Plata quemada **½/**** starring Eduardo Noriega, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Pablo Echarri, Leticia Brédice screenplay by Marcelo Figueras, Marcelo Piñeyro, based on the novel Plata Quemada by Ricardo Piglia directed by Marcelo Piñeyro
by Walter Chaw Pushing the submerged homoeroticism of Strangers on a Train to the surface, Burnt Money's homage begins with Jean-Pierre Melville's genre cool and Hitchcock's cigarettes and lighters at a carnival and ends with a certain Wellesian noir seediness (complete with The Lady From Shanghai's ill-fated passion, Touch of Evil's corrupt officials, and even Citizen Kane's totemic paperweight). Burnt Money is deliriously beautiful to look at--all pale greens and mute browns--but its overt politicism in the closing moments begins to dispel the film's magic in favour of over-heated parable. It's an expert genre piece that tries to bear the brunt of all of Argentina's national cynicism and economic corruption (a leaden socio-political platform reflected by its title), and despite his cineaste smarts, director Marcelo Piñeyro just isn't up to the task.
½*/**** Image B Sound A- Extras B starring Jim Carrey, Téa Leoni, Alec Baldwin, Richard Jenkins screenplay by Judd Apatow & Nicholas Stoller directed by Dean Parisot
by Walter Chaw Dean Parisot's remake of Ted Kotcheff's 1977 Fun with Dick and Jane is simultaneously lifeless and desperate, a collection of horrid eleventh-hour edits that result in jokes without punchlines and Carrey's old physical-comedy riffs trotted out in the service of a half-assed redux of a half-assed original. The one nod to freshening up the original's full-frontal assault on capitalism as a means towards happiness (a satirical slot machine tugged to better effect by the act and allure of playing "The Sims") is that it's set in the year 2000 and deals with corporate malfeasance of the kind most conspicuously indulged in by Enron. (In case you don't get that, the last rimshot of the film is taken at Enron's expense, while the first closing credit is a "special thanks" to Ken Lay and his lieutenants.) The fictional big bad fiscal wolf of the piece is Globodyne, presided over by Jack McAllister (Alec Baldwin, in his second corporate bigwig turn after Elizabethtown), a southerner mainly because "southerner" is one of the last cultural groups (along with, say, Asians and gays) you can mock without much fear of backlash. On the day before it's revealed that "Big Jack" has stripped the corporate coffers (including pensions), Dick (Carrey) is promoted to VP of something or another, inspiring wife Jane (Leoni) to quit her job and pushing Dick before the cameras on some Lou Dobbs's "Moneyline" show, where he discovers, in a very public way, that his steed is a paper tiger.
**/**** Image A Sound A Extras C- starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
by Walter Chaw Quentin Tarantino's eighth film, The Hateful Eight, features eight hateful people trapped in a small space during a blizzard. The hullabaloo surrounding its release has to do with the production shooting in an extinct widescreen format (70mm anamorphic) and putting up a lot of money so that it can be screened accordingly in select theatres. A few critics have misidentified its vistas as belonging to Wyoming (it was filmed in Telluride, Colorado), which is understandable given that only about five minutes of the 187-minute running-time is spent outside. There hasn't been a Tarantino feature until this one that I haven't loved; I believe he is our finest working film critic. He understands things about the movies he pulls from--that certain traditions of Japanese and exploitation filmmaking are strongly feminist, that blaxploitation was initially empowerment before it was instantly gentrified, that the best slave narratives involve legacies of violence, which is why Lalee's Kin and Django Unchained have a biological connective bridge. I've learned more about movies from watching Tarantino than I have from watching Godard, who's actually trying to teach me something. I think the Kill Bill saga is a remarkable statement about motherhood. I find his dialogue to be distinctive and sometimes exhilarating. I struggled with disliking The Hateful Eight for each of its 187 minutes. It's the first time I've ever understood the popular criticism of Tarantino as self-indulgent, nihilistic, misogynistic, even racist. I don't agree with every charge, but I do get it now. It's the first time, too, that I was troubled by a plot point in his film: there's someone in the piece who hates Mexicans, see, but when we get a flashback to this person engaging with a Mexican, we see that this is a fallacy. I can't figure out if this was intentional; I fear that it wasn't. I fear, more, that this is evidence that for the first time Tarantino has lost control of his screenplay. I also finally felt the loss of Sally Menke, who was his Marcia Lucas. I hope it's not a harbinger of things to come.
STOP-LOSS *½/**** starring Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt screenplay by Mark Richard & Kimberly Peirce directed by Kimberly Peirce
21 */**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Spacey screenplay by Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb directed by Robert Luketic
by Walter Chaw The only thing really wrong with MTV--besides the fact that they don't show music videos anymore--is that its branding on some of the most vacuous, appalling celebrations of vanity, stupidity, and acting-out in the not-exactly-sterling history of the medium has spawned a rash of imitative programming. It's cheap to turn a few cameras on pretty idiots fucking each other figuratively and literally in resort locales, and so now there are Tiffany versions of this ("Survivor") on broadcast networks and sewer versions of this (those Flava Flav things, Anna Nicole's old show) on struggling basic-cable outlets. (Cartoon Network even has an animated send-up of "The Real World".) And if the genre momentarily appeared to be on the verge of extinction, it suddenly found new life with the recent writers' strike. Because a good many films nowadays are populated by pre-fabricated tween (and post-tween) stars, I have no idea who they are until they're shoved into my consciousness as "stars"; indeed, MTV's dread influence on popular culture has extended itself (hand-in-hand with Titanic's mammoth babysitter's-club popularity) into the multiplex. Too ephemeral for any nickname (no "brat pack" here, just a revolving door of fresh meat), the real legacy of MTV might be that it functions as a microcosm for the lost youth phenomenon in the United States: In every Britney Spears, I see a Virginia Tech. Promise the terminally untalented the moon and repay them with a goat's portion of disappointment, disillusionment, and frustration bound to simmer to a foul boil.
WONDERLAND */**** Image A- Sound A Extras B starring Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott screenplay by James Cox & Captain Mauzner and Todd Samovitz & D. Loriston Scott directed by James Cox
by Walter Chaw A collision of vérité with the sort of Requiem for a Dream grind-cut quick-edits that have produced some of the worst films of the last couple of years (case in point: Spun), Wonderland sets out to tell the true story of 1981's Wonderland Murders, which left four scumbags dead and porn king John Holmes--King Scumbag, as it were--implicated in the lead pipe nastiness. It's a regurgitation in so many ways of so many things: neo-Boogie Nights, neo-noir, neo-Val Kilmer's own strung-out performance in the superior The Salton Sea--and therein lies the problem, as Kilmer is altogether too likeable an anti-hero, typecast as the strung-out simpleton too good-looking to be at the bottom, too drunk on himself to be anywhere else. A section where the passage of time is represented by a montage of TV GUIDE listings provides the only spark in the midst of this spastic spectacle, demonstrating a knowledge of its cathode tube parentage as cannily as the use of Duran Duran's "Girls on Film" tune that defined the MTV-made hit, dancing on the edge of art and porn. It happens early, it raises hopes, and then Wonderland runs itself well past the point of caring.
Please note that these screencaps are from an alternate source and do not necessarily reflect the Blu-ray presentation.
***/**** Image B+ Sound B Extras B starring James Spader, Cynthia Gibb, Jim Haynie, Robert Picardo written and directed by Rowdy Herrington
by Walter Chaw A quintessential dirty '80s thriller, Rowdy Herrington's frankly fantastic Jack's Back follows a Jack the Ripper copycat killer circa 1988 who, it appears, is interrupted during his last murder by earnest, likeable med student John (James Spader), who's quickly dispatched for his erudition. When I saw Jack's Back on VHS in '88, I was shocked by the brutality of John's murder and that it happens about fifteen minutes into the film. Rick (also Spader), John's twin, has a dream of his brother's murder and appears on the scene--to the consternation of John's grieving coworkers--to investigate the circumstances of his death. It's a fascinating conceit, or a silly one made fascinating by Herrington's execution of it and by a dual performance as subtle and compelling, in its way, as Jeremy Irons's turn in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers from the same year. Spader manages the neat trick of being two different people who aren't two easily-distinguishable types. You see the rebellion nascent in the "good" brother; you see the vulnerability in the "bad" one. Silly to say, maybe, but you see elements of one in the other. Spader's interactions with Cynthia Gibb, playing John's co-worker at a free clinic, are radically different from brother to brother, though not theatrically so. More than a thriller, Jack's Back is a brilliant character study.
*½/**** Image A Sound B Extras B+ starring William Sanderson, Robert Judd, Reginald Bythewood, Lela Small screenplay by Straw Weisman directed by Robert A. Endelson
by Bill Chambers The package containing Fight for Your Life drew me towards it the way a pie cooling on the windowsill draws fugitives from chain gangs. Something I hate about myself is my susceptibility to ironic temptation: Here was this DVD with one third of "Newhart"'s Larry, Darryl, and Darryl having a barechested brawl with a Famous Amos look-alike on the cover, and like a not-so-metaphorical rat to cheese, I had to spin it immediately. Further patronizing me was a pull quote from All Movie Guide declaring Fight for Your Life "the least politically correct movie ever seen in American theaters." Coupled with my foreknowledge of the film's ongoing ban in the United Kingdom, why, that's "I gots ta know" territory. The film was now in the challenging position of having to meet a set of lopsided expectations: If it turned out to be anything less than transcendent schlock, I'd feel cheated.
*½/**** Image D Sound D starring Julian Jung Lee, Barbara Gehring, Trygve Lode screenplay by Robert Gosnell directed by Mark Steven Grove
by Walter Chaw I came to the startling and somewhat crushing realization midway through it that not only have I seen worse movies than Mark Steven Grove's Dragon and the Hawk, I've seen worse movies today. Shot in and around Denver and Littleton, Colorado at locations where I've been tooling about for most of my life, Dragon and the Hawk is formula chop-socky involving martial arts master "Dragon" (Korean Tae Kwan Do expert Julian Lee) as a fish out of water looking for his missing sister (Gayle Galvez). The villain Therion (Trygve Lode) has abducted li'l sis and is injecting her with some kind of serum that turns innocent schoolgirls into goth hench-chicks. It's up to Dragon and maverick cop "Hawk" (Barbara Gehring) to save the Denver metropolitan area from...goth hench-chicks, I guess.
RED EYE ***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox, Jack Scalia screenplay by Carl Ellsworth directed by Wes Craven
FOUR BROTHERS */**** Image A Sound A Extras B starring Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese, André 3000, Garrett Hedlund screenplay by David Elliot & Paul Lovett directed by John Singleton
by Walter Chaw If it barely registers at under ninety minutes, Wes Craven's high-concept thriller Red-Eye is carried along by a couple of excellent lead performances (from Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams) and a revenge subtext that lends surprising gravity to the lingering sensitivity of a sexual assault victim's scars. Red-Eye plays its 9/11 hand--and what else would you expect from a film about an assassination attempt on the Director of Homeland Security that takes place mostly on an airplane--as a metaphor for rape, because rape, after all, is as good a metaphor as any for a terrorist attack on native soil. Look to the glut of home invasion films (of which this is also one) in 2005 as further clarification of that connection--aliens of an inscrutable nature and purpose (and morality, it goes without saying) have come into the places we thought most sacred and taken what they wanted of our innocence: our once inviolate sense of security. Heady stuff for a film that is essentially Nick of Time on a plane, and indeed it may ultimately be too slight a framework to support the amount of topical sociology I'm tempted to ask it to bear, but there are moments now and again weighted with so much proverbial baggage that Red-Eye, with its melancholy regret, sucks the air right out of the theatre.
EDGE OF DARKNESS ***½/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras C+ starring Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic screenplay by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell, based on the television series by Troy Kennedy Martin directed by Martin Campbell
WHEN IN ROME */**** starring Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Anjelica Huston screenplay by David Diamond & David Weissman directed by Mark Steven Johnson
by Ian Pugh Allegedly a radical departure from the BBC miniseries upon which it's based, Martin Campbell's Edge of Darkness works because there's nothing typical about it. Boston PD detective Tom Craven (Mel Gibson) naturally blames himself when his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) is gunned down by a masked man with a shotgun, but his private inquiry into the matter reveals that Emma herself was the more likely target: it had something to do with her job at a nuclear R&D lab run by sadistic creepshow Jack Bennett (an almost-ridiculously slimy Danny Huston). The trick to Tom's subsequent trip down the rabbit hole is that he never stops blaming himself, even once his quest is validated by the trail of bodies left by both him and the mysterious conspirators pulling the strings. This is Gibson's first starring role in eight years following a lengthy trek through Crazytown, and he might be the only actor who could have pulled it off so flawlessly--simply because there's always been something slightly terrified about his specific brand of martyrdom, something that points to it all being painfully unnecessary.
**/**** DVD - Image N/A Sound B Extras C BD - Image A Sound A+ Extras B- starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Olga Kurylenko screenplay by Beau Thorne directed by John Moore
by Walter Chaw Valkyries: a staple of Norse mythology, right? Picking sides in fights, flying the fallen to Valhalla, and becoming winged waitstaff in that eternal beer hall in the sky. (Or fat women in Wagner.) First thing that comes to mind isn't a mind-blowing, Timothy Leary-esque freak out--unless you're John Moore's ridiculous Max Payne. That isn't the worst thing about Max Payne, but it's one of them. And while there's no crime in appropriating concepts you don't entirely understand, there probably should be. This is not a smart movie, and it doesn't know whether it should be a faithful adaptation of its videogame source material or a post-modern take on films noir, though it should be said that it looks beautiful anyway, a successful iteration of the Sin City aesthetic. The only thing really missing from its retinue of noir tropes is a stoic anti-hero at its centre; Max Payne badly miscalculates not in casting professional lump of meat Mark (Talks to Animals) Wahlberg, but in subsequently allowing him to attempt a fully fleshed-out performance when his usual monotone would've fit the pomo/homage portion of this film perfectly.
Image B Sound B Extras C+ "Stockholm Syndrome," "The Alanon Case," "The Case of the Missing Screenplay," "The Case of the Stolen Skateboard," The Case of the Lonely White Dove," "The Case of the Beautiful Blackmailer," "The Case of the Stolen Sperm," "Take a Dive"
by Jefferson Robbins With its accomplished but psychologically malformed boy-men, the first season of novelist-screenwriter Jonathan Ames's "Bored To Death" feels like a Judd Apatow joint transplanted to Tom Wolfe's outer boroughs. Its characters all want to be Masters of their particular Universes, but they're either hamstrung by their own neuroses or carting them along like luggage in spite of success. We know we're watching an HBO comedy, though it's often hard to discern where the comedy is supposed to be located. In Woody Allen nebbishism? In misdirection and error? In slapstick? In satirizing the hip, self-satisfied artistes of millennial New York's most fashionable burg? Barring a few episodes that succeed on the other points, the latter feels most likely.
Image A- Sound B+ Extras B- "Pilot," "LAPD Blue," "Dr. Feelbad," "Russo," "In the Grasp," "Fashion Police," "Deja Vu All Over Again," "Love Triangle," "Dial M for Monica," "Sins of the Mother," "The Wrath of Khan," "Wayne's World," "Teacher's Pet," "Starlet Fever," "Here Comes the Judge," "Blind Trust," "Backfire," "Trial by Fire," "Porn Free," "Fall from Grace," "Strange Bedfellows," "Wayne's World 2: Revenge of the Shark"
by Ian Pugh The latest in a long line of television series to track the exploits of a douchebag-genius-misanthrope, "Shark" has a distinct leg up on progenitor "House" and the rest of the competition in its hiring of an undisputed master of such characters to lead the way. In a pantheon of pure indulgence, casting James Woods as the eponymous fast-talking asshole ranks up there with letting Nicolas Cage unleash his inner lunatic--and "Shark" certainly gives Woods a chance to go to town as famous defense attorney-turned-high-profile prosecutor Sebastian Stark. The actor almost completely embodies the pleasures to be found in the show, to such an overwhelming degree that his near-perpetual "step aside, junior" demeanour leaks through the fourth wall, simultaneously wowing the viewing audience and putting pretenders like Hugh Laurie firmly in their place.
**/**** Image A+ Sound A- Extras A- starring Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, John Lone, Zhang Ziyi screenplay by Jeff Nathanson directed by Brett Ratner
by Walter Chaw For as long as Jackie Chan has been the logical heir to Buster Keaton's crown, it becomes apparent during the course of Brett Ratner's Rush Hour 2 that he may also be the heir to Peter Sellers's Inspector Clouseau/Pink Panther crown. Blithely mixing the broad racial humour with the broad slapstick theatrics that typify Sellers and Blake Edwards's classic comedies of criminal bad taste, Rush Hour 2 even makes time for a couple of bombshell secret agents, a brief and largely inexplicable interlude involving breasts rendering a man amusingly mute, and a cheerfully inept sidekick who gets in the stray kick now and again. The tenor, then, is dedicatedly light, and the humour is predictably free of cleverness--mostly involving Asians eating dogs and killing chickens, and African-Americans preferring their chickens fried and their karaoke with a heaping helping of Jacko gesticulations. That Rush Hour 2 (and the Pink Panther saga, for that matter) is often so genial in its cheap humour and gratifying in its physical exertions speaks to an almost universal desire to see people get a pie in the face while inelegantly breaking societal taboos. Rush Hour 2 never once aspires to anything other than formula fluff and never once descends into the dangerous realm of superlative entertainment. It is the prototypical summer film: loud, cheap, exploitive, and forgotten almost as soon as it's over.
***/**** Image N/A Sound A Extras B- starring Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Adam Brody, Kerry Washington screenplay by Simon Kinberg directed by Doug Liman
by Walter Chaw Having more to do with Alfred Hitchcock's screwball comedy of the same name than would initially appear, Doug Liman's Mr. and Mrs. Smith affects the sexy, light-hearted, insouciant derring-do of the BBC's "The Avengers" and, paced as it is by Liman's trip-hammer way with an action scene, makes as strong a case for a franchise as any. (At the least, between Go, The Bourne Identity, and now Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Liman should become the first choice of anyone looking for an action helmer.) If the early going is often awkward, blame the complexity of the premise and its requirement that it stay absolutely airtight while setting up its preposterous premise: two of the world's top assassins living in holy matrimony without knowing that the other is a killing machine.