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Martin Scorsese's latest film, Shutter Island, is absolutely fascinating, at times frustrating, too long by half an hour, has pacing issues - and is worth seeing twice. In fact, it's almost necessary to see it twice. A psychological drama reminiscent of Hitchcock's work, Shutter Island (despite its flaws) not only solidifies the fact Scorsese's a master filmmaker, but showcases the best performance of Leonardo DiCaprio's career.
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After years in Hollywood obscurity, Kevin Spacey returns to the type of complex role that established him as one of the great actors of our time by portraying former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. As Spacey opens up giving himself a pep-talk in a mirror, we instantly recognize the great actor and the tone is set that this is going to be an intense ride. Even though the film couldn’t live up to what it set up for us in that great opening scene, it was still nice to see Spacey at the top of his game and give life to a character that could have faltered in the hands of a less talented actor.
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A group of friends are on their way to a lake house vacation spot when their car crashes. Stranded, they spot a lone house sitting in the middle of Nowheres Cornfield USA. It’s moody and dangerous looking and creepy as all get-out. So of course two of the friends, Brian (Wes Chatham) and Scott (Devon Graye) head off to find help, leaving behind Chris (C.J. Thomason) and Natalie (Tammin Sursok), Brian’s slightly loopy girlfriend. There is a fifth member of the group, Johnny (Ben Easter), who has gone missing in the aftermath of the accident. Soon, something evil inside the cornfields strikes, cutting the number of vacationers in half. Yeah, kinda saw that coming, dincha? Have faith, though, it actually gets better.
“Husk” is another 2011 entry in the After Dark Originals line of films, including the previously reviewed “Prowl”. It’s another surprisingly strong effort, particularly given the lack of resources writer/director Brett Simmons had to work with. The film is the full-length version of a short film that Simmons did back in 2005, and it’s quite the streamline affair. The set-up is brisk, the action is fast and furious, and there is enough of a backstory to the supernatural shenanigans as to provide an explanation to those needing one. This is, after all, a movie about killer scarecrows, so I honestly don’t know who would demand a backstory to that, but in case you wanted one, Simmons supplies it in the form of flashbacks, each one helpfully triggered by the appearance of some well-trained crows.
As a history lesson, Amazing Grace is okay. It stays reasonably true to the established record with minimal embellishment. However, as motion picture, the film is lacking in several key areas. The presentation is choppy, with lengthy sections devoted to the events occurring during short spans followed by jarring leaps ahead in time. Character development is perfunctory, with most individuals in the film falling into the "good, noble" camp (abolitionists) or the "evil, rapacious" camp (those in favor of continuing the slave trade). This occasionally causes Amazing Grace to play less like a movie and more like a morality play.
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It's a pleasant thing to encounter occasionally a movie in which people are portrayed as decent (if flawed) individuals. In The Visitor, there are no human villains. No one wears a black hat. The antagonist is The System - the nameless, faceless arm of a bureaucracy that flexes its muscles and crushes whoever happens to be in its grip at the time. In this case, it's the Immigration Department, but it might be any of thousands of government and private organizations where the "human element" has been eliminated in favor of procedures. However, while the struggle against The System forms an important aspect of The Visitor, this is much more about the growth of one man who discovers that the island of solitude is a cold and lonely place.
We all know Richard Jenkins even if we don't recognize the name. He's a character actor who has appeared in supporting roles with increasing regularity since the early '80s. The Visitor, written and directed by The Station Agent's Thomas McCarthy, gives Jenkins a rare lead part and he brings to it a mixture of pathos and wit. The chief pleasure of The Visitor is in watching Jenkins' character, Walter Vale, grow. Jenkins never overplays the role, opting for a low-key approach that makes the one scene where Walter boils over all the more effective. A lot of heart goes into the performance; when Walter encounters something that gives him a brief flurry of happiness, we smile with him.
A Prophet (Un prophète in its home tongue) is director Jacques Audiard's gangster-themed twist on the rags-to-riches story. Although it's a genre staple to present the story of an innocent corrupted by the criminal world and rising to a position of power, Audiard adds a unique spin to the tale: his anti-hero, Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), does all this while behind bars. A Prophet is as gripping as any recent film about crime and criminals, although its ill-focused attempts to incorporate elements of the supernatural (prophetic visions and ghostly apparitions) are bizarre and ineffective. The movie was a huge success in its native France, where it dominated the César Awards, and it was one of the five finalists for the 2010 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
The Outlaw Josey Wales
Clint Eastwood has directed, played in or starred in a lot of westerns. We all have our favorites and this my favorite Eastwood western, along with the more set-in-modern-day western, "Bronco Billy." (The latter is really a drama more than a western.)
This is simply an extremely entertaining story with two lead characters - played by Eastwood and Chief Dan George - who were fascinating to watch. Also, as in most westerns, I enjoyed the good photography and was surprised, considering the year of release, that the language was pretty tame.
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A commercial director and three extreme sports enthusiasts took their trip to a distant mountain retreat for seasonal practice and stunt filming. They stumble upon an intricate group of terrorists plotting an attack against them. The terrorists soon find out that they had been watched by the group and rush swiftly to kill the witnesses. Now racing for their lives against helicopters and expert assassins, the enthusiasts must put their quick extreme sports skills to the test in order to escape the mountain.
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The Girl Who Swallowed Bees
Rising Aussie star Pia Miranda is featured in this sublime tale about agirl who decides to end it all with the help of some honeybees. Hugo Weaving narrates.
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Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control
This film takes place during the events of Get Smart. Bruce and Lloyd have been testing out an invisibility cloak, but during a party, Maraguayan agent Isabelle steals it for El Presidente. Now, Bruce and Lloyd must find the cloak on their own because the only non-compromised agents, Agent 99 and Agent 86 (Max Smart) are in Russia. With no field experience, Bruce and Lloyd must learn how to get a girl and infiltrate the Maraguayan Embassy to prevent Maraguay from selling the cloak to KAOS.
The film includes a cameo by Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 (a scene that makes reference to events in the main film), Terry Crews as Agent 91, and a brief appearance by Patrick Warburton as the android Hymie. Larry Miller plays a dual role as the "Underchief" in charge of the R&D department, and his twin brother, a CIA official (Miller appears as the CIA official in the theatrical film). The closing credits incorporate bloopers and deleted scenes.
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In a flashback sequence following the first film, Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) crawls from the bathroom to find help after sawing off his foot. Along the way, he reaches a steam pipe and uses it to cauterize his ankle stump. In the present, Ryan (Jon Cor) and Brad (Sebastian Pigott) awaken in a storefront window in a shopping area in front of a crowd of people, their wrists bound to a worktable. In front of each man is a buzz saw, and their mutual lover, Dina (Anne Lee Greene) is suspended above a third saw. Jigsaw's puppet tells them that they can either kill one another or allow Dina to die, and after realizing her betrayal, they decide to save themselves and allow her to lower onto the saw, killing her.
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Lulu McAfee lives in a San Francisco home for mentally-ill adults. In June 1999, she bolts for L.A. and contacts Ben Clifton, an old flame, now unhappily writing for TV and unhappily married to a psychiatrist, Claire. Ben is ready to call Lulus doctor when she tells him they have a son, born after she became ill and their affair ended. He calls Claire to tell her hes driving Lulu to Wisconsin to meet the boy on his 16th birthday, a visit Lulu claims is arranged. On the drive, Lulu tries to rekindle the affair and restart Bens idealism. Meanwhile, Claire boards a plane to Madison to watch her marriage collapse. Is there really a son? What emotional landmines will the trip set off?
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A Safe Place
A young woman named Noah lives alone in New York. She is a disturbed flower child, who retreats into her past, yearning for lost innocence. She recalls her childhood, searching for a safe place. As a child she met a magician in Central Park who presented her with magical objects a levitating silver ball, a star ring, and a Noahs ark. She is romantically involved with two totally different men. Fred is practical but dull. Mitch is dynamic and sexy, her ideal fantasy partner. Neither man is able to totally fulfill her needs.
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Dazed and Confused
In a small Texas enclave, highlights the rites of passage on the last day of school in 1976 for the new, incoming freshmen at the hands of the class of 77 at Robert E. Lee High School. Freshman boys are physically punished, while the girls largely face the brunt of verbal abuse and humiliation. Two main figures emerge. Incoming freshman Mitch Kramer comes to a new realization in his role as a major target of senior hazing. And, among the seniors is Randall Pink Floyd, the schools star quarterback, who moves with facile grace among groups of greasers, nerds, stoners, and athletes alike.
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Globe-trotting Christine wakes up one ordinary day to find that her biological clock has gone off with a vengeance. But for a commitment-phobe on the wrong side of 40, the road to motherhood is strewn with bedlam, calamity and smoked out eggs. When she turns to her life long friends Margo and Mikki for support, she finds them equally embattled Margo zealously guarding the door to her recently emptied nest, and Mikki frantically fighting her evil twin foes Sagging and Drooping. Collectively, however, the girls are a force to be reckoned with, so together they take on the might of Mother Nature with hilarious results.
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Mercenary Gold is sent from the CIA to seize the laser expert Braun in Cuba, before the KGB catches him. A recently stolen giant diamond could be used together with Brauns knowledge to construct a laser cannon which could bring power over the whole world. Who will succeed CIA or KGB - or none of them?
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