating, when he realized that his arm was dying and poisoning his body, he cut through the bone and amputated the arm, wrapped up the stump and hiked back through the canyon until he found help.

Hacking off his arm undoubtedly saved his life, since the arm's circulation had been shut off and gangrene had set in. The experience was and as told, is gut wrenching.

127 Hours covers the time between Ralston's start of his hike, through the accident and through his rescue.

There are numerous flashbacks about his life and some extremely gory scenes when he severs the arm.

Despite other actors that appear briefly in scenes prior to the accident and in flashbacks, essentially it is James Franco playing Aron Ralston who carries the film and in the end, the inspirational message it achieves.

This film will not appeal to everyone and even those with strong stomachs may have difficulty with the amputation scenes.

It is simultaneously fascinating and repulsive to viewers. Because it's a difficult film to watch one has to wonder why viewers would want to subject themselves to the ordeal.

While Franco gives an amazing performance, the film itself may have a limited audience because of the very gory scenes.

However, this is a film, an a performance by Franco, that is well worth seeing and should not be missed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

HEMINGWAY'S GARDEN OF EDEN

By D.E.Levine

Director: John Irvin
Writer: James Scott Linville (screenplay); Ernest Hemingway (novel)
Cast: Mena Suvari, Jack Huston, Caterina Murino, Carmen Maura, Richard E. Grant, Matthew Modine, Mathias Palsvig, Hector Tomas, Dritan Biba et al.
Producers: Timothy J. Lewiston and Bob Mahoney
Executive Producer: Lorne Thyssen
Co-producers: Tim Baish,Vincente Tamarit, Geoff Jarrett and Mario Jarisic
Associate Producers: Alice Guien and Wojtek Palys
Line Producer: Al Burgess
Original Music: Roger Julia
Running Time: 70 minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English, Spanish, French
Genre: Drama, Romance

Beautiful vistas and cinematography, exquisite costumes and believable acting are what make this period piece enjoyable to watch.

Made in 2008 and recently acquired by Roadside Attractions, "Hemingway's Garden of Eden" is an adaption of the Ernest Hemingway novel which was published in 1986, after the author's suicide.

The film is set in the jazz era of the 1920s and focuses on newly successful writer David Bourne, his rapid romance and subsequent marriage to heiress Catherine. and their extended honeymoon on the French Riviera.

Instead of being proud of David's achievements and his ability to earn some income through his writing, Catherine becomes increasingly jealous of his abilities.

Without money problems, the couple have a luxurious life although David keeps a regimen of writing while Catherine spends her days shopping.

Experimenting with different appearances through hairstyles and clothes, they are a twosome until Catherine brings the beautiful and sultry Italian heiress Marita home.

The film which initially focuses on the relationship between a male and a female then shifts to examine relationships between the two females and the male and each of the females.

Despite having beauty, money and a devoted husband, Catherine's restlessness ultimately destroys her happiness and several relationships.

Reminiscent of Merchant Ivory films, this is a small but rare and delightful gem.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

THE RED CHAPEL (DET RODE KAPEL)

By D.E.Levine

CHOSEN AS ONE OF "THE CONTENDERS" BY MOMA

Director: Mads Brugger
Writer:
Cast: Mads Brugger, Simon Juls Jurgenson, Jacob Nossell, Mrs. Pak et al.
Producer: Peter Engel
Executive Producer: Peter Aalbaek Jensen
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Country of Origin: Denmark and North Korea
Language: English, Danish, Korean (with English subtitles)
Genre: Documentary, Comedy, Satire

A rather unusual film that is too long even at 88 minutes. The premise is so far-fetched that it's hard to believe anyone had the audacity to even attempt to make this film, much less to accomplish it.

A real Danish journalist, Mads Brugger, decides to make a film in North Korea by taking a Danish comedy troop over in a cultural exchange.

The real reason that Brugger wants to do this is that as an investigative reporter he wants to "infiltrate" North Korea and expose the dictatorship and corruption that abound and have never been seen before.

The North Korean government actually swallows the bait Brugger tosses out and invites Brugger and his comedy troop to tour North Korea.

Brugger's entire comedy troop consists of two Danish-Korea comedians, both of whom were born in North Korea and then adopted by Danish family. Raised in Denmark, neither speaks Korean but are fluent in Danish and English.

One of the comedians, Jacob, suffers from cerebral palsy and describes himself as spastic. His straight man is Simon, and the two of them are actually pretty funny doing slapstick comedy and also reacting to situations they are exposed to in North Korea.

Brugger manages to interject sarcasm into the skits and the film commentary. While the North Korean government may have agreed to allow the comedians to visit because they thought they'd get positive publicity from the visit, the reality is that Brugger exposes the insensitivity and dictatorship of the government.

In the end, the Danes go further than one would think is possible, with their expose and their sarcasm. But, they are also deeply affected by their trip and their exposure to the North Korean culture.

While after the first 40 minutes the film becomes somewhat redundant and drags, overall, this documentary is revealing unusual and well worth viewing.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

THE NEXT THREE DAYS

By D.E.Levine

Director: Paul Haggis
Writer: Paul Haggis (screenplay); Fred Cavaye and Guillaume Lemans (screenplay "Pour Elle"
Cast: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Jonathan Tucker, Brian Dennehy, Lennie James et al.
Producers: Olivier Delbosc, Paul Haggis, Marc Missonnier and Michael Nozik
Executive Producers: Anthony Katagas and Agnes Mentre
Co-producer: Eugenie Grandval
Original Music: Danny Elfman and Alberto Iglesias
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Action

An unusual film that focuses on a family torn apart by a wife convicted of murdering her boss and a husband who will goes to any length to save her, The Next Three Days meticulously examines the steps the husband takes to save her.

John Brennan is a mild-mannered professor at a community college. Intelligent but now aggressive, he simply isn't convinced of his wife's guilt.

When the justice system fails and his wife Lara attempts suicide, John decides that he needs to break the law and break his wife,out of prison.

Researching how to conduct a prison break by turning to some criminal types for advice on how to do it, using the Internet for additional advice and trying a variety of techniques, the mild-mannered professor does the impossible.

The amazing thing about this film is that although the protagonist, Brennan, is attempting to commit a crime, he's a good guy just trying to keep his family together and the audience is definitely rooting for him to succeed.

Whether or not he does it is something you'll have to see by viewing the film.

FOUR LIONS

By D.E.Levine

Director: Christopher Morris
Writer: Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, Simon Blackwell and Christopher Morris
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay, Darren Boyd, Riz Ahmed, Craig Parkinson, Preeya Kalidas, Julia Davis, Arsher Ali, Will Adamsdale, Alex MacQueen, Kevin Eldon, Chris Wilson, Adeel Akhtar et al.
Producers: Mark Herbert and Darrin Schlesinger
Executive Producers: Angus Anysley, Carole Baraton, Peter Carlton, Will Clarke, Mark Findlay, Afi Khan, Caroline Leddy and Alex Marshall
Associate Producer: Faisal A. Quereshi
Line Producer: Rebekah Wray Rogers
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English,
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Satire

Four Lions is a hysterically funny satire about four British jihardists who have competing ideologies. They also are apparently totally inept and unable to carry off their terrorist plans with any reasonable facility.

The farce is filled with humorous fiascoes such as a rocket launcher mishap where the jihardists annihilate their own terrorist leaders, which are actually based on real incidents.

If terrorism can have levity added to it, then Christopher Morris has succeeded in doing just that.

While the film is filled with a variety of stereotypical characters, they are uproariously funny.

The terrorists are portrayed as being totally human, with friends, families and common worries, but their terrorism is never condoned.

Instead, despite their emotional commitment and willingness to die for their cause, they are continually unsuccessful at achieving their planned end goals.

Despite their fervor and dedication, everything goes wrong - bad for the jihardists, good for the British empire.

Evidently, as funny as these occurrences are to watch in the film, they actually frequently happen in real life.

THE NUTCRACKER IN 3D

By D.E.Levine

Director: Andrey Konchalovskiy
Writer: Andrey Konchalovskiy and Cris Solimine (screenplay)
Cast: Elle Fanning, Nathan Lane, John Turturro, Frances de la Tour, Richard E. Grant, Yulia Visotskaya, Yuliya Vysotskaya, Shirley Henderson, Aaron Michael Drozin, Charlie Rowe, Peter Elliott, Daniel Peacock, Alan Cox, Hugh Sachs, Africa Nile, Gyorgy Honti et al.
Producers: Andrey Konchalovskiy and Paul Lowin
Executive Producer: Moritz Borman
Co-producers: Jozsef Cirko and Meg Clark
Line Producer: Laura Julian
Original Music: Eduard Artemiev
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy

This version of the classic tale of The Nutcracker is in 3D and takes certain liberties with the story.

In this version kindly Uncle Albert (who bears a striking resemblance to Albert Einstein) visits his family in Vienna and brings his niece and nephew a wonderful, magical dollhouse with inhabitants, and a nutcracker.

As Christmas falls the nutcracker comes to life and whisks Mary (the niece) away to a place where all Christmas gifts come to life.

It's breathtaking and it's in 3D.

Unfortunately, the villain here is the malevolent Rat King and his mother who are planning to claim the special kingdom for themselves.

There are some horrifying and scary sequences that bring reminiscences of Nazi Germany, both by the storm trooper rats in military uniform and formation, and the bonfire burning of the toys (i.e. books in Nazi Germany).

So the beautiful, wondrous kingdom isn't totally beautiful and wonderful.

Additionally, it turns out that just as in the original tale, the Nutcracker is actually the kingdom's prince who has had an evil spell put on him.

After the Rat King and his mom kidnap the Nutcracker, Mary and the other toys combine their efforts to rescue him and the kingdom by defeating the Rat King.

To do so, they have to discover the Rat King's one true weakness and then strike their blow when he least expects it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

BLACK SWAN

By D.E.Levine

CHOSEN AS ONE OF "THE CONTENDERS" BY MOMA

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLauglin (screenplay); Andres Heinz (story)
Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Vincent Cassel, Ksenia Solo, Sebastian Stan, Barbara Hershey, Toby Hemingway, Janet Montgomery, Christopher Gartin, Kristina Anapau, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Adriene Couvillion, Deborah Offner, Shaun O'Hagan, Marty Krzywonos et al.
Producers: Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer and Brian Oliver
Executive Producers: Jon Avnet, Brad Fischer, Peter Fruchtman, Ari Handel, Jennifer Roth, Rick Schwartz, Tyler Thompson and David Thwaites
Co-producer: Jerry Fruchtman
Original Music: Clint Mansell
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Thriller

This is a fascinating psychological thriller about a young ballerina whose life takes some strange twists after she is selected to play the lead in a New York City production of Swan Lake.

Following the ballet dancers as they rehearse and plot to achieve more prominent status, the Black Swan gives us insight into the machinations of the ballet business (and make no mistake about the fact that despite the dedication by dancers and teachers it is very much a business).

Fundraisers are successful by being charming and selecting the dancers that not only fill the dancing requirements but also satisfy the political needs of the organization.

There's jealousy and backstabbing, bulimia and starvation, and a multitude of other physical and psychological problems.

Natalie Portman seems to have overcome some of her poorer choices of roles and seems admirably suited for the role of Nina, a technically proficient dancer who strives for perfection.

Barbara Hershey, as her overbearing mother who gave up her own dance career to raise her daughter, certainly bears noticeable responsibility for many of her daughter's problems.

The casting and acting are strong and the moves along quickly without ever lagging or becoming boring.

Black Swan appears to be a gem among the films of 2010.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

MADE IN DAGENHAM

By D.E.Levine

Director: Made in Dagenham
Writer: William Ivory
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Andrea Riseborough, Jaime Winstone, Lorraine Stanley, Nicola Duffett, Geraldine James, Bob Hoskins, Matthew Aubrey, Daniel Mays, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Phil Cornwell, Karen Seacombe, Thomas Arnold, Sian Scott, Robbie Kay et al.
Producers: Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley
Executive Producer: Tim Haslam
Line Producers: Laurie Borg
Original Music: David Arnold
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Comedy

Made in Dagenham is a fictionalized account of a true incident that occurred at the Ford automotive factory in Dagenham, England in 1968.

Focusing on the rebellion and strike of the women seamstresses who did piece work on the interior of the cars by stitching fabric together without patterns and were vastly underpaid both as women and as unskilled labor, the film brings to light the women who until now have never publicly taken credit for changing the pay scale for women throughout the world.

As part of the automotive workers union, the women were expected to accept less than half of what men were paid and to let the male union leaders dictate what they could and could not do.

Instead, without formal strike training, they banded together, walked out on strike and demanded their just requests.

Eventually they were invited to meet with British Employment Minister Barbara Castle, a woman who until their strike had not championed their requests, but after meeting with them forced Ford into an immediate pay raise agreement.

The outcome of the story is victory and within a couple of years countries throughout the world were adopting the British pay model of "equal pay" for women as their own.

The cast is first rate and believable, giving strong, credible performances. Most importantly, since the women who achieved the equal pay status never bragged of their achievement, even to their children and grandchildren, it highlights an important event in history.

We can only hope that the saga of the Ford Dagenham plant and what these women achieved will someday be taught in school curriculum both in the UK and abroad, as it was an event that literally changed the world.

THE KING'S SPEECH

By D.E.Levine

CHOSEN AS ONE OF "THE CONTENDERS" BY MOMA

Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: David Seidler (screenplay)
Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Adrian Scarborough, Robert Portal, Richard Dixon, Paul Trussell, Andrew Havill, Charles Armstrong, Roger Hammond, Calum Gittins, Jennifer Ehle, Domenic Applewhite, Ben Wimsett, Freya Wilson, Ramona Marquez, David Bamber, Jake Hathaway, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce, Patrick Ryecart, Teresa Gallagher, Simon Chandler, Claire Bloom, Orlando Wells, Tim Downie, Dick Ward, Eve Best, John Albasiny, Timothy Spall, Danny Emes, Anthony Andrews, John Warnaby and Roger Parrott
Producers: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin
Executive Producers: Paul Brett, Mark Foligno, Geoffrey Rush, Tim Smith, Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein
Co-producers: Simon Egan and Peter Heslop
Co-executive producers: Phil Hope and Deepak Sikka
Associagte Producer: Charles Dorfman
Original Music: Alexandre Desplat
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom and Australia
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Biography History

In this brilliant film, Colin Firth stars as Queen Elizabeth II's father, who became King George VI when his brother David (Edward VII) abdicated the throne to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson.

Taken from the true historical story about the prince's lifelong speech impediment, the film deals factually but compassionately with the story of the stuttering that plagued the King from the time he was a child prince.

Despite a real desire to overcome the impediment, and the urgings of his father, King George V, who sometimes threw him into the lion's den by sending him off to make a public speech (unsuccessfully), the young prince failed time and time again.

Already married, with two small daughters, when this film opens, the film shows a prince who never desired to be king and certainly didn't believe he could speak publicly or on the radio in an effective manner.

With his wife Elizabeth supporting him in his attempts to overcome the impediment, he agrees to study with an Australian commoner speech therapist who lacks the title "Dr." and all the "right" credentials (according to his advisers.

A lifelong friendship develops between King George and Lionel Logue, as Logue teaches him how to live with and rise above his stuttering.

The title refers to both the King's speech problems and the famous speech he gave on the radio when Great Britain entered into World War II.

Although the Prince/King's speech impediment was never hidden from the public, as far as I can remember no one has sought to tell the story with tact and empathy in a film. Not until now.

Colin Firth's portrayal is remarkable in that while actors are taught to speak smoothly and emote, he had to teach himself to stutter and to do it so that it appears as part of his normal speech.

Much of the film centers on closeups of Firth and Rush's faces, capturing astounding emotions as they take on these roles.

While this may have started out as a small art film, with the involvement of the Weinstein brothers as executive producers and the amazing performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech has turned into a brilliant piece which may well earn a number of awards on both sides of the Atlantic.

Monday, November 1, 2010

RED HILL

By D.E.Levine

Director: Patrick Hughes
Writer: Patrick Hughes
Cast: Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, Tommy Lewis, Claire van der Boom, Christopher Davis, Kevin Harrington, Richard Sutherland, Ken Radley, John Brumpton, Cliff Ellen, Jim Daly, Dom Phelan, Eddie Baroo, Tim Hughes, Ken Connley, Richard E. Young and Jennifer Jarman-Walker
Producers: Al Clark and Patrick Hughes
Executive Producers: Rob Galluzzo, Greg Mclean and Craig McMahon
Associate Producers: Rachel Higgins and Kate Menzies
Line Producer: Ray Hennessy
Original Music: Dmitri Golovko
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Country of Origin: Australia
Language: English
Genre: Action, Thriller, Western

Red Hill is a surprisingly good, taut western thriller that takes place in the rugged Australian countryside.

Centering on Shane Cooper, a young constable who relocates to the Australian countryside so his pregnant wife can have a quieter environment, the film focuses on his first day which turns out to be anything but the quiet time he expected.

Dealing with a prison outbreak and the escape of a convicted murderer who wants vengeance against the residents of Red Hill, Cooper is initiated into a job he may have trained for but never actually expected.

An extremely violent and bloody film, this is not for youngsters. However, it is a good action thriller that keeps the viewer absorbed and on the edge of his/her seat throughout.

There are also unexpected twists and turns along the way with a surprise ending that adds to the overall tension of the film.

The casting is well done with the various actors believable in their characters and each contributing an essential part to the overall plot.

A small film, it's not known how it will be received to large audiences, but it's a film well worth seeing for good action and thrills.

MOMA ANNOUNCES "THE CONTENDERS"

By D.E.Levine

The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has released a list of outstanding films and which it calls "The Contenders".

Noting that these films resonate beyond the traditional theatrical appearance but frequently have difficulty getting distribution for commercial release and/or appearance at film festivals, MOMA is running special screenings at the museum.

The full Contender List includes:

I Am Love
Henry of Navarre
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Black Swan
The Social Network
A Film Unfinished
Never Let Me Go
Waste Land
The Kids Are All Right
Winter's Bone
Last Train Home
World on a Wire
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The King's Speech
The Red Chapel
The Ghost Writer
Inception

All of these films are well worth screening and MOMA makes it possible to see them in a comfortable theater setting.

Many of these films were reviewed over the past few months on the pages of Cinefilms, as I attended press screenings and some may well walk away with multiple awards this year.

Over the next few weeks I hope to review the remainder of the films so that readers can have an idea regarding whether they want to see these films or not.

All of these films are in release now, although some may appear only in smaller art houses, while others are gaining momentum and are being pushed by PR firms and production houses as awards season approaches.