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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

DARLING COMPANION

By D.E.Levine

This is Lawrence Kasdan's first feature film in nine years. Co-written with his wife Meg, the story is about a family that has grown apart and the dog that alters their life in unforeseen ways.

Facing empty nest syndrome, Beth Winter (Diane Keaton), a Denver lady married to a self absorbed surgeon (Kevin Kline) who is increasingly distant, finds an injured dog with her daughter Grace (Elizabeth Moss) and adopts it, names it Freeway and nurses it back to health.

Following Grace's wedding at their vacation home, Freeway goes missing and during the ensuing search, the excellent ensemble cast consisting of Joseph's sister (Dianne Wiest), her boyfriend (Richard Jenkins) and Joseph's nephew (Mark Duplass) are paired up into couples who wind up airing their long-held resentments with each other and publicly.

Although their housekeeper/caretaker Carmen (Ayelet Zurer) of gypsy stock offers numerous psychic leads, none pan out.

The scenery is breathtaking and the cinematography wonderful. While the cast is outstanding the story has been told many times before.

There are some arguments and incidents, some twists and turns and delays that the audience can relate to and some even bring them to laughter, but the pace is slow and sometimes tedious.

The film is enjoyable, if not great, and will probably appeal to an older group of viewers.

Monday, March 12, 2012

4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH

A NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

This film is creepy and strange, handling the annihilation of the world in a totally different manner than most end-of-the-world films. There are definitely mixed feelings on the part of the viewer as the film progresses and draws to its inevitable conclusion.

Set on the lower east side, Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and Skye (Shanyn Leigh) prepare for their last day on earth, their last moments alive, together.

Initially, in their very techie lower east-side loft, they Skype friends and family, even allowing the Asian delivery boy to speak with his family overseas.

Throughout, there seems to be a disbelief among characters that the end of the world is really coming - perhaps because mankind has been talking about it for so long.

Shown at the 2011 New York Film Festival, director Abie Ferrara did a lot with a low budget, but in interviews said he shot for realism, not to save money.

While shooting on the lower East Side is probably less expensive, the gentrification of the Bowery and its absorption into a variety of universities, created a multitude of problems.

The NYFF had several end-of-the-world films but this one is definitely more low-key and less hysterical than the others.

Every viewer from the audience walks out having to assess a multitude of feelings. In other words, this isn't pure entertainment. It causes the viewer to think.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

HEADHUNTERS

By D.E.Levine

It's the adaption of a Norwegian thriller, but it's filled with humor due to some unexpected and somewhat ridiculous twists.

Roger (Aksel Hennie) is a good-looking but totally obnoxious middle executive headhunter. He buys his wife expensive and continuous gifts because he fears losing her. While he loves her, Roger betrays his wife by cheating on her. It's also very costly to keep buying her expensive gifts so he also betrays his employer by using his job to find out information about wealthy executive applicant.

His wife runs an art gallery where Roger meets Clas and learns about a rare Reubens painting that Clas has just inherited. Setting Clas up with an interview, Roger calls his wife in the middle of stealing the Reubens and it's then that he learns his wife is cheating on him with Clas.

When Clas decides to eliminate Roger bu killing him, the plot thickens and the twists begin. Civilian Roger is up against the military expert Clas and if he wants to stay alive he has to outmaneuver him. It's especially difficult, when Clas brings in his tracking dog and even more difficult when Roger discovers tracking devices were physically planted on him.

He may not be military but he's clever and devious, and because of that Roger manages to elude Clas and lead him on a long and tortuous chase. But Roger suffers some terrible perils while leading the chase and Clas is always close behind.

As the action grows more gruesome, the comedy grows more absurd As much as the audience dislikes Roger, they are rooting for his survival because of Clas' malevolence. Roger may be arrogant and self-centered, but Clas is pure evil.

As the story plays out there are unexpected twists and turns and the comedy grows in proportion to the violence.

All in all this is a truly enjoyable film. Fortunately, the subtitles are done well so that the proper emotion and action are conveyed in each scene.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

JOHN CARTER

By D.E.Levine
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This Walt Disney film is based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel "A Princess of Mars" and supposedly cost $250 million. I had no idea what to expect since the story deals with a young Civil War veteran who winds up on Mars. It's obvious that Burroughs, in the tradition of Jules Verne, was well ahead of the rest of society with his imagination when he penned the story over 100 years ago..

As the film begins, a young Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) is summoned to the home of his uncle, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch). Unfortunately, Burroughs arrives after his uncle has died and been entombed on his property in a tomb that only opens from the inside.

A journal left behind for young Edgar explains why John Carter spent most of his brief years between the Civil War and his death exploring all over the world. In the journal, Carter explains what he was searching for, how he became fabulously wealthy and eccentric, and why the fabulous and outrageous stories he told his nephew when he was younger, were actually true.

This is an unusual film in that it begins as a 19th century period piece with an eerie, mysterious feel and many unanswered questions surrounding John Carter's death. It moves on to become a Western and then morphs into a science fiction film set in a Western Dune-like environment.

After entering a cave on earth and encountering a strange creature, Carter wakes up on a totally different planet. He was transported by some unexplained means that is vaguely reminiscent of the transporter in Star Trek, but is tied to an amulet rather than a transporter station.

Of course, the environment is the exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars) where despite his reluctance, Carter becomes embroiled in the conflict raging on the planet which threatens the very existence of the planet and all its peoples.

Due to some strange bone density anomaly, Carter can defy gravity and jump great distances and hit hard, two attributes that attract the Tharks, 8-foot-tall, green, four-armed tribesmen. They capture Carter, take him back to their village tied up, and from them he learns about the warring factions on the planet.

Directed by Andrew Stanton, of Pixar and Finding Nemo fame, who was also a writer on the screenplay, the movie's special effects are breathtaking, especially in 3D, and obviously used a large part of the budget. The warriors are all dressed in armor that strangely resembles that of the ancient Romans.

While this is a movie of epic proportions, it is also 2 1/2 hours long and not all of the characters are well defined. In fact, visually, many of them resemble each other so closely that it's hard to differentiate the characters. There is of course, also, the obligatory romance between Carter and a Martian princess played by Lynn Collins.

Overall, John Carter is pure entertainment, thrilling to watch, with an impressive musical score. Whether or not it will be the blockbuster that Disney is hoping for remains to be seen.