This film's incredible fan-generated buzz and subsequent box office fizzle has taught Hollywood an important lesson — even if they number in the millions, teens on the Internet with too much free time on their hands do not guarantee you a box office smash. It seems that a good portion of the folks who built fansites around this film months before it came out, where actually too young to go see this campy R-rated horror film in theaters. Leaving only a smaller audience of drunken college students left to buy tickets. You may be wondering why I bring this up and what it all has to do with the quality of the film. The unprecedented Internet chatter surrounding this film allowed the makers to go back and add more of what fans were calling for. So just because a teenager wants to see a snake latch onto a man's penis, do we need to give it to them?
This landmark film is considered by many as the first picture of the French New Wave. For director Jean-Luc Godard — a critic turned director — this film was his feature debut and marked such a revolution in content and style that it was actually band for four years in Finland.
The story is simple — two-bit car thief Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo, MISSISSIPPI MERMAID) is pulled over in a stolen automobile, panics and shoots the police officer. He flees to Paris where he tries to collect some cash as well as hang low until the heat cools down. He meets up with his girl Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg, AIRPORT), an American who works part-time selling newspapers as well as a little reporting while she waits to be accepted into the Sorbonne. As police inspector Vital (Daniel Boulanger, SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER) doggedly searches for Michel, we follow the thuggish-looking killer as he follows around the beautiful Patricia. During the course of the story, we will learn a lot about the young lovers' relationship, which is modern and unconventional compared to the traditional screen romance.
Pedro Almodóvar has been writing and directing films since the 1970s. He has a distinct style, mixing melodrama with humor and just a small dash of camp and fantastic realism. I began watching his work with the Oscar winner ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER. For me he's a filmmaker that turns out high quality productions every time out, yet hasn't blown me away. With that said though, the body of his work affects you. There is no doubt he is a master filmmaker and VOLVER is my favorite since MOTHER.
Raimunda (Penelope Cruz, VANILLA SKY) is a working class mother, who is married to the lazy Paco (Antonio de la Torre). Along with her teenage daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo) and her sister Sole (Lola Duenas, THE SEA INSIDE), she visits the grave of her mother Irene (Carmen Maura, WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN) and her father, who died in a house fire. On the way home, they stop by to visit their aunt Tia (Chus Lampreave, TALK TO HER) and begin to worry when the old woman talks as if their mother is living with her. But this might not be so crazy. Their friend Agustina (Blanca Portillo, upcoming GOYA'S GHOSTS) tells them that many in the superstitious village claim to have seen the ghost of Irene. After tragedy strikes more than once, Sole actually finds her mother in the trunk of her car. As the story moves along, many family secrets will be revealed.
Is this the best period piece thriller about magicians of 2006? That is up for debate, because of the other period piece thriller about magicians released in 2006 — THE PRESTIGE. Both are equally entertaining, however PRESTIGE is darker and delves into fantasy while ILLUSIONIST is a romance and has a more emotionally engaging through line. Both films have twists that any observant film watcher will have figured out way before the end. It is a credit to both films that they still work nonetheless. I actually believe that the twist gets less in the way of the story in THE ILLUSIONIST.
As a teen, magician Eisenheim (Edward Norton, THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLINT) fell in love with the rich girl Sophie (Jessica Biel, BLADE TRINITY), who was forbidden to see him. After this, he disappeared and later reemerged in turn-of-the-century Vienna as a master illusionist. One night Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell, DARK CITY) attends his performance and volunteers his lady friend to participate in the final act. Eisenheim is shocked when it's his long lost love Sophie. Soon their romance is rekindled, but chief inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti, SIDEWAYS) is watching Sophie's every move. The news of the romance won't make the crown prince happy at all.
NOTES ON A SCANDAL is FATAL ATTRACTION for the art house crowd. Yet, I wouldn't want one to believe that the film is a typical stalker thriller or a boring artsy fartsy affair. It's a compelling character study that's literate and witty as well as tense.
Barbara Covett (Judi Dench, MRS. BROWN) is a veteran high school teacher, who has developed a pretty cynical outlook on what she can accomplish as an educator. She lives alone with her cats and writes volumes in her diary, observing the world from a distance with droll, dark humor. Then Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett, THE AVIATOR) joins the school as the new Art teacher. Barbara quickly becomes infatuated with the beautiful free-spirited woman. But when Barbara discovers that Sheba is having an affair with her 15-year-old student Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson, SONG FOR A RAGGY BOY), she doesn't turn Sheba in, instead uses the information to get closer to the woman. Barbara wants Sheba all for herself.
Based on W. Somerset Maugham's classic novel, the film is a first-rate melodrama, which sets a tortured romance against an exotic backdrop filled with turmoil. Director John Curran (WE DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE) brings the story to life with great production design and stellar lead performances.
Kitty (Naomi Watts, KING KONG) is the daughter of a wealthy family, who is getting a bit old to be living off her mother and father. Due to the pressures of her family, she hastily agrees to marry stiff civil servant Walter Fane (Edward Norton, THE 25TH HOUR), who works as a scientist for the British government in Shanghai. Kitty quickly becomes bored with life in China where parties and games come far and few.
Chan-wook Park is a director who makes violent morality plays, which combine pitch black humor with intelligent commentary on the human condition along with startling twists and turns. His films push the boundaries of cinema. His work may not be for everyone, but those more adventurous will find originality in scores in his pictures.
Geum-ja Lee (Yeong-ae Lee, JOINT SECURITY AREA) has just been released after serving 13 years in prison for the kidnapping and murder of a young boy. For that time, she has been developing a complex plan of vengeance, recruiting many of her fellow inmates to help her. She skillfully presents herself as a kind-hearted woman, but that's just a front. She is looking for revenge. Part of the joy of the film is its surprises so I will not reveal too much more outside the fact that nothing is as it seems. The other important characters include: substitute teacher Mr. Baek (Min-sik Choi, OLDBOY), young adopted girl Jenny (Yea-young Kwon, film debut), police detective Choi (Il-woo Nam), baker Mr. Chang (Oh Dal-su, OLDBOY), teenage bakery worker Geun-shik (Kim Si-hu) and fellow inmate Park Yi-jeong (Lee Seung-shin, OLDBOY).
Brian DePalma's adaptation of James Ellroy's famed crime novel perfectly displays why the complex story has taken so long to reach the screen, because so much has to be crammed into two hours. The characters suffer from too many emotional leaps as well as an ending that tells the solution of the mystery instead of showing us.
Officer Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Josh Hartnett, SIN CITY) is an ambitious young cop and we know this because he tells us in voice over. The L.A. police department needs a funding bill passed, so they stage a benefit boxing fight between Bucky, a former pro, and fellow officer and former pro fighter Leland "Lee" Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart, THANK YOU FOR SMOKING). This raises the two cops up in the ranks of the department. Now as partners, they quickly become good friends. Bucky even gets close to Lee's girl Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson, MATCH POINT). Lee is always out for the top collar, but he drops everything when the mutilated body of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner, TV's THE L WORD) is found in a vacant lot.
This TV movie chronicles the murder of Dr. Herman “Hy” Tarnower (Ben Kingsley, GANDHI), author of the bestselling Scarsdale Diet book. In the 1980s, the case was a tabloid sensation as the story came out that Tarnower’s spurned lover Jean Harris (Annette Bening, AMERICAN BEAUTY) shot him several times in a failed attempted to commit suicide. At least that was Jean’s version of the story.
The film begins with shooting from Jean’s point of view. We often jump between the murder, the trial and Jean and Herman’s relationship. Director/writer Phyllis Nagy also injects interviews with friends and family of Jean and Herman. We see from the start that Tarnower is a controlling man, who is both proud and self-conscience of his wealth and Jewish heritage. Hy and Jean’s first sex scene is a highlight. However, he can be charming and we understand why Jean agrees to marry him. But it doesn’t take long before we can see that Tarnower is getting cold feet. However, at this point, Jean is attached and Hy is afraid to commit, but also afraid to let Jean go. Over the years, Jean desperately clings to Hy, trying to win his affection even though she knows he is having an affair with his nurse, Lynne Tryforos (Chloe Sevigny, SHATTERED GLASS).
This Oscar-nominated documentary takes a behind-the-scenes look at Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for president. The eventual president is really just a supporting character in the film, which follows campaign leaders James Carville and George Stephanopoulos.
Starting with the Democratic primary, in only 96 minutes, the film shows how campaign staff must deal with minor issues like what signs to have at the Democratic Convention to dealing with sex scandals and draft dodging charges. Making the film that more fascinating is that Carville and Stephanopoulos couldn’t be more different. Carville is a brash and direct, balding man in his late 40s while Stephanopoulos is a handsome man in his early 30s, who has a calmer and more diplomatic style.
Guillermo del Toro (HELLBOY) has fashioned an adult fairy tale so visually inventive with such a compelling story that it is certain to become a classic. If there is one perfect film of 2006, it is certainly this one.
Ofelia (Ivana Baquero, FRAGILE) is a young girl who tries to forget about the war torn world she lives in by delving into the fantasy world of books. The fascists are battling the rebels in Spain. After her father is killed in the fighting, Ofelia's mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil, 1998's DON JUAN) remarries Capitan Vidal (Sergi Lopez, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS), a brutal fascist who cares more about the welfare of his unborn son over that of his new bride, who is having a very difficult pregnancy.
I love smart sci-fi films. Heck, I'm a sucker for sci-fi in general. However, Alfonso Cuaron's CHILDREN OF MEN is not your average sci-fi thriller; it tells of an apocalyptic future with an ingenious twist — man's impending doom is rooted in the fact that humans can no longer reproduce.
Based on P.D. James' novel, the year is 2027 and there hasn't been a new baby born in 18 years. The youngest human on the planet — Baby Diego (Juan Gabriel Yacuzzi) — has been killed. Various countries including the U.S. have fallen into chaos. Thousands of refugees stream into countries that are more stable. One of those countries is Britain where illegals are rounded up in cages and shipped back out of the country.
Actor Liev Schreiber adapts Jonathan Safran Foer's novel from which he directs his first feature, developing three quirky characters that set out on a rigid search to find out more about their pasts. This bittersweet comedy shows us just how many factors go into our identities.
Foer (Elijah Wood, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS) is a neurotic fellow who collects random things to remind him of his life's experiences and the people who have touched him. He puts dirt, bugs, false teeth, whatever in Ziploc bags and tacks them to the wall. After his grandmother (Jana Hrabetova) passes, Jonathan sets out to find out more about his grandfather Safran (Stephen Samudovsky), who he knows very little about. His grandfather's prized possession was a picture of himself with a woman named Augustine (Tereza Veselkova), who he claimed was the reason he was able to escape the Nazis as they invaded the Ukraine. So Jonathan takes a tour of his grandfather's homeland specifically designed for Jews looking for their heritage.
Earlier in the year, director Clint Eastwood chronicled the Battle of Iwo Jima from the U.S. point of view and how its heroes were used to support the war in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. Now comes the companion piece to that film — this time from the point of view of the Japanese. Much like ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT that is from the point of view of “the enemy,” this film humanizes the men fighting on both sides, making the strong point that wars happen and good men die and what’s the point?
General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe, THE LAST SAMURAI) is assigned to defend the island of Iwo Jima from an impending American invasion. To his scared soldiers, he makes the call that if they lose then others will have to fight the Americans on homeland Japan. We fight them over there so that we don’t have to fight them here — sounds familiar doesn’t it? The General is a good-humored man, who is fair to his soldiers. However, as he begins to prepare for the battle, he knows that he has been assigned a suicide mission. There are not enough troops, there will be no air or naval support and they supplies are low. The Japanese can’t just give the island to the Americans, but they are certain to lose nonetheless. One of those “nameless” soldiers being sent off to be slaughtered is young Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya, Japanese pop star), who has been drafted into service, leaving behind his pregnant wife Hanako (Nae, ULTRAMAN).
This rousing musical is full of life and will go down in history for one of the greatest musical performances captured on screen. It introduces former AMERICAN IDOL contestant Jennifer Hudson as a bona fide star.
Based on the 1980s Broadway musical, the story is an amalgam of various real life R&B stars into one fictional tale about how black artists and their music made it to the pop charts. The Dreamettes — Effie White (Hudson), Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles, PINK PANTHER) and Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose, FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY) — are a struggling R&B group, who are discovered by car salesman/artist manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx, RAY). He offers them a chance to sing backup for soul singer James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy, TRADING PLACES), who is notorious for romancing the women he works with. Soon, Curtis pressures Early’s manager Marty Madison (Danny Glover, THE COLOR PURPLE) to try a different sound for Early courtesy of Effie’s songwriting brother, C.C. (Keith Robinson, TV’s POWER RANGERS LIGHTSPEED RESCUE). However, Marty is stuck in his old ways and believes that black artists will never cross over to the mainstream white charts. As the story proceeds, we watch as The Dreams become successful and the pressures of the industry tear them apart.
This rendition of Robert Penn Warren’s famed novel is like a puzzle where we can clearly make out the picture from the completed border, but lacks the full impact because too many pieces from the middle are missing.
Willie Stark (Sean Penn, MYSTIC RIVER) is a local politician who tries to fight corruption in his town and gets knocked down. However, when the corruption comes to light years later, he looks like a hero. This makes low-rung businessman Tiny Duffy (James Gandolfini, TV’s THE SOPRANOS) think he might be a good candidate for governor. But when reporter Jack Burden (Jude Law, ALFIE) tells Willie that he’s really just a patsy to take votes away from one candidate thus making it easier for another candidate to win, Willie decides to run on his own, playing up his hick roots to get the poor on his side. After Willie wins in a landslide, the rich folks of Louisiana team to get him impeached. Willie hires Jack to find dirt on Burden family friend Judge Irwin (Anthony Hopkins, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS). As Jack digs, he reunites with his first love Anne Stanton (Kate Winslet, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND) and her brother Adam (Mark Ruffalo, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME), who are the children of a beloved former governor.
This Romanian film reminded me of the work of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who have won the top prize at Cannes twice. It has a slow build that takes getting use to, but with patience, the rewards are well worth the time.
Dante Remus Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu, 1996’s TOO LATE) has been not feeling well since the morning. He has a stomach and headache and can’t keep anything down, except some alcohol. His sister doesn’t want to hear the bellyaching of her 63-year-old brother the drunk, who survives through the kindness of her husband, Virgil. Mr. Lazarescu gets fairly much the same reaction from his preoccupied neighbors, Sandu and Miki Sterian (Doru Ana & Dana Dogaru). He has called the ambulance, which takes forever. The attendant Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu, CODE UNKNOWN) gives him an injection and tells him to go see the doctor who operated on his ulcers. But when Mr. Lazarescu passes out in the bathroom, she decides to take him to the hospital. This will start the long arduous ordeal that Mr. Lazarescu must take to get the medical care that he needs.
Director Michael Mann is one of the first rate action directors around. In trying to revamp the 1980s TV series he produced, Mann creates a gritty procedural, which captures our minds with its attention to detail.
The film kicks off with undercover Miami detectives James “Sonny” Crockett (Colin Farrell, PHONE BOOTH) and Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs (Jamie Foxx, COLLATERAL) on a case at a club where human trafficking is taking place. Then Sonny gets a frantic call from an informant named Alonzo Stevens (John Hawkes, ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW). Turns out a leak in the FBI has led to Alonzo being forced to sell out his partners to save girlfriend. FBI agent Fujima (Ciaran Hinds, MUNICH) recruits Sonny and Rico to find the leak while trying to take down drug dealer Jose Yero (John Ortiz, NARC). Yero is actually only the middleman for top dealer Arcangel de Jesus Montoya (Luis Tosar, TAKE MY EYES), who has his money laundered by his beautiful Chinese girlfriend, Isabella (Gong Li, FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE). Sonny and Rico uses contact Nicholas (Eddie Marsan, THE NEW WORLD) to get to Yero posing as drug transporters. The detectives’ team is made up of Rico’s girl Trudy Joplin (Naomie Harris, TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY), Gina Calabrese (Elizabeth Rodriguez, TV’s E.R.), Larry Zito (Justin Theroux, TV’s SIX FEET UNDER) and Stan Switek (Domenick Lombardozzi, TV’s THE WIRE).
Robert DeNiro's tale about the birth of the CIA reminded me a great deal of THE GODFATHER. From its epic scope to its family drama to the central character's obligations, it's not surprising that Francis Ford Coppola was an executive producer on the film.
Edward Wilson (Matt Damon, GOOD WILL HUNTING) was born into a wealthy, well-respected family, which affords him little choice to pick the direction of his life. He will follow in the footsteps of his father, Thomas (Timothy Hutton, KINSEY), and go to Yale where he will become a member of elite Skull & Bones Society. At the early stages of World War II, General Bill Sullivan (DeNiro) calls on Edward to help serve his country and operate as a spy for a newly formed foreign intelligence agency of the U.S. government. What other choice does he have then to say yes? Despite being in love with a sweet deaf girl named Laura (Tammy Blanchard, STEALING HARVARD), Edward is obligated to marry rich Margaret "Clover" Russell (Angelina Jolie, TOMB RAIDER) after he gets her pregnant. Edward's quiet demeanor and cold detachment make him a perfect spy, but will all the lying he does, especially to himself, cost him his soul?
There hasn't been an animated musical this fun in quite some time. George Miller's first animated feature is bursting with songs, which are actually woven into the fabric of the film's world.
Penguins Memphis (Hugh Jackman, FLUSHED AWAY), who actually sounds a lot like Elvis, and Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman, MOULIN ROUGE), who sounds a tad like Marilyn Monroe, have a son named Mumble (Elijah Wood, LORD OF THE RINGS). In their penguin world, each member of their society must find their heart song, so they can woo a mate. Right from birth, Mumble has his eyes on Gloria (Brittany Murphy, 8 MILE), who has some serious pipes. However, Mumble sings worse than I do (ask my wife she can tell you all about it), so he is made an outcast. Alienating him even more is his "happy feet." He was born with the need to tap dance; it's his form of expression.
Tackling many of the same issues as his BRAVEHEART, Mel Gibson's APOCALYPTO is an edge-of-your-seat adventure made all the more compelling via its unique setting. Gibson knows how to dramatize action and make us care about his characters.
Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood, SPIRIT: THE SEVENTH FIRE) is a young Mayan warrior, who cherishes his family — pregnant wife Seven (Dalia Hernandez, film debut) and young son Turtles Run (Carlos Emilio Baez, film debut). He listens intently to the wise advice of his father Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead, TV's INTO THE WEST) and he loves to poke fun at his younger brother Blunted (Jonathan Brewer, DREAMKEEPER), who is having a hard time conceiving a child. However, their idyllic life comes crashing down when their small village is attacked by Mayan warriors looking to take slaves. Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo, THE NEW WORLD) leads the savage warriors, which include the slimy Snake Ink (Rodolfo Palacios, screen debut).
For the last few years, director Zhang Yimou has been crafting epic, martial arts fantasies like HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER may be his most epic yet. However not in the action set-piece sense of the world, but more so like a Shakespearean tragedy.
Empress Phoenix (Gong Li, MEMORIES OF A GEISHA) is slowly being poisoned by her heartless husband Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-Fat, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON). The Empress is having an affair with her stepson Prince Xiang (Liu Ye, THE PROMISE), who is sleeping with Chan (Man Li, film debut), daughter of the imperial physician (Dahong Ni, TO LIVE). Returning home from battle is middle son, Prince Jie (Jay Chou, HIDDEN TRACK), who is torn between his devotion to his mother and his loyalty to his father. Jie is idolized by his younger brother Cheng (Qin Junjie, film debut). Also figuring into the mix is a mysterious ninja (Chen Jin), who holds dark secrets to the Emperor's past.
Ever since their success with THE ROOKIE, Walt Disney Pictures has carved out a nice niche for themselves with a host of inspirational sports films. For the most part, they have all worked quite well.
INVINCIBLE is based on the true story of Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg, THE DEPARTED), a bartender who never played college football who tries out for the Philadelphia, Eagles during an open try-out and makes the team. Papale is down on his luck — big time. He can't keep a steady job teaching and his wife has just left him. And to make matters worse his beloved Eagles stink. College coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear, AS GOOD AS IT GETS) is hired to turn the Eagles around. As a good-will gesture to the Philly fans, he holds an open try-out. At first Papale is not interested in trying out, but his friends push him. Papale's talents stand out and he is the only person at the open try-outs to be invited to training camp. Now Papale has to balance between holding his own against the more experienced players, his newfound celebrity and the pretty barmaid Janet Cantrell (Elizabeth Banks, SLITHER).
Not nearly as awful as it was made out to be, M. Night Shyamalan's bedtime story for grown-ups stumbles via the filmmaker's self indulgence and lack of 100% commitment to his risky experiment.
Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti, AMERICAN SPLENDOR) is a lonely handyman at The Cove apartment complex. One night he finds a narf (aka water nymph) in the swimming pool. As legend states, the creatures of the Blue World will visit humans from time to time to inspire them. However, the narfs are in danger as grass-like wolves called scrunts stalk the water creatures. So Cleveland sets out to help the narf named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard, THE VILLAGE) find the writer she is supposed to inspire.
This interesting biopic looks at the seemingly contradictory personality of famed pin-up model Bettie Page. Driving its appeal is the infectious lead performance of Gretchen Mol, who previously had smaller roles in DONNIE BRASCO and ROUNDERS. This is a star-making performance, which is sadly being forgotten now that it's Oscar season.
Beginning when Bettie was young, the film chronicles her life under the rule of her religious mother Edna (Ann Dowd, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS) and her brief, abusive marriage to Billy Neal (Norman Reedus, THE BOONDOCK SAINTS). After the tragedies of her early life, Bettie bounces back and moves to NYC to take a stab at acting, where she falls into modeling, which leads to nude posing and later fetish films for the nice couple Paula (Lili Taylor, SAY ANYTHING…) and Irving Klaw (Chris Bauer, BROKEN FLOWERS). The story follows Bettie's career leading up to Senate hearings on pornography run by Estes Kefauver (David Strathairn, GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK.).