Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sex Box Office.

Apparently "Sex and the City" is on its way to having one of the most profitable openings of all time (read complete story here) but the thing that bothers me most is that they always link the words "chick flick" to this.
As successful and influential as the show has been for more than a decade (four years of which it has been off the air) its impossible not to wonder why has it been getting so attacked lately.
People have been awful to the movie and it might all come down to inherent chauvinism.
When did it become so threatening for men to actually conceive that Carrie Bradshaw might defeat Indiana Jones at the box office?
It may or may not happen, but the crap the film has been getting is enough for you to root for it and want it to shut narrow minded people's mouths once and for all.
June 6th just can't come soon enough for me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

From Hero to Terror.

Going through a national movie site I ran into the following typo for the recent blockbuster,

Not only did it make me laugh, but also got me to thinking about how a single letter gives it an entirely different connotation and even more important why it has that effect.
I, in no way support the theories of the current American government regarding the Middle Eastern country, but the way in which the media washes our heads constantly and almost immediately makes us connect Iran and Iraq with terrorism is terrible.
Might be even scarier than anything playing at the multiplex huh?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Savage Grace **

Director: Tom Kalin
Cast: Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne
Stephen Dillane, Hugh Dancy, Elena Anaya, Belén Rueda, Unax Ugalde

On November 11, 1972, wealthy socialite Barbara Daly Baekeland was stabbed to death by her son Antony with whom she was having an incestuous affair.
In "Savage Grace" director Tom Kalin recreates the events that led to the tragic consequences, beginning with Antony's childhood during which Barbara (Moore) and his father Brooks (the always subtly brilliant Dillane) moved from New York City to Paris where he became part of a erudite circle his mother had a love/hate relationship with.
Years later while living in Spain, Antony (played by Redmayne throughout most of the film) begins to explore his sexuality and while his mother encourages him to practice love with anyone he wants (Antony was gay), his father runs away with his mistress (Anaya) leaving the young man to look after his mother.
Aimlessly travelling from exotic locale to locale, the film has trouble finding an emotional center that makes the characters' story worth a listen.
It doesn't help that Kalin chooses a disenchanted, detached aesthetic either, capturing his characters in the very same way in which they tackle their lives; moving only by inertia amongst pastel colored settings and randomly chosen vignettes.
Narrated by Antony, the story has a hard time deciding if it wants to be about the mother, the son, the subsequent incest or if it merely wants to blame the missing paternal figure for everything.
Most of the letters read by Antony are addressed to his father and the words contain pent up anger and bitterness that Redmayne's soft spoken, ironic tone never taps into.
Kalin makes a mess out of settling over Antonioni like techniques of character/structure connection or postmodernist melodrama, but of course the one thing he can't really control is Moore who gives an extraordinary performance.
Her Barbara is a pocketful of surprises, she plays her like the woman who inspired the original Madonna/Whore complex for whom the acts in which she seems like a lunatic require no extra effort from sitting with high society friends for tea.
Moore, who has never been one for star turns, avoids chewing the scenery here as well and turns in delicious work that touches camp (listening to her screaming "little puta" to her husband's lover at an airport is chilling and satisfying) and the mysteries of human behavior (what she does after the airport incident...).
While it may seem that for the movie Barbara is nothing more than tabloid fodder, Moore dignifies her with the benefit of the doubt.
When the story begins to explore the mysteries of the sexual relationship between Antony and Barbara, Moore handles all of her scenes with a perfectly imperfect balance of motherly love and plain bizarre mental behavior.
As Barbara puts her hand over her son's crotch you will feel the discomfort and awkwardness of the moment, Moore on the other side has completely vanished.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sketches of Sydney Pollack.

The incomparable Sydney Pollack has passed away at the age of 73.
With an impressive filmography that includes "Tootsie", "The Firm" and "the Interpreter", Pollack has the distinctive achievement of having directed two of the most romantic films of all time; "The Way We Were" and the Oscar winning "Out of Africa", which also happen to be two examples of a particular style he excelled at with his features.
Teaming up great lead actors with compelling stories he kept alive the adult drama in a world that constantly underestimated this audience.
While everyone else was teaming up Jessica Alba and Chris Evans in films about saving the world, Pollack paired people like Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman to deliver films that could still be thrilling by genre conventions and deliver the emotional goods.
Extracting career best performances from people like Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, Pollack was also a very accomplished actor, he delivered scene stealing work in "Eyes Wide Shut" and last year's multiawarded "Michael Clayton" which he also produced.
His producing work with the late Anthony Minghella also provided Pollack with a deserved place in film history, considering he made films like "The Talented Mr. Ripley".
Nominated for several best director Oscars he took it home for "Out of Africa" which in a way sums up the remarkable career of who also seemed to be a very charming man.
By exploring the basic core of human relationships he touched people everywhere and proved that we're affected by the same things, whether we're European royalty in Africa or drag performers in national television.

Then She Found Me **

Director: Helen Hunt
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Colin Firth, Helen Hunt, Bette Midler
Ben Shenkman, Lynn Cohen, Salman Rushdie

April (Hunt) is a 39 year old schoolteacher desperate to have a child.
However things begin to go wrong for April once her husband Ben (Broderick) leaves her, followed by the "what else can go wrong?" death of her adoptive mother (the wonderful Cohen).
Then with the reappearance of her biological mother; the sassy, mildly famous daytime talk show host, Bernice Graves (Midler), who deeply wants to reconnect with the daughter she gave up decades before, the film finds itself trying to explore the human condition like Woody Allen, only to end more like a rejected sitcom pilot.
Hunt's directorial debut, and slightly narcissistic self casting, proves to be very much like everything she's done in the past.
Hunt, very much like April, seems to be stuck in a rut, in which she knows she isn't giving all she has, but feels safe enough to follow.
April is built with the same hysterical behavior that made Jamie Buchman so funny in "Mad About You" and Carol Connelly so affecting in "As Good As It Gets", but as one character it all feels a bit too much.
To this sprinkle a bit of ethnic humor (Jewish culture in this case), the Mr. Right (who else but Firth?) everyone can tell is good for her and you end with nothing but good intentions served in a stuffed platter.
Midler is as reliably charming as ever and Firth fills his character with nuances that come off looking adorable when they should feel annoying, but as a whole the film fails because of its structure.
Hunt has copied the style of some of the great television directors she worked with, but she has forgotten that in cinema you don't have the aid of commercials.
When one of her mothers dies and the other one appears three minutes later without an invitation to try different car insurance or a new fast food meal in between, we feel we too have been cheated of something.
For every moment in which the low keyness of the script achieves real emotion (a scene where April takes a nap with her boyfriend's children) there's one that feels like uncomfortable self parody (a subplot involving Steve McQueen) often leading us to wonder when exactly did we change the channel.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian *1/2

Director: Andrew Adamson
Cast: William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes,
Georgie Henley, Ben Barnes, Sergio Castellitto, Damián Alcázar, Peter Dinklage

One year after their adventure featured in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", the Pevensie kids (Moseley, Popplewell, Keynes, Henley) find themselves during WWII London missing the thrills they felt in Narnia.
Just in time to indulge their ennui they are magically transported back to the place they missed so much only to realize that more than a thousand years have passed after their last visit.
They have been summoned by Prince Caspian (Barnes), a Telmarine prince trying to regain his throne after being betrayed by his uncle Miraz (Castellitto).
The Telmarines conquered Narnia after the Pevensies left the first time, practically exterminating all the magical creatures that inhabited it and even worse denying their very existence to subsequent generations.
Now Caspian finds himself seeking help from "old Kings and Queens" he never knew existed and before you can say Exodus metaphor he has united with mythological creatures to defeat his uncle and reestablish balance in Narnia.
For a film that sounds so promising and exciting in words, "Prince Caspian" pretty much feels like Nah-rnia.
Everything in it is bigger than before, the set pieces are astonishing and the visual effects couldn't be better. Yet again they could, because somewhere in between dancing trees and mouseketeers, the story lost its need to thrill.
It's as if the filmmakers took for granted the need to make audiences believe they were watching something magical and unique, choosing instead a complete ho hum mood.
The acting is respectable (Tilda Swinton has a very small scene as the White Witch and gives the film its only life), even though the casting is a bit racist as they place all non-British actors in the roles of the savage Telmarines, complete with violent conquistador armors and distinctively forced accents, but somehow not even this is able to keep your interest.
And it's only then when you realize what the problem was all along; despite the fact that this is clearly fantasy with Christian allegories at the bottom of it all, it's still a story about selfish kids who travel between worlds to satisfy their apparent blood thirst (even if you don't see actual blood in the film).
Even worse, once all the problems are solved with such efficiency and ease you wonder if a whole movie was needed for them to go through this?
With an exuberant running time of 140 minutes, the film at least remains true to its time shifting structure, because leaving the theater you feel you too have aged a thousand years.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ***

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett
Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone

The "Indiana Jones" films have always been successful for one important reason; with their gleeful combination of excitement, vintage serial aesthetics and pure star power, they make you feel like it's the first time you've been to the movies.
The series kickstarted more than a quarter of century ago with the flawless "Raiders of the Lost Ark" which was followed by two other films, in what turned the main character into the ultimate adventure hero.
Now at 65, Ford reprises his role as the khaki, whip and Fedora clad, snake hating archaelogist with the same refreshing energy and charisma he possessed twenty years ago.
Following what has become a formula, the film opens with the Paramount logo turning into a real mountain, this time set in Nevada (which instantly reminds you of Richard Dreyfuss) where a group of KGB agents, led by Colonel Doctor Irina Spalko (a superb Blanchett in full Ninotchka before Paris mode) have kidnapped Indy and take him to an army vault where he is forced to help them find a mysterious crate.
After failing to stop the Communists, surviving a nuclear attack and being suspected by the FBI of having Red liaisons, Indy is fired from the university where he works in and sets off to find Harold Oxley (Hurt), his mentor who mysteriously disappeared while doing research in South America.
All of this, of course, has happened within the first thirty minutes which also introduce us to Mutt Williams (LaBeouf) a greaser who becomes Indy's sidekick, the search of the mysterious title skulls in Perú and the return of Marion Ravenwood (Allen who is perhaps the best thing in the movie).
By no means a reinvention, this is a direct throwback to what we have come to expect of Indy's films. including the visuals (director of photography Janusz Kaminski emulates Douglas Slocombe's work from the first three films and the visual gags paying homage to the Lucas/Spielberg filmography are a joy to behold).
In a constantly changing world, where threats come in unexpected shapes and forms, it's somehow relieving to return to a time and place where enemies came with distinctive uniforms and accents.
What's ironic is that as insulting and politically incorrect as that sounds at the center of the film lies the contradiction that is Imperialist ingenuity, something so well concocted and marketed that it ends up appealing to everyone because it touches the unique ground of human excitement.
Not to say that "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is American propaganda, because even if it reduces Communist Russians to villain stereotypes it has established that none of this is real and for a Spielberg film it's even a bit critical of the era.
When Indiana gets blacklisted, we see a country so blinded by fear that it didn't care to make a difference between right and wrong and when later we see a 50's archetypical American suburb get smashed to bits by nuclear testing we come closer to grasping the terror behind it.
Not even Mayans where the Inca ought to be or the continuous need to raise the level on stunts and pyrotechnics will take you out of this ride.
And that's the other thing that makes "Indiana Jones" so fantastic: their ability to exist in a world where everything can, and probably will, happen.
A parallel universe of sorts where Indian, Mayan and Christian deities all get to share the spotlight with bizarre military plans based on conspiracy theories.
And a universe for that matter where a senior citizen is able to reignite the engines of our deepest fantasies, the ones we grew up to, the ones in which we were astronauts, spies or archaelogists and the world seemed to be but the next adventure.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

We Are Family!

A few months ago, when everyone left from the Golden Era of Hollywood seemed to have been passing away, my morbid mind led me to ask myself what about the de Havilland sisters?
Now in their 90's Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland still hate each other's guts like they did more than 60 years ago.
"The Independent" has a great feature on their rivalry which is at times scandalous and often heartbreaking, leading us to wonder if they'll also try to beat each other to the grave.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Speed Racer **

Director: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci
Matthew Fox, Susan Sarandon, John Goodman
Paulie Litt, Benno Fürmann, Roger Allam

The good news: the Wachowski brothers have made a faithful adaptation of the 1960's famous Japanese anime series.
The bad news is that this adaptation is so true to its source that it even acquired its sense of irrelevance, dullness and an idea of fake nostalgia powered by the same sense of expectation that made it popular during its era.
Story goes something like this, Speed (Hirsch) is the second son of the Racer family. Since he was a little kid he's been obsessed with cars, no wonder considering his whole family has been in the business forever. When he grows up he becomes a professional racer trying to live up to his, deceased, brother Rex's legacy.
His life, when he's not racing, pretty much consists of his interactions with his family. Pops (Goodman) is a jolly, overprotective man, Mom (Sarandon) is a perky, barely there female role model.
There's also his youngest, mischievous, brother Spirtle (Litt) who's always getting in trouble with his pet chimpanzee Chim Chim, loyal family mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry) and Speed's girlfriend Trixie (Ricci), a feisty racer herself, who bats her eyelashes whenever she needs to prove her own driving abilities or when trying to get Speed out of the chastity they live in.
After his great performance in several races, Speed gets contacted by Royalton (Allam) a corrupt corporation owner who offers to sponsor him in exchange for wealth beyond his imagination.
When Speed refuses, Royalton tries to take his career down, leading the hero to team up with the mysterious Racer X (Fox) in order to uncover an evil plot, compete in the Grand Prix and live up to having a movie named after him.
The ultimate in CGI extravaganzas, the Wachowski brothers create a complete, saccharin infused universe made out of colorful buildings, video game like skies and camera flashes.
Somewhere in the middle of this we're supposed to catch the jaw dropping races all the characters keep referring to, but what we see is mostly flashing, "whoosh"es and our watches as the film extends to a luxurious, and unjustifiable, 135 minute running time.
The cast does its best to play the flat part of anime characters, with Ricci and especially Fox (who combines angst, sexiness and raw manliness in completely unexpected ways) stealing each of their scenes.
Hirsch might come off as one of the biggest problems since he never becomes more than the cartoon character. His heroic qualities come to him by default as we never feel the spark that makes him want to race so much.
He talks about it and his concentrated frown seems to be tailor made for us to realize he's going through some deep enlighting process, but Hirsch is as wooden and distant as anyone from "The Matrix".
Then again, wasn't the original Speed Racer the exact same way? Hirsch might be in fact giving a good performance that we're unable to enjoy because the character he's playing isn't worthy of being emulated.
A confusing experience, in more than one way, the Wachowski brothers try to deliver a political essay that talks about the dangers of capitalism.
But what exactly do they have to say for themselves when they try to shove this into a multimillion summer blockbuster?
Even more, how can they justify these thoughts when they go and use Speed in the very same way they condemn their characters for trying to do.
To the Wachowskis, Speed Racer is nothing more than a commodity; a perfect excuse to try out their new technological gadgets while underestimating an audience that needs much more than speed.
For teenagers "Speed Racer" doesn't come near to delivering the thrills and excitement they get from being the heroes behind the wheel, in real life or in the ever more realistic video games that are released every week.
Plus, when they're playing they don't need to go through the characters' unsufferable line readings and emotionless actions.
For little kids the experience might feel more like a mission to go through than any fun and for parents who might worry their kids will suffer some kind of seizure with the cornucopia of color and movemement, watching the film will probably be more about keeping an eye out on their children. But they not need worry, for "Speed Racer" drags so much that they'll be long asleep before any risky sequences.
For a movie that brags so much about being driven as opposed to merely driving, "Speed Racer" is often in urgent need of a tow.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Teeth ***1/2

Director: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Cast: Jess Weixler, John Hensley
Josh Pais, Hale Appleman, Lenny von Dohlen, Ashley Springer

"They're all unfamiliar, unless they're yours."
Michael C. Hall talking about genitals in "Six Feet Under"

Since the beginning of time, human beings have been fascinated by the mysteries of sex.
Early during life, men and women become aware that they are built differently; turning the genitals into the Rosetta Stone to be deciphered in order to find the ultimate secret.
For teenager Dawn O'Keefe (Weixler) this is no problem, she is the local chastity group's most comitted member and has promised to remain a virgin until the day of her wedding.
Dawn believes so much in her cause that she has never seen what her own vagina looks like (she assumes it must be something like the monsters from B horror films), condemns masturbation and is fearful of the "heavy making out" featured in PG-13 films.
Her life at home doesn't help make things easier. Her mother (Vivienne Benesch) is suffering from a life threatening disease, while her stepfather (von Dohlen) looks after her.
She must also deal with her rebellious stepbrother Brad (Hensley) who chain smokes, does drugs and kicks girls out after loud sex sessions.
One day she meets Tobey (Appleman), the cute new kid in town who gains her trust and reveals that he tried sex once, but has remained celibate ever since.
Dawn believes that anyone who experienced its dangers and reformed, is worth her admiration (and her erotic dreams). When he tries to rape her, Dawn discovers that she has something more unique than her convictions; a toothed vagina, which bites off anything that tries to enter its domain.
As if the awkwardness of coming to terms with her sexuality wasn't enough, she must deal with the mythical "vagina dentata", which ancient civilizations said could only be conquered by a worthy hero.
This twist has us wondering about all her possibilities that range from denial to a search for "the one".
But the film is so well made that it can afford the luxury of making us doubt whether it's about actual vaginal mutation, mere coming of age metaphor or psychosexual repression manifested by a physical reaction and hallucinations.
Rarely have movies tapped with such accuracy into the conflicts of growing up and director Lichtenstein makes justice to his last name's legacy by creating a stylized pastiche of genres.
Dawn's heartbreak is treated like you would see in a Molly Ringwald movie, while her approach to sexual themes is straight off a 1950's educational film.
And when she decides she's a Gorgon in the middle of a group speech, the scene achieves Greek tragedy connotations highlighted by a choir's response to her Cassandra like affirmations.
Weixler anchors the film with a flawless performance that draws from iconic work by Reese Witherspoon, Sharon Stone and Sissy Spacek.
Bringing a sense of wholesomeness to Dawn, she is able to be naively sexy and deliver dialogues that walk a fine line between sincere genre conventions and unintentional camp (especially in the film's best scene, a risky medical visit featuring the incomparable Pais as a gynecologist).
She moves across the frame with affecting honesty and even her slightest gestures and movements (like the way she dives her head underwater as if to baptize and cleanse herself after a heated moment) only help us know Dawn better.
She is the kind of actress that makes you wonder whether every single element of her performance was rehearsed or if she built it along the way; the kind of enigma without which the film couldn't lead to its unapologetic, chilling conclusion.
As impossible to classify as its complex center character, "Teeth" works as a cautionary tale, an empowering female treatise and a wickedly clever teen sex comedy, among others.
Dentata is Latin for teeth and "Teeth" apparently means unexpectedly brilliant filmmaking.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Iron Man ***

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow
Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Leslie Bibb

Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) builds weapons. He inherited Stark Industries from his father and has become one of the most important names in the business.
A child genius and flawless engineer he spends his free time gambling, partying and bedding beautiful women.
During a trip to Afghanistan where he's to demonstrate a new missile, his convoy is ambushed and Stark is captured by a guerrilla group who demand he builds weapons for them.
Trapped in the mountains he, and fellow captive Dr. Yinsen (Toub) tell them that they will make weapons for them, but instead forge a power armor, fueled by an arc reactor (that also helps keep Stark alive after the attack) that ends up as a prototype for what later becomes the Iron Man suit.
After his return to the States, Stark decides to stop making weapons and as Iron Man travels the world over to destroy them.
This doesn't come as good news to his business partner Obadiah Stane (Bridges) nor to the Afghan group that still wants revenge.
Favreau's film is a great introduction to one of the most unknown characters in the Marvel repertoire and one, for that matter, that does a satisfactory job in catching us up with why Stark deserves to be known as well as we do Peter Parker and Jean Grey.
Shot in a hyper realistic style that tries less to evoke the visuals of comic books and is more about how the scenes should play in your imagination, "Iron Man" provides a visual effects extravaganza that for once provides us with not more or less than we would've expected.
At the center of it all is a maniacally great performance by Downey Jr. who in a way seems to have been born to play Tony Stark.
His evolution from careless playboy into ,self, conscious superhero is one that needs the other to fully shape the man. Stark is a cocky man who you hate to love. At film's start he's shown in some mock magazine covers and when he appears on "Rolling Stone" you realize that we indeed live in a world that worships power regardless of where it comes from.
The thing about Downey is that when he realizes the truth of what his business does to the world, you believe his change completely, if only because you know that this is a man so selfish that this is the first time he's actually opening his eyes to something bigger than himself.
While a superheroe's costume is supposedly designed to keep his identity safe, Downey Jr. never completely vanishes inside his metal armor.
The animation job is obviously magnificent, because even while dashing across the skies or shooting missiles from his shoulder, Iron Man is still Tony Stark.
The supporting cast does a terrific job as well including Howard as Tony's friend Lt. Colonel James Rhodes, Clark Gregg as a nosy agent who by film's end makes you go "oh!" and the always magnificent Bridges who with a shaved head and full on beard gives a deliciously evil performance of power gone bad (in more ways than one).
Stealing every scene she's in, Gwyneth Paltrow plays Pepper Potts, Stark's loyal, and leggy, assistant who perfectly embodies damsel in distress with a twist.
She gets some of the film's best lines and often gives it a warm heart. Most dazzling of it all is the sexual chemistry between Paltrow and Downey Jr. which sometimes gives out more energy than any of the featured gadgets.
We grow up thinking that you grow up being a superhero, which is why Iron Man's midlife crisis enlightenment comes off as an invitation to change in the midst of a world that seems to be closing in on us.
It delivers the ultimate corporate wars to the baby boomers all over the world while reminding us that it's never late to make a fresh start.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Have the lambs stopped screaming?

After having just watched "Untraceable", a film which a critic referred to as "The Silence of the Lambs" for the internet age, I couldn't help but wonder, has any other thriller since Jonathan Demme's 1991 masterpiece been so influential and impossible to overshadow?
While some might mention "Se7en" and recent films like the "Saw" series or "Hostel", has there been any other film that so uniquely brings together horror, suspense and art house filmmaking like "Silence" and has the reviews to prove it?

Untraceable *

Director: Gregory Hoblit
Cast: Diane Lane
Colin Hanks, Billy Burke, Joseph Cross, Mary Beth Hurt

What happened to the time when an old fashioned movie psychopath was just that?
Now, if they don't have some sort of terrorist trauma or a bizarre, unknown until then, illness they are plotting some sort of over the top, ridiculous revenge that honestly doesn't need all the fuzz.
Regardless of the reason the filmmakers choose, we rarely have to deal with that much more creepy realization that comes with not knowing why people act how they do.
Early in this film we discover the reasons why a young man is kidnapping people and then torturing them to death, while he streams the video online.
He has a website named in which as the number of viewers rise, the victim dies faster.
Not to try to make some deeper sociological remark about this, but in a way isn't this what goes on all the time in shows like "American Idol"?
Anyways, the always fascinating, Diane Lane plays Jennifer Marsh, an FBI cybercrime agent who gets assigned to the case along with a local detective (Burke) and her own tech guy (Hanks).
From this, the film evolves into a very by the number thriller that showcases elaborate action scenes while trying to deliver an intelligent message.
But it's in its message where it crashes, because instead of turning out a Hanekean essay on the acceptance of violence, it actually loves the gore and sickness it condemns.
And not only that, but it doesn't even bother to live up to trashy entries of its genre.
People have always loved unjustified violence, maybe because the distance of watching it is enough to satisfy the morbid desire to experience it.
"Untraceable" seems to have forgotten that what it shows is child's play compared to the things we can find for free online or out in the streets.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Death Defying Acts **

Director: Gillian Armstrong
Cast: Guy Pearce, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Saoirse Ronan, Timothy Spall

The year is 1926 and noted escape artist, magician and actor Harry Houdini (Pearce) is trying to debunk fake spiritualists and mediums.
He places the ultimate bet; a $10,000 cash prize for anyone who can tell him what his dead mother's last words were.
Mary McGarvie (Zeta-Jones) and her daughter Benji (Ronan) are con artists who have earned a reputation for their team act during which they make believe audience members they have made contact with their deceased loved ones.
When they learn about Houdini's challenge they find the perfect opportunity to get out of poverty, once the magician arrives to their hometown of Edinburgh the run into the one thing they weren't expecting as Houdini begins to fall for Mary.
With a plot that tries to cover as much fields as its subject did, the film fails at most of them more often than not.
It establishes itself as historical fiction, but assumes that just because it talks about a magician it can just go ahead and assume we'll all suspend our disbelief immediately.
While Pearce gives a rather good performance as Houdini, Zeta-Jones never really convinces us that she has the charm to knock the guy's socks off.
What makes this woman believe she's so good at fraud that she'll get Houdini too is something we never fully understand.
While the romantic subplot seems to be something used as a safety net in case everything else fails.
It could have also tried to exploit Harry's obsession with debunking mediums and what did his fixation on death had to do with how he approached his craft and even the possibility of love.
For a plot with so many possibilities it's ironic that everything ends up feeling so trapped.
The only thing that remotely apporaches magic here is the lovely Ronan, who pulls every card from under her sleeve and gives a rich, if sometimes obnoxiously mature, performance that within itself reminds us that a magician's biggest aid are his secrets.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Carrie On!

Finally a poll where I can agree with Americans.
Click on the picture to read more.