Posts Tagged “7.8”


February 5, 2011
Cinequest 21 San Jose Film Festival
English / German / Dutch
75 Minutes
Crime / Thriller
Ed Gass-Donnelly

Peter Stormare = Walter
Jill Hennessy = Rita
Martha Plimpton = Sam

Much better than expected. A small Canadian town is shocked by the news of a dead girl found at a local fishing lake. Sheriff Walter and his deputy appear to be the only police in town. The town is a farming community where trucks rumble past main street, there’s a barbershop and a diner, and a large Mennonite community.

Walter has a dark past involving his temper, though we’re never sure exactly what that past infraction was. We know he’s born again, lives with a simple-minded waitress named Sam, attends church regularly, and knows everyone in town. It seems that the 911 call after the body’s discovery was made by his former lover Rita, who is now shacked up with a druggie bad boy (with especially bad teeth). Walter may be known by everyone, but he is also ridiculed by quite a few. Whatever his past indiscretion, you can believe the whole town, if not the larger community knows what happened. His deacon reminds him, “you can’t change who you are.”

After the incident, Rita left him, and his father stopped speaking with him. A single, terrible violent event in a community known for pacifism. Redemption is the theme of this film.

The vistas are vast, the people appear to be real small-town folks. Hardly anyone is recognizable to movie audiences. The authenticity drips from the screen. Farmers speak in their native tongue, people pretty much act like normal people, the sun appears to be in a constant state of settingness. And though I’ve probably never written this before, even the dead body appears authentic. How do you stop your eyes from blinking and your neck from pulsating? From the bartender to the old woman serving tea, these characters are perfect.

And the music, what about the music?

If the native tribes of North America converted to Christianity, were recorded by Peter Gabriel’s World Music label, and only brought their drums and five part harmonies, the music would sound like it does in this film. It’s mostly religious in nature, many traditional songs, with a few aching love songs thrown in for good measure. And the drums are loud in the best possible way. It is foot-stomping to be sure. The music is by Bruce Peninsula.

The film is broken into chapters with huge text declaring bumper sticker bible verses. “God Meets You Where You’re At” and “Live In The World But Not Of It” or some such advice. This strangely doesn’t take away from the film in any way. The performances are fantastic. Stormare, especially, who appears to be [this close] to going haywire finds the tone between born again calmness and vein-popping hot-head. He is something to watch.

But the town is the real star. Shots are perfectly composed including a double-wide mobile home being driven through the town with police escort. Sunsets, boats on lakes, tractors going this way and that, horse-drawn buggies. It couldn’t have been shot on a soundstage. I loved the look.

My only complaint might be that it’s too short. The stuff around the murder mystery is as important as the crime itself. I would have liked to have spent some more time in the town.

This is a good one.

SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS screens as part of the San Jose Cinequest 21 Film Festival on March 4, March 6, and March 11.

7.8 IMDB


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December 20, 2010
Campbell CA — Camera 7
115 Minutes — December 17, 2010
Biography / Drama / Sport
David O. Russell [Spanking The Monkey; Flirting With Disaster; Three Kings]

Mark Wahlberg; Christian Bale; Amy Adams; Melissa Leo.

Disappointingly traditional sports story about two brothers from Lowell, MA who enjoyed different levels of glory as professional boxers. Wahlberg plays Micky Ward, who is younger brother to Dicky (Christian Bale), who remains a big-shot in Lowell because he once held his own in the ring with Sugar Ray Leonard. In that fight, Leonard fell down, and the town continues to argue over whether it was a knock down or simply a slip. Either way, Dicky is chummy with the whole working-class town, especially with a group of crackheads he spends time with. Micky has looked up to Dicky (yes, the names are annoying) his entire life and is hard at work training for his shot at the title. Dicky acts as trainer, but with a crack habit like his, he isn’t exactly the most punctual worker.

Micky excuses Dicky over and over again, until a fight in Atlantic City when the original opponent of Micky’s is unable to fight. He reluctantly agrees to fight a man fresh from prison, who outweighs him by 25 pounds. Micky’s clock gets cleaned. Meanwhile, their not-exactly-classy mother, Alice, played by Melissa Leo, acts as a sort of manager to Micky. She is fiercely protective of her two sons. She is also protective of her seven daughters. She and Dicky often speak of the importance of family even as that same family is keeping Micky from any real success.

Micky spots Charlene (Amy Adams) in a local bar, where her cleavage and famous rear end are two of the main attractions. She is feisty and smart and holds her own against the drunks in the bar. Micky is instantly smitten (as was I).

Will Dicky drag Micky down? Will Micky turn his back on the family? Will all seven of his sisters hate Charlene for making their brother happy? Will Alice smoke another pack of cigarettes? Will Micky get his shot at the title?

Do you really have to ask?

Wahlberg plays Micky as a timid, though buffed, brother who seems to love the shadow of his hyper-verbal older brother. We never get a real feeling for why he wants to box. It doesn’t seem to give him any joy. His scenes with Adams are pretty good, but when she sticks up for him, it sure seems like he’s substituted one mouthpiece (Dicky) for another (Charlene).

Amy Adams is adorable. She attended some college before dropping out due to partying too much. She was an elite high jumper, but now works in a bar. She’s one of those movie constructs where a hot woman makes a man the best he can be, even if she needs force him to go against everything he knows.

Melissa Leo is just this side of a caricature. If she wasn’t such an acting stud (see FROZEN RIVER or HOMICIDE), it would be laughable. She’s all tight skirts, a poofed up hairstyle, animal prints, and potty mouth. Why she continues to worship the ground her crackhead son walks on is never explained. Unfortunately, each one of the sisters is there to make the audience feel superior. They appear to be real women from around the way in Lowell. Each sister’s hairstyle requires more Final Net than the last. Each accent is stronger than the last. Each pair of white Reeboks and acid-washed jeans and half-shirts is more stereotypical than the last. The film takes place in 1993 and some allowance can be made for their fashion sense. But oh, the hair. My goodness.

The sisters immediately hate Charlene because she’s been to college and has engaged in, you know, book learnin’. There is no group of sisters so ridiculous. When they all cram onto a sofa for a family meeting, it’s like a rouge’s gallery of the rejects from a Whitesnake video. Whitesnake, incidentally, is the music played when Micky enters the boxing arena. Here I Go Again, indeed.

The entire film would have crumbled under it’s own seriousness if not for the performance of Christian Bale. He’s already rightly famous for the lengths he goes to physically in changing his body to fit the role. Here, he needs to be crackhead skinny, but not only that. He also needs to look strung out, yet energetic. He needs to be lanky and unwashed, but ready to spar in a boxing ring. His eyes are hollow and he’s got the accent down. He also made me tear up several times. He is all bravado and self-delusion. A camera crew from HBO is following him around–he says to film his comeback, they say to film stories about crack addiction. I believed that he was HNIC in Lowell. He is charming enough for people to look the other way at his drug habit, a fact that hurts him obviously more than it helps him.

The boxing scenes were pretty good. There aren’t many ways to film fight scenes that hasn’t already been tried, but this film finds a way. All of the action that takes place inside an arena is filmed on video, like we’re watching the HBO tapes. It really was effective. I forgot once in awhile that I was watching a movie and wondered why Adams and Bale were in Atlantic City watching a fight. Wahlberg is passable as a boxer, I suppose. We don’t really see that much boxing, though.

The announcers are the real team from HBO and Michael Buffer does the intros. I’m not sure if they used the actual transcripts, but this is the kind of film where an announcer will say “Micky’s finished, someone should stop this thing” exactly when Micky finally lands a punch that hobbles his opponent. Perhaps to someone new to boxing films, the things done in this one will be spectacular and riveting, but I was tired of hearing “he’s getting killed” and “this unknown is taking way too much punishment”.

Good use of locations. Exciting editing and pretty great use of music. That is, when it wasn’t hitting us over the head. “Back In The Saddle” by Aerosmith is played, when not one, but two characters are shown “back” where they belong. This film had the surprising inclusion of the greatest bass drum song of all time, “Good Times, Bad Times.” I’d always heard that Zeppelin was too expensive to license (see ALMOST FAMOUS).

I’m a sucker for sports movies. I inevitably tear up a little when our hero’s dreams are fulfilled (“Rudy, Rudy, Rudy”; “Rocky, Rocky, Rocky”; “Hey Dad, Wanna Have Catch?”) and this one was no exception. And Bale is remarkable. I hope he’s remembered during awards season. The rest of the film, is way too paint-by-numbers to be anything above the ordinary.

8.5 IMDB
7.8 Metacritic


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June 18, 2009
English / Cantonese
87 Minutes — June 9, 1948
Crime / Drama / Film-Noir / Mystery
Orson Welles [Citizen Kane; The Magnificent Ambersons; The Tragedy Of Othello: The Moor Of Venice; Touch Of Evil]
#418 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A seaman becomes involved in the maritime wanderings of a crippled lawyer and his homicidal frustrated wife.

One of the lesser-beloved of Welles films. First things first. I am still flabbergasted when I see a 30s or 40s actress who is as beautiful as Rita Hayworth was here. For some reason, I don’t think actresses became sexy and beautiful until Sophia Loren or maybe Anita Ekberg or someone of that era, usually from Europe. Then I catch a glimpse of Grace Kelly and realize that I’m completely wrong. Rita Hayworth was breathtakingly beautiful. And married, though breaking up with, Welles at the time.

Because of its tone and the use of an attractive woman who knows more than we do, we know they’ll be some sort of double-cross, but we don’t know what. After seeing this, I’m still not sure who was doing what to whom and for what reason. But the ride was nice. Welles tries for an Irish accent, which isn’t particularly believable. There is a lawyer and a dicey assistant and a hall of mirrors scene at the end which has been copied dozens of times since. It was filmed on locations as the boat headed from Mexico up to San Francisco Bay.

See it to complete your Welles list or see it to see Rita Hayworth in extreme closeup while singing a nonsense song.

7.8 IMDB
** Halliwells

The Lady from Shanghai @ Amazon


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March 21, 2009
Netflix DVD
Malaysia / China / Taiwan / France / Austria
Taiwanese / Malay / Mandarin / Bengali
115 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
Ming-Liang Tsai [What Time Is It There?]

7.8 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone @ Amazon


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July 8, 2008
English / French / German
99 Minutes
Marina Zenovich

The Truth Couldn’t Fit In The Headlines

7.8 Metacritic
7.8 IMDB

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June 17, 2008
Netflix DVD
English / Arabic
85 Minutes
Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg

A Witness To Evil. A Force For Peace. An Unbelievable True Story.

7.8 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

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July 27, 2002

Century 21



The Road To Perdition–Every Father Is A Hero To His Son

Tom Hanks. Paul Newman. Jude Law. Jennifer Jason Leigh. Stanley Tucci. Dylan Baker. Shot by Connie Hall. Directed by Sam Mendes.

12-year-old son discovers that his father is a hitman.

The cast and crew is among the most decorated in film history. It would probably be harder for this film to turn out poorly, than to turn out fabulous. The pacing is slow, the mood dreary and cold. It was filmed in small towns around Lake Michigan, where I spent much of my formative years. The photography is perfect. Every craftsperson is at the top of their game, except the music, which I swear was note-for-note the same score as SIX FEET UNDER. This actually took me out of the film from time to time. However, with the exception of the music, this was the result of brilliant filmmakers put together in the service of a pretty good story.

While I was sitting in the theater, I was mesmerized. The performances were fantastic. Tom Hanks should be the most hated man in Hollywood. He makes everything seem so effortless. But I am more convinced than ever that he deserves every accolade, every penny, and every drop of power that he now enjoys in Hollywood. He is an actual actor. He isn’t a movie star. His face shows us what’s going on inside him, even though his role here is quieter than usual. Paul Newman brings the sheer force of his Hollywood history to his role. He is full of integrity because we ‘know’ him through his countless other roles. In this role he has some unearned integrity that oozes from him, even though his profession is not one we should aspire to. Jude Law plays another hitman, who, by enjoying his profession gleefully, is more of a monster than Hanks, even though they basically do the exact same thing. So while I sat there watching, I was happy as can be.

I’ve had four days to think about this film. And the more I think, the less I like it. It’s not with the acting or the direction and it sure as hell isn’t the way it was shot. It’s the story and the lack of character development. This is one film where the negative comments you read from people seem to have much more truth behind them than the positive one you felt while watching. I feel sort of betrayed.

There is Catholic imagery that only shows up to prove that Hanks’ character is good. Leigh is among our greatest actresses but she has such little character development as to be a ghost. We should welcome her because when she isn’t onscreen, there are no females to take her place. This movie was shot in that one rare area of the Midwest where women don’t exist, I suppose. The character that Law plays only magnifies the problem with the central part of the film. That Hanks is loyal and doing his job because Newman helped him when he was younger. Hanks is a family man who prays and keeps his business separate from his home life. He doesn’t relish the violence he has to inflict in the name of Newman. Law, on the other hand, is happy, joyful; he poses his victims for photographs. He has no family and we don’t see him in church, therefore he is somehow a worse hitman. Both Law and Hanks work for the same man. They both kill people for a living. Law is creepy and has bad teeth and lives alone. Hanks dresses like a businessman, is well groomed and loves his family. This alone somehow makes Hanks a better man. The victims of Hanks are unknown to us, while the victims of Law are beloved by us.

My basic problem is that Hanks does not earn the love that we as the audience give him. It doesn’t matter that he had a bad childhood, he is a killer, but we think he’s cool. When Law kills someone, we see blood and hear screams. When Hanks does, it’s clean, often off-camera, and the music takes over.

This film isn’t without its charms. A scene where Newman and Hanks talk about the son’s discovery is quiet and says more without dialogue than more typically wordy films would. “He saw everything,” says Hanks. Newman answers, “It’s tough to see that for the first time, but then you turned out.” Is Hanks pissed that Newman forced him into the family business? Does Hanks think he’s messed up and didn’t ‘turn out’? Was Newman apologizing for Hanks having seen the same thing his son did all those years ago? We are forced to make up our own conclusions, which makes the film good. There is a shot outside in the rain in Chicago when Newman is surrounded by his men and Hanks is in the shadows that I may never forget. The time period is faithfully rendered, with the exception of choppy CGI work when we see old-town Chicago.

A better story having characters who don’t appear to have a checklist of character traits, but simply are characters would have made the film less obvious and more thought provoking. We are told what to think by scenes in a family’s kitchen and at church. Bad guys smoke and aren’t attractive. Good guys are quiet and have families.

The praise for this film is way overboard. It will surely be nominated for multiple Oscars. I’d give a nomination to Conrad Hall for the photography and Hanks for inhabiting his role.

7.8 Critical Consensus

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Written by Michael W. Cummins