April 30, 2010

The horror! The horror!

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The only things Hollywood likes as much as sequels are remakes -- and no genre is better suited to constant reincarnation than the horror film. Hey, if it scared them once, it'll scare them again! Right?

Well, yes. And no. I am not one of those hardliners automatically outraged by the news of a horror classic's being rehashed for a new generation. As a concept, remakes have great potential, especially when you're dealing with a movie that has not aged well (and many horror films are products of their times and don't weather the years).

In honor of today's arrival of a new take on A Nightmare on Elm Street, I compared a few recent horror remakes and their originals in today's Weekend cover story. This is only a partial list - a comprehensive one would fill a book - so I tried to include several remakes that improved on the films that inspired them. Check out the story here.

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Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 08:03 AM in Commentary, Film, Reviews
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April 28, 2010

Review: ''A Nightmare on Elm Street''

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When Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street hit theaters in 1984, the low-budget picture became a surprise hit, taking the exhausted slasher genre, which had been bled dry by countless Halloween and Friday the 13th knockoffs, and melding it with a phantasmagorical, surreal landscape of dreams. The figure of Freddy Krueger, a deformed child molester fond of striped sweaters who wielded a set of steak knives for fingers and killed his victims in their sleep, was a new and frightening addition to the ranks of memorable horror-movie monsters.

But over the course of seven sequels, the creep gradually became the anti-hero of his films instead of the villain, dispatching his prey with Henny Youngman one-liners while the audience laughed instead of screaming. In 2003's surprisingly effective Freddy Vs. Jason, in which Krueger squared off against Jason Voorhees in a winner-take-all battle worthy of pro wrestling, the character completed the cross-over into comedic territory. After that film, Freddy Krueger seemed to be done for good.

One of the problems with the new A Nightmare on Elm Street, the latest horror remake from Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes production company, is that Freddy simply isn't as scary as he used to be, even though Jackie Earle Haley, taking over from Robert Englund in the role, plays Krueger essentially straight, keeping the one-liners to a minimum. But the actor isn't given enough to do to leave his mark on the character: It could be anybody under that gruesome makeup.

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Director Samuel Bayer, a music video veteran making his feature film debut, pays dutiful homage to a couple of the most memorable images from the original (such as Freddy emerging from behind a wall to leer at a sleeping girl, or the bathtub scene in which the razor-tipped hand emerges from the bubbles) but comes up with a few new twists of his own. The screenplay, by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, generally follows the original, including (spoiler alert!) the Psycho-inspired twist of the sudden death of a character you assume is going to be the film's heroine. But if the film ever explained how, exactly, Krueger gained the ability to invade people's dreams and murder them in their sleep, I missed it.

Bayer also refrains from going overboard with the camera stylings: The film is well-shot and makes effective use of the widescreen format. A Nightmare on Elm Street isn't offensively bad, the way The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake was, but it is redundant and uninvolving, because the movie doesn't add any new wrinkles to the Krueger mythos: This is pretty much the same movie as the original, only with better production values. Worst of all, there isn't a single good fright in the entire picture, an unforgivable sin for a supposedly scary movie.

The horror film genre is filled with classics that have endured the test of time and become milestones of cinematic history: Frankenstein, The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, Dawn of the Dead, The Birds, Halloween, Jaws. Today, though, the genre is on life support, consisting primarily of remakes and sequels designed to lure teenagers on opening weekend, make a quick buck and then fade into oblivion. Craven, who jumpstarted the moribund horror genre with 1996's Scream, recently signed on to direct Scream 4, which he promises will be as revolutionary and surprising as the first film. Here's hoping he delivers: Too many more remakes as dull and bland as A Nightmare on Elm Street could kill off horror movies for good.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (** out of ****) opens on Friday April 30.

 

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 11:06 PM in Film, Reviews
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April 27, 2010

How to travel when you have an Oscar in your luggage

My interview with Juan Jose Campanella, the director of the Oscar-winning The Secret in Their Eyes, ran in Sunday's paper (you can read it here). I had hoped he'd have the statue with him so I could hold it, but he had locked away in the hotel safe, so I asked him how he travels with it.

Photo_1268084323096-1-0  "I carry it in a Club Monaco bag, wrapped in bubble wrap," he said, adding that he carries it on the plane with him and never lets it out of his sight. When he put the bag through the X-ray machine, the airport security officer told him "Sir, we're going to have to inspect your Oscar" with a perfectly straight face.

Campanella also told me the Academy never ships Oscars to recipients by mail or FedEx or any other means, to prevent thievery. Winners must pick up their statues in person, which meant that the Spanish producers of the film, who received an Oscar of their own, had to fly to Los Angeles to get it.

Oscar winners are also required to sign a contract giving the Academy the right to buy back an Oscar, if a former winner has fallen on hard times and wants to sell it, for the princely sum of one dollar. That prevents Oscar statues from popping up on eBay or being sold on the collectors' market. So if you want an Oscar, you're just going to get it the old-fashioned way: Earn it. 

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 05:22 PM in Commentary, Film, Interviews
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April 26, 2010

Review: ''I Am Love''

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I Am Love is a bold and thrilling masterpiece -- the introduction of a major new talent to the world's stage. Director Luca Guadagnino is no newcomer to films, having made several features and documentaries in his native Italy. But most of those pictures have been rarely seen in the United States. On the basis of this new movie, a career retrospective is suddenly overdue.

In terms of plot, I Am Love is a romance about lust run amok marked by the sort of 1950s melodrama and sudsy tragedy intentionally reminiscent of Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Ray. But I Am Love is no dutiful homage like Far From Heaven. This is a cutting-edge, distinctly modern picture filled with grand filmmaking: Guadagnino's free-floating, almost magical camera; the precise and unexpected editing rhythms; the striking mise-en-scene; the eye-popping, inventive visual compositions (including some stunning overhead shots); the constant and effective use of slow zooms. At mid-film, a rather bizarre sex scene runs four minutes (an eternity in screen time) and consists primarily of close-ups of the lovers' naked bodies intercut with shots of pollinating bees.

That is one of the few sequences in which Guadagnino's artistic impulses run counter to the movie (another is the weird coda glimpsed during the end credits; what the hell was that?). Emma Recchi (the amazing Tilda Swinton) is a Russian exile living the good life in Milan, where she devotes her time to her opulently wealthy Italian husband (Pippo Delbono), a textiles magnate, and their three impossibly beautiful grown children. Emma's days are filled with planning lavish dinner parties at the family's villa and overseeing the staff that keeps the mansion churning. Initially, she seems content and fulfilled.

Then her impeccably mannered, proper world starts to crack. Emma accidentally reads a letter written by her daughter, who is studying art in London and has fallen for another woman. Emma is shaken by the news - and by the girl's willingness to cast aside her rich, well-connected boyfriend to follow her heart. Then Emma meets her son's best friend, a chef preparing to open a restaurant. He prepares a meal for her - Guadagnino shoots the food in a manner that makes it look like the most tantalizing plate of shrimp in the world - and when she eats it, her reaction is nothing less than orgasmic. To say that Emma is smitten by the young cook doesn't really describe her obsession.

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Soon, she has begun doing the unthinkable, sneaking away to the man's house in the countryside, cutting her elegantly coiffed hair short and becoming increasingly erratic. The affair awakens something in Emma ("When I moved to Milan, I stopped being Russian," she tells her lover), but her fulfillment comes at a great price. The title becomes an ominous declaration: With love can come great joy, but also doom, Beware.

I Am Love is the first film to use compositions by the great, Pulitzer Prize-winning John Adams (Nixon in China, On the Transmigration of Souls) as a score, and the symphonic, sometimes discordant music considerably adds to the grandness and sweep of what is essentially an intimate character study. Right from the opening credits, in which the titles fill the screen in curly script over snowy vistas of Milan in winter, you know I Am Love is going to be something special. And the picture gets better as it goes along, culminating in a rapturous ending that exhilarates in a manner I've never felt in a movie. I Am Love isn't perfect, but what love is, really? Attention all movie buffs: Get ready to have your minds blown.

I Am Love (***1/2 out of ****) screens at 9 p.m. Thursday at Regal South Beach as part of the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (go here for more information). The movie will open theatrically in June.

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 01:07 PM in Film, Film Festivals, Reviews
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April 23, 2010

Coming soon to a theater near you, and there's nothing you can do about it

Here's the just-released new trailer for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, due in theaters June 30. Apparently, this is going to be one of those franchises where the story gets worse and worse with every installment. This thing looks atrocious. The small, modest charms of the first film seem to be forever gone, trampled under cheap-looking CGI effects and Taylor Lautner's wooden acting. It'll probably gross $200 million on the first weekend.

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 06:32 PM in Film, Previews
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Review: ''Formosa Betrayed''

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A history lesson cloaked in the guise of a political thriller, Formosa Betrayed unfolds during the Reagan-era 1980s, when a rookie FBI agent named Jake Kelly (James Van Der Beek) travels to Taiwan (aka Formosa) to observe an investigation into the possible connection between killers on the island and the murder of a Chicago college professor and human rights activist.

Soon after arriving, Kelly becomes increasingly suspicious that the murder was an assassination - one possibly ordered by the Taiwanese government, eager to quell any and all of its vocal critics, even those living on U.S. soil. Much of Kelly's gradual enlightenment comes courtesy of Ming (played by Will Tao, who also co-wrote the screenplay), an underground activist prone to speechifying about Taiwan's tumultous past and the need for democratic, independent rule ("What do you know about the history of my country?" he asks the agent point-blank, before settling in for a long-winded answer).

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Director Adam Kane tries to invest Formosa Betrayed with a mounting sense of outrage and paranoia, like in a Costa-Gavras thriller, but the amount of exposition in the film is daunting. Van Der Beek, all grown up from Dawson's Creek, is better than expected as the naive American agent whose eyes are opened to his country's possible involvement with a cover-up. But characterization is not the movie's chief strength or interest.

Despite its admirable intentions, Formosa Betrayed can't overcome the aura of scolding history lesson that haunts every frame, and Kane's occasional use of archival footage doesn't help. The movie unquestionably achieves its goal of illuminating the audience: Whether or not it also manages to entertain is more debatable.

Formosa Betrayed (** out of ****) opens in Miami today at the Cobb Hialeah.

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 11:26 AM in Film, Reviews
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April 21, 2010

Review: ''Mother''

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South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho loves to color outside the lines: In Memories of Murder, he balanced a bleak police procedural with unexpected, sometimes uproarious humor (imagine David Fincher's Zodiac crossed with The Odd Couple). In The Host, his best-known film in the United States, a giant-monster movie doubled as the story of a dysfunctional family (think Godzilla by way of Ordinary People).

Mother, Bong's fourth film, continues that unpredictable tradition. The movie is built around a tour-de-force performance by Kim Hye-ja, whose monstrously devoted mama takes her place next to her sisters in Psycho and Mommie Dearest, albeit for entirely different reasons. Mother (she is never named) sells herbs for a living and practices some illegal acupuncture on the side to help ends meet, but everything she does is for the sake of her 27-year-old son Do-joon (Won Bin), who is a little slow in the head, prone to short-term memory loss and often behaves like a 12-year-old.

Mother watches over her son obsessively: She's the only person in the world he has and vice versa ("You and I are one," she tells him). When Do-joon is struck (and relatively uninjured) by a speeding BMW, she's even more rattled than he is. Mother frets about Do-joon's friendship with the shady Jin-tae (Jin Goo), who may not be the best influence on her son. And when a local schoolgirl is found murdered, and Do-joon is arrested for the crime, Mother jumps into action. She will do just about anything to clear her son's name, even though the film keeps us guessing as to whether the young man is guilty.

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The plot of Mother makes the picture sound like a grave drama, and on one level it is: Mother's increasingly desperate attempts to help her child are played as seriously as the plight of the two old ladies whose grandsons are linked by a crime in Brillante Mendoza's Lola (which won the grand prize at this year's Miami International Film Festival.) When she starts playing detective, investigating the crime in hopes of clearing Do-joon's name, Mother simultaneously displays great cunning and vulnerability. She's in way over her head, but she doesn't care. Kim's ferocious performance ensures you're always laughing with her and never at her, even as she bungles her way through an investigation that would embarrass Inspector Clouseau.

And just when you think you know where Mother is going, Bong, as is his wont, pushes the film into a different, much darker direction. The movie's utter lack of predictability helps to keep you engaged, even if some of the plot turns are a bit baffling, and the unusual depth and complexity of the characters - the eponymous heroine in particular - give the picture its scalding power. You've never met a mother quite like this one.

Mother (*** out of ****) opens Friday, April 23 at the Regal South Beach in Miami-Dade.

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 04:33 PM in Film, Reviews
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April 11, 2010

Youth in Revolt: The Making of ''Kick-Ass''

This story ran in Sunday's Herald, but I am reposting it here for posterity's sake, since stories on the main site sometimes disappear forever.

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The controversy around Kick-Ass began with the film's R-rated trailer, which hit the Internet in December and showed a masked little girl shooting grown men in the face and using a certain four-letter word most adults rarely utter.

The trailer turns out to have been just a small taste of the deeply subversive movie. Kick-Ass, which opens Friday, is about ordinary kids who don homemade costumes and venture out to fight crime, just like superheroes in comic books. The only difference is that teenager Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson), the film's eponymous hero, has no superpowers whatsoever. The first time he squares off against bad guys, he is stabbed in the stomach, hit by a car and spends months in the hospital recuperating.

That scene is the first of many in which Kick-Ass upends everything you knew about comic-book superheroes, who traditionally triumph over villains by taking the high road. Realism trounces fantasy. Being on the side of the good and lawful just isn't enough: You need a machine gun or a shotgun or at least a sword or two to make a difference.

``Someone asked me `Is this movie a spoof? Is this a parody? What is this?' '' says director Matthew Vaughn, who raised the movie's budget (estimated at around $35 million) through private investors after every Hollywood studio turned him down. ``And I said `This is a post-modern love letter to comic books and superhero films.' I just felt like comic-book movies were getting a bit generic and stale, and it was time to do something fresh -- but, at the same time, not throw the baby out with the bath water.''

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One of the major differences between Kick-Ass and traditional comic-book movies such as Iron Man or Spider-Man is that the filmmakers did not have to figure out how to make their characters relatable to the present day. The film was shot while writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita Jr. worked on the books, and the last installment of the eight-issue series was published in January.

Millar, a chief writer for Marvel Comics who is known for hyper-violent, aggressive books, pitched the idea behind Kick-Ass to Vaughn before a single panel had been drawn (one of Millar's previous series, Wanted, had been turned into a big-budget Angelina Jolie film in 2008).

Markmillar  ``This is the first comic book adapted in the last couple of decades that is first-generation,'' Millar says. ``Even Watchmen was 23 years old when it got turned into a film. The comic book is of the now, which is part of the reason why the movie feels so fresh and daring.''

Millar says one of his creative inspirations was a documentary interview with Quentin Tarantino in which he praised the 1931 classic Frankenstein.

``Tarantino was talking about how when that movie is funny, it's really funny, and when it's scary, it's really scary. He did the same thing in Pulp Fiction, when you're laughing at John Travolta and Samuel Jackson chatting in the car, and suddenly his gun goes off and the guy's brains are splattered all over the back seat. I always try to do that with my comics, too. You only have 22 pages to tell your story, so every line has to mean something. You try to get the maximum emotion out of every bit of your construct.''

But although Kick-Ass was a hit in print, the comic was not universally beloved.

``The book sold a lot, but a lot of people complained about it,'' says Michael Avila, a contributor for newsarama.com and msnbc.com who specializes in pop culture. ``Millar comes up with great ideas and gets the attitude just right, but the downside is you don't always like his characters. That's why Kick-Ass is one of the few comic-book movies that actually improves on the book. The movie does to the comic book what Francis Ford Coppola did to Mario Puzo's The Godfather.''

The script for Kick-Ass, written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, differs from the comic in small but critical ways. For example, the character of Big Daddy, a masked vigilante who raises his 11-year-old daughter Mindy to become a ruthless crime fighter named Hit Girl, is somewhat twisted and deranged on the page. In the film, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) is still nuts, but his relationship with his daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) is tender and touching. Yes, he gives her a butterfly knife as a birthday present and teaches her how to use riot gear by shooting her in the chest. But they are hugely likable psychos, in a Bruce Wayne kind of way.

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Although Hit Girl is a supporting character in Kick-Ass, she has, because of her age, become the film's breakout persona -- and the magnet for much of its controversy. Children will automatically be drawn to her, but the R-rated movie is not kid friendly, one of the key reasons Hollywood studios initially passed on the project.

``Matthew and I were very keen to avoid any sense of deliberately provoking or shocking the audience,'' says Goldman, who previously collaborated with Vaughn on the much-gentler 2007 fantasy Stardust. ``One thing that kept coming up in our conversations is how young Hit Girl is. But it's precisely her age that makes her such a fascinating character.

``For me, as a female screenwriter, I found the idea absolutely exhilarating: Here is a strong, female anti-hero, but she's not sexualized,'' Goldman says. ``She's not there for guys to get their rocks off. She's genuinely dangerous. It was never our intention to shock people by having a kid killing people. If anything, we toned certain things down from the comics. But this was never meant to be a movie for children.''

For Vaughn, the main appeal of Kick-Ass was in taking familiar comic-book tropes and placing them in a realistic setting, then standing back to see what happened.

``There isn't a single thing in this movie that couldn't happen in real life,'' Vaughn says. ``That was my rule. All the costumes were made of materials that could be bought on the Internet. Big Daddy's costume is made up of French riot-police gear. You can go online, search for jet packs and find a guy in Mexico who makes them. You can buy the bloody thing online! When it came to Hit Girl, I told the fight choreographers I wasn't interested in going too over the top. With a few things she does, they said `Look, there's only a one-in-a-thousand chance this could actually happen if we did it for real.' But that was good enough for me, because there is still some reality to it.''

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The strict adherence to realism inevitably drew an R-rating, because teenagers swear, they occasionally do drugs, and if they leaped off a roof wearing a cape and thinking they could fly, they would plummet and land in a bloody heap.

When Spider-Man or Superman dispatched muggers or drug dealers, they usually delivered them to the authorities, bruised but alive. In Kick-Ass, the heroes quickly discover the only way to stop the guy coming at you with a gun is to shoot first.

``I've always thought there was a very thin line between bravery and stupidity,'' Vaughn says. ``Depending on how you look at it, those soldiers in World War I climbing over the trench and running toward the machine guns were very brave but also very stupid. That's also what Kick-Ass is: He's brave in one way and stupid in another. He's also naive and optimistic. It takes a little bit of all of that for heroes to be created.

``To show that, though, you have to go all the way. I've always felt movies should be either PG or R. PG-13 is this sort of no-man's land. Films can imply some pretty horrible violence without showing it. I think The Dark Knight was darker and more violent than Kick-Ass in a psychological sense. When the Joker started playing with his knife, it made you look away from the screen. In Kick-Ass, you're laughing at the violence and enjoying it for its silliness. You're not thinking ``Eeww! That's disgusting!' ''

The primary challenge facing Kick-Ass now is to reach the adult audience that will best savor its humorous exploration of the nature of heroism. The ordinary moviegoer who isn't plugged into the comic-book world and just glances at the film's poster in a theater lobby could dismiss it as a picture for 12-year-olds. But its wry sense of humor and cheerfully gory violence is intended for a more-mature, sophisticated palate.

Romita, the famed comic-book artist who drew the Kick-Ass series (and served as a consultant on the film), admits that blood is a selling point of either incarnation of the story.

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``We went a lot further in the comic than we did in the film,'' Romita says. ``I'm getting older, and I'm raising my son, so I understand the questions the movie raises. At what point are we going too far? Conservatives say the bar has been raised too high, and society is falling apart because we have no morals. Liberals say let's progress naturally and be the arbiter of our own affections and let the individual be the bar. I think both sides are right.''

Despite the marketing challenges, Kick-Ass generated a bidding war after Vaughn previewed some footage at last summer's San Diego Comic-Con, with many of the bidders the same people who had originally turned the film down. Lionsgate was the eventual victor.

``I never really sat down in a room and discussed the project with anyone, because they all said no right away,'' Vaughn says. ``The violence and Hit Girl were always concerns. What made me laugh is that after the studios saw the film, they were all like `God, we want more Hit Girl!' I'm so glad they all said no the first time around, because I don't think the movie would have turned out as well without that.''

Kick-Ass opens Friday, April 16 in South Florida.



 

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 11:50 AM in Film, Interviews, News
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April 09, 2010

Review: ''The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo''

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The biggest compliment you can pay the much-anticipated film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that you can't imagine Stieg Larsson's corker of a story ever having existed in book form.

Director Niels Arden Oplev has taken a dense mystery overstuffed with suspects and miscreants and brought it to resplendent cinematic life. So much critical information is conveyed via images -- a crucial series of photographs taken at a parade, for example, or the unusually stern gazes of people posing for a family portrait -- that whatever details and subplots the novel loses on the way to the screen are made up by the film's atmosphere of simmering, brooding evil.

Like David Fincher's Zodiac, this is a hypnotically visual movie about research into an unsolved crime. The disgraced journalist Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) and the moody computer hacker Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) team up to investigate the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a teenager who vanished in 1966 while visiting the island estate of her immensely wealthy and powerful family.

Harriet's disappearance continues to haunt her uncle (Sven-Bertil Taube), who believes her killer is still at large -- and possibly may have been related to her. He hires Mikael, for whom Harriet used to babysit, to see if he can find any new cracks in the ice-cold case.

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Mikael's detective work eventually brings him into contact with Lisbeth, she of the eponymous tattoo, a vulnerable-yet-defiant beauty and one of the most striking and original movie heroines in recent memory. Played by Rapace in a star-making performance, Lisbeth is unlike any troubled bad girl you've encountered: A distinct vulnerability and emotional damage lurk beneath her tough exterior, and the combination makes her utterly fascinating, whether she's tapping away at a computer keyboard or taking sweet, horrible revenge against a perverted probation officer.

Although the movie is the first in a trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is self-contained, and viewers who pay close attention to its intricate plot (no bathroom breaks allowed) will be rewarded. But Rapace's haunting, enigmatic Lisbeth is the element that leaves you eager for the next two installments. She's fantastic, and so is the movie.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (***1/2 out of ****) opens today at South Beach, Intracoastal and Sunset Place in Miami; Sunrise in Fort Lauderdale; and Shadowood, Delray, Mizner Park and Gardens in Palm Beach. The film is unrated but contains some disturbing violence, including a graphic depiction of rape.

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 11:43 AM in Film, Reviews
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Review: ''The Secret of Kells''

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Nestled among this year's batch of Best Animated Feature Oscar nominees was The Secret of Kells, a movie that received little distribution in the United States and had no spin-off video games or action figures. Heck, it wasn't even made on computers. But just a couple of minutes into this beautifully drawn, intricately rendered Irish import, to be screened Sunday as part of the Kidflix Festival, you understand why the movie earned the Academy's attention.

Directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, The Secret of Kells uses highly stylized artwork -- a cross between Japanese anime and the sorts of illustrations that grace children's storybooks -- to tell the tale of mischievous Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire), who lives in a medieval abbey under the care of his overprotective uncle (Brendan Gleeson).

Brendan is not allowed to leave the abbey's walls, due to the constant threat of Viking invaders. But when a traveling monk (Mick Lally) asks the boy to help him finish illustrating a holy book by collecting berries for ink, Brendan disobeys his uncle and ventures into a nearby forest, where he encounters a friendly fairy, some not-so-friendly monsters and all sorts of adventures.

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The story of The Secret of Kells is pitched at young viewers, but its artistry can be enjoyed by anyone with a taste for animation. Clean, broad character designs are juxtaposed against densely detailed backgrounds; cartoonish action is married to a gorgeous palette of lights and colors. Abstract creations, such as a cat with an X for a mouth, express a surprising variety of emotions. At times, the film's frames are surrounded by calligraphy and swirling patterns. The Secret of Kells manages to feel simultaneously old-fashioned and mesmerizingly modern,and the slight story at its center has the emotional weight of a classic fable: A boy's wild, fantastical adventure, simply told.

The Secret of Kells (*** out of ****) plays Sunday March 11 at 4:30 p.m. at the Cosford Cinema as part of the Kidflix Festival. Go here for a complete schedule.

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 11:14 AM in Film, Film Festivals, Reviews
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Some critics really, really hate ''Kick-Ass''

Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass, a cheerfully gory comedy about comic-book obsessed teens who decide to become superheroes, won't open in the U.S. until next Friday. But the movie is already playing in Australia, where several family groups and at least one critic has taken mortal offense to the R-rated film's sense of humor.

Richard Wilkins, the entertainment editor for the Aussie TV channel Nine Network News, has gone ballistic on the film. "I can't possibly encourage you to go and see this overhyped, inappropriate sensationalism that glamourises kids with guns," Wilkins said. "I just think it is wrong ... so wrong."

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"The film is inappropriate — it's excessively violent and there's nothing particularly clever about it," Wilkins said, adding there was no way he'd let his 14 year-old son watch it. "I don't want him seeing kids with guns and knives, killing people randomly and hearing young children say the sort of language they use in the movie."

I've written a big story on Kick-Ass running in Sunday's paper that addresses the inevitable controversy that will greet the film (I will post it onto the blog over the weekend). But the short version is: The movie is rated R for good reason. And compared to the violence in other R-rated films such as Repo Men, Kick-Ass is as offensive as Toy Story.

LayerCakeBluray  At the end of my interview with director Vaughn, I told him how much I appreciated his 2004 debut Layer Cake, a fantastic action picture starring a pre-007 Daniel Craig as a cocaine dealer trying to retire. Layer Cake is one of those movies that never found the audience it deserved, but Vaughn told me he's already mulling a follow-up.

"I've had an idea of doing a sequel set in Miami. I always thought it would be amazing if Daniel Craig showed up there to take on the Miami drug underworld."

Cast Al Pacino as the baddie and you've got yourself a smash hit.


 

 

 

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 10:34 AM in Commentary, Film, Interviews, News
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April 07, 2010

Review: ''Date Night''

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Sometimes stunt casting really can pay off. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are thoroughly believable - endearing, even - as a happily married couple fighting off a bout of the midlife blues in Date Night. The pairing of the television comedy titans may seem like a gimmick, but Carell and Fey genuinely seem to like each other, and they bounce off each other with the natural chemistry of ... well, an old married couple.

The early scenes in Date Night, which depict the day-to-day routine of Phil (Carell) and Claire Foster (Fey) as they juggle careers with raising their two adorably boisterous kids in suburban New Jersey, should be all boring set-up. But some of the funniest stuff in the film comes out of that exposition. Carell and Fey play their characters completely straight, but they inject great observational humor into their depiction of an ordinary couple leading ordinary lives: There's a considerable ring of truth to the look on Fey's face when it's time to get up in the morning, or the way Carell collapses on the couch after arriving home from work, begging his kids for just a couple of minutes before he plays Lego wars with them.

But once the guns come out, and the car crashes begin, Date Night loses the funny. The movie was directed by Shawn Levy, whose previous work (Night at the Museum, The Pink Panther, Cheaper By the Dozen) could be used by Webster's to illustrate the definition of the term "hack for hire," and the script is credited to Josh Klausner, who previously wrote the soul-crushing Shrek the Third.

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Like What's Up Doc?, Foul Play and Into the Night, Date Night is a hybrid of romantic comedy and action picture built around some flimsy instance of mistaken identity. The film depends on the fact that Phil and Claire do not do the logical thing when thugs start chasing them up and down Manhattan after they steal someone else's reservation at a trendy restaurant. But the actors have already shown us how smart and relatable their characters are, so you can't ever buy into the premise.

You suffer through the dull contrivances of Date Night for the scenes in which Carell and Fey are given room to riff and to do their thing. Fortunately, there are a lot of such moments (the blooper reel that plays over the end credits implies the film's biggest laughs were all improvised). There's a great running gag involving the Fosters' repeated visits to the bachelor pad of an ex-super spy (Mark Wahlberg) who never seems to have a shirt on, as well as a terrific scene in which the couple breaks into the apartment of two hoodlums (James Franco and Mila Kunis) who don't appreciate being held at gunpoint by a pair of suburbanites.

Date Night is littered with funny moments - it's a lot more amusing than the trailer suggests - but the movie must eventually surrender to its irrelevant plot and Levy's impersonal direction, and you leave the theater satisfied yet strangely displeased. That's what happens when good actors are stranded in a lame movie that is not worthy of their talents. Carell and Fey deserve better material: Here's hoping they get another chance to work together soon.

Date Night (**1/2 out of ****) opens Friday March 9 at South Florida theaters.

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 08:35 PM in Film, Reviews
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Review: ''After.Life''

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A movie as annoying as its oddly punctuated title, After.Life is a misguided and empty-headed attempt at psychological horror that succeeds only at talking the viewer to death. The directorial debut of Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, the movie centers on Anna (Christina Ricci), a schoolteacher who storms off after an argument with her boyfriend Paul (Justin Long), has a car accident and wakes up in the mortuary of the kindly, vaguely creepy funeral-home operator Eliot (Liam Neeson).

 Eliot informs Anna - in the most soothing, gentle tone - that she was killed in the wreck and shows her the death certificate as proof. Anna's pallor is a bit on the gray side, and there's a nasty gash on her forehead that suggests a fatal injury. But Anna insists she's alive, especially since she can still walk and talk and think, and demands that Eliot release her from the locked room in which he makes corpses look their best before their funeral.

The central premise of After.Life is admittedly compelling: Is Eliot telling the truth when he tells Anna he has the gift of talking to dead people who have not yet accepted their fate? Or is he a lunatic serial killer passing himself off as a kindly mortician? But after about a half hour of back and forth between these talented actors, you start to realize After.Life isn't going anywhere beyond the set-up.

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Eliot constantly lectures Anna ("You all say you're scared of death, but the truth is you're scared of life!'') while she tries in vain to escape her makeshift prison. A subplot involving the growing suspicion by the grief-stricken Paul that Anna may still be alive thankfully gets us out of the funeral home, but Long is miscast in the role (he's a talented comedian, but suffering just isn't his thing), and the gory visions he occasionally has, such as one in which Anna tears her heart out in the shower, come off as feeble attempts to shock the movie into life.

No luck, though. After.Life benefits greatly from the compulsively watchable Ricci, an actress who deserves a lot more starring roles than she gets. It is also exceptionally well shot. Wojtowicz-Vosloo certainly knows how to use a camera. Now she just needs to learn how to entertain an audience - or at least come up with a film that doesn't try so hard to be profound yet has absolutely nothing to say about the way the living deal with death.

After.Life (* out of ****) opens Friday, March 9 at Aventura and Sunset Place in Miami-Dade and Sawgrass and Paradise Park in Broward.

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 08:24 PM in Film, Reviews
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Review: ''The Runaways''

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"Girls don't play electric guitars," a music teacher scolds a teenage Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) early on in The Runaways. The rest of this spirited, messy movie proves just how colossally wrong that teacher was. Jett shot to superstardom in the 1980s with her band the Blackhearts on the strength of a string of radio-friendly hits marked by her defiant attitude, snarling vocals and thunderous, insanely catchy guitar hooks.

 Before the Blackhearts, though, there were the Runaways, the group that taught Jett the tricky ropes of the rock-star life. Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi and based partly on the memoirs of Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie (played here by Dakota Fanning), The Runaways focuses primarily on the formation of the psyches of these young women in the tumultuous 1970s - how they learned to exploit their sexuality while simultaneously overcoming the era's chauvinistic attitudes.

Coached by the sleazy promoter Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), a shady operator who puts the band together and then takes every conceivable advantage of its growing success, the Runaways finds its most receptive audience in Japan, where the group's records and concerts are huge draws. Although the band was a quartet (which also included Lita Ford), the movie focuses primarily on Jett and Currie and their radically different responses to stardom.

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Stewart nails Jett's physical mannerisms and insouciant attitude, and she uses her face and gestures to subtly capture the musician's natural intelligence and wisdom: When Fowley barks "What is our product? Sex! Violence! Revolt!" Stewart shows you how Jett knows, even at her young age, not to take this huckster seriously.

But The Runaways is really the story of Currie, whom Fanning portrays as an ambitious but vulnerable girl torn between her musical dreams and family responsibilities (her twin Marie, played by Riley Keough, is constantly on her case for not helping look after their bedridden father). Currie lacked the strength and emotional armor to weather the pressures of fame as well as Jett did, and The Runaways - which opens with a close-up of Currie's menstrual blood as it hits a patch of sun-baked pavement - increasingly sets aside the music to focus on the girl's loss of spiritual innocence.

Sigismondi gives the film a raw style and beautifully faded cinematography that fit perfectly with its 1970s setting. But The Runaways ultimately feels too lethargic and conventional for the wild story it tells. The movie avoids many of the usual musical biopic cliches, but replaces them with an equally tired depiction of an innocent consumed by the wilderness she helped create, arriving at a muted, lethargic finale that is the antithesis of raucous rock 'n' roll.

The Runaways (** out of ****) open Friday, April 9 in Miami at Sunset Place, Aventura and South Beach; in Palm Beach: Delray.

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 12:29 PM in Film, Reviews
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April 04, 2010

The making of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

I haven't read Stieg Larsson's blockbuster novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but Herald Book Editor (and film reviewer) Connie Ogle has. So it made more sense for her to interview director Niels Arden Oplev about his film adaptation, which opens in South Florida on Friday.

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The story is a great read and touches on everything from the changes the story underwent on the way to the screen to the film's most gruesome scene, which led some people to send me angry e-mails after they saw the film at the Miami Film Festival last month based on my three-and-a-half star review.

"`In the U.K. and the U.S. there's been a stronger reaction about the rape scene than there has been in Europe,'' Oplev says. "Certain critics, both male and female, seem to have gotten thrown off by the graphic violence against Lisbeth. They've not really understood the rape scene is made to make the audience uncomfortable. It's of vital importance to me that it not be entertaining."

Check out Connie's story here.


 

Posted by Rene Rodriguez at 03:47 PM in Film, Interviews
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