THE FILM YAP » helen mirren We Never Shut Up About Movies Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:48:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Hundred-Foot Journey Wed, 06 Aug 2014 18:37:53 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Hundred-Foot Journey insideRomantic movies that prominently feature food are fairly common. From internationally acclaimed films like Ang Lee’s “Eat Drink Man Woman” to Alfonso Arau’s “Like Water for Chocolate” to more pedestrian fare like “Eat Pray Love,” one doesn’t have to be a foodie to realize the sensual appeal of films that combine romance with exotic locations, cultures and cuisine. Swedish director Lasse Hallström is no stranger to this genre, his film “Chocolat” earned five Academy Award nominations in 2001, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Juliette Binoche) and Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench).

Hallström returns to romantic drama with “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais. The film stars Academy Award winner Dame Helen Mirren (“The Queen“) as Madame Mallory, the owner of Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin-starred restaurant in a small town in the south of France. Madame Mallory is austere to the edge of priggishness, and is horrified when an immigrant family from India opens a restaurant directly across the street from hers (100 feet away to be precise).

The rival restaurant, Maison Mumbai, is owned by the Kadam family, recently arrived in France after tragic events in their homeland. The family includes Hassan, a young culinary prodigy played by Manish Dayal, and Papa, the stubborn and high-spirited family patriarch played by Om Puri (“West is West“). Soon, sparks fly and egos clash as Papa and Madame Mallory engage in a game of sabotage and one-upsmanship as the restaurants compete for business. Complications ensue as Hassan meets and falls for charming young Marguerite, Madame Mallory’s sous chef, played by Charlotte le Bon. The two are drawn to each other over their passion and talent for cooking, and Marguerite secretly helps Hassan learn about French foods and techniques.

As one might expect from a romantic drama focused on contrasting foods and cultures, Hallström’s direction is intimate and unhurried. Hallström takes care to build a sense of atmosphere and pacing that allows viewers to immerse themselves in the sensuousness of the setting. To his credit, Hallström deftly avoids steering the film into the quasi-fairy tale realm that “Chocolat” occupied while still infusing the cooking scenes with a sense of joy and wonder that is engrossing.

Mirren is delightful as Madame Mallory, proving once again that she is capable of conveying more with an arched eyebrow or while silently eating an omelet than nearly any actor working today. Madame Mallory is a refreshingly dynamic character, and Mirren handles the serious moments as wonderfully as the ample comedic moments.

“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is at its best when the focus is on the evolving relationship between Madame Mallory and Papa. Puri is funny and endearing as Papa, and the chemistry he shares with Mirren is the most engaging aspect of the movie.

Dayal holds his own in his scenes with Dame Mirren, an impressive and promising showing for a relative newcomer. The shift in their relationship from adversaries to colleagues is in fact the central theme of “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” this process of discovery, and the acceptance and eventual blending of cultures, being at the heart of the film’s romance.

The film suffers a bit in the final act, which lacks any real dramatic tension and rather feels more like a drawn-out denouement. I have not read the novel the film was based on, but the last 30 minutes of the film (which clocks in at a “hefty-for-rom-coms” 122 minutes in length) covers a narrative span of over a year. As a result, too many late expository scenes overly condense the characterization of the key figures. This problem with the adaptation, penned by the otherwise excellent Steven Knight (“Locke,””Dirty Pretty Things“), steals a lot of the story’s emotional momentum.

Overall, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a solid romantic drama with some fun performances that make it easier to overlook its conventional plot. It is a worthwhile and pleasurable bit of cinematic comfort food, just not haute cuisine.

4 Yaps

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British Film Focus Sat, 15 Feb 2014 20:01:41 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Every month, I’ll introduce you to some little-known British films and even some from across the Channel in Europe, along with any entertaining pieces of news or perhaps an actor or director profile of someone well-known or someone up-and-coming.

UK at Sundance: “The Trip to Italy” (2014)

BFF italy - inside

This is the sequel to 2010’s “The Trip,” starring Steve Coogan (“24 Hour Party People”) who’s racking up a quite a film bio with 2013’s “Philomena,” and Rob Brydon, also of British comedy fame. It’s actually a BBC series made into a feature-length film for release in the U.S., which premiered at Sundance this January.

If winter is getting you down and you feel a need for some Italian sunshine, this film will hit the spot. The pair embarks on a culinary enlightenment tour, following the trail of the Romantics – Keats, Byron, Shelley. This is a far more glamorous setting than the North of England, which they toured in the first installment. Director Michael Winterbottom successfully showcases Italy’s rural delights with glorious scenes of Italian landscape and its culinary wares.

The comedy sparks between Coogan and Brydon during quieter moments in the film, where they reflect on meals had and places visited. A nice burst of sunshine and relaxation to get you through the pre-spring chill and gloom.

UK at Sundance: “Frank” (2014)

BFF frank - inside

There have been a couple of oddball films circulating in recent months, “A Field In England” for one. “Frank” is another, the latest from director Lenny Abrahamson, who’s a well-known director on the festival circuit.

1970s/’80s cult icon Frank Sidebottom had a sort of cameo recently in “Filth,” a 2013 Scottish film, and returns again in “Frank,” which follows untalented musician Jon (Domnhall Gleeson of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”), who is recruited by Frank and his strange pop band during their UK tour.

Frank’s band, Soronprfbs, is dominated by his full-on sidekick, Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal). After recruiting Jon, they hole up in retreat of sorts, a cabin in the woods, to create an album. Tensions mount with increasing creative differences.

Frank, played by Chris Sievey, was originally frontman of the Freshies in the late ’70s and then on British TV in the ’80s. The film is loosely based on his life. Interestingly, Michael Fassbender (“X-Men: First Class”) takes on the papier-mâché head.

Is there such a thing as too outrageous? Screenwriter Jon Ronson (who wrote the book “Men Who Stare at Goats”) also played keyboard for the FS band.

“The Double” (2014)

BFF double - inside

Richard Ayoade (eye-oh-ah-dee) returns to the big screen this spring with his second feature film after “Submarine.” It’s based on a novel by 19th-century Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky about a man’s discovery of his doppelganger.

The film stars Jesse Eisenberg as a man who discovers someone who looks exactly like him in his seat on the subway and charming his colleagues at his job. And, in traditional “alter-ego” style, the doppelganger is everything he’s not.

Simon is the socially awkward failure. James is confident and charming, but also superficial. There’s the love interest, of course, played by Mia Wasikowska (2011’s “Jane Eyre”). The magic of the story will come from Ayoade’s directing.

“Man Up” (2014)

BFF man up - inside

Actor/director extraordinaire Simon Pegg and Lake Bell (“No Strings Attached”) were spotted filming in London recently. “Man Up” is a romcom from “The Inbetweeners” director Ben Palmer that takes place all in one night.

Nancy (Bell) is on her way to her parents’ anniversary party when she is mistaken for a blind date who actually turns out to be the ideal boyfriend.

The film was written by Tess Morris and is her first feature after penning an eclectic mix of TV shows. She made the 2011 Brit List of screenplays that need to be made (like the Black List). Lake Bell wrote, directed and starred in “In a World…” last year as a voice coach competing against her father to land a job narrating trailers. The film received rave reviews and won the award for Best Screenplay at Sundance last year.

With Palmer leading the way and Pegg on board as producer as well as starring, the comedy should be top-notch and maybe a little on the cheeky side.

And the award goes to…

BFF dench - inside

It’s a girl-power year for the Brits in the 2014 awards season. At the SAG Awards, Emma Thompson (“Saving Mr Banks”) and Judi Dench (“Philomena”) were nominated for Best Actress and, in the TV film category, Helen Mirren received a nomination for her role as defence attorney Linda Baden in “Phil Spector.”

Kate Winslet also received a nomination at the Golden Globes for her role as single mum Adele Wheeler in Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day.” Up-and-comer Sally Hawkins has received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at this year’s Oscar’s for “Blue Jasmine.”

The only British film pitted against the list of Hollywood entries up for an Oscar is “Philomena,” directed by Stephen Frears and released in summer 2013.


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Red 2 Sun, 24 Nov 2013 06:00:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Red 2 Inside

“Red 2” is finally making its way on to Blu ray and DVD and despite a lengthy runtime and some uneven storytelling, this action-packed sequel is still a must own. So, make sure to put pen to paper and add this movie to your Christmas list.

Retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is coming out of retirement…again, with the rest of his unlikely crew to hunt down a missing nuclear weapon. Now while traipsing the globe with his paranoid partner in crime (John Malkovich), Moses must also rekindle the fire with his action-hungry girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker) all while eluding a bevvy of the world’s best killers all gunning for Frank and an angry ex (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who is just as dangerous as she is beautiful. What’s a retired CIA agent to do?

It isn’t very often that a sequel improves upon the original, but “Red 2” steps up to the plate and knocks it out the park. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some missteps along the way, but overall this comic sequel is fantastic and it’s all thanks to one man – Bruce Willis. He seems to be the go-to man to help start or revitalize a franchise. He’s one of the reasons “G.I. Joe” had some new life pumped into, he stole the show in what little screen time he was given in “Expendables 2” and after almost thirty years the “Die Hard” franchise is still limping on. Willis is what makes “Red 2” so enjoyable. He has such a charisma about him that you just can’t help but cheer when he continues to beat the H. E. double hockey stick out of every lackey thrown at him.

Obviously Willis is the star of his show but he isn’t without some pretty talented individuals to back him up. John Malkovich is back as Moses’ old and slightly chemically imbalanced partner Marvin. Although this time around Marvin is slightly more normal, so I’m not sure if maybe Malkovich wasn’t feeling the performance this time around or maybe wasn’t given as much free reign. Helen Mirren is as lovely as ever and Sir Anthony Hopkins is absolutely wonderful. It’s always fantastic to see him in front of the camera.

Now while “Red 2” is action-packed and hilarious to boot, there are definitely some speed bumps along the way. The focus between action and comedy don’t always mesh together and sometimes feel downright forced on both ends. The director also seemed pretty set on reusing a lot of similar stunts from the first movie. While Bruce Willis stepping out of a spinning car was cool to see initially, it’s not so impressive anymore. I also think that everything with Mary-Louise Parker felt extremely forced and just plain awkward. Nothing against Miss Parker, I personally feel the writers couldn’t decide what they wanted to focus on.

The special features aren’t as star-studded as the movie itself, but there’s still plenty to keep you entertained after the credits have rolled. Beyond the digital copy of the film there is a Gag Reel, Deleted Scenes and the multi-part documentary “The Red 2 Experience.”

So, with the holiday season rapidly approaching, “Red 2” is the perfect choice for that special person in your life.

Film: 3.5 Yaps

Features: 3 Yaps

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Monsters University Tue, 29 Oct 2013 04:36:22 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Monsters University - inside

Between “Planes” and “Monsters University,” the Pixar/Disney animation empire appears to be stuck in a rut. Once a fountainhead of original storytelling and innovative characters, lately they’ve been spinning out sequels that seemed to spring more from the minds of the marketing department than the creative wing of Walt’s shop.

“Monsters University” is a perfect example of the current state of Pixar — an agreeable romp aimed squarely at the kindergarten-and-down crowd. It features a lot of cool screwy monsters, the estimable vocal talents of Billy Crystal and John Goodman and not much else.

We’re going back in time to the college days of green, one-eyed ovoid Mike Wazowski (Crystal) and hirsute blue BMOC Sully (Goodman). Instead of pals, they’re rivals squaring off to see who is the best scarer around.

When the top fraternities won’t take them, they’re forced to join the unhallowed ranks of Oozma Kappa, a frat full of losers that includes a middle-aged salesman, a two-headed monster with a split personality and a flaky dude who looks like a big purple “U.”

Playing the heavy is Helen Mirren as Hardscrabble, the old-school dean who doesn’t exactly take a shine to the big-headed frosh pair. She throws Sully and Mike out of the scare program, and to get back in they’ve got to pull together a team of reject monsters and win first prize at the annual Greek contest.

It’s mostly old-hat, with a few funny bits and life-lessons moments. It gets a passing grade.

Video extras are quite good, provided you’re willing to spring for the more expensive Blu-ray/DVD combo. The DVD contains only with an audio commentary track and “The Blue Umbrella,” a charming little Pixar short film.

The Blu-ray package adds deleted scenes and nine making-of featurettes, including how to “age down” monsters who appeared in the original “Monsters, Inc.”

Film: 3.5 Yaps
Extras: 4.5 Yaps

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RED 2 Thu, 18 Jul 2013 03:51:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> RED 2

Those who’ve allegedly drowned and been revived to tell their tale often relate an eventual embrace of their fate — a peaceful acquiescence after an initial panic.

No such freeing release awaits the surprisingly suffocating “RED 2.” It encases its forebear’s fleet feet in lead boots and plummets into a watery abyss, flailing its arms and destined for doom despite some herculean rescue efforts by John Malkovich.

He’s the only saving grace of the summer’s shoddiest action sequel so far, as reliably in on the joke as he was in the original. He seems to have thumbed through the script and wisely discarded it in favor of his own demented improv for his return as Marvin, a spy-spook turned paranoiac after years as a government guinea pig.

Oh, to have had more of a scene where Marvin, disguised for distraction, spins BS about wanting to defect to Iran. And it’s difficult to imagine an uproarious one-liner like “I knew she would play him like a banjo at an Ozark hoedown” coming from the same people who have Mary-Louise Parker refer to Catherine Zeta-Jones as “Slutlana” or “skanky Russian bee-yotch.” RED once stood for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous,” but now feels more akin to “Redundant, Extremely Disappointing.”

Malkovich aside, this is a churlish caper slapped together with utmost indolence by director Dean Parisot. He’s been released from movie jail after 2005’s rancid “Fun with Dick and Jane” remake only to immediately violate his parole.

Editing? Crummy. Continuity? Negligible. The focus is wormy and the framing wobbly. You can hear audible cuts in overdubbed dialogue. Alan Silvestri’s score is atypically lazy. Stunt doubles are laughably bad and subtitles are improperly punctuated. Papa John’s is pimped three times. (Between this, “Man of Steel” and “World War Z,” products aren’t just being placed this summer; they’re getting their own trailers.)

A mid-movie car chase wouldn’t pass muster in a Herbie movie. The inimitable Helen Mirren seems as dismayed to appear in two scenes accompanied by Linkin Park’s banal aggro howling as you will be to watch them. The climax’s final twist brings shame upon the very definition of “twist.”

Yes, “RED 2” trades in the original’s sleek, crowd-pleasing horsepower for a high-mileage jalopy with little but sloppily filmed, generic action under its hood.

Gone is the amiable, sweet puppy love between retired black-ops CIA agent Frank (Bruce Willis) and former government automaton Sarah (Parker) that powered this film’s predecessor. The chemistry they created dissipates amid the dollars doled out to lure them back. Employing his smug who-cares smirk to fully depressing effect, Willis into his third-straight pay-up-buddy sequel of the year. At least Parker gets a couple chuckles before becoming a live-action Penelope Pitstop.

After surviving “RED’s” adventures, Frank is content to hunt Costco bargains instead of cold-blooded killers, and Sarah is slowly watching their relationship fizzle out.

“RED” allowed a bit of melancholy to slip in amid the action mayhem — laments for losing a step in life embodied even in the late Ernest Borgnine’s overgrown eyebrows. The context of “RED 2” merely, meagerly mimics “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “True Lies,” using spycraft as a springboard to rekindled romantic sparks.

That starts when Frank and Marvin are framed as terrorists and murderers looking to blow the cobwebs off Project Nightshade — a revolutionary weapon of mass destruction that’s gone missing after three decades of safekeeping.

With Sarah in tow, they flee the CIA, Interpol and a trio of duplicitous assassins: Han (Byung-hun Lee), a Korean who can off a man with a paper crane and whom we’re reminded ad nauseum is “the world’s best contract killer”; Katja (Zeta-Jones), a Russian double agent and old flame of Frank’s repeatedly described as his kryptonite; and Victoria (Mirren, bored hitting the same damn note), whose friendship with Frank and Marvin may not be above a big bounty for their heads.

Meanwhile, Frank, Sarah and Marvin also try to spring Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), Nightshade’s creator, locked in an insane asylum since the ’80s with no marbles left. Of Hopkins’ arrival, well, you can guess he wasn’t cast just to play a doddering twit who goosesteps while saluting invisible cows. And his nattering-nabob dialogue suggests the Oscar-winning actor was paid by the syllable.

“RED 2’s” other newbies fare no better. Lee is a fine physical foe for Willis, but he’s saddled with misguided comic relief, like Jet Li playing Chris Rock’s role in “Lethal Weapon 4.” As for Zeta-Jones, she makes her entry wearing a crimson chapeau, and she’s about as sensuous as a Red Hat Society septuagenarian. Plus, she’s entombed in makeup that bears creepy resemblance to a Real Girl sex doll.

Finally, there’s a mid-shootout moment when Zeta-Jones unintentionally comes close to dropping her gun upon drawing it. So much of the movie feels that way, forever on the verge of collapsing into credit-cookie bloopers. It’s depressing to watch such once-likable characters and conceits sink to the bottom. Then again, they’d have been better dead than “RED 2.”

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Monsters University Wed, 19 Jun 2013 04:41:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Monsters University - inside

I’ve always thought “Monsters, Inc.” was the most underrated of the Pixar films. It came out the same year as “Shrek,” which grabbed the inaugural Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and most of the limelight. But it was a sweet, playful story with a smart twist on the scary monsters every child imagines is hiding in their closet.

The sequel, or rather prequel, arrives 12 years later and can’t meet the high standard set by its predecessor, though it’s still an enjoyable romp. Since “Inc.” pretty much wrapped up all the troubles facing that universe — with the monsters switching to making tykes laugh instead of scream to solve their energy crisis — there wasn’t anywhere to go, story-wise.

Solution: Go backward!

So we tag along as green, one-eyed cue ball Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and furry blue behemoth James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) make their debut as freshmen on the campus of Monsters University. Rather than best buds, they’re rivals competing for status as the big scarer on campus (BSOC?).

There’s an unavoidable disconnect here because we know all the sweat and toil they put into horrifying kids will eventually come to naught. And Crystal and Goodman, two guys in their 60s trying to pass vocally as teenagers, sound like … two guys in their 60s straining at the upper ends of their voice range.

Randall, the fearsome disappearing serpent voiced by Steve Buscemi, turns up in a bit part as Mike’s awkward roommate, who falls in with the misguided popular crowd. It seems a poor use of a really good character.

The animation is terrific, and we get to see some more crazy variations of monster biology, including a snail student who races to get to class on time, unsuccessfully. I’d advise you to skip the 3D upgrade, as it doesn’t really seem to add much to the spectacle.

The story boils down to a pretty standard college comedy, though toned down for a G rating compatible with even the smallest audience members. There are familiar jocks-versus-nerds contests, dissimilar fraternity brothers finding an unlikely bond and even a scary dean cracking down on all the fun.

The dean, named Hardscrabble, is voiced by Helen Mirren and is the best creation in the new movie. She scritches about on chitinous legs with an insectoid torso, flies around on bat wings and always seems to be standing so her face is cast in shadow. Neat trick, that.

Hardscrabble, a legendary scarer in her own right, doesn’t think either Mike or Sulley has what it takes. So they’re forced to enter, and win, the annual Greek Scare Games in order to get back into her loathsome graces.

Rebuffed by the top fraternities, the boys have to join up with Oozma Kappa, a lame bunch of reject monsters (“We’re O.K.!”). They include Don (Joel Murray), a tentacled middle-aged salaryman giving college another try; Squishy (Peter Sohn), a multiple-eyed pile of goop with a confidence problem; Art (Charlie Day), a dippy hippie type who looks like an inverted “U” with purple fur and four hands; and Terri/Terry (Sean Hayes and Dave Foley), a two-headed dude who doesn’t always agree with himself.

There’s some nice byplay as Sulley and Mike butt … well, cranial surfaces. (Mike doesn’t really have a head unless you count his whole body as one.) The set-up is that Sullivan is the natural talent from a prodigious family of scarers who tries to skate by without trying while Mike is a grind who knows the academia of fright in and out but lacks that certain something.

Director Dan Scanlon and fellow screenwriters Robert L. Baird and Daniel Gerson are Pixar backbenchers called up for a turn at bat, and they acquit themselves without swinging for the fences. “Monsters University” is a reasonably fun, not terribly original, but never boring, ride with a pair of old, likable chums.

Note: The film is preceded by a 7-minute short, “The Blue Umbrella,” written and directed by Saschka Unseld. It’s about everyday city objects secretly coming to life, and it’s a charming mix of hyper-realistic animation and cartoony tropes.

4 Yaps

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Coming to DVD & Blu-ray March 12 Tue, 12 Mar 2013 02:03:37 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Life of PiLife of Pi

After enduring a shipwreck, one young boy is left to find a way to survive with the help of a few animals who have survived with him and are left by his side. Directed by Ang Lee.

Rated PG


The master of horror is the subject of this biopic starring Anthony Hopkins as director Alfred Hitchcock. Helen Mirren stars as Hitchcock’s wife, who worked with her husband behind the scenes as he stood at the helm of what would be arguably his most notorious film. Also starring Scarlett Johannson.

Rated R

Also coming to DVD & Blu-ray this week:

“Rise of the Guardians” (Hugh Jackman, Rated PG)
“Playing for Keeps” (Gerard Butler, Rated PG-13)
“This Must be the Place” (Sean Penn, Rated R)
“In Their Skin” (Selma Blair, Not Rated)
“The Devil’s in the Details” (Ray Liotta, Rated R)
“Miss Dial” (Gabrielle Union, Rated R)

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British Film Focus Fri, 14 Dec 2012 16:04:42 +0000 Continue reading ]]> British Film Focus

British Independent Film Awards

The BIFA annual awards ceremony took place on 9th December. It was created in 1998 to honour the fast growing number of independent British films outside the mainstream releases. This year “Broken” starring Tim Roth (“Reservoir Dogs” (1992)) and Cillian Murphy (“Sunshine” (2007)) was named best film. The story centres on three families living in a quiet cul-de-sac in North London following a violent attack on a local schoolgirl. This is the debut feature of theatre director Rufus Norris who trained at RADA before turning to directing. Peter Strickland’s psychological thriller “Berberian Sound Studio” picked up four awards. Toby Jones plays a shy sound engineer who travels to Italy to record sound effects for a horror film. His efforts feature butchering melons, cabbages and radishes to achieve the right sounds.

Andrea Riseborough

The up and coming British actress received a best actress award from at the BIFA’s for her part in “Shadow Dancer” about an IRA member turned informer. A big part for her, out next year, is sci-fi film “Oblivion” starring Tom Cruise, a trailer for which was released recently, in what looks to be a big sc-fi hit for 2013. She’s been thrown in the deep end with this role which should open many doors in Hollywood for the actress from Whitley Bay in the North East of England. Her character of Victoria is so far shrouded in mystery. After Earth’s evacuation, on a mission to collect valuable resources, drone Jack Harper (Cruise) attempts to rescue her. Riseborough is one of a group of young British newcomers making names for themselves across the pond. There is a big opportunity to flourish under the direction of Joseph Kosinsku, who is responsible for producing and co-writing the screenplay as well. He has already experienced success with creativity the sci fi genre with sequel “Tron: Legacy” (2010). Riseborough also starred in “Brighton Rock” (2011) with Helen Mirren (“The Queen” (2006)) and in the same year in “W.E” she played a stunning portrayal as Wallis Simpson, under the direction of Madonna.

“Quartet” (2013)

Released at the beginning of January 2013 this is a film to beat the post-Christmas blues. “Quartet” features an ensemble cast of fabulous British oldies in a witty comedy just right for the kind of audience who enjoyed films like “Calendar Girls” (2003) and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2011). Maggie Smith (“Gosford Park” (2001)) leads the group as Jean, a retired opera singer who moves into a plush ‘retirement home’ especially for musicians. Expect lots of laughs as she reconnects with old friends and lovers from her past and confronts the reasons behind her retirement from opera. Michael Gambon (Prof Albus Dumbledore to most), Scottish comedian Billy Connelly and Tom Courtenay (“The Golden Compass” (2007)) also star. This is Dustin Hoffman’s first turn at directing and this is a very interesting choice to direct such a rich British cast; and a challenging task for the first time director.

“Citadel” (2012)

A strange suspense thriller released earlier this year. You probably missed it but, if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s definitely worth a watch. A year after helplessly watching his pregnant girlfriend being attacked by a gang of hooligans a young and highly agoraphobic father (Aneurin Barbard) tries to protect his daughter from the same gang. Running away from a gang is tough enough without holding a baby as well. The film is short at only 85 minutes and the first half is mainly concerned with a nurse and a priest trying to talk him past his fears. The rest of the film is focused on Barbard’s nervously looking over his shoulder at shadowy hallways and mysterious shapes in doorways.


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Hitchcock Wed, 28 Nov 2012 13:24:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

If Alfred Hitchcock hadn’t been a bona fide figure, Hollywood would’ve invented him. With his inverted-lightbulb physique and that pained slur of a monotone drawl, the great film director stood out both for his exemplary craftsmanship and his oddball image. In some ways, his personal iconography has endured every bit as much as his movies.

“Hitchcock,” which puts the filmmaker under the microscope during the making of his landmark film “Psycho,” features a spot-on impersonation by Anthony Hopkins. Wearing an impressive body suit and extensive facial prosthetics to mimic the droopy mien of “Hitch” (as he preferred to be called), Hopkins evokes the spirit and personality of the man behind masterpieces like “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest” and “Vertigo.”

In this portrait, Hitchcock is both supremely self-confident and filled with obsessive fears about being a washed-up failure. At age 60, Hitch frets his best days are behind him, that he is tainted by his association with television and that he will never receive the accolades (i.e., an Academy Award) he feels are surely deserved.

But the movie, directed by Sacha Gervasi from John J. McLaughlin’s screenplay (based on a book by Stephen Rebello), goes further by exploring the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville. And it’s in this journey that the film rises from amusing bauble to a full-throated and satisfying depiction of a great man and the unheralded woman who helped make him so.

Alma, played by Helen Mirren, dutifully performs the role of the loyal wife in public but quietly seethes with resentment underneath. A talented editor and writer in her own right, she married a promising young director and made his career her own. Reville rewrote scripts, played the part of Hitch’s main sounding board and even (if this film’s depiction is to be believed) stood in for him behind the camera when his health failed.

As the story opens, Hitch is coming off the resounding success of “North by Northwest” but hasn’t a clue as to what to make for his next picture. Some, including Alma, are quietly suggesting he retire with grace. Those calls become increasing urgent as he lights upon the gruesome story of Ed Gein, a serial murderer who chopped up his victims.

When the Hollywood press is repulsed by the topic, Hitchcock digs deeper. When Alma dismisses the story as a cheap horror show, he is intrigued by the challenge: “What if someone really good made a horror picture?” he asks.

Realizing that his dream female star, Grace Kelly, is now unavailable due to having married into royalty, Hitch settles on Janet Leigh. As played by Scarlett Johansson, Leigh is a paragon of niceness and professionalism in a cutthroat business. At first, she’s ambivalent about Hitchcock, especially how he will handle the famous shower scene. But she eventually finds herself in his corner.

“Compared to Orson Welles, he’s a sweetheart,” she muses.

Her counterpoint is Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), whom Hitch had hoped to make a big star, but she rejected him to play the real-life role of wife and mother. It was part of his long fixation on “these blonde women of mystery” who regularly populated his films.

Hitch can’t get the studio to finance “Psycho,” so he ends up writing a check for $800,000 out of his own pocket. It threatens to bankrupt the couple, and Alma responds to being shut out of the creative process by collaborating with an old friend (Danny Huston) who’s a little bit too familiar with the married “Mrs. Hitchcock.”

Director Gervasi’s only other film was the documentary “Anvil: The Story of Anvil,” which looked at a washed-up heavy metal band. His switch to narrative storytelling is a seamless one as he expertly plucks the audience’s strings, much like composer Bernard Herrmann’s screeching violin strings in “Psycho.”

At a crisp 98 minutes, “Hitchcock” is as taut as one of Hitch’s own mystery thrillers.

4.5 Yaps

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At the Mountains of Movie Madness: Week Ten Wed, 05 Sep 2012 02:50:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Last year, I took part in an experiment in recommendations. When a friend recommends something to me, I typically remember it, but I also get to it when I get to it. So I spent one month last year sampling every TV show people recommended to me. I found that to be a blast, so I’m stupid enough to do it again this summer, but this time with movies.

Since so many movies were recommended, I’m not going to be able to get this done in a month. Every Tuesday, I’ll write about which ones I’ve watched and what I thought about them. The only rule to the recommendation was that they had to pick a film I haven’t seen. Some used that to pick great movies they know I haven’t watched yet and some used that to pick movies that look so awful they know I wouldn’t watch it. Either way, I’m watching them now.


Week Ten — In the Years 2000….! (And One from the ’70s)


Puppet (David Soll, 2010)

Recommended by Patrick Mitchell

A few months ago, I saw the movie “Being Elmo,” which is a delightful look at the puppeteer who created the character of Elmo. It profiled the story of him growing up loving the magic behind Jim Henson’s creations and then being able to impact lives doing what he loved. This documentary “Puppet” never has that emotional hook, but it’s still able to look at the passion behind this medium. Perhaps I wasn’t as invested because I didn’t have the childhood nostalgia attached to these types of puppets. However, to see them work to expand what can be done with puppets is still a feat.

Counter-recommendation: Synecdoche, New York

3.5 Yaps


Dragonball: Evolution (James Wong, 2009)

Recommended by Joe Donohue

I admit it. I watched “Dragonball Z” for a month or so back in junior high; we all did. It was not the greatest show, but it was a bit entertaining until I realized that nothing actually happened in the plot. That said, I’ll take a full episode of Goku charging up an attack than this horrible, worthless piece of crap. This script is everything that’s wrong with everything. For no reason, the first act is a cliched high school drama. Then it’s a fantasy-epic cliché that is awful. Then the last act adds a whole bunch of plot that doesn’t make an ounce of sense, with pseudo-lessons learned and a cliffhanger that negates everything. Everything said could be in the running for the worst dialogue in the history of cinema. I felt pity for every actor involved, and this ought to be a career killer for the director and writer. I am a worse person for have seen this.

Counter-recommendation: Any other movie ever.

0 Yaps


Brotherhood of the Wolf (Christophe Gans, 2001)

Recommended by Josh Clayton

When I reviewed “Farewell My Queen” a bit ago, I was impressed about how there were different styles into which the period-piece genre could fit. “Brotherhood” films the majority of its tale in the traditional way to capture the life of royalty in France in the 1760s. Then it uses that style to make an effective monster movie with political metaphors. The genre mixing makes this a really fun, very well-made movie with impressive production values and likable characters.

Counter-recommendation: Army of Shadows

4 Yaps


Greenfingers (Joel Hershman, 2000)

Recommended by Ella Raymont

Another perfect example of a recommendation! I have never heard of this movie, so this was a charming surprise. Clive Owen plays a convict in a minimal-security prison who channels his anger toward gardening. Fellow inmates do the same with their time and they become quite good, garnering the attention of an expert in the field played by Helen Mirren. Sometimes the movie falls too easily into formula, especially the romance subplot, but from beginning to end, it’s a lot of fun.

Counter-recommendation: Kinky Boots

4 Yaps


They Might Be Giants (Anthony Harvey, 1971)

Recommended by Toni Kelner

Right away, I adored this plot. After the death of his wife, a respected judge has delusions that he is Sherlock Holmes and is constantly looking for Moriarty. He is submitted to a clinic where he is assigned to a young doctor named Watson. Icing on the cake is that George C. Scott plays the fake Sherlock. Although the low-budget nature of the movie adds occasional flaws, the script and cast are so wonderful it doesn’t matter. From beginning to end, this was a delight, especially as you get further in and you start to hope that maybe there is an evil Moriarty lurking in the corners.

Also I thought of the perfect casting if this was to be remade. Jeff Daniels as Playfair/Holmes, Kim Dickens as Watson, Dustin Hoffman as Wilbur Peabody and Benedict Cumberbatch as Playfair’s brother.

Counter-recommendations: Without a Clue and, of course, The Great Mouse Detective

4.5 Yaps


Dude, Where’s My Car? (Danny Leiner, 2000)

Recommended by Michael Power

Ugh. I’m really upset I watched this one. It’s one thing if you’re watching “Macbeth” and you don’t smile once during the duration. It’s another if you’re watching a comedy. This takes the dumb humor to an even dumber point at which you really want an oral history of how this movie was made. At one point, someone had to pitch the idea of ostriches attacking the lead characters, create a second draft where one character calls them llamas for no reasons and then a lot of people had to shoot this. Then another person was hired to edit the scene. This movie was actually made, and that is a triumph for all who champion bad choices.

Counter-recommendation: Up in Smoke

0.5 Yaps


Next week I will master a flying guillotine, watch Sophie take her revenge and try my first Filipino film.


15 more to go….

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